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.
:: 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 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.