Monday, April 18, 2011

Commission Tales 1: Beginning of the End

I’m not going to mention the individual’s name, because this person satisfied the court order, repaid what was stolen, and the incident was expunged from their record. And this person is still active in the music community.

The Star wrote about it extensively at the time – I have some good stories about those stories, too – but they predate the record currently available online. No doubt, some people around at the time will remember who it is. But you will get no confirmation from me.

Still, if I was in a position to hire musicians, this is one – who I’ve actually never met – that I would not hire because of what they put me through. I’m not bitter, but I remember.

It was a helluva way to take over a Jazz Commission.


I was active with the jazz festival first. The festival had its own issues, and its other officers held little interest in the Jazz Commission, even though the Commission’s board officially included a seat for the festival. So, when I expressed interest in that seat, nobody objected, and I was appointed by the mayor to the Kansas City Jazz Commission.

Actually, I’m assuming that you know what the Kansas City Jazz Commission was. You may not. It was a city commission – like the Landmarks Commission, or the Arts Commission, or the TIF Commission – created in the 1980s to bring together the leaders of Kansas City’s then numerous jazz organizations to support jazz in Kansas City. At least, that was its altruistic goal. It was the goal I knew when I was appointed. I didn’t know about the other agendas.

The Jazz Commission was then, in the mid-1980s, a mostly lackadaisical group which, outside of its executive director, accomplished little. It was comprised of the leaders of other jazz organizations, most of whom were busy running their own groups, and some musicians and residents with historical ties (Bennie Moten’s daughter was one of the nicest and most supportive members during my years). And it was something of a dumping ground for friends of the mayor who wanted to be on a city commission. Few ever attended a meeting.

Some of the commission’s members were looking for leadership to guide the organization towards accomplishing something meaningful. But others just wanted to boast that they were on the Jazz Commission.

So when the Commission’s treasurer resigned, I volunteered to help. I had served as treasurer of the jazz festival. Nobody else volunteered. The chairman named me treasurer.

Then I found out that the last treasurer resigned because the individual was being investigated for stealing city money from the Jazz Commission. That was interesting to hear.

Then the Commission made news stories in The Kansas City Star and The Kansas City Times (we had a morning and an evening newspaper then). A former member, someone who left the Commission before I joined, stood before a City Council committee to argue that the Jazz Commission should receive no city funding.

At the time, the Jazz Commission received $20,000 each year from the city budget. But this young attorney, whose brother was a local jazz musician, said the Commission was failing to create jobs for jazz musicians and should receive no city support.

There was one of those other agendas. The Jazz Commission was not created to create jobs. But this young attorney, apparently, decided it was and it didn’t so it shouldn’t be funded.

Then the county prosecutor charged the Jazz Commission’s former treasurer with stealing $6400 of city money from the Commission. That made the front page of The Star and The Times.

Then the Jazz Commission’s chairman resigned. We never knew the specific reasons. He never told anyone on the Commission. We found out when the Commission’s executive director was alerted by someone in the Mayor’s Office that they had received his letter of resignation.

A new chairman was appointed.

Then the City Auditor announced that, in light of the prosecution of the former treasurer, his office would audit the Jazz Commission.

The young attorney testified again before a City Council committee that the Jazz Commission was dysfunctional and should not be funded. Nobody from the Jazz Commission showed up to defend it. A city councilman on the committee angrily asked why nobody from the Commission showed (Answer: Nobody left on the Commission was politically adept enough to know that we should).

Then the executive director gave notice that he was taking a job with a radio station in California.

Then the new chairman, deciding this was too much for him, submitted his letter or resignation to the Mayor’s Office. At least this chairman talked with other Commission members first.

So there, in mid-1987, stood the Kansas City Jazz Commission: Needing its third chairman in three months, a spry young attorney lobbying the City Council to deny it funds, its executive director leaving, its former treasurer charged with stealing $6400 of city money from it, and being audited by the City Auditor.

Only a total idiot would volunteer to be chairman under those circumstances.

I volunteered to be chairman of the Kansas City Jazz Commission.

More, in another blog post.

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