Charles Hazley. Former City Councilman. A man I will not miss.
The Star reported today that Hazley died recently. The news story did not say when.
The headline over political reporter Dave Helling’s story read “KC political powerhouse Charles Hazley dies at 71.”
I knew Hazley well. As a reporter for The Star, I covered City Hall from 1985 to 1995. Hazley was on the council from 1971 to 1991. It took a Kansas City Charter Amendment to get him and his long-term ally Bobby Hernandez off the council.
The charter change, which voters approved, limited council members to two consecutive four-year terms. The proposal was aimed partly at Hazley and Hernandez, who were elected in districts — not citywide — and had been virtually invulnerable to election challenges.
Council members are supposed to work part time, giving them time to work at other, primary jobs. But that’s about all that Hazley (and Hernandez and some others) did. They made a career out of part-time service on the City Council.
Helling called Hazley “one of the most important politicians in Kansas City for three decades.” If, by important, he means manipulative and crafty, that’s true. But, no, hardly one of the most important. Not compared to truly important former council members such as Bruce R. Watkins, Bob Lewellen and Emanuel Cleaver.
Hernandez and Hazley were in the pocket of the developer Frank Morgan and his cronies, including lawyer I.I. Ozar. They also kowtowed to development attorney Jim Bowers, a partner with White, Goss, Bowers, March Schulte & Weisenfels.
Morgan and Dreiseszun are dead. I believe Ozar is still alive, and Bowers is still going strong.
Hazley was fairly successful at rounding up the seven votes (out of 13) needed to get pet projects approved.
I remember one time (but not the issue) when he had the votes he needed but someone who had committed to him inadvertently voted the wrong way. The measure came up a vote short. Very calmly, Hazley rose and asked for a re-vote. The second time, the errant council members changed his or her vote, and the measure passed.
…Helling said that Hazley “often tangled with reporters.”
That’s right. And the main reason was that when reporters would challenge him on something, he often threw down the race card.
I recall a time when I was working on a story where it appeared that Hazley had a conflict of interest. This was before the council voted. The day in question a newly hired reporter was tagging along with me as I made my rounds.
With her in tow, I caught up with Hazley in the City Hall parking garage, below City Hall, and expressed my concern. Hazley immediately got defensive and started yelling at me, saying several times, “That’s racist!
The new reporter stood by, watching wide eyed. Just to rub it in, Hazley turned to her before heading for his car and said, “Good to meet you; if you ever need anything, give me a call.”
A few days later, when the issue came before the council for a vote, Hazley rose and asked the city attorney if the circumstances tying him to the issue amounted to a conflict of interest.
I’ll never forget the brief exchange that followed.
Rich Ward, city attorney at the time, stood up and said, “Not necessarily.”
As soon as Ward began to launch into an explanation, Hazley cut him off, saying, “That’s OK; that’s all I need to know.”
With that, he announced that he had a possible conflict of interest and would be abstaining on the issue.
I recall another time that Hazley tried to engineer a large payment of taxpayer funds — several thousand dollars — to a professional basketball player (I believe it was Sam Lacey of the Kansas City Kings) to appear at some event for youngsters.
When I challenged Hazley on that, he denied any involvement and said that Assistant City Manger James I. Threatt had put the deal together.
Threatt, a guy I liked a lot and who had a great sense of humor, came up with some vague, lame explanation and essentially took the fall for Hazley.
Thereafter, Threatt, who died several years ago, occasionally would greet me, especially when others were around, by saying:
“There he is — the man who tried to kill basketball!”
Anyway, I hope Hazley is in heaven today…But I hope we don’t see another one like him on the City Council.