Competition increasing for KC-area seat on University of Missouri curators

By: - February 5, 2021 7:47 am
classic columns from side in summer framed by green; jesse dome view from cornell

The iconic columns on the University of Missouri-Columbia campus. (University of Missouri photo)

The field of candidates vying for a seat on the University of Missouri Board of Curators currently held by a former Kansas City-area lawmaker is growing.

Lisa Weixelman, an attorney with Polsinelli law firm, is the latest addition to the list of people angling for Gov. Mike Parson’s appointment to the nine-member board. In an interview, Weixelman said she was asked to apply by people who see a need for someone on the board with close ties to the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus.

Weixelman holds her law degree from UMKC and is a member of the UMKC Board of Trustees.

“I was encouraged to apply for the position and did so with the idea that I could be a balanced voice for the university system but also give some specific attention to the University of Missouri-Kansas City,” she said.

None of the other three hopefuls, former Missouri Republican Party Chairman Todd Graves of Kansas City; former Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst of Tarkio; and accountant David Liechti of St. Joseph, hold graduate or undergraduate degrees from the campus.

All four are seeking the 6th Congressional District seat currently held by former state Sen. Phil Snowden. His term expired Jan. 1, but he, like three other curators in expired terms, will continue in office until a replacement is appointed and confirmed by the Missouri Senate.

Of the nine current curators, eight hold undergraduate or graduate degrees from the Columbia campus. None hold a degree from UMKC, University of Missouri-St. Louis or Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla.

On Monday, state Sen. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, wrote to Parson asking him to appoint Weixelman.

Razer’s district includes the Kansas City campus.

“UMKC is a valuable institution serving the Kansas City metro area and the state of Missouri very well,” Razer wrote. “However, it has tremendous potential that will only be impeded without proper representation on the UM Board of Curators.”

In March 2020, the board expanded the role of UM System President Mun Choi by making him chancellor of the Columbia campus. That is one reason appointing curators with close ties to campuses other than the flagship Columbia campus is an important goal, Razer wrote.

“Many in my district believe this will be detrimental to the future of UMKC, not because of any bias against the institution, but rather due to the diminished role the institution may play with the flagship-centric leadership,” he wrote.

At a news conference after Thursday’s quarterly meeting of the curators, board chair Darryl Chatman and Choi agreed that a perspective of someone who had studied on a campus would be an asset. They also noted that the selection is up to Parson and he will decide the qualities he is looking for in a curator. 

“I do think that anyone with a degree from any campus can be beneficial to all four campuses,” Chatman said. “I don’t see that being a necessity, but it is up to the governor.”

The board had lengthy discussions of how Choi would fill both roles and balance his position as chief executive of both a campus and the system as a whole, Chatman said. 

If campus interests conflict, Choi said, they are hashed out in meetings of the Council of Chancellors. If it cannot be resolved, he said, it is taken to the board.

“We have systems in place and I believe at the end, members of the Kansas City community that support UMKC, like the Board of Trustees, were satisfied with that arrangement,” Choi said.

Weixelman said she has no problems with the current governing structure. The consolidation of positions came with an effort to make sure the concerns of each campus are fully addressed, she said.

Choi, who has been president since March 2017, has made strides in turning four individual campuses into a unified system, Weixelman said. 

“The focus is on the university as a whole, the value they add, and the overall strength is so much more,” she said. “The concept in my mind is how do we take advantage of what each campus offers to the total equation and maximize that.”

Weixelman offers more than just a voice for UMKC, Razer said in an interview.

“She is just fantastic as a person and she gets the bigger picture,” Razer said. “She is not someone who is concerned about politics. She wants to do what is right for the system.”

The other open seats are from the 1st Congressional District, currently held by Julia Brncic, senior vice president, chief counsel and corporate secretary for Cigna, the 2nd District, currently held by attorney Maurice Graham of Clayton, and the Eighth District, currently held by attorney David Steelman of Rolla.

Of the nine current curators, eight hold undergraduate or graduate degrees from the Columbia campus. None hold a degree from UMKC, UMSL or Missouri S&T.

The UMSL campus is in the 2nd District and the Missouri S&T is in the 8th District.

There are advocates for appointments with clear ties to UMSL and Missouri S&T but no names have surfaced of candidates for the other open seats.

Under state law, no more than two curators can be from the same congressional district. There are currently two members, Chatman and Greg Hoberock, from the 3rd District. Because of that limitation, the next Kansas City-area seat will not be open until 2025, when the term of Michael Williams expires.

State law also requires that no more than five curators can be members of the same political party. Graham and Snowden are Democrats, Brncic was appointed as an independent and Steelman is a Republican.

The current board has four Democrats, three Republicans and two independents. If Parson allows Steelman to remain on the board or re-appoints him to a new term, he could name Republicans to two of the other open seats.

Weixelman is a Republican. She said she has not been interviewed by the governor’s office about the vacancy.

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Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy and the legislature. He’s spent 22 of his 30 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics, most recently as the news editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune. Keller has won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.

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