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Although you would never know it from the Kansas City media, the Kansas City Council on Thursday approved an ordinance authorizing a Nov. 8 election on a two-part, $175 million.

Although this is the biggest Kansas City issue election since voters approved the $800 million G.O. bond issue in 2017, not one of the six major local news organizations — The Star, KCUR and the four TV stations — has reported it.

The lack of coverage is almost incomprehensible, but, on the other hand, it gives me a chance to give you readers the “scoop.”

Where the 2017 bond issue came with a gradual property-tax increase, this proposal is billed as a “no-tax-increase” initiative because, to quote the ordinance, “the authorization will be used over a five-year period to match the roll off of existing general obligation debt.”

The ordinance provides for two ballot questions, each of which will require four-seventh approval by voters, or about 57 percent of those casting ballots.

This proposal mushroomed quickly — within a week — but every Council member except Brandon Ellington voted to approve it Thursday.

Barring unanticipated revelations, I plan to vote “yes” on both questions.

The smaller of the two proposals — Question 2 on the ballot — calls for borrowing $50 million for affordable housing “through the rehabilitation, renovation and construction of houses and buildings, including blight removal, to provide affordable housing for very low- to moderate-income households.”

Affordable housing and its corollary, homelessness, is our biggest social problem, and it cries out to be addressed.

The larger of the two proposals — Question 1 — calls for borrowing $125 million for a variety of projects, including many in the “deferred maintenance” category. For example, the issue would include $44 million for repairs and improvements at Bartle Hall and Municipal Auditorium and $80 million for community center improvements, swimming pools and other amenities.

Some of you know that I am president of the City of Fountains Foundation, and it’s the proposed $80 million for Park Department projects makes my blood run faster.

Very possibly, several million dollars would go toward major fountain repairs. One fountain that has not operated for several years and needs considerable work is the Garment District Fountain at Eighth and Broadway. Another major fountain that is working but needs about $2 million in repairs is the Firefighters’ Fountain on 31st Street, just west of Broadway.

Garment District Fountain

Our organization, which works hand in hand with the Parks Department, is also discussing what to do about the Westside Fountain, S.W. Boulevard and Summit, which has not operated for about eight years. With the Parks Department, we have to decide whether to renovate it, build a new one at another Westside location or provide the Westside with another cultural asset, such as a major sculpture.

Firefighters’ Fountain

Our foundation’s top “new” project — as distinguished from “deferred” — is to relocate the William Volker Memorial in Theis Park. The memorial, which features Carl Milles’ St. Martin of Tours Sculpture, was in the body of the park from the time it was dedicated in 1958 until the mid-1990s, when it was moved to the southernmost extremity of the park to make way for the Brush Creek flood control and improvement program.

St. Martin of Tours Sculpture

The memorial, very inaccessible because of its remote location, has languished for the last 25 years and needs to be back in the body of the park to get the attention it deserves and to generate more activity in that 14-acre park.

We are hoping that if voters approve the $125-million bond issue, we will have enough public and private money to finance that estimated $2 million project.

**

As I said, I plan to vote “yes” on both questions, and I hope many of you will do likewise. I think both bond issues will give the city a boost and improve the quality of life here.

…Now, with any luck, The Star and the other local news organizations will snap out of their slumber and report on this significant development.

From all appearances — hiring new people and hiring a well-credentialed editorial page editor — The Star is making money, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out how.

I’ve tracked The Star’s circulation figures for years, and they just keeping looking worse.

The Star’s circulation reports to the Alliance for Audited Media, a trade publication financed by the publications it serves, are a big muddle and have been for years.

I suspect the reports are intentionally confusing. Take a look…

For the six-month period ending March 31, The Star reported 14,512 paid, “digital replica” subscriptions, meaning subscriptions that give the subscriber the ability to see the print edition online.

At the same time, the paper reported 18,166 “non-replica” subscriptions, meaning, theoretically, that those subscribers could not see the print, or “e,” edition online.

But that is absurd because The Star does not sell “non-replica” subscriptions: everyone who buys a digital subscription gets the “replica,” or “e,” edition automatically.

Moreover, regardless of how the paper categorizes its subscription sales, the totals are ridiculously low for a metro area of about two million people. A very small percentage of area residents are getting any kind of KC Star product.

Print circulation is hardly worth talking about any more. As of March 31, paid Sunday print circulation was down to 45,349, 16 percent of what it was in the year 2010 — just 12 years ago — when paid Sunday circulation stood at 283,000.

I think the only reason The Star’s owner (McClatchy) continues to publish a print edition is that some people in the 70- to 90-age range are willing to pay whatever it takes to get that flimsy, light-as-air paper thrown in their yards. Some of those people don’t know how to use a computer, but a larger portion consists of those who insist — and I hear this all the time — “I just like to feel the paper in my hands.”

So far, The Star has been very willing to accommodate those suckers. And why not? Some people are paying $1,000 a year or more for a print subscription.

**

For a comparison, I checked circulation figures for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which is still owned by a newspaper company — Lee Enterprises — rather than a hedge fund, which is the situation with The Star (Chatham Asset Management, out of New Jersey).

For March 31, 2022, the P-D reported 37,610 “digital replica” subscriptions and only 3,587 “non-replica” subscriptions.

Although I’m still at a loss to know exactly what a “non-replica” subscription entails, it sounds to me like the Post-Dispatch is being much more forthcoming. By my reading, The Star had 14,512 paid digital subscriptions as of March 31 and the Post-Dispatch had 37,610.

At The Star, sorry to say, circulation has become a shell game, with the goal being to hide the real numbers. They’ve been doing it for years, and I don’t expect it to change.

I’ve told people again and again, Do not take the print edition. It’s a complete rip-off. If you pine to have print in your hands every day, take a print subscription to the Sunday New York Times. There’s enough in the Sunday edition that you can pick it up every day for a week and find something new and interesting with each pass.

A little over two years ago I dubbed Kylr Yust and David Jungerman as “co-Public Enemies No. 1.”

A Cass County jury and judge took care of Yust in June 2021, recommending and sentencing the tattooed hooligan to 45 years in prison for the killings of Jessica Runions and Kara Kopetsky.

Up next, nearly five years after KC lawyer Thomas Pickert was gunned down in the front yard of his Brookside home, is Jungerman.

Jungerman’s long-delayed trial in Jackson County Circuit Court is scheduled to begin Sept. 12. Presiding will be Judge John Torrence, who has nudged this case along carefully and perseveringly. I doubt that Torrence will tolerate any more delays.

The odds are good that Jungerman will be convicted, but I do have some concerns. One is that one of the two lead prosecutors, Dan Nelson, left the Prosecutor’s Office in February to take a job with a private law firm. I expect the lead prosecutor to be Lauren Whiston, a top assistant to Jean Peters Baker. From what I’ve seen, Whiston is very good, but she’s carrying a big load and will be under tremendous pressure.

Another concern is that I don’t have much confidence in the homicide detectives at KCPD. The division has a low murder-solution rate, and, overall, the department has been poorly managed under the last two chiefs — Rick Smith and Darryl Forte.

On the other hand, it would take a major screw-up by either the police or the Prosecutor’s Office for Jungerman to escape conviction. He stupidly admitted to the killing on tape, having failed to turn off the recording device after taping a court proceeding, and he was the only person in the world to have a strong motive to kill Pickert: In 2017, Pickert won a $5.75 million civil judgment against Jungerman while representing a trespasser whom Jungerman shot in 2012.

Jungerman

Jungerman is a millionaire many times over, but the prospect of handing over $5.75 million was too much for him to stomach. So, on the mornng of Oct. 25, 2017, he apparently sat in his van across the street from Pickert’s house and shot Pickert with a rifle after Pickert had walked his two young sons to school and was standing in his front yard, talking on his cellphone.

Jungerman, 84, has been in the Jackson County jail since March 2018. He’s got some health problems, and he said in a court filing that he nearly died of Covid-19 a year or two ago.

I’m glad he survived because, even though this trial is going to be very difficult for his widow, Dr. Emily Riegel, their two sons and other family members, this case needs to go to trial, and justice cries out for Jungerman to be convicted.

**

I met Jungerman one time. It was at a court hearing in January 2018 in Nevada, MO, two months before he was arrested in Kansas City. At the time, he was facing an attempted break-in charge in Vernon County.

Just by sheer coincidence he got on the elevator I was on as we headed up to a second-floor courtroom. I introduced myself in the elevator, and we talked for a few minutes before the hearing began, and we talked again after the hearing.

I don’t remember whether it was before or after the hearing, but at some point, while we were in the courthouse, I looked straight at him and said, “Did you kill him?”

He hesitated slightly and replied: “My attorney has told me not to answer any questions, so I’m not going to say I did, and I’m not going to say I didn’t.”

If he was smart, he would have stopped after the word “questions,” but he’s not smart; he just thinks he is.

What he is is an extremely reckless and violent individual who apparently has no real concern for anything other than his wealth, which consists partly of the value of land he owns in southwest Missouri.

Next month, with any luck, the long-running saga of David Jungerman will wind down, with a jury finding him guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of a lawyer who did a good job for a client and paid for it with his life.

It’s just four days until the primaries in both Kansas and Missouri, and the most interesting action is on the Kansas side.

The abortion amendment has rightfully received a ton of attention, and then there’s the race for chairman of the Johnson County Commission.

With longtime chairman Ed Eilert, a legend in Johnson County politics, stepping down, four candidates are running to replace him. Two are current commissioners — Charlotte O’Hara, a conservative, and Shirley Allenbrand, who appears to be a moderate. She has gained Eilert’s endorsement, which should help considerably.

Allenbrand

The other candidates are Roeland Park Mayor Mike Kelly, who, according to The Star, is best known for combating climate change, and certified public accountant Ken Selzer, who, like O’Hara, questions the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election.

It’s a nonpartisan race, officially, and the top two finishers in the primary will face off in the November general election

Kelly

I have never made recommendations in Kansas races, but the picture seems pretty clear here: Kelly and Allenbrand are the logical choices.

If both of them lose in the primary, I’m going to be very disappointed. And if one of them doesn’t win out in November, I’ll be doubly disappointed.

So, Johnson County readers and residents, Vote Allenbrand or Kelly!

**

On the Missouri side, the Jackson County legislative races seem to be the most important thing on the ballot, for what that’s worth. I’m familiar with a few legislators — such as Scott Burnett and Ron Finley — but otherwise I don’t know much about that political body, even though I covered the courthouse from 1971 to 1978 and like to think I have my ear to the ground.

One reason we don’t hear much about the Legislature is The Star hasn’t covered the courthouse with any regularity in years. Another factor is County Executive Frank White — a shoo-in for re-election — is a terrible leader. The best thing I can say for him is he apparently has learned to keep his personal financial problems out of the news.

But there is one legislative candidate I am high on and even contributed to. That’s Megan Marshall, a Democrat, who is challenging incumbent Tony Miller for the 3rd District at-large seat. It takes a lot of courage and self-confidence to take on an incumbent in a countywide race, but I think Marshall is going to do it.

I met her last year at a South Kansas City Alliance meeting. I was sitting next to her in the audience, and we struck up a conversation. Turns out she is a member of the Lee’s Summit School Board (elected in 2020) and served served 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. Her website says she was an adviser to senior commanders and provided technical and tactical logistics expertise in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Megan Marshall

On the personal front, she has two children; participates in marathons and obstacle-course competition; and is vice president of Lee’s Summit Cares, a non-profit organization that works to build healthy and safe communities for children and families.

Marshall has the support of a key Democratic political organization, Freedom Inc., which operates primarily on Kansas City’s east side and will produce thousands of votes for Marshall and the other candidates it has endorsed.

I don’t know much about Tony Miller, except that he’s a Democrat who barely beat a woman named Roberta Gough in the 2018 primary election, enabling him to advance to the Legislature without opposition in that year’s general election.

I feel confident in recommending Megan Marshall in Tuesday’s primary.

**

One of the most interesting things about elections to me is the use of yard signs. A proliferation of yard signs often is an indication of a vibrant, well-funded campaign — well, at least well funded.

I’ve got a Megan Marshall sign in my yard, and I convinced a neighbor to put one up.

Around the corner from me, on Ward Parkway, a homeowner who must be a newcomer to yard signs, has a large Marshall sign, but instead of it being placed perpendicular to the traffic flow, it’s parallel to it. That doesn’t do much good. Check it out…

I doubt that Marshall’s campaign volunteers erected that because even volunteers just getting into politics know that visibility and name identity for your candidate is critical.

Another thing that confounds me is when I see Missouri-side yard signs for Kansas candidates and vice versa.

Down the street, where my street joins State Line Road, one of my Missouri-side neighbors has a large Ken Seltzer sign facing State Line Road.

That sign irritated me a bit before I knew anything about Selzer, and now that I know Selzer is an election denier, I’m appalled at not only him but also my neighbor…We only see each other in passing, and I can guarantee you that’s the way it will stay.

Enjoy your weekend, everyone, and be sure to vote Tuesday. Remember, even the dull races are important!

**

Correction: In writing my original version of this post, I misunderstood Mike Kelly’s position on climate change. I apologize for the error.

I’m still playing catch-up on the news after three weeks out of the country, but the biggest political story in Missouri is the race to succeed retiring U.S. senator Roy Blunt.

I don’t know what you think, but to me this is about as frustrating and muddled a political situation as you can imagine.

And I’m talking about from all angles — Republican, Democratic and independent.

All the Republican candidates, including Attorney General Eric Schmitt, former Gov. Eric Greitens and U.S. Rep. Vicki Hartzler, are awful and should not be serving U.S. residents in any capacity, as far as I’m concerned.

And yet one of them — probably Schmitt — will almost surely succeed Blunt, who at least has some character and very likely loathes, privately, Donald Trump…(I would have a lot higher opinion of him if he’d have just said so at some point…like on Jan. 7, 2021.)

But that’s enough about the Republicans — they make me want to go back to Amsterdam — so let’s turn to the Democratic side.

Lucas Kunce

One of the two leading candidates is 39-year-old Lucas Kunce, a lawyer and self-described populist. He seems very smart and well-intended, but he has zero political experience (why don’t these people with stars in their eyes start out at the city council level?), and even though he’s been running for 16 months, he has not been able to establish much of a profile or name identity.

His main opponent is Trudy Busch Valentine, 65, who, although she announced her candidacy a full year after Kunce, is now leading the race.

Busch Valentine is the kind of candidate who makes you grind your teeth. She is an heiress to the Busch/Budweiser fortune, which, unfortunately, made her a formidable candidate the day she announced her candidacy. In addition, she also has zero political experience and, moreover, has no interest in, or ability to, campaign at the grass-roots level.

She is woefully ignorant of the issues and has had made some gaffes, including on LGBT matters, which, admittedly, could confound the most seasoned and deft of politicians.

Busch Valentine’s plan is to flood TV and mail boxes with ads that present her as a sincere and caring person who has Missourians’ best interests (whatever those might be) at heart.

Indicative of the political wind carrying her along, U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver endorsed her two months after she entered the race. Cleaver usually doesn’t take sides in Democratic primaries at any level, and the fact that he quickly came out for Busch Valentine tells me that’s where the smart money is.

The betting money is probably right: A recent poll from Emerson College (in Boston) and The Hill (a political website out of Washington) showed Busch Valentine supported by 39 percent of respondents, Kunce by 35 percent, with 22 percent of respondents saying they were undecided.

**

In addition to the clutter on the Republican and Democratic sides, there’s a real joker in the deck.

John Wood, who recently stepped down as senior legislative counsel to the House select committee investigating the Capitol riot, is planning to become an independent candidate on the November ballot, assuming enough voters sign petitions to put him on the ballot.

John Wood — could there be a duller name? — was recruited and is being pushed by former U.S. Sen. Jack Danforth, grandson of the founder of Ralston Purina. Danforth has personally contributed $5 million to a political action committee supporting Wood, and he has said he will try to raise an additional $20 million.

John Wood

To me, this is utter folly. Wood appears to be a dishrag of a candidate, and I have no idea who would vote for him or why.

Consider…

  • Republicans won’t vote for him because they’ve got plenty of great (in their warped view) Trump-ass-licking candidates to choose from.
  • Democrats won’t vote for him because while he’s the antithesis of the Trump-ass-licking crowd, he’s so conservative that he supports the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.
  • Finally, there aren’t enough independents in Missouri to fill Party Cove at Lake of the Ozarks.

**

So, here we are, less than a week before the primary, with this muddled, ridiculous situation. I guess I’ll vote for Kunce, but I really won’t care if he loses. If he does, we’ll be subjected to a barrage of Trudy Busch Valentine ads in the fall, and then she will lose to the Republican nominee.

There it is…No drama…Just business as usual in a state that about a million or so Democrats are stuck in.

Patty and I returned Friday night from an exhausting but exhilirating three-week trip to Europe.

Two of the first people I spoke with after returning asked me the same question: What was the highlight?

It’s impossible to say. If you’ve been, you know Europe is a highlight reel, where you go from one spectacular place to another.

Our trip began with a week-long cruise up the Rhone River from Avignon to Lyon in southern France. From there, we took the fast train to Paris, where we spent five days. Then it was on to Bruges, Belgium, for three days and finally Amsterdam for the last three days of touring.

I always say real life has a way of interjecting itself into vacations, and this was no exception. A few days into the cruise, one of our traveling companions came down with Covid. A couple of days later, her husband got it, and the day we traveled to Paris I got it. Only Patty, who had it several months ago, was spared. Fortunately, none of us had a particularly bad case. I spent one day in bed in our Airbnb but was back on the streets the next day.

…I’ve got quite a few photos to show you, so let’s get right to them, and I’ll continue the travelogue as we proceed.

Here’s our group — me, Patty, Julie and Jim — on the Viking Buri, a river boat that holds about 190 passengers.
It doesn’t get dark until about 10 p.m. in Europe during the summer. I took this photo from the upper deck of our boat.
The cruise began at Avignon, northwest of Marseille.
If I hadn’t said we were in France, you might have guessed from this photo, which I took in Vienne.
Lyon is the third largest city in France, after Paris and Marseille. Its prominent landmark is the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere, on the hill at left. The basilica is sometimes called “the upside down elephant.”
Covid knocked me out of action on Monday, July 11, but Tuesday the 12th I was back on my feet, walking near one of the world’s great landmarks.
Paris is famous for, among other things, its cafes and continuous fashion show on the streets. Suffice it to say, jeans and athletic shoes are not in vogue…Paris, while not to be missed, is also maddening because of the hordes of residents and visitors. Patty summed it up perfectly when she said, “Paris is mayhem.”
Topping Montmartre, a large hill in Paris 18th “arrondissement,” is the Basilica of the Sacre-Coeur. Somehow, I made it up Montmartre’s many steps. Having “conquered” the hill, we took the funicular back down.
Looming above the city of Bruges, Belgium, is its Belfrey, which formerly housed a treasury and the municipal archives and also served as an observation post for spotting fires and other dangers. We went to Bruges primarily because Patty is of Belgian descent.
We had made arrangements to see several of Patty’s relatives, but after telling them about our cases of Covid, we were able to meet only two of her cousins, Ivan and Rita Bossuyt, who joined us for dinner in Bruges on two successive nights.
Then we were in Amsterdam, my favorite European city. It is much easier to navigate than Paris, and many of its streets, like this one, have a singular charm.
At a “brasserie,” a lady enjoyed a smoke and her newspapers.
The most spectacular and distinguishing element of Amsterdam is its ring of canals, which provide an important transportation link as well as boat tours for tourists. Amsterdam, which was founded in 1250, got its name from the dam that was constructed in the city’s center. “Aeme Stelle Redamme” is Medieval Dutch for “Dam in a Watery Area.” People own the houseboats that line some of the canals, and the owners also pay rent to the city for the space.
This is the confluence of the Amstel River and the Prinsengracht canal (flowing into the river under the bridge in the background).
Owing to their age, some of Amsterdam’s buildings lean.
The Rijkesmuseum, above, and the nearby Van Gogh Museum are two of Amsterdam’s most popular attractions, along with the Anne Frank House…We went to both museums but unfortunately had to pass on the Anne Frank House — which I’ve been to before — partly because 80 percent of the tickets are sold online two months in advance. Tickets cannot be purchased at the museum itself, so if you ever go to Amsterdam and want to tour the house — a must — be sure to research the ticket situation.
This is Rijkesmuseum’s airy and welcoming entrance hall. On April 13, 2013, the main building was reopened after a 10-year renovation that cost 375 million euros. Rijkesmuseum has about 8,000 art and historical objects on display, including Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch,” which is famous for three things: its colossal size (12 by 14 1/2 feet), the artist’s dramatic use of light and shadow, and the perception of motion in what would have traditionally been a static military-group portrait.
The final photo is of these two women who waited on us at the Eetcafe Blaubrug, where we had one of our last meals. I didn’t get their names, but in addition to being great servers, they suggested we take the ferry to “Amsterdam Noord.” North Amsterdam is a trendy area that features, among other things, the Street Art Museum, which opened in 2012. Nowhere else in the world is graffiti elevated to such a level. Viva Amsterdam!

In an article published early this morning, KC Star reporter Mike Hendricks recounted a six-month-long, cloak-and-dagger tale highlighted by three dramatic meetings leading up to the decision to fire Robbie Makinen as president and CEO of the Area Transportation Authority.

As it turns out, the main reason Makinen will either be fired today or asked to resign is that he had strongly resisted the city’s extraction of federal Covid-relief funds from the ATA to pay for a $20 million, improved street-lighting program.

The first of the three pivotal meetings was in January when Kansas City Public Works Director Michael Shaw, one of 10 members of the ATA’s Board of Commissioners, met with Makinen and supposedly told him, “I have already committed to LED streetlights, and I don’t have the money to pay for them, so you’re going to.”

I have a passing familiarity with Shaw and have a hard time envisioning him making such a declaration, but I suppose it’s possible. He could have been emboldened by the fact that he is married to a City Council member, Ryana Parks-Shaw, and that the Council had approved the street-light plan.

However it was conveyed, Makinen decided to fight, and fight he did, including by pushing unsuccessfully for a bill in the Missouri General Assembly that would have short circuited the city’s money grab.

That effort failed, as did an appeal to the Federal Transit Administration, and as time went on Mayor Quinton Lucas and City Manager Brian Platt, who were behind the street-light financing plan, decided he had to go.

The second pivotal session took place recently, according to Hendricks, when Platt met with the ATA board chairman and vice chairman. Hendricks’ story quoted Platt as telling them, “If Robbie Makinen isn’t fired, we will send out an RFP and we will find somebody else to handle our bus service in Kansas City.”

Brian Platt

…That meeting and that astonishing statement represent, by far, the most assertive and risky policy position Platt has staked out since coming to Kansas City from Jersey City 17 months ago.

It was risky because it would be extremely difficult to find a comparable agency to the ATA that could handle the bus service in Kansas City, much less the metro area. But it must have worked because the ATA chairwoman, Melissa Bynum of Wyandotte County, and the vice chairman, Reginald Townsend of Cass County, fell in line.

While some people undoubtedly will view Platt’s action as heavy handed and dictatorial, consider his position. The City Council had approved the $20 million plan and expected it to be funded. If Platt failed to find a funding source, his job could well have been on the line.

From Platt’s persepective, it was either him or Makinen. It was political brinkmanship at its highest level.

**

The third and final meeting took place last week when Louie Wright, another KC-appointed ATA board member, informed Makinen that a commission majority would either accept his resignation or fire him.

I’ve known Louie Wright a long time, and my dealings with him have been, for the most part, unpleasant. As president of Local 42 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, he staked out an anti-Star, anti-City Hall position and fought for what he thought was best for the union – that is, more firefighters, higher firefighter pay and better benefits. The rub, however, is that what is in the union’s best interest is not always in the city’s and the public’s best interest. But that was of no concern to Wright.

He went on to get a law degree and become a lawyer but has always stayed close to Local 42. He owes his spot on the ATA board to Local 42’s political activism and, specifically, to the fact that the union endorsed Lucas for mayor three years ago.

…In closing, all I can say is the last place in the world I’d want to be, besides a trench in eastern Ukraine, is in a room with Louie Wright telling me I was being fired.

Louie Wright

Today may well be Robbie Makinen’s last day as head of the Area Transportation Authority.

On June 16, I reported that I’d heard Mayor Quinton Lucas wanted Makinen out and also wanted Tom Gerend, executive director of the Streetcar Authority, to replace him.

I think it’s likely that at least the first half of that equation will come to fruition at a special 1 p.m. meeting tomorrow of the ATA Board of Commissioners.

The board today published a meeting notice with only one main item of business: “adjourning to executive sessions” to discuss “any issues relating to personnel, performance, litigation and legal actions with legal counsel.” Those issues, the notice said, could include “negotiated contracts.”

It doesn’t look good for Makinen, who has led the ATA the last several years and, before that, served as chairman of the ATA board — an unpaid position.

Robbie Makinen

Whether or not Gerend gets appointed tomorrow is another matter, but the fact that the ATA agenda calls for “executive sessions” — plural — tells me a one-two punch could be coming. By law, the board might not be able to address both issues in the same closed session.

**

I heard the rumor about Makinen on June 16, a day after The Star published a long and troubling story about significant problems at the ATA, including service cuts and long wait times for buses.

If Makinen is ousted, he will be best remembered for pushing for bus service to be free to the public. The ATA went to zero fares in 2020, with the support of Lucas and the other City Council members.

In June 2019 appearance on Steve Kraske’s “Up to Date” show on KCUR, Makinen said, “Public transit needs to be free.”

Lucas, who had recently been elected mayor, posted on Twitter: “Robbie’s right. Let’s make it happen.”

Just because they agreed on that, however, doesn’t mean they were joined at the hip. I don’t know when the service problems got serious, but I suspect it was after the onset of zero fares.

The ATA has a budget of more than $100 million a year. It operates RideKC bus service, the MAX Bus Rapid Transit service, Flex demand-response routes, RideKC Freedom paratransit service for the elderly and persons with disabilities, and RideKC Van, a ride pooling service.

**

Here’s how the politics of the ATA works. The agency is run by a 10-member board, with five members from Missouri and five from Kansas. I’m not sure how many members Lucas appoints, but one person he appointed is Michael Shaw, director of the city’s Public Works Department.

Michael Shaw

Another member — whom Lucas may have appointed — is Louie Wright, an attorney and former president of Local 42 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, which supported Lucas in the 2019 general election when he defeated Councilwoman Jolie Justus.

Louie Wright

The ATA board chairwoman is Melissa Bynum, a member of the Wyandotte County Unified Government Board of Commissioners. The vice chairman is Reginald Townsend, a member of the Raymore City Council.

Although Lucas doesn’t appoint a board majority, he is the most powerful political figure in the Kansas City area, along with U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, whose popularity is off the charts.

…In the wake of that June 16 post, no one told me I was off base or it was a bad rumor. The report has stood uncontested for the better part of two weeks. I don’t believe Makinen will be sleeping very well tonight.

From out of nowhere, virtually, Democrats appear to have a chance to win the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Roy Blunt, who is retiring.

The tumultuous developments of the last few days revolve around 85-year-old, former U.S. Senator John C. Danforth, a Republican centrist who loathes Donald Trump and the Republican senatorial candidates, all of whom have been madly scrambling for the crown of “most conservative, most MAGA Republican.”

CNN reported this afternoon that a “super PAC” led by Danforth has raised more than $5 million, with the goal of supporting a moderate Republican to run as an independent.

You get my drift? The independent would be third-party candidate who would be on the ballot in November along with the Democratic and Republican nominees.

Follow along with me now…

Let’s say Eric Greitens or Vicki Hartzler was the Republican nominee and Trudy (Big Bucks) Busch Valentine was the Democratic nominee. Greitens or Hartzler would almost certainly lose a lot of moderate Republican voters to the independent candidate, possibly allowing Valentine to pass through the parted waters of the “red sea.”

Danforth told CNN, “The message of the super PAC is America is too polarized now…The center really has been cut out of American politics.”

Danforth

The center-right candidate whom Danforth is backing is John F. Wood, who, is leaving his post this week as senior legislative counsel to the House select committee investigating Jan. 6, 2021. Wood is believed to be resigning primarily because of Danforth’s encouragement to run for the Senate.

Before becoming a lawyer, Wood worked on Danforth’s staff. He also clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and at the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit, for retired Judge J. Michael Luttig, who testified before the Jan. 6 commission this week.

I said at the outset that this development comes out of nowhere. Actually, I exaggerate, as I sometimes do.

A Monday St. Louis Post-Dispatch story said that Danforth predicted back in February that a center-right independent would file to run for U.S. Senate in Missouri.

“He based his prediction,” the PD story said, “on the results of a poll suggesting an independent candidate — one who promotes a message of unity instead of division — would have a strong chance of winning the general election.”

The story didn’t cite the poll. I didn’t see the story or the poll, and while I don’t trust the poll, it is entirely logical that a moderate Republican would draw some moderate Republican votes and maybe even some conservative Democratic votes.

**

The problem with Danforth’s rationale, as I see it, is it’s hard to believe a stuffy-looking lawyer like Wood would be a strong and appealing candidate.

See what I mean?

Maybe I’m judging too much on first impressions, but how could a guy who has been embroiled in legalities for years suddenly remove his pin-striped suit, jump into the phone booth and emerge as Superman.

You know what, though? Danforth might be envisioning the same thing.

I’ll bet he’s thinking, what’s to lose? He can tout Wood as vigorously and relentlessly as he touted Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court (oh, my!), and even if Wood loses, it might precipitate defeat for any of the right-wing nut jobs Danforth despises.

**

I traveled with Danforth in 1976, when I was a reporter covering him and his Democratic opponent, former Missouri Gov. Warren Hearnes, in the general election campaign for the Senate seat. (U.S. Rep. Jerry Litton, who won the Democratic nomination but died in a plane crash the night he won the primary, would have defeated Danforth, but Hearnes was easy pickings for Danforth.)

Danforth is an honorable and smart guy — one of my all-time favorite Republicans, despite the Clarence Thomas debacle. He knows what he’s doing.

These stomach-wrenching fools who are running for the Republican nomination — Greitens, Hartzler, Billy Long, Eric Schmitt & Co. — may now be losing sleep as they contemplate the prospect of that big Missouri red sea parting, and Trudy Busch Valentine dancing through to victory.

Trudy Busch Valentine

To paraphrase the inimitable Jackie GleasonHow sweet it would be!

I’ve got two things for you today — both of the utmost urgency and importance.

Let’s deal with Mike Fannin, KC Star president and editor, first. As most of you know, he was arrested in Johnson County last week on suspicion of drunk driving. It was his third DUI arrest in about the last 15 years. I think this one took place in Olathe, and I submitted an open records for the arrest report. The Police Department records custodian replied promptly, saying that “arrest information is considered criminal history record information and therefore is mandatorily closed.”

Well, now, if something is mandatorily closed, they surely don’t want some damn blogger getting his hands on it.

The writer went on to say, “I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of the information for the person…you named in your request.”

For that sentence, I want to give records custodian Karri Barker an A+ for grammar because a majority of Americans have no clue how to correctly use neither/nor.

At any rate, I said in my June 9 post that I wouldn’t be surprised to see McClatchy upper management put Fannin on a leave of absence while the case worked its way through the courts.

Apparently, that hasn’t happened. If it has, The Star is not reporting it, and I have found nothing on the internet.

If he manages to avoid getting placed on leave, there are two points to be made. First, Fannin is the the luckiest DUI guy on the face of the earth and, second, McClatchy, owned by a New Jersey hedge fund, just doesn’t care.

When I told a friend, retired Kansas City regional manager at the national accounting firm KPMG, about Fannin and his three arrests, my friend’s immediate reaction was, “He’s out!”

Well, that’s the way it would have been at KPMG but apparently not at McClatchy, which makes me suspect that McClatchy managers are betting that if they can make Fannin more indebted to them than he already is, he’s likely to comply with any request they make of him down the road…Fire 10 reporters? Yes, boss, gone yesterday!

**

I’m sure most of you didn’t see it, but The Star published a long and comprehensive story yesterday about significant problems at the ATA, including service cuts and long wait times for buses.

Interestingly, several hours before I saw that story, a longtime friend with good political connections told me he had been told Mayor Quinton Lucas wanted to see ATA president and CEO Robbie Makinen replaced with Tom Gerend, executive director of the Kansas City Streetcar Authority.

Robbie Makinen

I wasn’t extremely surprised at that because while the ATA is old hat, the streetcar is the new, hot and hip way to get around. It’s going to be even hipper once cars start running along the extension from Union Station to UMKC. And Gerend, younger and hipper (I guess) than Makinen, is the beneficiary.

Tom Gerend

Once I saw The Star’s story, the Gerend-replacing-Makinen rumor took its proper context. With that, I pored over the story for clues to the political machinations….and I found one. Instead of Makinen speaking to The Star on behalf of the ATA, he delegated the reaction role to ATA vice president Dick Jerrold.

While Jerrold did a nice job of explaining the ATA’s position (he contended finances were a big part of the problem), I would have expected the “top gun” to be out front on a story of this magnitude. I theorized that if, indeed, Makinen thought his job was at stake, he was reluctant to be out front on a critical story for fear he’d say something Lucas could use against him later.

In a series of tweets yesterday about the ATA problems, Lucas gave no indication he was dissatisfied with Makinen but did allow as to how he would “continue to work to address (the problems) with the ATA board.”

Now, Lucas can’t fire Makinen. The ATA’s 10-member board of commissioners hires and fires the CEO. There are five commissioners from Missouri and five from Kansas, appointed by various governmental units. Lucas appoints some board members of the board, although I don’t know how many.

**

Makinen, who is blind, has been president and CEO several years. Before that he was chairman of the ATA board — an unpaid position.

Personally, I would like to see Makinen turn the situation around and stay on. It seems to me he’s provided good leadership of the sprawling bus service. But if Lucas wants him out, he probably has good reasons.

I don’t have a strong preference on this; I just want you to know what could be going on behind the scenes. It helps when you know who the players are and what they might be up to.