Kansas City Council rejects measure to give police board $200k to find new chief

·4 min read
Rich Sugg/rsugg@kcstar.com

An attempt to give the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners $200,000 to fund a national search for a new police chief was voted down by the City Council Thursday.

Kansas City Councilwoman Katheryn Shields, District 4, who introduced the ordinance, sought to bypass committee hearings and seek same-day approval, which requires a supermajority of council votes. The proposal was rejected 8-1. Three council members and Mayor Quinton Lucas were absent for that vote.

Shields said earlier Thursday that the measure was not an attempt to interfere with the board, which is empowered by state law to hire the chief. She said the money was intended to pay for a search firm.

“We’re not in any way trying to suggest that it is our decision,” Shields said. “If there are financial limitations in terms of them being able to do a national search, we want to take that limitation away so they don’t have to worry about that.”

Calls for Police Chief Rick Smith to step down were renewed Nov. 20 when Det. Eric DeValkenaere was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Cameron Lamb.

Four days later, The Star reported that Smith was being forced out of his position as police chief. A memo addressed to Smith from Lucas and board president Bishop Mark Tolbert said Smith will announce his retirement March 1 and that his last day will be April 22.

Earlier this week, the police board confirmed that Smith will retire in the spring, staying at least through the city’s current budget process.

Smith faced a new wave of criticism Tuesday after audio of the chief calling Lamb the “bad guy” at the scene of the December 2019 shooting was released.

Shields said the police board should look beyond promoting any potential internal candidates and instead immediately begin a national search. She said during the council’s Thursday business session that she wanted immediate passage to make the funds available to the board as soon as possible.

“He has resigned. We can argue about when he ought to leave. But the fact of the matter is there’s going to need to be a replacement,” Shields said.

Shields offered no evidence that the board was interested in the funding. She said the money wouldn’t be spent if the board did not accept it. Tolbert did not return a call seeking comment.

But the rest of the council pushed back against the idea.

Councilman Brandon Ellington, District 3 at-large, asked Shields why the city would pay for a search firm if the police board has sole authority to pick a new chief, adding that the board could take it out of its current budget.

“I believe this is a complete waste of time,” Ellington said. He later added: “Not only is it illogical, it’s a waste of $200,000 of taxpayer dollars for a firm that has no authority to do anything — at all.”

Councilman Dan Fowler, District 2, said he thought at a minimum the ordinance needed to be heard in committee and not passed on the same day.

“There was a lot of discussion about whether if we give it the $200,000, they don’t even have to spend it this way,” Fowler said. “We can give them $200,000 and it wouldn’t require a national search. The Board of Police Commissioners can use that and say ‘thank you very much, we’ll use it for a local search.’”

Shields said she was trying to find a way for the council to have a positive impact on the process despite the lack of local control.

“Clearly, this is one more example of when you don’t have control of your own police department, it makes things more complicated,” Shields said.

Most other cities have local control of their police departments. The Kansas City Police Department is under control of a five-member board. Of those, four are appointed by the Missouri governor. The Kansas City mayor also has a seat.

The police board hired a firm to conduct a national search after former Police Chief Darryl Forté retired in 2017. The City Council did not fund that effort.

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