Archive for January, 2015

A new and unexpected villain has emerged in the sordid story of the UMKC business school individuals who fabricated and cheated in order to get the school acclaimed as one of the best in the country.

It’s none other than the man after whom the business school is named — Henry W. Bloch, co-founder of the tax-preparation giant H&R Block.

The school was named for Bloch, now 92 years old, after he gave UMKC $32 million to build it on the UMKC campus.

The lead story in today’s Kansas City Star says that Bloch “valued rankings as affirmation for the school that bore his name.”

The story quotes a 2011 email in which then-Bloch school dean Teng-Kee Tan pushed business school administrators to raise the school’s standing in the Princeton Review rankings to impress Bloch. Tan wrote:

“Henry Bloch gets very upset when our rankings go down. We must do everything we can to increase it when we can by all means necessary.”



In July, when The Star originally broke the story about the Bloch school having cheated to get inflated and undeserved rankings among the nation’s business schools, Mr. Bloch — through no fault of The Star — got a pass.

In an interview before the initial story was published, Bloch told The Star that absent top rankings, he doubted that he would have written checks worth millions of dollars to the university.

“No, I don’t think I would have,” he said.

That made him sound like his hands were clean. Little did we know, however, that his desire for high rankings — and wider recognition of the Bloch name, probably — played a major role in his benevolence.


Today’s story is a follow-up to the original expose that Star reporters Mike Hendricks and Mara Rose Williams broke last July. In its wake, the MU Board of Curators commissioned an investigative audit, which was conducted by the international accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The two biggest goats in the original Star story were Tan, the aforementioned former Bloch school dean, and professor Michael Song, who formerly headed the school’s innovation management research department.





In July, it wasn’t clear why Tan set the tone for cheating, but with the release of the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, it is. Tan’s guiding philosophy, it seems, was, “We’ve got to do right by Mr. Bloch.”

Song, among other things, edited and may have helped write a “scholarly” article for a publication that ended up rating the Bloch school No. 1 in the nation in innovation management. Just as outrageously, at the time the article was written, its two main authors were visiting scholars (unpaid), at the Bloch School. (They had worked with Song elsewhere previously.)

The rankings put the Bloch school above such competing programs as Harvard, Stanford and MIT.

For their initial story in July, Hendricks and Williams conducted an off-the-record interview (understandably) with a professor who said he and his colleagues were skeptical even as the study’s results were announced.

“We all knew that this was bullshit,” he said. “We knew that UMKC was not better than MIT and Stanford.”

Amazingly, Song remains on the Bloch school staff…Whatever it took, steps should have been taken months ago to get him fired, regardless of what kind of legal standing he’s got at the school.


This whole thing is very sordid and reprehensible. Here are the main points:

:: Tan created an unethical atmosphere by succumbing to the pressure of Henry Bloch’s presence and pressure.

:: Song was simply a crooked self-promoter.

:: Mr. Bloch should have given the money for the building and stayed out of the way. If the school had won big awards and rankings on its merits, great, if not, it still would have been a fine institution that Kansas Citians and Missourians could be proud of. But now it’s dug itself into a deep hole.


A good friend of mine and a top Kansas City civic leader, Anita Gorman, was very irritated when The Star published the first story in July. She faulted The Star, not the cheaters, contending, essentially, that The Star did a disservice to the community and UMKC by airing the Bloch school’s dirty laundry.

Of course, Anita was way off the mark, and I told her so, saying, “You cannot blame the messenger; the individuals were at fault.”

Once Anita has made up her mind, it’s hard to dissuade her, and I haven’t talked to her recently. I hope that today’s story changes her perspective. I’ll let you know what I hear.


Congratulations again to Mike Hendricks and Mara Rose Williams…A finer piece of investigative journalism would be hard to find. They have done Kansas City and, in the long run, UMKC, a big service by exposing a shocking and disturbing situation.

It’s time for UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton to fully acknowledge the wrongdoing and start the process of plucking UMKC and the Bloch school out of the mud and moving ahead with renewed integrity.

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There’s been another round of buyout/layoffs at The Star, I understand.

I don’t have it first hand — just don’t have any sources down there any more — but I get information from people who used to work there and remain in close contact with some of their former colleagues.

There have been several rounds of layoffs and buyouts since the mid-2000s, and, of course, this is a trend that has affected all major dailies, ever since readers and advertisers began defecting en masse to the Internet.

Let’s put The Star in perspective. In a recent piece on his Newsonomics blog, newspaper authority Ken Doctor wrote this:

“How big a hole is the U.S. daily newspaper industry in?

“We know the toll in newsroom jobs — about 20,000 lost in a little under a decade — and the fact that the industry as a whole took in about $26 billion less in 2014 than it did a decade earlier.”

Twenty-six billion less revenue between 2004 and 2014!! That says it all, doesn’t it?

…Anyway, my source — a good one — gave me this lineup of editorial employees who are out, or on the way out, as of this week.

Each of these employees is over 60, I feel sure.  

:: Alice Thorson, art critic in the Features Department. Thorson, a prolific writer, has been at the paper just short of 25 years. Although she’s been prolific, this is not a major loss, from my personal perspective. The Star’s arts and features coverage has been going downhill for decades. In my opinion — keep in mind I go back to the late 60s and early 70s — the decline began when The Star’s great architecture critic Donald Hoffman (I’m sure some of you remember him) took a buyout in 1990. When Hoffman left, I quit reading the arts section; it just didn’t hold any more interest for me. Don went on to write books, including several on Frank Lloyd Wright and some of the outstanding homes he designed.

KCUR has also weighed in on Thorson’s layoff. Reporter Laura Spencer quoted Kathy Lu, the features department editor as saying The Star was not abandoning arts criticism; that it would continue to work with freelance writers. Apparently overcome by candor — and perhaps disenchantment — Lu added, however, that Star readers “will probably not see as much” arts criticism…Once you get to a certain point in layoffs — and The Star is years past that — it’s futile to try to sell the “less is better” pitch. It’s unvarnished failure.

:: Steve Everly, energy reporter on the business desk. This is a huge loss. Everly has had many ground-breaking stories, including the blockbuster expose several years ago on “hot fuel” — retailers selling gasoline and diesel without adjusting the volume for temperature. (You don’t get your money’s worth in hot climates because the fuel expands.) As badly as I feel about Everly’s departure, I understand he’s had some health problems, so this is the right time for him to step aside.



Everly’s loss has deeper implications for the paper. A decade or so ago, The Star had a powerful stable of more than 20 business-side reporters and editors. Now, it’s a broken-down barn — sorry to say and no offense to the capable folks who remain — consisting of three reporters and three editors. The reporters are Diane Stafford, Mark Davis and Joyce Smith. The editors are Keith Chrostowski, Greg Hack and Steve Rosen. In all fairness, each of those editors either does some reporting or writes a column, in addition to their editing chores.

Adding insult to injury, Star Business Weekly, a Tuesday institution for more than 20 years, is folding. Little wonder: Over the years it’s gone from as many as 48 tabloid pages per week to eight…Oh, and don’t hold your breath waiting for The Star to apprise us readers of Business Weekly’s demise; in all likelihood, it just won’t be there one Tuesday when you open the paper.

:: Randy Covitz, longtime sports writer. Randy has been an all-purpose reporter throughout his career. For several years, he had the Chiefs “beat.” Although never a standout, he’s always been reliable and very productive.




rob perschau


:: Rob Perschau, the newsroom’s Information Technology expert. Without Rob’s help, scores of Star reporters and editors would have had to turn to manual labor because they couldn’t have made the transition from the IBM Selectric typewriter to the desktop computer. (I’m squarely in that group.) Rob is a former business reporter who jumped to IT at the dawn of the difficult changeover to computers in the newsroom. He’s an absolute wizard, as well as one of the nicest and most patient guys you’ll ever meet. I have to think he will be sorely missed.

Presiding over The Star’s emaciation is publisher Mi-Ai Parrish. I can’t criticize her too much because she’s simply carrying out commands — and hitting budget lines — coming out of McClatchy Inc. corporate offices in Sacramento. (McClatchy bought the Star and about 20 other Knight Ridder papers after the Knight Ridder chain put itself up for sale in 2006. (I retired at precisely the time that sale closed.)



I have said before, however, that I am very disappointed in Parrish’s lack of leadership and particularly in her total lack of interest in trying to rebuild The Star’s corporate and civic profile. Along with other large local companies, the paper used to sponsor various arts organizations and big artistic events, and I, for one, always took great pride in seeing our name up there with the likes of Hallmark, Sprint, Burns & McDonnell, HNTB and others.

Yet, even with all the employee losses, the shrinking news hole and the bursting golden-egg of print advertising, The Star remains, by far, the most powerful news-gathering organization between St. Louis and Denver. Yes, it is better than the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Denver Post.

That said, the downward spiral is extremely discouraging to those of us who plied our trade at 18th and Grand for many years and loved being part of something that seemed magical when we plucked the paper off the front yard the next morning.

So, to those who are leaving the paper, best of luck to you. I know you’ll be happier and healthier in retirement or going on to something else.

To those of you who are staying and continuing to toil in unenviable circumstances, thank you, thank you, thank you. Hundreds of thousands of readers continue to reap the benefits of the great work you do every day.

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Finn’s Final Folly?

A very contentious project, initiated and being pushed by a very controversial person, got a very cool reception last night at a public hearing at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, 52nd and Troost.

Three years after it was broached, this project — a proposed four-story apartment building aimed at Catholic students attending Rockhurst College and the University of Missouri-Kansas City — is coming together and moving very close to review by the City Plan Commission and the City Council.

A scaled-down plan will be submitted to the city Friday, with a hearing before the City Plan Commission to be held as soon as March 17. (The Plan Commission, city residents who are appointed to their posts, is an advisory board. The 13-member City Council has the final say.)

What has made this project extremely controversial and brimming with drama is that its main proponent is none other than lightning-rod bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph — Robert Finn, the only U.S. Bishop convicted in the long-running clergy sex-abuse scandal.

In the eyes of many, the project is as tenuous as Finn’s hold on his job.

Finn did not attend the hearing but sent three representatives, including diocesan chancellor Rev. Ken Riley.

Also on hand was an attorney representing the diocese and a top official with the construction firm that would build the 85-unit facility, which would consist primarily of two- three- and four-bedroom suites. (The building would have 237 beds — each tenant would have his or her own bedroom, and the developer says it would need about 213 students, to break even.)  

About 125 people attended the hearing, held in the sanctuary of the fish-shaped church.


During the two-hour meeting, people in the pews asked a variety of questions, including:

What would happen if the project proceeds and later failed because it didn’t appeal to enough prospective tenants? (Answer: The diocese would be on the hook for at least “some” of the financing.)

Who would monitor student conduct? (Answer: The property manager.)

Would the parish be guaranteed that it could use the former school gym — a separate building that is scheduled to be converted to conference space — as its parish hall? (Answer: Yes, but it could be used for tenant meetings, too.)


Now, here’s the backdrop, where the spaghetti gets even more rubbery.

In some ways, this would seem to be an easy notch in the belt for the diocese. The diocese owns the church property, including the former school building that would be razed to make way for the apartment building. At four stories, the building would not be as tall as the church, so neighbors wouldn’t have to worry about a skyscraper on Troost. And something needs to be done with the school building, which was closed about eight years ago as the parish elementary school.

However, strong undercurrents are at work here, and the vast majority of parishioners and area residents appear to be adamantly opposed.

First, while the diocese owns the church and all the grounds, this is the only parish in the diocese that is run by Jesuit priests, who do not answer directly to the diocese. They answer to the Jesuit hierarchy. Priests at St. Francis Xavier are not assigned and reassigned by the bishop, as is the case with all other 95 or so parishes in the diocese; instead they are assigned by the Jesuit “provincial” in St. Louis.

By dint of its Jesuit connection, St. Francis Xavier appeals to a very independent breed of Catholics. In general, parishioners are antagonistic to Bishop Finn; they do not kowtow to his conservative beliefs, such as his strident opposition to abortion, and they don’t like it when the bishop hands down arbitrary directives. Several years ago, for example, he put a stop to a former pastor’s egalitarian custom of coming down from the altar and walking up and down the aisles shaking hands with people during the “Kiss of Peace” after the “Our Father.” (Parishioners responded by filing up the steps to the altar and shaking hands with the pastor in his “aerie,” where Finn thought he should remain to maintain the line between clergy and “the faithful.”)

Second, some opponents of the project — including a significant number of the influential 49-63 Neighborhood Coalition members — are extremely worried that the project will be a bust. Many parishioners, especially, believe that the apartment will be marketed primarily to conservative Catholics of Finn’s ilk. And they wonder if there will be enough of that type of students to make the project successful. If it flops, they fear, the neighborhood and the diocese would be stuck with a white elephant. They also fear that this already-hard-strapped diocese could tumble deeper into financial distress and end up forcing the diocese to cut diocesan jobs and/or pensions.

The third and strongest undercurrent working against the project is that it is creeping ahead in the long shadow of Bishop Finn’s criminal record. As noted above, Finn is the only American bishop to have been convicted of a crime in connection with the priest sexual abuse scandal that has tarnished and enervated the Catholic Church worldwide for about three decades.


Bishop Finn

Finn, of course, was convicted on a misdemeanor charge of failing to report child sexual abuse in the case where former priest Shawn Ratigan (who’s now doing 50 years in prison) took hundreds of “upskirt” photos of young girls at his Northland parish.

Lurking above and around the student-housing controversy, like oppressive humidity on a deep summer’s day, is the fact that it seems likely Finn will no longer be the bishop within a matter of weeks or months. Pope Francis has been reviewing the case and sent a Canadian archbishop here last fall to investigate the issue of Finn’s leadership. (Personally, I think Finn’s hourglass is down to its last few grains of sand.)

As one parishioner, former KC Star reporter Kevin Collison, pointedly noted at tonight’s hearing, the housing project is “really only one man’s vision.”

Collison didn’t say this, but I suspect he and many other opponents are wondering what would happen if Finn’s successor didn’t take kindly to the project…Suppose he, the successor, thought the $15 to $16 million going into the project could be spent better elsewhere. But once plans are approved, papers signed, revenue bonds issued and dirt turned — opponents are wondering — could the project be halted?

The distinct fear is the project could go down as Finn’s final folly.


Here are some of the facts and figures about the proposal:

:: Name of the proposed building — Bellarmino Catholic Center, named after Italian Jesuit cardinal St. Robert Bellarmine, who lived in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

:: Developer — Domus Development of Dallas. According to its website, Domus “has spent the past ten years specifically concentrating on student housing, both university-owned and privately-owned, for the largest student living developers in the country.”


Tri-North’s Steve Harms

:: Contractor — Tri-North Builders, with headquarters outside Madison, Wisconsin. Tri-North is a 34-year-old firm with offices in several cities, including Dallas. Steve Harms, Tri-North’s director of pre-construction services, was the main presenter at last night’s meeting.

:: Estimated price tag: $15 million to $16 million.

:: Size — four stories containing 85 units and 237 bedrooms.

:: Rent prices — $700 to $1,200 per student, depending on unit type.


Note: Patty and I were members of St. Francis Xavier (I call it the Catholic church of last resort) for several years, until we left in the late 2000s. We loved the community, but we could no longer take the Catholic Church’s policies, especially on married priests (forget it) and women priests (don’t even think about it)…In addition, Bishop Finn’s meddling and myopic management style was suffocating. Later, like everyone else, we saw his sinister side.

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Byron Thompson and his late wife Jeanne were extremely blessed. They had a good marriage, 11 children, and Byron was very successful in business, first working at United Missouri Bank (now UMB) and later founding and running Country Club Bank, which has grown to 20 branches in Kansas and Missouri.

They also had (and Byron still has) a beautiful brick and stone house — with tennis court — on the south edge of Loose Park.

For years, at least from arm’s length, the Thompsons were the perfect family, with about all the comforts and privileges that anyone could want or need.

But, as we all know, there are no guarantees that any really good situation is going to last indefinitely. Every day, every hour, presents risks for all of us, and only the luckiest among us evade tragedy. And even if we do, we all experience pain in the course of our lives.

The Thompsons? Well, as fate would have it, tragedy and pain came by the bucket load.

First, on Halloween night in 1986, daughter Amy, who was in her 20s, was shot in the neck during a bizarre robbery attempt in which the robber got into the back seat of a car in which Amy and some other young people were sitting. Chaos broke out in the car, and the robber — a young kid, as I recall — fired a shot that struck Amy, sitting in the driver’s seat, in the neck.

That occurred in either the 5000 or 5100 block of either Baltimore or Wyandotte, just a few blocks west of the house where Patty and I were living, 5103 Grand. The incident shocked the neighborhood; it shocked Visitation Parish, where the Thompsons were members and where their kids attended grade school; and it shocked much of Kansas City.

The gunshot inflicted severe neurological damage and left Amy wheelchair bound and with limited ability to communicate.

…Anyone who was a member of Visitation in the 80s, including me, knew or knew of the Thompson family. I did not meet Amy before the shooting, but I vividly recall seeing her one evening at the old Milgram store at 50th and Main. I was leaving the store and she was coming in with a couple of other girls. My attention immediately fixed on Amy because she was tall, gorgeous and speaking and gesturing with eyes ablaze with animation and enthusiasm. That scene stuck with me because it represented a captivating moment frozen in time.



After the shooting, Amy lived on for about three years. But then, in 1989, she died…died, as I understand it, choking on her own mucous because the gunshot had robbed her of her coughing reflex.

That would have been more than enough pain and tragedy for the Thompson family. But, unfortunately, there was much more.



On Feb. 21, 1989 — 10 months before Amy died — another of the Thompson children, 22-year-old Tricia, suffered irreparable brain damage when a drunk driver plowed into the side of the car where Tricia was a passenger. Her head banged against a solid part of the interior, maybe the window frame or perhaps the window itself.

Tricia was in a coma for a year, and for the following 25 years she was “unable to talk, walk, eat or act in any way on her own behalf.”

The words inside those quotes came from Tricia’s obituary, which appeared Saturday in The Star. She died last Wednesday at age 48, having been able to actually go about living less than half her life.


In 2003, Jeanne Thompson, who suffered from multiple sclerosis, died after a medical procedure. (Byron later married Visitation widow named Joan McGee, whose husband had been a principal in the Old American Insurance Co., which in 1991 became part of Kansas City Life Insurance Co.)

The rest of the Thompsons, including Byron, have carried on resolutely and, I might add, prosperously. Byron, I’m pretty sure, still goes to work, at the bank’s corporate headquarters, Ward Parkway and Main. It appears from the bank’s website that four of the remaining nine children — Mary O’Connor and Paul, Mark and Tim Thompson — are bank executives.

But you don’t measure this family’s success by money or business prominence. You measure it by how they have endured and dealt with the incredible pain and tragedy that they have carried with them every day the last 28-plus years, since Halloween 1986.

Let me quote a few passages — from Tricia’s obit and from an article in today’s Kansas City Star — that illustrate how the family has continued pushing through its grief.

From the obit:

“Words cannot express our gratitude for the care provided Tricia by many while in her most compromised state. The love shown to the part of Tricia that remained earthbound, in a shell that so diminished her for these many years, made this time as bearable and pleasant for her as possible.”


Mary O’Connor

Mary O’Connor in today’s KC Star story:

“There is an old line: The things you spend your time worrying about are not the things that end up turning your world upside down.” 



Byron Thompson, from the Star article:

“…I am a very blessed man because of my family. All the injuries didn’t bring them together. They were that way before. It just added some togetherness.”

Again, Mary O’Connor, from the story:

“Everyone has their pain, Everyone has their suffering. Who are we? Not worthy of the attention other than the fact that the two girls were hurt so closely together. We are more than humbled.”

…I’ll tell you, readers: We are damn lucky to have the Thompson family in our midst. Lucky to be able to look toward them and see how it is possible to carry on — faithfully, arm in arm — in the grip of almost incomparable pain and suffering. It is we who are humbled by them.


Note: A huge tip of the hat to The Star’s Eric Adler, one of the very best down at 18th and Grand, for his piece on the Thompsons. Eric had the good sense to frame the story and then let the Thompsons build it with their words.

Note 2: A quick anecdote about Mark Thompson, a bank vice president. I’ve been a Country Club customer for many years, and I’ve known Mark for many years. On an icy Saturday morning in December 2007, I fell and broke my ankle in the parking lot of the Trafficway branch, as I walked toward the front door of the bank. The injury required surgery and a plate. Later, I told Mark what had happened and he authorized the bank to cover the $5,000 deductible amount on my insurance policy.

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First, the good news: Friday’s post about the Shawnee gun-shop robbery and murder was my 500th since starting the blog on March 23, 2010.

It’s been very gratifying, and I appreciate your readership and comments. Comments are the lifeblood of many blogs, including this one, and I’ve been lucky to have been spared, for the most part, of trolls, those Internet provocateurs who can make a blog virtually unreadable.

The blog has enabled me to keep my hand in writing and reporting; it’s the column I never had during my 36-plus years at The Star. A former Star editor named Mike Davies once offered me the opportunity to write a Metro column, but I turned him down, mainly because the prospect of coming up with three good column ideas a week and then producing three good columns a week was incredibly daunting.

My hat is off to the columnists around the country who accept that challenge (at most papers it’s down to two a week) and work their butts off to keep their columns fresh and interesting.


Many of you probably haven’t noticed, but there’s a lot going on over in our cross-state sister city of St. Louis.

I keep up with St. Louis a bit more than the average person for three main reasons: we have some good friends over there; our daughter Brooks spent many months in that area last year; and I’ve always liked to keep an eye on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the first big paper where I applied for a reporting job. That was back in 1969, when I was hired at The Star. I just missed getting a job at the P-D (I wasn’t quite aggressive enough in my interview with the editor), but I have no regrets. Kansas City has been very good to me.

Anyway, here are three St. Louis highlights I thought might interest you.

:: You’ve noticed, of course, the recent upswing in violent crime in the Kansas City area, highlighted (or low lighted) by the Shawnee gun-shop robbery. Well, St. Louis has got plenty of its own problems.

Within a space of about 12 hours last Wednesday night and Thursday morning, St. Louis recorded six homicides. The most shocking was the fatal shooting of 50-year-old Scott Knopfel, the night manager of a Drury Inn & Suites at I-44 and Hampton Avenue.



Knopfel, who had worked at the hotel for three years, buzzed in a man he thought was a customer at about 2:50 a.m. Thursday, only to have the guy pull a gun, vault over the counter and proceed to go for the cash. Unfortunately, Knopfel resisted, and the robber shot him in the head during a struggle.

The robbery was caught on hotel cameras — which, I guess, almost everyone but the robber realized are commonplace in hotels — and a suspect has been arrested.

…This case was of more than passing interest to me because Patty and I stayed there several times last year when we went over to visit Brooks. It is an excellent hotel — as most Drurys are — and I recall speaking with Knopfel at least once when we arrived very late. He was friendly, engaging and easy going. My thoughts and prayers go out to Scott’s family.

:: It appears very likely that Stan Kroenke, billionaire owner of the St. Louis Rams, is getting ready to move the Rams to Los Angeles. Kroenke, a Missouri native and a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, recently unveiled a plan to build, with his own money, a stadium in Inglewood, Calif.



The stadium would pave the way for him to return the Rams to the Los Angeles area after a two-decade absence. Currently, the Rams are on a year-to-year- lease with St. Louis, so pulling up stakes in St. Louis would be no problem for Kroenke.

This would be the second NFL team to depart St. Louis. The first was the St. Louis Cardinals, which moved to Arizona in 1988.

I don’t watch much pro football any more, mainly because of recent studies showing that 28 percent of NFL players will go on to develop early-onset dementia or other neurological problems, but I am glad we have a stable franchise in the Chiefs. When pro football fades away in 50 to 100 years, I would like to see the Chiefs go out as the Kansas City Chiefs, not the Memphis Chiefs or the Louisville Chiefs.

:: Multimillionaire St. Louis resident Rex Sinquefield is trying to buy the governor’s office in 2016 and — just to make sure he’s got his bases covered — the lieutenant governor’s office as well. Sinquefield’s golden-years’ goal is to eliminate Missouri’s income tax and replace it largely with higher sales taxes. In trying to eliminate the income tax, he is linking arms with Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, whose income-tax cuts are running our left-border state into the ground.



A story in Sunday’s Post-Dispatch said that in December Sinquefield contributed $1 million to Republican Bev Randles, a Kansas City lawyer who is exploring a 2016 campaign for lieutenant governor. The story said, “It is apparently the single biggest donation to any candidate by an individual donor in Missouri history.”

Also last year, Sinquefield gave $900,000 to 2016 GOP gubernatorial candidate Catherine Hanaway. Another $100,000 came from a Sinquefield-backed group. Some of the money came in $10,000-a-week donations in November and December.

Nice allowance, eh?

So, fellow Missourians, whatever you do, DO NOT vote for Catherine Hanaway or Bev Randles next year.

I would vote for convicted felons for governor and lieutenant governor before I would vote for candidates bought and paid for by a man who wants to shift the burden of financing state government to middle- and lower-income people.

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Gayle, a loyal reader and regular commenter, noted on my last post — about a recent trip that Patty and I took to Florida — that I had missed some big news stories while I was gone.

One of those was the Shawnee gun shop shootout, which left shop owner Jon Bieker dead.

Coincidentally, a day later, my friend and fellow blogger Hearne Christopher called and asked if I would do a piece for his KCconfidential.com blog about the robbery and shooting.

I agreed to do it, even though I hadn’t gone back and read the news stories about the incident. I was going mostly on what I had heard and what Hearne told me about it.

My story ran on Hearne’s website today.

Since some of you, perhaps most of you, aren’t regular KCconfidential readers, I would like to post that story here — if, for no better reason, than to show Gayle that I wasn’t ignoring one of the most shocking crime stories our area has seen in years.

So, here’s that post:


I was out of town when the Shawnee gun shop robbery and shootout took place, and I didn’t go back and read the news stories about it. From reading Hearne’s and Rich Steele’s pieces on KCconfidential, however, I see that store owner Jon Bieker’s decision to emerge from a back room during the robbery has come under close scrutiny. I’m sure that many members of the public have put themselves in his position and thought about what they would have done.

Hearne has asked me to weigh in on this, and because I’m like him – a former reporter – I am willing to offer an opinion on just about anything. (When we were at The Star, we had to repress our opinions and approach everything with fairness and even handedness in mind.)

At any rate…I don’t pretend to possess the Wisdom of Solomon on this, but I would put my chips somewhere between Hearne’s position that Bieker should have stayed in the back room and Steele’s assertion that Bieker did the right thing by coming out.

Certainly, Bieker did the right thing by coming out. It would have been a cowardly husband, indeed, who remained ensconced in the back room while his wife was getting robbed up front. In addition, I think it’s likely, as Steele propounds, that Becky Bieker got struck in the head with a weapon before the shooting started.

Once the bullets started flying, any means of attack short of firepower would have gone out the window.

But here’s where I differ from Steele: Just as it’s logical to presume that Becky Bieker was struck before the shooting began, it’s just as logical to assume that her husband emerged from the back either pointing a gun or shooting one. 

That was, in all likelihood, his fatal mistake.

Yes, of course, he should have come out. But putting myself in his shoes, my first thought would have been to cooperate. A lifetime of having been advised not to resist people pointing weapons at me would have told me to come out slowly, with my hands up and palms facing forward. I would like to think I would have said, “OK, we’re not making any trouble for you. Take whatever you want — guns, money and anything else — and, please, be on your way.”

Unfortunately, being a gun owner and gun carrier, Jon Bieker wasn’t conditioned to accommodating robbers.

To me, that’s where the pro-gun, National Rifle Association philosophy that gun carrying makes for a safer society (because you have the means to get the bad guy before he gets you) falls completely apart.

We’ve all heard the tired and lame NRA refrain, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

Last Friday’s incident puts the lie to that mantra. We can all understand Becky Bieker’s devastation at the loss of her husband, but her statement that “he saved my life because he carried a firearm” is, sorry to say, totally off base.

If that incident had taken place in a hobby store or a hardware store and there were no guns around, other than those in the hands of the perps, in all likelihood no one would have died.

As a police official told Hearne, “Most of the time, they (armed robbers) are just going to rob you and be on their way.”

Given the setting – a gun store — and given Jon Bieker’s predilection for taking up arms, gunplay was almost a foregone conclusion. He probably lost his life — and could have cost his wife hers — because of his philosophy and because he was packing.


Please feel free to comment, if you have thoughts about the piece.

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Patty and I just returned from the Tampa area today after a five-day vacation with two other couples, including Patty’s sister Vicky and her husband Mark. The occasion for the trip was Vicky’s 60th birthday.

We stayed about 60 miles south of Tampa on a finger of land called Anna Maria Island. Temperatures were in the 50s and 60s last Thursday and Friday, our first two days, but jumped up into the 70s on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

I made it to the beach once, as I recall, and that’s about my quota. Don’t get me wrong, it was beautiful, with that fine, white sand that I haven’t seen anywhere other than along the Gulf of Mexico, and stunning sunsets. But I’m just not a beach person. With my fair, Irish skin, I just burn and peel when exposed to the sun (without sunscreen), and the beach doesn’t hold much allure for me.

Instead, I played golf twice (another member of our group joined me once) and went to the Tampa Bay Downs thoroughbred track one day.

As usual when I fly into fairly large cities, I scoped out the airport, and Tampa International is certainly a jewel.

It’s got wide concourses that are illuminated by natural light that pours through the tall, glass, airside windows. It’s clean and modern-looking, and there are plenty of bars, restaurants and retail shops.

The airport handled 16.9 million passengers in 2013, making it the 31st busiest airport in the country. (KCI, by comparison handles nine to 11 million passengers per year.) A $1 billion expansion that will increase the Tampa facility’s capacity to 25 million a year recently got underway.

In 2007 and 2008, Zagat Survey ranked Tampa International the “Best Overall U.S. Airport,” while placing it second best overall in 2009 and 2010.

Why do I bring this up? You know…because KCI compares so miserably to almost all other major cities’ airports. I’ve said this for the last year or so, KCI is a dark, dingy dump. It’s time to renovate and expand, and the sooner we do it, the better off Kansas City is going to be.

But, anyway…here are some photos that I hope you will enjoy.


Our group — not including me — on the beach at Anna Maria Island. That’s Patty on the right and Vicky next to her.


A languid wave rolls in at sunset.


The Bali Hai Resort, where we stayed.


It’s a low bar as far as expectations on Anna Maria.


We had company on Manatee Golf Course.



The horses approached the starting gate for a turf race at Tampa Bay Downs.


Tampa International, with its gleaming floors, wide concourses and varied food options.


…and, of course, a nice selection of shops.



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While waiting on pins and needles for more results in our I-70 survey — to toll or not to toll — we motor on.

Here are a couple of items hot off The Star’s website.

:: The Star’s Tony Rizzo had a very interesting online story today (it will be in the printed edition tomorrow), reporting that the driver of the 18-wheeler that 24-year-old Shante Hopkins’ car on Interstate 435 last month “did not brake or attempt evasive action.”


Shante Hopkins

From the time I read about this horrible crash — which took the lives of Hopkins, three of her four children and a friend of hers — I wondered how in the hell the truck driver could just plow into Hopkins’ car, which had apparently slowed to a stop, or near stop just north of the Eastwood Trafficway exit. She was southbound in the far right lane. Authorities are still investigating what caused her car to lose speed dramatically.

Rizzo’s story doesn’t shed any light on what might have been going on in the cab of the truck, which a 56-year-old Minnesota man was driving. But a Kansas City Police Department preliminary report says the driver had a “straight line-of-sight to the car” and “neither adjusted his speed nor altered his course in order to avoid the collision.”

…I’m having trouble comprehending that. What the hell was the driver doing? Was he texting? Was he masturbating? Was he watching TV? What the f___?

Rizzo reported that the driver did not appear to police to be impaired and that he tested negative for d.u.i. In addition, the police department’s commercial motor vehicle investigation section inspected the truck and found nothing awry.

I hate to say it but this could simply be a case of “big-truck syndrome” (a condition I just came up with) where some big-rig drivers are convinced they own the road and that everybody else should just “get out of my way.” We’ve all seen it, and we’ve all been subjected to their hurry-up tactics.

If that is the case, then what this driver might have done was simply roll up on Hopkins’ car with the intention of goosing her along a bit, thinking she would just put the pedal to the metal and move out.

I gotta tell you, that’s my theory: The Hopkins crew was done in by a trucker who fancied himself king of the road and didn’t really give a shit about the little maroon Mazda he was barreling toward.

:: The Star also reported today that the former Metcalf South Shopping Center “will most likely become a mixed-use destination, featuring retail, dining, office space and multi-family living.”

That’s what a development company, Lane4 Property group, told the Overland Park City Council Monday night. Lane4 and the Kroenke Group bought the property last February, and the two companies have been researching possible uses for the center, which has only one big store left — Sears, at the south end of the center.

I hope it works out. I always found the mall to be accessible, and parking was no problem. I shopped periodically at Macy’s and still shop at Sears, and I occasionally go to movies at the Glenwood Arts Theatre on the back side of the center.

Too bad the Glenwood is closing. Brothers Brian and Ben Mossman, who operate the theater, often screen outstanding independently produced films that you can’t see anywhere else, except at another of their theaters. (After the Glenwood closes, they’ll be down to two, the Rio and the Leawood.) Lane4 might bring in a movie theater, but it will probably be one of the big theater chains, which for the most part go with the pablum that the major studios dish out.

…For nostalgia’s sake, here’s a look at Metcalf South in its prime, probably in the ’70s, judging from the cars.


Kansas City Star file photo


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In his own feeble way, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon apparently is pushing for making I-70 a toll road between the outskirts of Kansas City and the outskirts of St. Louis.

The Star had a front-page story about this development on Saturday. The news “peg,” as we call it in the business, was that Nixon recently received a report from the Missouri Department of Transportation examining options for levying tolls on I-70.

But reporter Brad Cooper didn’t directly bring the governor into the story — quoting him, that is — until deep in the story.



At that point, Cooper quoted Nixon as telling the transportation department, in some sort of statement, that the state’s “transportation funding is approaching a critical juncture.”

The story then paraphrased Nixon as saying that one of Missouri’s most pressing infrastructure needs is forming a belt across the country’s midsection from Utah to Maryland.

That’s the best Cooper could do regarding Nixon’s supposed backing of an I-70 sales tax. Cooper apparently made no effort to interview Nixon or get something from a spokesman.

In any event, if you’ll notice, nowhere in the direct quote or the paraphrase did Nixon actually come out and say that he either favors an I-70 toll or that he would campaign for it if a measure was put to a statewide vote.

Besides this being a lame story, my point is that the governor’s position seems equally lame.

Here’s the crux of the matter. In my view, Missouri voters probably tilt heavily against tolls on I-70 in any event, and the only possible way such a measure would pass is if Nixon put his full weight behind it (what little political weight he has left after Ferguson, anyway) and campaigned relentlessly for it.

But I cannot envision him doing that.

We’ve seen enough of Nixon to know how he operates: He throws out trial balloons occasionally; they float under the clouds for a while; and then they run out of air.

The only thing Nixon has actively campaigned for in his political career, as fas as I can tell, is his own election and re-election.

So, unless the Missouri General Assembly can impose a toll through the legislative process (predictably, Cooper’s story didn’t address that), this proposal probably won’t go very far.


That’s not to say, however, that it doesn’t have some merit and isn’t worth serious consideration. Missouri voters have defeated two or three sales-tax proposals in the last decade or so to boost funding of the state’s transportation needs, but voters have defeated each of them decisively.

Also, the Republican-dominated General Assembly seems completely disinterested in giving voters the opportunity to vote on a proposed increase in the state’s gas tax. The gas tax has stood at 17 cents a gallon, one of the lowest rates in the nation, since 1996. A gas tax increase is clearly the best way to fund statewide transportation projects (and what could be a better time than now, with gas prices so low?) but since when has reason and common sense prevailed in the Missouri General Assembly?

Given the political darkness that Missouri is stumbling through, an I-70 toll might be the best way to go.


One person who is open to that possibility is my friend Tom Shrout, leader of the committee that campaigned against a three-quarter-cent, transportation sales tax proposal that voters defeated in August by 59 percent to 41 percent.

tom shrout


For more than 20 years, Shrout was executive director of Citizens for Modern Transit, a nonprofit organization based in St. Louis.  Now, he and his wife Debra have a consulting company that organizes community support for improved public transit.

In an email, Shrout said:

“I think tolls can be sold to the Missouri electorate, but it will take a professional education campaign prior to a ‘vote yes’ campaign. I’m thinking radio, TV, newspaper in addition to community meetings. Direct mail, social media, etc. would come in the ‘vote yes’ campaign, in addition electronic and social media. Polling would be critical.”

Shrout said that a potentially deep source of campaign funds would be the Show-Me Institute, a conservative think tank headed by retired St. Louis area businessman Rex Sinquefield.



Sinquefield has thrown millions of dollars into several terribly bad proposals, including one to eliminate the Kansas City earnings tax (fortunately, it failed badly). But he and his Show-Me colleagues worked against the transportation sales tax and would seem to look favorably on an I-70 toll.

Shrout said that if supporters of tolls on I-70 are serious about putting it to a statewide vote, they should get cracking.

Proponents of the transportation sales tax spent $4 million last summer talking about the desperate need for increased transportation funding, and Shrout said toll-road proponents need to “build on the investment and get the funding mechanism right and the projects right.”

Another important campaign element, Shrout said, would be emphasizing how easy and practical toll collection could be.

“A few years back, Debra and I paid our toll in New Zealand over the Internet after we got back from our excursion,” he said. “You have a grace period to get it paid. Regulars have onboard transponders that automatically deduct the toll.”


I’d be interested to know what you readers think about the prospect of an I-70 toll. Personally, I’m ambivalent. I hate driving on the Kansas Turnpike, even when I just go between here and Lawrence. It’s not the money that bothers me; it’s feeling like I’m held hostage on I-70 and can only use the “Lawrence Service Area” to go to the bathroom or get something to drink. (The prices are inordinately high, too.)

On the other hand, I do like the fact that those who use I-70 the most — our friends, the truckers — would pay the most. Also, it seems like a fair way to pay for redoing the most important and heavily used road in the state. As Cooper’s story noted, about 60 percent of the state’s population and jobs are located within 30 miles of I-70.

So, tell me what you think. Let the informal survey begin.

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In the winter, having your coat with you and, more important, getting it back after you deposit it somewhere is something you take for granted.

But anyone who has had the experience of leaving their coat on a rack or at a coat check and then finding it has disappeared when they go back for it…oh, my. It’s as bad as losing a wallet or a wedding or engagement ring.

The worst feeling when a winter coat disappears is when you think someone has stolen your coat. I mean, this is not just a piece of personal property, it’s your shield from the cold, your comfort from the biting wind, your cherished wrap that accompanies you on expeditions short and far and is always there for you.

But sometimes, unfortunately, coats disappear. And that’s just what happened on New Year’s Eve at a big party at the Wheeler Downtown Airport. Here’s what happened, as The Star reported on Saturday:

About 1,500 people paid $100 each to attend a fund-raising party for the National Airline History Museum. Good start, right? But it didn’t take long for disappointment to set in. The party promoters and organizers ran low on food and drink. Bad sign right?

And then, as the mood almost certainly turned sour because of that, people started heading for the exits.

As they went to the coat check station to get their coats, however, many people discovered, to their chagrin, that their coats weren’t there. Nowhere to be found.

One man, Matt Lugo of Blue Springs, told The Star’s Don Bradley:

“We checked four coats and they gave us three back. The missing one was my wife’s. A wool overcoat, a gift from her family. She was pretty upset.”

Museum officials told people to send in a picture of their missing coat. One man said, “I just got it for Christmas — I don’t have a picture of it.”

One woman who attended the party, Vinur Kaul, told KSHB, Channel 41, news that she was so frustrated with long wait times for a parking-lot shuttle bus, as well as the coat check and the bar service, that she and her fiance left well before midnight.

John Roper, the museum’s vice president of operations, acknowledged “problems” with the event and told Bradley that “an investigation” was underway.

The museum posted a statement on the Facebook Event Page that said, in part:

“We ask those who may have mistakenly taken the wrong coat or an additional item by mistake to please return to us so that we can get it to its rightful owner. We appreciate your patience and cooperation in this effort.”

What a sorry situation. What a debacle.


I was the victim of a coat theft just once, as I recall. And that occasion, which occurred more than 50 years ago, I remember like it was yesterday.

In my youth, several Catholic parishes in Louisville, where I grew up, threw mixers for teens, usually on Sunday nights. One church known for having very good mixers — that is, with a lot of girls attending — was St. Raphael. Its mixed was called “Sa-Ra-Teen.” My home church, St. Agnes called its events “Senga.”

On night when I went to Sa-Ra-Teen I had a brand-new, tan trench coat, which my parents had bought me. I mean not more than a week old. It was a primo trench coat made by the one and only London Fog, a brand that spoke of class and social acceptance.

(According to Wikipedia, two-thirds of all raincoats sold in the United States in the 1970s were from London Fog.)

Anyway, I hung my newly cherished coat on a coat rack in a corner of the school’s event space. I remember putting it on a hook, along with dozens of others on other hooks, without making any attempt to put it under other coats or in some relatively remote location. (That’s one of those things you learn with experience.)

When I went back to the rack at the end of the evening — I was one of the last to leave — the coat was gone. I knew exactly where I had put it, and it wasn’t there. I rooted through all the remaining coats, but it wasn’t there. The coats that remained were pathetic — nothing like my crisp, unblemished London Fog. I went out into the cold and went home — maybe my father picked me up — brokenhearted. My father took the news well. He didn’t get mad, didn’t obsess on it (like I would, if it was one of my kids) and didn’t even call the church the next day (as I would have done). It was no use; the coat was gone; someone else was wearing that beauty. If Dad had obsessed about it — and maybe he understood this — it would have made me feel even worse than I did. I never forgot his even-keeled reaction, even though that was an expensive coat, by 1960s standards, and it was a monetary loss that stung our middle-class family.

So, I sympathize and empathize with the folks who had their coats lost or stolen at Downtown Airport. What a disheartening, upsetting way to start the New Year. I feel their pain and frustration.


The Downtown Airport coat debacle immediately reminded me of an unusual coat incident that occurred in the 1970s in Independence.

The central figure in this episode was a man named Dick King, who, I believe was Independence mayor at the time — a fact that made this not only more bizarre but also newsworthy.

King and several other people went to the old Zuider Zee restaurant on Noland Road one night and found there was a relatively long wait to be seated. If King tried to use his mayoral status to get his name to the top of the list, it didn’t get him anywhere. Then, buoyed by alcohol, he went to the coat rack, swept up a large armful of coats and headed out the door. I don’t know what, if anything, his companions did or said, but, at any rate, King got out on I-70 and started flinging the coats out of the car.

The Star reported later that at least a few of the people who had their coats stolen got them back. I don’t know what shape they were in, but at least they got them back.

King later acknowledged that he had a drinking problem and cleaned up his act. He went on to become one of Kansas City’s leading development attorneys. He unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 1991, the year that Emanuel Cleaver was elected to the first of his two terms.

In 2006, King died of cancer at age 62…The coat theft, of course, was not in his obituary. But I’ll tell you this, anyone who was involved in local politics in the 1970s remembers the infamous Dick King coat caper at the Zuider Zee.

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