Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt has butted into Kansas City’s business by filing a brief in the funding lawsuit between the Board of Police Commissioners and Mayor Quinton Lucas and the City Council.
As is typically the case, Schmitt’s brief is long on political diatribes and misleading policy claims.
That’s frustrating, but not worrisome: Any competent judge will discard Schmitt’s uninformed rants as irrelevant to the legal issue at hand, which is the dispute over the city’s ability to decide how to spend its money.
Fortunately for Missourians who believe in representative government, Schmitt’s legal arguments are also inept.
Let’s review the basic facts. In late May, the City Council voted to move $42 million dollars from one part of the police department’s budget to another account. The money will still be spent on police, once an agreement on the specifics is in place between the council and the police board.
In the first sentence of his brief, Schmitt calls that defunding the police. That’s simply untrue.
Since the change could result in millions more in funding for the KCPD, we wish someone would defund us tout de suite.
Schmitt also claims the council “rammed” the proposal through, but offers no evidence — nor could there be any — that any council rules were violated when the ordinance passed.
The attorney general then claims the city’s decision violates Missouri law, which says the department is under the “management and control” of the police board. But the full statute — Section 84.460 — is clearly meant to give the board control of police officers, not of the city’s spending decisions.
And that hasn’t changed. The police board still “controls and manages” the police. The City Council made no changes in police sick leave, or disciplinary procedures, or any other policy.
It didn’t fire anyone. It didn’t hire anyone. The City Council didn’t promote, demote or change a single line of the department’s policy manual.
What the Board of Police Commissioners does not “control and manage” is the City Council, which is free to make its own budget choices. That’s what the lawsuit is all about.
To understand that, we must turn to another part of Schmitt’s brief, which argues — incredibly — that the City Council can’t add or subtract a single penny from the budget once it’s approved.
“The time for the City Council to negotiate over the budget or appropriate funds has long since passed,” Schmitt writes. Where did that come from? The city isn’t required to “negotiate” with the police board over the budget. There’s no deadline for such non-required talks.
The city has raised and lowered its police spending dozens of times over the years, long after passing a budget, without a peep from the BOPC. And we know exactly why: The state law on the police budget, Sec. 84.730, tells the police board to certify an estimated budget, not a locked-in-concrete, unchangeable number.
How can any board certify an estimated budget that can’t be changed? What if the estimate is high? Or low? What if new money comes in? What if it doesn’t? It doesn’t make sense, unless you understand the law explicitly allows the budget to be adjusted as circumstances warrant.
In fact, Sec. 84.730 allows the board to ask the city for additional money for police costs that “shall not have been contemplated in their estimate for the fiscal year.” That is, the very state law Schmitt claims locks in spending explicitly allows the city to change spending if necessary.
Except that, emergency or not, new estimate or old, “in no event shall the governing body of the cities be required to appropriate for the use of the police board in any fiscal year an amount in excess of one-fifth of the general revenue fund of such year,” which is as clear as it gets.
It could not be otherwise. If a court decides public appropriations are unchangeable the minute after they’re passed, every school board, county commission and city council will be unable to respond to emergencies: Floods, pandemics, fires, higher gas prices, you name it, if it didn’t pass the first time, you’re out of luck.
The Kansas City Council will take note, too. Next year, and forever, the police department will get 20% of the general revenue fund: no more, no less. Locked in. Can’t be changed, ever. Sorry.
This isn’t a serious document, so it won’t do any legal harm. But we seriously wish he’d do the job he was elected to do instead of inserting himself pointlessly in this city’s affairs.