April 4, 2014

Airport Advisory Group Not Really Interested In Input

A previous post detailed the Kansas City Airport Terminal Advisory Group’s effort to avoid open records laws in their meetings with Kansas City public officials. This post deals with the group’s unwillingness to even hear from those skeptical of a new terminal. On Jan. 30, I wrote the following email to Airport Terminal Advisory Group leaders Bob Berkebile and David Fowler:

I was able to attend the Advisory Group presentation before the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce last week, and the slideshow contained four statements that are either incorrect of very misleading. These include (1) the ‘firewall’ between airport funds and the city, (2) whether city funds can be used by an airport, (3) that all city bonds require a public vote and (4) that no airport has ever defaulted and that the city is not a guarantor.

The Show-Me Institute has conducted a great deal of independent research into the Aviation Department’s claims and the wisdom of large airport projects in general. We would welcome the opportunity to present our findings to the Advisory Group, so that they need not lean so heavily on presentations from the department whose claims they are investigating.

That same day, Fowler forwarded the message to a city staffer with this addition:

Can you have your folks at the city look into these matters, please ?

I am sure this group is looking for exceptions to the general rule and will try to discredit what we have heard in testimony from the Aviation Department and the City finance group.

These are certainly policies and broad statements about the legal ramifications of the airport revenue bonds. Whether there are exceptions, loopholes, etc may be called into question.

Maybe have [the City Attorney] look into potential exceptions, etc.

A few days later, on Feb. 2, Fowler forwarded my note to one of the consultants at Frasca and Associates, who is working with the advisory group, with this addition:

Please see the email we received from a special interest group contesting certain facts we have heard from either the Aviation Department and/or representatives of Kansas City.

Which one of these points would you be credentialed to respond to or could research without much additional time (so we don’t blow our Frasca budget) and which ones would you suggest are more legal issues best handled by independent attorneys ? In other words, are some of these questions Kansas City airport-specific, Missouri law-specific or are they all generic facts around most public airports ?

I would like to discuss this during our planned call on Feb. 4, but wanted to give you advance notice that we need answers on these asap either from you or someone else who is independent. We may be able to get our FAA representative to clarify as well and we intend to pose to him too.

Two weeks after that, on Feb. 17, Fowler sent this note to the same city staffer to whom he initially forwarded my email:

Can you please confirm back to me that someone from the City has followed up with Patrick Tuohey on his email below so he feels like we are paying attention to his messages.  I don’t want him ever saying he reached out to us and nobody ever responded.

Let me say loudly that we reached out to them and nobody ever responded. On March 24, I again sent to advisory group leaders Berkebile and Fowler the following note:

On January 30, I sent the note below indicating that the Show-Me Institute has compiled a good deal of independent research on the proposed new terminal. This research includes matters that ATAG has never covered, including financing and the impact of debt servicing.

My note received no response. Therefore, I am asking that the original January 30 email be considered testimony and be distributed to all members of the Advisory Group and included in whatever testimony is made public.

As of this writing, we have heard nothing. They received our note but apparently were more interested in circling the wagons — and seemingly protecting the Aviation Department from being contradicted — than actually collecting information on the new terminal proposal. Perhaps as a result of failing to accept pertinent testimony, Kansas City Mayor Sly James stated falsely in his State of the City address that funds raised at the airport must remain at the airport.

We cannot know what other groups have asked to present information to the Advisory Group and been rebuffed or ignored. We do know that some groups, such as airport concession operators, have not been heard from and we know that the consultants downplayed important testimony from Southwest Airlines. Observers of the advisory group have complained that it gives the appearance of being one-sided and uninterested in legitimate public dialogue. These internal communications only confirm those fears.

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