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Activist says KC Mayor Quinton Lucas tried to intimidate her over records request

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas tried to intimidate the head of a local social justice organization into withdrawing a public records request she filed last year, she alleges in a new lawsuit.

Lora McDonald, executive director of the Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity, or MORE2, says Lucas called her days after she filed an open records request in November and in a “raised, angry voice” expressed his displeasure about it.

Lucas spokeswoman Jazzlyn Johnson, in a written statement, said the mayor considers McDonald a friend, with whom he has communicated extensively and amicably for years. Johnson did not directly answer a question as to whether he raised his voice in the conversation at issue, but addressed it this way:

“In a decade of public life featuring challenging airport negotiations, protesters at his home, multiple recall efforts, hate mail during the COVID-19 crisis, and a public uprising on the Plaza, the mayor has never been characterized as an ‘angry man.’ We disagree with any accounting otherwise.”

McDonald requested communications between Lucas and the city attorney about a lawsuit the mayor filed against the state last year, which sought to halt the enforcement of a new law requiring Kansas City to spend more on its police.

A week later, McDonald’s lawsuit alleges, Lucas’ call felt like “an attempt to intimidate, harass” or coerce her into withdrawing her request, wrote her attorney, Spencer Webster.

In the lawsuit, Webster accused the city of violating the state’s Sunshine Law when it did not respond in a timely manner. The city said the attorney assigned to her request had resigned, noting the law department had lost five attorneys “within the last month,” McDonald’s lawyer wrote.

The city agreed to provide some documents, but not communications between the mayor and the city’s lawyer, citing attorney-client privilege, according to the lawsuit. Webster described that as an attempt to improperly withhold records.

“What is such a secret between a mayor and a city attorney that we cannot know about it?” McDonald asked in a letter to City Council members the day she filed suit.

The Kansas City Police Department is overseen by the five-member Board of Police Commissioners. Four members are appointed by the governor and the fifth seat is held by the mayor.

McDonald, who like Lucas supports efforts to regain local control of the police department, said in the letter that the proposed ballot language for Amendment 4 was “horrible.” The amendment, which requires Kansas City to spend more on KCPD, was approved in November.

On a call with civil rights leaders before the vote, a member of the mayor’s office said the city attorney missed the deadline to challenge the language, McDonald wrote. She wondered if that was on purpose, she said in the letter.

“Most importantly, I had heard the new counter narrative from the state control supporters: City Hall is corrupt and not capable of governing our police department,” she wrote. “If something suspicious was going on, I wanted it to be found locally and worked out locally, by us, which now includes you who are reading this.”

McDonald also asked the newly elected City Council to open an investigation into Sunshine requests.

The lawsuit, filed Aug. 10 in Jackson County Circuit Court, names the city of Kansas City as the lone defendant.

It asks the court to declare the requested records described in the lawsuit as public records not subject to exemptions that would allow the city to close any portion of those records.

The lawsuit further asks the court to find that city officials purposefully or knowingly violated the Sunshine Law. It asks the court to impose a civil penalty as well as order the city to pay McDonald’s attorneys fees and court costs.

An initial hearing in the case was set for Dec. 18.