Archive for December, 2015

While waiting for the ball to drop in Times Square and Kathy Griffin to further embarrass Anderson Cooper on CNN, here are a few New Year’s Eve jottings…

:: Driving to the DMV in Raytown today, I noticed that all the parking spaces in front of the Speedy Cash store at 63rd and the Paseo were full and the lobby crowded. Must be a banner day for the payday loan guys…

:: I was undecided whether to go to the Downtown DMV or the one in Raytown. I chose correctly. While the one in the Missouri State Office Building on 13th Street has a good texting system that lets you know where you stand and how long your wait is, the wait is almost always pretty long. When I got in line at Raytown this morning, there were 12 to 15 people ahead of me in an S-shaped queue. I had taken my New York Times and was expecting to wait 30 minutes or more. Five clerks were working on renewals, however, and one of them was watching the line closely and giving crisp instructions to people waiting. “You people over here need to go to the back of the line,” she said at one point. Another time, she told a hesitant person at the front of the line, “Just go up to any window; we all do everything.” It was the first time I’d ever seen a take-charge clerk at any DMV location. They’re usually bored, tattooed and impatient…For the record, I got to the front of the line in about 15 minutes. Barely had time to read one newspaper story.

:: The report out of Cleveland is that quarterback Johnny Manziel, who led the Browns against the Chiefs last Sunday, is out of this weekend’s final, regular-season game because of “concussion symptoms.” That, despite no indication during or immediately after the Chiefs’ game that he had suffered a head injury. The report was being greeted skeptically on the Internet. Here’s what two commenters had to say on a New York Post story: 1) “He ain’t got no damn concussion, he got a hangover” and 2) “Johnny Manziel is being evaluated for a possible hangover; tests revealed a 30 rack of Bud heavies under his jersey.”



:: I don’t know what The Star is coming to…A very touching and well-reported “dog” story by Lynn Horsley ran in the paper today, but it ran on age A4 instead of the front page, where it and all touching cat-and-dog stories have historically gone. I guess that’s what happens when a “redesign” dictates only two stories will be on the front page. So, the story of “Mojave” being rescued by a dedicated animal control officer after being dumped near 45th and Brooklyn got bumped by Bill Cosby and a statehouse ethics story. Those were both good stories, too, but Mojave should have been “outside.”

Ray Anthony Jordan


:: Here’s a strange one…The Star reported that Ray Anthony Jordan, 41, of Grandview, turned himself in Wednesday, three days after he struck and killed a 38-year-old man walking along East Outer Road near 128th Street early Sunday. Jordan is charged with leaving the scene and driving with a suspended license. In an interview, Jordan told police he thought he had struck a deer with his SUV. (Uh huh.) He not only left the scene but he later took the SUV to an Independence body shop, apparently to repair damage from the hit and run. Among other things, investigators found pieces of hair in the damaged windshield. It wasn’t deer hair…

:: You’ve gotta see this — Kansas City’s Joyce DiDonato singing “Everything’s Up to Date in Kansas City” with the New York Philharmonic, which lost a World Series bet with the Kansas City Symphony. One of the best parts of this video is the irrepressible DiDonato wearing an Amos Otis jersey.

Happy New Year, everyone. I wish you a safe and healthy 2016. And thanks for your readership this year.

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While a high school student back in Louisville, KY, in the early ’60s, I used to watch The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson just about every night in the summer, when I could sleep late the next day. When Carson first took over The Tonight Show in late 1962, the show came on the air about 11:20 p.m. (Eastern Time), after the nightly local news, and didn’t end until 1 a.m.

I remember well some of those comics that Carson had on, like Buddy Hackett and Bob Newhart. But the one who made the biggest impression on me was Bill Cosby, who sprang onto the scene in 1963 with his routine about street football in his hometown of Philadelphia.

Cosby started the routine by describing “the greatest quarterback in the world,” the guy who had to control 23 players on a side and design plays around the various impediments in a busy downtown neighborhood.

Part of it went like this…

Here’s a guy with an ingenious mind.  He’d call a football play like this….”Now, listen to this, now. Uh, Arnie, go down, uh, ten steps and cut left behind the black Chevy. Filbert, you run down to my house and wait in the living room. Cosby, you go down to 3rd Street, catch the J bus. Have him open the doors at 19th Street. I’ll fake it to you. They always have one fat kid they never throw it to, says, “What about me?” He says, “You go long.”

I thought that was about the funniest routine I ever heard, and I marveled at this African-American comic who played football at Temple University and then had gone into stand-up comedy.

That routine — and others — propelled Cosby to stardom, and he went on to have a sensational TV career, as well as continuing to do stand-up comedy and issue record albums.

Then, in recent years — in the twilight of his career — came the allegations that he sexually assaulted many women, mostly after inviting them over for a drink and mixing quaaludes into the drinks.

All of a sudden, Cosby went from being a funny guy and a legendary comic to a suspected sexual predator.

Bill Cosby arrives at court to face a felony charge of aggravated indecent assault Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015, in Elkins Park, Pa. Cosby was charged Wednesday with drugging and sexually assaulting a woman at his home 12 years ago. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Bill Cosby, on Wednesday in Pennsylvania (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The nadir came today, when a heavy-jowled, sad-eyed Cosby was led into court in a Philadelphia suburb to be arraigned on a felony charge of aggravated indecent assault, dating to a 2004 incident. The complainant, a 42-year-old Canadian named Andrea Constand, alleges Cosby assaulted her at his home in a suburb north of Philadelphia.

The New York Times described Cosby’s arrival at the courthouse…

Carrying a cane and stumbling slightly along the way, he walked past the flashing bulbs and ignored shouted questions from reporters lined up behind barricades before entering the courthouse.

Judge Elizabeth McHugh ordered him to surrender his passport and to avoid contact with Ms. Constand, reporters inside the courtroom said.

Judge McHugh concluded the proceeding after about 15 minutes by saying “good luck to you, sir,” to which he replied “thank you,” a reporter in the courtroom said. He will remain free on bail of $1 million.



Although the allegations started coming several years ago, a comic named Hannibal Buress deserves a lot of credit for paving the way for what happened today in Pennsylvania.

In October 2014, Buress — who, like Cosby, is black — called Cosby “a rapist” in a performance in Cosby’s hometown.

Burress said…

And it’s even worse because Bill Cosby has the fucking smuggest old black man public persona that I hate. ‘Pull your pants up, black people. I was on TV in the ’80s. I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom.’ Yeah, but you raped women, Bill Cosby. So, brings you down a couple notches. ‘I don’t curse on stage.’ Well, yeah, you’re a rapist, so, I’ll take you sayin’ lots of motherfuckers on Bill Cosby: Himself if you weren’t a rapist.”

Ripping Cosby publicly took a lot of guts, even though several women had already filed civil lawsuits against Cosby.


Hannibal Buress

Buress, though, has shown he doesn’t hold back on anybody. At a roasting of Justin Bieber earlier this year, Buress, standing several feet from a seated Bieber, said: “I don’t like you at all … I’m just here because it’s a really good opportunity for me. I hate your music. I hate your music more than Bill Cosby hates my comedy.”

He was smiling when he said that, but it was clear he was saying what he felt. Discombobulated, Bieber smiled awkwardly and self-consciously…A nice bit, indeed.


I noticed that when he arrived at the courthouse today, Cosby was wearing a handsome, black-white-and-gray-flecked hoodie, which appeared to be cashmere. Must have cost at least $500.

Even though Cosby lives a high-end lifestyle and can afford the finest and most expensive apparel, I find it comforting that a fancy hoodie doesn’t count for much when a rich guy with a big ego is charged with a felony that may land him in prison. He’ll look just right in black and white stripes, or orange, or whatever colors the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections puts him in.

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As most of us have experienced, the best kind of Christmas present — either giving or getting — is one that costs nothing. It is the gift of service, talent and self to someone who needs something money can’t buy.

Such is the gift that a friend and fellow writer, David Chartrand, gave Saturday night to a Prairie Village woman whom David wrote about 37 years ago when she was young and facing a lifetime of harsh physical limitation.

The woman, Dana Wray, has been a quadriplegic since a terrible 1974 car crash — and her life is as difficult as ever.

Having reconnected with Dana through Facebook a couple of years ago, David arranged a reunion aimed at lifting Dana’s spirits. Besides being a writer, David is a musician, and he staged what amounted to a personal concert for Dana at Kaldi’s Coffee, 79th and State Line Road.

The only other people on hand were me, caregiver Kathy Kelly and a few coffee shop patrons who drifted in and out.

I played a small role in the reunion. Earlier this year, I reconnected with David, who worked at The Star in the early 1980s. We met for coffee three times this year — once in Overland Park and the last two times at Kaldi’s, which is in Prairie Village. After David got the idea for the reunion, he asked a manager at Kaldi’s if it could take place there, and the manager kindly obliged.

So last night, while the rain came down steadily outside, David performed a variety of songs, including some great oldies like the Everly Brothers’ “All I Have To Do Is Dream”; The Beatles’ “When I’m Sixty-Four”; Bobby Darin’s “Dream Lover”; and Blood, Sweat & Tears’ “And When I Die.”



Dana Wray and her caregiver Kathy Kelly listened to David Chartrand sing and play guitar Saturday night.

In between songs, the three of us talked about a variety of things, including Dana’s condition and quality of life.

In addition to her ongoing disability, Dana has had surgery for bladder cancer, and last month she had surgery for colon cancer. On Monday, she will start chemotherapy, which will be administered by pills. No questions about her condition or circumstances are off limits; she talks about all of it openly, and at one point said with a smile, “If you’re around me, you get more information than you need.”

Dana lives in a house owned by her stepmother. She has round-the-clock care and has Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare benefits. Despite her struggles, she enjoys the good times that present themselves, such as last night’s reunion. She especially likes to go to concerts. When I asked her point-blank if her life was extremely difficult, she replied simply, “It’s hard to find good caregivers.”

Her focus, it seemed to me from a few hours around her, is on the practical ramifications of getting through one day and moving on to the next.


The crash occurred July 26, 1974, near Savannah, MO, not far from Maryville, where Dana was an education student at Northwest Missouri State University. She was a passenger in a car being driven by her roommate. The car went off the road and flipped onto its side after the roommate over-corrected. The roommate, who was wearing a seatbelt, wasn’t seriously injured. But Dana, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was thrown toward the back of the car, and her body smashed through the rear window. Two cervical vertebrae were broken or severed. At age 20, life as she had known it — and had not foreseen it changing drastically — was over. She had planned on becoming a teacher but was never able to do so, even though she got her bachelor’s degree and later got a master’s degree in social work from KU.

David did not become familiar with Dana’s case until 1978, four years after the crash, when she was living in a Lawrence, KS, nursing home. David was a 24-year-old reporter covering the statehouse for the Lawrence Journal-World, and Dana’s life was in more than ordinary crisis. The nursing home was threatening to evict her because it did not have the finances or resources to care for a person with needs as extensive and time consuming as hers.

Alerted to Dana’s case by a nursing home reform group, David wrote a story about Dana’s plight. Even though the story didn’t even make the Journal-World front page, it caused a firestorm.

A Lawrence resident set up a trust fund and began raising money to benefit Dana. At the state level, several Lawrence members of the Kansas Legislature brought pressure on the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services to do more to help Dana. In a matter of days, SRS came up with funds to pay for a private nurse to tend to Dana eight hours a day while she was in the nursing home. A few months later, a special legislative committee embarked on a study of services to people with severe disabilities.

David’s initial story won a second-place award from the Inland Press Association, an Illinois-based organization with about more than 1,000 daily and weekly newspaper members. “It was pretty heady stuff for being a young reporter,” David recalled.

David stayed at the Journal-World for two more years, until late 1980, when he was hired by The Star (actually, The Kansas City Times, the longtime morning edition of The Star). He worked at The Star — where I got to know him — for a few years before going out on his own. He now writes about mental health and does humorous commentary. Currently, he is writing a book about the epidemic of adolescent suicide and depression in the U.S. in the 1990s — an epidemic that he says was not recognized as such at the time. The book revolves around an Olathe youth who was severely depressed and committed suicide at Stull Park in Overland Park.


David and Dana were both 24 when David wrote his story about her. Now, they’re 62, and their relationship, if you will, has come full circle.

P1050585The last song David played for Dana was “In My Life” by The Beatles. He looked at her as he sang the lyrics…

There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain

All these places had their moments
With lovers and friends
I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all

But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new

Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more

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This Christmas Eve, I am sorry to report the death of one of Kansas City’s stoutest, most resolute friends of Kansas City’s disadvantaged people.

Rev. John Wandless — retired Catholic priest, founder of the Urban Ranger Corps and founder of the nonprofit organization What U Can Do — died this week.


John Wandless

John was 79 and lived a stone’s throw from the grounds of St. Teresa’s Academy. He was found in his home yesterday afternoon, apparently having died a few days earlier of a heart attack. (He suffered from atrial fibrillation.) Funeral arrangements had not been made as of this writing.

Before becoming a priest, John was a husband and father. His survivors include his son Tom Wandless, who lives in the San Francisco area, and daughter Julie Thompson of Kansas City. (Julie’s husband is Chris Thompson, one of the late Byron Thompson’s sons.)

…I was proud to call John a friend, as well as an associate through political involvement.

John and I worked together on two political campaigns. The first, in 2013, was Jackson County’s foolhardy bid to convince voters to approve a sales tax to make the county a “translational medical research” center.

John contributed several thousands dollars to an opposing campaign committee that I formed — Committee to Stop a Bad Cure — and voters defeated the proposal by a mind-boggling 86 percent to 14 percent.

One statement John made during that campaign is permanently etched in my memory; it reflected his general view toward the haves and the have nots: “The one percent is always ready to tax poor people.”

The second political issue on which John and I teamed up was the push earlier this year to convince the Kansas City Council to approve a $15-an-hour minimum wage. The initiative failed, but once again John put his money (and he had a lot of it) where his convictions were. He recruited me to spend thousands of his dollars to purchase billboards and newspaper ads to promote the minimum-wage campaign.

He still hadn’t completely given up hope on the minimum wage issue at the time of his death.

Although John did not have a high public profile, he was extremely effective at what he did for three reasons: Purity of intent, irresistible personality and willingness to spend his own money on the causes closest to his heart.

When I say purity of intent, I mean he was never, ever looking for publicity or to advance himself. His abiding interest was improving the lot of poor people — helping them get good jobs and, in turn, gain pride and dignity.

In personality, he was a joy to be around. In an easy-going way, he would propound big ideas and sometimes unattainable aspirations — always for the benefit of others — but then he’d circle around to the here and now and say, “Let’s go to Panera and get some lunch.”


His route to personal success and then to the priesthood was unusual.

He got a college education through the G.I. Bill of Rights. He then worked for the federal government during the 1960s War on Poverty program. Later, he got into the computer software business and founded a company, Cactus Software in Overland Park, that provides products and services to the health care industry. He made millions.

An article in The Catholic Key described how he became interested in becoming a priest after his wife of 30 years died of cancer.

Inspired by the love and service of priests who stood by him in his grief, (he) entered the seminary at a time when men his age were making their final plans for retirement. He was ordained in 1997 at age 60 and gave 10 years of active service as a priest, including the inner-city pastorate at St. Louis Parish that he actively sought.

One of his greatest successes while serving as an inner-city priest was forming the Urban Ranger Corps, which provided summer jobs to boys 14 to 18. The goal was to give the boys confidence and basic skills, such as home repair, that would serve as a stepping stones to more significant jobs down the road. The Urban Ranger Corps, which remains active under different leadership, was not a hand-out program. The boys were held to demanding standards, which were embodied in six words that John stressed: “Be on time. Dress properly. Speak respectfully.”

John’s last venture was founding What U Can Do, a social welfare organization that John used as a vehicle to continue pushing for a better life for disadvantaged people. Once again, though, John used his money to advance his altruism. At the time of his death, he was in the process of establishing What U Can Do as a 501(c)(4) organization, which is different than a 501(c)(3) in that it can spend money on political activities and campaigns, as long as those activities pertain to the organization’s mission.


I will close with a few quotes that John gave to the writer of The Catholic Key article. They go to the heart of his philosophy about the importance of human dignity and empowering the lowly.

“When someone appreciates you and what you have done, that builds up self-esteem.”

“There’s no job that doesn’t have anything to do with your future.”

“If you have a chance to go to work and earn a paycheck, then you have choices.”

May you be with God in heaven this Christmas Eve, John.


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Everyone responds to pressure differently. But to mow down people on a crowded sidewalk in Las Vegas?

Holy shit!

To me, that incident, which killed a 32-year-old Arizona woman and injured many other people, including four college wrestlers, was almost as frightening as the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. Although many more lives were lost in those incidents, the Las Vegas tragedy ranked right up there for sheer randomness and lunacy.

The Las Vegas tragedy also struck closer to home: Our 26-year-old son, Charlie, is a graduate student at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, and he has often walked along the part of Las Vegas Boulevard where 24-year-old Lakeisha Holloway, a homeless mother from Portland, ran amok in her 1996 Oldsmobile.

jessica valenzuela


Fortunately, Charlie wasn’t on The Strip Sunday night, and he’s scheduled to fly into KC this afternoon to spend Christmas with us. Sadly, the family of 32-year-old Jessica Valenzuela of Buckeye, AZ, will not experience the joy of her presence this Christmas, or any Christmas in the future. She is the one victim who died. Three other victims were in critical conditions with serious head injuries.

One of the ironies of the incident is that Holloway’s three-year-old daughter was safely strapped in the back seat of the Oldsmobile as her mother wreaked havoc.



According to an arrest report, Holloway told investigators that she hadn’t been drinking or using drugs but was under extreme stress because security personnel at various parking garages kept moving her along as she tried to sleep in her car.

That part — that she was prodded to move along — jibes with what our daughter, Brooks, told us after returning from a recent visit with Charlie. She said hotel, casino and restaurant personnel do not tolerate any loitering; if you’re not spending money, you can’t take up space anywhere.

Investigators believe Holloway was headed to Dallas to find her daughter’s father after they had a falling out. Along the way, she apparently ran out of money.

Adding to the complexity and sadness of this case is that fact that just a few years ago, Holloway appeared to be on the verge of overcoming a very difficult childhood. An African-American newspaper called The Skanner, which covers the Pacific Northwest, published a story in 2012 about Holloway. She had recently completed a program offered by the Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center, which reconnects “alienated, at-risk youths” through education, work training and mentoring. 


Holloway three years ago — after earning a high school diploma and planning on a career in the U.S. Forest Service.

In the article, Holloway described being homeless during her freshman year in high school and said that her mother had lost hope after struggling many years to earn a living with only an eighth-grade education. Her mother had turned to alcohol, leaving Holloway to fend for herself. With the help of the industrialization center, Holloway had obtained a high-school diploma and was pursuing a career in the U.S. Forest Service.

The Skanner quoted Holloway as saying: “I would like to thank the Forest Service for sending me an application and taking a chance on me. And I’d like to thank POIC for the love and support and for being more than a program, for being a blessing.”

For whatever reasons — maybe pregnancy and the responsibilities of motherhood, maybe a failing or failed relationship with her little girl’s father — Holloway’s hopes of pulling herself up by her bootstraps crashed down Sunday night on The Strip.

The irony is hard to grasp. In a matter of moments, the energized atmosphere of the Las Vegas Strip — lights, action, thrills! — turned into a scene of carnage, with bodies flying and blood flowing. And Holloway, who seemed close at one time to pulling herself together, is now charged with murder, child abuse and failing to stop at the scene of an accident.

Why? Why?

Police and emergency crews respond to the scene of a car accident along Las Vegas Boulevard, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Police and emergency crews respond to the scene of a car accident along Las Vegas Boulevard, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

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Apparently, he’s finally gone.

I speak of former Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn, who bathed himself in ignominy and shamed the diocese.

Some friends who are members of Visitation Catholic Church, said the Rev. Patrick Rush, Visitation’s pastor, announced recently that Finn had moved to Lincoln, NE, to serve as chaplain at a nuns’ convent.

Very fitting. After being convicted three years ago of a misdemeanor charge of child sexual-abuse cover-up, he can’t serve in a parish. And Pope Francis, who called him to Rome and demanded his immediate resignation, certainly doesn’t want him anywhere near the Vatican.

Plus, the Diocese of Lincoln has a reputation as one of the most conservative in the country. That should suit Finn, an adherent to the ultra-conservative Opus Dei association of priests.

After resigning last April 21, Finn continued living for a time in palatial quarters that had been renovated to his specifications several years ago in diocesan offices at 20 W. 9th St. That arrangement continued during the months that Joseph Naumann, leader of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, served as administrator of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese.

I believe the move to Lincoln took place shortly before or after the new permanent bishop, James V. Johnston Jr., arrived from Springfield, MO, in November. From what my friends told me, Finn and the bishop in Lincoln are friends and the friend invited Finn to take the Nebraska post.

It sounds to me like Finn slinked out the back door when he left Kansas City….The Star apparently didn’t find out about it — no article — and I don’t think the diocesan newspaper, the Catholic Key, reported his departure. The last article I could find about Finn on the Key’s website (which is a certifiable disaster — no dates on any stories accessed on the search button) was the announcement last spring that he was resigning. The Key never wrote anything negative about Finn. Of course, Finn was in charge of the paper and kept a heavy thumb on the reporters and editors.

…Meanwhile, the nasty stew that Finn cooked up shortly before he was asked to resign is still playing out and untangling. He ordered several extremely controversial priest reassignments, including naming a problematic Northland pastor to succeed Pat Rush at Visitation.

For space reasons, I’m not gong into detail about the Northland priest (you can read all about it here, if you’d like)…but suffice it to say some Visitation parishioners created such a squall that Archbishop Naumann canceled that reassignment and a few others. As a result, Rush had to delay by a year his planned retirement.

Another priest who had to delay his retirement was Robert Rost, who was at odds with Finn and whom Finn had consigned to the boonies of northern Missouri several years ago. Rost had to put off retirement because Finn had reassigned another priest he was at odds with — Don Farnan, pastor at St. Thomas More — to replace Rost in northern Missouri. But Farnan torpedoed that plan when he dug in his heels and said he wouldn’t report until after he had taken a sabbatical.

I’ll never forget what Don Farnan told me about that conversation with Finn: “He sort of went off.”

Very telling. Perfect temperament, don’t you think, for a bishop who had hundreds of people reporting to him? In the end, Farnan remained at St. Thomas More, but he could get reassigned in the spring, the time of year priest reassignments are usually announced.

(As you know, I usually run photos of my blog subjects. In this case, I just can’t bring myself to do it. But you can picture him.)


A couple of closing thoughts:

First, I wonder what those nuns in Lincoln think about Finn. You might remember that under Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican ordered an umbrella group for U.S. nuns to “shape up,” in so many words, after an investigation concluded the nuns’ group had taken positions that undermined Roman Catholic teaching on the priesthood and homosexuality, while promoting “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” I would bet anything that Finn was 100 percent in favor of hammering the nuns. Pope Francis, by the way, has pressed forward with the reformation. (It’s still a good ol’ boys club, you know.)

Second, I wonder what kind of living quarters Finn has now…I’d like to believe what my Visitation friends jokingly suggested: He’s living in an Airstream out back.

(Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa…God, please forgive me for being so mean-spirited, but I think I should get a pass on this one.)


Editor’s note: It’s Saturday morning (I posted the Finn piece Friday night), and I just read The Star’s story about special prosecutor William Seay charging Highway Patrol Officer Anthony Piercy with involuntary manslaughter in Brandon Ellingson’s May 2014 drowning at Lake of the Ozarks. “I have charged him with recklessly causing the death… It relates to an unjustifiable risk being taken,” Seay said. Seay (pronounced See) is the second special prosecutor who reviewed this awful case. The first special prosecutor, Amanda Grellner, fumbled and bumbled the case not once but twice, wasting precious months. Seay, a former prosecutor and retired Circuit Court judge in the Ozarks area, got it right. He hired an investigator, took his time compiling the evidence and then lowering the boom on a totally ill-trained water patrol officer, who also had the distinct disadvantage of lacking common sense and compassion. Congratulations Mr. Seay!

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Maybe there’s been a breakthrough and people are beginning to see the light.

Or maybe the ballot box was stuffed.

Hard to say. But whatever the reason, the results of The Star’s “Monday poll” showed surprising support for building a new terminal at Kansas City International Airport.

From what I’ve heard and read, I would have thought people would oppose construction of a single terminal by a two-to-one margin. Instead, respondents to The Star’s online poll said by almost a two-to-one ratio that they would vote to build a new, single terminal.

Having long crusaded in this space for a new terminal — instead of renovating one or more of the three existing terminals — I found the poll results very encouraging.

That said, we don’t know how many of the more than 750 poll respondents are Kansas City, MO, residents, and it is Kansas Citians, of course, who would vote on whether to issue revenue bonds to finance the project.

In addition, it’s possible that people with vested interests in building a new terminal, including political consultants and associates of Mayor Sly James — who favors a single terminal — might have encouraged people to participate in the poll. I have no evidence that occurred…haven’t even heard it. I’m just throwing out the possibility because the results are so contrary to what I expected.

In case you haven’t seen the Monday poll before, The Star puts a question before readers, online and in print, every Monday, and people register their opinions online. The results are published online Tuesday and in print on Wednesday.

Here are the four statements and questions The Star asked readers to weigh in on:

— Despite the cost difference, the convenience of today’s KCI trumps any argument for a new single terminal.

— The current KCI portrays a negative image to much of the traveling public, which should lead to building a new terminal.

If the airlines want a new terminal, they need to provide a significant amount of their own money to help finance it.

Based on what I know now, I would vote to build a new terminal at KCI.

On statement one, 62 percent of respondents either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that the existing terminals’ convenience “trumps” arguments for a new terminal.

On number two, 61 percent of respondents said the current KCI presents a negative image to travelers.

On number three, 75 percent of respondents said the airlines should provide significant funding for a new terminal.

And on number four, 66 percent of the respondents said they would vote to build a new single terminal, while 34 percent said they would not.

A public vote on constructing a new terminal could come late next year or in 2017. The aviation department recently presented results of research that indicate it would cost more to renovate the existing terminals than to build a new replacement. Another benefit of building a new terminal is the two currently operating (B and C) could continue operating as usual while the new one was being built nearby.


The glass “bullpen walls” at KCI.

Here’s what I’ve said before, and what I continue to believe:

— KCI is a dump. Some people suggest the aviation department has let it go down because department officials want a new terminal. Maybe. But, in any event, KCI is completely outdated, plus dull, dark and lifeless.

— The terminals are maddeningly inconvenient once you have checked in at the main airline desk and are routed into “bullpen” waiting areas. There you are held hostage until your flight boards, and you’re limited, for the most part, to buying a cups of yogurt, bags of chips and soft drinks while you wait to be released.

— To be competitive with other cities our size that have built new terminals or have modernized those that already had a single point of entry, Kansas City needs a modern airport.

I want Kansas City to be first class in every way. We’ve taken care of downtown, thank God (imagine where we would be without Sprint Center and the P&L District), and now it’s time to get a new KCI.

A Kansas Citian named Brian Lea expressed it beautifully in an Oct. 31 letter to the editor. His last paragraph went like this:

“A new, single-terminal airport would be a much-welcomed change for us and the city and show visitors that we are a ‘real’ city and are proud of it.”

Come on, Kansas Citians, swallow hard and vote “yes,” when the time comes, for a modern airport we can be proud of.

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One of the most interesting things about journalism to me, from an insider’s standpoint, is how high-level journalists sometimes needle newsmakers they don’t like by giving them derisive “handles.”

This has happened twice in the last eight days with editorial writer Yael Abouhalkah in writing about Clinton Adams Jr., a longtime public figure who, over many years, has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.

For years, Adams was a critic of various Kansas City School District officials, including some school board members, and he lobbied and fought fiercely for changes he favored. Sometimes he was successful, sometimes not.

The Star’s editorial board has long been critical of Adams, and the board has usually put its criticism in perspective. In his last two, signed weekly columns, however, Abouhalkah has taken clear and unwarranted shots at Adams, seemingly just to pillory him because, well…because he holds the pen and has a guaranteed forum for disseminating his views.



Last week and this week, Abouhalkah took gratuitous shots at Adams because Adams supports a referendum petition that is seeking to halt the proposed $5 million tax break for the proposed BNIM project in the Crossroads. It’s a contentious issue, and it appears that the leaders of the petition drive either have gotten the 3,400 signatures they need to put the issue on an election ballot or they’re going to get them. Just getting the signatures will delay the project long enough that the BNIM architecture firm is likely to bail out on the project because firm officials want to get on with getting new quarters.

The leaders of the petition drive are mainly a group of parents who don’t want to see the Kansas City School District lose the significant tax revenue the district would get absent the Tax Increment Financing deal the city has agreed to — and which The Star’s editorial board supports.

In his column last week (it appears in the Thursday morning paper and goes up on the website a day earlier), Abouhalkah had a line that read “one of the mayor’s longtime irritants, Clinton Adams, has signed the petition, ostensibly to help the school district’s revenue situation.”

The line related to absolutely nothing in the story, and Abouhalkah didn’t develop it. It was completely out of context and served no purpose other than to satisfy Abouhalkah’s desire to put the shiv to a person who obviously has gotten under his skin. Abouhalkah simply left the main road and went down a side street so he could paint Adams as “an irritant.”

The fact is, though, Adams is a lot more than an irritant to the mayor.



For one thing, he heads the education committee of a seven-year old organization called the Urban Summit, whose mission is to “develop initiatives to foster community relations, enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the urban core.” The Urban Summit has come out against the proposed TIF project, and three of Urban Summit representatives, including Adams, testified against it recently before the City Council’s Plans and Zoning Committee.

In addition, Adams is legal counsel to the powerful black political organization Freedom, and he’s a key leader of the group. Freedom has a big constituency, primarily thousands of inner-city residents who feel the side of town they live in is much more in need of TIF-endorsed projects than the Crossroads, a booming district that is attracting market-rate projects without tax incentives.

Although Freedom has not taken a position on the TIF proposal, the vast majority Freedom’s constituents undoubtedly share Adams’ opposition to the tax break.

Adams should have complained immediately to Abouhalkah last week — and perhaps to editorial page editor Steve Paul — about Abouhalkah’s characterization of him. But he didn’t.

That’s a mistake many people make after a journalist has taken a cheap shot at them; they either don’t want to go to battle with “people who buy ink by the barrel” or they don’t want to let the writer know that he or she bothered them.

In this week’s column, Abouhalkah went after Adams yet again. The column includes this:

Activist Clinton Adams, a constant thorn in James’ side, has signed the petition aimed at getting a referendum on the ballot to put the tax break deal to a public vote in 2016. Adams has long been involved in roiling the waters when it comes to Kansas City Public Schools — and the district’s officials and some school parents have emerged as prime critics of the…project.

Of course, his opposition to the TIF has nothing to do with “roiling the waters” of the school district; he’s working to help the district from losing what could be hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue…And, again, no reference to Adams’ testimony before the City Council committee or his association with a legitimate organization that works to advance the quality of life in the urban core.


This is simply an example of a powerful writer using his position and his virtual impunity to malign a newsmaker and a hard-working advocate of a better quality of life for East Side residents. Just because Adams has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way over the years, he in no way deserves to be labeled “an irritant” in the paper. And when referring to someone as an “activist,” the writer — any writer — should put it in context. Activist for what? In what arena?    

Don’t get me wrong here. I admire Abouhalkah and think he’s done a great job over the years of advocating for the best interests of all Kansas Citians. He holds the powerful to account, and he’s beholden to no one. If The Star is “a paper for the people,” Abouhalkah is “an editorialist for the people.” But in this instance, he let small-mindedness get the better of him. In fairness, he should write a clarification, which should include an apology to Adams…Let’s see if it comes to pass.

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The Star deserves a lot of credit for its story today that explored why two Kansas City firefighters should not have died in the Oct. 12 Independence Avenue fire.

I’m sure the story — spread across the top of the front page — shocked many readers. It knocked me for a loop, that’s for sure.

It was shocking because what had heretofore seemed like an unequivocal tragedy suddenly turned into a story with profound questions about how the Kansas City Fire Department handled the fire.





The story, written by veteran reporters Mike Hendricks and Matt Campbell, said that if Fire Department supervisors had followed established, nationally recognized protocol, the firefighters who died would not have been in a 30-foot-wide alley when a three-story brick wall collapsed on them.

Actually there were six firefighters in that alley, and none should have been there because it clearly constituted a “collapse zone,” that is, a confined area where they were likely to be trapped in the event of a collapse. And so it came to pass, and firefighters John Mesh and Larry Leggio died, and firefighter Dan Werner was seriously injured. (He’s on crutches and has not returned to work.)

Everyone who had been in the building was out, so no civilians were in danger at that point. The firefighters were in the alley because they were trying to beat down the fire so it wouldn’t jump across the alley and engulf a grocery store to the east. But being in the alley, their lives were at risk.

It’s not clear who told them to go into the alley; it doesn’t sound like they did that on their own. What we know is that the incident commander had declared a collapse zone, and the alley was clearly within the zone and should have been cleared. Moreover, supervisors knew firefighters were in the alley and didn’t order them out. Mesh’s and Leggio’s immediate supervisor, a captain, had left the alley to check with his supervisors to see what they wanted him and his crew to do next.

…What I liked about the way this story was written and presented is that Hendricks and Campbell approached it straightforwardly but with great sensitivity.

They didn’t shrink from the fact that a screw-up resulted in two firefighters dying. And they cited a federal safety agency’s assessment of the importance of clearing firefighters from collapse zones:

Obviously, no building is worth a firefighter’s life. Therefore, imminent risk to save a firefighter’s life is unacceptable.

On the other hand, they didn’t try to pin the blame on any supervisors in particular. Here’s as far as they went on that front: “The (fire) department did not respond to The Star’s request for the names of the commander and other supervisors on the scene.”

That’s all that needed to be said. The supervisors, from the captain to the incident commander, have to live with their actions and decisions. That’s an awful thing, and there’s nothing to be gained by hanging individuals out to dry. What emerged clearly from the story was that the Kansas City Fire Department, which claims to be among the best in the nation, needs to conduct a top-to-bottom examination of its response procedures to major fires.

The reporters tried to nudge Fire Chief Paul Berardi toward seeking an independent review of the department’s response to the fire, quoting a deputy fire chief in Fort Worth who said that would be the correct thing to do. Berardi didn’t want to hear of it, however, saying the national safety agency’s report will tell the full story.

A major problem with that, however, is the safety agency’s report could take up to a year to complete.

It seems almost certain that an independent review, focusing exclusively on this fire in this city, would yield a much faster report that would lead to quicker policy changes, which, obviously, are badly needed.

The reporters also pointed out that KCFD has no written protocol for dealing with collapse zones. The Star’s story ended with a quote from the Fort Worth deputy chief, who said if the department didn’t have such a protocol, “that’s an area you need to work on.”

Just as they did on the identity of the supervisors, Hendricks and Campbell didn’t wield a sledgehammer on the need for an independent review and updated protocols.

With two firefighters dead and a third still on crutches, this was a delicate story that required deft handling by the reporters and their editors. The Star gets an A+ on this one.

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There’s a hero in this sordid, maddening Chicago case where a cop with a history of abusing citizens executed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was jogging away from him, small knife in hand, and could easily have been brought down with a taser, or less.

The cop isn’t the only coward in this case, though. There are at least two others: Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who charged Officer Jason Van Dyke with first-degree murder only after a judge had ordered the video to be released, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who participated in the conspiracy because he was afraid the video’s release earlier might have cost him re-election.

Sadly, Emanuel, who was once President Obama’s right-hand man, showed that expediency and opportunism are more important to him than justice and the public welfare.

(A New York Times commenter, “Robert” from Minneapolis, said this about Emanuel: “Such a slimy mess. The mayor should go. The big Chicago Democratic machine did whatever it could to hide the truth. I wonder what is going through Obama’s head, as he reflects upon his sleazy former chief and the Chicago machine?”)

Several other cover-up artists are likely in the mix, including the person or persons responsible for making more than an hour of video from a nearby Burger King disappear without a trace.

…But, like I say, there’s a hero here. And not surprisingly it’s a journalist.

Freelance writer Brandon Smith pushed for months for release of the damning video and finally took the police department to court. If he hadn’t done that — and hadn’t won — who knows what would have happened with this case? It may well have been enveloped in that big cloud of bad-cop cases that just seem to drift away.

Now, Officer Van Dyke probably won’t be convicted of first-degree murder, even though McDonald wasn’t threatening him and he shot the young man 16 times. Laws give police a lot of discretion when it comes to determining if they feel they are in danger when they confront lawbreakers.

But in this case, the city has already admitted culpability, having settled with McDonald’s family for $5 million after their lawyers obtained a copy of the video (long before it was released publicly). And I think it’s very likely a judge or jury will convict Officer Van Dyke of voluntary manslaughter, at the very least, and that he will go to prison.

But back to Smith…He has a blog called muckrakery! and on the blog describes himself as a journalist who is based “wherever my suitcase sits.” His journalistic mission, his blog says, is to answer the question “what the hell is going on here, really?”

brandon smith

Brandon Smith

That’s precisely the question that spurred him to push the pedal to the metal on the Chicago case. On a recent Chicago TV talk show, he said he got interested in the case last April and contacted an activist named William Calloway, who said the video should be released. Smith and Calloway then filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOI) request for the video.

After getting stonewalled for four months, Smith contacted a lawyer, who filed suit in August. (I don’t know what the arrangement was with the lawyer — whether Smith paid out of his pocket, someone else paid or the lawyer took the case pro bono.)

On the talk show, Smith said several “big news organizations” had also filed FOI requests but had not pressed the issue. “I wondered why didn’t they ask their lawyers to sue for this,” he said.

Good question…And here’s the answer. As corporate journalism has tightened its grip on metropolitan dailies, and as newspapers have lost significant ground to the Internet, fewer newspapers have been willing to spend what it takes to hold public entities and officials to account. (I focus on newspapers because they have traditionally been the organizations, much more than TV stations, to sue for access to records or violations of open meetings laws. When I was with The Star, I saw firsthand how interest faded in spending money to hire lawyers when journalistic principles cried out for it.)

The New York Times is about the only paper — and, not coincidentally, one of a handful of remaining family owned dailies — that will spend big bucks to hold public officials accountable. But this was a Chicago case, so I’m not surprised The Times didn’t get involved. The Chicago Tribune should have been the organization to sue, but it didn’t. Again not coincidentally, the Tribune has lost more ground to corporate journalism than probably any other paper in the country.

So, it was up to a freelancer — a David with a slingshot — to challenge the city of Chicago. And he got ’em right between the eyes.

Now, flush with his recent success, Smith is pushing further. In a Dec. 1 article on the Daily Beast website, he said:

“But I’m not stopping there (with release of the video). With the help of attorneys, I’m continuing my Freedom of Information Act request of the city to release officer statements made to investigators, emails from city officials, and more. The public needs to know what as many as eight officers did immediately after the shooting, as well as how the department handled what should’ve been plainly seen as murder by one of its own officers that night.”

Bravo for Brandon Smith, a previously unheralded journalist, whose tenacity brought to the surface a story that could help stem police overreactions to challenging situations.


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