Feeds:
Posts
Comments

I joined about 100 people today at a City Council business session that focused on Burns & McDonnell’s recently unveiled proposal to build a new terminal at Kansas City International Airport and to assume financial responsibility for the job, seemingly relieving the city of risk.

Along with two other Burns and Mac officials, C.E.O. Ray Kowalik made an energetic presentation. Kowalik promised to deliver the city “a convenient, modern terminal with more flight options.” And it would be built “with local labor using local contractors.”

Burns and Mac wants the council to approve a 12-page memorandum of understanding, which, if passed, would effectively bind the city to accept Burns and Mac’s proposal to build a new terminal for an as-yet-to-be-determined “guaranteed maximum price.”

Jolie Justus

At a council legislative session following the business session, Mayor Sly James and Councilwoman Jolie Justus introduced an ordinance that would approve the memorandum. Burns and Mac wants the council to act by Thursday, June 15, in order to prepare a set of “definitive agreements” that Kansas City voters would decide on in November.

Under the memorandum, the city would retain ownership of the airport. But for a term of 30 to 35 years, Burns and Mac, through a recently created development firm called Terminal Developer LLC, would lease the new-terminal construction area from the city. The memorandum calls for “approximately $85.2 million a year” in airport revenue (including airline landing fees and gate rentals) to go toward paying off whatever debt Burns and Mac incurred to build the new terminal.

…I am convinced Burns and Mac has good intentions in this deal, and no doubt it is a great company. I am proud they are in Kansas City, and you only have to look at their magnificent new headquarters — which they designed and built — at the juncture of Ward Parkway and Wornall to see they are capable of executing a big job. In addition, they are one of the top airport design and construction firms in the country.

Still, this deal give me the heebie-jeebies. Here are some of the big, unanswered questions I have:

:: How much of a voice would the public, or even the city, have in design of the terminal? The design is going to be every bit as critical as construction itself.

:: How much money would Burns and Mac stand to make? If $85.2 million a year (a staggering amount) would be going toward retiring the debt and $65 million, let’s say, is needed to retire the debt, does Burns and Mac keep the difference?

:: By ceding control to Burns and Mac, what assurance would the city have that the work was being done to specifications and that shortcuts weren’t being taken?

:: And what if, at the end, the terminal did not meet the city’s expectations or Burns and Mac’s early representations?

To help answer some of those questions, the City Council voted 11-2 at its legislative session today to spend up to $475,000 to hire two law firms to help the city review and negotiate a possible deal.

That was a very smart move. It was clear at the business session that several council members were still trying to get their arms around even some of the basic elements of the memorandum.

Only two council members — Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner and 6th District at-large Councilman Scott Taylor voted against hiring outside legal counsel. It appears to me Wagner and Taylor are already committed to the Burns and Mac deal and don’t think the expenditure of several hundred thousand dollars in legal fees is warranted or necessary.

It’s going to take seven council votes — a majority — to pass the ordinance. Early on, here is how the council vote is shaping up…

I think at least three other council members — a total of five at this point — are solidly behind the ordinance.

Besides Wagner and Taylor, Mayor James is unequivocally for it. It’s his baby, and a key element of his two-term legacy is at stake.

As I said above, Jolie Justus, chairperson of the council’s Aviation Committee, is a co-sponsor of the ordinance, so her vote is a given.

Councilman Kevin McManus, who, like Taylor, lives in the 6th Council District, where Burns and Mac has its headquarters, also is squarely behind it.

(Personal disclosure: I know Taylor and McManus and admire them greatly. In recent months, I helped lead a drive to raise city and private dollars to help restore the Meyer Circle Sea Horse Fountain, and Taylor and McManus approved $287,000 in capital improvements funds to help with the job. My Romanelli West neighborhood is very grateful for their assistance and support.)

It was hard to tell, from today’s comments, where many of the other council members stood.

I think there are at least two solid “no” voters — Teresa Loar and Heather Hall, both of whom live north of the river (not that that has anything in particular to do with their position).

I would not be surprised to see Katherine Shields vote no. Outside the Council Chamber, she told me she her biggest reservation was that the city could borrow the money for about 3.5 percent, where Burns and Mac’s cost would be 5 percent or more.

Councilman Jermaine Reed sounded like a probable “no” vote. He called the memorandum of understanding “too vague” and “a non-starter.”

Like Reed, Councilman Lee Barnes Jr. expressed concern about the proponents’ attempt to get the council to quickly sign off on the memorandum of understanding.

Councilwoman Alissia Canady indicated she would be demanding a very high level of contract participation among minority- and women-owned businesses.

Councilman Dan Fowler said he liked the fact that, under the Burns and Mac deal, the city would incur no debt and there would be “no tax burden to our residents.”

One of the most animated council members was Quinton Lucas, who asked several pointed questions, including who would control the revenue flow — the city or the developer. The tentative answer was the city, but I think that remains to be seen. Before asking any questions, however, Lucas opened with these words, “I love the project!”

…When you think about it, that’s not definitive. Sure, he likes the project — most of us do — but does he like the Burns and Mac deal?

We’ll have to wait a few weeks to see how this deal unfolds and who, in the end, really likes it.

The Washington Post and The New York Times have been taking turns landing haymakers on President Donald Trump’s exposed chin the last two days.

For anyone who loves journalism, it’s a BU-ti-ful thing, as former KC Star editor Mark Zieman, used to say.

On Monday, Post reporters Greg Miller and Greg Jaffe broke the story about Trump revealing highly classified information about the Islamic state to Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting. The killer quote from that meeting was Trump’s kid-in-a-candy-store exclamation: “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day.”

Yesterday, The Times dropped a blockbuster of its own when reporter Michael S. Schmidt reported that, at a private meeting in February, Trump had asked FBI director James Comey to shut down the federal investigation into former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn.

In the meeting with Comey, Trump produced another jaw-dropping quote. Referring to Flynn, he said to Comey: “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Whatever you think of Trump, you’ve gotta love this kind of reporting — and the fact that we in the United States place such high value on a free press. Imagine if this had happened in Turkey, a country spiraling down into autocracy. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would have every journalist in the country locked up. In Russia? Wouldn’t have happened. Putin already has the press firmly under his heel. No one would dream of writing such a story.

Another thing to be thankful for is that the people working for and around Trump are obviously very willing to rat him out. If Trump and a majority of Republicans in Congress are not yet willing to put country ahead of politics, it appears that quite a few White House employees are.

The Times’ Frank Bruni has an excellent column on that subject today. In it, he says:

This much leaking this soon in an administration is a powerful indication of what kind of president we have. He is so unprepared, shows such bad judgment and has such an erratic temper that he’s not trusted by people who are paid to bolster him and who get the most intimate, unvarnished look at him. Some of them have decided that discretion isn’t always the keeping of secrets, not if it protects bad actors. They’re right. And they give me hope.

Later, Bruni added: “Aides will suck up a whole lot for proximity to power, and partisans will make enormous compromises in the name of the team. But at the end of the day, they’re human. They have limits, dignity and the mobile phone numbers of dozens of reporters.”

**

Here’s a closer look at the reporters who broke those big stories…

Greg Jaffe went to The Post in 2009 from the Wall Street Journal, where he shared a Pulitzer Prize in 2000 for a series on defense spending. In introducing him to readers, The Post called him “one of the nation’s top journalists covering military affairs.” He has co-authored at least one book, “The Fourth Star,” about the careers of four prominent Army generals from 1970 through the Iraq war. In 2012, he was honored by the University of Missouri School of Journalism for a series of stories about the growing divide between the American military and civilian society after a decade of war in Afghanistan.

Greg Miller has worked for The Post since 2010. His current title is national security correspondent. Last November, a few days after the election, he reported that the intelligence community had “a sense of dread” about Trump’s impending presidency. Before going to The Post, Miller was a reporter for The Los Angeles Times for more than 15 years. He was among several Post reporters awarded the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of U.S. surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden. He was a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for a series of stories on the Obama administration’s counter-terrorism policies, and he co-authored of a book about Americans who interrogated prisoners captured in the war on terror. He has made reporting trips to countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kuwait and Serbia.

Greg Miller of the Washington Post, with a Post colleague

Schmidt

Michael S. Schmidt is one of The Times’ lead reporters on the federal and Congressional investigations into connections between Trump’s associates and the Russians. In March 2015, he broke the story that Hillary Clinton had exclusively used a personal email account when she was secretary of state. As a Times correspondent in Iraq in 2011, he uncovered a series of classified documents in a junkyard in Baghdad. The documents were testimony from Marines about a 2005 massacre in which Marines had killed 26 Iraqi civilians. Schmidt began working for The Times as a news clerk in 2005. In December 2007, he was made a staff reporter. In 2009, he broke the stories that David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Sammy Sosa were among about 100 major league baseball players who tested positive for having used performance-enhancing drugs.

**

The Post, at least, has recorded tangible results from its big story. Glenn Kessler, the paper’s “fact checker,” said the paper’s story about Trump’s revelation of classified information broke the paper’s record for readers per second clicking on the article. Kessler said the newsroom broke into applause at the news of the new record.

I say The Post and The Times both deserve sustained applause from all Americans these days. Were it not for a free press, we would be no better than Russia or Turkey.

I am worried about and, at the same time, fascinated by what might happen in regard to Kansas City International Airport.

Last week, when The Star broke the story about Burns & McDonnell’s stunning proposal to build a new single terminal at a guaranteed maximum price (to be determined) and to take on all the financial risk, I said the tectonic shift threatened to “hopelessly muddle the airport situation.”

That remains the case, but there is another, more optimistic, way this could unfold.

I didn’t come up with this myself; a wise friend, with whom I serve on our neighborhood association board, gets the credit.

When I was bemoaning the unexpected development, saying it very well could confuse Kansas City voters, he countered that the new proposal, while unconventional, might serve to snap the KCI debate out of its slumber. My friend said the new twist might flip people’s thinking from whether a single terminal should be built to how that will happen.

Under this theory, the new plan will wrench people away from the old argument — whether to abandon the 45-year-old horseshoe terminals — and rivet their attention on the new and provocative question: Should a new single terminal be built privately, with Burns and Mac taking the reins, or should the city do it the conventional way, taking and awarding bids and financing construction by issuing revenue bonds?

My friend’s theory is valid, I think. As time has passed and KCI has continued to deteriorate, “the leave-my-KCI-alone” argument — officially led by head-in-the-sand Councilwoman Teresa Loar — has steadily lost credibility. If you go up to KCI and pass the shelved-and-closed Terminal A and then plant yourself in one of those claustrophobic, boring bullpens waiting to board your plane, you have to be thinking, “There must be a better way.”

It is becoming increasingly apparent the better way is a single terminal, with a single security checkpoint that opens up into a pleasant and airy main concourse, which, in turn, offers a variety of food and shopping options. Just like every other modern U.S. airport.

This rendering, provided by the Kansas City Aviation Department, shows what the interior of a new single terminal might look like, just past the central security checkpoint.

…You know, sometimes it’s OK to do what other cities are doing. Just because we did it differently with our airport in 1972 and because that novel approach worked for many years doesn’t mean it’s wise to stick with what was good way back when. No, it’s time to get with the times.

If it was up to me, I’d probably prefer to see the city go the conventional route, with the Aviation Department being in charge of construction, and city-issued revenue bonds being retired with airport revenue. That way, any and all firms — including contractor JE Dunn and the architectural and design firm BNIM — would have a shot at participating.

But I could also support Burns and Mac’s proposal, depending on the final terms of a deal…I just want to see this project get off first base, where it’s been for way too long, and start chugging toward home plate.

**

So far, in-depth reporting has been in short supply about the deal between Burns and Mac and the city, particularly regarding how Burns and Mac stands to make its money on this deal.

One reason for the haziness is many details have yet to be worked out. Another, however, is that The Star — the go-to source for authoritative and thorough reporting on major local developments of all kinds — has simply not gone deep enough.

The Star has had two or three decent straight-reporting stories, and there was a good editorial last Friday, expressing concern about the secret way in which the deal was arrived at and demanding openness from this point forward. What has been lacking is a close look at the basic terms of the deal, as set forth in a 12-page memorandum of understanding that has been out for several days.

The memorandum doesn’t spell this out, but it appears that where Burns and Mac stands to make its profit is in the difference between whatever revenue is generated by airport operations and the yearly amount Burns and Mac will need to build the terminal and pay off loans it takes out.

This is a possible single-terminal design — in the shape of an “H” on its side. This rendering, provided by the Aviation Department, shows 35 gates, but the number could go up to 42, under the Burns and Mac proposal.

The memorandum is a preliminary document, not legally binding. Should the City Council approve it, a more comprehensive and legally binding set of “definitive agreements” would likely follow. But the terms of the memorandum help bring into clearer focus the elements of the “spread” between revenue and debt payments.

Here are some of the memorandum’s basic provisions:

:: Burns and Mac would create a development entity — a company — that would enter into a 30 to 35-year agreement with the city.

:: During that period the city would lease to the development company that part of the airport that Burns and Mac was working on. The city would continue to own the airport, and it would sub-lease and operate the new terminal.

:: Burns and Mac would invest some of its own money in the project and would borrow the rest. It would then proceed to build, over four years, a 750,000-square-foot the terminal at the site of the existing Terminal A for a guaranteed maximum price. An earlier memorandum between the city and the airlines placed the price tag at $964 million, and Burns and Mac is evaluating that. Conceivably, it could set the price higher, lower or on that mark.

:: The city Aviation Department, which now receives all revenue from airport operations, would redirect that revenue to the developer for the duration of the contract. That is an important point: The development firm apparently would get all airport revenue for 30 to 35 years. Those revenue sources would include federal and state (if any) grants, airplane refueling fees and revenue from parking, concessions and car rentals.

:: For the airlines’ part, they would be required to pay an amount of money, which, when combined with all other airport revenue, would be about $85.2 million a year. That amount would be used to repay the project financing. The amount could be adjusted up or down — up if airport operational costs rose and down if any federal or state grants were awarded.

:: The airlines, not the city, would be required to make up any shortfall between revenue and the amount Burns and Mac needed to pay off its investment. The airlines, of course, will raise ticket prices to offset their increased costs.

:: Burns and Mac would keep the difference between revenue (approximately $85.2 million) and whatever amount it needed to retire the debt.

…A lot of elements still need to be worked out, and there are many questions. The debate could be noisy. Let’s just hope it concludes with Teresa Loar’s position — retaining the three-terminal set-up — getting dumped once and for all.

Just when I thought Kansas Citians might be warming up to the idea of building a new single terminal at Kansas City International Airport, along comes Mayor Sly James with an alternative that was cooked up in secret and threatens to hopelessly muddle the airport situation.

The Star is reporting tonight that the Kansas City-based engineering firm of Burns & McDonnell (commonly known as Burns and Mac) “has proposed to privately build and finance a new single terminal at Kansas City International Airport, as a way to finally garner voter approval and get the controversial airport project done.”

This reminds me of being in the Army, with the platoon going steadily along in one direction, when the drill sergeant suddenly barks, “Right face! Harch!”

The idea of the city handing over to a private company the main role and responsibility of the city’s Aviation Department — providing our metro area with a good airport — strikes me as abandonment of  duty…Not to mention throwing a sharp-breaking curve ball at area residents.

I understand the thinking behind this. Many area residents have been nonplussed by plans to eliminate the 45-year-old horseshoe-shaped terminals at KCI and replace them with a new structure that many people are convinced would not be as “convenient” as the existing set-up. Many people also don’t understand that a new terminal would not be built with general city funds; revenue bonds would be issued and then retired with money generated solely from airport operations, including airline gate rentals, parking and concession fees, and a surcharge on airline tickets.

In the face of strong resistance and taxpayers’ lack of understanding, James and other advocates of this new plan would like to relieve the city of all risk and just get on with the job, even if it means making a deal that involves not taking bids. Their pitch will be, as The Star put it, to emphasize that if Burns & McDonnell were to build the terminal with its own money, “Kansas City would issue no bonds and bear no taxpayer risk if the airport failed to generate the revenues needed to pay off the construction and other costs, including overruns.”

Under the Sly James/Burns and Mac plan, the city would own the airport; it just wouldn’t go through the customary process of soliciting, analyzing and awarding bids and then — if voters approved — issuing city-backed revenue bonds to finance the project. Burns & McDonnell would assume the risk, in return for the chance to make a very handsome profit on the design and construction contract.

**

It is unclear how long this proposal has been in the works, but it appears the idea was to bring the proposal to the Kansas City Council quickly and get the council to approve a public vote to endorse the new plan in November.

A Kansas City Star editorial says the original schedule “called for submitting the agreement for City Council consideration on May 18, with a final council vote coming as soon as May 25.”

It appears that Star reporters caught drift of the plan, prompting Mayor James and other advocates to hastily call for a meeting Thursday with The Star’s editorial board.

The editorial board was very circumspect. Its unsigned editorial, posted Thursday evening, said:

City Hall wants the voters’ trust. It has started one of the most critical campaigns in city history with closed-door dealings that effectively cut Kansas Citians out of the process. That is just wrong. The airport debate must be open, fair, complete, fact-based and inclusive. Supporters of a new terminal may get there eventually. They have started on the wrong foot.

That’s got to make James and other supportive council members cringe. Having reacted so strongly so soon, The Star’s editorial board — whose support I think would be essential to voter approval of any plan — seems unlikely to endorse this plan, regardless of how it is stroked and fine tuned.

Here’s another observation I have on this gambit: It smacks of desperation on the part of Mayor James.

James has run a very erratic course on KCI from the outset. If you’ll recall, he and former Aviation Director Mark Van Loh came out of the box gangbusters a few years ago on plans for replacing the 45-year-old, horseshoe-shaped terminals with a new single terminal expected to cost about $1 billion. When the public blanched at the prospect of losing its “convenient” curb-to-gate airport, tapped on the brakes.

The mayor then appointed a 20-plus member, “blue ribbon” committee to study the matter, and the committee concluded a new single terminal was the way to go. Gingerly, the mayor put his foot back on the gas pedal, but last year along came a public-opinion survey showing a large majority of Kansas City voters still didn’t want any part of a new design. The mayor pulled back for the second time…and now this.

A sure sign of his desperation, in my view, is a quote that appeared in The Star’s story tonight. If the City Council authorized a vote on the Burns and Mac plan and voters rejected it, James told a reporter, “we’re screwed.”

To me that sounds like the mayor is actually saying this new plan, pulled like a rabbit from a hat, is the last, best option for getting a new airport, and if voters don’t see the light, well “screw them.”

And the thing is, even if the City Council approves a November election, a majority probably will vote no. The rule of thumb is that when voters are confused, they vote “no.” I thought the KCI situation was starting to become clearer, as the arc lights glared on the KCI issue and people continued going to the airport and seeing the advancing deterioration. I thought patience, voter education and a well-organized campaign would carry the day.

But now, James is suddenly directing voters’ attention toward the sky, saying: “Look…It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s an airport…Free!”

 

If you will indulge me, we have some unfinished Derby business.

I have a couple of 30-year-old-plus photos to show you.

Both photos were sent to me today by one of our good friends in Louisville, Marcie Blakeney. Marcie, a retired teacher, has hosted a Kentucky Oaks Day brunch the last several years, and she and I played golf one day last week in Louisville.

Marcie didn’t know the years these photos were taken, but Patty and I believe we figured it out.

 

This one, of Marcie and me, was taken at the 1986 Derby, when Marcie’s husband back then, John Blakeney, got us Third Floor Clubhouse seats through the company he was working for, Brown-Forman distillery. You can tell we are relatively high up by the crowd down below. I remember joking that day about the people in “steerage” on the lower floors…Funny thing, though, ever since that Derby I’ve been with the unwashed masses in steerage.

Another thing I remember about that Derby is the even-money favorite was a horse named Snow Chief, and I really believed in him. I don’t remember how much I bet on him — probably $20 to $30 — but I was convinced he was going to win.

Our box extended out over the grandstand, and we had a spectacular view of the track. When the horses came by us the first time, entering the first turn, Snow Chief was running close to the front with a few other horses. The horses were flying and my heart was racing. That fast start should have given me pause, however, because it’s not very often (this year being an exception) that the speed “holds up,” as they say, and a front runner stays in front for the entire mile and a quarter.

Sure enough, Snow Chief began slowing down as the race progressed, and he ended up finishing 11th in a 16-horse field. The winner was Ferdinand, who went off at odds of 18 to 1 and paid $37.40 on a $2 win bet.

Snow Chief came back to win the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes, two weeks later in Baltimore. In that race, he beat Ferdinand by four lengths. Although he didn’t run in the third leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, Snow Chief was voted champion 3-year-old horse of 1986.

…Now, Photo No. 2.

That’s Patty on the left. She thinks the photo was taken in 1984, the year before we married.

A seamstress, Patty calculated the year with this reasoning: “I was still living at home when I knitted that sweater and was finishing it in a hurry to wear to the Derby. We were sitting on bleachers, not in a box when I wore that outfit.”

Indeed, as you can see, we were down low…in steerage.

The other people in the photo, from right to left, are John Blakeney; my dear Louisville friend Bill Russell; and Bill’s wife Kathy Russell.

John and Marcie got divorced several years later, and so did Bill and Kathy. (Marcie has not remarried; Bill has.)

The winner that year was a horse named Swale, a beautiful colt whom Patty fell in love with as he came out on the track that day. She bet him and won money. (Patty has good instincts and has picked a relatively high percentage of Derby winners — much higher than I.) Swale went off at odds of 7-2 and paid $8.80 to win.

Swale went on to run in the Preakness Stakes and finished a disappointing seventh. But he returned to form three weeks later in the Belmont Stakes in New York and won.

Then, eight days after the Belmont — June 17, 1984 — Swale collapsed and died while being taken back to his stall following a bath.

That night, as I recall, before Patty and I had learned of Swale’s death, we were at the New Stanley Bar in Westport, and a friend gave us the bad news. Tears immediately filled Patty’s eyes. I remember the friend telling me later Patty must be a tender-hearted person because she cried over Swale. Eight months later we were married.

Well, it was another boring Kentucky Derby — fifth straight year the favorite has won — but another fabulous Derby Week in my hometown.

I got to Louisville Tuesday night and had several days to visit friends and relatives, and even got in a golf game with a friend at her new country club.

Most hotels in the metro area require a three-day stay (or at least charge a three-day minimum) for Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, and many hotels charge several thousand dollars for that privilege.

Last year, thanks to Patty’s business — manufacturing robes and other garments primarily for women ministers — I came across an excellent alternative to the hotel shakedown. Then and this year I stayed at a lodge on the grounds of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, conveniently located between downtown and a bustling area called St. Matthews.

The lodge has a few dozen rooms and is open year round. But the seminary doesn’t advertise it, and a lot of people just don’t know about it. I had a nice room (I was on my own) with two twin beds, a non-high-def TV and, of course, my own bathroom. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the lodge had a complimentary buffet breakfast, Derby themed, with “Start” and “Finish” lines.

Last year, it seemed like 10 to 12 rooms were occupied on the Big Three days; this year only six to eight were in use. For Tuesday and Wednesday, the rate was $90, including tax. For Thursday, Friday and Saturday the rate was $277, including tax…Plus, there is no three-night minimum charge.

The only distraction the entire week was the weather, which was plenty foul. The rain chased me across Missouri and arrived in Louisville on Thursday. It rained most of that day and most of the night, then it rained all day Friday, significantly knocking down attendance at Churchill Downs for Friday’s Kentucky Oaks, the big race for 3-year-old fillies.

I had intended to go to the track Friday after a brunch with friends, but when I left the brunch about 1:30 p.m., it was raining steadily and the gauge in my car showed the outside temperature as 49 degrees. Not a fit day for man nor beast, I determined. So, I headed back to “Laws Lodge” and then went over to the home of one of my cousins for pizza, iced tea and conversation. It was my best bet of the week.

Of course, nothing short of a snowstorm was going to keep me from the track on Derby Day, and once again I got lucky outside the track, getting a First Floor Clubhouse seat for $150, about $50 less than face value.

Despite three rounds of afternoon rain — one of which lasted about 30 minutes — the crowd was upbeat. In fact, many people are downright giddy, so happy are they to be at such a historic and storied event. I started going back for the Derby in 1981 and have attended the vast majority of Derby Days since then. During that time, I’ve gotten over the giddiness but still whoop and holler when the first horse steps onto the track before the Derby and the University of Louisville Marching Band strikes up “My Old Kentucky Home.”

When the horses stepped onto the track about 6:15 p.m. Louisville time Saturday, the sun was, indeed, shining bright in my old Kentucky home. Like I said above, it was a boring race — to me, anyway — with the 9-2 favorite, Always Dreaming, running up front, or close to the front, all the way around the track and not being challenged down the stretch. I bet a horse called McCraken — named after a small town in Kansas — and he finished eighth.

There were two particularly interesting in-race developments, neither of which I was aware of until the race was over. (From the first and second floors of Churchill Downs it’s difficult to see much of anything taking place on the track, although there is a big TV screen.) The horse running from the No. 2 post position, Thunder Snow, began bucking a couple of strides out of the gate and refused to run. Maybe he didn’t like the sloppy track, but it was strange. He didn’t finish.

The second unusual thing was that Lookin at Lee, the horse coming from the No. 1 post position — usually a killer because the outside horses often angle inside and squeeze the inside horses — skimmed the rail all the way around the track and finished a game second to Always Dreaming. Lookin at Lee went off at 33 to 1 and paid $26.60 on a $2 place (second place) bet.

…I know you’ve been waiting for the photos. Here they are.

 

Approaching Queen Avenue for a block-long walk to the track

The Queen Avenue residents have their own party. Car parking is big business.

Just inside the racetrack gate off Queen.

Ah, that track and those Twin Spires.

A few nice hats, a killer suit and a baby boy undoubtedly taking in his first Derby

The horses entering the first turn in a turf (grass) race two races before the Derby

It was hard for me to tell which was more beautiful, the hat or the woman.

In the betting line, I happened across a guy — Tom from Indiana — with a hat identical to mine — blue straw, from Goorin Bros.

Now, there’s a cat in a hat.

Never too rainy for a beer, at least on Derby Day

Waiting out the rain…grimly

A cigar helped make the rain go by more quickly for this guy.

Mint juleps eased the pain, too.

The brick walkways aren’t a bit enchanting after a downpour.

I was in a six-person box with the Richardson family, whom I got to know when I arrived with the ticket I’d bought outside the track. This is Stephanie, who was totally prepared for the rain.

The jet setters populate the fourth, fifth and sixth floors. The fourth and fifth floors each have a “millionaires row” section. The fifth floor houses the “Finish Line Suites.”

Churchill has long employed a color-coded armband system to route people to their respective seating areas — and keep them there. The rule is you can always go lower, such as from millionaires row to the grandstand or clubhouse, but you can’t go higher. People like me — and this woman — with red arm bands could go no higher than the First Floor Clubhouse.

A moment of quietude inside the clubhouse

Great tie, but the shirt??? C’mon, man!

Here’s Stephanie again (second from right) with her father Rick; sisters Ryan (left) and Ashley (middle); and Ryan’s husband Jordan. The Richardsons are originally from the Cincinnati area, but only Rick lives there now. Stephanie lives in Louisville; Ashley in Columbus, Ohio; and Ryan and Jordan in Atlanta. (Thanks, Richardsons, for a fun afternoon and welcoming me to your box!)

The Derby Post Parade

The Derby horses head into the first turn.

Just like that, it’s over and people are in the parking lot, waiting for family members, friends and fares.

And it’s back down Queen Avenue to the cars.

It could take a long time for that block to get back to normal this year.

When my daughter Brooks opened The Kansas City Star this morning, she yelled, “No, no!”

Startled, I said, “What?” wondering what on the front page could have prompted such a visceral reaction.

She pointed and gestured angrily at the A1 centerpiece — a story about the maternal grandmother of 7-year-old Adrian Jones of KCK, who was abused to death by his father and stepmother before his body was fed to pigs. “Why is this in the paper?” Brooks demanded. “This shouldn’t be here!”

She then ordered me to take the paper out of the room and keep it out of her sight. When Patty arrived in the kitchen a little later, Brooks told her about the story, and Patty said she wanted nothing to do with it, either.

I don’t know if drama that intense unfolded in many other Kansas City area kitchens over that story today, but I would bet The Star is going to be fielding some strong objections today and tomorrow. Some people will object, like Brooks, to running the story at all. They will say everybody is familiar with the case and that revisiting it from the perspective of the grandmother, an Emporia woman named Judy Conway, is simply sensationalizing it.

KC Star photo of Judy Conway, grandmother of 7-year-old Adrian Jones

Other readers will protest its placement on the front page, along with a large photo of Conway sitting on her bed and a smaller photo, from Christmas Eve 2012, of a smiling Adrian, when he was four years old. Readers in that group will basically say that while they think the Sunday story has news value, it shouldn’t have been featured so prominently because of its repulsive nature.

I will be interested to see if The Star does a story or column about reader reaction.

…At first, I held off reading the story, but a couple of hours later I decided to take a look at it and make my own assessment of its propriety, especially for an A1 centerpiece.

The cut line (caption) reads: “Judy Conway forced herself to view photos and videos of the abuse and torture of her 7-year-old grandson, Adrian Jones.” The cut line continues with a quote from Conway…

For some reason, and I don’t understand it myself, but I wanted to take on all the pain that he felt.

…That quote was an epiphany for me. Immediately, intuitively, I understood why the author of the story, veteran reporter Laura Bauer, had gone after the story and why her editors had deemed it worth A1 and gave it more than 100 column inches of text.

Just from reading that quote — brilliantly placed by either Toyoshiba or Bauer or the editors — I understood how that caring grandmother feels. In her own retrospective, selfless way, she wanted to hold that little boy’s hand, pull him close and attempt to show him, belatedly, that someone in this world cared about him deeply and grieved his loss.

The story reads fast and smooth, the way you want a 100-plus-inch story to read. And Bauer writes with restraint and a gentle touch. She takes the reader through Adrian’s removal from the custody of his mother — Conway’s daughter — and being turned over, along with several sisters, to the father, Michael Jones and his new wife, Heather Jones. She recounts how the abuse was recorded on security cameras in the Joneses’ home in northwest KCK and how Conway was frustrated in her attempts to visit the children and find out what was going on in the Joneses’ home. The last time Conway saw Adrian and the girls was on Christmas Eve 2012, after Michael Jones called her unexpectedly and told her she could come for a visit. That day, Adrian appeared to be happy and healthy.

**

Now, Conway has nightmares in which she sees Adrian, as well as Michael and Heather Jones. Bauer describes a recurring Conway nightmare like this:

Adrian’s Nana could tell her grandson was hurting. She reached out and scooped him up in a blanket, holding him against her chest as he wrapped his legs and arms around her body.

“I’m so glad you’re here, Nana,” Adrian tells her. “What took you so long?”

In her dreams, she holds him tighter, his head buried against her. In her other hand, she grips a gun and stares at Adrian’s father and stepmother kneeling in front of her.

When she wakes from dreams like these, Conway’s heart beats so fast she can feel it in her ears. She can see her grandson’s face. Almost feel little Adrian.

It isn’t until the second to last paragraph that Bauer introduces the seminal quote — the one about wanting to take on Adrian’s pain — and puts it in full context.

The rest of the quote goes like this: “I wanted to be a part of that (pain). I want him to know that even though I wasn’t there, I loved him and he didn’t leave this word feeling unloved, which is what they (the Joneses) wanted him to feel like. He was loved, and nobody can take that away from him.”

…Powerful stuff. Great story. I wish Brooks and Patty could read it, but I understand. Some stories I can’t read, either.

**

Note: Along with the plaudits comes a cudgel. Two photos apparently taken by Conway at her Christmas Eve 2012 visit with Adrian were erroneously attributed to Toyoshiba, the Star photographer. Tag lines beneath the 2012 photos bear Toyoshiba’s name and email address. As soon as I saw that, I was perplexed, wondering why Toyoshiba would have been at the Jones home in 2012, well before the serious abuse began and long before the Jones case became a public matter.

I sent an email to Toyoshiba, asking if, indeed, she took the 2012 photos. She wrote back, saying: “That was clearly a copy desk error!  Thanks, and yes, I saw that. No one bothered to question it and follow through to ask!”

Most readers won’t even be aware of the glitch, but anyone with experience in the news business will, like me, scratch their heads over those photo credits. It’s a very embarrassing error for The Star, and I trust we will see a correction tomorrow…Whoever made the error apparently wasn’t familiar with the Adrian Jones story, didn’t read Bauer’s story, or doesn’t understand some of the basic elements of journalism. There’s just no excuse for it.