Monday, May 9, 2011

Commission Tales 3: Angry Chair

I was lucky.

Because however much I may recount these Jazz Commission stories from my perspective, I was part of a team. The Jazz Commission’s vice chairman, treasurer, secretary, other members and I solved the Commission’s problems collectively. We didn’t always agree. Not everyone left the group amicably. That doesn't matter. Together, a team of wonderful, dedicated jazz fans resuscitated the Kansas City Jazz Commission.


I was also lucky because, I discovered, the Jazz Commission had friends inside and outside of City Hall. We needed them.

The Commission’s former treasurer was being prosecuted for stealing $6400 of city funds from the Jazz Commission. We were audited by the City Auditor and the unfavorable result was leaked to the newspaper. An attorney testified before a City Council committee that the Commission should be denied city funding, and nobody from the Commission showed up to defend us, angering the committee chairman. Meanwhile, two Commission chairmen resigned within a couple months of each other and our executive director took a job in California.

The new vice chairman and I decided to start by visiting the City Council office of the committee chairman who didn’t like us. The Commission’s funding was stuck in his committee. Neither of us knew how City Hall worked. This seemed to be the best place to begin finding out.

The committee chairman’s assistant was friendly. She smiled. Could we visit with the councilman? He’s a busy man (translation: no). How can we discuss with him the Commission’s budget? You might send him a memo (translation: you can’t). Could we do anything to see the Commission’s budget brought up in committee again? A councilman needs to do that (translation: no, you can’t). Thank you for your help. You’re welcome (translation: go away, losers).

I don’t remember now if the vice chairman needed to leave after that or if the next day I returned to City Hall alone. But the next logical step seemed to be to try to meet another councilman on the budget committee. I went to the office of a freshman council member. He greeted me immediately. He liked jazz.

Sometimes when you meet someone, you hit it off immediately, as if you’re lifelong friends. You don’t know why, you just do. That was the case between me and this council member. As we talked, as I laid out plans for the Jazz Commission, the councilman was engaged. He would be our advocate in the budget committee.

But there was a problem.

The committee chairman had developed a plan to give all of the Jazz Commission’s funding to another civic group. Away from the City Council, that group was this councilman’s law client. The chairman thought that assured him of this councilman’s support. But it didn’t. Well, it probably didn’t.

The councilman took me into the office of another freshman council member who was also part of the budget committee. He introduced us, laid out my case, and she was on our side. They both suggested I return after lunch, with the Commission’s vice chairman, when the committee would publicly meet, and speak before the committee.

They didn’t tell the committee chairman they suggested that.

After lunch, before the budget committee, the council member who befriended us reintroduced the Jazz Commission’s funding. The committee chairman was surprised. This wasn’t on his agenda. The two council members I’d met said there were two people from the Jazz Commission in the room who would like to speak. The committee chairman was surprised and not happy. This wasn’t on his agenda. We spoke. With controlled anger, the committee chairman asked why we had not testified before.

“Forgive us,” I responded. “I work as Production Manager in a small graphics studio. She,” as I gestured towards the Commission’s vice chairman, “is a photographer. We’re quickly learning how things work in this building.”

The committee chairman said nothing. The fourth member of the budget committee looked bemused. Two reporters, who had not been covering what was expected to be an uneventful committee meeting, rushed into the room. The budget committee meeting was adjourned. The committee chairman looked towards the two council members who introduced us and angrily said something, then left. The reporters approached. What had they missed? they asked. What precipitated that outburst? What happened?

I later found out we were, momentarily at least, the talk of City Hall. And the Jazz Commission’s funding was back in play.

The two council members who brought us this far told us that we needed to meet individually with each of the other City Council members, just as we had met with the two of them, to build support for the Jazz Commission’s funding. They would delay reconsideration until we had that support.

We were definitely learning how things worked in that building.


I, often with another Jazz Commission Executive Committee member, met with each of the other, mostly sympathetic, City Council members. All except one. The chairman of the budget committee would not see us. And he held significant say in when or if the Jazz Commission’s funding would be brought up again in his committee. He would not again be blindsided.

Then, one afternoon, the wife of an assistant city manager called me. I knew her from my days with the jazz festival. Her husband had a suggestion to help.

But first, we were told by a former Jazz Commission chairman that we needed to meet with The Kansas City Star.

More, in the next blog post.

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