Now that the volcanic ash has started to settle from last week’s eruption at 12th and McGee, I’m starting to think that some good might come out of the three-day debacle.
despite John Covington intentionally (I feel sure) squirting lighter fluid on the always-burning-embers of the Kansas City school board;
despite school board member Arthur Benson flying off the handle and accusing board president Airick Leonard West of causing the eruption;
and despite West apparently dabbling in the mechanics, at least, of a proposed multi-million-dollar bid that was supposed to be the province of the superintendent.
And how, you ask, might some good come out of this?
— It helped, I think, to bring into full public view the fact that significant problems exist between Benson and West and that those two bookends must reconcile their differences if the board is to move forward effectively.
— It showed that West has to be watched closely and has to learn, if he can, to resist the temptation to dip his hands in contractual matters that are off limits to the board until those matters are brought to the board for discussion and approval.
On the first point, Benson said on Friday — the day Covington accepted a new job in Michigan — that he felt Covington had “used” him and that he was “completely distraught.”
What he apparently didn’t say to West, at least in public (if The Star’s front-page story is a guide) is “I’m sorry.” Those were the words that he should have spoken to West in the wake of his call for West to resign, when he obviously believed that Covington resigned because of West’s meddling.
However, even though Benson might not have apologized publicly, the front-page photo of him with his right arm around West’s shoulder at a Friday news conference spoke volumes.
These two guys need each other, and Kansas City needs for them to work well together. They’re both very bright; one has the benefit of years of experience; the other has the benefit of youth, vigor and good political instincts.
As for the second point — West dipping into matters that are supposed to be left to the administration — an Aug. 26 story by The Star’s Joe Robertson and Dave Helling contained a very disturbing section.
The story said:
“…e-mail records show Covington made a Sunshine Law request earlier this week seeking copies of correspondence between West and bidders hoping to win an $85 million project to modernize the energy efficiency of all district buildings.”
“West provided copies of e-mails to The Star that he believed were responsible for the concerns. Bidders were alerted in the project bid regulations not to have any contact with board members.
“The e-mails, from Peter Hinkle with Schneider Electric, shared a list of best practices and questions to ask in assessing such an energy services contract. Hinkle also shared concerns about the process in an e-mail that records show West forwarded to Covington.
“West wrote Covington, saying, ‘I contacted these folks because I thought they had questions about whom to contact regarding district projects. As it turned out, they wound up being more informative to me…’ “
The company found West to be “more informative” than Covington. Why, West must have been amazed that Schneider officials were so solicitous to him — little old Airick, just one of a handful of people who would ultimately decide who got the contract.
Everybody, even those with limited vision, can see the potential problems with a vendor cozying up to the board president.
I sure hope that West, who is 31 and doesn’t have much in the way of career achievements, can stay on the right side of the road. He’s got a lot of potential, but it could all flood away in an instant if he let temptation and greed get the better of him.
So now things now will settle down at 12th and McGee, and The Star won’t be dedicating as many column inches to the situation there. Nevertheless, Kansas City school district patrons, civic leaders and Star readers will be counting on Joe Robertson, KCMO school district reporter, to keep plenty of sun shining on school board proceedings and behind-the-scenes developments. There’s nothing like a nosy reporter to help keep people honest and alert.
West and Benson should provide another layer of public protection: As they work on their relationship, each will be watching the other like they’d scrutinize amoebae under a microscope.