Archive for December, 2013

A lot has been going on in KC and elsewhere the last few days, and I thought I’d throw out a few things for your consideration and, perhaps, comments.

The Good:

:: After months of construction work and motorist inconvenience, the refurbishing of I-35 southwest of downtown is over.

I breezed through there at 4:37 p.m. today, on the way home from Patty’s business in North Kansas City, and I was almost giddy. The southbound traffic was dispersed among the four, repaved lanes, and there was no delay whatsoever. What a relief!

Congratulations to the Missouri Department of Transportation for completing a major upgrade.

:: I’m equally as giddy at a KC Star report that Local 42 of the International Association of Fire Fighters has finally approved a city pension-reform plan.

I know Christmas is a week away, but break out the hats and hooters.

The firefighters were the last of the city’s four major employee groups to ratify the plan, which has been in the works for more than two and a half years. Earlier, police officers, Police Department civilian employees and city employees represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees approved the plan.

The Star’s Lynn Horsley reported on The Star’s website today that the changes “require city employees and police law enforcement — but not police civilians — to contribute a slightly higher percentage of their income to their retirement. Newly hired city workers will have to work a few years longer, with slightly lower benefits upon retirement.”



Time will tell if this plan addresses the city’s $600 million underfunded liability, but in the meantime, congratulations to the citizen advisory committee that worked so hard and patiently on this, and also to City manager Troy Schulte and Fourth District Councilwoman Jan Marcason, who played major roles in the breakthrough. Thank you, everyone involved!

:: I have been in favor of the city’s red-light camera program because I think it has prevented a ton of wrecks at major intersections. But after reading about the program’s legal problems, I’m in favor of dumping it. Under state law, running a red light constitutes a moving violation (naturally) and requires points to be assessed against the driver. Several Missouri cities, including Kansas City, have been dishing out tickets that do not require points to be assessed, however, as if running a red light is just a major parking violation.

Another problem is that under the red-light programs, people can be cited if they simply own the cars involved in the violations; they don’t necessarily have to be driving the cars. That doesn’t make much sense, does it? Time to go back to the old-fashioned system of officers watching the most problematic intersections, like Southwest Trafficway and 39th Street, and handing out lots of tickets.

Let’s get cracking, traffic division!

:: This from friend and periodic commenter Kaler Bole:

“In 1990, there were 2,262 murders in New York. In 2012, 414 murders. 2013 is on pace for the lowest number of murders in the past five decades. This year, a record 54.3 million tourist visited the city — a 54% increase since 2002. The correlation is obvious: Unprecedented crime reduction equals record-breaking tourism — which means a robust city economy and the safest big city in America. The spike in tourism is no coincidence. The unprecedented crime reduction has been accomplished through the selfless dedication and hard work of the men and women of the NYPD.”

One caveat: Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s controversial and legally questionable “stop and frisk” program, which has contributed significantly to the decrease in crime, is coming to an end under Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio. It will be interesting to see if the downward trend can continue without that program.

The Bad

:: The lead editorial in today’s Kansas City Star hammered the Unified Government of Wyandotte — particularly former Mayor Joe Reardon and City Administrator Dennis Hays — for privately working up a deal in which the Unified Government would buy Community America Ballpark, home to the T-Bones semi-professional baseball team.



It is an $8 million, public bailout that would significantly lighten the debt of the private company — Ehlert Development Corp. — which paid a reported $12 million to build the ballpark a decade ago. Ehlert, led by team President Adam Ehlert, would still owe about $4 million, The Star has reported.

The two most troubling things about this deal are, first, that the Unified Government Board of Commissioners wasn’t brought into the loop until the proposed deal was well down the road, and, second, that Reardon, whose second term ended earlier this year, refused to talk to The Star about the deal.

“Reardon did not respond to repeated requests for comment,” The Star’s Mike Hendricks said in a front-page story, which earlier this week laid out the terms of the deal.

That’s always a red flag.

Here’s the worst part, however: The veil of secrecy probably would not have been thrown up or it would have been pierced if The Star was still the powerhouse that it was until the mid-2000s.

When I was bureau chief in KCK, from 1995 to 2004, we had at least three full-time reporters in the Wyandotte-Leavenworth bureau, and we aggressively covered both Wyandotte and Leavenworth counties.

Mark Wiebe, a reporter whose hiring I pushed hard for in ’95, knew everything that was going on at City Hall, and he would have sniffed out a deal like the one Hays and Reardon cooked up. (Like me, he’s now out of the business. I retired, and he went back into mental health, where he had been before he came to work for The Star.)

These days, nobody at The Star is assigned to cover the Unified Government on a regular basis. Part-timer Steve Kraske used to jump into it once in a while, and, like I noted, Hendricks wrote the story that appeared earlier this week. Hendricks, a former Metro columnist, has become something of a roving government reporter.

When nobody is covering a major, local government, all kinds of shit can and does happen without the public’s knowledge. It’s a damn shame, but, as fellow blogger Tony Botello (tonyskansascity.com) often points out, the “Dead Tree Media” has lost its stick, at least in many major metropolitan areas.

The Star can still hit hard on select stories; it just can’t cover the metro area like it did in the “good ol’ days.” Which weren’t that long ago.

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I don’t understand why The Star and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon are pussyfooting around on the case of Chris Nicastro, Missouri education commissioner.

Nicastro, who has been education commissioner since July 2009, has twice exhibited her propensity for secretive dealing with individuals and organizations seeking to direct the course of important city and state educational matters.

The disturbing episodes took place within a few weeks of each other — close enough to discredit her in the eyes of many officials, including several state legislators who are screaming for her scalp.

She reports to the Missouri Board of Education, which consists of eight citizens appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Missouri Senate.

Our intrepid governor, Jay Nixon, got way out on the ledge at a news conference Monday and said the state Board of Education should “monitor and evaluate” the concerns raised about Nicastro. Maybe he doesn’t want to be viewed as publicly telling the Board of Education what to do, but he at least could have said that he was concerned.

Today, The Star’s editorial page, which readers look to for clear-spoken direction, came out with an underwhelming, leading editorial titled “Secrecy harms chance to help KC schools.”

Like Nixon, The Star failed to call Nicastro to account. The editorial mentioned “the questionable process” on the study and “behind-the-scenes maneuvers,” but then it lamely segued into the issue of the Kansas City School District’s attempt to gain provisional accreditation.

Let me recap Nicastro’s transgressions.

About two weeks ago, it came to light that Nicastro had conspired with an organization financed by Rex Sinquefield — a St. Louis area resident who has earned the nickname of “the meddling multimillionaire” — to craft ballot language for an initiative petition that would give Missouri voters an opportunity to eliminate teacher tenure.

Then, late last week, Kansas City Star education reporter Joe Robertson reported that emails obtained by The Star revealed “Nicastro’s wish for a statewide district to gather poor-performing schools under new leadership, with an office for innovation and charter school expansion.”

The proposed district would have enveloped the Kansas City School District, which lost its accreditation in 2012 but seemed to be on the verge of gaining provisional accreditation, based on the most recent test scores.

The emails also detailed a hurried and wired bidding process that steered a $385,000, privately funded contract to an Indianapolis firm to develop a plan for overhauling the Kansas City district’s failing schools. The Indianapolis firm was selected over three competitors with less costly bids, including one, as Robertson said, “that offered to do the work at a third of the cost” of the selected firm’s bid. On the private study, Nicastro colluded with the Kauffman and Hall Family foundations of Kansas City.

It’s clear to me that Nicastro has lost all credibility and is on the way out. My prediction is she’ll be gone by this time next week.  

The Star and the governor could have insured that result by emphasizing that Nicastro, as education commissioner, had an obligation to be straightforward and transparent in dealing with major, public educational issues.

The headline on today’s KC Star editorial should have said simply: “Nicastro must go.”

And Governor Nixon should have taken a courage pill and said, “I am disturbed and disappointed by reports of Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro’s actions, and I expect the Board of Education to review the situation and report to me by the end of this week.”

When you’ve got a top-ranking public official who has clearly compromised her integrity, it’s time for those who have the ability to hold such officials accountable to do just that.

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I just returned from a four-day trip to Illinois, home to my favorite city — Chicago.

Patty and I have seen a lot of Chicago in recent years, what with our 25-year-old daughter Brooks having endured four or five rounds of in-patient treatment for anorexia at a residential facility in Lemont, IL, west of Chicago.

Brooks is on the upswing, and we hope she’ll be back home by February. In the meantime, we’ll keep making that jog east over to either St. Louis or Hannibal and then north to Chicago. (I think my next political campaign will be a push for an interstate between Kansas City and Chicago.)

This trip I made on my own. On Friday and Saturday nights, I stayed with friends in Downers (no apostrophe) Grove, also west of Chicago, but on Sunday night I went into the big city. Driving in the snow, it took me more than an hour and a half to traverse the 25 miles miles to downtown. I arrived a few minutes before curtain time for an excellent play called “Tribes” at the Steppenwolf Theatre on Halsted Street.

I spent the night at the Days Inn on the Near North Side, and on Monday I went to the Chicago Art Institute to see the museum’s fabulous collections of Impressionist paintings.

I thought about attending the Monday night football game between the Bears and the Cowboys but bowed out when I learned the temperature was going to be in the single digits.

The weather wasn’t too bad Monday morning and early afternoon, but about 2 p.m. an angry and frigid south wind started blowing. It came up while I was enjoying a deep-dish, sausage and mushroom pizza at Pizano’s on Madison Street. After lunch, I bucked that south wind and walked as fast as I could to where my car was parked, got on I-55 and headed out of town.

I spent Monday night in Springfield, where I’d never been before, and explored some of the Lincoln haunts before returning to Kansas City.

You know the saying, of course, “A picture is worth 1,000 words.” Well, I’ve written about 350 words, and I’m going to let the following photos take care of the remaining 650…


On Sunday morning, a skater and his dog played one-on-one ice hockey in Downers Grove.


What better time to rake the leaves? (Sunday, Downers Grove)


Same stuff (snow), different city (Chicago), Monday morning


Street scene, Near North Side


LaSalle Boulevard…That’s the Chicago Board of Trade building dead ahead.


Michigan Avenue, near Millennium Park


Skater: McCormick Tribune Plaza


Bucking the frigid south wind Monday afternoon…Time to get out of town!


The Old State Capitol in Springfield, built between 1837 and 1840. It was here that Abraham Lincoln served his last term as a state representative in 1840 and 1841. The building is distinguished by the locally quarried, yellow “Sugar Creek” limestone used to make its walls.


The building that housed Lincoln’s law office. It’s across the street from the Old State Capitol. Lincoln had a very successful practice.


One of Lincoln’s first law partners was Stephen T. Logan…Thus, “Logan & Lincoln.” He later practiced with William H. (Billy) Herndon, who wrote a book about their time together.

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I’m late to the game on this, but I want to congratulate The Star for changing its policy regarding online comments.

Several months ago, The Star adopted a policy requiring every commenter to have a Facebook account. That meant commenters would be identified by first and last names and, in most cases, a work affiliation would be listed.

I don’t think I’ve ever commented on a KC Star story online, so I didn’t pay much attention, but I was aware, of course, of the history of venomous and profane comments posted by hundreds or thousands of trolls out there. Maybe that’s why I never paid much attention to the comments and never bothered to comment myself.

So, with the change, I simply went on not paying attention…until today. I’m in Chicago, visiting our daughter Brooks, and I had to read the Kansas City news online instead of in print. I was keenly interested in the story about the Yankees signing former Kansas City outfielder and start hitter Carlos Beltran, whom the Royals had targeted for signing this year.

A little background…I didn’t like the idea of the Royals signing Beltran, mainly because he just doesn’t seem like a good fit for what seems to me to be a remarkably unselfish group of baseball players. 

The Royals have, in my opinion, a very rate chemistry and camaraderie. I love watching them chat and exchange ideas in the dugout, congratulate each other when things go well and give each other an encouraging tap with the glove when things go bad. I don’t know a lot about Beltran’s personality, and maybe my instinct is wrong, but it just seemed to me like he could be an albatross.

Where the Royals are a bunch of blue-collar workers, Beltran strikes me as something of a privileged player with a big reputation…despite the fact that a few years ago he struck out looking for the Mets to end a decisive playoff  game. Nothing more ignominious — and even cowardly, at least in the baseball contest  — than being called out on the final pitch of a huge game. 

Anyway, I not only read the story, which was posted yesterday, but I read all 26 posted comments.

The tone and caliber of the comments was not only impressive but, in fact, inspiring to me — real people with real names expressing thoughtful ideas. 

Take this, for example, from a commenter named Gary Brennan, owner of The Brennan Group Real Estate LLC at Re/Max:

Glad to see CB not sign with KC. He’s been the ultimate selfish player since he first got to the big leagues. KC bought him his first house, he refused to take a rehab assignment in the minors after injury and the list goes on and on. While he has great production, he wouldn’t have fit in with the core group of players that make up this roster.

Yes, Brennan happened to echo my feelings, but, still, he made an insightful comment and backed it up with evidence.

Here’s another one:

Playing for the Yankees also helps Beltran’s Hall of Fame case with the chance to have a much better offensive and defensive year with New York’s right field. Carlos remembers the K and knows that he’s an old man.
That from a guy named Jim Fetterolf, who has earned designation as a “top commenter” — and because of that, apparently doesn’t have to list an affiliation. (I have no idea what it takes to attain the rank of “top commenter;” I guess it’s like getting your Eagle Scout badge.)
The closest thing to an argument was between Fetterolf and Brian Orloff, whose affiliation is Kansas State University. 
After Fetterolf suggested that the Royals now target Shin-Soo Choo, a much-coveted free agent who played for the Cincinnati Reds in 2012 and 2013, Orloff came back with: “I have some stocks I’d like you to take a look at.”
All in good fun and good taste — the kind of give and take that makes a serious reader want to keep on reading.
Kudos, then, to The Star for successfully transforming the comments section from a huge negative to a huge positive. Despite its falling fortunes, The Star still does a lot of things right, and this change shows that upper management continues to take steps to insure that The Star remains the most credible, responsible and authoritative news operation in our region.

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More and more, Kyle Van Winkle’s death outside Arrowhead Stadium Sunday afternoon is looking like a terrible, easily avoidable tragedy.

Here are the sad, basic facts of the incident, as I have come to understand them from various reports.

Three or four people began whaling away at Van Winkle after he mistakenly got into the wrong vehicle.


Kyle Van Winkle

How do we know it was a mistake? Well, he had arrived at the stadium in a vehicle similar to the one that he got into about 5:20 p.m.

When the punching stopped, Van Winkle, a 30-year-old college graduate who worked at a credit union, was lying unconscious against a parked bus.

A Fox 4 reporter spoke with a woman who said she checked Van Winkle’s pulse and found it strong, at first. A few minutes later, however, after someone yelled that Van Winkle was turning blue, she started performing CPR but could not resuscitate him. Van Winkle, she said, did not throw one punch.

She also said the owner of the Jeep tried to leave the scene before police could question him.


That brings us to why – why in the world – this case of an ordinary guy stumbling into the wrong car ended up as a homicide.

The first point that needs to be made is that all the adults involved, including Van Winkle, a Smithville resident, probably were drunk.

Tailgating revolves around drinking. The tailgaters start up in the morning and charge right through the afternoon. Too bad this was a 3:25 p.m. game because the drinkers had three hours more than usual (when games start at noon) to get wound up. If it had been a noon game, Van Winkle probably would have been breathing air and pumping blood right now.

Have you watched those assholes in the parking lot? Yes, I’m talking about all of them – all who set up their shit, start campfires and start knocking back the beers. It’s ridiculous.

Don’t they have anything else to do with their Sunday mornings? What’s the matter with leaving for the game an hour before kickoff, drinking a couple of beers at the game, and going home?

Thanks a lot, Lamar Hunt, for bringing this nasty broth to full boil in Kansas City.

But the drinking is just part of the problem. The other part is that most of those drunks come with their warpaint on – figuratively.

Pro football offers up some beautiful, breathtaking, athletic feats. But at its core it’s about violence – the crashing of helmets, the twisting of limbs and the occasional grabbing of testicles.

Is it any wonder, then, that many fans arriving for the game are in a muscular frame of mind when they arrive? In the parking lots and inside the stadium, the testosterone is flowing, and more than a few women are calling for the Chiefs to yank some scalps out from under the opposing players’ helmets.

Back to Sunday, then. As it is every game day, the environment was ripe for a rush to judgment that Van Winkle was a no-good burglar whose “crime” needed to be dealt with summarily.

How do you think the same incident might have unfolded in the parking lot at Oak Park Mall?

Here’s my guess: The owner of the Jeep, seeing someone in his vehicle, would have lurked back at a safe distance to assess the situation. He probably would have pulled out his cell phone and called 911. He might have looked for security. He might have gone back into a store to have someone call security.

Would he have gathered up three other guys nearby and proceeded to pull they guy out of the car and thrash the shit out of him? In all likelihood, no.

But that’s what we’ve got with pro football these days: players suffering concussions and way too many fans letting their primal emotions run away with them.


I guess you want to know if I’m a Chiefs fan. Well, I have been, but for the reasons stated above, my interest has diminished significantly the last couple of years. I haven’t been to a game this year, and, after Sunday’s tragedy, I’m not planning to go back ever again.

I guess you want to know, too, if I’ve ever tailgated at a Chiefs game. No.

I have tailgated at a couple of University of Missouri games — but on fraternity-house grounds, where most people know one another. If somebody happened to get into the wrong car there, he’d just get laughed at, not pummeled to death.

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