KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A lawsuit filed Nov. 30 alleges that Kansas City, Missouri, City Manager Brian Platt encouraged staff to "lie to the media" then retaliated against an employee who was uncomfortable with doing so.
Chris Hernandez, the former KCMO communications director, said the issues between him and Platt started on Jan. 3, 2022, during a meeting to discuss communications priorities for the upcoming year.
During a discussion about how to handle local media, Hernandez alleges that Platt asked, “Why can’t we just lie to the media?”
The lawsuit recounted the conversation Hernandez alleges followed.
According to the filing, Hernandez told Platt, “That’s not a good idea. We shouldn’t do that."
Platt then allegedly replied, "Why not? In Jersey, we had a mayor who would just make up numbers on the fly from the podium, and no reporters ever called him on it.”
The issues continued in March, when KCMO was set to kick off a campaign about resurfacing city streets.
After discussion among city officials and the KCMO Public Works Department, it was decided that based on the budget, nearly 300 miles of streets would be resurfaced.
When reviewing a press release draft, Platt noticed it said "nearly 300 miles" and asked for it to be edited to say "300 miles."
On May 6, 2022, Platt tweeted that more than 400 miles would be resurfaced during the spring and summer.
Hernandez became concerned with the tweet, because official city press releases said it would be 300 miles.
Hernandez later asked Platt if he should change the press releases, but Platt allegedly replied, “No, no, don’t do that. Just go with 300.”
In a statement provided to KSHB 41 News on Thursday morning, Press Secretary Sherae Honeycutt addressed claims surrounding the extent of the city's street resurfacing program, saying Platt believes the city is on track to "meet and exceed 400 lane miles" by the end of the current fiscal year ending April 30, 2023.
“The City is proud of its verifiable success in road resurfacing and infrastructure improvements over the past several years," the statement read. “As an institution committed to transparency, the City stands by any statements and welcomes inspection of any facts related to our transformative work to have already resurfaced 387 lane miles of roadway this fiscal year – substantially exceeding our resurfacing efforts in each of the past five years."
The civil suit also alleges that in May, Platt became upset later about a story published in The Kansas City Star regarding potholes.
Platt allegedly demanded city employees call the newspaper and say the numbers in the story were wrong despite assertions from city staff that they were correct and available through publicly available data.
Honeycutt later released a statement addressing The Star's story.
In the Spring of 2022, the City was disappointed the Kansas City Star did not demonstrate an awareness that curb-to-curb resurfacing eliminates the need for the filling of individual potholes," Honeycutt later said in the updated statement. "The City’s practice when misleading information is published is to attempt to clarify any misinformation. The City does not believe the aspect of large-scale resurfacing over the filling of potholes was properly expressed to the Star at the time of publication.”
Platt and Hernandez met for coffee in June away from City Hall and discussed why another city employee had resigned.
Hernandez informed him that it was because of the way employees were being treated by Platt and Assistant City Manager Melissa Kozakiewicz, according to the lawsuit, which noted that the two men left the meeting frustrated and angry.
Hernandez was demoted in August, the lawsuit alleges, because he refused to help Platt lie to media.