Miller: Mystery Shrouds Planned Industrial Expansion Authority Honcho

If there were an award for Slickest Slickster in Local Government it would have to go to Al Figuly.

He’s the executive director of the Planned Industrial Expansion Authority, an obscure city agency that gives out huge tax breaks.

When I was a reporter at the Pitch, I was dying to an expose on the PIEA. I suspected that it was corrupt, or at least poorly managed.

But I never got anywhere because I couldn’t get any decent information out of Figuly. Not even a little tidbit to build an investigation around.

I’d call and call and no one would answer or return my messages. I’d ask City Council members if they knew anything about it and I’d get nothing but shrugs. I’d go to public meetings and corner Figuly and shower him with questions and I’d get nothing but indecipherable bureaucratic gibberish.

And it wasn’t just me.

After I left the Pitch, one of my former colleagues tried to write about them but was stymied. When I was in the Mayor’s Office I tried to help a Star reporter get some info, but he couldn’t make heads or tails of the place, either.

I thought his goose would be cooked after Funkhouser got in office.

A year or so after Funk was elected, he appointed a whole bunch of new people to the PIEA board, people who were skeptical about the way the Authority was conducting its business. I predicted that Figuly wouldn’t make a year before the new board would fire him.

But he’s still there. And I have a hunch he’ll be there for a good long time.

I recently took a peek at the campaign finance reports of several candidates for mayor and saw that Figuly had given money to two of them.

He’s given $300 to Deb Hermann and $250 to Mike Burke.

Not a ton of money, but, for a public servant, it’s a relatively high contribution.

In both instances, he wrote down as his employer not the PIEA but the Greater Kansas City Foreign Trade Zone Inc., which is an organization that redefines the word obscure. I’d be surprised if three people at City Hall even know what it is.
The contribution to Hermann is particularly interesting. He made it in August, when the city’s auditor office was in the thick of an investigation of the PIEA. The report from that investigation was released last week. It revealed that the program offers little oversight of the city’s tax-break agreements with developers.

I’m sure Figuly would have known that Hermann, as chair of the city’s Finance and Audit Committee, would be the most powerful first recipient of that report.

Slick, indeed.
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