Random thoughts while waiting for the Dow to get back to 17,000. I’ve vowed not to look at my Charles Schwab account until that happens. (It closed at 16,285 Wednesday, up more than 600 points over Tuesday’s close.)

:: David Hudnall of The Pitch had another good story about one of our “good Catholic boys” who got filthy rich — and then in big trouble with the feds — running payday lending scams.

My favorite “good Catholic boy” is Tim Coppinger, because of the irony of hailing from a family that has been an anchor of Visitation Church at 51st Terrace and Main. As I have reported before, Tim Coppinger is now a Mission Hills resident and a member of St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Prairie Village — where he is the church poker-playing champion, by the way. (I shit you not.)

Coppinger cropped

Tim Coppinger

If you’ll recall, the Federal Trade Commission closed in on Coppinger last year and shut down his online lending company, CWB Services. In a settlement with the FTC, Coppinger surrendered bank accounts totaling $520,000, and he sold a house he owned in Lake Lotawana. Hudnall reported, however, that Coppinger got to keep his Mission Hills home, valued at nearly $1 million, and his 401(k).

In an amazing bit of resourcefulness, Hudnall latched onto a website that keeps track of golfers’ handicap scores — GHIN.com — and discovered that after a break of several months, Coppinger returned to playing golf fairly regularly at Indian Hills Country Club last spring.

Although I stand in admiration of Hudnall, I have to say he must not be a golfer. Otherwise, he would have pointed out that the last score listed for Coppinger, on Aug. 15, was a very impressive 76 — just six over par at Indian Hills.

That score tends to indicate to me that Coppinger is relaxed and focused. If he’s shooting six over par, he can’t be worried about very much. (I play a lot of golf, and my best score of the year has been 77 — on a much easier course than Indian Hills.)

In any case, Hudnall was clearly irked by the country club membership, posing this rhetorical question: “Would a fair settlement in this case rally allow Coppinger to continue paying dues at an elite country club?”

Like Hudnall, I would also like to see Coppinger stripped of everything but his Jockey shorts, but, unfortunately, the filthy rich (and I do mean filthy) usually get to hang on to a lot of their ill-gotten gains.

:: I didn’t go to the air show over the weekend, and after reading how people were delayed up to two hours getting out of the Downtown Airport area Saturday, I’m really glad I didn’t go that day. It sounds like signage was poor, the number of buses was insufficient and the buses were delayed by downtown traffic jams in making their return trips to the airport. Apparently, the organizers got things somewhat straightened out for Sunday’s show. The Star reported that Sunday’s crowd was about 25 percent smaller.

Poor planning had to be a factor in Saturday’s mess, but I think another was the three-year break between air shows (because of that sequestration thing). When something as big as the air show is not done annually, it’s easy for the fine tuning to fail. In addition, significant changes have been made to some downtown streets, particularly Main Street, which now has streetcar rails from the River Market to near Union Station. Main is not the Main Street it used to be, and may not be for a long, long time. I’m sure we all agree it’s the price of progress…We do agree, right?

:: Johnny Cueto laid another egg last night, giving up six runs in five innings in the Royals’ 8-5 loss to the Baltimore Orioles. He’s now 2-3 since coming to the Royals from Cincinnati in a late July trade, and he’s lost two in a row. I tell you, it looks to me like the guy is just a showboat, delighting in wiggling his butt when he pitches and sending his dreadlocks flying in every direction…Instead of Cueto, I wish we would have gotten Cole Hamels from the Phillies. Now there’s a real pro. But the Rangers got him.

After more than a month of testimony — and earlier developments — it’s becoming clearer which parties shoulder the most responsibility for the JJ’s restaurant explosion in February 2013.

A Jackson County jury today began deliberating in a civil suit in which restaurant owners Jimmy and David Frantze initially sued four companies for damages of $9.3 million, including the cost of the building, lost income and more than $1 million for wine that was stored in the basement.

When the trial began, as far as I can tell, there were four defendants: Time Warner Cable, which commissioned the installation of fiber-optic cables to serve the Plaza West buildings at 46th and Madison; Missouri Gas Energy; Heartland Midwest, which did the drilling that ruptured a gas line; and USIC Locating Services, which marked the location of underground utility lines.

To back up a bit…It’s been clear from Day One that Missouri Gas Energy employees dropped the ball by failing to cut the gas off to buildings in the area and failing to evacuate people from the restaurant. The Fire Department also screwed up mightily, first by failing to order people out and then by deferring to MGE and leaving the scene before the explosion…KCFD leaving the scene was one of the more galling aspects of this tragedy because it was ultimately responsible for public safety that day.

In March, MGE settled a complaint alleging that it failed to respond adequately, and it agreed to change some of its procedures and increase training. The Fire Department also changed its procedures; it is now supposed to arrive with gas monitoring equipment and remain on the scene until the risk is over.


Megan Cramer

And last summer, the family of 46-year-old waitress Megan Cramer, the only person who died in the explosion, quietly settled a wrongful-death suit against five defendants — the four named above, plus Southern Union Co., which either was or is MGE’s parent company.

Back to the trial at hand…As I said, four defendants were involved when the trial began in July. Along the way, as The Star’s stories indicate, the judge dismissed MGE and Heartland Midwest, leaving Time Warner and USIC Locating Services.

If the jury decides those two companies bear some responsibility, I presume the jury will decide how to apportion the damages. I don’t really understand how Time Warner can bear significant responsibility because all it did was commission the job and trust that it would be done right.

Much of the blame for the piercing of the gas line could fall, then, on USIC Locating. It provided the topical “map” that Heartland employees followed when they put their drills or backhoes in the ground.

At the outset of the trial, Steve Emerson, the Frantzes’ attorney, said an employee of USIC had “botched” the job and shouldn’t have been assigned in the first place because he had received several reprimands for poor performance in his evaluations. I don’t know if testimony supported that contention, but it would be interesting to know.

In addition, I don’t know if the jury has been made aware of the fact that Missouri Public Service Commission concluded a year after the incident that incorrect markings led the Heartland Crew to put its drill at the same depth as the gas line.

I am anxious to see what the jury comes back with. I don’t want to put too much blame on the employee who incorrectly marked the site because this tragedy is awash in blame. It’s good to know, however, that various lawsuits and investigations have — and still are — focusing responsibility.

And, finally, let’s not forget that this exhaustive effort to assign responsibility is much less about the value of lost wine, lost income and a blown-up building than it is about the death of a fine woman who should still be alive today.

It’s time to take stock here.

I’ve been getting some mildly unsettling feedback from family members and a friend. Patty and Brooks say I’m a “glass-half-empty” sort, and a good friend of ours — who had been a loyal reader even though she has lived in LA for years — told me recently she had unsubscribed from the blog because I was “too negative.”

In addition, I can’t tell you how many times, when I was at The Star, people would crinkle up their faces and say, “Why don’t you print some good news once in a while?”

That, of course, drives us journalists absolutely crazy. We (and I’m lumping my blog in with The Star and other papers) write positive stuff all the time. Most of my recent posts would fall into the “positive” category, but the negative stuff makes a stronger impression and stays with people a lot longer than the “good news.”

For example, the cases of young women who were kidnapped, raped and murdered — think Ann Harrison, Pamela Butler, Ali Kemp and Kelsey Smith, among others — stay with us a lot longer than the name of Officer Mark Engravalle, the Roeland Park policeman who paid for the diapers and baby wipes of a down-and-0ut mother of six who was arrested July 6 for shoplifiting at a Wal-Mart.

Hey, that’s just the way it is! Bad news often shakes people to the core; it upsets their sense of security, and it reminds us — again and again — that we are a broken people.

Do we want to be reminded of that over and over? Hell no! But that’s the way of the world. So people should quit deluding themselves and stop asking why newspapers and TV stations don’t do more Good Samaritan stories or more stories about fuzzy animals at the zoo. As it is, there are plenty of those stories. Just read your KC Star or go to their website. But you don’t have to; you already know I’m right.

So, does it sound like I’m about to capitulate and stop writing “negative” stories? Like crossing my fingers and saying I really expect the downtown streetcar line to be operating by the time the Big 12 Conference basketball tournament starts next March? You already know the answer to that question, too…No, I’m doubling down on negative…I see a “yes” in the pot and raise it two “no’s.”

Now, with that off my chest, and with you braced for the worst, let me give it to you…

The Royals — the team that leads their division by about a dozen games and causes grown men to get glassy eyed — probably aren’t going to win the American League Championship, much less go to the World Series.

First of all, last year was magical. It was lightning striking out of a blue clear sky (thank you, George Strait). Regardless of how good the team appears to be this year, you just can’t expect a repeat. Dominoes only fall into place once in a while, you know.

Second, I can point to several specific and troubling aspects of this team.

Johnny Cueto doesn’t appear to be superman after all. He puts his jersey on one sleeve at a time and can’t even get the top button attached. He’s just a “loaner” — a guy who’s passing through and waiting for a big payday on the open market next year. He’s not committed to the Royals at all. He’s already looking down the road. Now, you won’t read this in The Star (because the hometown paper doesn’t want to ruin the working script) but he told a Boston radio station on Thursday, “I would like to come here (Boston) because it’s a championship-caliber team.” How do you like that? Huh? Does that sound like a guy whose mind is on winning a championship with his pass-through team. Also, I don’t think for a minute Cueto is a team player. On Tuesday, May 19, after pitching for his previous team, the Cincinnati Reds, in a 3-0 loss to the Royals at Kauffman Stadium, he told a reporter: “I did what I actually was supposed to do. You know what? I did my job,” Gee, Johnny, I wonder how much your teammates appreciated that comment? Or how much they liked you in any sense?

Alex Rios is a pretty boy who can’t hit and doesn’t go all out in the field.

Lorenzo Cain looks like he’s on a sea cruise these days, waving at balls he used to catch and grinning and loping when he finally runs down the ball and throws it back toward the infield.

— Pitcher Yordano Ventura, the hero of Word Series Game 6 last year, is a kid who can’t control his emotions and probably won’t make it with the Royals. Right, I think the Royals will give up on him next year or the year after. It might well take a dumping for him to grow up and become a real pitcher. Or maybe he won’t make it at all. Baseball history is littered with young guys with live arms who could never figure out big-league hitters.

There you have it. Once again, I hate to be the turd in the punch bowl, but somebody’s gotta do it, and you can always count on me to tell you when the glass is half empty and when the punch is putrid.

Have a great weekend…

During my 11 years as an assignment editor at The Star, I was involved in only one hire. The actual hiring was done at the managing editor level, which I never reached. I was just an assignment editor, working with reporters on the development and polishing of stories.

But not long after I first became an editor and took charge of the Wyandotte County bureau in 1995 (the day after Carol Marinovich was elected mayor), the bureau was expanding its coverage into Leavenworth County, and we needed someone to cover Leavenworth. Randy Smith, then assistant managing editor for Metro, asked me for recommendations and to screen candidates.

We had two candidates. One was an outsider, the other was a young man who worked in the mental health field and wanted to get into newspaper reporting. His name was Mark Wiebe. I had gotten to know Mark very well in short order when he was writing freelance stories for the Wyandotte bureau.

He was an obvious choice for the Leavenworth job, and he had my strong backing from the outset. I did all I could to convince Randy — now a business journalism professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia — that Mark was a perfect fit.


Mark Wiebe

But Randy, who never showed his cards and survived a long time as metro editor partly by being careful, didn’t seem convinced. He had me interview the other candidate, a fine person but with nowhere near the writing and people skills that Mark had. Randy also interviewed the other candidate, and, finally, after days of letting me hang in the breeze, he agreed to hire Mark.

As I expected, Mark was great from the get-go. He did a fantastic job covering Leavenworth, and several years later he moved over to cover the Unified Government of Wyandotte County.

Again, he did a great job, recognizing potential stories quickly and rooting them out through the many contacts and sources he had developed.

During our time together in the Wyandotte bureau, I had the opportunity to meet his father, David Wiebe, a leading mental health advocate in Kansas and long-time executive director of the Johnson County Mental Health Center. As I recall, I first met David at a public tennis center southwest of Shawnee Mission East, where he and Mark played frequently. They were both good players and competed fiercely, but always in a very friendly way. They both had even temperaments and good perspective, and they understood that, in the end, it was just a game.

I went on to do stints in the Johnson County and Independence bureaus, while Mark stayed in the Wyandotte bureau, which he loved. I retired in 2006, a little more than two years after leaving the Wyandotte bureau. A few years later, when The Star’s local bureau system was crumbling because of the downturn in newspaper-industry fortunes, Mark resigned and went to work in communications with Wyandot Center, Wyandotte County’s community mental health center.

david wiebe

David Wiebe

Mark and I have gotten together for breakfast or lunch a few times, and one time I ran into him and his father at the Midtown Costco. David had undergone leg surgery and Mark was pushing him around in a wheelchair. As usual, David was warm and engaging.

That was the last time I saw David. Then, this week, I learned he had died at age 76 after battling a rare form of cancer for eight months. (Here’s the obit.)

Today, I went to David’s “celebration of life” at the Rainbow Mennonite Church on Southwest Boulevard in Kansas City, KS.

David got a great send-off, with family members and former colleagues talking about his many qualities, including his kindness, his even temperament and his relentless advocacy for those suffering from mental illness.

Mark didn’t speak…but he had the last word. In a poem that was read aloud at the service and printed on the back of the program, Mark paid tribute to one of his father’s most memorable features, his smile.

Here’s the poem…

Who could pose such a pure gesture,
beautiful and without guile?
Not even you, with your consummate planning
and your desire to have things just so,
a well-ordered garden, hair and lawn both neatly trimmed,
a shiny red Tempest and polished shoes–
not even you had dominion over your smile.
It obeyed a different instinct, one that broke through
those surfaces you tended and revealed
that what really mattered to you,
what moved you most of all,
was friendship, family, and love,
the pleasures of life, large and small.

So, my steadfast father, in this your last hour,
we honor that smile. Your satisfied smile,
your gentle smile, your warm and loving smile,
your triumphant smile after a forehand down the line,
your wry and knowing smile,
your smile at greetings, your smile at goodbyes,
your smile at pleasure, your smile through pain.
Your smile that through the years soothed many anxious souls;
your smile that disarmed skeptics and prompted second thoughts;
your smile that made words unnecessary;
your smile that makes us smile and assures us that nothing,
not even death, can steal you from our lives.

…Whew. Yes, let’s hear it for Mark Wiebe — writer — who I’m proud to say was “my hire.”

If you haven’t seen the newly released recording of Hillary Clinton’s 9-minute face-off with a black activist who grills her on the subject of violence against blacks and “massive incarceration of blacks,” you really need to watch it.

It is an extremely interesting, political mini-drama, laden with tension, passive aggressiveness (on the part of Clinton’s interrogator) and unseen hand wringing from Clinton’s handlers, who almost beg her to turn and run.

There’s a lot I don’t like about Hillary, but this is Hillary at her rare, spontaneous best, giving cogent, respectful and insightful answers to a man who has meticulously planned his attack.

Showing that she can be very quick on her feet, she turned the tables on the young man — Julius Jones of Boston — and challenged him to help come up with a strategy to make sure that black Americans cease being undervalued as a group.

“That’s what I’m trying to put together,” Clinton tells Jones, “in a way that I can explain it, and I can sell it — because in politics, if you can’t explain it and you can’t sell it, it stays on the shelf.”

The exchange was taped taped Aug. 11 and took place after activists with the group Black Lives Matter tried to disrupt a Clinton event in New Hampshire. Clinton agreed to speak privately with the group’s representatives afterward, and someone recorded the event, which was released yesterday in two parts.

In the video, Jones is facing Clinton. A couple of other activists are standing off to the right, watching intently. Out of view, to the left, are several Clinton handlers.


Julius Jones questioning Hillary Clinton on Aug. 11

It takes Jones a full three minutes to ask his question, during which time Clinton listens quietly and nods frequently. You can almost see her mind working, trying to figure out how to handle this spontaneous burst of deeply felt, but almost passively presented, emotion.

Despite the even tone, the question contains broad and incendiary societal assessments, including Jones’ assertion that “America’s first drug is free black labor and turning black bodies into profit” and “the mass incarceration (of blacks) system mirrors…the prison plantation system.”

When he finally concludes his question — essentially asking Clinton how she intends to change this unacceptable situation — the first thing the viewer hears is a voice off to the left, saying, “I apologize…We have…

All heads turn toward the voice, which is that of a nervous Clinton handler.

After just those first few words, Jones immediately understands the handler is offering his candidate a chance to bail. Jones interrupts and says forcefully: “I would really love to allow her to answer the questions. We’ve worked really hard and we’ve driven so many miles…”

The handler backs down, saying, “I’m not stopping you…just letting you know we’ve got a couple more minutes..We still have more people waiting…I just want to give you a heads up.”

During that exchange, Clinton looks quietly toward the handler. She fully realizes it’s too late to bail: The ball is bouncing and it’s in her court.

“Obviously, it a very thoughtful question that deserves a thoughtful answer,” she begins.

Then she launches into what I consider a very eloquent response, including the counter-challenge she lays at Jones’ feet. Her answer is even longer, at four minutes, than Jones’ question. But everything she says — again, in my view — is on subject and devoid of doublespeak or political gibberish.

The moment she winds up her answer, a handler — perhaps the same one — jumps in and says, “We really have to go!”

As Clinton moves to leave, however, Jones slides in another question/comment, in which he says, “If you don’t tell black people what we need to do, then we won’t tell you all what you need to do.”

Clinton interrupts, saying, “I’m not telling…I’m just telling you to tell me.”

After Jones accuses her of  “a form of victim-blaming” and alleges that the violence against blacks that needs to be remedied is a “white problem,” Clinton throws aside political correctness and replies, “Respectfully, if that is your position, then I will talk only to white people about how we are going to deal with a very real problem.”

Then, she finds her strongest voice and goes on a minute-long roll where she puts Jones on the defensive and, like the seasoned politician she is, gradually brings the face-off down to a gentle denouement.

“I’m ready to do my part in any way I can,” she says, claiming the last word, as her handlers, now front and center in the video, usher her away.

Another chapter in the sloppy history of red-light cameras in Kansas City and St. Louis concluded yesterday, as the Missouri Supreme Court determined the way both cities had employed the cameras was illegal.

Nevertheless, City Manager Troy Schulte of Kansas City said he probably would recommend continuation of the program — provided the company that provided the service can make changes to legalize the program.

Even though the program proved effective at reducing red-light-running wrecks at KC’s 17 photo-enforced intersections, I personally hope Mayor Sly James and the rest of the council see fit to kill this program.

Wisely, James told KC Star reporter Lynn Horsley he was withholding judgment. He said he would confer with Schulte and police officials before making up his mind.

Horsley reported that St. Louis officials, who appear to be more deeply committed to the program, said they intended to prepare a new ordinance that complies with the court’s rulings.

I think there’s a good chance St. Louis will proceed with a new program and KC will drop it. James isn’t dead-set on it, and we’ve got a new city council that has the benefit of seeing the program’s checkered history.

drone_sign_071813For obvious reasons, most residents loathe the program. It has the appearance of a classic Big-Brother-is-watching intrusion. In addition, the only image the cameras had to capture was the license plate number. Didn’t matter who was driving, the registered owner was responsible for the ticket.

The legal problem, however, was that running a red light is a moving violation, which requires the assessment of “points” against a person’s driver’s license. But KC and St. Louis were treating the citations as something akin to parking tickets and not assessing points. Obviously, you can’t assess points unless you know for sure who was driving.

Now, the company that runs the KC and St. Louis program says it is able to provide images of the people driving the cars, which, in theory, would allow specific drivers to be cited and assessed points.

I say…yeah, sure. Technology has greatly improved, yes, but it’s going to take some fantastic camera to record clear facial images through vehicle windshields. If KC or St. Louis tries to implement an altered program, I think we will see thousands of identity challenges, and perhaps another trip to the Supreme Court.

At one time, I favored the camera program because statistics indicated it achieved its goal of reducing red-light-running wrecks. But after all that has transpired, and after it has been established that both cities were running clearly illegal programs, I’ve changed my mind.

There’s another factor that went into my change of heart. In 2014, I was spending some weekends in St. Louis and staying at a Drury Inn, off I-44, at a spaghetti-junction intersection. It was a headache navigating that intersection, where Wilson Road, Hampton Avenue and Sulphur Avenue converge. Plus, Hampton goes from four lanes to two.

Not only was it difficult to tell who had the right of way at times and if you could go right on red at various places, but on top of everything else, “Photo Enforced” signs bore down on you, daring you to make one questionable move. For me, it was like being on an important phone call and having someone in the same room shouting advice at you.

No, it’s time for those damn cameras — and those Big Brother “Photo Enforced” signs — to come down. Let’s go back to having the cops, not cameras, monitor the most dangerous intersections. Let the cops turn on the flashing lights, pull people over and write tickets to the people whose driver’s licenses they hold in their hands. Let’s go back to the old-fashioned way of nabbing red-light runners…and charge the points.


Patty, Brooks and I were tossing around ideas for spontaneous trips early last week, when Patty had an epiphany and blurted out, “Let’s go to Table Rock Lake.”

In short order, we found a place to stay, and Friday morning we headed south on I-49, then Missouri 13 to Kimberling City.

To the best of my recollection, we had been to Table Rock Lake twice previously, but we had never stayed close to Kimberling City, the biggest city on the lake, with about 2,500 people. It seems a lot bigger than that during the summer, though, when tens of thousands of people converge on the area and fill the resorts and marinas and launch their boats on the lake, which was constructed by the Corps of Engineers in the mid-1950s.

It’s a beautiful place and, because it is a Corps of Engineers lake, it doesn’t have private houses lining the shores. It’s a much more natural and beautiful setting, in my view, than Lake of the Oarks, which is smothered in private homes. Lake of the Ozarks is a much rougher body of water, too, making it unappealing to people who like to fish in relatively small boats — like me.

The place where we stayed, the Lighthouse Lodge Resort, was just off Missouri 13 and adjacent to the Port of Kimberling, which bills itself as “Table Rock’s largest full-service marina and resort.” Even though we were next door to the busy “port,” our resort was quiet and relatively secluded. The cabins face the water, and it cooled down nicely in the afternoon, when the sun passed over the backs of the cabins.

For the most part, Brooks and Patty swam, took whirlpool baths and relaxed at the resort. Both days I rented a fishing boat from the Port of Kimberling’s “What’s Up Dock” (best name ever for a marina) and fished and gave Brooks and Patty boat rides. The boat had an 80 horsepower motor — the biggest I’ve ever driven — and moved along at a nice clip.

Now, here are a few photos, which, I think, will give you a better flavor of the place…


The Kimberling Inn on Missouri 13 affords a nice view of the lake.


The cabins at the Lighthouse Lodge Resort, where we stayed, sit atop a ridge that slopes down to the lake.


We were in No. 10 — two bedrooms, two baths.


Our resort has a small dock, but these larger ones nearby are part of the massive Port of Kimberling.


Big powerboats don’t have a monopoly at Table Rock.


This is your captain speaking…


The Kimberling City bridge — part of Missouri 13.


The only reason I photographed this fish is because it was a good fit for a selfie.


Until next time, from the Lighthouse Lodge.

P.S. I am shocked and appalled at the suggestion (see comment below) that I would tell “fish tales.” I was much too modest to include my photo of the biggest fish I caught, but since my credibility has been challenged, here it is…


That fish was so heavy I couldn’t hoist it high enough to get its tail in the picture…Now, Gayle, I think you owe me an apology…or I’ll be forced to sue you for virtual damages!


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