Archive for February, 2014

A few days ago, after seeing a two-page Kansas City Star  “house ad,” which contained the photos of 164 Star staff members, I produced a post urging The Star to initiate a major promotional and advertising campaign to try to resuscitate circulation and revive its “brand name.”

In that post, I referred to a friend and former KC Star colleague, Steve Nicely, who had called my attention to the “double-truck” house ad. The post prompted Steve, who has been retired more than 10 years, to write about a 1970s KC Star marketing campaign in which he was intimately involved. He kept thorough records from that campaign and this week dug them out of his basement.

Today, in a guest post, Steve looks at The Star retrospectively but with an eye on the present and future. The entire staff at JimmyCSays (yes, the whole dang staff!) is deeply appreciative for this insightful piece. Now, here’s Steve…

(I would have included a photo of Steve, but I’m out of town and don’t have download capacity on this Webster Groves, MO, library computer.)


I  can’t tell you how happy I was to see the double-truck house ad in Sunday’s paper featuring the photos of 164 KC Star staff members, surrounding the central message, “Kansas City’s Largest news force.”  It has been such a long time since we’ve seen anything like that.  Dang, 164 people look like a huge staff, and it is.  Never mind that back in the day we were blessed with twice that number.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “We no longer take The Star.  There’s nothing in it.”  Sure, it’s smaller than it was, maybe half the size.  Pick it up on Monday and it’s pretty light.  But open it up and there’s news to read and quite a bit of it.  Definitely worth  the price.  I beg to differ with the vacuous, prejudicial statement that nothing is in it.  I also marvel at the amazing production that the reduced staff is turning out.  The survivors are performing two or three jobs by former standards.

The newspaper has functioned in its hunkered-down posture far too long.  Kansas City needs to be reminded of the value of the communications asset it has and what it would be like without it.  The newspaper itself — all its employees — also should be reminded.  The same goes for advertisers.  Maybe the print version of the newspaper is destined for extinction, especially in terms of home delivery.  I thought it would have happened a long time before this.  I formed that opinion around 1978 when I witnessed something called teletext — the scrolling printed news across a television screen in a retail store window.  My God, I thought, we’re doomed.  They’re delivering the news electronically at the speed of light.  We’re still doing it with paper and ink, printing presses and vehicles driving every street in the city twice a day.

Well, 36 years later, the newspaper is still going. And my day would still be incomplete without the newspaper. I know the newspaper must find a way to successfully transition to the new media forms.  I also know it could do so much more to promote itself to its various target audiences.  With the proper promotions, it can extend its life and profitability until it finds a solid footing in the murky future.

I know these things because I was involved in a multi-media advertising and promotions campaign The Star conducted from 1974 to 1977.  It involved radio, TV, billboards and house ads, like last Sunday’s  double truck.  The cost during its most intensive year was some $250,000, as I recall.  Do the math on that.  How much is it in today’s dollars?

We had three target audiences:  The public (both subscribers and non-subscribers), the advertisers and our own people.  It was triggered by the afternoon paper’s circulation dipping below 300,000.  What’s the circulation now? Well below 200,000.

The ad agency, Travis, Walz, Lane, pitched it to the board and sold them.  I saw it as an opportunity to escape my assistant city editor’s job because I had become painfully aware that I wasn’t cut out for management.  They named me the Editorial Promotions Director, representing the newsroom on a committee of managers who worked with the ad agency.

The theme was, Sharing The World with You Twice a Day, Mornings in The Kansas City Times, Evenings and Sundays in The Kansas City Star.

You can imagine how that went over in the newsroom.  Journalists don’t consider themselves sharing the world with anybody.  They are focused on gathering and reporting the news, which often involves matters of life and death.  But the staff had no choice.  I think most came to accept it once the campaign got rolling.  It ended with The Star back over 300,000, with increased ad revenue and with the sale of our employee-owned company to Capital Cities Communications Inc. in 1977.  No doubt, the campaign was an excellent investment for the stockholders.

The TV commercials featured key staffers on camera explaining what they do.  I recall that society editor Laura Hockaday (a regular reader of this blog) delivered one of the best performances.   The radio spots were more generic at first, then acquired tag lines promoting news stories in the next day’s newspaper.  The house ads were less structured, more varied.  One full-page, color ad compared the news content of a typical 30-minute TV newscast with the amount of news in the newspaper.  Translated into inches, the newscast occupied about half a page.  How many people do you suppose were aware of that?

Another featured the extensive assignment sheet for coverage of the 1976 Republican National Convention in Kansas City.  The convention was not only a coup for Kansas City but an opportunity for The Star to shine in front of an extra-large audience.

Another full pager was a letter from ad director Wally Meyer sharing “such good news for our advertisers” and “with everyone.”  Circulation figures for August (1976) set all-time highs for The Times and Sunday Star.  The gains in the metro area:

The Times (the morning paper), up 9,675; The Star, up 7,598; Sunday, up 11,453.  (I don’t know why Wally didn’t report circulation totals, as well as the gains.)


The campaign included profiles of employees in all department of the paper. Producing those profiles was my responsibility. We had some interesting staff members, as I was reminded recently when I dug out a box of the profiles. Each one began with the words, “Share a Moment with…”  Then, for example, “J. J. Maloney,” then his picture as an inmate in the Missouri State Penitentiary. The headline was, “An uncommon criminal.”  Joe had murdered a man in an attempted robbery in St. Louis at age 19.  He spent the next 17 years in prison, where he changed his life, became a book reviewer, writer, poet and painter.  He joined The Star’s staff in 1972.  Two years later, Joe and Harry Jones Jr. won the American Bar Association Gavel Award for the newspaper with a series on prisons. (Joe also was the best mob reporter the newspaper ever had.)

The profile continued: “His co-workers in the newsroom today do not think of him as a former convict.  They think of him as Joe, one of the hardest-working and most gifted reporters on the staff.”

Joe is now deceased.

Another profile featured a man named Paul J. Haskins under the headline, “Dropout digs in.”  The copy began like this:

Some of the best human interest stories year after year are about kids who drop out of school, bum around pool halls and seem to have everything going against them, yet somehow manage to beat the system.  They end up as millionaires or power brokers or both.  To the best of our knowledge, Paul J. Haskins is no millionaire, but at age 35 it is too soon to count him out… Whether he is a power broker today is a relative question.  Haskins is city editor of The Kansas City Times.”

Haskins, a high school dropout, is also deceased.

Another featured my mug above the headline, Pro File, written by Darryl Durham of the newspaper’s promotions department.  It quoted me as saying:

“Think of my job in terms of ‘coming attractions’…It means promoting news and features in advance, giving readers something to look forward to.  It also means introducing readers to news department staff members in profiles such as this one… In  the past, people tended to think of The Star and Times primarily in terms of the papers they found on their lawns.  There was little thought of the human element involved in turning them out.  We’re not trying to glorify our staff members or make them public figures.  We merely want to establish their membership in the human race.”

And that’s what the double-truck in Sunday’s newspaper sought to do — once again.  It’s probably unrealistic to expect the newspaper to launch a multi-media ad campaign in today’s circumstances, but it certainly could do a lot more in terms of self-promotion.  When there are holes to fill, it doesn’t always have to be  with a wire story of little local significance or interest.  Plug them with house ads and boost reader confidence and attitudes and help them appreciate the impressive work still being done.  Boost circulation and advertising.  Maybe even rehire some terminated staff members.  The cost for that type of promotion is practically zip.

I’ve still got those 35-year-old, yellowing house ads — fresh out of my basement.  If anybody at the newspaper wants to see them — perhaps to get some ideas about how they might continue the renewed in-house promotion of the newspaper — just call me. I’m still here and still a cheerleader for my beloved Kansas City Star.

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Tonight, PBS aired a gripping and insightful “Frontline” show on the Catholic Church. If you haven’t seen it, go to the PBS website and watch it; it’s available on demand.

The  first part of the show focuses on Pope Benedict’s anemic attempt to deal with the sexual abuse scandal, as well as his failed attempts, before his resignation last year, to reform the Vatican government — the Curia — and the Vatican bank.

pope francis

Pope Francis

Then the producers turn their attention to Pope Francis — to his genuine humility and spirituality, as well as to his renewed attempt to move ahead with the Curia and Vatican bank housecleanings.

Interestingly, though, near the very end of the 90-minute show, two Vatican experts spoke about how Pope Francis, for all the promising signals he is sending to the world, has not yet shown if he has a spine.

One of the experts, an Italian journalist named Sandro Magister, said, “So far, he has carefully avoided all issues that could lead to conflict.”

Those issues, he said, include gender and euthanasia.

Another expert, Robert Mickens, a reporter for The Tablet, a British publication that bills itself as “The International Catholic News Weekly,” then put his thumb on the issue that most of the world is waiting on Pope Francis to address:

“The real minefield in the life of the pope, because it’s such a big issue in the Catholic Church — and it’s not gone away, even though they’re singing hosannas to him right now — and that’s the sexual abuse of minors, clergy sex abuse.

“I know a lot of Catholics would like it to be over, but it’s not. We’re seeing new cases all the time. If the pope doesn’t come out and set very clear, transparent and public guidelines and make statements, I think this could cripple him.”

So far, Pope Francis has been extraordinary as a “feel good” pope. But, as Mickens suggested, this fish stinks to the core…And the question is whether the pope has the courage and conviction to gut the fish.

Bishop Finn


He could go a long way toward answering that question by making a “zero tolerance” statement on clergy sex abuse and, at the same time, removing Robert W. Finn as bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.


For God’s sake, Finn is the walking, talking, breathing embodiment of why the church has gone so far astray! Why the church has lost millions and millions of members, including myself, my wife and many of our friends.

Finn owns the distinction, right her in our own beloved city, of being the only bishop who has ever been convicted in the long-running sexual abuse scandal.

Just to refresh: In September 2012, a Jackson County Circuit Court judge found Finn guilty of failing to report a Northland priest — Shawn Ratigan — who was an active pedophile. Finn’s crime was a misdemeanor, and he is on two years probation.

Despite the fact that it wasn’t a felony, his crime was breathtaking in its audacity and defiance of duty. 

Many people around here would love to have seen Finn led away in a handcuffed “perp walk” and imprisoned for what he did, and didn’t, do.

And yet, he has stayed on as bishop — has resisted all calls to resign — and there has been no indication he is in hot water with the pope.

Recently, however, a group of Kansas City Catholics has brought intense pressure on Rome to do the right thing and purge the church of the Finn cancer.

With help from the Rev. James E. Connell, a priest and canon lawyer in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, the Kansas City group sent letters to the Vatican’s representative in Washington to be forwarded to Pope Francis. The letters call for the pope to oust Finn as bishop.

As reported Feb. 14 in The New York Times, no less, the forwarded materials included letters from a nun and 13 parishioners and a petition signed by more than 113,000 people worldwide.

The Times story said that Father Connell cited Canon 1389 in the church’s Code of Canon Law, which says that a person who harms another by using or failing to use his “ecclesiastical power” should receive a “just penalty.”

The law doesn’t suggest what constitutes a “just penalty,” but it’s abundantly clear to us in Kansas City, is it not, what that would mean as it pertains to Bishop Finn?

As long as Finn remains bishop, he stands as a symbol of a church that still tolerates the violation of innocent children by clergymen. That is totally unacceptable.  

Let’s hope this pope, who has quickly built up such an aura of good will and high expectations, has the spine to deal forthrightly with the sex-abuse scandal and that he will start by taking away Robert W. Finn’s staff and mitre.


On another subject, I just saw (Wednesday morning) on The Star’s website that the state executed Michael Taylor early today. I’m very surprised that he didn’t get a stay, but, I have to admit, I’m glad he’s dead.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster issued this statement:

“Over 9,100 days have passed since the morning Michael Taylor and Roderick Nunley kidnapped 15-year-old Ann Harrison as she waited for her school bus. Taylor and Nunley raped her, repeatedly stabbed her, and left her to die in the trunk of a stolen car. Taylor spent 20 years attempting to convince the courts to overturn his death sentence – five years longer than Ann Harrison lived on this earth. Please take a moment to keep Ann and her family in your thoughts and prayers.”

Now. let’s finish up this business and give Nunley his “just penalty.” I bet he’s squirming pretty good right now.

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I was talking to Steve Nicely, a friend and former KC Star colleague, today, and he called my attention to a two-page spread — what we call a “double truck” — in Sunday’s paper, which bore the photos of every person (or nearly every person) involved in The Star’s editorial operation.

The layout — revolving around a rectangular block with the words “Kansas City’s largest news force” — contained 164 photos.

My first reaction, upon looking at some of those photos was, “How did these people get so old-looking while I have managed to stay so youthful?”


Actually, it was pretty scary because I realize that facial lines and lack of hair expose me, too.

My second thought was that this could be a baby step toward a much-needed promotional and marketing campaign.

Like many other major metropolitan papers, The Star has been on the decline for more than a decade. Profits are much lower, circulation is way down and the editorial staff has been sliced significantly. It appears to me, from the lack of energetic promotion of any kind, that the attitude among top managers is one of resignation to the new reality that The Star has dropped a couple of rungs from its once-vaunted position as the most comprehensive news operation in the region.

I think it’s time, though, for The Star to step forward with a new, more aggressive attitude. Even in its enervated state, The Star remains, by far, the deepest and broadest news-gathering operation in the region. It is still head and shoulders above TV, radio and the Internet in terms of local news gathering and presentation.

It’s been nearly 20 years, I believe, since The Star has conducted a professional marketing campaign. I remember that one clearly, mainly because the goal — enunciated by then-Publisher Art Brisbane — was to increase daily circulation to 300,000 by the year 2000.

300,000 by 2000” went the internal slogan.

The campaign had several thrusts and themes — which was a mistake — and one of them was something like, “Call today and subscribe and…Bam! Your daily!” I liked that “Bam! Your Daily!” but it was never featured prominently, and the campaign was a flop.

With its brand having ebbed and inertia having taken over, I think that now would be an excellent time for a new marketing push. I would like to see publisher Mi-Ai Parrish ask her McClatchy supervisors in Sacramento to allocate $2 million for an all-out, professional marketing campaign that would blanket TV, radio and Internet.

At one time, The Star didn’t need to advertise because it was a powerhouse. But now that the media is more diffused and competition is keener, The Star should do what other companies in competitive situations do, and that is promote the hell out of itself.

You’ve got to keep the brand prominent in people’s minds. That doesn’t happen by just relying on The Kansas City Star “flag” at the top of the paper every day, and it isn’t going to happen by publishing the photos of the 164 people involved in editorial operations.

Most of the people who saw that spread are those who already are subscribing to the paper or buying it on Sunday. I doubt that the spread will result in a circulation spike.

The Star needs to get its message to residents far and wide, from Grain Valley to Olathe. That means advertising on a big scale.

There are a couple of significant obstacles to my plan, however.

First, McClatchy paid way too much for The Star and the other Knight Ridder papers in 2006 and is so deeply in debt that its leaders probably wouldn’t give two seconds’ thought to a costly marketing campaign. In fact, McClatchy might never get its head above water. It might end up selling off the parts, as some other chains have done, which could end up with The Star being bought by a company like Cerner. (That wouldn’t necessarily be bad, but it could pave the way for a company or individual with no publishing experience to convert the paper into a vehicle to promote its own interests, instead of providing a balanced news report.)

Second, during her two and a half years in Kansas City, Parrish has shown little interest, as far as I can tell, in raising the paper’s profile.

You don’t see The Star sponsoring big arts and cultural events like it used to and Parrish has shown no interest — again, as far as I can tell — in establishing herself as a civic leader. Frankly, she just doesn’t present a good, strong face for The Star the way former publishers like Brisbane and the late Jim Hale did.

I have seen her make one speech since she’s been in town. It was in January 2012 to a group of about 35 members of the “Forty Years Ago Column Club” at the Plaza III. Parrish read the speech, and at times, either during the speech or during questions afterward, leaned against a wall.

…The more I write and the more I think about this situation, the more I realize that a marketing campaign not only is unlikely to happen, it also wouldn’t work — not with this ownership and this publisher.

So, I guess The Star ought to just stick to publishing those 164 photos.

…Man, do those former colleagues of mine look old!

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Jean Peters Baker has demonstrated once again why she might be the best Jackson County prosecutor in at least the last 45 years — as long as I’ve been following Jackson County politics.

We’ve had some good prosecutors during that time, including now-U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and the late Albert Riederer. We’ve had some sketchy prosecutors, too, like Joe Teasdale, who somehow went on to get himself elected governor, and, before him, Ralph Martin.

As a reporter for The Star, I covered parts of the Martin and Teasdale administrations, and I believe political considerations and personal connections too often guided decision-making.


Jean Peters Baker

Not so with Baker, about whom The Star said recently, “She is known to put justice and the law above all else.”

And, so, there she was on the front page of this morning’s paper, announcing charges in the tragic case of 30-year-old Kyle Van Winkle, who made the mistake about three months ago of getting into the wrong green Jeep in the Arrowhead Stadium parking lot.

In the photo, Baker’s left hand rests on the arm of Van Winkle’s father, Dean Van Winkle, who is looking down, lips tight. Next to Dean is his wife Cindy, hands folded in front of her as she looks at Baker.

It is a grim and sad photo, but it also speaks of justice.

Kyle Van Winkle’s killer will almost surely be convicted of involuntary manslaughter, and he will likely do prison time. The defendant is 25-year-old Joshua T. Bradley of Independence.

Here’s a guy, who from all accounts, beat the crap out of a drunken, stoned or sick Van Winkle after Van Winkle had left the Chiefs-Broncos game in the first quarter and mistakenly crawled into a Jeep that looked like the one he had come to the game in. Unfortunately, he was off by about 10 parking spaces.

A bunch of people were tailgating, which revolves around drinking, and the guy who owns the Jeep that Van Winkle was sleeping in sent his 10- or 11-year-old son to get help. Why the guy thought he needed help I don’t understand, but maybe that will come out at trial, if there is one.

After Van Winkle either got out of the vehicle or was pulled out, words apparently were exchanged. Court records quote the Jeep owner as saying, “The bigger feller (Bradley), he walked away and something was said and he turned around and he just started hitting him (Van Winkle).”

Then, according to today’s KC Star story:

“After Van Winkle fell to the ground, the attacker continued hitting him…The attacker left Van Winkle on the pavement. Another bystander propped him up against a bus.

“After they noticed Van Winkle had turned blue, bystanders flagged down a security guard and started CPR.”

And what did Bradley see fit to do? Well, “the bigger feller,” who so valiantly had come to the rescue of the helpless Jeep owner, took off. Bolted!

When it was time to really be a man — to stand up and admit that he had completely overreacted — he went home.

Left for dead, propped up against that bus, was a college graduate who worked at a bank as a loan officer, a young husband, the father of a seven-week-old son.

Awful, just awful.

But like I said at the top, there’s a good thing about this case: We have a prosecutor who pursues criminals without fear or favor. She knows what people go through when they lose a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister or even a close friend to homicide.

She reaches out and touches heartbroken parents. And she slams her prosecutorial fist down on the thugs.

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If I were God…the one horror I would do away with on earth is the periodic snatching and killing of young girls.

It happened again last night. This time in Springfield. At age 10, Hailey Owens’ earthly life ended yesterday, apparently at the hands of a 45-year-old pervert who, of all things, was a paraprofessional and coach in the Springfield School District.

I have been in St. Louis the last few days, and about 7 p.m. last night I got an Amber Alert on my cellphone regarding the abduction of a girl in Springfield. Police were looking for a gold-colord Ford Ranger. They had a license-plate number.

I really didn’t think too much about it at the time because a lot of these abductions are related to domestic situations, where one or another estranged parent has taken a kid or failed to return one.

Back in my hotel room, after watching a bit of TV, I realized this was a bad situation — a stranger abduction.

Immediately, the Pamela Butler case came rushing back to my mind. That fateful day was Oct. 12, 1999, when I was bureau chief in KCK.

I was at home when I saw a brief story on the 10 p.m. news that a 10-year-old girl had been snatched from in front of her Armourdale home. She had been roller skating, and a guy lying in wait in a truck had jumped out, snatched her and sped off, shouting to several astounded bystanders, “You’ll never see her alive again.”

A guy who was a block or so away heard people screaming and pointing at the truck, which was speeding away. In his vehicle, he pursued the abductor for a couple of miles, at least. But he really didn’t know what was going on and didn’t see a passenger because the driver had handcuffed her to the passenger-side door handle and was pushing her head down, out of view. The abductor lost him somewhere in the Rosedale area.

Reporters didn’t know all that at the time, but the night desk at The Star got a short story in the paper the next morning. A three-day manhunt ensued. I worked the story for two days, overseeing reporters and editing stories. I was heartsick the whole time and had trouble carrying on, mainly because our daughter Brooks was 11 at the time, and I couldn’t get it out of my mind that it just as easily could have been her.

I had scheduled a vacation day for Friday, the third day of the story. Instead of staying on to work the story, I took the vacation day. My supervisor wasn’t happy, although he didn’t say anything critical. I just didn’t want to face a third straight day of the story. I took Brooks and our 10-year-old son Charlie bowling at Ward Parkway Lanes, and I remember watching a TV report of 24-year-old Keith D. Nelson being fished out of the Kansas River near the 12th Street bridge. Pamela’s body was found in Grain Valley.

Nelson was later convicted of rape and murder in federal court and sentenced to death. He’s now 39 and still sitting in prison somewhere.

So, yesterday it was Hailey.

Like Pamela, she was outside her home. Probably playing. The man in the gold truck had driven down her street, West Lombard, several times. Just like Nelson, he bided his time. Then pounced.

Pounced like an animal. Him and Nelson both. Animals. Pieces of space junk, dropped in from the atmosphere with no redeeming value and preying on innocence.

And this guy, the guy charged — Craig Michael Wood. Forty-five years old. Employed by the Springfield School District since August 1998. Working at Pleasant View Elementary School.

His job? To teach, coach and nurture kids from ages 5 to about 13.

Take a look at his picture, which was on the kansascity.com website as of about an hour ago. Would you want your kids being taught or coached by this guy?

If I were God…

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One of the best stories you will ever find appeared in Thursday’s Kansas City Star on Page A-11.

It wasn’t written by a reporter; it didn’t even carry a headline.

It was an obit that appeared under the name Annabelle Buckner Allen.

Annabelle’s was the first obit among two and a quarter pages of obits. It jumped out, however, not because it was first but because it was clear, right up front, that this was a tragedy.


Annabelle Buckner Allen

The smiling, blond woman looking out from the page was dead at 37. The photo alone, even a bit grainy, signaled this was a “must-read” obit.

Annabelle died last Monday after surviving five years with “non-smoking, terminal lung cancer.”

The story didn’t start out with that, however. Like many a personal story, it started with her birth…

“She was the youngest child, only by 15 months, which caused the relationships with her siblings to be quite ‘spirited.’ “

She graduated from K.U. in 1998, and then…

“After a couple of jobs in social work, she decided it would be a lucrative career and decided to get her master’s in social work from KU.”

At first, the reference to “lucrative career” kind of threw me. I thought it might be a joke, but the context didn’t give it away. But then the obit writer reported that a few years later…

“she decided to change career paths to yet another profitable job, teaching.”

From social worker to teacher…Indeed, we know this lady wasn’t trying to amass a fortune.

“After graduating with honors from Rockhurst University in record time (mainly because no math was involved), Annabelle began teaching second grade at Red Bridge elementary. This was her true calling.”

But then the writer dropped the bomb that you knew had to be coming…

“Unfortunately after only teaching for three months, she was diagnosed with…”

You would expect the story to go straight to pathos from there, but it didn’t…

“To the surprise of everyone, in the summer of 2009, Annabelle’s longtime friendship with an amazing man, Tom Allen, turned romantic and eventually led to marriage in 2011.”

Talk about an unexpected twist…From the timing, it appears that Tom knew about the cancer before he got serious about her. If that’s the case, he gets the Kansas Citian of the Decade award.

The story continued in a positive vein, marginalizing the cancer and emphasizing the good times…

“Despite the bad luck with her health, Annabelle was proud to say that she and Tom had one of the greatest love stories of all time. Although no children of their own, Annabelle and Tom loved their nieces and nephew immensely and cherished their time they shared together.”

The obit writer then revealed that Annabelle had a hand in its preparation…

“Annabelle will be known for her impeccable organizational skills, quick wit (she wrote that) and enormous charm (she wrote that too).”

Inevitably, the elements of tragedy returned: Her survivors include both grandfathers and her paternal grandmother.

I once heard a saying that goes like this: “When your parents die, you lose your past; when your children die, you lose your future.” Imagine what it must be like for those grandparents to see Annabelle die in what should have been her prime.

Rounding out the story — before the reporting of the service time and place — the obit said…

“She is survived by her dashing husband, Tom; perfect mother, Christy; adorable sister, Margaret…talented brother, Brad…and so close to her heart, her nieces and nephew.”

Now there’s a story, readers, that should leave you emotionally drained but with a heart full of admiration for Annabelle and the family members who supported her.

As a KC Star reader, I want to applaud the obit writer for drawing a beautiful portrait of a beautiful woman who looked death in the face every day for five years and pushed ahead with good humor and incredible grace.


P.S. On this page, you can see a video of Annabelle talking about herself and her diagnosis.

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As most of you know, I would like to see a new, single terminal at Kansas City International Airport.

I say get rid of the gloomy, impractical terminals and let’s get a modern structure, where all passengers funnel through a common security point and then spread out into grid-like concourses.

But you know what? I’m pretty sure I’m not gonna get what I want. I’ve been around politics long enough to know that you can’t force an idea on a resistant majority.

I was the right side of that truism last fall, when Kansas City voters defeated a bizarre, business-backed proposal to give three medical institutions (St. Luke’s, Children’s Mercy and UMKC Med School) $1 billion of taxpayer money over 20 years. The proposed half-cent sales tax for translational medical research went down to an 84-16 percent defeat. I headed one of three campaign committees that worked against the proposal.

On another big issue, though, I’m on the minority side. It’s clear from the letters to the editor and the first of four public hearings on the future of KCI that the vast majority of Kansas Citians want to keep KCI pretty much like it is now. Maybe they will tolerate some improvements, but they won’t vote for a wholesale makover. And nothing significant is going to happen unless voters approve revenue bonds to pay for improvements.

Most members of the business community — some of the same folks who pushed for the medical-research tax — favor radical change at the airport. But the public has on its side the airline executives, who don’t want a new terminal because it would force them to raise fares to cover higher fees that would help pay for the improvements.


Our beloved locknut- and washer-shaped airline terminals

On Tuesday morning, representatives of a transportation consulting firm hired by the city shed little new light on the subject. The consulting firm told the KCI Terminal Advisory Committee that the airport had flexibility to increase revenue without big fare increases, but it didn’t unequivocally recommend construction of a new terminal.

So, everyone keeps pushing the ball up and down the court, with no one hitting a three-pointer.

The most interesting thing, to me, that came out of the consultant’s report is that KCI concession revenue ranked last among 20 airports that the consulting firm compared with KCI.

Now, just about everybody could have predicted that, but it’s nice to have solid proof that KCI is a damned wasteland as far as restaurants and retail are concerned. To me, that’s almost reason enough to trash the existing, pathetic terminals.

Again, however, I understand the power of a big wave of sentiment.

The Star’s Dave Helling expressed it very well, I thought, in a Nov. 15 column. He said that big changes require broad public support. As an example, he pointed to a one-vote margin by which a citizens task force recommended keeping KCPD under state control, instead of switching to local control. Even had it been a one-vote margin in the other direction — changing to local control — Helling suggested that wouldn’t have been enough to move ahead with such a significant change.

Applying the same reasoning to KCI, Helling said: “The only chance for a new terminal at KCI rests with an enthusiastic, grass-roots consensus on the need for such a project, assembled over many months, not on divided task forces…”

Now, here’s the twist to that column…As I scoured through The Star’s electronic library, looking for that particular column (which I distinctly remembered), I came across a Jan. 6 column that Helling wrote about KCI.

In that column, he said:

“Like lots of people, I spent time at our international airport over the holidays, picking up friends and family or dropping them off. I was struck by how uncrowded the airport seemed…and how its condition, either by accident or design, seems in decline.”

So, here’s the sad fact, fellow Kansas Citians and world travelers:  We have a shitty airport, and a big majority of people just love it…Love it! Wouldn’t have it any other way!

And the way things are going we’ll be stuck with this blue-ribbon pig for a long, long time.

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The situation surrounding application of the death penalty in Missouri is a total mess.

At least two guys on Death Row really deserve to die, but, at the same time, state officials have couriers running around with briefcases full of cash, apparently buying drugs secretly in Oklahoma to use in scheduled executions.

But state corrections department officials won’t talk about the drugs or where they are compounded, asserting that the compounding pharmacy could be in line for retaliation for assisting the state in carrying out the death sentences.

And, as state Sen. Rob Schaaf, a St. Joseph Republican, told The Star recently, “The secrecy means we can’t know whether we’re violating the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.”

As much as some of these guys deserve to die — and I’ll get to that in a minute — we are a civilized society, and we shouldn’t be killing people. As long as we continue to kill people, we at least shouldn’t be leaving them twisting and grimacing in pain before they give up their souls.

I know. A lot of people will say, “The sons of bitches are getting what they deserved; they didn’t show any mercy to the people they killed, so why should they get to die peacefully?”

But we know — deep down, we know — that that’s not right. We operate by the rule of law, and the state constitution obliges us not to subject even the most despicable offenders to cruel and unusual punishment. And there’s no arguing that inflicting an agonizing death is cruel and unusual punishment.


The two guys who are Nos. 1 and 2 on Kansas City’s “most despicable” list are Michael Taylor and Roderick Nunley. They are the guys who, in 1989, abducted 15-year-old Ann Harrison outside her Raytown home as she waited for her school bus. The only sign of her that remained after these two animals snatched her were a small stack of her school books, with her flute case sitting on top of the books.


Taylor (left) and Nunley

That photograph, which appeared in The Star (I couldn’t find it online), is seared in the memories of those of us who saw it. It stood as a powerful argument in favor of the death penalty. Nunley, now 48, and Taylor, now 47, took Ann to a home, raped her, then put her in the trunk of a car, stabbed her (each of them) and left her to bleed to death, alone, while her parents — Bob and Janelle Harrison — frantically awaited word of her whereabouts and what might have befallen her.

I’ve said before that I’m philosophically against the death penalty. The Fifth Commandment makes no exceptions, and a civilized society should not be in the business of taking a life for a life.

But there are cases like Ann Harrison’s — as well as that of Pamela Butler, the KCK girl who was abducted, raped and murdered in October 1999 — that make me throw aside my idealism and say, “Kill the bastards.”

In fact, Michael Taylor is set to be executed Feb. 26 at Potosi Correctional Center southwest of St. Louis.


Ann Harrison

As much as I’d like to see it take place, emotionally, it probably won’t. The Star’s story about the pharmacy issue said Taylor’s attorneys have asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a hearing on “the constitutionality of Missouri’s lethal injection protocol.”

The story went on to say: “The Supreme Court has instructed the state to respond to that petition by March 5.”

What does that sound like? Not like we’re going to be having a send-off party for Mr. Taylor this month, that’s for sure. And, as a matter of fact, both men faced earlier execution dates, but judges stayed the executions for one reason or another.


The situation is such a mess that the Missouri Department of Corrections looks worse than a crooked politician.

Today, corrections department director George Lombardi is scheduled to testify before the Missouri House of Representatives’ Committee on Government and Accountability. He would be asked about the pharmacy and the “killer cocktail” being prepared for Taylor.

Lombardi was scheduled to appear last month, though, and he canceled at the last minute. So, some representatives aren’t expecting much cooperation this time around.

One of those, state Rep. John Rizzo, a Kansas City Democrat, put the situation in context when he told The Star that litigation regarding the death penalty will continue “as long as the state keeps executing people.”



With the increasing questions being raised about the death penalty, as well as its underlying immorality, I think it’s time to abandon the eye-for-an-eye mindset and let these assholes like Taylor, Nunley and Keith Nelson Jr. (Pamela Butler’s killer) rot in prison.

If it’s aggravating to the public that these executions keep getting put off — years and even decades after the crimes — imagine how maddening it is for the parents and other close relatives of the victims.

I’m talking specifically about Bob and Janelle Harrison and Cherri West and Paul Butler, Pamela’s parents.

I think they’d be better able to get on with their lives if Nunley, Taylor and Nelson — and others like them — were just consigned to deep, dark holes behind thick walls and never heard from again, until they died.

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Today, with the inevitable, official news that Missouri Gas Energy employees were dilatory in checking for unsafe gas levels inside JJ’s restaurant last Feb. 19, I feel more sorrow than anger.


Megan Cramer

It has been almost a year now since the explosion that leveled the restaurant, inured 15 people and killed 46-year-old Megan Cramer, a server, who along with a few other employees, had remained in the restaurant despite the smell of gas.

Megan is gone, the restaurant is gone, and driving down Belleview, past 48th Street, is no longer a cause for neck craning.

But what remains, primarily, are the thoughts and guilt that must hound the MGE employees who were, obviously, too cavalier about the threat that day. A 125-page report released Thursday by the staff of the Missouri Public Commission says that more than half an hour elapsed between the time MGE workers arrived on the scene and any of them went into JJ’s and an adjacent building to check the gas levels.

In a story posted on The Star’s website this afternoon, reporter Mike Hendricks said: “When the readings showed that gas levels inside the buildings were at unsafe levels, gas workers told occupants to evacuate…but they did not see to it that everyone complied with that order. Firefighters who might have assisted in an evacuation had by then left the scene.”

It has been clear since the day this tragedy occurred that MGE was not the only entity that screwed up. A company called Heartland Midwest LLC, a Time Warner subcontractor, shares in the blame because its workers pierced a two-inch gas line that serviced JJ’s. (Heartland apparently was involved in the burying of communication lines that would serve the new Polsinelli building, which was in the final stages of construction, across 48th Street.)

Then, there was our own KCFD. Firefighters arrived on the scene shortly after the break was reported, but they left after MGE workers assured the firefighters that they had the situation under control. The next day, Mayor Sly James tried to whitewash the fire department’s shoulder shrugging by saying that the fire department “doesn’t do gas.”

That was just balderdash, and everybody knew it. A few weeks later Fire Chief Paul Berardi acknowledged the obvious but tried to make it sound like taking on gas would be a new wrinkle for the fire department. A KC Star story said:

“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.”

But I come back to the MGE employees. They made another fatal error that day: they failed to shut off the gas at what is called a “critical valve.” (There is some dispute over the practicality of shutting off the valve — see The Star’s story — but logic tells me the first thought should have been to turn it off, no matter how many people it inconvenienced.)

If the gas had been shut off, there’d have been no explosion. Instead the workers tried to vent the gas into the air. That didn’t clear the problem.

But most of all, they failed to check the gas level in JJ’s right away and then make sure everybody left the premises.

They (gotta think the responsibility falls on more than on person) were the ones who ultimately dropped the ball. They are the ones carrying the stinging awareness that Megan Cramer should still be walking among us here in Kansas City.

I’m sure they continue to wake up every morning and ask themselves why, in an inherently dangerous business, they dropped their guard on the afternoon of Feb. 19, 2013.

I don’t know what else to say. It was a terrible, terrible day in Kansas City history — not because of the level of damage or the number of lives lost, but for the catastrophic inaction in the face of real danger.

P.S. Overall, Mike Hendricks did a good job of reporting this story for The Star, but he made a careless, thoughtless oversight: He did not mention Megan Cramer by name. He said, “The Feb. 19, 2013, explosion killed one person, injured 15 and destroyed the building.” I think that every time The Star writes about this case, the reporter or editor should include Cramer’s name and age and consider using her photo. After all, this was only a great tragedy because of the loss of her life. Had she been the 16th person injured, with no loss of life, this story would not be nearly as big as it is. 

Kansas City can never forget Megan Cramer. May she rest in peace, and may God comfort her friends and family. 

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