Archive for June, 2015

A former Kansas City Star colleague, Joe Keenan, posted a comment this morning, saying that effective next month, The Star would no longer have a business desk, as such.

That got my attention, of course, and I put out some feelers.

Turns out Joe was right on the money: The Star’s three remaining business-desk reporters and its three editors are getting new assignments under the Metro umbrella.

The changes are part of a reorganization and redesign that editor Mike Fannin announced to the newsroom a few months ago. One of the main thrusts of the redesign is to push more readers to The Star’s website and wean them away from the printed edition, which has been flagging for years. (That’s true at nearly every major metropolitan newspaper in the country, by the way.)

We have already seen strong evidence of the push to the web. The printed edition of the sports section, for example, no longer carries the results and game stories for Royals’ games that end after about 10 p.m. A text box urges readers to go to the website.

Other changes, besides the business-desk demise — are probably in the works, but so far I’m not privy to them. I also want to emphasize that The Star will continue to report business stories; they just won’t be coming from a business desk. Anyway, here’s what I’ve got. (Thanks to Joe for the tip and to everyone who provided information.)

:: The Star will no longer have a managing editor. Steve Shirk, the last person to hold that title, retired a (when). Several years before that, The Star’s co-equal managing editor, Jeanne Meyer, was cut loose. (By the way, she is married to Keith Chrostowski, who has been the business editor.) As Metro editor, Greg Farmer will be the big dog in the newsroom, under Fannin.


Keith Chrostowski


Greg Farmer









:: Business reporters Diane Stafford and Mark Davis are becoming part of a news team that Chrostowski apparently will head. Chrostowski will oversee several other current Metro reporters as well.

:: The third business reporter, Joyce Smith, who does a great job tracking restaurant and retail comings and goings, will take her portfolio to FYI, the features desk. (I don’t know if FYI will be under Metro or remain separate…Perhaps some of our commenters will clarify.)


Diane Stafford

:: Assistant business editor Steve Rosen will be a news-team editor, along with Donna McGuire, who has been an assignment editor for many years.

:: Assistant business editor Greg Hack will be a trouble-shooting, news-team assistant, producing graphics and suggesting “different ways of telling stories.”



ed eveld

Ed Eveld (Smile, Ed, you’re going back to news.)

::  Ed Eveld, a former Metro desk reporter who has been an FYI writer for many years, will return to Metro as the Kansas statehouse reporter…This is a key appointment because former statehouse reporter Brad Cooper left the paper recently, and some reporters feared that he would not be replaced. For the last few weeks of the recently concluded legislative session, The Star relied on the Wichita Eagle-Beacon for statehouse coverage. The Star would have bathed itself in ignominy had it continued to rely on Wichita, which, of course, is significantly farther from Topeka than Kansas City.

:: FYI reporter/gossip columnist Lisa Gutierrez will expand her sphere of writing to include, as one insider put it, “anything clickable.”

I’m told that all other current Metro reporters will continue doing what they have been doing — in other words, working their asses off to keep up with all significant developments in a metro area of 2.75 million people.


Several weeks ago, The Star was down to under 20 full-time Metro reporters. I would estimate that it had about 50 reporters in 2005, the year before I retired. That does not include Neighborhood News reporters, who were buzzing around everywhere, when the newspaper’s “center of gravity” appeared to be tilting toward Johnson County. (Fortunately for us all, The Star went back to its roots, covering KCMO relentlessly, as its bureau system disintegrated.)

With this change — along with what appears to be the recent hire of a couple of new hands (or maybe they’re summer interns) — Metro will be up to about 25 reporters, for the time being. All the editors, reporters and other hands left on this wayward but still-strong ship are doing great work, and we should be thankful for their dedication to bringing us the news.


Mi-Ai Parrish

Whether they are being ably guided by Fannin and Publisher Mi-Ai Parrish is another matter. The newsroom certainly isn’t getting much support from HQ in Sacramento…That would be the McClatchy Co., which paid way too much — $4.5 billion — for The Star and a couple dozen other Knight Ridder papers in 2006 and has been paying the price ever since.

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I was down in Northwest Arkansas over the weekend for the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, one of the stops on the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tour.

More about the tournament in a minute, but I was really impressed with the way Northwest Arkansas has grown. When Patty and I started going to Hot Springs, AR, for the horse races back in the 1980s, there wasn’t a lot to see or do in that part of the country.

There is a run of four cities in the space of about 10 miles — Bentonville, Rogers, Springdale and Fayetteville.

Bentonville, the home of Walmart, was a sleepy place, with a Holiday Inn (where Sam Walton had breakfast or coffee every morning) and the town square. Fayetteville, home of the University of Arkansas, was — and still is — the largest of the four cities. Springdale and Rogers were just a couple of red-light-heavy cities you had to endure before you could get back up to speed on U.S. 71.

Bentonville, Rogers and Fayetteville have grown considerably, but Bentonville hit the jackpot a few years ago, when Alice Walton, one of Sam’s daughters, developed the amazing Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Bentonville was growing on its own, but Crystal Bridges put it on the must-go-to list, if you’re in the area.

Saturday night I went to the town square for dinner, and hundreds of people were out and about, many dining at the restaurant I had gone to — Table Mesa — and others just walking around or visiting ice cream shops or other establishments.

Rogers, immediately south of Bentonville, has grown by leaps and bounds, too. Sunday morning I had breakfast at a 24-hour restaurant called Lucy’s Diner, a couple of blocks from the city’s “historic” downtown district. Lucy’s was packed, and the waitresses were abuzz about the pending birth of a colleague’s baby.

The area of Rogers that seems to have mushroomed most is Pinnacle Hills, a prosperous area just off I-49/U.S. 71. The area features a modern, sprawling shopping district and lots of fine homes. The trigger for the development was Pinnacle Country Club, which was constructed on farm land and opened in 1990.

The LPGA tournament has been held at Pinnacle the last nine years, and the local favorite is Stacy Lewis, currently the third-ranked women’s player, who attended the nearby University of Arkansas. She won the tournament last year.

This was the second time I had attended this tournament. The first time, a few years, ago, it was blisteringly hot and breathtakingly humid — so much so that I had to stop following a particular group and retreat to the clubhouse area.

This time, the temperatures were in the 80s and a nice wind was blowing, particularly on Sunday.

On Saturday, I followed Suzann Petterson, the fifth-ranked player, and I began following her again on Sunday but dropped out after nine holes because she was far out of contention. As I was deciding whom to follow next, I got swept up in a crowd that I followed to the 10th tee, where none other than Stacy Lewis was about to tee off.

Lewis, playing in the second to last group, was tied for the lead with one of her playing partners, Mika Miyazato, and Na Yeon Choi, who was playing in the last group.

Lewis took the lead after Miyazato double bogeyed the 13th hole and Choi, playing behind them, bogeyed it. Miyazato got one back at 16 with a birdie, and Lewis held a one-shot lead over her two closest competitors going into the Par-3 17th hole. Things were shaping up beautifully for the local favorite.

No. 17 green is surrounded on three sides by grandstands, and the fans are encouraged to get loud. Pinnacle is promoting the hole as the “loudest on tour,” and the fans did their best to justify that when Lewis arrived at the hole Sunday.

To huge cheers, Lewis put her tee shot six to eight feet from the hole, for a very makable birdie opportunity. Miyazato, meanwhile, put hers 25 to 30 feet away. As the players walked toward the green, the crowd was doing the “woo pig sooie!” call, and a smiling Lewis urged the crowd on by waving her arms up and down and applauding the fans.

I looked at Miyazato to see how she was handling the outpouring of exhortation and affection for Lewis, and, to my pleasant surprise, she was also smiling…Good sport.

Then, the tables started to turn.

Miyazato made her long putt, and Lewis missed the short one, to a collective groan from the crowd.

That put them in a tie going into the last hole.

But then, before either of them hit another shot, the table flipped onto its top: Word came that Choi, who had been one shot behind, had eagled the Par 4 16th hole. With one swing — a 135-yard shot that she holed out — Choi had gone from one down to one up over both Lewis and Miyazato.

After Lewis and Miyazato hit their drives on the Par 5 18th, more shocking news came: Choi had birdied No. 17. With three consecutive swings, Choi had gone from one down to two up.

That meant Lewis and/or Miyazato had to eagle the Par 5 18th hole. It didn’t happen. Choi parred and Lewis bogeyed.

As I watched from the grandstand, Choi put her third shot on the green and two-putted for the victory. Seconds after Choi holed out, a friend or relative ran onto the green and gave her a champagne bath, instantly making her white pants transparent.

In her victory speech, a smiling Choi thanked the crowd, the volunteers, the sponsors and the LPGA. Then she was off to the autograph line.

…It was a tremendous event in an increasingly dynamic part of the Midwest/near South, and I hope to be on hand next year, when the tournament turns 10 years old.

With that, I leave you with three photos…


Stacy Lewis with a young admirer


Na Yeon Choi signing a young fan’s cap


The 18th fairway, in the gloaming


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Damn it! I thought two or three times in recent weeks about writing a post predicting that the Supreme Court would vote 6-3 in favor of upholding Romneycare…uh, I mean the Affordable Care Act.

So, you’ll just have to trust that I’m still able to tell which way the wind is blowing without tossing blades of grass in the air.

I felt sure that Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy would vote with justices Sotamayor, Kagan, Ginsburg and Breyer mainly because they have demonstrated that they are not political hacks. The same cannot be said of Scalia/Thomas (a twofer) and Alioto. (To this day, I blame former U.S. Sen. Jack Danforth — otherwise a pretty good man — for getting empty-headed Thomas on the bench. Thomas worked for Danforth after graduating from law school.)

But anyway, the law — along with affordable health insurance for millions of Americans — is saved because the Big Six saw the light.

By early afternoon, The New York Times had posted an editorial, along with at least two stories. The editorial drew several hundred comments, and I’d like to share a few with you. (If you don’t read the comments on big NYT stories, I suggest you give it a try. You get a good sampling of what a wide array of people are thinking, as well as some funny and eloquent writing.)


Sam McFarland, Bowling Green, KY —

Now if we can just resurrect and pass the public option! We could then have a national health insurance program that could serve all Americans, and insurance companies would no longer be the big winners.

BlueNC, Chapel Hill — 

You just have to wonder about (and I’m not going to say all) Republicans…Think about all of their wasted time, energy and money to undo this societal accomplishment. Had they spent these same amount of resources to improve the ACA, we would be much better off as country.

Pragmatist, Austin —

People may disagree with the ACA proposition, but the American people are sick and tired of a small, well-financed, minority monopolizing our legislative agenda. Get on with things that need to be done, including making the reasonable modifications to ACA that need to be made.

BloodyColonial, Santa Cruz — 

Antonin Scalia needs to retire from the bench. He’s an arrogant jerk and a clown and he doesn’t have the temperament for the office. Disagree with the majority opinion if you will, but carry yourself with the dignity Americans expect from a Supreme Court justice…Can’t FOX lure him away? By nature he is an angry right-wing talk show host, not a Justice.

Dawit Cherie, Saint Paul

God bless Chief Justice John Roberts. He acts again with such decency to solidify our faith in the American justice system.

Steve S, Minnesota —

The Affordable Care Act is not perfect. I have no respect for the Republican party because instead of offering ways to legitimately make it better, they just want to completely destroy it. Since the party would probably approve of corporal punishment, they should be spanked and sent to a corner until they learn to play respectfully with other’s building blocks.

Empirical Conservatism (no city or state)

Justice Scalia is an opera lover. Surely he knows when the fat lady has sung.

CQ, Maine — 

I don’t understand why the House of Representatives doesn’t just vote to repeal the law. What? They did? How many times? Really? Oh. OK. Sorry.



I learned about the Supreme Court’s decision by checking The Star’s website, as I do frequently each day. Despite it being a landmark decision, however, the Obamacare story didn’t merit top-of-the-page treatment. No, that honor went to a story about a polar bear named Nikita at the Kansas City Zoo. In addition, the McClatchy story that The Star ran about the court decision didn’t even have a breakdown on how the justices voted.

Screen shot 2015-06-25 at 2.18.40 PM

Later, the lead story was about the American Royal parade moving out of downtown.

Screen shot 2015-06-25 at 7.55.56 PM

The Star is going through a redesign in which one of the goals is to wean readers from the print product and to the website…If this is the direction we’re headed, we’re soon going to have a newspaper website that is more appropriate for “boondockia” than a major American city. (Credit for that inimitable term goes to reader and commenter John Altevogt.)

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Most of us will never forget the Boston Marathon bombings. Horrific sights. Innocents crushed. Children maimed. But with the sentencing yesterday of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev the case can begin to recede a bit, at least for those of us not personally affected.


Judge O’Toole

In reading The Star’s story this morning about the sentencing, it struck me, just from a few quotes I read, that U.S. District Court Judge George O’Toole Jr. must have given a memorable sentencing statement. That prompted me to Google the entire statement, and I think it will move many of you, as it did me.   He opened his address to Tsarnaev by quoting from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Here’s what the judge said: “One of Shakespeare’s characters observes: ‘The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.’ So it will be for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.” Think about that — evil trumping good. It’s not the way it should be and not what we want to hear, but… Then, the judge explained what that line meant as it pertained to Tsarnaev. “Whenever your name is mentioned, what will be remembered is the evil you have done. No one will remember that your teachers were fond of you. No one will mention that your friends found you funny and fun to be with. No one will say you were a talented athlete or that you displayed compassion in being a Best Buddy or that you showed more respect to your women friends than your male peers did. What will be remembered is that you murdered and maimed innocent people and that you did it willfully and intentionally. You did it on purpose.” …And then there was the brothers’ twisted rationalization of why a human slaughter was acceptable. “You tried to justify it (the bombing) to yourself by redefining what it is to be an innocent person so that you could convince yourself that Martin Richard was not innocent, that Lingzi Lu was not innocent, and the same for Krystle Campbell and Sean Collier and, therefore, they could be, should be killed. It was a monstrous self-deception. To accomplish it, you had to redefine yourself as well. You had to forget your own humanity…” …The judge ended his statement with another theatrical allusion.

“In Verdi’s opera Otello, the evil Iago tries to justify his malice. ‘Credo in un Dio crudel,’ he sings. ‘I believe in a cruel god.’ Surely someone who believes that God smiles on and rewards the deliberate killing and maiming of innocents believes in a cruel god. That is not, it cannot be, the god of Islam. Anyone who has been led to believe otherwise has been maliciously and willfully deceived. Mr. Tsarnaev, if you would stand, please…

…Thank you, Judge O’Toole. You gave one of the monsters of the modern world a memorable send-off.

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It has been difficult for me to reflect on what happened in South Carolina last Wednesday and not wish the state was wiped off the map, partly because it is abundantly clear to reasonable people that a state proudly displaying the Confederate flag outside the State Capitol — even if it’s not flying atop the Capitol — has a distorted view of democracy.

I only know two people in South Carolina — former Kansas City Star editor Mike Waller and his wife Donna — and I thought several times about sending him an email urging them to pack up and leave the state.

I didn’t do it, and I’m glad because I’m starting to think there’s hope for South Carolina. The inspiration is coming from Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, who yesterday passionately called for the Confederate flag to come down.

Flanked by a large, bipartisan group that included both of South Carolina’s U.S. senators, Haley said:

We are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer. The fact that people are choosing to use it as a sign of hate is something we cannot stand…That flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state.

From the outset of this tragedy, Haley, an Indian American with a Southern accent, has demonstrated compassionate leadership. At a press conference the morning after the slayings, she choked back tears and uttered a line that will be long remembered and quoted, in South Carolina and beyond:

“We woke up today, and the heart and soul of South Carolina was broken.”

Yesterday, on MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews today,” commentator Robert Costa said that after seeing that press conference, “I knew that flag was coming down.”

The eyes of the many people throughout the country are riveted on South Carolina, to see how its state legislators respond to Haley’s call.


COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE 22:  South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley arrives with other lawmakers, activists and along with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) (L) to speak with the media asking that the Confederate flag be removed from the state capitol grounds on June 22, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Debate over the flag flying on the capitol grounds was kicked off after nine people were shot and killed during a prayer meeting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley arriving with lawmakers, activists and Sen. Lindsey Graham (front left) before a news conference in Columbia, SC. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Indicative of the level of interest in the situation, a New York Times story yesterday about Haley’s press conference generated more than 1,000 comments.

The Times’ story said legislation dating to 2000 provides that a two-thirds vote of both chambers of the South Carolina General Assembly is needed in order to change the law pertaining to the Confederate flag display outside the state Capitol.

Haley said that if the General Assembly did not act soon, she would call it back into a special session to address the flag question.

It appears that won’t be necessary and that opposition to bringing down the flag will not be stout.

The Times’ story quoted Ken Thrasher, a South Carolina leader of the Sons of Confederate Veterans group, as saying:  “With the winds that started blowing last week, I figured it would just be a matter of time. Whatever the Legislature decides to do, we will accept it graciously.”

For now, though, the spotlight is rightly on Haley, a governor who seems, to me, deeper and more clear-headed than any of the Republicans seeking their party’s presidential nomination.

In a time of national mourning, it’s good to put politics aside as much as possible. At the same time, it’s very tempting to project Haley into the Republican race.

As Chris Cilizza of the Washington Post wrote today: “It’s no secret…that the GOP needs faces and voices like Haley’s.”

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I started to write a post last night about what a moron Dylann Roof is. I got one sentence down and stopped. Didn’t really know where to go with it and ran out of time.

On Sunday, however, the associate pastor of the Olathe church Patty and I attend — Saint Andrew Christian Church — deeply moved about 150 of us attending the 10:45 a.m. service, and she gave me permission to reprint her sermon.


Rev. Erika Marksbury

Erika Marksbury is a very smart person and a gifted preacher, and she is one of those rare clerics who can rise to the biggest and most unsettling events. She has the ability, in times of great distress, to hold a mirror up to a congregation and help the congregation see itself in the context of a broken but ever-hopeful world.

This morning, Erika used as her stepping-off point St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, in which he urged the Corinthians to “open wide your hearts.”

Here’s what Erika said…with the exception of an anecdotal section, which I omitted for space considerations.


So you decided to come to church this morning. We came to church this morning. We sang, and prayed, and have just heard scripture together.

We did this despite what happened on Wednesday, in a church, to people who sang, and prayed, and heard scripture together.

Maybe you thought it would be ok because here is not there. Because Kansas is not South Carolina. Because a twenty-four-year-old suburban church is not a hundred-and-ninety-nine-year-old southern church. Because most of these people are white, and all of those people were black. And so we are not like them.

Except that doesn’t hold up. Especially here. Because the story we tell every Sunday at church is our intentional effort to break down those boundaries. The story we tell says that in this place or in that place, new or old, white or black, all who gather around the story of Jesus are one. When we sing, our folk songs blend with their gospel choruses. And when we pray, our celebrations and our sadnesses mingle with theirs, because our hearts carry all the same stuff.

And when we break bread and drink from the cup, we remember brokenness and love, bodies and blood. Some of the earliest church fathers used to say that the bread we share is the body of Jesus and it is our own. This morning it is that of Jesus, and it is ours, and it is Clementa’s, and Cynthia’s, and Sharonda’s, and Tywanza’s, and Ethel’s, and Susie’s, and Depayne’s, and Daniel’s, and Myra’s. We are none of us, really, separate from each other.

We do not come to church to be reassured that we are unaffected. We come to church to be reminded that we are bound. We come to church because the songs remind us that we belong to God and to each other and the prayers acknowledge that there are some things we cannot do alone and the scriptures make clear that justice is hard and it has always been the call of God and the work of people of faith.

We come to worship because the sanctuary has historically been a safe space. People who were persecuted could come seeking refuge. They would run into the building and collapse on the floor beneath the cross and know that inside those walls they would find amnesty. Even though much of that old meaning has slipped away, still, when people find themselves afraid or unsure, they often find their way to a sanctuary. And when that very principle is violated, when people are not safe in their holy places, it is up to other people to create sanctuary outside of those walls once thought to contain it.


The people of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church opened their hearts. They did not withhold their affections or their faith. They prayed and sang and studied scripture with a stranger, and they acknowledged him as fully human. They made themselves vulnerable.

But what else could they have done? Deny him? Allow within their walls only people that they already knew and trusted? They are a congregation named Emmanuel – a people named God-with-us – so that really wasn’t ever an option. Maybe they knew that invulnerability was impossible. They surely knew it was anti-gospel.

What Paul is asking in these scriptures – open your hearts – takes on a strange and sad and scary new resonance today. What does it mean to open our hearts in a world where welcoming strangers means risking our lives?

But that’s not really a question for our context, is it? Or it’s only one of them. Our questions are: how brave, and how vulnerable, will we be? How many difficult conversations will we have with our friends and relatives? How hard will we work so that Grandmothers Against Gun Violence will have a voice that can be heard over the NRA’s? How will we tell our kids the hard and horrifying stories of our racist past, a history that stretches from centuries ago to just last week? How much rearranging of our lives will we do to make sure we have chances to learn more, to stand with, to speak up, to reach out? And how will we treat all our neighbors as fully human, not just as people with sad stories but also as people with dreams? How will we learn to trust and celebrate one another? How will we open our hearts?

We were never those people that believed racism was over with the Civil Rights Act or the election of Barack Obama. We have always been those people who have believed that white privilege is real and that most of us benefit from it and that something is fundamentally unjust about that. And believing those truths is the tiniest beginning. But knowing the truth does not change it. Sitting down with it – confessing our gain from it – sharing our fears connected to it – speaking our dreams to strangers, and hearing theirs – that’s movement towards real change.

I mean, I hope it is. I hope we’ll at least try. And when we fail, I hope we will try again, and not be afraid to fail again, and then try again, and fail some more, and keep trying. I hope we won’t get tired. I hope we won’t get lazy. I know that’s easy to do, and it’s easy for white people, for privileged people, to turn away. I do it all the time. I like to think of myself as an ally but that can be exhausting and some days I’m unwilling to be exhausted by anything other than my own kids. But we turn away at the risk of coming right back around to here, to this place of mourning and horror, and despite all the ways I will mess up I want to commit to doing what I can to create sanctuary outside of these walls. If you want to also, here’s a small way we can start:


Get out a pen. If you don’t have one on you there should be one in the red book – you can pass it on when you’re done.

Write this address down: Emanuel AME Church, 110 Calhoun Street, Charleston, South Carolina, 29401. And sometime this week, send a card. If you don’t have one at home there’s a stack in a basket near the door – feel free to take one of those. Write a note of sympathy and solidarity, and drop it in the mail.

Paper may be flimsy. But even walls are no protection to people committed to welcoming neighbors, strangers. And if these cards carry our love, maybe they can help to create a sanctuary, and a space for dreams to be shared again, for those who are mourning now.


I put my card in the mail Sunday…It won’t change anything, but it’s better than just stewing, being angry and wringing my hands.

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Well, that was fast.

After being out for an hour or so, I returned home to find an email from Mayor Sly James’ office, saying that Herb Sih, the payday-loan lead generator whom The Pitch and I had written about this week, is out as a member of the city’s Economic Development Corp.

The appropriate response to that is, “Alright now!”

I don’t know what led up to it or went on behind the scenes, but Sih resigned earlier today.

The mayor’s press secretary, Mike Grimaldi, issued this prepared statement from James.

“Herb brought valuable expertise from the high-tech, start-up community to the EDC Board of Directors, and I have appreciated his commitment to the organization.  I respect his decision to act in the best interests of the EDC and its mission.”

He may have brought “valuable expertise from the high-tech community,” but he was also a disastrous appointment to the EDC, the city’s premier economic development agency.

In January 2014, James appointed the 49-year-old Sih and four other people as board members of the newly revamped EDC.



This week, The Pitch’s David Hudnall, who has led the way on the payday lending story in Kansas City, exposed Sih as having been neck deep in that unholy business for several years. His specialty was using his technical expertise to give payday lenders the ability to find prospective borrowers and solicit personal and confidential information from them. That enabled the lenders, in turn, to get into the borrowers bank accounts, in some cases. It was all done online, and Sih was one of the masterminds, if not the mastermind.

In the wake of Hudnall’s story, Mayor James took a wait-and-see approach, issuing a statement supporting him but leaving the door open for re-evaluation.

As strong a reporter as Hudnall is, I was skeptical that his story would generate enough outrage to either force Sih to resign on his own or prompt the mayor to ask for his resignation.

I went so far as to email Barb Shelly, one of four editorial page writers for The Star, and suggest that she do a piece. She wrote back, saying she intended to write something next week.

…Fortunately, it turns out my skepticism about The Pitch’s clout was misplaced.

Congratulations, David and editors of The Pitch! You have done a great service to the public. A very bad apple has been plucked from the bushel.

…And, Barb, thanks for standing ready to fire a volley, but now you can turn your attention to other pressing matters.

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A week ago today Mayor Sly James stood on the stage at the Gem Theatre and, before a crowd of more than 200, signed a “Pledge for a Moral Economy” — a document that denounces usurious rates charged by payday lenders.

The pledge, fashioned by the public advocacy organization Communities Creating Opportunity, states: “It is wrong to take advantage of vulnerable families by charging triple-digit interest rates. I support reform measures that will stop the debt trap.”

To cheers and applause, James said that taking out payday loans is going down a road that often leads to “long-term prison.”

Of payday lenders, he said, “They’re like roaches — they never do go away.”

This week, however, thanks to some outstanding investigative reporting by the Pitch newspaper, it turns out that the mayor has appointed to the city’s most important economic development agency a man who has been deeply involved in the payday loan industry.

Here’s the backdrop…

The subject of the Pitch story is a man named Herb Sih, who has founded, owned or managed at least three companies with deep roots in the payday loan business. The Pitch story says one or more of Sih’s companies have specialized in generating “leads” for the operators of online payday-loan operations.


Herb Sih

While Sih (pronounced SEE) may not have sullied his hands by directly making loans and charging interest rates of several hundred percent, which is typical, he has provided lenders with technology that enables the lenders to gain access to vital information about prospective borrowers. In addition, according to the Pitch, Sih’s brother-in-law owned an online, payday-lending company before selling it in 2012.

Sih told The Pitch that he hasn’t been involved in the lead-generation business in more than six years, but Hudnall noted that Sih’s Linkedin bio says that he left the last lead-generation company he was associated with two and a half years ago.

Apparently Sih has distanced himself from the payday-loan business in recent years. He now owns and operates a technology-based business called Think Big Partners, which has a piece of a $15 million, public-private project to rewire downtown into a so-called “smart city” (whatever that means).

Sih is mentioned in only five articles in The Kansas City Star’s electronic library, which tends to indicate that he is not well established in civic and economic development circles.

The best information I could find about him came from a 2014 story in The Wichita Eagle, which says Sih “has started more than 20 companies, including some of Kansas City’s fastest growing companies, and sold seven of them.”

Previously, the story says, he was a senior vice president for Wachovia Securities and before that a helicopter pilot and officer in the military. He graduated from the University of Kansas and is married (or at least was then, according to The Eagle) and has three children.

He is 49 years old and, from what I could find, he appears to have come to the Kansas City area from the St. Louis area.


In January of last year, Mayor James appointed Sih and four other people to the board of the newly revamped Economic Development Corp. This was after James had successfully pushed to consolidate several city-funded economic development agencies into the EDC. So, these appointments were critical to the city’s economic development efforts.

Now, giving the mayor the benefit of the doubt, maybe he didn’t know about Sih’s background when he appointed him to a two-year term — the same length as all the other newsly appointed board members. Or maybe he had inklings but didn’t know the depth of Sih’s involvement in a business that the Communities Creating Opportunities organization calls “sinful.”

Yesterday, I spoke with David Hudnall, the Pitch reporter who wrote the expose on Sih. Hudnall has “owned” the payday loan story and is more responsible than anyone else for calling attention to how it has mushroomed here and cost low-income people thousands and thousands of dollars and immeasurable anguish after taking out relatively small loans.

Regarding the mayor’s appointment of Sih to the EDC board, Hudnall said, “My impression is that the mayor didn’t fully vet him.”

Hudnall said he wrote the story because he saw “several strong indicators that he (Sih) was not really what he looks like on paper.”


This morning I called the mayor’s office and spoke with James’ press secretary, Mike Grimaldi, who, among other things, is a former business editor at The Star. I asked Grimaldi if, in light of Hudnall’s story, James would reconsider Sih’s appointment to the EDC.

Early this afternoon, Grimaldi sent me this statement from the mayor:

It is important to have entrepreneurial, high-tech representation on Kansas City’s EDC Board of Directors, and that is why I appointed Herb Sih. I expect EDC board members, and all appointees to boards and commissions, to be persons of integrity who act in the best interest of our city. I regularly evaluate the needs of our boards and commissions as well as the impact appointees have on them. I am currently very pleased with the fabric of the EDC board of directors and the forward momentum of the organization.

(By the way, this is the very same statement the mayor’s office gave to Hudnall, so James obviously hasn’t changed his position since The Pitch published its story.)  

I also spoke with Andrew Kling, communications manager for Communities Creating Opportunity (CCO), which has been around for nearly 40 years, advocating for better neighborhoods and better opportunities and public services for the working poor.

Kling said CCO officials were “paying attention” to Hudnall’s revelations about Sih, and he said CCO officials would “meet and talk it through” before issuing a formal statement, perhaps next week.

“I don’t want to pre-judge it,” Kling said. “We’re going to take this at an appropriate and deliberate pace.”

James, Kling said, has been “a great ally” in calling attention to the abuses of the payday lending industry and advocating reform…CCO’s goal is to convince the Missouri General Assembly to pass a bill that would limit interest rates in Missouri to 36 percent, the maximum that credit-card companies can charge.


Here’s what I think…

Mayor James needs to have his staff re-examine Sih’s background. Thoroughly. And in my opinion, even if he has washed his hands of the payday-loan industry, he should not be on the EDC board. The damage he has already inflicted on this community should disqualify him from any publicly appointed position.


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One prison story leads to another…

My good friend and former KC Star colleague Mike Rice, a paralegal at an Independence law firm, reminded me in an email about the strange case of Paula Barr, a former Star reporter who married a murderer.

I don’t remember much about Barr, except that she seemed like an intense reporter. She was a single mother and talked about her little boy a lot. She was tall, large boned and had long blond hair.

She worked out of the 18th and Grand building at one time, but at some point got transferred to the Independence bureau, where Mike Rice was also assigned at the time.

While in Independence, Barr covered the gruesome murder of a 47-year-old At&T supervisor named Richard Drummond, an Excelsior Springs resident.

…Before I get into more about Barr, here’s the backdrop of that case, which occurred in August 1994.

While driving west on I-70 near Kingdom City, Drummond pulled over and offered a ride to three men whose car had broken down. The men were Dennis SkillicornAllen Nicklasson and Tim DeGraffenreid. Hours earlier, the three had burglarized a home in the area, and they were armed.

A 2009 post on a blog called Missouri Death Row: Capital Punishment in Missouri summarizes what happened that day and in the next few days…

Nicklasson held a 22-caliber pistol to Drummond’s head and ordered him to drive to a secluded area in Lafayette County where Nicklasson took Drummond into the woods and killed him.

Skillicorn and Nicklasson dropped DeGraffenreid off in Blue Springs and kept driving Drummond’s car until it got stuck in the Arizona desert. They walked to a nearby home where Joe Babcock offered to pull them out of the sand. As Babcock was trying to scoop sand from the car’s tires, Nicklasson killed him. They then went back to the house and killed his wife, Charlene, and took the Babcocks’ vehicle.

DeGraffenreid was quickly apprehended and led police to Drummond’s body. Several weeks later, Skillicorn and Nicklasson were captured in California.

…Now, back to Barr.

She wrote about the Missouri and Arizona murders and covered the subsequent trials of Nicklasson and Skillicorn.

Mike Rice said: “As I recall, she became very close to Skillicorn and claimed The Star was not allowing her to publish ‘the truth’ about the case. I think she may have thought Nicklasson was the only one responsible and that Skillicorn was innocent of those murders. She was upset about that, and she left The Star not too long after that.”

For a while, Barr wrote freelance articles for The Star and was doing so when she married Skillicorn in a ceremony at the Potosi Correctional Center, southwest of St. Louis.

The maid of honor was a receptionist in the Independence bureau. The best man was another death-row inmate named Leon Taylor.

Mike Rice said: “I was out of town when she married Skillicorn…Paula did not volunteer the news of her nuptials to any of us, as she probably knew that it would be the end of her free-lancing gig. And indeed, it was.”


Curious about what happened with Barr after she left The Star, I poked around on the Internet. I found that after Skillicorn was transferred to the Bonne Terre correctional facility, east of Potosi, Barr (somehow) got a job as a reporter at the Daily Journal newspaper in nearby Park Hills, Missouri.

While lobbying to keep Skillicorn out of the execution chamber, Barr covered a variety of stories for the Daily Journal. Below are two photos I found of Barr on the Daily Journal’s website.

Photo courtesy of Rich Chrismer Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt talks with Daily Journal reporter Paula Barr in his oval office in Jefferson City.

Paula Barr interviewed then-Gov. Matt Blunt sometime in the late 1990s.

Daily Journal reporter, Paula Barr, takes a swing at a car to raise money for Relay for Life of St. Francois County Saturday at the Leadwood Fall Festival. - Jessica Crepps | Daily Journal

In this photo, Barr, then a reporter at the Daily Journal in Park Hills, MO, took a sledgehammer to a junker as part of a fund-raising event.

This morning I put in a call to the Daily Journal, and a woman who answered the phone (she was in the finance department) remembered Barr as a “very nice” person. “Everybody liked her,”  the woman said.

While at the Daily Journal, however, Barr’s main focus was trying to rehabilitate Skillicorn and keep him alive.

Perhaps she succeeded at the former…The Missouri Death Row post, written May 20, 2009, says Skillicorn “went to his death this morning with an apology and with faith.”



In a “final statement” read by a Department of Corrections spokeswoman, Skillicorn said he had lived every day the last 15 years remorseful about the killing of Drummond.

In his statement, he went on to say: 

“The sorrow, despair and regrets of my life would most certainly have consumed me if not for the grace and mercy of a loving and living God who saved me. As a husband, I’ve been overjoyed to know the love of a woman unlike any I’ve ever known. She shall forever be by soul mate and I hers.”

Skillicorn was 49 when he was executed.


A few loose ends:

:: DeGraffenreid, the accomplice whom Skillicorn and Nicklasson dropped off in Blue Springs, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison.

:: Nicklasson was convicted of first-degree murder and executed in 2013.

:: Taylor, the best man at the Barr-Skillicorn wedding, was executed in 2014 for the 1994 killing of an Independence gas station attendant. Taylor shot 53-year-old Robert Newton in front of Newton’s 8-year-old daughter. (Taylor also pointed the weapon at the girl and pulled the trigger, but the gun jammed.)

…And Barr? Well, the lady at the Daily Journal said she understood that Barr had moved to Arizona “a couple of years ago.”

I ran Barr’s name through whitepages.com and found a listing for a Paula Barr, aged 60 to 64 — which would be right — in Scottsdale.

No phone number was listed, and I didn’t call directory assistance to see if they had one.

So, the last word about this bizarre story goes to Mike Rice:

“I thought what Paula did was extremely unethical _ not to mention, of course, an utter act of madness. She made The Star look so very bad.”

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The story of how a female prison employee in upstate New York helped two murderers escape is reminiscent of a Lansing Correctional Facility escape several years ago.

In New York, Joyce E. Mitchell, who was a supervisor in the prison tailor shop, is charged with providing Richard W. Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 35, with hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch and a screwdriver bit.

The New York Daily News reported that investigators are looking into allegations that Mitchell, 51, had engaged in sex with Sweat and performed oral sex on Matt.

The two men, who escaped the night of June 6 or the morning of June 7, are still on the loose.


Joyce Mitchell with her attorney.

I say this without judgment or prejudice: Mitchell is a very homely woman. In addition, she was unhappy in her marriage. There is no doubt in my mind that Matt and Sweat won her over with sweet talk and flattery.

The Daily News quoted a law enforcement officer involved in the case as saying, “I think more than anything, they just played on her emotions.”

Not long after reading about Mitchell’s alleged involvement, I began thinking about the Lansing case, in which a female dog trainer named Toby Young helped a convicted murderer escape from Lansing Correctional Facility in a dog crate in 2006.

Several things about Young mirrored Mitchell.

Young was unattractive and unhappy in her marriage, and the convicted murderer she helped, John Manard, was younger than she and won her confidence with words of love.

The big difference in the two cases is that Mitchell did not accompany the escapees. The plan called for her to do so, but she got cold feet.


Toby Young

Toby Young, on the other hand, not only drove Manard out of the Lansing penitentiary in her cargo van, she went off with him on a 12-day escapade that ended when the two were apprehended in Tennessee, where they had set up a love nest in a rural cabin.

Among the items authorities found in the cabin were two guns, $25,000 in cash, two guitars, a laptop computer and porn DVD’s…Obviously, it was quite a party while it lasted.

Before running off with Manard, Young had withdrawn $42,000 from her retirement plan and purchased a getaway vehicle. Her husband had discovered two handguns missing from their home.

In a March 2006 letter to a Kansas City television station, Manard said he and Young “have a fairy-tale love the size of infinity.”

Although he has a little poetry in him, Manard would hardly qualify as a “great catch” in the eyes of most women. For one thing, he has a lot of tattoos, including one across his abdomen that captures his self-identity in a word: “Hooligan.” 

Plus the fact he was a cold-blooded killer. He was serving a life sentence (and still is) for the 1996 murder of Donald England in Overland Park during a carjacking. Manard shot England while England was parked outside a hair salon waiting for his wife to finish an appointment. 

In 2008, Kevin Helliker, a Kansas City, Kansas, native who is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporter for The Wall Street Journal, wrote a lengthy story about Toby Young. Helliker related how Young’s life was falling apart everywhere except at her volunteer prison job, where where she taught prisoners to train stray dogs.

Only during visits behind bars did she find any relief. In a fortress packed with men, her appearance at age 47 drew more compliments than she’d received at 27, and not just from inmates. One guard, she says, always greeted her by saying, “Hey, beautiful.” Inmates worshipped her for being able to place a dog in their cells.

The price for Young’s 12-day fling with Manard was high: She was convicted of felonies in state and federal courts and served about two years in prison. She was released in May 2008.

Joyce Mitchell is probably going to do some serious prison time, too…And she didn’t even get a post-jailbreak sex party out of the deal.


Editor’s Note: Maybe you read my June 12 post about the Ozarks judge, Kenneth Hayden, who said he was busy through 2016 and couldn’t possibly reschedule the Susan Van Note murder trial before 2017. Well, a veritable miracle has occurred: Somehow, some way, he managed to find room in his busy schedule to start the trial on Aug. 17. That’s August 17, 2015, two months from now…Thanks, judge. You can go back to your boat-tampering and cattle-rustling cases in the fall.

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