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Archive for August, 2011

Now that the volcanic ash has started to settle from last week’s eruption at 12th and McGee, I’m starting to think that some good might come out of the three-day debacle.

Some good…

despite John Covington intentionally (I feel sure) squirting lighter fluid on the always-burning-embers of the Kansas City school board;

despite school board member Arthur Benson flying off the handle and accusing board president Airick Leonard West of causing the eruption;

and despite West apparently dabbling in the mechanics, at least, of a proposed multi-million-dollar bid that was supposed to be the province of the superintendent.

And how, you ask, might some good come out of this?

— It helped, I think, to bring into full public view the fact that significant problems exist between Benson and West and that those two bookends must reconcile their differences if the board is to move forward effectively.

— It showed that West has to be watched closely and has to learn, if he can, to resist the temptation to dip his hands in contractual matters that are off limits to the board until those matters are brought to the board for discussion and approval.

West and Benson

On the first point, Benson said on Friday — the day Covington accepted a new job in Michigan —  that he felt Covington had “used” him and that he was “completely distraught.”

What he apparently didn’t say to West, at least in public (if The Star’s front-page story is a guide) is “I’m sorry.” Those were the words that he should have spoken to West in the wake of his call for West to resign, when he obviously believed that Covington resigned because of West’s meddling.

However, even though Benson might not have apologized publicly, the front-page photo of him with his right arm around West’s shoulder at a Friday news conference spoke volumes.

These two guys need each other, and Kansas City needs for them to work well together. They’re both very bright; one has the benefit of years of experience; the other has the benefit of youth, vigor and good political instincts.

As for the second point — West dipping into matters that are supposed to be left to the administration — an Aug. 26 story by The Star’s Joe Robertson and Dave Helling contained a very disturbing section.

The story said:

“…e-mail records show Covington made a Sunshine Law request earlier this week seeking copies of correspondence between West and bidders hoping to win an $85 million project to modernize the energy efficiency of all district buildings.”

“West provided copies of e-mails to The Star that he believed were responsible for the concerns. Bidders were alerted in the project bid regulations not to have any contact with board members.

“The e-mails, from Peter Hinkle with Schneider Electric, shared a list of best practices and questions to ask in assessing such an energy services contract. Hinkle also shared concerns about the process in an e-mail that records show West forwarded to Covington.

“West wrote Covington, saying, ‘I contacted these folks because I thought they had questions about whom to contact regarding district projects. As it turned out, they wound up being more informative to me…’ “

The company found West to be “more informative” than Covington. Why, West must have been amazed that Schneider officials were so solicitous to him — little old Airick, just one of a handful of people who would ultimately decide who got the contract.

Everybody, even those with limited vision, can see the potential problems with a vendor cozying up to the board president.

I sure hope that West, who is 31 and doesn’t have much in the way of career achievements, can stay on the right side of the road. He’s got a lot of potential, but it could all flood away in an instant if he let temptation and greed get the better of him.

So now things now will settle down at 12th and McGee, and The Star won’t be dedicating as many column inches to the situation there. Nevertheless, Kansas City school district patrons, civic leaders and Star readers will be counting on Joe Robertson, KCMO school district reporter, to keep plenty of sun shining on school board proceedings and behind-the-scenes developments. There’s nothing like a nosy reporter to help keep people honest and alert.

West and Benson should provide another layer of public protection: As they work on their relationship, each will be watching the other like they’d scrutinize amoebae under a microscope.

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All right, let’s quit wringing our hands about John Covington up and quitting as KCMO schools chief after two years on the job and two weeks into the new school year.

F___  him. (My wife suggested that I strike the full word.) Good riddance.

Sorry about the language, but this is really irritating.

Like many superintendents we have had in the past, he’s not really interested in giving the kids a good education; he’s looking out for No. 1.

He smells bigger money and a loftier post.

The afternoon, The Star reported on its website that Covington was being interviewed in Detroit today as the sole candidate to become chancellor of a new special school district in Michigan. Later, the Detroit Free Press reported that Covington had been named chancellor of the Education Achievement Authority, a statewide school system that will oversee the lowest-performing schools in the state.

Now we know what those “other opportunities” were that he talked about in explaining his resignation.

But enough about the crafty, opportunistic Covington. Now, let’s take a look at what direction the district might go from here to try to take the next step forward and possibly get some continuity in the super’s office.

As I look back at the list of superintendents since 1977 — eight acting or interim and 10 full-fledged — something jumps out: The Kansas City district has never had a woman as full-fledged superintendent.

Now, let’s take a look at the Kansas City, Kan., school district. According to its website, it has had 12 superintendents, including current superintendent Cynthia Lane, since 1886. Maybe that’s a misprint. Maybe it’s 12 since 1986, but I don’t think so.

Shackelford

In addition, the district has had a female superintendent since 2005. The first woman to head the district was Jill Shackelford, who served five years before retiring and moving back to her native Oklahoma. She was wildly popular.

At her going-away party, school board member Vicki Meyer said: “You brought true our hopes and our dreams. We couldn’t have asked for anyone to represent our heart and soul better.”

And where did the KCK school board find this diamond in the rough? Why, right in the district’s ranks. Shackelford had been with the district since 1995, and before that she had worked for the nearby Turner School District.

Last year, the KCK school board turned to another insider, Cynthia Lane, who has now been with the district 24 years.

Lane

Before becoming superintendent, Lane was a special education teacher, a principal, director of the Wyandotte Comprehensive Special Education Cooperative and assistant superintendent.

You see where I’m headed?

I think KCMO should turn to a woman. In general, I think, women are better grounded and more nurturing than men and they better understand the rhythms and needs of children.

Also, if at all possible, I think the school district should hire from within.

Surely, there are several fine, accomplished women down at 12th and McGee who have shown, over a period of years, that their first interest is, indeed, the children and that they have excellent managerial and communications skills.

That’s a recipe worth trying: A woman whose first interest is the children, knows the district and can communicate well.

By the way, Covington, for all his presence and dynamism, butchered the King’s English. He should have taken some English classes at Metropolitan Community College.

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The Kansas City Star is now three weeks into its new rotating metro columnist system, and, while it’s far too soon to judge the success or failure of the initiative, it’s a good time to take a closer look at the concept.

Personally, I think it’s going to be difficult for any of the six new columnists (there are three carryovers, C.W. Gusewelle, Steve Kraske and Mary Sanchez) to gain traction with readers. That’s the whole idea of columnists, you know — to have them become trusted, if controversial, voices whose work becomes a destination point for readers.

Maybe this is an experiment designed to cull the reporting ranks for a new, marquee columnist or two, but this move strikes me as more of a money-saving mishmash, a cheap alternative to hiring or promoting at least one new, permanent columnist.

But I certainly don’t claim to have a perfectly clear perspective on this, so I sought the views this week of two top, former editors who have deep wells of experience in newsroom leadership and organization.

One is former KC Star executive editor Mike Waller, who went on to become publisher at The Baltimore Sun; the other is Mike Jenner, former editor at The Bakersfield Californian, who last year was named the Houston Harte Endowed Chair at the Missouri School of Journalism. At MU, Jenner focuses on innovation in journalism.

***

Before we hear from them (and more from me), let’s back up and look at how all this evolved.

Setting the stage for the columnist shake-up, The Star lost two longtime columnists within three weeks. First, Steve Penn, an African-American who frequently wrote about African-Americans and developments in the black community, was fired in mid-July for plagiarism.

On Aug. 3, Mike Hendricks, a Lenexa resident who often donned his white, suburban columnist hat, announced that he was returning to full-time reporting.

The same day, next to Hendricks’ column, The Star ran a graphic laying out the new lineup. Here it is:

Gusewelle continues on Sunday, the only day there is a stand-alone Local section;

Sanchez runs on Monday and Thursday (as well as on the Op-Ed page on Tuesday);

James Hart (police blogger); Alan Bavley (medical writer); and Joe Robertson and Mara Rose Williams (education reporters) alternate on Wednesdays;

Christine Vendel (KCMO cops), Glenn Rice (who primarily covers the Northland) and Mark Morris (federal courts reporter) alternate on Friday;

Kraske (politics) moves from Sunday to Saturday.

Of those nine, Gusewelle, Kraske and Sanchez have the strongest name identity with readers. While the names of the six others, all reporters, will ring bells with many regular readers, they’re not well known.

In addition to their regular duties, those six reporters will write periodic columns — columns, that you can expect to be rooted in developments and stored knowledge from their respective “beats.”

For example, I don’t expect Christine Vendel, longtime KCMO cops reporter, to suddenly start writing about the Kansas City nightlife scene. Ideally, she’ll be giving the readers an inside look at investigations and operations at 12th and Locust.

Now it’s time for our experts to weigh in.

Mike Waller

Waller (in an e-mail):

“I have two thoughts:  Having nine columnists is about four or five too many, if only because there aren’t that many good columnists on any paper!

“Writing a column is an art, and it takes a couple of years to get really good at doing it.  My second thought is…rotating nine columnists means that none other than Gusewelle, who is already established, will be able to get much of a following.  Readers need regularity and consistency. So do the columnists.

“This is simply a bad idea.”

Mike Jenner

Jenner (in a telephone interview):

“I’m intrigued by their approach. It is kind of unusual…Certainly some of them (the six reporters new to the mix) are going to generate a following and some are not.”

Jenner, who worked with Waller years ago at the Hartford Courant, said The Star’s strategy, as suggested earlier, might be to see if a few of the new columnists can “separate themselves and gain a following.” If so, The Star might reduce “the mix” and field one or more of them as marquee columnists.

Jenner added that one element that major metropolitan papers badly need these days — and which marquee columnists can provide — is personality.

“There’s not enough personality in newspapers,” he said. “In the old days the staff writers got to have their own brand, or cache, and I think that was a good thing.”

In general, then, Jenner puts The Star’s move in the “innovative” category rather than the penny-inching category.

“We tend to cling to the traditional,” Jenner said, “but the traditional is not necessarily moving us forward.”

***

Me? Well, I put in 37 years as a reporter and editor at The Star, and my instincts have run along the traditional lines. More and more, however, as the newspaper business, in general, continues its downward spiral, I recognize the need for innovation.

So, if I were editor of The Star, here’s what I would try…The best and most recognized columnist at the paper now is sports columnist Sam Mellinger, who succeeded Jason Whitlock, after Whitlock was dumped last year.

Mellinger, a young guy with amazing perspective relative to his limited experience, is The Star’s only marquee columnist. Recognizing that, the editors have started to run his column, from time to time, on the front page of the paper, not just on the front of SportsDaily.

Just last Saturday, for example, his column about the fight between Kansas City Chiefs’ veteran Thomas Jones and rookie receiver Jonathan Baldwin ran at the top of Page One. That was a bold, smart move by the editors, in my opinion.

For years, it has been a truism at The Star that reports of Chiefs games and developments within the organization are the one sure thing that causes newspaper sales to spike. When I was at The Star, box sales always took a big jump on Mondays after Chiefs’ games.

My idea, then? Give Mellinger a foothold on the front page every Sunday and let him write about whatever sports subject is on his mind. Last year, if you’ll recall, The Star made a huge mistake when it commissioned Whitlock, the marquee columnist at the time, to write a weekly Op-Ed column in addition to his sports columns. The column dribbled away after a few weeks.

So, have Mellinger stick to sports. It’s one news product that sells now.

Think about it: In most big cities, good sports coverage — intermingled with insight and strong opinion — is about the only thing that people relish or want any more from their local papers.

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I was shocked when I opened Sunday’s paper and saw, on the front of the Local section, that a stunt pilot working the control stick of a biplane had crashed and died during an airshow Saturday at Wheeler Downtown Airport.

I hadn’t paid any attention to the news Saturday, so photographer Rich Sugg’s fiery, section-front photo really took my breath away. The headline was excellent, too: “Thousands see crash that kills veteran pilot.”

With my attention riveted, I proceeded to gobble up the story, written by Mike Hendricks and Glenn E. Rice. Appropriately, the story took up more than half of the section front and included a photo of a couple embracing after witnessing the tragedy.

One or both of the reporters did a good job of trying to profile the pilot, Bryan Jensen, who had been a stunt pilot the past 15 years. About six inches of text was on the section front, under a sub-head that said, “Air show closes for day after biplane spirals to ground, bursts into flame.”

Bryan Jensen and his plane

More information about the crash and quotes from witnesses took up the first two columns of the jump.

Then, out of the blue, the story took an odd, sharp turn. After an awkward transition recounting an earlier rain delay, the story proceeded to describe some attractions that people attending the show had seen earlier Saturday. That material consumed the final eight inches of the story, which ended with no further mention of the crash.

The story was totally bifurcated: The fiery crash and tragic loss of death on one hand, and, on the other, an account of people cheering the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team hours before the crash…followed by more drivel.

It was incongruous and inappropriate.

What happened, obviously, is that  Glenn Rice, whose name followed Hendricks’ on the byline, was dispatched to the airshow in the morning to write a feature story. Then, immediately after the crash, Hendricks probably was called in from home — or perhaps he had drawn a Sunday shift — to cover the aftermath of the crash.

So, both reporters came back to the office, each with divergent material. The next step — again obvious to anyone who knows how a newsroom works — is that an editor asked each of them to write up their material. Then, the editor made Hendricks’ material about the crash the “lead” or top part of the story and dropped in Rice’s material after the awkward transition.

In my opinion, the decision to include the mundane material about what had transpired earlier in the day was ridiculous. It was disrespectful to Jensen, his family and the other, grieving airshow participants. The crash rendered everything else irrelevant.

Airshow officials had the good sense to shut the show down immediately after the crash. Star editors should have had the good sense to shut down their story at the conclusion of the crash account.

***

Now here’s a mystery for you.

In Sunday’s New York Times, two section fronts carried stories with almost identical headlines and similar, large photos.

Leading the Styles section was a picture of young people partying at a nightclub under multicolored lights. The accompanying story was about the summer party scene in the Hamptons, a seaside resort on Long Island. The headline on the story was “The Night is Young.”

A section or two removed from Styles, the Business section was led by a story about how the good times are rolling in Silicon Valley, despite the overall economy.

The lead photo, also stripped across the top of the page, was of young people dancing under red-tinted lights in a tent that had been transformed into a nightclub setting. The headline said: “In Silicon Valley, the Night is Still Young.”

Were the mirror-like sections intentional or a blunder?

At first, I was convinced it was a big screw-up; that the weekend editors missed seeing the forest for the trees.

But later, my wife Patty, who often picks up subtleties faster than I do, said the sections fronts were too similar not to have been coordinated. She liked it. She also pointed out the wording of the headlines, with one saying, “The Night is Young” and the other saying, “The Night Is Still Young,” as if one played off the other.

I sent an e-mail to Art Brisbane, public editor of The Times and former Kansas City Star publisher, to see if he had the answer to the mystery. Brisbane, who is not involved in day-to-day operations at The Times, replied last night that he didn’t know.

On Sunday afternoon, I picked up one indication that the parallel presentations could have been accidental: On its website, The Times had substituted a different photo with the Silicon Valley story than the one that appeared on the section front. The new photo showed three young entrepreneurs, standing on chairs and talking to people attending the party. But the guys were the only people in the photo, making it very different than the original party pic.

I asked Art to let me know if he solved the mystery today. I’ll keep you posted.

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Highwoods vanquished!

Every day, on its masthead, The Star proudly blares beside a photo of starch-collared William Rockhill Nelson: “A Paper for the People.”

Well, what we saw yesterday in Kansas City was “A Victory for the People.”

Highwoods Properties, our mostly unwelcome, Country Club Plaza squatter from North Carolina, raised the white flag.

No skyscraper on the site of the Neptune Apartments at the northeast corner of 47th and Broadway.

I almost can’t believe it. Yes, the opponents, Friends of the Plaza, gathered the signatures of 18,000 registered voters, enough to force a referendum in November. And, yes, they waged a smart, ankle-biting fight against the Big Dog.

Neptune Apartments

But still, I know that at least one leader of the opposition was skeptical about the group’s chances of winning a citywide election. Highwoods seemed to be prepared to throw hundreds of thousands of dollars into a campaign. And, really, I didn’t sense that the opposition was resonating widely outside the 4th Council District.

But it looks like Highwoods finally recognized that it had badly screwed up its introduction of the plan a year ago, with its roughshod proposal to raze the Balcony Building and plop a high-rise office tower right on the corner.

With that presumptuous and high-handed move, Highwoods put itself behind the eight ball and never recovered.

It appears that the thick heads and money grubbers in Highwoods’ home office in Raleigh, N.C., might have learned something:

That money and political influence don’t always carry the day; that the little guys, when they are pesky enough and ample enough in numbers, sometimes win.

Still up in the air, however, is the fate of the Neptune building, which has 96 units and opened in 1988. Anticipating victory, Highwoods gave all tenants notice months ago, and the building is empty.

In a front-page Kansas City Star story about the Highwoods decision today, development reporter Kevin Collison quoted a Highwoods lawyer as saying, “Highwoods is exploring its options, which could include refurbishing the building, demolishing it for a new apartment project or staying the course.”

***

Now, where to put the Polsinelli Shughart law firm?

I think another factor in the Highwoods decision was, simply, that they couldn’t stomach the prospect of losing the law firm and its 500 employees. The firm’s main office is now located in a high-rise on 47th West of Broadway — an area designated for taller buildings by the city’s 1989 Plaza Urban Design and Development Plan.

I had heard that, with the uncertainty about the Neptune site, Polsinelli Shughart was looking seriously at the glaringly vacant site of the former Mission Shopping Center.

Jim Polsinelli

It would have been crushing all around — still would be — if the firm left Kansas City. We just can’t have that. Jim Polsinelli, founder of the firm, is a diehard Kansas Citian (lives just off Ward Parkway), and I think he would vote to leave the city only as a last resort.

The obvious, most convenient spot for Polsinelli Shughart appears to be a site called Valencia II, which now is a vacant lot north of the Valencia Place high-rise. Valencia Place, which opened in 1999, houses Charles Schwab and Lockton Insurance, among other businesses.

Valencia II was originally included in the same TIF plan approved for Valencia Place.

In a sidebar to his main story this morning, Collison wrote:

“The site (Valencia II) is ready for development with perhaps some minor modification of its commercial zoning. It also has plenty of garage parking with the potential for more.”

On the down side, he noted that Polsinelli Shughart executives had earlier rejected Highwoods’ proposal to build at Valencia II because it was “too far removed from 47th Street and the core of the Plaza.”

Well, like Highwoods, maybe Polsinelli Shughart is ready to give some ground, too.

What the hell is the matter with being 100 yards from 47th Street? Those fat-cat lawyers need to get out of their fine leather chairs once in a while and take a walk down to where the common folks are. Then, they can huff and puff their way back up the hill; that’s where the exercise comes in.

In the meantime — while we wait for Highwoods and Polsinelli Shughart to come up with a reasonable plan (subject to veto by Friends of the Plaza) — hearty congratulations are in order to Dan Cofran, Vicki Noteis, Michael Koon and other key leaders of Friends of the Plaza, as well as each and every Kansas City voter who signed the petition.

It’s a kick-ass day for Kansas City.

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Even before Frank Haith has coached one game for the University of Missouri basketball team, the sun is setting on his stint at MU.

The hiring of Haith, who had been coach at the University of Miami, looked questionable when it took place, mainly because of his 43-69 record against Atlantic Coast Conference teams.

But now, in light of what came out in today’s Kansas City Star, it looks terrible.

The Star’s Mike DeArmond wrote about a far-reaching Yahoo Sports investigation in which a wealthy Miami booster — now jailbird — named Nevin Shapiro claimed to have paid a Miami recruit $10,000 to help get him to Miami.

Haith

Shapiro told Yahoo Sports that the transaction was “set up by assistant coach Jake Morton in 2007.” Furthermore, Shapiro said that Haith later “acknowledged” the payment in a one-on-one conversation.

Oh, boy, here we go again with the muck surrounding much of big-time, college sports.

Granted, Shapiro is a felon– serving 20 years for his part in a $930 million Ponzi scheme — and a braggart. That combination, crook and loudmouth, makes his credibility very questionable. But DeArmond dug up evidence that supports the fact that Shapiro had his hands and arms in the stew.

Consider this from DeArmond’s story:

“Shapiro told Yahoo that he provided dinner and a strip-club visit to Arthur Brown (a Miami recruit) and lunch and hotel rooms for Brown, his brother, parents and family adviser Brian Butler in March 2008.

“When contacted Tuesday night, Butler told The Star he and the Brown family did not realize Shapiro was a Miami booster.

” ‘We asked him are you an agent or a street agent or a booster, and he told us no, that he was not,’ Butler said.”

Let’s take a little side trip here….Doesn’t it seem like visits to strip clubs are always popping up in deals like this? It’s not enough for the big shots like Shapiro to flash the cash; no, they’ve gotta show the recruits that they can provide them with the comforts of the flesh, too.

And that’s where this story gets even seamier because the Yahoo story says that Haith himself participated in one strip-club outing with Shapiro and some Miami players.

Just this past week we saw how Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder got himself in a jam by having his photo taken with a stripper at a club in St. Louis and the photo got out into the public arena. Just doesn’t look good for a guy thinking about running for the Republican nomination for governor.

Here’s the thing about strip clubs. Any guy with half a brain knows that if you intend to patronize them, you want to slip in and out, alone, perhaps wearing a trench coat or ball cap to reduce the chances of being recognized. Then, after you’ve watched the pole dance or engaged in a lap dance or whatever, you get the hell out of there. No photos, no chumming it up with your fellow carousers. It’s in and out and back to your normal life, like your loss of dignity never happened.

I WANT TO EMPHASIZE THAT THE ABOVE SCENARIO DOES NOT COME FROM PERSONAL EXPERIENCE. I HAVE NEVER BEEN TO A STRIP CLUB. I HAVE NEVER SEEN AN X-RATED MOVIE. I HAVE NEVER EVEN LOOKED AT A PLAYBOY MAGAZINE. ONCE, WHEN I PICKED UP A SPORTS ILLUSTRATED MAGAZINE AND REALIZED THAT IT WAS THE SWIMSUIT ISSUE, I THREW IT TO THE FLOOR IN DISGUST.

No, the scenario comes from common sense. Being spotted by anyone you know at a strip club — even a neighbor you don’t care for — does not advance your good citizenship.

…Where was I? Oh, yeah, Frank Haith.

So, it looks like the guy has endorsed the paying of recruits and that he has no problem providing off-color entertainment for them.

The NCAA is investigating.

For his part, Haith said in a statement released by MU last night: “The reports questioning my personal interactions with Mr. Shapiro are not an accurate portrayal of my character.”

Hmmm. Sounds to me like he’s defending his character in general but not denying any specific allegations. Doesn’t look good, does it?

Back to my first paragraph, where I said the sun is setting on Haith’s time at MU. His supervisor is athletic director Mike Alden, who has given every indication that he’s the most straight-laced person on the face of the earth. He doesn’t brook any funny business.

Why, I bet he’s just like me — has never come close to stepping into a strip club.

This expose about Haith is really going to frost Alden. He’s got to be seething. Not only has he got a problematic basketball coach on his hands, the NCAA will be breathing down his neck for the foreseeable future.

No, I don’t like Haith’s prospects. I’ll bet he’s one (season) and done.

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While my esteemed colleague, Tony Botello, has written at length about how bad many things in Kansas City are, including the Power & Light District and The Star, I’ve always defended my beloved city and most of its institutions, including P&L and The Star.

But now, I’m reconsidering. Maybe the balance has tipped, ever so slightly, toward the negative.

I returned home Sunday evening from an overnight trip to Tulsa, where I took our son Charlie for his senior year at Tulsa University. I opened the Sunday morning paper and saw that three young people had been shot on the Plaza late Saturday night and that Mayor Sly James, who happened to be at the scene, was shoved to the ground by his bodyguards. (My sources also tell me he was violently tickled.)

Even Kansas City’s Prince of Peace, Alvin Brooks, who also was at the scene, couldn’t quell the disturbance.

This comes on the heels of a rout of the Chiefs Friday night and a baseball game last week where the Royals managed to give up five runs in the ninth inning and lose, yet again, in incredibly creative fashion.

One more thing about the Chiefs…They are run by the three biggest dullards you could ever find in one organization — Clark Kent (I mean Clark Hunt), Scott Pioli and coach Todd Haley. (Haley has discovered that the best way to keep hopes low is to never change inflection and the only time it pays to shave is when he has a chance to get lucky.)

Then, there are (were) the Kansas City Wizards soccer team. I understand they’ve left town and changed their name. I’m looking for them out West, but I don’t know how far to go.

So, with things getting grim on several fronts, I think it’s time to consider alternate places to live.

A former editor at The Star, David Zeeck, used to be fond of saying,
“Don’t bring me problems; bring me solutions!”

Alright, then, here are some alternatives to Kansas City, if, like me, you’re thinking about lighting out.

Fortunately, as I said earlier, I went south this weekend, and I want to recommend three cities for our mutual consideration.

First, let’s look at Butler, Mo., which is about 65 miles south of Kansas City, just off U.S. 71.

Butler is called the “Electric City” because it was the first city west of the Mississippi to have electric power.

I pulled into Butler on Saturday afternoon, thinking about going to McDonald’s but not really wanting to. From the McDonald’s parking lot, I saw, behind the restaurant and across a parking lot, a Country Mart.

At the Country Mart deli counter, various meats and cheeses looked eye-poppingly fresh behind sparkling-clean glass cases. About five employees stood ready to take my order.

“Ham off the bone sandwich with swiss cheese and lettuce,” I said.

A couple of minutes later, the lady handed me the sandwich, perfectly wrapped, and said, “That’ll be $2.60.”

“What?” I said.

“Two sixty,” she repeated.

“The prices are right here in Butler,” I said.

“Like how much better?” she said.

“About $2, compared to Kansas City,” I said.

So, I filed it away, never thinking that Butler might crop up as an alternative place to pack up and move to.

***

Then, it was back on the road, next stop Joplin, at the juncture of 71 and Interstate 44.

Anxious to get a look at the town in the wake of the spring’s devastating tornado, I drove north on Range Line Road to a Braum’s restaurant and ice cream store. Along the way, I saw a few remnants of the tornado, such as trees down and a few bare plots where buildings used to be. But, all in all, the place looked good, and, judging by the laughing and happy talk I heard at Braum’s, morale is high.

I ordered two dips of chocolate in a cup, and the lady serving me came back with a four-inch-deep cup packed to the top.

“Two oh six,” she said.

“Huh?” I said.

“Two dollars and six cents,” she said.

Because I didn’t want to plant any seeds about raising prices, I didn’t tell the young lady that the same cup of ice cream would run about five bucks at Baskin Robbins.

I sat down at a booth and enjoyed some of the best ice cream I’ve had in a long time.

Little did I know when I left Joplin that just two days later I would be holding out Joplin — the city that about got blowed away a few months ago — as a possible residential destination for someone thinking about relocating.

***

The last stop, of course, was Tulsa, where everything happens on Tulsa Time, which runs a tad slower than in Kansas City..and even slower than Joplin in the wake of the tornado.

Charlie needed a bed, mattress and chest of drawers, so we went to a place called Affordable Furniture, Admiral and Harvard, where we’ve done business before. You know this stuff is affordable because a lot of it is set up outside the store, leaning against the walls, so you can shop from your car.

The impresario is a man named Malik, a friendly and accommodating sort, who just loves the college students. (His store is about half a mile from campus.)

We looked over Malik’s inventory and selected a pillow-top-type mattress (with box springs) and a chest of drawers that Malik contended was brand new, even though it had some scuff marks along the top left edge.

After some fierce negotiating, we settled on a price of $287, including tax…Why, I’ll bet that in Kansas City a deal like that couldn’t even be had on Truman Road!

So, there you have it. If you’re looking for an affordable place to live and you’re sick and tired of big-city prices and “flash mobs” running amok on the Plaza, I think Butler, Joplin and Tulsa all warrant look-sees.

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