After criticism, KC police chief drops out of appearance at Republican fundraiser

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith has backed out of plans to attend a fundraiser held by the Jackson County Republican Party after criticism from Mayor Quinton Lucas.

The Reagan-Lincoln Day Dinner is scheduled to take place April 17 at the Adams Pointe Conference Center in Blue Springs.

According to the event’s website, special guests of honor include Mark and Patricia McClosky, and Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who is running for U.S. Senate, will give the keynote address. Former Gov. Eric Greitens, another U.S. Senate candidate, will also speak.

Smith was scheduled to receive an award at the banquet but announced that he was declining the invitation, saying his attendance would become a distraction.

“I was invited, on behalf of the police department, to be recognized for its hard work during the summer of 2020. It is becoming apparent that my attendance at the event would be a distraction.  After careful consideration, I will respectfully decline the invitation to this event,” Smith said in a statement to FOX4.

The announcement came hours after critical tweets from Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, who has said he’s considering a U.S. Senate run.

“Never in Kansas City have I seen our apolitical appointees, be it a police chief, city manager or fire chief, engage as featured guests/speakers in partisan political events or causes. The reasons not to do so are numerous and apparent. I would hope this does not change,” Lucas tweeted.

“Particularly now when enhancing community trust is a primary goal for police departments across the country, I’d encourage ours and its leadership to retain its objectivity and independence to the fullest extent. There are uniformed political actors in unions who can substitute.”

The dynamics of the disagreement between Kansas City’s mayor and its police chief highlight the lack of direct control the city has over its police department.

Kansas City has the only police department in the country with a state-appointed board overseeing it. This stems back to the 1930s when Tom Pendergast controlled the political machine that ran the city for more than a decade. Corruption was rampant.

To break the Pendergast machine, the state took over control of the police department with the governor appointing four members of a board to oversee its operation. Kansas City’s mayor is the fifth member and the only locally elected official. Greitens appointed two of those members during his tenure as governor.

Lucas has been a vocal proponent of bringing back local control of the police department. Last summer he had proposed a ballot initiative that would’ve asked voters whether the city should make it a legislative priority to pursue legal action returning control of the police department to the city.

However, that initiative was halted by city council, which instead voted to make lobbying state lawmakers for local control a legislative priority.

“We have heard loud and clear that there are people that want to have better relationships and want us to have better relationships between police and the community,” Lucas said at the time.

For his part, Smith supports the current model of governance. In a blog post from November 2020, Smith said that because Kansas City’s mayor has a seat on the board, and because the city controls funding, the issue isn’t really local control, but rather political control.

“Many say that model is outdated. We believe, however, that it has served the people of Kansas City well for 80 years and will continue to do so,” Smith said.  

Kansas City Star Columnist and co-host of 4Star Politics, Dave Helling, said the police chief made the right call by changing his decision to attend the event.

“If it were democrats, you’d also be worried because the police chief in Kansas City, which is the only major city in America run by a board appointed by the governor, is supposed to be as apolitical and non-partisan as you can get. That’s why you have that set up and to appear at some political party, even to accept an award seems just like a bridge too far.”

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