December 11, 2013

Who Is Alicia Stephens And Why Should Kansas City Care?

Alicia Stephens is the executive director of the Platte County Economic Development Council (EDC), described on its website as “a nonprofit organization [founded] to promote economic development in Platte County, Missouri.” Stephens also is a member of the Kansas City Airport Terminal Advisory Group, appointed by Kansas City Mayor Sly James to advise the City Council about the Aviation Department’s desire to build a $1.2 billion new terminal.

Unfortunately, this places Stephens in a clear conflict of interest as her boss at the Platte County EDC is none other than Mark VanLoh, who is the director of the Aviation Department. In short, Stephens has been asked to serve on a voluntary group charged with passing judgment on her boss’ magnum opus. What’s worse, Stephen’s isn’t shy about her support for the new terminal and this seems to cloud her ability to perform her job on the advisory group.

During the Nov. 5 meeting, Stephens identified herself as one of the advisory group members who is urging a quick vote on the new terminal project. Starting at the 53:45-minute mark, Stephens asserts that because of her position on the Platte County EDC, she has “that kind of opportunity to visit with many of those stakeholders that others around this table may not.” It’s reasonable to expect that a person in her position should know what airport stakeholders are thinking, after all, the airport is in Platte County.

But it appears she does not. The week after Stephens urged a quick vote based on her ’special knowledge’ of stakeholders, Southwest Airlines — the airport’s biggest stakeholder — announced that the new terminal proposal is too expensive, creates a disincentive to serve Kansas City International (MCI), and that Southwest felt it was not adequately represented in new terminal discussions. Exactly what is the value of having the ”kind of opportunity to visit” with stakeholders if these strong views from the biggest stakeholder were missed?

Stephens may mean well in her service to the advisory group, but she is not as dialed in to the views of airport stakeholders as she presents. And how can her input be taken seriously when her very livelihood is dependent upon the man on whose plan she is being asked to pass judgment?

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