After secret taxpayer subsidies to baseball team, KCK elected leaders make changes to policy

KANSAS CITY, Kan. - Elected leaders with the Unified Government of Wyandotte County are taking steps to make sure they get a say before taxpayer money is spent.

In November, 41 Action News reported on secret subsidies provided to owners of the Kansas City T-Bones to help the ballclub stave off a possible foreclosure at Community America Ballpark.

The agreement was approved by County Administrator Dennis Hays in January but was never made public. 41 Action News learned elected commissioners were even kept in the dark, not finding out about the $174,000 expenditure until months later in a closed-door executive session.

In November, UG Spokesman Mike Taylor confirmed the option agreement was signed prior to any review from commissioners, but said it was under the authority of the county administrator. Taylor added that the UG's legal counsel reviewed the situation prior to moving forward.

However, it was clear some commissioners were not happy about the process. During a meeting for the Economic Development and Finance Committee on November 4, Commissioner Ann Murguia voiced her displeasure.

"It's no secret that I'm not happy at all. In fact, I'm very angry and feel deceived and lied to about something that occurred where money was spent and was not brought to the commission," Murguia said, according to published minutes of the meeting.

On Thursday, based on recommendations from that committee, the full commission will consider new budget policies intended to give them more oversight.

The new language will require commission approval for all expenditures over $50,000 that "do not impact operations or present an immediate health and safety concern." Budget adjustments over $50,000 that do fit the emergency criteria will be reported at the next finance committee meeting.

Commissioner Brian McKiernan, who chairs the committee, said the discussion about the budget policies started months ago, but received some extra scrutiny after commissioners learned of payments to the T-Bones.

"We want to strike a balance between micromanaging and maintaining adequate oversight," McKiernan said. "I think the policy is in response to our commissioners wanting to make sure they stay engaged in the budget and finance process throughout the year."

The UG is considering a bid to purchase and renovate the ballpark, located in the Village West retail area, by using $8 million in Sales Tax Revenue Bonds (STAR). A public hearing on the topic is slated for this Thursday at the Board of Commissioners' meeting.

McKiernan said the budget policy changes will also be discussed by commissioners at that meeting.

Ralph Norton, a KCK resident since 1964, was disappointed to hear about the secret nature of the taxpayer payments to the T-Bones' owners. He said he even wanted to file a formal ethics complaint about the process.

"I just couldn't believe our government was bailing out someone without us hearing anything about it," Norton said. "They've always stressed transparency and this was not transparent. This was all under the table, hiding from taxpayers that they were using our money."

Ryan Kath can be reached at ryan.kath@kshb.com. You can also follow him on Twitter or connect on his Facebook page.

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