Monday, April 25, 2011

Commission Tales 2: It Leaks

It didn’t seem dumb at the time.

1987, and the Kansas City Jazz Commission was all over the news. Its former treasurer was charged with stealing $6400 in city money from the Commission. The City Auditor was auditing it.

I was the treasurer who succeeded the accused treasurer, not knowing when I volunteered what had gone on before me. But I learned the details, quickly.

So when the second chairman resigned from the Commission in the space of a couple months, and the executive director announced he would leave, I was the person remaining who knew most about what was putting the Jazz Commission on the front page. In my mind, I was the most logical choice to volunteer to be the next chairman.

So, with the encouragement of other Commission members, I wrote a letter to the mayor asking to be named chairman of the Kansas City Jazz Commission. It was delivered to the Mayor’s Office by the outgoing executive director with the message that the Commission supported this appointment.

Problem was, mayors typically don’t appoint as chairmen people they don’t know and, in my case, had never even met. The mayor (or his staff) contacted Commission members he did know and trust. They vouched for me. I was appointed the new chairman.

Good people – very good people – stepped forward to take the positions of vice chairman, treasurer, secretary, and advisory members, rebuilding the executive committee which would run the Jazz Commission.


The City Auditor’s work was complete. The new vice chairman, treasurer, secretary and I were called in to meet with the auditor in his City Hall office, to receive a copy of the audit, and to discuss it with him prior to its release to the City Council.

Before the Jazz Commission, I didn’t even know the city had an auditor. I lived north of The Plaza but worked at a small graphic arts studio in Johnson County. Our new vice chairman was a photographer. Our treasurer worked in advertising. Our secretary had been active in civic affairs.

There we sat, mostly novices, as the City Auditor described to us the procedures lacking in the Jazz Commission’s operations, the records not found, the recommendations being made. This audit would be released to the City Council next week. It would be helpful if, in his presentation to the Council, the City Auditor could say we agreed to implement his recommendations. We did.

I took a copy of the audit. A copy would go to the the Mayor’s Office. Another copy would go to the chairman of the City Council committee which would receive it. The City Auditor’s office, of course, kept copies.

The next day the audit was leaked to The Kansas City Star. An article appeared on the front page. I didn’t know who leaked it.

At that time, Kansas City had both a morning newspaper, The Kansas City Times, and an evening newspaper, The Kansas City Star. While both were owned by The Star and shared the building at 18th and Grand, reporters for each newspaper competed. Both newspapers had a reporter covering City Hall. On this story, the reporter for The Star (who still writes for the newspaper) scooped the reporter for The Times.

The reporter for The Star found someone happy to jab another knife into the Jazz Commission’s already bleeding back, and see the audit in the press before we had an opportunity to prepare a response.

Coincidentally, the reporter for The Times covering the story lived in the same apartment complex as I did. Months later, after all the turmoil over the Jazz Commission subsided, the Times reporter was sitting out by the pool one weekend afternoon when I walked by. I stopped and we chatted. There were no hard feelings. He was a nice guy doing his job.

“Let me ask you,” he said, “because it’s bothered me. Did you leak the audit?”

No, it wasn’t me, I told him. I wasn’t anxious to see it in the newspaper. I’d wondered myself who leaked it.

“I didn’t think you had,” the reporter said. “But if it wasn’t you, who was it?”

We talked through who had copies. The City Auditor’s office, he said, never leaked reports. The chairman of the City Council committee receiving the report was not friendly with reporters, he said, so it wasn’t him. I didn't leak it. That left the Mayor’s Office.

I had been warned that the mayor’s assistant did not like the Jazz Commission. I never knew why. But I had been told that the individual had tried to undermine the Commission before.

The reporter and I looked at each other. That was it. An aide in the Mayor’s Office had leaked the audit report to The Star.


Some of the City Council members on the committee controlling budget matters discussed Jazz Commission funding among themselves.

That funding was important to the Commission. Not only was it seed money that donors looked on favorably in deciding whether to give us grants, it largely paid for our executive director. Without that money, it would be difficult to hire a new executive director. We’d have nobody in the office to answer the phone, to write grant proposals, to plan pub crawls.

Never mentioned in the press but disclosed to me was that the chairman of the Council’s budget committee had devised a plan to give the Jazz Commission’s funding to another community group which happened to be a law client of another member of the budget committee. He assumed that gave him at least two votes on his four member committee to end funding for the Jazz Commission.

An unfavorable audit and our former treasurer going to court didn’t help.

We had problems.

More next month, in another blog post.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are welcome. If you prefer, you can reach me directly at kcjazzlark(at)gmail(dot)com.