‘Do we love Rick Smith or hate him?’ KC Council bails, fails, runs back in the dugout

·2 min read

The Kansas City Council is apparently too afraid to use the power that it has — now and only now, at budget time — to insist on negotiating the budget with a new police chief instead of with lame duck Rick Smith.

All of them put together didn’t show enough moxie at Thursday’s meeting to power a smoke alarm.

A letter insisting on negotiating with a new chief — using the leverage the council does have, but seems not to know what to do with — fell apart after it became public. (You guys do know you’re public servants, right? Remember all those words you said about transparency?) Councilwoman Melissa Robinson at least tried to herd the scaredy cats.

Councilwoman Katheryn Shields introduced an ordinance that would have allocated hundreds of thousand dollars to conduct a nationwide search to replace Smith. That effort failed, and rightly so, since there would have been no real guarantee that the money would even have been used that way by the police board. Who knows — maybe they would have used it to throw Smith a nice bye-bye parade instead.

“He resigned,” Shields said during the council’s business session prior to its weekly meeting. “We can argue when he ought to leave, but the fact is, he needs to be replaced.”

Later, during the regular meeting, Shields said: “Do we love Rick Smith or do we hate Rick Smith? I don’t think that’s the issue. The issue is, the chief has resigned. Now the police board needs to begin the process of selecting a new chief.”

She’s right that this isn’t personal, or about who is pals with whom. It’s about what’s best for the city, or ought to be.

Earlier in the week, Councilwoman Teresa Loar excused Smith’s dehumanizing reference to police shooting victim Cameron Lamb as a “bad guy.” Smith’s comment was just “cop talk,” Loar said.

It was, but that way of thinking and talking doesn’t show that there is no problem; on the contrary, it shows how casually and reflexively Lamb’s humanity was disregarded. And that is the problem.

Seeing the dead guy as by definition the bad guy is also incredibly juvenile.

But council members, including Mayor Quinton Lucas, seem to have lost their nerve when it comes to challenging the department’s funding mechanism.

Which is not only regrettable, but poor politics. Having raised the possibility of redirecting department funds to exert even a little local control, the City Council now looks foolish for running away from the concept.

As usual, their efforts to keep anyone from being mad at them will only guarantee that everyone is: conservatives who inaccurately attacked the May decision as “defunding” the police, and mainstream Kansas Citians who believed the council was serious about exerting at least some leverage over spending.

Sometimes, you have to pick a side. This is one of those times.

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