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KCMO councilwoman defends career amid calls for removal as committee chair

Posted at 10:00 AM, Sep 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-16 21:05:56-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Several members of the Kansas City, Missouri, City Council announced Wednesday that they are calling for the removal of another council member from her position as the head of a committee.

Council members Eric Bunch, Kevin O'Neill and Melissa Robinson are asking Mayor Quinton Lucas to remove council member Teresa Loar from her position as chairperson of the Transportation, Infrastructure and Operations Committee and appoint someone else to that post.

The three members calling for her removal also sit on the committee and boycotted its Wednesday meeting. Everything on the committee's agenda was pushed to next week.

"If the mayor asks me to, I would consider it," Loar said after the Wednesday meeting was canceled. "But I'm not going to resign on my own. I know what I'm doing."

Bunch, O'Neill and Robinson cited "unprofessional, racist and unethical behavior" as their reason for wanting Loar removed.

"The consequence has to match the behavior," Robinson said. "Making sure that we don't uphold racist acts."

During a July 23 council meeting, Loar and Robinson disagreed over the future of the city's animal control office. Robinson read a statement and Loar insulted her intelligence.

"That was a very nice speech someone wrote you, Ms. Robinson," Loar said at the meeting. "My guess it's labor, somewhere."

When Robinson addressed this, Loar mocked the way she was talking.

"Whether she realized it or not, when you do those types of gestures, that is a historical gesture that has been placed on black women for centuries," Robinson said.

Lucas instructed Loar to take implicit bias training. On Aug. 6, Loar read a public apology.

The apology came after church and civic leaders from the Black community in Kansas City asked Lucas to remove Loar from her role as committee chair.

Loar denies what she did was racist.

"I would say right now this is not about race. It never has been about race," Loar said. "This is about corruption and steering contracts at KCI. This is about new council members maybe being duped by outside influences and trying to get contracts for either people that asked or friends of theirs."

Loar's accusation comes from a disputed concrete contract for Kansas City International Airport that was eventually awarded to St. Joseph company Ideker Inc. instead of the out-of-state company the terminal's developer originally chose.

Robinson, Bunch and O'Neill were among council members who pushed for Ideker to submit a best and final bid.

"The council, these three members, got involved in the bid," Loar said. "I'm not sure if it's illegal, but it's certainly unethical because those are closed bids council should not be involved in. They got involved, they flipped the bid to the other company they preferred and then they still didn't win, so they did it again. So it's been three times before the company finally got the bid."

Bunch said these claims are "unconscionable."

"I can't even believe that she would say that," Bunch said. "And knowing – I'm not going to comment further. But I will say, this is about her leadership, full-stop. There is no external pressure other than constituents calling."

Robinson said she will always advocate for local women and minority-owned companies, and said Loar is deflecting.

"At every point, she has deflected her responsibility," Robinson said. "And again, the values that we are saying are necessary to be in this role. Unfortunately, her response makes no sense."

The committee, according to Bunch, can no longer get any work done under Loar's leadership and Lucas should step in.

In a statement provided to 41 Action News, Lucas's spokesperson, Morgan Said, said, "At first glance, I'd note that the only 'verbal' commitment the mayor has made on this topic is that he would evaluate a change in committee structure - which he continues to do."

Later Wednesday, Said issued a second statement for Lucas:

“After her previous action at City Council, the mayor mandated bias training for Councilwoman Loar, which she has completed. He also demanded she apologize publicly and had very challenging conversations with her about her performance, about implicit bias, and about how she can and should do better in connection with the committee that she currently chairs, including reaching out to understand the experience of all of those with whom she serves on the committee.

As I noted earlier and as Mayor Lucas has shared with his colleagues, including Councilwoman Loar, the mayor will continue to evaluate committee assignments. Mayor Lucas has met twice with those who are aggrieved at which time he informed them he would evaluate their request, with Councilwoman Loar herself, with other members of the City Council, former Mayor Cleaver, and folks in the public—as he will continue to do because that is his job.

The mayor’s top priority each day is ensuring that he and the City are doing good work on behalf of the people of Kansas City, and that he is fair in any determinations that are made along the way. Although she was duly elected by the people of Kansas City, the mayor expects the same standard of Councilwoman Loar and all of his colleagues.”

Lucas also addressed the altercation, saying Loar’s apology was needed. He also apologized to Robinson for not calling out Loar’s initial remarks.

It is unclear what will happen at next week's committee meeting.

"To pick a fight in your first year, we'll see," Loar said about Robinson.

Loar released the below statement ahead of the other members publicly calling for her removal and said she remains focused on meeting the needs of Kansas City residents.

As I enter my 35th year of public service, and my fourth term of service on the City Council, I am laser focused on meeting the needs of the citizens of Kansas City, Missouri.

Mature leadership is more critical than ever as people in our community face great economic challenges, food insecurity, and the threat of losing everything they’ve worked for as a result of a worldwide pandemic. It’s more important than at any time in my four terms at City Hall that we make smart decisions, and not become distracted by political gamesmanship.

My focus as Chairwoman of the Transportation, Infrastructure and Operations Committee is to make sure we deliver on the basics; safe roads, bridges, and water services are essential to our quality of life. Additionally, we are in the midst of our largest infrastructure project in the City’s history at KCI. We must find ways to work together to benefit all of our citizens, putting aside short-term goals of individual political careers and making the survival and well-being of Kansas Citians our collective goal.

I have served four mayors on the aviation or transportation committees, and was Chair of those committees under Mayor Emanuel Cleaver II and Mayor Kay Barnes. In August of 2019 I agreed to serve as chair of Transportation, Infrastructure and Operations for Mayor Quinton Lucas. We both served on the aviation committee in the previous council and he wanted someone with experience to oversee the $1.5 billion dollar project at KCI. My work for Mayor Cleaver and Mayor Barnes, combined with my past experience working for America West airline, and my 12 years of council service in the Northland, gave Mayor Lucas confidence in ability to lead the committee.

As chair of the aviation committee for Mayor Barnes, we were in the midst of a $325,000,000 renovation when 9/11 struck. I immediately reached out to airport colleagues throughout the nation and convened an Airport Security Conference here in Kansas City within weeks of the tragedy, because we knew Congress would be implementing new security legislation that could severely impact midsize and smaller airports. Our 3-day conference was covered live by Dan Abrams of CNN and many of our resulting recommendations were adopted in the federal legislation, protecting the financial viability of KCI and similar airports nationwide.

I’ve been through many challenges in my three decades as a public servant. Whether protecting the diverse student population of the North Kansas City Schools as Board President, or helping our mayors achieve their goals as the go-to leader on aviation and infrastructure, I have earned a reputation of being down to earth with an open door policy and a sincere interest in helping our citizens, small businesses, first responders and community-builders to navigate the ins and outs of City Hall to achieve our goals.

My pledge to Mayor Lucas and my colleagues at City Hall is to continue to serve the best interests of all of our citizens, and to use my leadership experience to help guide our city through these tough times.