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Archive for September, 2010

  1. The grand opening for the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts is just a year away.
  2. Thanks to the Power & Light District, downtown is experiencing a revival.
  3. The Chiefs are 3-0.
  4. Two of the region’s three Big 12 football teams are undefeated.
  5. Because of a progressive crime lab, Kansas City has become a leader in solving “cold cases.”
  6. In less than a year, “The Funk” will be out of the mayor’s office.
  7. In less than a year, former Councilman Mike Burke will be in the mayor’s office.
  8. John Covington is on the road to making the Kansas City School District respectable.
  9. If it weren’t for KC Star City Hall watchdog Yael T. Abouhalkah, Local 42 of the International Association of Fire Fighters would be getting everything it wanted from the city, at a cost of tens of millions of dollars to taxpayers.
  10. Red-light cameras at more than a dozen intersections have made driving in Kansas City a safer proposition.
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Few things frost me more than a dirty cop.

An especially dirty cop stank up the ranks of the Kansas City, Kan., Police Department several years ago. His name is Bob Lane. Formerly, Detective Bob Lane. Three years ago, Lane was exposed as a bum (more about that in a minute), but it was only this week that the fullness of his crookedness came to public light.

But first, the backdrop. On Tuesday, The Star carried a front-page story about a federal Drug Enforcement Administration agent who beat up a Kansas City, Kan., man in 2003, seriously injuring him, in a road rage incident.

The DEA agent, Timothy McCue, thumped Barron Bowling after a minor mishap on North Tenth Street in KCK. Besides beating Bowling with his fist or the butt of his gun, McCue called Bowling an “inbred hillbilly” and “system-dodging white trash.”

It was a clear-cut case of abuse by the DEA agent, but who got charged? Not McCue. Oh, no, authorities closed ranks, and Bowling was charged with causing the wreck and leaving the scene of the accident. He later was acquitted of causing the wreck but convicted of leaving the scene. (And why wouldn’t he leave the scene? He was getting the crap beaten out of him.)

The tide eventually turned, however, and last week, a U.S. District Court judge awarded Bowling $833,250 for the beating, which, The Star said, left him with “severe brain damage and post-traumic stress.”  

The Star’s story focused partly on former KCK Detective Max Seifert, who tried, at the time, to report honestly what happened on North Tenth Street on July 10, 2003.  At the time, Seifert was overridden by other officers, who wanted to protect a fellow badge carrier. The worst was yet to come: Judge Julie Robinson, who awarded Bowling $833,000, said that as a result of his honesty Seifert was forced into retirement before he was eligible for full retirement benefits.

In her ruling, Robinson praised Seifert for his honest work, which, she said, got him “castigated by his superiors, by the prosecutor, by the DEA.” She called his treatment “shameful.”

Lane

Now, enter Bob Lane. An editorial in The Star on Wednesday said he was the first officer to arrive on the scene that fateful day. The editorial goes on to say that Lane told Seifert that DEA agents were helpful to police and the department should “cover for them.”

“Seifert rejected that warped advice and filed a thorough and honest report,” the editorial said.

But The Star failed to tie together all the elements of this sordid tale. Several years ago, Lane, while simultaneously serving on the Edwardsville City Council and the KCK Police Department helped quash two DUI tickets and related traffic tickets in exchange for carpets and a steak-house gift certificate.

To be specific: The attorney general’s office alleged that on Aug. 8, 2005, Lane received $1,200 to $1,400 worth of carpet to conceal and suppress records related to the 2004 arrest of a carpet company owner. In December 2004, Lane allegedly got a $100 gift certificate to Ruth’s Chris Steak House to hide evidence against a car dealer.  

 In 2006, Lane was charged with three felonies — two counts of bribery and one of aggravated intimidation of a witness. He also was charged with four misdemeanor counts. (The Edwardsville police chief, Steve Vaughan, also was charged in connection with the ticket fixing, but those charges were later dismissed.)   

In a 2007 deal with prosecutors, Lane pleaded no contest to the four misdemeanors, including two counts of compounding a crime.

He was sentenced to 10 days in jail and a year of probation. And, oh, yes, he resigned from the police force. (He had been placed on unpaid leave when the charges were filed.)

It’s clear, then, that Lane was running wild — in the most perverted sense — in 2003, 2004 and 2005. It’s too bad, isn’t it, that Wyandotte County District Attorney Jerome Gorman chose to drop those felony charges against Lane in 2007?

Lane is probably thanking his lucky stars he’s not behind bars, where he fully deserves to be, in my opinion.

I have another thought on this situation:

Why in the world would the KCK Police Department allow officers to serve in any kind of political post, not to mention an elected post? It seems to me that the potential for conflict of interest or abuse of power would be pronounced.

On Thursday, I spoke with KCK Police Chief Rick Armstrong, who was appointed chief in July. He said he didn’t think that, in general, allowing KCK officers to serve in political posts other than the Wyandotte County Unified Government posed a significant problem. Armstrong, whom I got to know when I was The Star’s KCK bureau chief from 1995-2004, is a good man, and I believe will be a great chief; but I disagree with him on this point.

Armstrong also took issue with Judge Robinson’s conclusion that Seifert was drummed out of the force for writing a report that put the blame on McCue.  Armstrong defended the integrity of police force operations under recent police chiefs, including James Swofford; Ron Miller, who was chief in 2003; and Sam Breshears, whom Armstrong succeeded.  

Armstrong said that earlier Thursday he had met with 21 police recruits and had talked to them about the importance of ethics, professionalism and accountability.

Let’s hope they get the message…and also that there’s not a Bob Lane among them.

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Let me tell you how a great piece of investigative reporting came about.

Maybe you read or heard about the Martin-Luther King Jr.-era photographer, Ernest C. Withers, being identified as an FBI informant by The Commercial Appeal, Memphis’ major daily newspaper. 

Withers, who died in 2007 at age 85, was giving the FBI boat loads of information about King; about the sanitation workers’ strike that led up to King’s assassination; and about a Black Panther-type group called the Invaders, which operated in Memphis in the late 1960s. Withers is now credited with helping the government break up the group.

Withers also focused on mainstream figures, including King, with whom Withers had unfettered access, and he passed along tips and photographs involving politics, business and everyday life in Memphis’ black community.

He is believed to have been paid for his work, although the FBI has refused to acknowledge he was an informant or that he was paid.

Perrusquia

With that backdrop, here is how veteran investigative reporter Marc Perrusquia unmasked Withers, whose family refuses to believe he was an informant.

Perrusquia first got wind of Withers being an FBI informant more than a decade ago. A few years ago he twice requested — and was twice denied — Freedom of Information requests to copy the Justice Department’s file on Withers. 

The Justice Department not only would not allow the paper to copy the file but refused to acknowledge that it exists. The Justice Department was able to get by with that because an exemption to Freedom of Information Act law allows officials to protect the identity of informants even after death.

What the paper managed to get instead was 369 pages related to a 1970s public corruption inquiry that focused on Withers, who pleaded guilty in 1979 to extorting kickbacks from a nightclub owner while he was a Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission agent.

Perrusquia began scouring those pages, which included redacted references to informants. But in one instance — just one place in all those pages — the guys with the Sharpies (or the computer-keyboard equivalent) screwed up; they failed to hide a reference to Withers’ informant number, ME 338-R.

With that, The Commercial Appeal had the combination that unlocked the vault. Here’s how the paper explained what happened next.

“…(T)he newspaper located repeated references to the number in other FBI reports released under FOIA 30 years ago. Those reports — more than 7,000 pages comprising the FBI’s files on the 1968 sanitation strike and a 1968-70 probe of the Invaders — at times pinpoint specific actions by Withers and in other instances show he was one of several informants contributing details.”

The Commercial Appeal published its big story on Sunday, Sept. 12. It was immediately picked up by other papers and news organizations throughout the country. 

In a column that also ran on Sept. 12, Commercial Appeal editor Chris Peck called the scoop “a wrinkle in history that speaks for the importance of a free press and good reporting,” and he explained why Perrusquia’s scoop was so important decades after the fact.

“Every generation wrestles with this tug between the better in us and those things that, in retrospect, seem less than our best,” Peck wrote. “Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Rush Limbaugh and prescription drugs. Barry Bonds and steroids. We cannot count on two hands and two feet all the head-scratching examples of successful men, talented men who feel compelled to go against their own best interests.

“That’s why the Ernest Withers saga is relevant today. The questions raised by his secret life as an informant seem as pertinent and nettlesome today as they were 40 years ago.”

Thank you, then, Marc Perrusquia and The Commercial Appeal for exposing a deep, closely held secret that explained a lot about the government’s inside track on Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement of the late 1960s.

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Ten days ago, Arthur Gregg Sulzberger began turning out stories in his new job as Midwest correspondent for The New York Times.

Sulzberger, a fifth-generation member of the Ochs-Sulzberger dynasty that has controlled and managed The Times since 1896, was named a Midwest correspondent, based in Kansas City, in June. He moved to Kansas City within the past few weeks and alives near downtown. His grandmother, Annie Gregg, lives in Topeka.   

Sulzberger, who uses the byline A.G. Sulzberger, has had three midwestern stories since Sept. 10. The first was a provocative piece about a video war game that allows the user to become aTaliban fighter and attack American troops. The Army, Navy and Air Force have prohibited the game from being sold on their bases. The Marines had not decided whether to make it available on their bases.

The second story, which was published last Thursday, was about a Mulvane, Kan., man who built a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge over a creek on his property.

The third one, published Friday, was very special. It was a front-page feature on a 103-year-old federal judge in Wichita. Yes, Judge Wesley E. Brown is still hearing cases at a century plus three.

Sulzberger opened the story like this:

“Judge Wesley E. Brown’s mere presence in his courtroom is seen as something of a daily miracle. His diminished frame is nearly lost behind the bench. A tube under his nose feeds him oxygen during hearings. And he warns lawyers preparing for lengthy court battles that he may not live to see the cases to completion, adding the old saying, ‘At this age, I’m not even buying green bananas.’ ”

It might be an old saying, but it sure made me laugh.

As lively and polished as Sulzberger’s writing was, it was a photo that The Times used that elevated the story to a remarkably high level. The photo showed a smiling Judge Brown virtually swallowed by his big office chair and appearing to be sliding down under his big, wide desk. It’s a hilarious picture, and to use another old saying, it’s a picture that’s worth a thousand words.

Wisely, The Kansas City Star picked up the story and also ran it on the front page. Unwisely, The Star chose not to run the tell-tale photo, opting instead for a mug shot.

Before moving to Kansas City, the 29-year-old Sulzberger was covering U.S. District Court in Brooklyn. He joined The Times’ staff early last year, after reporting stints at The Oregonian and The Providence (Rhode Island) Journal.

He is the son of Times’ chairman and publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. He got his middle name from his mother, Gail Gregg. Young Sulzberger has a sister, Annie Sulzberger, who is not in the newspaper business.

I had the pleasure of meeting Arthur earlier this summer, and he struck me as genuine, unassuming and enthusiastic about his Kansas City-based assignment.

This is the first time that The Times has had a Kansas City-based correspondent in nearly 20 years. In my opinion, this is a great move by The Times, which, like the Wall Street Journal, is spreading its reach as a “national” newspaper. Unfortunately, while The Times and the Wall Street Journal are extending their tentacles, the nation’s second-tier papers, like The Star, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Chicago Tribune, are pulling in their horns because of financial problems, and they’re losing their foothold with many readers.

For more than a year now I’ve subscribed to The Times, along with The Star. I understand that the vast majority of people either can’t afford two newspapers or they’re just not interested enough to take both (or maybe either). I would urge all of you, however, to at least try to follow Arthur Sulzberger’s writing out of Kansas City on The Times’ web site, www.nyt.com. If you just check the site every once in a while, you can put “A.G. Sulzberger” in the search box, and his stories will pop up. 

We’re lucky to have him among us. For one thing, it could elevate our profile in the eyes of the nation. So, welcome, Arthur, we hope you enjoy your time in our great city!

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I frequently hear people say they’ve stopped taking The Kansas City Star because “there’s nothing in it” or “there’s nothing to it anymore.”

But once again, on Thursday, The Star showed why it’s the most indispensable news-gathering organization in our region. The shocking headline atop Page 1 said it all — “Sources: Nixon was target.”

The intended target of the whacked-out, psychologically ill 22-year-old man who stabbed a dean on Tuesday at Penn Valley Community College was none other than Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.

The story was reported and written by police reporter Christine Vendel and higher-education reporter Mara Rose Williams. 

The scariest thing — the reason this is such a huge story — is that if Casey Brezik, the attacker, had been smarter and better organized, he just might have been able to get to Nixon. Nixon travels with Missouri Highway Patrol officers, but who would have been suspecting an attack at a junior college, where the governor was going to be talking about the benign subject of a state expansion of high-speed Internet services?    

It seems to me that Brezik easily could have caught everybody napping…long enough, anyway, to get in one thrust at the governor.

He was able to make his thrust, but it got dean of instruction Al Dimmit Jr. instead of Nixon, whose plane had just landed at Wheeler Downtown Airport. (Dimmit is in the hospital, recovering from a neck wound.) 

Nixon immediately canceled the Penn Valley visit and went on to Springfield, his next planned stop.

The Star posted its big scoop on its web site, kansascity.com, at 10:15 p.m. Wednesday, just after the 10 o’clock newscasts concluded their news reports and had moved on to weather and sports.

At that point, even if they were monitoring The Star’s web site, the TV stations would only have been able to report what The Star was reporting. They would have had to say something like, “The Kansas City Star is reporting on its web site that Gov. Jay Nixon was the intended target of an attack Tuesday that injured a Penn Valley dean.”

But pride would have stopped the TV stations from doing that; they hate to give credit to The Star, just as The Star hates to credit any other local news organization with breaking a big story. 

As of 10:30 a.m. Thursday, three of the four local TV stations, KMBC, WDAF and KSHB, were reporting the Nixon-the-intended-victim story on their web sites. Two of the stations, KSHB and WDAF, were crediting The Star. KMBC, meanwhile, had done some original reporting and was quoting police spokesman Darrin Snapp as saying that Nixon had been the intended target.

As for KCTV5 ( known for its “live, late-breaking, investigative” self-promotions a few years ago), it was carrying as its “top story” a bomb threat from Wednesday morning that forced the evacuation of a building at 23rd and Main. 

As early as Wednesday morning, The Star intimated the deeper implications of the Penn Valley incident. Its front-page account of the attack included a sub-head that read, “Man described as anarchist is charged in attack that occurred before governor’s arrival.”

Another tipoff that Brezik had bigger things in mind came in the third paragraph of Wednesday’s story, which said that Brezik was “wearing black clothes and a bullet-resistant vest.” In other words, he was prepared for a big encounter.

Fortunately — very, very fortunately — Brezik’s hoped-for, big encounter with the governor didn’t happen.   

So, while The Star is “skinnier” than it used to be, while it is lighter in the hand (except on Sunday) and contains far fewer column inches of news than it used to, it’s still the heaviest and most substantive news source around. If you want the inside information on the biggest local stories, there’s only one place to turn to. 

Hats off, then, to The Star. It truly was a banner day at 18th and Grand.

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Now there’s a game that was worth losing some sleep over!

Chiefs 21, Chargers 14. Finish time: about 12:15 a.m.

It might go down in the annals of local sports as the game that put Kansas City back on the NFL map.

Isn’t it amazing how one game can lift the spirits of a town that has seen so many years of frustrating losses for its two primary major-league franchises?  

All that losing, combined with the Chiefs’ relatively poor pre-season play, had a lot of people on edge and gloomy about the team’s prospects. Why, just a few weeks ago, The Star’s Adam Teicher and Chiefs’ head coach Todd Haley had a testy exchange at a news conference, and it looked like bitterness was going to be the season-long tone out at Arrowhead.

I was one of those people who was gloomy about the team’s prospects.  On July 22, I wrote, accurately, in this space that the sun was setting on Jason Whitlock’s career at The Star. (He resigned last month.) I went on to write, terribly inaccurately, it appears, that one of the reasons Whitlock was verging on irrelevance in Kansas City was that “the Chiefs are in a sorry state.”

I went on to say: “…they have a hot-headed, yet dull-as-dirt coach in Todd Haley; they have an egocentric president, Scott Pioli, who hides in his office; and they have a sub-par group of players. So, really, what does it matter what Whitlock might write about this year’s Chiefs?”

Now, clearly, there’s a guy who didn’t know what he was talking about! There’s a blogger — the kind I like to complain about — who was just standing on a soap box and making noise. I could have, and should have, qualified it, as I learned to do in my many years at The Star, and said, “It appears that the Chiefs are in a sorry state.” That would have given me some cover.

At least, however, I was swimming in a crowded pool. And now all of us who were in that pool want out; we want out of the pool of despair and into the waters of rejuvenation because football is back in Kansas City. Once again, the Chiefs own the town…Well, I guess I better say it appears that the Chiefs own the town.

And what about Whitlock? How do you think he feels today? Wherever he’s writing now — Twitter or Foxsports.com — look for him to try to minimize this thrilling victory, to write it off as an aberration. But deep down, where his little heart is beating, I’ll bet he’s sorry that he’s not here writing about this team, with its talented, enthusiastic young players and its new, deeply experienced offensive and defensive coordinators.

If he were here, I’ll bet he’d be calling today on Chiefs’ fans everywhere to “Get on the bandwagon…This team might go undefeated!”

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The Sultan says….

Hello, all you JimmyCsays fans. I hope I’m not barging in here, but Jimmy is just back from his vacation in Turkey, and he’s too tired to file today. So, he’s authorized me, Sultan Salami, to fill in. 

I was privileged to host Jimmy during his 12-day Turkey trot, and I’d like to share with you a slide show featuring some of the people and places we saw.

So, if you’ll just grab a chair and look up at the screen, we’ll get started.

Click, click….

There now, that’s the country that stretches under my robes from Georgia and Iran on the east to the Aegean Sea on the west. It straddles two continents — Europe and Asia, with Africa to the south. 

Click, click…

 Oh, that Jimmy…what a card! There he is playing Sultan. I had to smack him for that. Nobody, and I mean nobody, impersonates the Sultan.

Click, click…

That’s my carriage. Jimmy wasn’t too impressed, but, like I told him, “It beats a camel!” (He got a chuckle out of that, but when we stalled in rush-hour Istanbul traffic, he really got ticked.)

Click, click…

Here’s one of our carpet delivery guys. They’ll bring them to you anytime, anyplace, even drop ’em in your window…provided you fork over the lira.

Click, click…

Speaking of carpet…Would you buy a carpet from the little guy in the blue shirt? Hah! JimmyC did, and, I have to tell you (although I certainly wouldn’t tell JimmyC this) that he fleeced Jimmy right out of his camel-hair Jockey shorts. 

Celal Belli — aka Jelly Belly, aka Reasonable Charlie — is one of our most outstanding carpet merchants. Once Jelly got JimmyC in his showroom just outside Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar and got some hot tea in him and the missus, it was pretty clear that Jimmy was going down. For my part, I stayed out of the negotiations. I’ve seen a lot of you “walking wallets” from the West try to match wits with our carpet croupiers, and it’s usually pretty pathetic. 

The turning point, if there ever was one, came when Jelly looked at Jimmy and said, “Money comes and goes; this (the carpet) is forever.” Jimmy’s eyes kind of glazed over, and he looked at the missus, and the missus looked at the carpet, and, bingo, out came the Citi card. 

Oh, yes, there’s an addendum to this story. Jimmy sent me an e-mail today, saying that his Pomeranian, uh, “broke in” the carpet with a few Istanbul-inspired turds. Guess the little guy just didn’t appreciate hand-woven wool!

Click, click…

There’s Jimmy’s missus, Patty, with one of our foremost foreign-trade emissaries. I didn’t catch the emissary’s name, but, I’ve gotta say, Jimmy doesn’t learn very fast. Once again, Jimmy looked like a character in my favorite W.C. Fields movie, “Never Give a Sucker an Even Break.” 

On a rainy day, this guy latched on to Jimmy along Sultanahmet street, the main tourist drag in Istanbul, and directed him and Patty to an overpriced restaurant. After lunch, our trade emissary took Jimmy and Patty to a few souvenir shops, where they dropped a few more lira. And, then, wouldn’t you know it, Jimmy tipped the emissary! Did I tell you how much we love you Americans?

Click, click…

The rainy day was not at all disappointing, however. For one thing, at the restaurant, Jimmy and Patty got the services of one of the finest, most gracious waiters in Istanbul. His name is Mevlut Balek. Jimmy was really struck by the fact that Mevlut (pronounced Mev-lute) looked a lot like Frank Sinatra and had a hat like the one JimmyC always wears.

Click, click…

Oh, yeah, our kids are just like yours…always cutting up and mugging for the camera. 

Click, click…

I was pretty sure Jimmy was going to like our Aegean coast (this near Bodrum), and I was right. In fact, Jimmy thought it was white hot.

Click, click…

Fortunately, the glass-clear, turquoise-looking water is cool to the touch, and Jimmy was able to collect himself.

Click, click…

Not everybody gets excited at the beach, though. Sometimes it’s just nice to close your eyes and let your cares melt away. 

Click, click…

What’s that? Wait a minute…I’ve got to consult my Arabic-English dictionary. Oh, here it is…

Thanks for dropping by. Sultan says don’t be a stranger now!

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