When Prairie Village City Councilman Michael Kelly talks about his motivations for entering the race for mayor, he frequently references a management style at city hall that has been too disengaged.
For evidence, he says, look no further than a missed application deadline for federal funds that could have netted the city between $800,000 and $1.2 million for road improvement projects.
“It was the most expensive mistake in Prairie Village history,” Kelly said. “Hands down.”
In February 2009, the city received word from the Mid-America Regional Council that a series of proposed road projects in Prairie Village would not be considered for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding because the city had failed to send in required information. An investigation into the incident found that email reminders about the deadline had been sent to then-Public Works Director Bob Pryzby, who was away on medical leave. The city’s Manager of Engineering Services, who had taken on some of Pryzby’s responsibilities while he was away, was fired following the incident.
(City Administrator Quinn Bennion compiled a report on the events leading up to the missed deadline, which includes press clippings from the weeks following the incident. Click on the image above to download the full report).
Though the city took action against the Manager of Engineering Services, the ultimate responsibility for the missed deadline was with Mayor Ron Shaffer, said Kelly.
“If I were the mayor, I would have been on top of this,” Kelly said. “I don’t think the mayor is a bad person. But I don’t think he was paying attention. Losing $1 million is a big deal.”
Kelly’s sentiments are shared by former Prairie Village City Councilman Wayne Vennard, who sent a sternly worded email to city officials after word of the missed deadline came out.
“There were a series of breakdowns. The City Administrator didn’t track it adequately. And I think the mayor did an inadequate job,” Vennard said. “They fired the lowest guy on the food chain on that one.”
Vennard, who was appointed by Shaffer to serve a second stint on the council in the mid-2000s, said he wouldn’t be supporting Shaffer in the election.
For his part, Shaffer says the incident prompted a look at internal processes that have been altered to prevent future incidents.
“This was an unfortunate situation, and I believe we’ve taken actions to make sure it never happens again,” Shaffer said.
The city ended up being able to apply for a second round of stimulus money, which ultimately led to a grant of $1.6 million to be used on projects similar to those the city was seeking funding for in the missed application. But the silver lining of landing more money than the city was initially seeking doesn’t excuse that the incident took place, Kelly said.
“I’m glad we ended up getting the new funds,” Kelly said. “But it’s a separate matter.”