Jefferson City, Mo. The Kansas secretary of commerce plans to cross state lines to lead economic development efforts in Missouri, which is prompting some Kansas legislators to question his loyalties in a key business-recruiting effort.
Democratic Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon announced Thursday that he picked David D. Kerr to be the director for the Missouri Department of Economic Development. Kerr is to start Nov. 9, but on Thursday, he already had begun making the rounds with Nixon to meet with business leaders in St. Joseph and Lee’s Summit.
Kerr, 56, was appointed Kansas’ secretary of commerce in 2007 by then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat who now is the U.S. secretary of health and human services. Before the government appointment, Kerr had been the president of AT&T Kansas since 2003. He joined AT&T in 1979 and worked in management positions in St. Louis and Dallas.
“David Kerr has an impressive résumé of success as both the leader of a state economic development agency and in the private sector as a top executive with one of the largest telecommunications companies in the country,” Nixon said in a written statement. “His experience will be a great asset to Missouri in the competition to attract and retain the good-paying jobs that will make the best use of our highly skilled, trained work force.”
In Kansas, the announcement stunned and upset leaders of the House’s Republican majority.
Appropriations Committee Chairman Kevin Yoder already had questioned whether Kerr and Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson’s administration have been aggressive enough in trying to attract an office complex for Missouri-based Cerner Corp. and a major league soccer stadium to Kansas City, Kan.
Yoder, an Overland Park Republican, said Kerr’s move to Missouri raises questions about whether he hindered Kansas’ effort.
House Speaker Mike O’Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, said he wants to know how long Kerr had discussions with Nixon’s administration about the new job. He said Kerr had a conflict of interest in his negotiations over the Cerner deal.
O’Neal recalled that earlier this month, Kerr met with legislative leaders and told them he was working under the governor’s direction.
“Silly us — when he was referring to the governor, I thought he meant our governor,” O’Neal said. “I’m just disturbed about this on many levels.”
Parkinson said in a written statement that Kerr served Kansas residents well and wished him luck in Missouri.
Missouri’s economic development director post has been vacant since Linda Martinez resigned in September after apparent disagreements with Nixon.
Martinez announced her resignation in a two-sentence letter and told Nixon, “I am sorry we have been unable to meet and therefore we have been unable to discuss and reconcile our different views on how to move the state that we both love forward.”
Deputy director Katie Steele Danner had been serving as the department’s interim director. Kerr’s appointment in Missouri must be confirmed by senators when the Legislature convenes in January.
Kerr is from Ness City, Kan., in the western part of the state and graduated from Avila University. He has been involved with the Boy Scouts of America, United Way, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Topeka Performing Arts Center.