TOPEKA — Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson acknowledged Friday that he allowed his commerce secretary to pursue a similar job with Missouri but said it didn't hinder efforts to lure thousands of jobs from that state.
Parkinson said he and Secretary Dave Kerr already had agreed upon a package of $230 million in state and local incentives for a Kansas City, Kan., project before Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon contacted Kerr about becoming director of Missouri's Department of Economic Development. Kerr steps into the Missouri job Nov. 9.
The Kansas incentives are for Missouri-based Cerner Corp. and professional soccer's Kansas City Wizards, so they can build a corporate office complex and stadium. The Wizards' owners and Cerner, a medical software maker, have said they'd bring 9,000 jobs to Kansas City, Kan.
Some Kansas legislators have questioned whether Parkinson's administration has pursued the project aggressively enough. House GOP leaders were stunned and upset when Nixon announced Kerr's appointment Thursday and they suggested the offer may have led Kerr to hold back on offering incentives.
Parkinson, a Democrat, said his administration still has no word on whether the offer is acceptable to Cerner or the Wizards' owners.
He faced questions about it during a Statehouse news conference called to announce Kerr's replacement. The new secretary is Bill Thornton of Atchison, a member of the Kansas Board of Regents and a former business executive.
The Kansas governor said Kerr sought permission to interview with Nixon, also
a Democrat, and Parkinson granted it. Parkinson also said he didn't think Kerr had to remove himself from work on the Cerner-Wizards project.
"Dave was consistently an advocate for this project," Parkinson told reporters. "When he leaves, the appropriate thing to do is to thank him for his service and wish him well. It is not appropriate to attack his character."
But Kansas House Appropriations Committee Chairman Kevin Yoder said Parkinson's comments still leave unanswered questions.
"If the deal is not done, then we'll probably have to launch an investigation," said Yoder, an Overland Park Republican.
Kerr declined to comment, deferring to Parkinson's comments, spokesman Joe Monaco said.
Cerner and the Wizards' owners are proposing a $414 million development near the Kansas Speedway. The project includes an office complex for 4,500 Cerner employees, an 18,500-seat stadium for the Wizards and two dozen soccer fields for amateur teams.
Parkinson indicated that Nixon contacted Kerr about the Missouri director's job on Oct. 9, and Kerr had an interview in Jefferson City, Mo., on Oct. 12. Parkinson said Kerr was offered, and accepted, the job the next day.
On Oct. 13, Kerr also testified before Yoder's committee in Topeka, fielding questions about the Cerner-Wizards deal. In addition, he had a private meeting with legislative leaders.
"We were kept in the dark about it, and now there's this cloud," House Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, said of Kerr's job offer.
The Kansas Department of Commerce announced its proposed package of incentives on Oct. 15. Parkinson said that while he and Kerr had agreed on its contents, an announcement was delayed because Revenue Secretary Joan Wagnon also had to sign off.
"By the time he had been contacted by Governor Nixon, we already knew what our offer was going to be," Parkinson said. "The deal was not negotiated after he was approached."
Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said the Missouri governor's appointment of Kerr "was not specifically connected to any particular project."