KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Kansas City officials argue that lying to the media is not against the law and should not be the basis of a lawsuit filed against the city by its former senior spokesperson.
The city filed a motion in Jackson County Circuit Court last week seeking to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Chris Hernandez, the city’s former director of communications. In his lawsuit, Hernandez said he was demoted for refusing to lie to the Star and other local news organizations about city plans and services at the behest of City Manager Brian Platt.
In its motion, the city argues that lying to the press is not a violation of any law, rule or regulation.
“Despite the press’ respected place as the fourth estate in American politics, there is no law regarding misrepresentation to the press,” the city’s motion reads. “Nor is there a rule or regulation established by any government entity, including the city, governing false disclosures to the press.”
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In his original lawsuit, Hernandez said he was “unwilling to put his credibility on the line” for Platt, claiming the city manager instructed staff to lie as part of a “media strategy.”
Hernandez is suing the city for damages under a Missouri law that protects whistleblowers, saying he lost his job for telling Platt he “shouldn’t be dishonest to the media and the public.” But the city’s motion argues that Hernandez does not meet the definition of a whistleblower under Missouri law and is seeking the lawsuit to be dismissed.
Whistleblower laws protect employees who disclose information about prohibited activities, the city argues, and Hernandez has only conveyed his views to Platt.
“To be clear, the city does not approve of lying to the press, nor has it lied, but even if it does and did, such an act does not constitute a violation of any law, rule or regulation and does not qualify as a disclosure” under Missouri law, the city file reads.
The city filing also notes that Hernandez did not accuse the city manager of lying to the media.
“At best — and something the city will vehemently deny if asked through litigation — Mr. Platt asked why he couldn’t lie to the media,” the city’s motion read.
The city’s response has not deterred the plaintiff.
“I am confident we can pass the motion to dismiss,” said Lynne Jaben Bratcher, the attorney representing Hernandez.
The lawsuit arose out of the city’s communications strategy on resurfacing and pothole repairs.
In the lawsuit, Hernandez said Platt called a meeting with communications employees at his downtown office in January 2022 and discussed strategies for managing Kansas City’s media. During that meeting, Platt reportedly raised the prospect of lying as a “legitimate media strategy.”
In the spring, the city’s communications team prepared a press release about how many miles of city streets would be resurfaced based on available funds in the next fiscal year.
A redacted press release stated “nearly 300” miles of lane, according to the lawsuit; Platt asked the communications team to remove the word “almost”. Days before the event, the lawsuit alleges Platt knowingly inflated the project’s benefits on social media by saying the city would repave “more than 400” miles of lane.
“Our summer of road rehabilitation is well underway. More than 400 miles planned for this spring and summer! But what’s underneath the old asphalt is sometimes something more special: 100+ year old brick pavers and original streetcar track here on Brooklyn Ave! Platt wrote in a May 6 Twitter post.
Hernandez says he was concerned that the city manager was lying about this number, as no other staff was aware of an increase in miles to pave.
The lawsuit also referenced a May story in The Star regarding the city’s work on the potholes. Hernandez says Platt was angry at the story and instructed staff to call the paper and say “the numbers were wrong” when in fact they were correct.
During a meeting at a Kansas City bar, Hernandez says in his lawsuit, Platt asked him why another member of the communications team had quit and other staffers were leaving. Hernandez says he told Platt that many were angry at the way they were being treated.
The following month, the lawsuit states, Hernandez was told by Platt that he did not possess “shared vision” for the communications department and was reassigned.
Hernandez, a former broadcaster who worked for a decade in the city’s communications department, is now a special liaison officer in the city’s civil rights and equal opportunity department.
Bill Lukitsch of The Star contributed to this story.
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