For the legions of you (ahem) who are students of journalism, a mystery presented itself today on the Op-Ed page of The Kansas City Star.
Barb Shelly, one of six members of The Star’s editorial board, which decides what positions the paper takes on issues, had a commentary urging readers to vote “no” on Missouri Amendment 7 — the proposed 3/4 cent sales tax increase for transportation projects.
Shelly called Amendment 7 “terrible public policy” and closed her column with this:
“But whatever you decide, just know this: The Missouri legislature (by putting Amendment 7 on the ballot) tossed its integrity under the wheels of a big rig this session, and support for Amendment 7 allows (legislature) members to avoid any consequences.”
That’s pretty strong and persuasive language. And yet…And yet, a couple of weeks ago The Star came out editorially in favor of Amendment 7.
A good friend who reads the paper religiously texted me this morning, saying: “Why did Barbara Shelly come out against when The Star was for?”
Indeed, that is mysterious.
Compounding the mystery is this: A few weeks ago, another editorial board member, Lewis Diuguid wrote a highly critical piece about Amendment 7. In that article, Diuguid noted that Missouri “has one of the lowest fuel taxes in the country,” and added: “The sales tax is regressive and hurts low-income residents the most.”
Besides Shelly and Diuguid, the other board members are Yael Abouhalkah, Steve Paul, publisher Mi-Ai Parrish and editorial page editor Miriam Pepper.
…I have to deviate just a moment here because the Amendment 7 mystery unfolded against the backdrop of a major personnel change on the editorial page. Today, Friday, Aug. 1, is Pepper’s last day at the paper. She has taken a buyout, and yesterday she got a newsroom send-off, complete with speeches and cake, I trust. Pepper’s name should go off the masthead tomorrow morning. Meanwhile, none other than Barb Shelly will be the interim editorial page editor.
In an effort to get to the bottom of the Amendment 7 mystery, I first put in a call to Pepper and left a message. (Didn’t hear back.) I then called Steve Paul, the newest editorial-board member, and he said, “Have you talked to Barb?” That’s all he had to say.
So, I called Shelly, and, very graciously, she explained the reasoning behind the endorsement. She did not go into how the individual board members may have voted, if indeed there was a vote. (It might well have been done by consensus.)
As I suspected (and wrote in an earlier post), Kansas City Question A — the proposed streetcar expansion — played a major role in the board’s decision on Amendment 7.
“We do, as a board, strongly support the streetcar (expansion) and mass transit,” Shelly said. “It is time for Kansas City to get a mass transit system.”
The board members discussed Amendment 7 — and Question A — several times, she said, and ultimately concluded that, collectively, they would swallow their significant reservations about Amendment 7 and endorse it in hopes that the endorsement would boost Question A with voters.
“That was the overriding factor,” Shelly said.
The tie-in with Question A is that state officials have agreed to divert $144 million of the Amendment 7, sales-tax money to help pay for the streetcar system and development of a MAX bus route on Prospect. The payment is conditioned, of course, on voter approval of both Amendment 7 and a new sales tax for the expanded streetcar line.
It was clear to me even before talking to Shelly that the editorial board members wrestled mightily with their decision. And Shelly confirmed that.
“We had spirited discussions, and we were rather conflicted about it,” she said.
As I said, Shelly didn’t say how the individual board members voted or even if a vote was taken. She did say that Parrish, the publisher, did not exert a dominant voice, as she could have, in the debate.
So, here’s my guess on how the vote — or at least the tilt — went.
“Yes” to endorse Amendment 7: Pepper, Abouhalkah, Paul.
“No”: Shelly, Diuguid.
Here’s my prediction: On Tuesday, Missouri voters will overwhelmingly side with Shelly and Diuguid.