Kansas City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) directors fired the organization’s top executive last month for allegedly abusing agency funds and changing its policy manual without permission from the board of directors .
An EDC press release issued on October 4 thanked its interim CEO, T’Risa McCord, for her services and announced that Heather Brown will take over as the agency’s new interim CEO. .
In fact, the minutes of a closed meeting held on September 30 show that a unanimous list of directors voted to fire McCord for violating EDC policies. Kansas City Mayor and EDC Board Member Quinton Lucas brought forward the motion to terminate McCord’s employment, and EDC Board Member Tammy Henderson seconded the motion.
Public documents obtained by the NPR Midwest Newsroom show McCord made some seemingly questionable decisions with EDC funds. McCord said she was the target of a “smear campaign”.
EDC is an influential organization that has contributed to shaping business development in Kansas City.
He has a contract with the Kansas City government to oversee and administer several agencies that provide tax breaks and incentives for development projects. EDC’s work can be seen in large-scale developments like the Power & Light District and Union Hill.
McCord was Interim President and CEO of EDC effective December 2019.
Records show that in 2020, McCord wrote herself a check for $ 15,000 from an EDC bank account as an advance while she waited for a loan of the same amount from her retirement funds 401 (k). EDC policy states that the agency’s top executive cannot spend more than $ 10,000 of agency funds without the approval of the board of directors.
That same year, according to records, a series of payments totaling $ 1,400 were made by EDC to McCord’s husband, Reginald McCord, using the online payment application PayPal.
Earlier this year, the agency’s policies and procedures manual was amended to remove a policy that restricted contracts with family members of EDC employees.
Bridgette Williams, chairman of the EDC board, said the directors were unaware of the payments or the policy change and their discovery led to her firing.
“The board of directors found the behavior completely unacceptable,” Williams told the Midwest newsroom.
An anonymous letter to some board members alerted them to payments to McCord’s husband and changes to the policy manual.
The letter made further complaints about McCord. He said there was a “toxic work environment” and a “climate of fear” that was prevalent at EDC and promoted by McCord.
The letter also stated that EDC staff, which experienced a high turnover rate, saw McCord “yelling and yelling at staff in intimidating ways on several occasions.”
Williams said a lawyer has been asked to conduct an internal investigation. This investigation confirmed the accounts of the letter of payments to McCord’s husband and the removal of the family member payment policy from EDC employees.
The investigation also found evidence of the advance paid to McCord, but did not fully substantiate claims that McCord intimidated staff members.
Williams said McCord repaid EDC for payments to her husband and for the 401 (k) loan advance.
“The investigation did what it was supposed to do, which was to reveal unusual events on the part of EDC management,” Williams said. “It was because of the steps she decided to take, even though the money was refunded, that the board felt it was in the best interests of the organization to end the Ms. McCord’s job at EDC.
On October 12, a reporter visited McCord’s home and left a letter with questions about the charges against her at the door when she was unavailable.
A few days later, on October 15, McCord delivered a letter to the reporter with his responses.
“I continue to assert that a smear campaign targets me because of a disgruntled employee whose extortion attempts by the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City were repelled by me and for whom I claimed responsibility. the privileges of denunciation to the president in my verbal report. ” McCord’s letter reads. “I denounced the president and co-legal counsel of the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City who were supported by documents.”
McCord’s letter adds that EDC’s allegations against her “will be formally addressed and addressed in the near future.”
Follow-up voicemail messages to McCord discussing the precise nature of his complaints were not returned.
Williams, when made aware of McCord’s claims, said she did not want to engage in a debate with McCord in the press and that EDC felt comfortable and confident in its decision to fire McCord .
McCord’s letter does not directly address the actions that EDC’s board said led to his dismissal. She says loans are a common benefit of the 401 (k) plans granted to EDC staff.
“I have never acted without the knowledge of the president of the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City or outside of policies and procedures regarding financial matters,” McCord said in his letter.
McCord also disputes the claim that she intimidated employees.
“Although I personally have a strong and assertive demeanor, I have in no way intimidated or intimidated anyone, but I have worked in a culture as leaders before me and those colleagues who have worked at my sides as a strong black woman in a majority non-minority community. environment, ”says McCord.
EDC’s most recent tax forms show McCord received $ 168,506 in full compensation for the fiscal year ending April 30, 2019.
“Continue to move the ship”
On the same day, EDC’s board of directors voted to fire McCord, a 3-2 majority voted to place a letter of reprimand on the personnel file of EDC Controller Lee Brown.
Records obtained by the Midwest Newsroom show that Brown wrote a memo dated August 27, 2020 explaining that McCord was receiving a $ 15,000 advance from EDC to “close the gap on an advance” until that his 401 (k) loan of $ 15,000 be received.
Williams said the board wanted to send a message that it is the responsibility of the agency’s top financial official to report questionable uses of EDC funds.
“He was not the one who, in our opinion, did the acts,” said Williams. “But we think it was important enough that he understood that this is not expected to happen again. He was not at the center of the investigation.
Brown did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Bob Langenkamp was EDC’s last permanent CEO. He left the organization in July 2019. Greg Flisram was the interim managing director until he left for a position in Pittsburgh in December 2019. McCord, who had worked for EDC since 2019, took over. as interim managing director at that time, where she remained until last month.
Prior to her acting position at the EDC executive, Ms. McCord had served as the agency’s executive director. Prior to that, McCord was a financial analyst for a financial services company.
Williams said the agency, which has suffered from Kansas City government budget cuts, is preparing to seek a permanent chief executive.
“There is very little way to stop someone who wants to do evil from doing bad things,” said Williams. “But in light of this investigation, we are strengthening our policies and are confident in the leadership of the board and the interim leadership to provide oversight and move the ship forward until we have a permanent CEO.”
The Midwest Newsroom is an investigative journalism collaboration comprising KCUR, IPR, Nebraska Public Media News, STLPR, and NPR.