Opinion column: Window on the West
by Mary Rupert
The Unified Government Commission is poised to discuss the $250,000 cost of the mayor’s and officials’ bodyguards at a closed meeting on Thursday at City Hall.
The topic came up earlier during a UG budget session on July 20. The Aug. 27 meeting where security will be discussed is a closed one at 5 p.m. The regular UG meeting starts at 7 p.m. Aug. 27.
The Wyandotte Daily has asked why this meeting is closed, as it concerns elected officials and is about how much money is spent. UG Attorney Jody Boeding said there is an exception in the open meetings laws for topics about security.
When Police Chief Terry Zeigler was discussing the Police Department budget on July 20 at a budget meeting, Commissioner Mike Kane brought up the topic of the mayor’s bodyguards.
Zeigler said, in answer to a question, that this security detail costs about $250,000 a year with salaries, benefits, vehicle and overtime. Although it was said to be available for commissioners, some commissioners said they have not been using security when they go places. The detail also is available for other UG officials.
“Are you aware of any serious threats against the mayor?” Commissioner Kane asked at the July 20 budget meeting.
“Any elected official this day and age has the potential to be involved in a violent encounter,” Zeigler said. He cited incidents in other cities where some elected boards have been targeted by persons who walk in with guns.
So far, no one has publicly cited any direct physical threats to the mayor.
“I am aware of incidents on the ninth floor where things got out of hand with citizens getting on ninth floor and it would have been nice to have an officer there on hand to intervene,” Zeigler said at the July 20 meeting.
Currently, there is an officer now posted on the ninth floor of City Hall, which is where the mayor’s and commissioners’ offices are located.
After Mayor Mark Holland made a speech at the NCLR convention in Kansas City, Mo., his remarks were picked up by white supremacists who criticized him widely in messages circulated on the Internet, leading to a lot of critical email and messages being received by his office.
Kane, however, said that he views the bodyguards as mostly unnecessary, perhaps valuable on the ninth floor and at the commission meetings, but he questioned some other places.
“It’s frustrating that the mayor goes to soccer games, and takes a detailed person with him, Sporting KC. I think that’s unnecessary,” Commissioner Kane said.
“He takes them to church on Sunday, that’s frustrating,” Commissioner Kane said. “I think there’s no need.
“And the icing on the cake is, I don’t go down to the bar very often after the commission meetings, but the mayor takes the security guard down there with him,” Commissioner Kane said. “These are things we need to look at, that we need to re-evaluate, and perhaps even hire this outside. At $250,000 that’s a lot of money, we’re short-handed, that leaves us two officers short. I believe there’s other businesses in town that could do this at a cheaper price, and I think people need to know that we waste a lot of money.”
The Kansas City, Mo., mayor has bodyguards, according to some Wyandotte County officials. The Topeka, Kan., mayor and council does not have bodyguards, according to a spokesman.
Some of the mid- to smaller-sized cities do not have bodyguards specifically assigned to public officials, but will assign a person from the police department from time to time if they feel there is a need.
Security could be handled in a variety of different ways, some less expensive than others. My opinion is this discussion of it and its costs should be in public.
To reach Mary Rupert, editor, email firstname.lastname@example.org.