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Archive for November, 2013

I hate to sound like a curmudgeon the day after Thanksgiving and on the “busiest shopping day of the year,” but will somebody please tell me why — why in the hell — the people who produce the Plaza Lighting Ceremony felt it necessary to add fireworks?

At first (I don’t remember or know when the “new tradition” started), I considered it a mere nuisance — something you could turn your back on and pretty much ignore as you returned to your car among the throngs of people milling about or heading out.

But now — maybe because I’m older and more prone to episodes of nostalgia — the fireworks has come to grate on me. I’ve come to regard it as a significant distraction — a definite detraction — from what otherwise is a most singular and soul-moving event.

We couldn’t make last night’s ceremony because we had invitations to two other gatherings after returning from Lee’s Summit, where we enjoyed the Thanksgiving meal with relatives. But we have been to the ceremony dozens of times, usually watching from atop the Wornall hill, which affords a great view and a speedy, easy exit.

Like millions of others over the years, I have waited with fixed gaze, trying not to blink, for the magic moment when the lights flash on. Like everyone else, I have bathed in that soft, satisfying feeling that all is right with the world and another happy holiday season has officially begun.

But the fireworks…those damned fireworks! Juxtaposed with the Plaza Lighting Ceremony, fireworks are downright pedestrian. I have no idea why the event planners decided to inject ka-booms and ka-crackles into the quiet beauty that follows the flipping of the switch, but, to me, it’s as incongruous as ketchup on the turkey and dressing.

Long ago, fireworks became all too commonplace and over-used. Now, they are a staple at Friday evening Royals’ games and dozens of other events.

In my hometown of Louisville, Ky., a gargantuan fireworks display called “Thunder over Louisville” (mercifully, I’ve never been to it) has become the lead event of the week-long Kentucky Derby Festival.

The Derby itself, of course, is another singular, thrilling tradition. For me, a native Kentuckian, it even surpasses the Plaza lights.

At least in Louisville, however, they haven’t started igniting fireworks immediately after the Derby runners cross the finish line!

fireworks

KC Star photo by freelance photographer Brian Davidson

Because we didn’t go to the ceremony last night, I was looking forward to seeing the front-page, Plaza lights photo that you can always count on from The Kansas City Star.

To my chagrin and utter disappointment, the photo, by a freelancer named Brian Davidson, featured fireworks erupting over the Ward Parkway tower at the foot of Wornall Road.

I couldn’t even enjoy the lights photographically. Fireworks have now bastardized even the journalistic portrayal of the event.

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After studying the membership of the Police Governance Review Commission and the breakdown of Monday evening’s vote to keep KCPD under state control, it appears to me that the deck was tilted against local control.

The vote to retain state control was an achingly close 13 to 12, with four of the 29 members failing to attend the meeting.

At least seven of the original 30 members of the commission have or had some connection with the Police Department. And guess what? All seven voted to retain state control.

The seven were Jim Pruetting, traffic division commander for the PD; Bailus Tate and Tim McInerney, former police board chairmen; Brad Lemon, executive vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police; Hyajin Bushey and Justin Kobalt, police officers; and Sean McCauley, FOP legal counsel.

Can’t blame them, I guess, because they have vested interests or they have benefitted in some way from their PD connections.

Two others who voted to retain state control were former Missouri state representatives Tim Flook and Beth Low. I’m sure that as former legislators, they would like to see the PD stay under the state’s thumb. Why would the state want to give up control of a plumb like KCPD?

City Councilman John Sharp cast a very disappointing vote, in my view, in favor of retaining state control. Sharp is in his fourth term on the City Council, and he should know by now that state control is outdated and impractical.

**

There are four governance commission members I’d like to call out for extra special consideration, however. They are the ones who failed to show up for the meeting and did not arrange participation by conference call.

Conference-call participation in meetings is routine these days. I was on a church board a couple of years ago when we demanded the pastor’s resignation, and one board member participated by phone from out of state.

About the only excuses I would accept for not participating in Monday’s meeting would be if the missing members were either unconscious or out of the country.

Here, then, are your hall-of-shame no-show/no-voters:

Angie Stanland, a vice president at Cerner.

Eddie Gladbach, a vice president at AMC Entertainment.

Emanuel Cleaver III, senior pastor at St. James United Methodist Church. (He’s the son of U.S. Rep. and former KC Mayor Emanuel Cleaver.)

Jerry Jones, an organizer with Communities Creating Opportunities.

As I said yesterday, the City Council can overturn the committee’s recommendation, but, still, it would take approval of the Missouri General Assembly to wrest the Police Department from the state’s grip.

A majority of the General Assembly won’t even vote to expand Medicaid for the poorest among us…How could we ever expect a majority to agree to yield control of the biggest police department in the state?

It probably would take a statewide initiative petition, followed by a statewide vote. And statewide initiative petitions are about the hardest thing in politics to pull off.

The requirement is that in at least six of the state’s nine congressional districts, petitioners must collect signatures equal to 5% of the number of people who voted in the most recent gubernatorial election.

I can’t imagine anyone undertaking a job of that magnitude just to change the Police Department status quo.

But I sure wish the Governance Review Commission would have at least gotten the ball rolling in the right direction.

**

Here is the breakdown for the 25 members who voted…

For state control: Bailus Tate, Beth Low, Brad Lemon, Charles Meyers, Erika Brice, Hyajin Bushey, Jim Pruetting, John Sharp, Justin Kobalt, Pat McInerney, Sandy Skaggs, Sean McCauley and Tim Flook.

For local control: Barrett Hatches, Carol Grimaldi, Cici Rojas, Duke Dujavoich, Ed Ford, Gene Morgan, Gwen Grant, Kay Barnes, Melba Curls, Ken Novak, Sandra Aust and Sulaiman Z. Salaam.

 

 

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Often, I wonder where the blue is in these “blue-ribbon committees” that make recommendations on various aspects of local governments.

I refer specifically to two Kansas City committees — whose members were appointed by Mayor Sly James — that recently submitted recommendations to the City Council on different subjects.

They were the Police Governance Committee and the City Charter Review Commission.

Let’s take them one a take them separately…

Police Governance Committee

On a 13-12 vote, the governance committee recommended to the City Council that the Kansas City Police Department stay under state control, instead of coming under the mayor and council.

State control — where the governor names several commissioners, who, along with the mayor, comprise the Board of Police Commissioners — is a vestige of the days of crooked government under the Pendergast regime.

pabstHey, commission members, Mr. Pendergast has been dead for almost 70 years! Isn’t it about time to turn the car keys over to the adults at City Hall?

St. Louis was in the same state, so to speak, until Missouri voters last year approved a change to local control.

Kansas City now has the distinction of being the only city in the state where the governor has more power over a local police department than the locally elected mayor and city council.

How can this be?

Darryl Forte seems to be a good police chief, but shouldn’t the chief be hired and fired by the mayor and council, not an appointed board controlled by the governor?

As long as we have good chiefs, the damage should be minimal, but God forbid if we got a chief who flatly refused to cooperate with the mayor and council. It’s a recipe for potential chaos.

About that vote last night…Dave Helling’s front-page story in today’s Kansas City Star said that five commission members were absent. An editorial posted on the kansascity.com website today said four members did not vote. And in an email tonight, Yael Abouhalkah of The Star told me the city today corrected the record, saying four of 29 potential voters were absent.

Hard to fathom, isn’t it? You’ve got an issue that’s decided by one vote, and four members miss the meeting?

I’ve got a call in to Jason Hodges in James’ office to try to find out who was on the committee (see comments), how the vote broke down and who was absent.

God knows you can’t get that kind of important detail from The Star. It dishes out the bare minimum on its government coverage. (As far as I can tell, The Star never published the names of the members of either the governance or charter review committees.)

The tattered-ribb…I mean blue-ribbon…committee does not have the last word on this. The City Council could vote to seek local control. But that wouldn’t end the matter: The Missouri General Assembly would make the call, short of a statewide initiative petition, which isn’t likely.

That means a bunch of rural legislators who have no use for Kansas City and St. Louis — and generally want to keep the cities under their thumbs as much as possible — would have the final say.

I think I’m gonna cry.

**

Kansas City Charter Review Commission

This commission, appointed by Mayor James, last week recommended that the City Council should have 12 people elected solely in districts, instead of the current system of six council members elected in districts and six elected city-wide.

The recommendation to change is utter balderdash: Only the mayor, the 13th member of the council, would be truly focused on the good of the entire city. Every other member would be going around — heads down, blinders on — trying to pick up crumbs of pie, instead of making sure the pie was baked properly and that it would appeal to a broad majority.

The charter panel also made two other recommendations:

1) Give the mayor the power to fire the city manager without needing the concurrence of six of the 12 other council members.

2) Move the city’s election dates from February and March to April and June. (The primary election would come first and then the general election.)

Both of those recommendations make sense. How or why a commission majority came up with the 12-districts plan is beyond me.

Fortunately, those recommendations also will go to the City Council, which will decide which, if any, recommendations to put on an election ballot.

I urge you to call or email your council members (the one in-district and the one elected at large) and tell them to drop the notion of changing the City Council make-up.

There is nothing to be gained from a chopped-up, hydra-headed council.

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Final word

Sorry, I can’t resist one last, short post on “The Election that Sent a Message.”

As you know, I tracked and reprinted on the stopabadcure.org website the best of the letters to the editor opposing Question 1, which voters crushed on Tuesday.

A wrap-up letter, written by Susan Herold of Kansas City, appeared in today’s paper. Here’s an excerpt:

Too many taxpayers throughout the country — not just Jackson County — are barely getting by…Additional sales taxes…only make purchasing basic necessities more expensive for the people who can least afford to pay for them…At a time when taxpayers are being squeezed to support the activities of corporations…I find it appalling that anyone with any sense of social justice would even suggest a sales tax as the proper support for private enterprise.

It’s a good letter, which leads me to two points.

1) The members of the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City — or any other non-governmental entity — need to leave the politics to governments. Tax proposals and other elective measures ordinarily should spring from within government rather than be thrust upon government by an outside entity, as the Civic Council did in this instance. Sometimes, of course, initiative petitions and referendums are in order, but those are exceptions.

2) Our local governments need to be much more careful and discerning regarding what types of measures they decide to bring to the voters. We voters sent a clear message Tuesday that the days of rubber stamping tax proposals are over. We will carefully analyze any new tax proposals that come forward, especially from the Jackson County Legislature, which foolishly decided on Aug. 26 to put Question 1 on the ballot.

(For the record the legislators who voted “yes” that day were Fred Arbanas, Scott Burnett, Dan Tarwater, James Tindall, Theresa Garza-Ruiz, Dennis Waits and Crystal Williams. Voting “no” were Bob Spence and Greg Grounds.)

We don’t want to see any more stinking, awful proposals, like Question 1.  In the future, legislative bodies should put any prospective ballot measure to this three-question test: Does it make sense? Will it benefit the vast majority of residents? Is it worth the cost?

You’re officially on notice, Kansas City and Jackson County.

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At least one institution and one individual threw away thousands of dollars in the waning days of the Question 1 campaign.

I have previously reported significant contributions to the Citizens for Research, Treatments and Cures campaign committee through Oct. 31., a week ago today.

But, lo and behold, one chump and one institution gave a total of $20,000 after that.

Now, the world-renowned political consultants working for outlandish fees certainly knew by that time that Question 1 would be going down to an ignominious defeat. So, didn’t they tell this guy and this institution to hold on to their money? That the cause was hopeless?

Guess not.

Maybe it was because, by that point, ace consultant Steve Glorioso had become preoccupied with his impending hip-replacement surgery, which took place Wednesday morning.

Maybe ace consultant Pat Gray had gotten pissed off by then and jumped ship, as he’s been known to do.

Maybe ace consultant Pat O’Neill, who reportedly signed onto the campaign reluctantly, had moved on to planning next year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Or maybe super-ace consultant Jeff Roe had decided he was working for a bunch of losers and simply allowed them to keep pouring money in to the end.

(The end result, of course, was an 84 percent to 16 percent drubbing of Q. 1.)

At any rate, Paul DeBruce, founder and CEO of DeBruce Grain, contributed $15,000 on Nov. 1.

Then, on Monday — Election Eve — Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences tossed $5,000 onto the cash pile just before voters put a wand lighter to it.

Four days earlier, Thursday, Oct. 31, KCUMB had contributed $4,450.

You would think that considering all the KCUMB money the late Karen Pletz made off with when she was CEO, the medical school would be looking to replenish its coffers.

As I said in my Nov. 1 post, the heavy hitters contributed about $1.8 million to the cures committee. On Tuesday night, as the results rolled in, I kept thinking that it was kind of entertaining sometimes to watch super rich people spend their money foolishly.

**

Now, as we put this election campaign in our collective rearview mirror, I want to tell you the Top Five reasons why we had to defeat the proposed half-cent sales tax for translational medical research.

Because if voters had approved it…

5) Jim Stowers would have wanted taxpayers to reimburse him the $2 billion he spent establishing the Stowers Institute for Medical Research.

4) The “rock star” researchers who would have been hired would have built swimming pools in their south Johnson County backyards.

3) Jackson County would have used part of the money to build a golf course for research retirees.

2) The next time, instead of three weeks notice, the Civic Council would have given the County Legislature three hours’ notice of a proposal it wanted on a ballot.

And the No. 1 reason that we had to beat Question 1 is because if it had passed…

1) The Civic Council’s next proposal would have been a sales tax for therapeutic mineral baths.

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P1030118

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If Jackson County voters defeat Question 1 on Tuesday’s ballot, a group of people who can claim a good deal of credit is one that is splintered and diverse.

It is not a registered committee, not a political organization and not a behind-the-scenes cabal of agitators.

It’s the people who have taken the time to express their views by writing letters to the editor of The Kansas City Star.

I haven’t kept track of all the letters, unfortunately, but I have run most of them on my stopabadcure.org website. (See “Latest Letters to the Editor” post.)

I know who wrote the first letter to the editor, however, and precisely when.

letterIt was Don Biggs, a former Kansas state senator who now lives in Downtown Kansas City.

The date was Aug. 20, less than two weeks after the public learned about this god-awful sales-tax proposal and six days before the Cowardly County Legislature voted 7-2 to put Question 1 on the November ballot.

I had been following the run-up to the county legislative vote, and Biggs’ letter struck at the heart of the matter.

His letter started like this:

I am disappointed in still another effort to raise the sales tax in Kansas City. Anti-tax is not my mode as I have voted for previous proposals, but enough is enough.

Medical research is wonderful, and Children’s Mercy and other medical facilities are worthy, as are the business leaders backing the proposal. They just need to get the revenue from sources other than a sales tax, which is the most regressive of all taxes with its greatest burden on those least able to pay.

Biggs was the first to lay out the case that we opponents of Question 1 have been repeating and reiterating in the ensuing 10 weeks.

Immediately, I began trying to get in touch with Biggs and quickly succeeded. He responded to one of two letters I sent to two addresses I found for him on whitepages.com.

At that time, I was thinking about registering a campaign committee to work against the measure, and subsequently Biggs became either the first of second member of my Committee to Stop a Bad Cure. He also was the second person to contribute to my committee ($200). (I was the first.)

Since Biggs’ letter, The Star has run about two dozen letters, I would estimate, opposing the proposed half-cent sales tax for “translational medical research.” Two appeared in the Star today. (See “Vote no on sales tax” and “Legislature wrong” in the link.)

Only a handful of letters urging a “yes” vote have been published.

The dearth of supportive letters tells me two things: 1) The proposed sales-tax does not have many strong supporters and 2) even with all its money (about $2 million), the Citizens for Research, Treatments and Cures committee has not been able to get people to either write letters of their own or sign letters that committee consultants have ghost written.

On the other hand, the constant drumbeat of letters from genuinely angry opponents has a significant influence on the electorate, in my opinion.

When readers see a steady stream of letters on a given issue — especially on one side of the issue — it registers with them and prods many to find out more about it. It also tends to tilt them in the direction that the vast majority of letter writers are pointing.

With that, I offer a tip of my entire hat collection to, among others…

Amy Brown, Leawood
Dick Franklin, Independence

And from Kansas City…

Don Biggs
Mary Lindsay
Kathy Arthur
Ginzy Schaefer
Susan Birt
Catherine Morris
Dan Cofran
Paul Cox
Linda Vogel Smith
Patrick Dobson
Mark Shaft
Patty McCarty

Thank you, one and all letter writers, for organizing your thoughts and putting your stamp of disapproval on an extremely repugnant tax proposal.

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