In what may have amounted to his farewell address, departing Kansas City, Kansas, Mayor Mark Holland decried corruption in the city’s fire department at a Unified Government meeting that failed to muster a quorum of commissioners.
Holland, the mayor and CEO of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas, called the meeting after a government report found that KCK firefighters had been paid $920,000 in taxpayer money in 2017 for work they didn’t do.
The report concluded that the money went to firefighters who were paid for shifts they traded away without reciprocating. Only six of the department’s 391 firefighters exchanged an equal number of hours, the report found, while 237 firefighters split the $920,000 for time not worked.
Only four of 10 commissioners—Melissa Bynum, Harold L. Johnson Jr., Gayle Townsend and Hal T. Walker—showed up for the meeting at City Hall, which was packed with both supporters of the mayor and several dozen firefighters, who at times murmured disagreement as the mayor went through the report.
“I’m confident knowing many in the room will not believe that I believe this,” Holland said toward the end of his remarks. “I’ve said it repeatedly: I do value the work our firefighters do every day in our city. What is a disgrace to me is when you take advantage of the high esteem in which you’re held in the community and use it to take money under the table for someone else to work for you.”
The lack of a quorum meant that the meeting was not televised on the government’s official television channel – although Holland said it was being streamed live on Facebook.
Townsend was the only one of the four commissioners to speak at the meeting. In brief remarks, she said she was unwilling to use the term “corruption” to describe the shift trading practices at the fire department but that she appreciated Holland’s “version.”
After the meeting, which lasted less than 30 minutes, Holland met with reporters and said that the absent commissioners, whom he described as boycotting the meeting, were complicit in the fire department’s corruption.
“And that’s why we don’t have change, because we have people unwilling to even face the facts, much less address it,” he said.
A cluster of firefighters occasionally shouted at Holland as he spoke. One of them, who later identified himself as Michael Quinn, a retired senior operations chief, yelled at Holland, “You were voted out of office and nobody done anything wrong!”
Afterward, Quinn and a citizen who supported the mayor got into a heated argument over the fire report. The citizen, who identified himself as the Rev. Jimmie Banks of the Strangers Rest Baptist Church, remonstrated with Quinn: “You can’t argue with the facts.” Quinn, shouting, retorted: “The facts is our contract.”
The firefighters cheered as Quinn spoke.The meeting capped a dramatic day for Holland. In the morning, he released a statement saying that a firefighter had threatened him on Facebook and that he had notified the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
Melissa Underwood, a spokeswoman for the KBI, later told KCUR in an email that while the bureau had been made aware of the threat allegation, the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department was investigating the matter. A department spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.
Holland’s last day in office is on Monday. He’ll be succeeded by Rockhurst High School Vice Principal David Alvey, who ousted Holland in a close race in November. Alvey was backed by the firefighters’ union, which has been at odds with Holland over his criticisms of the fire department.
Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor for KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.