By Tyler Schneider
Kansas City’s newest city manager, Brian Platt, joined the South Kansas City Alliance on January 11, in a Zoom meeting, to field questions from members of the community.
Platt, 35, took over the position in December, after serving seven years as the city manager and business administrator for Jersey City, New Jersey.
In introducing Platt to viewers and constituents, Mayor Pro Tem and 6th District Rep. Kevin McManus shared his support of Platt’s vision for improving city operations in 2021 and beyond.
“I feel that the status quo isn’t a choice, we have got to look at doing things anew, differently. [Platt] will do things with a fresh eye,” McManus explained before Platt took center stage. Platt opened the session by addressing a more immediate concern for residents: the state of Kansas City’s snow removal preparedness.
“We should no longer accept the status quo that ‘KC is bad with snow removal,’ Platt said, adding that the early January snowfall gave him an opportunity to get his feet on the ground and review plow operations with a fresh eye.
One of the first shifts Platt looks to oversee in that area is to expand the service hours for snow removal to a 24-hour operation — “deploying more vehicles and staff drivers and doing so with a more proactive plan in place right before and during the storm.”
“We’re doing this with resources we already have for the most part. But we do need more vehicles. We’re probably going to need some immediate-to-long term investments in equipment in the near future. We’re also going to be changing the way that we deploy equipment in certain areas,” Platt said, noting Kansas City’s abundance of wider-than-average streets as one example of how he would do so.
“Taking multiple plows and staggering them alongside each other so that snow doesn’t just get pushed between lanes. We want efficiency and to get the snow away in one shot,” Platt said. “Another update is more aggressive use of salt. When you cover streets to a sufficient level before a storm, the first two inches are already very easily managed. Using salt during storms as well, obviously, and of course after.”
Platt added that the full plan can be found on the city website. While street repair “is also an ongoing discussion,” Platt said he was confident that a plan would be in place and available for all online “within the next few weeks.”
Transparency is one key element in holding a leadership position in a major city. Another is simply to find ways to be more efficient. A new city 311 workflow module — which Platt said was to first be introduced in late February — will help tackle both of these areas and make it easier to manage and carry out citizen requests.
“It’s all automated. These things can take a long time to build and implement, but it is coming,” Platt said. “This is something I also did with Atlantic City, and I know it’s going to take us a little while to get this right. We need to understand all the issues citywide, this is a huge and very spread out city. If a street light is out, don’t assume we know about it.”
Operational changes like the 311 rework, “will not only help us reduce that budget gap, but also improve services by restructuring certain departments,” Platt explained, citing waste removal as another area where improved management could bring about better services for city residents.
In other words, Platt will look to shuffle city assets around with the intent to raise the quality of services like snow removal and waste disposal, while also cutting spending within the margins. One area where the margins are thick is energy costs.
“If we just look at our street lights alone, we’re looking at $13 million per year — $7 million in energy and $6 million in the cost of maintenance. That maintenance plan includes replacing every single bulb, every four years,” Platt explained.
“We’ve found a way that we could save probably half of the cost on just our street lights by transitioning over to LED bulbs. This could be as high as 50 to 60 percent less, depending on the neighborhood and existing infrastructure in that area,” Platt said.
The next question concerned the much heavier topic of recent allegations of racism within the KCFD.
“We had another check-in meeting just this morning with city leaders and stakeholders. We’ve been trying to be as transparent as possible in this process. One of the challenges here, as I understand, is that it’s not strictly a department or even a city-wide issue — it’s a cultural issue. This is a long term cultural shift that we need in order to move forward as a city,” Platt said.
In the final minutes of his portion of the Zoom session, Platt told viewers that his wife has a number of family members living in the area, and that he has become quite familiar with the KC area as a result. He said he looks forward to helping it grow and thrive during his tenure as city manager.
“Everyone here is so passionate and proud of their city and wants it to be great — and it is great,” Platt said. “But there’s a lot more potential as well, and I want to help us achieve that potential.”