The recent announcement from the Aviation Department of a series of “Listening Sessions” throughout the city, heralds the anticipated return of Kansas City International Airport to the City Hall crosshairs following the GO Bond election. Such sessions can be productive. But first, some additional transparency is called for to address concerns among those interested in an honest and unbiased conversation.

In the notices sent to neighborhood associations offering a session, there are several references made to AV equipment needed so that the Aviation Department can pre-brief the attendees prior to the start of the session. In other words, the people coming to share their views on KCI are the ones that will be doing the listening at first. What this PR technique can accomplish is controlling the feedback received that becomes part of the public record by stating subjective opinions as objective facts, making it less likely that someone will opine to the contrary. Then you are able to cite stronger support for your position. I saw this technique first-hand during my service on the Mayor’s Airport Terminal Advisory Group.

Many are surprised to learn that in 18 months of work on the ATAG, there were only two sessions that remotely resembled “deliberations.” In the first of those sessions, the group was divided into smaller groups with a pre-chosen “moderator.” We were then presented and asked to score three options – the single terminal along with two options we had never seen before and that were clearly problematic. Our moderator then led the scoring discussion with a non-weighted and flawed scoring system resulting in the desired outcome. (Side note: The second deliberation session late in the process was more spontaneous and essentially concluded that we did not have enough information to make a formal recommendation as a group and that our data should be turned over to what would become Councilwoman Justus’ Aviation Committee and call it a day. A few days later, after both chairs had a chance to confer, we were told that we would not disband until we made an official recommendation.)

In light of the City’s history of controlling and directing airport conversations, I think it’s important that their presentation for these listening sessions be made public before the sessions begin, affording those who wish to challenge the content a chance to do so in hopes of a more honest outcome. For example, there might be a statement that, “The airlines offered to pay for a new terminal” when they did not. Or, “The airlines told the Aviation Committee that they would not add anymore non-stop flights.” This statement is actually true but they’ve added 5-10 since they made it. Obviously, the Business Journal’s recent claim of a 28.8 minute average security wait is easily included in a presentation just like it was at a recent Platte County EDC meeting, But it has since been discredited by TSA themselves and should not be a part of the conversation. Raising these issues at a listening session is counterproductive for everyone.

Currently, there are varying reports of what these presentations might include. The Star merely reported:

The sessions will provide information on previous airport planning efforts, and will be an open forum for residents to express thoughts and concerns about the airport. “I’m ready to start hearing what the public has to say,” Aviation Director Pat Klein said. “We would like to hear from residents about their experiences using the airport and what they want in the future.”

While it’s good to see Mr. Klein express his desire to hear what the public has to say, he and I served together on the ATAG and I don’t recall seeing him at any of the four public input sessions we held around the city at the time. Of course, he wasn’t running the Aviation Department then. And, he deserves kudos for making upgrades in Terminal C. Regardless, it’s important to make sure that the input he receives now is as untainted as possible.

Meanwhile, KMBZ reported more details…

Aviation Department Director Pat Klein says they’ll give a brief 10-15 minute presentation to lay out some of the problems at KCI and then ask stakeholders how’d they’d like those problems to be addressed. Klein says this isn’t a sales pitch for a single terminal concept. “What we’re trying to do is make people aware of the issues that we have, such as our hold areas are too small, the baggage systems don’t have redundancies in them, when several planes arrive at the same time the curbs are congested and then there’s accidents.”

Public input is a good thing. Let’s make the effort upfront to make these sessions as productive as possible for the best future for KCI and the region.


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