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Archive for February, 2011

Charles B. Wheeler, mayor, 1971 to 1979. Check.

Richard L. Berkley, mayor, 1979 to 1991. Check.

Kay Barnes, mayor, 1999 to 2007. Check.

At an 11 a.m. news conference today, Wheeler, Berkley and Barnes — three of Kansas City’s four former, living mayors — checked the box beside the name of mayoral candidate Mike Burke.

What a day for the 61-year-old Burke, one of seven candidates on the ballot for next Tuesday’s mayoral primary.

It was the trifecta. A winning bet that will likely put him on the ballot for the March 22 general election. The top two finishers on Tuesday will advance to the finals.

As in indication of the significance of today’s development, it marked the first time that Berkley has ever endorsed a mayoral candidate. Until now, he has demurred on mayoral endorsements, not wanting to take a chance of having the door slammed shut on him at City Hall.

Also significant is the fact that Wheeler has been one of the seven candidates for mayor. Now, however, he is dropping his campaign (although his name will still be on the ballot) and urging his supporters to vote for Burke.

(Kansas City’s fourth living, former mayor is U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver. It would be the height of foolishness for Cleaver, as a sitting member of Congress, to endorse any of the mayoral candidates, and Cleaver has demonstrated over many years that he is no fool.)

From left, behind Mike Burke, are Rev. Wallace Hartsfield II, John Fierro, Charles B. Wheeler, Kay Barnes and Richard L. Berkley

Burke introduced the three former mayors at a morning news conference at campaign headquarters, Valentine Road and Broadway. A boisterous crowd of about 75 people attended.

Cheers and long applause greeted Burke, the former mayors and two other dignitaries — Parks Board President John Fierro and Rev. Wallace Hartsfield II of Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church — as they walked to the podium.

Burke led off by mentioning that he had received the endorsements (along with Sly James) of The Kansas City Star and The Call, and added, “Today is the crowing glory, for me to have these former mayors standing behind me.”

He talked about the roles that each of the three former mayors had played in his life, including Wheeler having been the first person to urge him, back in the 1970s, to run for City Council, and Barnes having appointed him to his first city commission — the Citizens Advisory Committee on Noise.

“Mayors don’t hatch out of an egg,” Burke said. “Sometimes they’re groomed; they learn a lot from mentors. These people behind me are the mentors that I trust.”

Up first was Berkley, who praised Burke’s “wide experience in leadership,” which includes two years on the City Council (1985-1987) and key roles with just about every major economic development agency in the city.

Then Berkley did something that he was loathe to do as mayor — go negative on a fellow politician…Well, he didn’t mention Mayor Mark Funkhouser by name, but he took dead aim.

He talked about the “absolutely unnecessary conflict between the mayor’s office and the City Council” the last four years, and his voice slowed and gained an edge when he said of Burke, “We need someone who knows how to work with his 12 colleagues on the City Council.”

Returning to a positive tone, Berkley commended Burke for his “professionalism and friendly voice.”

Barnes noted that Burke has “extensive experience in every segment of the community,” and she lauded him as “a good listener…a leader and a cheerleader.”

“It’s a pleasure for me to endorse him,” she said.

Wheeler, wearing his trademark black, English-style cap, was short and sweet, as usual.

“When I heard that they (Barnes and Berkley) were ready to endorse him, I was, too.”

He encouraged audience members to go to the polls Tuesday and “make sure he (Burke) will be in the top two…And I’m predicting he’ll be No. 1!”

Despite taking a back seat to the triumvirate of former mayors, the supporting cast of Hartsfield and Fierro were strong additions to the proceedings.

Hartsfield, for example said that Burke had become “truly a friend” and that he saw in Burke the ability to be a facilitator among diverse interest groups.

“It’s about people,” Hartsfield said. “Not about a certain group of people — about all people.”

Fierro, who has been parks board president the last three and a half years, said:

“I have been, like our city, ready for a positive change. I’m looking for an individual to be an ambassador for this city…someone who can be a facilitator with the council. I’m looking for somebody that can be a convener.”

And Burke, he said, was the person he was convinced is best suited to take on the roles of ambassador, facilitator, convener.

A final note: Talk about guts…

Fierro was first appointed to the parks board by Barnes. Funkhouser, who was elected in 2007 and is seeking re-election, not only reappointed Fierro but named him president of the board.

Yesterday, Tuesday, Fierro called Funkhouser and told him that he was turning his back on him; that he would endorse Burke today.

And what was Funkhouser’s reaction?

“Pretty much, ‘OK, thanks…We’ll see you around,’ ” Fierro told me after the news conference.

Now there’s a guy who not only has guts but well might serve on the parks board under three consecutive mayors.

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I’ve been writing about the candidate forums and the mayor’s race for a few weeks now, and I think it’s been clear that not all of my writing has been completely objective.

When I was writing in the news columns of The Star, objectivity and balance were paramount. If a paper does not adhere to those principles in the news columns, it loses its credibility.

With retirement and the blog, that constraint is gone. But I still enjoy “covering” the mayor’s race, and I hope that my “reporting” has helped illuminate the candidates and lay out their positions.

But now, with the primary election a week away, it’s time for me to put all my cards on the table…time to tell you why I’m for Mike Burke and why I think he is the best candidate — head and shoulders above the other six.

But first, a little background.

I met Mike in 1985, shortly after he was elected to fill the last two years of an unexpired term on the City Council. At the time, I was a rookie City Hall reporter, and he was a rookie council member. We hit it off. I remember that, early on, during one council meeting, he told me in a council chamber anteroom that he had made a deal on a certain issue with another council member. The deal was that Mike agreed to vote for something that council member wanted in return for the council member voting for whatever it was that Mike wanted.

Now, politicians make deals like that all the time, but they never talk about them to the press. So, I wrote about the deal (Mike offered the information without asking to go off the record) and he immediately got a backlash: Deals! You’re up there making deals!

Suffice it to say, that was the last time he told a reporter about any deal he made.

But, to me, that was a breath of fresh air: He struck me as a politician who didn’t try to hide the politics. That episode endeared him to me and planted seeds of respect that have grown into trees of respect over the years.

When the unexpired term was up in 1987, Mike, who had a wife, Melinda, and young son, John, decided not to seek a full term. I think it about killed him not to run, but he rightly decided that family came first.

But he always stayed involved in city matters and never stopped working for Kansas Citians in one way or another. (More about that in a minute.)

So, more than two years ago, when he began thinking about running for mayor, I told him that if he decided to run, I’d be with him. And here we are, a week before the election.

My role? I’ve contributed the maximum of $3,000 (the maximum is $3,000 in the primary election and an additional $3,000 in the general election), and I’ve been intimately involved in the campaign. I’ve participated in staff meetings, and over the weekend I co-sponsored a coffee at the home of a friend in Oak Meyer Gardens. (Big success, by the way; about 25 people attended.)

There are three main reasons I put Mike at the head of this mayoral field.

Experience

As I’ve said before, I think service on the council is virtually a prerequisite to holding the mayor’s job. The only mayors since 1963 who did not have council experience were Ilus W. Davis (a banker who held the office from 1963 to 1971); Charles B. Wheeler (who succeeded Davis after serving on the old Jackson County administrative court); and Mark Funkhouser (!!!).

(As most of you know, Wheeler is a candidate again this year.)

Just as important as his council service, however, Mike has held leadership positions on every major economic development agency in the city, including the Port Authority, the Economic Development Corp. and the Planned Industrial Expansion Authority. In addition, for five years he was chairman of the Public Improvements Advisory Committee, which recommends to the City Council how millions of dollars in sales-tax, capital improvements funds should be spent.

If you want tangible accomplishments, he founded the KC Riverfest celebration at Berkley Riverfront Park, and he headed the committee that got Kansas City named an All America City a few years ago.

Some people see it as a negative that Mike is a development attorney. I see it as a plus. For one thing, Kansas City has been moribund the last four years. A Kansas City Star letter writer named Jim Carney expressed it best last Friday. (And, by the way, while campaigns routinely prompt some letters to the editor, ours did not prompt this one.)

“With the economic uncertainties we face,” Carney wrote, “I’m certainly glad someone who understands the development process and its vital importance to our community’s economy would consider running for the office of mayor. Anyone who thinks being pro-development is a sin needs to reread the article on local unemployment.”

Thanks, Jim.

Temperament

Calm, confident and deliberate. That’s Mike. In that regard, he reminds me of a certain president I’m pretty fond of.

In the forums, Mike doesn’t get rattled, and he doesn’t get combative. He’s not afraid to throw a punch, but he does it in a way that it never comes off as unduly harsh.

At staff meetings, he generally listens quietly to all points of view — sometimes expressed vociferously (sometimes by me) — and nods. He doesn’t wave off anyone’s suggestions or thoughts, and he doesn’t dictate to the group. After everyone has had their say, he sometimes indicates what direction he wants to go, and sometimes he takes it under advisement and decides later. But there’s no knee jerking, no rushing to judgment.

On the council, on the Public Improvements Advisory Committee and on the many other boards on which he has served, Mike has honed his consensus-building skills. The ability to persuade people while keeping the peace is the key to getting things accomplished on the City Council, where the mayor has one of 13 votes and needs to convince at least six people to go along with him on any issue.

Personal qualities

You don’t often hear people say this about politicians. Throughout his public career, Mike has treated people with respect and kindness. Not just the powerful — the influence peddlers, the wealthy, the office holders. No, everyone. He is gracious and always friendly. I’m sure, like all of us, that along the way he’s angered some people with his positions. But I’ve never heard anyone say, “I can’t stand Mike Burke,” or “Mike Burke did me dirty.”

The way Mike treats his fellow human beings is going to inure to his benefit on Election Day.

***

In sum, Kansas City is indeed fortunate to have some good candidates for mayor. Some of the candidates — most notably Deb Hermann and Sly James could be good mayors. For all the talents that Hermann and James bring to the table, however, each would face a steep learning curve. James has never held public office, and Hermann, while she has been on the council the last eight years, does not have nearly the depth and breadth of Mike’s experience in the public-service arena.

Mike is the only candidate, in my opinion, who could step in and start functioning effectively as mayor on Day One. He’s the candidate best equipped to quickly dissipate the malaise that the Funkhouser administration has injected into City Hall and start bringing people together again.

For me, it’s not a close call. It’s Mike Burke…And I’m quite confident I won’t have to apologize for my endorsement in a couple of years.

Correction: Ilus W. Davis, who served as mayor from 1963 to 1971, did, in fact, serve on the City Council. He was on the council from 1948 to 1955 before stepping out of government for eight years.

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The mayoral candidates took their road show to the Crossroads District Friday evening, and the setting — a part of Kansas City that has been thriving for a decade or more — energized the discussion.

It was interesting to see the approach that five main candidates — Mike Burke, Sly James, Deb Hermann, Mayor Mark Funkhouser and Jim Rowland — took with the crowd of about 75, who gathered on the second floor of a two-story building at 122 Southwest Blvd.

Burke, Funkhouser, Hermann, James and Klein (the Hyatt, background)

 

Hermann struck the right note immediately by saying: “First, I want to commend you; there’s no way anyone could have envisioned what you have created here.”

She was referring, of course, to the thriving district of restaurants, small and eclectic businesses, lofts and galleries.

Sly James picked up on the theme, saying, “The arts cut across all conceivable lines. It’s one of the things that can be used as a catalyst to bring people together.”

Oddly, Funkhouser didn’t say much about the arts or the Crossroads District in his opening statement, focusing, instead, on his oft-stated contention that city finances are in much better shape than they were when he took office four years ago.

Burke (whom I support and have contributed to) had a big advantage with this group, and he pressed it all night long. For months, a key part of his platform has been to create an Arts Office within the mayor’s office. The office, he said, would explore public funding for the arts and devise a plan to help sustain arts organizations for many years.

Rowland, while he didn’t say anything particularly interesting about the arts in his opening statement, hit on the issue during the course of the evening, saying, at one point, “The arts is a tool to drive economic development.”

Both Rowland and another candidate, Henry Klein, graciously acknowledged, however, that Burke was the front-runner on the arts issue.

Funkhouser, on the other hand, was considerably less deferential, saying: “We don’t need a mayor’s office of this, a mayor’s office of that…We need to integrate them.”

As usual, Funkhouser took more shots than he handed out. The challengers, particularly Herman, Rowland and Burke, have become adept at building themselves up by slapping him down.

Hermann, who is chairman of the council’s Finance and Audit Committee, said, “Of all the candidates up here, I’m the one who knows the budget.”

She said she had led the council to a consensus on the last three budgets “in a thoughtful, dignified manner, with no hair pulling and no gnashing of teeth.” She was alluding, of course, to the hair pulling (not literal) and gnashing of teeth (possibly literal) that Funkhouser’s wife, Gloria Squitiro, caused while working in Funkhouser’s office as a “volunteer.”

Before contrasting himself with Funkhouser, Burke talked about some of Kansas City’s great successes of the past, including Crown Center Redevelopment Corp.’s construction of the Crown Center Hotel and the Crown Center Shops.

“Hallmark built a hotel into a bluff, and it was a masterpiece,” Burke said.

Back then, he said, city leaders heralded Kansas City’s achievements throughout the country, and, partly as a result of that strong promotion, the city became one of the nation’s top convention destinations. (In recent years, it has fallen out of the top tier.)

Burke pledged to take “the Kansas City story” on the road again and concluded by saying, “I want you to be proud of your mayor. I want people to be proud of Kansas City.”

James, who seems to be finding a stronger voice with each passing day, also used Funkhouser’s long shadow to shine a light on himself and his vision of leadership.

“You have to set the example, and they (the council members and others) have to be willing to follow,” James said. “If you can’t bring people together to get something done, then you will get nothing done.”

The primary election is now 10 days away.

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Perhaps you saw in The Star on Wednesday an item about a 16-year-old youth being charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of Zach Myers, who died from injuries he suffered in a Dec. 1, head-on collision in Olathe.

That’s the case where I stirred a batch of hot coals after I called Zach’s parents to try to find out what happened that Wednesday morning on North Iowa Street.

Zach

What happened, I discovered through some straightforward reporting, was that the driver of the car was going at least twice the posted 25 mph speed limit when the car he was driving crossed the center line and collided with a car being driven by a 20-year-old woman.

The woman, Ashley Poage of Olathe, apparently edged across the center line about the same time as she maneuvered around a truck that was parked on the street. Poage told police she was traveling about 20 mph.

Poage was out on an errand; the boys were traveling from a vocational school in downtown Olathe to their home school, Olathe Northwest.

Neither Poage nor the two front-seat occupants of the car in which 16-year-old Zach was riding was seriously injured. But Zach, seated behind the driver, suffered a massive head injury and died a day later.

A witness who got to the scene a minute or two after the crash told me that Zach did not have his seat belt on when she got to the car and opened the back door. She said it appeared, from blood stains on the lap portion of the belt, that he might have been wearing the lap portion of the belt but not the shoulder harness, which bore no blood stains. The police report was ambiguous on the seat-belt issue.

Joshua Pena, the driver of the car in which the boys were riding — a borrowed car — told police he was going 50 to 60 mph. The other boy in the front seat told police that shortly before the crash “he looked at the speedometer and noticed that they were traveling 70 mph.”

So, now, Pena is charged not only with involuntary manslaughter but also two counts of reckless battery in the injuries of Poage and the third boy.

The formal “complaint” — the charge sheet — that the Johnson County District Attorney’s office filed on Monday does not reveal any details of the case. It does not mention speed, and it does not reveal the results of blood tests conducted on samples taken from Pena and Poage. The police report on the crash says there was no indication that drugs or alcohol were involved.

This is an incredibly tragic and upsetting case all the way around.

One boy is dead. Another is charged with manslaughter and has to live with the death of his companion. The third boy is either kicking himself for not doing anything to try to slow Pena down, or, if he did try to slow him down, is asking himself if he could have done more. And Poage has to be thinking about how things would have been different if that damn truck hadn’t been in her path or if she had arrived a few seconds earlier or later.

And Zach’s parents, Kimberly and John Myers, and Zach’s brother, John Myers Jr. — as well as grandparents, other relatives and friends — are left with a void that will never be filled or a memory that will never be erased.

My deepest sympathy goes out to all parties involved in the case.

I’m sure the Myerses told Zach about the inherent danger of speeding, how to wear his seat belt and to wear it at all times. (John Myers Sr. is a captain on the Olathe Fire Department.)

But it’s a warning to the rest of us — parents, relatives, friends of young people — to remind youngsters, over and over, to obey the speed limit and to tell them, even demonstrate, how to wear their seat belts properly.

If they try to wave us off, we need to tell them about Zach Myers.

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Chamber President Jim Heeter and the mayoral candidates

In the second half of Tuesday’s mayoral doubleheader, the candidates gathered in the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s new board room at Union Station.

The space that you might remember as the Harvey House Diner is now the chamber board room, and it was a sparkling, comfortable and well-lighted venue for a give-and-take among the seven mayoral candidates. By my estimate, about 200 people attended the event, which the Kansas City Business Journal co-sponsored.

Here are some of the more notable quotes to come out of the 90-minute session:

Former Mayor Charles B. Wheeler: “I’m running on a platform to end dissension at City Hall. There have been some 12-1 votes (against Mayor Mark Funkhouser) on the council. That’s all right for Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, but it doesn’t work for Kansas City.”

Deb Hermann: “One of the things that has really, really bothered me the last couple of years is the mood of Kansas Citians about Kansas City. How do we make Kansas Citians believe in Kansas City again?”

“Some people have told me, ‘You’re too serious.’ My answer to that is, ‘There’s a whole lot to be serious about.’ I’m going to stay serious.”

Sly James: “The strength of leadership is not claiming that you’re right and everyone else is wrong. The strength of leadership is bringing people together and charting a path. You take the ego out of it.”

“Until I see a headline that says, ‘Ph.D. shoots master’s candidate at 39th and Troost,’ I’m going to continue to believe that education is the key to long-term reduction of crime.”

Mark Funkhouser: “It took the council two years to agree with me that we needed a professional city manager. Once they did, we began to make great progress.”

“We need a Kansas City Chamber of Commerce in addition to a regional chamber.”

Mike Burke: “We have an arts infrastructure that is second to none. We need to tell that story nationally, internationally and to our own people.”

“I want Kansas City to be a young person’s town. I want to keep them here and make them feel welcome…They are our future; they are the next generation of leaders of Kansas City.”

Jim Rowland: “What’s happening on the east side of our city (in terms of homicides) is inconceivable. We need a mayor who will shine a light and tell this story.”

Henry Klein: “I think the city needs to be run a little more like a corporation, with the city manager as the c.e.o. and the council as the board of directors.”

Brian Kaberline, moderator: “Congratulations, candidates. There’s a lot of running still to be done, but you’ve made it through one more forum.”

Brian Kaberline of the Business Journal and Kristi Wyatt of the chamber

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It was a really big shew ( in Ed Sullivan speak).

The mayoral candidates — six of them — sat on a stage on the Sprint Center floor this morning, looking up at the audience. Their images were displayed on the video screen above the arena scoreboard, and the LED ribbon on the face of the upper deck said, “2011 Kansas City Mayoral Candidate Forum.”

It would have been nice if 15,000 or so political fans had been in attendance, but the Kansas City Industrial Council, which sponsored the forum, had to settle for a couple of hundred people in Section 117.

Council officials weren’t expecting thousands, but they were ready.

And having the event at Sprint Center was a brilliant stroke, in my opinion. In recent weeks, some of the candidates — Jim Rowland, most notably — have wrung their hands about Kansas City’s direction the last four years, but Sprint Center stands as a credit to our city; it’s one of our recent success stories.

Even without an anchor tenant, Sprint Center is one of the busiest arenas in the nation. Along with the Power & Light District, it has helped resurrect Downtown and keep Kansas City in the hunt as a convention and visitor destination.

For the most part, the people at this morning’s forum were interested in capital improvements and infrastructure issues, such as river levies and the massive sewer-system improvements that Kansas City is launching.

As he has in most of the forums, Roland banged away at Mayor Mark Funkhouser and the current council, saying that a “toxic atmosphere” had settled in at City Hall, preventing the city from moving ahead on any front.

With that line of attack, Roland, a councilman from 1999 to 2006, aims to tar not only Funkhouser but also Councilwoman Deb Hermann, a leading mayoral contender who is completing her second term on the council.

Interestingly, another leading contender, Sly James — whose stock rose considerably over the weekend after he received The Star’s endorsement, along with Mike Burke — came to the defense of the current council, while managing to avoid mentioning Funkhouser specifically.

“I believe our council has worked hard to keep us in the best possible position,” James said. “We have some good people trying to do good things, and they deserve our respect for that.”

James didn’t give the council a complete pass, however, saying that the city seems to be “wandering around from crisis to crisis, putting Band Aids” on its problems, instead of devising a strategic, overall plan of action.

For her part, Hermann got a chance to return fire at Rowland, after Rowland noted that the city had boosted sewer rates by about 15 percent last year and water rates by about 10 percent — and was planning to implement similar rate increases again this year.

Hermann suggested that the current rate increases might not have been so large if the council had not frozen water rates in the year 2000. She didn’t even have to say that Rowland was on the council then; Rowland had told the audience in his opening remarks that he was elected in 1999 and re-elected in 2003.

The third leading contender, Burke (whom I support and have contributed to),  made his mark in the forum by proposing a way to accelerate progress on capital improvements projects.

The city brings in about $70 million a year for capital improvements from a one-cent, voter-approved sales tax. In May of each year, when the council approves the city budget, it also approves the capital improvements expenditures for the coming year.

Burke proposed separating the $70 million in sales-tax, capital improvements projects from the regular budget and approving the capital projects in the fall so that those projects would be ready to go the following spring. As it is, he said, those projects often aren’t ready to get underway until fall or winter, about the time the construction season is winding down for the year.

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Step aside, Deb Hermann. At least for now.

The Star’s endorsement tonight of Mike Burke and Sly James in the Feb. 22 mayoral primary struck a blow to Hermann, who had rung up some key endorsements in recent weeks.

Even with The Star’s errant endorsement of Mark Funkhouser four years ago — and his subsequent election because of it — this is the best possible endorsement a citywide candidate can have. Better than the Citizens Association (which Burke has), better than Freedom Inc., (which Jim Rowland has), better than the firefighters (whom Funkhouser has), better than the downtown business interests (which Hermann has).

James

James was the first person to declare his candidacy; he raised a lot of money early; and he presents clearly and confidently at candidate forums. Now he’s in an enviable position — a position that Jim Rowland and Deb Hermann would love to be in.

The Star said: “Many Kansas Citians know little about James, a lawyer, partly because he has never sought political office. But as he shows in personal conversations, he would be the kind of impressive, charismatic and knowledgeable mayor Kansas Citians deserve.”

I still say he won’t win and shouldn’t win. In my opinion, to be an effective mayor, there is no substitute for service on the City Council, where, if you want to get something significant done, you have to figure out how to get the votes of six other council members.

Burke

Burke has been there. He served out an unexpired term in the late 1980s and, although he didn’t seek a full term the next time around, he learned the ropes. Then, he went out and served in leadership positions on just about every significant economic development agency in the city, including the Economic Development Authority and the Port Authority.

On top of that, he founded KC Riverfest, the annual Fourth of July festival at Berkley Riverfront Park.

The Star gave a nice nod to his experience, saying, “Burke…has an extremely accomplished resume…It’s evident he could be a well-rounded mayor working for the good of Kansas City.”

As for his supposed big drawback, being a development attorney, the city hasn’t had any development the last four years. The Great Recession and The Myopic Mayor made sure of that. This is just the time that Kansas City can use a mayor who knows a thing or two about development. This city needs to get back on track, for God’s sake!

So, bring it on. The race is coming into clearer focus.

If you want to see the mayoral candidates in action, here are the forums (that I know of) that are taking place this week:

10 a.m., Tuesday, Feb. 8, Kansas City Industrial Council, Sprint Center.

4:30 to 6 p.m., Tuesday, Feb 8, Kansas City Business Journal/Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. RSVP at http://www2.bizjournals.com/kansascity/event/40321

11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 9, Downtowners, Town Pavilion, 1111 Main.

7 to 9 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 10, League of Women Voters, 10842 McGee.

5:30 p.m., Friday, Feb. 11, Crossroads Community Association, 122 Southwest Blvd., Second Floor.

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