UMKC’s Newest Faculty Appointment Brings Experience and Perspective

U-News Staff

Former U.S. Ambassador to Portugal, City Commissioner of Tallahassee, Florida, Democratic National Committee member and alumnus of the UMKC class of 1969 Allan J. Katz will begin his official appointment as a distinguished professor on Sept. 1.

Katz brings a lifetime of experience to UMKC’s department of public affairs at the Henry W. Bloch School of Management and the department of political science in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Katz moved to Washington, D.C., shortly after graduation and finished his law degree at American University.  After working on Capitol Hill for a few years, he returned to Kansas City in the late ‘70s, eventually taking a position as chief of staff for Florida’s state commissioner and later starting an Orlando-based law firm.

It was in Florida that Katz found himself involved in a heated controversy over the construction of a coal power plant.  At a public hearing in Tallahassee, a woman from the nearby community accepting the new power station expressed her reservations.

 “She said, ‘If you wouldn’t build it here, why would you build it in our backyard?’” Katz said. “And they’re right of course. I had no answer for her.”

The woman’s argument got Katz thinking, and he decided more information was needed to vote on the bill. On closer scrutiny the power plant deal was an economic and environmental scam.

“In end it cost the city millions and it took two years, but we killed it,” Katz said.

After a referendum, the coal plant was eventually built, but Katz noticed something important about the public debate around its construction.

 “People were talking past each other,” Katz said. “No one was really dealing with the facts.”

With the remaining money left over from his re-election campaign, he founded To the Village Square, a public forum where people of opposing political persuasions could peaceably debate policy.

It had to be bipartisan, so Katz went to the president of the local community college, who was a Republican.

  “There had to be two of us,” Katz said. “If was just a Democratic thing, it wouldn’t have mattered.”

Bridging the partisan divide has been a catch-phrase in recent years, as Washington politicians have grown entrenched and indignant in an ideological tug of war that has brought neighbors to each other’s throats. Katz, however, remains optimistic.

  “People would rather have a conversation than sit around and bloviate” KIatz said.

With Washington politics behind him, Katz is pleased to make Kansas City home again.

 “It’s great to be back at UMKC,” Katz said . “I remember fondly, when I ran for student body president, the University News enthusiastically supported me.”

Katz encourages students with an interest in politics to know the issues and to find something they care about.

Katz will be teaching Money and Power: Incivility and Gridlock in Washington, 1960-Present, offered through the department of public administration.