In The Absence Of Concrete Specific Policy Objectives – Politicians Do Not Deliver Results

Not to pick on the police, but KCPD bad actors were in the news twice this past week. I will use them as an example of how weak politicians use ambiguous policies and goals so that they don’t get anything concrete specific accomplished for voting constituents in terms of police reform.

First the Ryan Stokes qualified immunity case – Key Points

Mother of unarmed Black man shot by KCPD still seeking justice 10 years later

Ryan Stokes’ killing by police was ruled as ‘justified’ due to qualified immunity

The family and Real Justice Network are pushing to end qualified immunity in Missouri

On the 10-year anniversary of her son dying at the hands of a KCPD Officer, Narene Crosby stood on the steps of police headquarters still searching for justice.

Qualified immunity is a legal principle that protects government officials from civil lawsuits unless the plaintiff can show that the official violated a clearly established constitutional or statutory right. 

In Kansas City, the KCPD spent $8.3 million on lawsuit settlements related to police brutality. However, the city’s officers are still protected by qualified immunity. 

To disqualify a police officer from qualified immunity in a civil lawsuit, there must be a prior ruling where the actions of a police officer in the same jurisdiction and with identical circumstances have been ruled unconstitutional or illegal. 

Colorado, Connecticut, New Mexico, and New York City have either ended qualified immunity altogether or limited its application in court cases.

Second, the Marion KS constitutional rights violation under color of authority case – Key Points:

The Marion KS police chief – a recently “retired” KCPD police captain facing disciplinary charges for sexual misconduct – appears to have violated the constitutional rights of a whole newspaper and precipitated the death of the paper’s 98 year old owner.

Many questions still remain as to why the small-town newspaper was raided last Friday.

The Record’s attorney, Bernie Rhodes, said that they’re been no apology or explanation of why a search warrant was signed, allowing local law enforcement to seize items from the newspaper and the home of its owners, Eric Meyer, and his 98-year-old mother, Joan Meyer.

“If proper procedures are followed, this is vetted by someone who knows what they’re doing and then finally by a judge who knows what he or she is doing. I don’t know where the breakdown occurred here. My hope is that is one of the things the KBI is going to look into,” said Rhodes.

12 News requested records from the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department where Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody worked until earlier this year. Besides saying that he left with the rank of captain after nearly 25 years, the department would not provide any information on internal investigations or the outcome of those saying those don’t need to be provided under the state’s public records law.

18 U.S. Code 241 and 242 are sections of the United States Code that prohibit conspiracies against the constitutional or federal legal rights of citizens, and the deprivation of federal rights of any inhabitant while acting under color of law. 

Section 241 makes it unlawful for two or more people to go in disguise on the highway or on another’s premises with the intent to prevent or hinder the free exercise of rights. Violations of Section 241 are punishable by up to ten years in prison or, if certain aggravating factors are present, up to life in prison or death. 

Section 242 makes it a crime for a person acting under color of any law to willfully deprive a person of a right or privilege protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.  The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) enforces Section 242 by bringing criminal charges against individuals accused of violating the statute.

Concrete Specific Policy Objectives For Enhanced Police Accountability And Reform

  1. Abolish qualified immunity
  2. Criminalize muting or deactivating police body cams
  3. Abolish internal investigations without external oversight
  4. Make it cheap and easy for citizens to get evidence
  5. Require police to carry professional liability insurance
  6. Enforce 18 U.S. Code 241 and 242 against officers constitutional or federal legal rights of citizens
  7. Pay unlawful death settlements out of the police pension fund (not taxpayer funds)
  8. Require officers to live in the districts they serve (no more “thin blue line)

I know that this is asking for a lot given the fact that Kansas City’s police aren’t under local control – but the city has resources and a lawyer for a mayor – so there’s really no reason that the city can’t get behind police reform in a structured, intentional, and legally savvy fashion. In effect, it’s really not asking much of a politician to set the bar high, be open and transparent about his goals, and then make efforts toward accomplishing the goals and delivering results. Mayor and city staff get paid to do this. Individual citizens struggling on their own with limited resources to obtain justice in the face of institutional wrongdoing – like Ryan Stokes family has had to do against qualified immunity or like Eric Meyers will have to do against violation of his constitutional rights under color or authority – don’t have a chance against institutional forces.

Instead of articulating concrete-specific policies and objectives – here is the weak soup that the citizens of Kansas City have been served by our mayor and his backers in the areas of public safety and police reform..



Why Are The People Nominally In Charge Of Municipal Politics Wrecking Everything?

Local political leadership – at all levels – is failing spectacularly on all the important issues of our day, from Covid to Public Safety to providing concrete material benefits for the citizenry. Why do you suppose that our elected leadership seems so oblivious to constituent-serving facts, logic, and competence, despite being well-educated, wearing suits and ties, and speaking so well?

Has a diverse conspiracy of incompetent people dedicated to a certain kind of ideological purity succeeded in purging everyone who possessed superior general competence, intelligence, and independent judgment from the leadership of all municipal institutions?

Do the people who control our municipal political institutions care first and foremost about their power within the political structure rather than the power of the institution itself? Thus, would they rather the institution “fail” in its service to constituents while they remain in power within the institution – than for the institution to “succeed” in serving constituents if that requires them to lose power within the institution?

This insight goes beyond just saying that people are acting like crabs-in-a-bucket. The Iron Law of Institutions recognizes that if people are exercising skills to advance within an institutional framework, their advancement goals are different from institutional goals, and people who prioritize advancement over institutional goals will often rise to the top.

Unlike a bucket of crabs, our institutions occasionally push out an action or a policy of some kind. Why do the actions or policies produced by our leadership classes always seem to be stupid? Pushing out a smart action or policy once in a while would clearly be better for both the institution and the individuals within it, especially its current leaders who will eventually get blamed for all the stupidity.

What If The People Nominally In Charge Are Not In Fact In Charge At All?

Our politicians are a Professional Managerial Caste (PMC) which is insular, self-perpetuating and careless – so confident of their own superiority that they don’t much care about ordinary people. They are dangerous to people like you and me because they have an acute case of Dunning-Kruger. The Dunning-Kruger effect is the phenomenon by which those least competent in a certain subject area overestimate their skills the most.

Our politicians “are stuck in habits of thought that make it impossible for them to do anything useful in a crisis.” Since bad people lose and good people win, the way to win is to define yourself as a good person. Rather than making rational decisions that serve constituents or ensuring that you have the material necessities for success, be woke. Pretending to be woke or anti-woke matters more than being competent, to the point where competence is no longer a consideration.

Our politicians must surmount “crabs in the bucket” mentality. Those who seek to challenge the status quo face criticism and pushback not only from outside the community but also from within. The crabs in a bucket mentality can lead to individuals reinforcing negative stereotypes or attempting to undermine those who challenge the established norms. This can perpetuate the cycle of self-doubt and hinder the community’s ability to break free from historical constraints.

Our politicians must submit to the political and organizational theory known as the “Iron Law of Oligarchy”. Proposed in the early 20th century, Robert Michels’ theory highlights the inherent tendency of organizations, even those founded on democratic principles, to evolve into oligarchies, where power and decision-making become concentrated within a select few.

The Bucket Is In Charge Of The Crabs

Each of the four factors noted above applies in the case of our stagnated and ineffectual municipal political leadership. Of the four – far and away the most powerful influence on Kansas City politics is the Iron Law of Oligarchy.  Proposed in the early 20th century, Michels’ theory highlights the inherent tendency of organizations, even those founded on democratic principles, to evolve into oligarchies, where power and decision-making become concentrated within a select few. 

Robert Michels, a German-Italian sociologist, developed the Iron Law of Oligarchy as a result of his observations and research into the activities of political parties, labor unions, and other organizations during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Michels was particularly influenced by his involvement in the German Social Democratic Party, where he witnessed firsthand the evolution of a seemingly egalitarian organization into one that was dominated by a select group of leaders. His experiences led him to question the viability of true participatory democracy within large-scale organizations.

Principles of the Iron Law of Oligarchy

Michels’ theory is grounded in several key principles that explain why organizations inevitably tend toward oligarchic structures:

Leadership Specialization: As organizations grow in size and complexity, the need for specialized roles and tasks becomes apparent. This inevitably leads to the emergence of leaders who possess the expertise required to manage the organization effectively.

Efficiency and Decision-Making: Oligarchies are often perceived as more efficient decision-makers compared to larger, participatory bodies. This perception encourages a concentration of decision-making power among a few individuals or a small group.

Inertia and Stability: Once leadership roles are established, they tend to persist due to the inherent inertia of organizational structures. Existing leaders are likely to promote their own interests, creating barriers to entry for new leaders.

Hierarchical Structures: As organizations grow, hierarchies become essential for maintaining order and coordinating activities. Hierarchies necessitate the delegation of power and authority to higher levels, which contributes to the concentration of power among a select few.

Strategic Manipulation: Leaders may use various strategies to maintain and consolidate their power, including controlling access to information, manipulating decision-making processes, and maintaining strong networks of support.

Supporting Evidence

Michels supported his theory with various case studies and observations of organizations, primarily political parties and labor unions. One of his most notable examples was the transformation of the German Social Democratic Party. Initially founded on the principles of participatory democracy and workers’ self-governance, the party gradually evolved into an oligarchy as leaders consolidated power and made decisions on behalf of the members. Michels argued that this transformation was not a result of individual corruption, but rather a systemic tendency inherent to large organizations.

Additionally, Michels’ observations were consistent with historical examples such as the Roman Catholic Church, where a centralized hierarchy emerged despite the initial emphasis on community participation. He also pointed to the concentration of power within labor unions, even though they were established to represent the interests of the working class.

Contemporary Relevance and Critiques

The Iron Law of Oligarchy remains relevant in contemporary discussions about power dynamics within organizations. In the era of corporate conglomerates, political parties, and non-governmental organizations, the theory’s principles can be observed across various contexts. For instance, corporate boards and executive teams often wield significant decision-making power, while grassroots movements sometimes struggle to maintain their original democratic ideals as they grow in size and complexity.

Critics of the theory have raised several counterarguments. Some contend that the theory neglects the potential for internal checks and balances that can prevent the complete concentration of power. Others argue that the digital age has brought new opportunities for democratic participation, as online platforms enable broader engagement and information sharing. Despite these critiques, the fundamental observation that power tends to concentrate within organizations cannot be easily dismissed.

Implications and Conclusions

The Iron Law of Oligarchy raises critical questions about the tension between democracy and hierarchy within organizations. It underscores the challenges faced by movements and parties that strive to maintain grassroots involvement while avoiding the pitfalls of centralization. By recognizing the inherent tendencies toward oligarchy, leaders and participants within organizations can proactively design mechanisms that counteract the concentration of power.

In a city where less than 10% of the population turns out to vote – I think we can safely conclude that minimal to no effort is being made to maintain grassroots involvement in the political process in Kansas City. In the absence of concrete specific policy goals and objectives, I think we can safely conclude that our leading politicians are not soliciting input or feedback from the small minority of voting constituents. Conspicuously obvious to the casual Kansas City observer is the tiny minority of politically active friends and family who exercise a chokehold on electoral politics citywide. 


Posted in ,
Avatar photo

Craig Nulan

Scroll to Top