Sly James pulls Phil Glynn off the TIF Commission following his no vote on Shirley Helzberg’s request for public development subsidies

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Phil Glynn is off the Kansas City Tax Increment Financing Commission. Kansas City Mayor Sly James announced on Friday that he had replaced Glynn with development attorney Jennifer Dameron.

To those who follow the TIF Commission’s politics, Glynn’s departure wasn’t much of a surprise. It’s known that James keeps signed and undated resignation letters for his appointments to key posts, such as his six appointees to the TIF Commission. The implication of keeping such letters is clear: By simply writing in the date, the mayor can enact an appointment’s “resignation” at any time.

James has always said he didn’t keep those resignation letters to exert control over an appointment’s voting and decision making, but rather as a means to curtail any appointee who went “rogue” or “off the reservation.”

James, when asked about these resignation letters during his campaign screening with the Citizens Association earlier this year, said he kept them handy in case he had another situation like Francis Semler, the woman whom his predecessor Mark Funkhouser had appointed to the Kansas City Parks & Recreation Board.

Semler, it turned out, had associations with the Minutemen, an anti-immigration group. Her presence on the prominent municipal board angered Funkhouser’s opponents and Latino groups, including the National Council of La Raza, which relocated its annual convention from Kansas City on account of her appointment.

In the small kingdom of Kansas City politics, one can always make a comparison to Funkhouser to justify one decision or another. In this case, invoking Semler doesn’t make much sense. Semler wasn’t an appointee who went off the rails to nurture absurd ideas before the Parks Board, leaving Funkhouser in a lurch with no ability to rein her in. Semler resigned on her own volition after she became frustrated with Funkhouser. Funkhouser wanted her to stick around.

In any event, Glynn isn’t some appointee who went “rogue” by normal standards. Glynn is one of six appointed by James to the 11-member TIF Commission. The TIF Commission doesn’t make final, binding decisions on TIFs. It merely makes recommendations to the City Council, which has the power to enact or dispense with TIFs.

In that role, Glynn has questioned some of the TIFs that have come his way. He voted against a TIF plan that resulted in the teardown of the old Beth Shalom synagogue near Wornall and Bannister roads, replacing it with an expansion of Burns & McDonnell’s south Kansas City headquarters. Glynn, who was the only city appointee to vote against that TIF, said at the time he thought the development subsidy should be used for projects closer to the city’s inner core rather than the southern edge of the tony Ward Parkway corridor.

Last month, Glynn was the sole no vote on a TIF in the Crossroads Arts District. It’s there where wealthy philanthropist Shirley Helzberg wants to reshape a building she bought 10 years ago at 1640 Baltimore into a new headquarters office for architecture firm BNIM. TIF would redirect about $5 million in taxes to chip away at the $13 million bill Helzberg has to renovate her building.

Glynn’s opposition to Helzberg’s TIF request was rooted in his belief that the Crossroads has reached a point where more development should happen without the public’s assistance. Indeed, there’s a hotel going up at 16th Street and Main without a dime of incentives. Glynn’s own company, Travois, did a sleek remodeling of its Crossroads building, also without incentives.

Helzberg’s attorneys, along with the Downtown Council, argue that the Crossroads isn’t as far along as Glynn thinks. But there are other public policy questions encapsulated in the discussion about the Helzberg TIF. What about the cost of moving BNIM merely one block to a new office within a TIF district, meaning it will pay less in earnings taxes along the way? Are Kansas City leaders, who are concerned about the April election to renew the earnings tax, at the same time foolish to extend a break on BNIM’s earnings taxes as it moves into a building owned by a wealthy developer? Should Kansas City Public Schools, which has $240 million in deferred maintenance, surrender the property taxes it would have received had Helzberg redeveloped her building without TIF?

Glynn tells The Pitch that he understood his replacement on the TIF Commission was a result of his vote on Helzberg’s TIF request. He adds that he wasn’t asked to resign, which signals that the resignation letter he signed when appointed to the TIF Commission was dusted off and put into effect by the mayor’s office.

Glynn’s dismissal from the TIF Commission itself raises another set of nuanced questions. What is the role of a TIF commissioner? Is it merely to reflect the priorities of whomever appointed the commissioner? Or should there be latitude for commissioners to act independently if they see a TIF that they believe is contrary to what the subsidy tool is supposed to accomplish? Would anyone be surprised if a school district rescinded the appointment of one of its representatives on the TIF Commission if he or she voted against the school board’s wishes? If those on the TIF Commission are acting as proxies for those who appointed them, then what’s the point of having a TIF Commission at all?

Whatever the answers to these questions, it’s clear that there are turbulent times ahead on the TIF Commission. The Helzberg TIF has set off a furious response from some East Side leaders and KCPS parents, enough that they’re gathering signatures for a referendum to allow the public to vote on the Helzberg TIF.

James’ giving Glynn the hook will likely amplify, not lessen, these concerns.

(For more on Sly James, check out this week’s cover story on his administration’s dealings with a new city council here.)

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