UG interim administrator will not seek permanent position, Garner says

Mayor Tyrone Garner said the county’s interim administrator will not seek a permanent position. He made his remarks at the Thursday night Unified Government Commission meeting.

Garner also said she would recommend starting a national search for a permanent administrator expeditiously.

The mayor said he would be working with the interim administrator and legal team to help in the process of searching for a permanent administrator.

He said he hoped to have a thorough, inclusive and transparent process.


He said he also would work with the commission to gets its feedback as they send out a national notice for the administrator. Working with the community on it also will be important, he said.

Later in the meeting, interim administrator Cheryl Harrison-Lee told the commission she was working on three audit projects. The first is a general audit of the entire UG; the other two are human relations and the finance department, she said.

She said she will start to present results of the audits next month. The results of the general audit of the UG will be presented first, she said.

She also outlined some of the accomplishments in the first four months.

Harrison-Lee said she looked forward to assist the mayor as he searches for a permanent administrator, and she would work with the governing body, citizens and staff.

During a public comment time after Mayor Garner’s announcement, several community residents said they hoped Cheryl Harrison-Lee, the interim administrator, would stay.

Carolyn Wyatt, a resident, said she hoped Harrison-Lee would change her mind.

Reginald Jones, a resident, said the UG commissioners were not visible enough in the community.

Reese Towers, a resident, said she was praying that Harrison-Lee would stay.

“The attacks against Ms. Cheryl Harrison-Lee, against our mayor, and against our staff is sad,” she said, adding it was “set up.”

Tscher “Cece” Manck, a resident, said it was important for Harrison-Lee to stay and complete the audit she has started of UG departments.

Lisa Yeager, a business owner who has property in Kansas City, Missouri, said she was almost in tears that Harrison-Lee is leaving.

Thomas Gordon, a resident, said he was concerned about the way Commissioner Andrew Davis was responding at a recent UG Commission meeting. “We are watching your behavior,” he said.

Melvin Williams, a resident, said if he wanted to watch something like the mayor and commission, he could stay home and watch two kids fight over a remote control.

“Let this woman do her job,” Williams said about Harrison-Lee.

Commissioner Gayle Townsend pointed out, in response to one of the comments, that she had put in seven hours at a UG committee meeting Monday night, and the week before that she attended three neighborhood meetings in the community.

“You have no idea what it takes,” Commissioner Townsend said.

Commissioner Chuck Stites said that he hoped the audit would not end, and also that Harrison-Lee will still have the opportunity to apply for the permanent UG administrator position.

Senior utility rebate program expansion proposed

by Mary Rupert

The senior utility rebate program is proposed to expand in Kansas City, Kansas.

A Unified Government committee heard a proposal on Monday night that would expand the program to all ages. Those who earn less than $25,000 a year would qualify for a utility tax rebate under the proposed program.

The Economic Development and Finance Committee approved the proposal and forwarded it to the full UG Commission for more discussion, requesting it be placed on the nonconsent agenda.

As described by UG Chief Financial Officer Kathleen von Achen, the rebate program would not result in a large windfall for anyone, but it would offer a small amount of relief for the neediest.

Currently the program is for those Kansas City, Kansas, residents 65 and older who earn less than $25,000 a year. The recipients typically receive from $50 to $200 in a rebate payment. The maximum anyone could receive is $301, but few receive that much, according to UG officials. The proposed change would allow those KCK residents of any age who meet the income guidelines to apply.

Von Achen estimated an expanded utility rebate program could add an additional 1,500 persons with an additional cost of about $250,000.

According to UG staff, in 2019 the UG processed 745 applications for the senior utility rebates for $171,000; in 2020, the number dropped to 576 applications for $134,000; and so far this year, there were 533 applications for $127,000.

The program goes from Jan. 2 to March 31 each year, and the deadline for applications this year is over. The program currently covers those over 65 who live in Kansas City, Kansas, and have total household incomes of less than $25,000 a year. Eligible expenses included utilities such as BPU bills, natural gas bills, telephone bills, as well as sales tax.

Von Achen said it would be up to the UG Commission whether to change any of the details of the utility rebate program, such as changing the maximum household income to $30,000.

The utility rebate discussion drew a comment from Louise Lynch, a Kansas City, Kansas, resident.

“I can’t begin to tell you how horrified I am in the parameters being set forth,” Lynch said at the meeting.

If this were the 1950s, limits of $25,000 per household in a two-person household might work, but today, they don’t work, according to Lynch.

“If we want to be truly helping our community, those limits have to be raised,” Lynch said.

The information about the proposed utility tax rebate program was presented at the same time as information about creating separate classes for the PILOT fee, which is the first step in potentially lowering the PILOT fee for residents.

To see the earlier story about the PILOT fee, visit http://www.wyandottedaily.com/proposal-moves-forward-for-separate-classes-for-pilot-fee/.

Mayor needs to realize reality of governing

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Opinion column

by Murrel Bland

Several years ago, there was a story floating around Kansas City, Kansas, City Hall about a new mayor who wanted to make a substantial impact on the community with his administration. According to legend, a longtime city hall bureaucrat let the mayor know the political realities of city government.

“We don’t even buy paperclips without two votes,” the bureaucrat said. At that time, three commissioners directed city government,

Fast-forward to today. Mayor Tyrone Garner has come to city hall with what he describes as a substantial agenda for change. He needs to understand that he needs at least five votes, plus his, if substantial change is going to occur.

The mayor also needs to understand that many of the same voters who elected him also elected commissioners. People will support those things that they help create. Abruptly ending a recent commission meeting without letting commissioners further express their views sent the wrong message from the mayor.

Chuck Stites, a newcomer commissioner from Edwardsville, probably summed it up very well:

“We just want to know what is going on,” Stites said.

There is controversy surrounding the recent appointment of Cheryl Harrison-Lee as county administrator. The mayor, as chief executive officer, clearly had authority to nominate her; all commission members approved her appointment for one year.

Now commission members are favoring a national search for county administrator, but would have Harrison-Lee invited to apply. She is now auditing Unified Government departments, apparently trying to find ways of saving money. At the same time, a volunteer committee, including Chris Steineger, is focused on governmental efficiency. Steineger, a Democrat-turned- Republican, was an unsuccessful candidate for mayor.

Harrison-Lee was a controversial city administrator at Gardner. She resigned and received $350,000 in severance pay. She continues to be a consultant for Kansas City, Missouri; critics have raised concern about a possible conflict of interest.

The mayor needs to have better relations with fellow commission members. He also needs to remember that he was elected by only about 400 votes more than his opponent, which is not that much of a margin when considering more than 165,000 residents live in Wyandotte County.

Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is an independent columnist. Opinions expressed here are those of the writer and not necessarily those of this publication.