Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas says he is not aware of the city intentionally misrepresenting information as alleged in a recent lawsuit that accuses the city manager of pressuring staff to lie about city projects.
Chris Hernandez, the former director of communications, alleges that City Manager Brian Platt instructed staff to lie as part of a “media strategy.” The lawsuit, filed Nov. 30 in Jackson County Circuit Court, says Hernandez was pushed out of his position and reassigned to another city department for refusing to follow Platt’s directions.
During an unrelated press event on Thursday, Lucas said he has “seen absolutely nothing to indicate that that would be accurate.
“I don’t have that concern, I have not seen that. I’ve never actually seen that, or any suggestion related thereto,” the mayor said.
“I don’t know the full details of the entire situation,” Lucas added. “All I know is I have faith that our entire staff is open, honest, transparent and we welcome anybody to look through our numbers and our data, and I think you’ll see that that’s verified.”
Hernandez is suing the city for damages under a Missouri law that protects whistle blowers, saying he lost his job for telling Platt that he “should not be dishonest to the news media and the public.”
Hernandez alleges he was “not willing to put his credibility on the line” for Platt.
Among the claims is a meeting between Platt and city communications staff in January where Hernandez alleges Platt raised the prospect of lying to the press as a “legitimate media strategy.”
During a lunch-hour meeting at a Kansas City coffee shop in June, Hernandez says in his lawsuit that he was asked by Platt why another member of the communications team had resigned and other staff members were leaving. Hernandez says he told Platt many were upset with the way they were being treated.
In August, Hernandez said he was told by Platt that he did not possess the “shared vision” for the communications department and was reassigned. He has since taken a position within the Kansas City Civil Rights and Equal Opportunity Department.
Reached by phone on Wednesday night, Hernandez read a prepared statement: “This whistle blower lawsuit clearly states our concerns about the honesty and transparency that Kansas City taxpayers and residents deserve from City Hall.”
In the spring, the city communications team prepared a press release regarding how many miles of lanes would be resurfaced based on funds available in the upcoming fiscal year.
A drafted press release stated “nearly 300” miles, according to the lawsuit; Platt had the communications team remove the word “nearly.”
Days before a media event, the lawsuit alleges Platt knowingly inflated the benefits of the project on social media by saying the city would be repaving “400 plus” lane miles.
“Our summer of street resurfacing is well under way. 400+ miles planned for this spring and summer! But what’s under the old asphalt is sometimes something more special: 100+ year old brick pavers and original street car track here on Brooklyn Ave!” Platt wrote in a May 6 Twitter post.
Hernandez alleges in the suit that he was concerned Platt was lying about this number, as no other staff were aware of an increase in the miles to be paved.
“It was clear to (Hernandez) that Mr. Platt just wanted an even larger number and did not care if the number was true or not,” the suit reads.
Platt did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday night and Thursday morning. But in a statement from his office to The Star Thursday, a city spokeswoman stood by the street resurfacing figure shared by Platt.
“As an institution committed to transparency, the City stands by any statements and welcomes inspection of any facts related to our transformative work to have already resurfaced 387 lane miles of roadway this fiscal year — substantially exceeding our resurfacing efforts in each of the past five years,” city spokeswoman Sherae Honeycutt said in an emailed statement.
“As the City Manager previously shared, this number has the City on track to meet and exceed 400 lane miles in this fiscal year, which ends April 30, 2023.”
In referencing lane miles to be completed by April 2023, Honeycutt’s statement differed from Platt’s tweet specifying the spring and summer of 2022. It was unclear if Honeycutt was referring to a different statement by Platt.
Another point raised in the lawsuit concerns a story published in The Star regarding the city’s work on potholes. The lawsuit claims Platt was angry about the story, and instructed staff to call the newspaper and say that “the numbers were wrong” when they were actually correct.
“How can reporters be allowed to write a story like that?” Platt allegedly told Hernandez over the phone the morning the story was published. “This is false, we don’t have a problem with potholes, we don’t have a problem with service delivery.”
Hernandez said Platt was upset the story focused on potholes instead of the street resurfacing strategy that he designed.
“Mr. Platt insisted that the numbers were wrong, even though the numbers had been given to the Star reporter by Public Works and were publicly posted on the City’s Open Data platform,” the lawsuit reads.