Archive for March, 2013

As many of you probably suspect (or know), I don’t have a smartphone, a laptop or an iPad. Many times when I’m away, as a result, I don’t have regular access to the Internet and don’t get my full quotient of news.

So, what I sometimes do is have someone save all our home-delivered copies of The Star and The New York Times. Then, when I get back, I go through them at my leisure.

And so it went with last week’s trip to the Bay Area: A big stack of orange (The Star) and blue (NYT) bags were perched on the kitchen counter when we returned Sunday night, and I’ve spent parts of the last few days leafing through the papers. I focused on The Star because the national and international news are more readily available on the road.

As I read, I made note of several stories that caught my attention for one reason or another.

Here, then, are few JimmyC-tagged stories from editions of last week’s KC  Star:

Monday, March 18: “As red-light citations drop, speeders may be next target.”

The gist of this story, written by City Hall reporter Lynn Horsley was that the red-light-camera system installed at various intersections over the last several years has been so successful at reducing red-light running and T-bone crashes that city officials are thinking about deploying cameras aimed at catching people speeding.

The irony of this story is that in January 2012, The Star let itself get swept up in an effort by the Police Department to undercut the red-light-camera program. The Star ran — as an A-1, centerpiece — a story in which police officials essentially contended that the program was a failure because it had triggered an increase in rear-end crashes because of people supposedly jamming on the brakes to avoid running lights.

The story was way off base, and The Star was forced to clarify it in a follow-up a day or two after the first story…And what, you ask, could have motivated the Police Department to try to jettison the program? Simple, it takes department employees a lot of time to process the images and send out the thousands of citations the system generates. In other words, it’s a big inconvenience.

Now, the whole truth and nothing but has come out: The system has worked and people driving the streets of Kansas City are a lot safer than they were before the program began.

Tuesday, March 19: “Brookside Berbiglia”

This subhead appeared above a story that is more about the evolving tenor of the Brookside shops than it is about changes at the Berbiglia store a block west of 63rd and Main.

Here’s the scoop, as brought to us by The Star’s Joyce Smith: Joe Zwillenberg, owner of the Westport Flea Market Bar & Grill, has purchased the Berbiglia building. After renovation, Berbiglia will move to the south part of the building, and a Jimmy John’s will open on the north side of the building.

Do you remember about 10 years ago when Brookside residents raised a hue and cry when reports surfaced that a Starbucks might open on Brookside Boulevard just north of 63rd Street? The locals managed to beat back the threat, and a Roasterie coffee store moved in instead.

But then, a year or two ago, a Panera was erected on the corner of 63rd and Brookside Plaza, tripping the wire for the invasion of the franchises.

So now we get a nice, black and red Jimmy John’s, which produces the worst sandwiches in the nation, in my opinion. If you take away the shredded lettuce, all you have is a thin layer of salami (or whatever), a thin slice of cheese and a slice of mealy tomato — all wedged into a disemboweled sandwich roll.

Friday, March 22: “Two Jump Off Bond Bridge”

A man in his 50s and his 29-year-old daughter committed suicide by jumping off the Bond Bridge over the Missouri River. They were holding hands. In her other arm, the daughter cradled the family’s Chihuahua.

A Chihuahua, not the Chihuahua

A Chihuahua, not the Chihuahua

Now I understand how depression can push people into such a state that they want to take their own lives. But why in the world would someone want to take the family dog with them? Was the dog suffering from terminal cancer? I doubt it. I wish that dog could have swum to shore and lived out his life with a new, more appreciative owner.

Friday, March 22: “Man gave tainted gum to women, police say.”

Uhhh, tainted…How shall I say this in a primarily family friendly blog? OK, the guy jerked off and spread his cum over pieces of chewing gum and then distributed them — on a platter — to female co-workers at a Northland grocery.

Now there’s a novel way of exerting control over women, eh?

Oh, yeah, and, like me, he’s a blogger. He goes by the handle “BlueMidnighter.” Blue, as in dirty, filthy, nasty.

No further comment.

Saturday, March 23: “Suit filed in JJ’s explosion”

A Jackson County Circuit Court lawsuit filed on behalf of six JJ’s employees named five defendants:

Missouri Gas Energy, whose workers assured Kansas City fire fighters an hour before the explosion that they had the gas leak “under control”

Heartland Midwest, the contractor that was digging in the area and punctured the gas line

Time Warner Cable, which had contracted Heartland Midwest to install fiber optic cable to the new Plaza Vista project across the street from JJ’s

— Missouri One Call, a utility-sponsored service that anyone planning to dig in the vicinity of gas lines must call before proceeding

— USIC Locating Services, a company that does the marking for most of the utilities in the Kansas City area.

Obviously, the plaintiffs are casting a broad net, as City Councilman Jim Glover told me would happen a few weeks ago.

The surprise, at least to me, is that neither the city nor the Fire Department was named. What that tells me is that the plaintiffs’ attorney, Grant L. Davis, concluded that the Fire Department was not legally culpable, even though a fire fighting crew left the scene after MGE workers assured the crew that everything was A-OK.

I’ll bet city officials emitted a communal sigh of relief after they heard the news of the filing.

I don’t think that means, however, that the city is completely off the hook: I imagine that any of the named defendants could attempt to bring the city into the lawsuit as a defendant.

It promises to be an interesting legal case to follow, so stay awake, readers!

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It’s been a while since I’ve done one of my famous travelogues, but last week Patty and I had a very fine trip to the Bay Area, and it offered some good photo opps.

The reason for our trip was business. As some of you know, Patty owns and operates a company called WomenSpirit, which designs and manufactures robes, blouses, stoles and other items for women ministers. (There’s also a men’s line, called AbidingSpirit. For more on WomenSpirit and AbidingSpirit, visit the website, http://www.womenspirit.com,)

There are three Protestant seminaries in Berkeley, and Patty and I spent one day at each seminary, displaying and selling robes and other garments to seminarians and seminary staff members.

It was not only a good trip from the business standpoint, but also from the sightseeing and touring standpoints. Combined, San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland have about everything a person could ask for in terms of quality of life. Individually, they are fascinating and distinctive cities.

If you’ve been to Berkeley, you know everything revolves around “Cal,” that is, the University of California, Berkley, with an undergraduate and graduate enrollment of more than 35,000.

The school, which sits halfway up a big hill a couple of miles from the waterfront, generates a nearly round-the-clock flow of foot and bike traffic, which makes for a lively environment.

We also spent an afternoon in San Francisco, but having explored San Francisco in depth several years ago, I wanted to get a good look at Oakland this time.

In some ways, Oakland is similar to Kansas City. For example:

:: Oakland has about 390,000 residents; Kansas City about 460,000

:: Oakland’s downtown is making a comeback, just as Kansas City’s is

:: Both cities have high crime rates

:: Kansas City lays fleeting claim to Ernest Hemingway; Oakland prides itself on being the one-time home of Jack London (“The Call of the Wild” and “White Fang,” among other works)

In some ways, the two cities are very different:

:: Oakland has the San Francisco Bay; Kansas City, the Missouri River

:: Kansas City has the renovated Truman Sports Complex; Oakland, the stark, unattractive Oakland Coliseum

:: Oakland covers 78 square miles; Kansas City, 314

:: Oakland has an average of 260 sunny days a year; Kansas City, 120

With that lengthy lead-in, then, here are some images from the Bay Area.


San Francisco Bay, with the Bay Bridge in the background

Happy travelers from Kansas City

Happy travelers from Kansas City

A popular restaurant inside the San Francisco Ferry Building

A popular restaurant inside the San Francisco Ferry Building

The Brewed Awakening, a Berkeley coffee shop where we started each day

The Brewed Awakening, a Berkeley coffee shop where we started each day

...we and a lot of other people

…we and a lot of other people

Sproul Plaza on the Cal campus

Sproul Plaza on the Cal campus

Cal isn't exactly a conservative campus

Cal isn’t exactly a conservative campus

Alice Waters' famous Chez Panisse restaurant, closed until about June because of a recent fire

Alice Waters’ famous restaurant, Chez Panisse, in Berkeley (It is closed until about June 1 because of a recent fire. We had reservations, which were canceled after the fire.)


An entrance to Jack London Square, Oakland waterfront

Jack London: He went to high school in Oakland and spent time there before heading to Alaska for the 1897 Gold Rush

Jack London: He went to high school in Oakland and spent time there before heading to the Yukon Territory in 1897 for the Gold Rush


Oakland City Center

City Hall

City Hall

Waiting for business

Taking a break in downtown Oakland

Waiting for business

Not quite as active as the Brewed Awakening

The Art-Deco style Paramount Theatre, completed in 1931

The Art-Deco style Paramount Theatre in Oakland. (It opened in 1931.)


Like Kansas City’s Folly Theatre, the Paramount was renovated after decades of neglect. Once again it is a major performing-arts venue.


The Cathedral Building, the centerpiece of Latham Square

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At last, nearly a month after the JJ’s explosion, the Kansas City Fire Department has acknowledged the obvious: That it is responsible for dealing with natural gas leaks.

Initially, after the Feb. 19 explosion that killed waitress Megan Kramer and injured 15 other people, Mayor Sly James infamously said in defense of the Fire Department: “(The) Fire Department doesn’t do gas.”

No more.

The Star’s Matt Campbell reported today that KCFD would change the way it responds to gas leaks.

Campbell wrote: “Fire Chief Paul Berardi said that from now on, the initial dispatch on any call about a possible natural gas leak will include a battalion chief and a fire truck equipped…to monitor gas levels in the air.

“In addition firefighters will remain on the scene and continue to consult with gas utility experts to determine whether to evacuate an area or building. They will remain there until the risk has been resolved.”

That’s the way it should have been all along. In 2010, Fire Engineering, a firefighting trade journal, had this to say on its website about natural gas leaks:

“Responding to gas leak emergencies often carries the stigma of a routine service-level call. The contrary is true, however, in that each of these incidents can easily escalate into a major emergency that could involve fire, explosion, collapse, evacuation, and any number of serious outcomes. Each of these responses must be treated as true emergencies and be handled with appropriate levels of risk management.”

Why, then, would a KCFD crew to arrive at the scene of a major gas leak, heed the advice of gas workers saying “we’ve got it under control,” and then get back on the truck and drive away?

That’s exactly what happened an hour before the JJ’s explosion. The crew left 13 minutes after they arrived and about 45 minutes before the explosion. .

It is unclear to me whether a battalion chief was at the scene, but from all I’ve heard and read it appears that the captain in charge of the truck made the call.

As one former KC firefighter told me, for whoever made the call, “It could be a career-altering move.”

Another big mistake the crew made was advising JJ’s staff to keep all ignition sources off. The crew told JJ’s employees to turn off all ignition sources but didn’t make sure it got done and didn’t help. Thus, the staff overlooked a couple of pilot lights — which I can see easily happening: Pilot lights are out of sight and somewhat out of mind, at least for the average person.

The pilot lights actually triggered the explosion, but it was what took place earlier — MGE saying it had the situation under control, the pumper truck driving away, and evacuation delayed until 10 to 15 minutes before the explosion — that truly caused the disaster.

By the way, in announcing the policy changes, Berardi said his comments would be his final statement on the matter.

This chief, who succeeded Smokey Dyer last year, has already had more than his 15 minutes of fame. He probably hasn’t had a solid bowel movement in weeks. He has not handled this debacle well, and the city and MGE — and perhaps others — are going to pay mightily for their mistakes.

A lawyer friend of mine said the litigation scenario would go like this: The plaintiffs will sue everybody — the contractor doing the digging, the fire department, MGE and maybe Time Warner Cable, which hired the contractor. Then, the defendants will file “cross claims,” each trying to cast the brunt of the blame on the other defendants.

Depositions and case filings will point toward how the blame should be apportioned. Then, the settling will begin.

Millions of dollars will change hands. In the end, though, Kansas City still will have lost a fine citizen, and area residents will forever think of the JJ’s site as the scene of a senseless tragedy.

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It’s a beautiful, warm day in Kansas City, and, except for a slight crick in the neck, JimmyC feels good — mighty glad to be alive and writing.

And yet…Jimmy is puzzled and troubled by a number of things.

For example, he wants to know:

:: Why is the Kansas City Fire Department trying to shovel part of the blame for the JJ’s explosion onto…JJ’s?

According to a police and fire department report released yesterday, the area of origin the fire was listed as “cooking area, kitchen.”

Pardon me, but shouldn’t that have read: “Punctured gas line, alley”?

A story in The Star today goes on to say that “firefighters arriving on the scene before the explosion said they instructed JJ’s workers to extinguish flames on the candles, stove and water heater.”

The day after the explosion, the restaurant manager told fire investigator Thomas Kievlan that employees put the candles out and turned the stove off but did not turn off the stove or water-heater pilot lights.


I get the impression that some fire fighter stuck his head in the restaurant door and said, “Hey, you’d better blow out the candles and turn the stove off” or maybe, “You’d better make sure all ignition sources are off.” Even if it was the latter, it’s easy to understand how workers would overlook pilot lights.

Fire fighters, if they had done their jobs properly, wouldn’t have overlooked them, though.

:: How will the city ever get control of the Police Department while an outgoing police board  commissioner is co-chairman of a committee charged with studying the issue of local control? 

A story posted today on The Star’s website quotes Mayor Sly James as saying: “We have assembled fair-minded, equally wise Kansas Citians to weigh this complex issue.”

The co-chairmen are former Mayor Kay Barnes (good) and former Police Board President Pat McInerney (bad). I’ve never heard a single police commissioner who has had anything good to say about local control. And why should they like the idea? They’re the people who have, nominally, controlled the department. (Actually, the police department bureaucracy is in charge.)

:: What prompted H&R Block to notify clients through Facebook about errors it made that will delay tax returns for possibly hundreds of thousands of people?

One client, Dustin Munson, told The Star: “I have been patiently waiting for my education credit refund, which I need to pay tuition bills. I was aghast to learn of the delay ON THE INTERNET and not from communication issued from your company…”

The question of WHY left Block’s director of communication, Gene King, pleading “no comment,” according to The Star.

Facebook? Well, all I can say is H&R Block is really up to date on its social media.

:: How will Kansas City Southern’s decision to not allow commuter trains to use its tracks affect County Executive Mike Sanders’ political ambitions?

Earlier, KC Southern had agreed to allow commuter trains to run on its tracks from Blue Springs to near Third and Grand in the River Market. But The Star reported today that KC Southern officials have changed their minds and are now insisting that Union Station be the final destination. That’s a problem, though, because Union Pacific has not agreed to have commuter trains running on its tracks leading to Union Station.

I smell politics…The Civic Council? Sly James? State reps or senators? Sanders would like to run for statewide office, but this development could pluck a big prospective accomplishment from his resume. Somebody, or somebodies, are out to get him.

:: Can anything good come from a party centered on a dance style “that involves shaking one’s rear,” as The Star put it?

Such a party was held Saturday night at the Tropical Palms Banquet Hall, 87th and Hillcrest. The Star reported that five people between 15 and 20 years old were wounded by shooting that broke out about 11:45 p.m…Of course, nobody saw anything.

The promoters didn’t have a dance-hall permit, and police said they had learned of only one unlicensed guard at the event, which was billed as “Everything/March Madness Twerk Fest.”

The Urban Dictionary lists “twerk” as a verb and gives the following definition: “to work one’s body, as in dancing, especially the rear end.”

Please, readers, for your welfare, stay away from twerk fests.

:: Why must Ding Dongs and Twinkies come back?

I like sweets as much as the next person, but I like them in the form of real food, like apple pie and chocolate cake.


Please feel free to hazard a response to any or all of these provocative questions.


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A big, developing story that many area residents might not be paying much attention to is the future of North Kansas City Hospital.

I’ve been following the developments closely, partly because the long-running story of Northtown, as it’s called, has been mesmerizing. It goes like this:

Small, humble city on the edge of Downtown Kansas City stumbles into wealth after casino gambling comes to town, and proceeds to plow through its treasure trove and find itself in worse shape than before it got rich.

The story’s arc is like that of a modest family that wins the lottery, starts buying fancy cars and lavish homes and then finds itself in dire straits. The family members are left looking over their shoulders, saying:

“How in the hell did we let that happen?”

Long story short, North Kansas City has burned through millions of dollars in casino revenue, and city officials now want to sell the hospital, which the city owns but is under the control of an independent board of trustees.

The hospital’s value? An estimated $500 million.

Thus, a battle royal is underway: On one hand, the City Council is doing everything it can to gain the right to sell the hospital, while, on the other hand, most citizens and hospital officials are striving to build a legal moat around the facility, which was built in 1958.


NKCHosptitalI have a slightly more than passing interest in this battle.

First, my wife Patty and I own a building in the 1300 block of Swift Avenue, where Patty operates a clothing manufacturing business. We’ve owned the building for more than 10 years, and North Kansas City has proved to be a great place to do business…It is quiet, safe, and city services have been excellent.

Second, my primary care physician is with North Kansas City Internal Medicine, which has its offices adjacent to the hospital. Fortunately, I’ve never been hospitalized there, but it’s entirely likely that I will be some day.

If and when I am admitted to NKC Hospital, I don’t want it to be owned by a mega corporation like Hospital Corporation of America (HCA).

If I have to be in a hospital for an extended stay, I want it to be one where the emphasis is on patient care, not cookie-cutter systems designed to generate as much money as possible from operations.

That’s not to say NKC Hospital isn’t financially successful; it is big, and it generates lots of revenue.

But now…back to the riches-to-rags story of North Kansas City.

After Missouri voters approved legalized gambling in 1992, Harrah’s planted its “boat in a moat” at Chouteau Trafficway and Missouri 210 (eastward extension of Armour Road). At its peak, North Kansas City was taking in $11.5 million a year from the casino, including $1 for every person who entered the casino to gamble.

Eight months ago, The Star’s Steve Everly and Allison Prang charted beautifully Northtown’s rise and fall.

For a while, everything was great: The city was flush and city services were impeccable. (I remember several years ago, when the city put new sidewalks in on Swift, when the existing sidewalks still looked pretty good.) But after Gene Bruns was elected mayor in 1997, the city went on an extended spending spree.

Among other things, the city built a gigantic community center — perhaps the biggest in the metro area — on Armour Road, not far from City Hall; it spent $10 million for properties near Armour Road and I-35 for a mixed-use development; and it built its own fiber optic network at a cost of $13.5 million.

Here’s how those investments have fared, as reported by Everly and Prang:

— During the 2011-2012 fiscal year, the community center had revenue of $1.1 million and operating expenses of $2.6 million.

— The mixed-use development has not come to fruition.

— The fiber optic network lost more than $1 million during 2011 and 2012.

The city partied on for most of Bruns’ 12 years in office, which came to an end in 2009.

Everly and Prang were not able to reach Bruns (I wonder why), but, according Elizabeth Short, who preceded Bruns, he made his intentions clear early on.

“He told me, ‘You got the money, and I get to spend it,’ ” she recalled.


It’s too bad the citizens of North Kansas City didn’t catch on to Bruns earlier and nip him and his councils in the bud.

But the damage has been done, and now North Kansas City residents and their elected representatives in Jefferson City are trying to prevent the worst possible development.

Recently, state Sen. Ryan Silvey introduced a bill that would allow the hospital’s board of trustees to vote to become an independent, nonprofit corporation.  In addition, if five percent of the city’s registered voters signed a petition calling for the hospital, to go to nonprofit status, the question would be put to North Kansas City voters.

State Rep. Jay Swearingen told The Star last month that he planned to introduce a similar bill in the House.

Let’s hope that city officials and lobbyists for corporations eyeing the last big independent hospital in our area are not able to convince — or buy — the favor of a General Assembly majority.

This is a story that deserves to be watched very closely, whether you live in Kansas City or North Kansas City…Grain Valley or Pleasant Valley.

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