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Archive for July, 2016

When I look at the situation in Oklahoma City, which has been turned emotionally upside down by a basketball star’s decision to go elsewhere, I am glad — once again — that we don’t have an NBA team in Kansas City.

In the NBA, one player on one team — such as LeBron James (Cleveland), Stephen Curry (Golden State) or Kevin Durant (Ok City, until yesterday) — can have a disproportionate effect on a city’s overall sense of well-being.

One of the WHB radio talk-show hosts offered a hypothetical (and retrospective) Kansas City comparison this morning: Suppose, he said, that after the New York Yankees had beaten the Royals in three consecutive American League Championship Series — 1976, 1977 and 1978 — George Brett had announced he was leaving the Royals and signing with the Yankees.

Can you imagine how we would have felt collectively? The sense of betrayal? How much worse Kansas City’s self-esteem — not very high back then to start with — would have been? Why, that could have been a tipping point for hundreds or even thousands of people to move out of Kansas city, had they been mulling that possibility to start with.

We would have been emotionally devastated. And that’s how the people of Oklahoma City have felt since Durant’s announcement.

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett (a former sportswriter, by the way) said: “We’re stunned..Kevin was our Ernie Banks and Michael Jordan…We’ve been spurned by someone we cared deeply about.”

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Kevin Durant

A good part of Oklahoma City’s identity was wrapped up in Kevin Durant and still is wrapped up in the Oklahoma City Thunder — a team that moved from Seattle in 2008. Durant was there from the beginning. He had been selected No. 2 in the 2007 draft, and he went on to become Rookie of the Year. He was NBA’s MVP in 2014. He was a seven-time All-Star selection. He led the Thunder to the NBA Finals in 2012.

But he wasn’t just a sports hero. In 2013, he donated $1 million to the American Red Cross after the devastating tornado in Moore, OK. He is a partner in KD’s restaurant in Bricktown (Ok City’s version of the Power & Light District). Plus, he has endorsement deals with Ok City-based Sonic Drive-In and Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt.

To show you how fast feelings can change, after Durant made his announcement, Yelp was inundated with fake reviews of KD’s, including one that said:

“When I first ate his food, it tasted amazing, food made with respect, honesty and trust. Now it just tastes like the food of a traitor.”

The Oklahoman, Ok City’s daily newspaper, said a clerk at a Chesapeake Energy Arena retail store was busy marking down racks of Kevin Durant jerseys.

…To put things in larger perspective, however, Ok City would not be what it is today were it not for the Thunder. The Thunder is the city’s only “major league” franchise, and, as Cornett said, “He put us on the map.” Of course, Oklahoma’s vast crude oil and natural gas reserves were also a significant factor in the Oklahoma City area adding 60,000 residents (to 1.31 million) between 2010 and 2014.

Now, let’s swing this back to Kansas City. We’ve got three major-league franchises — the Royals, the Kansas City Chiefs and Sporting Kansas City. (When golfer Tom Watson was in his prime, former Kansas City Kings’ basketball coach Cotton Fitzsimmons called him KC’s “third franchise,” behind the Royals and Chiefs.)

There isn’t a single player on either the Royals or Chiefs whose departure would generate 6.0 on the Richter scale. With baseball, football and even soccer teams, the talent is more dispersed and one person, generally, doesn’t make or break a team.

Go back to the end of the 2015 baseball season, when Kansas City hung on tenterhooks over the prospect of star Royals’ outfielder Alex Gordon signing with another team. I remember Soren Petro talking about that likely prospect on his WHB radio show and warning fans, “It’s going to be heart-breaking.”

I was bracing myself, like all other Royals’ fans. But, wouldn’t you know it, a semi-miracle took place; he came back, and it looks like he’ll finish his playing career in Kansas City.

If he’d left, yes, it would have been heart-breaking. But it wouldn’t have been soul-crushing. It wouldn’t have plunged the city into mourning. It wouldn’t have instantly revived the inferiority complex we hauled around until Emanuel Cleaver became mayor in 1991 and began singing, sometimes shouting, Kansas City’s praises. (To this day, I firmly believe that was the turning point after a dozen depressing years with the self-unsure Mayor Richard Berkley at the helm.)

So, my heart goes out to the good people of Ok City, just 350 miles southwest of us. It’s a great city and will continue to prosper without Kevin Durant. But, as an editorial in The Oklahoman said today, “It will take time for the pain to subside, no doubt.”

Fortunately, Kansas City’s sporting eggs are not loaded into a single basket. We are much better positioned to take a hit — say, for example, Eric Hosmer leaving after the 2017 season. We have reached a point where the loss of any single sports star would not devastate us.

gbThat being said, it would be quite an upset if George and Leslie Brett put their Mission Hills house on the market and said they were moving to Southern California, where George is from…Listen to me, Leslie. If George ever suggests anything like that, just smack him.

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I doubt it.

You wake up, and it is over. The people who work are going back to work, and the people who don’t work are cleaning up and thinking, “What now?”

In our case, Brooks and I (Patty went back to work) are doing dishes, shutting the windows, turning on the A.C. and planning to return a dozen folding chairs and two tables to our neighbor down the street. (When I was making the borrowing arrangements, my neighbor said, “I wish I’d been to as many parties as my tables and chairs have been to.”)

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Josie

Another small task is to take a front screen window to the hardware store for re-screening. Our black lab-German Shepherd got so excited during our fireworks display last night she bulled her way through the screen and joined us in the yard. She’s a social animal, our Josie. (At another point, with people coming in and out the front door, she got out and wandered off into the Ward Parkway median. I didn’t realize she had been gone ’til I went to the front door and there she was, waiting to come in. A few minutes later, a woman — a stranger — appeared at the back gate and said the dog had been out in the parkway. Whew!)

Unlike a lot of people, we didn’t leave any fireworks detritus in the street. Contrary to my expansive statements beforehand, our display was relatively small (although every bit as spectacular as I had promised), and we scooped up the remnants immediately afterward.

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The party’s over.

But back to the finality of the Fourth…There are other holidays that end with a thump — like Memorial Day and Labor Day — but the anticipation of those days isn’t as pronounced, and it’s easier to wake up the next day without missing too many beats.

Then you’ve got Christmas, with the biggest buildup of all. It tends to linger. Family members who have moved away are often in town; people have taken off work the entire week; and, in this era, young and old alike can continue playing with their new electronic gadgets.

New Year’s Day also tends winds down slowly. It used to end more quickly, back when the big college football bowl games were concentrated on that one day and there were no more after that. Now, they drag on for two weeks, and people say “Happy New Year” for two weeks after that.

The closest thing to the July 4 evaporation on July 5 is the disappearance of Easter Sunday on Easter Monday. He — HE — rises on Sunday, and on Monday it’s back in the saddle; the stone rolls forward.

So, here it is, July 5, and about all I can think of is I’m one day closer to knee-replacement surgery…It was a great day, though — the Fourth. We had a terrific party with good friends from as far west as Olathe and as far east as Brookside Boulevard. The food was fantastic, the weather was accommodating…and nobody drove home drunk. It’s great to wake up in America on July 5.

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Happy Fourth, everyone. We’re having a party tonight, and I’m putting on a gigantic fireworks display in the Romanelli West neighborhood, so if you’re in the neighborhood and hear sirens, you’ll know what’s going on. I’m sure even the KCMO cops won’t be able to ignore the blockbuster demonstration I have planned.

…But anyway, I’ve got other things on my mind, too.

Like, how about that Steve Vockrodt story on The Star’s front page today? It was a nearly 70-inch takeout on Kansas City Councilman Quinton Lucas’ valiant attempt to get his council colleagues to pass an ordinance that would significantly limit tax abatement. Overly generous tax abatements for developers has become, after many years of tolerance, a matter of keen public interest. But public interest will fade, of course, unless relevant aspects of a situation are highlighted in the press.

And that’s where Vockrodt, who just joined The Star’s staff June 1 after several years at The Pitch, provided a big public service today: He put a bright light on Lucas’ effort to rein in a tax-abatement scheme that has gone on way too long.

Just as surely as a majority of Kansas Citians don’t want a new single-terminal airport, a majority is strong opposed to the current tax-abatement system, which developers, lawyers, architects, engineers and others have utilized to line their pockets for many years and build projects in areas that should not qualify for public supplements. The system came to a head earlier this year when opposition erupted over the Helzberg plan to refurbish a warehouse in the booming Crossroads Arts District and convert it into headquarters for the BNIM architecture firm.

Promoters dropped the project after several people, including my friend Clinton Adams of Freedom Inc., organized and pursued an initiative petition to deny tax increment financing for the project.

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Quinton Lucas

In the wake of that, the development “community” assumed a lower profile, hoping public attention would fade and time would reinstate the lucrative status quo. In May, however, Lucas, whose 3rd District is starved for redevelopment projects, introduced an ordinance that, in general, would reduce the amount of tax abatement or tax redirection” by 25 percent.

Vockrodt clearly explained it like this…

For example, a standard inducement offered by the Planned Industrial Expansion Authority abates as much as 100 percent of property tax increases on development projects for the first 10 years after approval, and then by 50 percent for the following 15 years. Under Lucas’ bill, the expansion authority could abate 75 percent of those taxes for 10 years, then 37.5 percent for 15 years.

It would affect tax increment financing, another popular incentive program. Under normal circumstances, TIF captures 100 percent of increases in property taxes generated by a development project, along with 50 percent of economic activity taxes (earnings, sales and utility taxes) and makes them available to reimburse developers. Under Lucas’ ordinance, property tax redirections would be limited to 75 percent, and economic activity tax redirection would fall to 37.5 percent.

Reading along on this story, I thought Lucas might be a lone tree trimmer out on a long limb, but, no, his ordinance has six co-sponsors: Teresa Loar, Katheryn Shields, Jermaine Reed, Alissia Cannady, Heather Hall and Lee Barnes. Seven votes is all it takes to pass an ordinance, but it’s not as easy at is sounds, especially when you’re taking on powerful vested interests who exercise their power partly through the political lifeline of campaign contributions.

A key councilman who is delaying action on Lucas’ ordinance is Scott Taylor, chairman of the Planning, Zoning & Economic Development Committee. It is through that committee that Lucas’ ordinance must travel to get before the full council. But Taylor has refused to schedule a committee hearing on the ordinance, saying, “We definitely don’t want to implement something that would shut down the economy, as we’re creating a lot of new activity, jobs and new investment in Kansas City…”

Let’s hope Lucas and his co-sponsors are able to keep up the pressure and get this ordinance passed — and that Mayor Sly James doesn’t veto it. It’s a good start at reining in an inequitable system that has endured too long.

**

My only qualm about the tax-abatement story is the headline in the print edition. It says, “Fight to lessen tax cuts is long, lonely

I read that headline several times, and it sounded like a battle was afoot to keep taxes high. It’s confusing and should not have run that way. The headline in the online version was much more precise: “Will KC get a law to rein in development incentives? Once councilman is trying

I understand that the person who wrote the headline for the print edition was limited to one column, and that is certainly challenging…Nevertheless, it could have been much clearer.

 

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:: Let’s start with the tragic.

Maybe you saw the obit of 45-year-old Lara Gail Taylor. It was one of those obits that jumped out at you because of the photo. There she was — just her face — with a big smile, pretty hair and glowing eyes. (Online, you could see her hair was red.)

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Lara Gail Taylor

She was 45, had a son — apparently she was divorced or widowed — and lived in Amarillo. The obit was in The Star because she had been born in North Kansas City and formerly lived in Parkville.

The first sentence of the obit left me totally confused: “Lara Taylor…passed away unexpectedly about 8:40 a.m. Tuesday, June 28, 2016, in a tragic head-on collision involving two BNSF freight trains near the town of Panhandle, Texas.”

My first thought was, “What the hell was this woman doing in the vicinity of a freight-train collision”? Was she a bystander? What? It just didn’t compute.

Obviously, I was thinking stereotypically because a Google search revealed she was a crew member on one of the trains. Two other crew members also died and a fourth escaped by jumping off one of the trains just before the impact.

A memorial service is being held Tuesday at Harmony Vineyard Church, Kansas City, North.

:: The strange.

In last night’s 6-2 win over the Phillies, Royals’ starting pitcher Danny Duffy not only dominated the Phillies but he drove in a run with a weird bunt that looped over the head of the Phillies’ starting pitcher and landed in the grass in front of their shortstop. Describing the play in his game story, The Star’s Rustin Dodd compared the ball’s flight to “a delicate lob web from just off the fringe.”

I think Rustin has been spending too much time on the Internet because the words he was looking for were lob wedge. That’s a club you use to pop the golf ball up and over a hill or sand trap.

:: The heroic.

The terrorist attack at a Bangladesh bakery took the lives of two police officers, six attackers and 20 hostages — all foreigners…The attackers didn’t want to kill fellow Muslims. (Among other things, the attackers lectured the hostages on religious practices and told the kitchen staff to pray regularly and study the Qu’ran.) They did kill one Bangladeshi man, however. He was Faraz Hossain, a student at Emory University in Atlanta. Hossain was with two women wearing Western clothes — one from India, the other from the U.S. The terrorists offered Hossain the opportunity to leave, but, courageously, he declined and chose to see it through with his companions. He was among those found dead on Saturday morning, after the 10-hour siege.

:: The fascinating.

By far the most interesting story in today’s papers is The New York Times’ story about President Obama’s late-night work and correspondence habits.

The story opens like this:

“Are you up?”

The emails arrive late, often after 1 a.m., tapped out on a secure BlackBerry from an email address known only to a few. The weary recipients know that once again, the boss has not yet gone to bed. 

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New York Times photo

It seems that almost every night that he’s at the White House, Obama has dinner at 6:30 with Michelle and his daughters and then withdraws to the Treaty Room, a private office down the hall from his bedroom, where he works for four or five hours, under a portrait of President Ulysses S. Grant. Among other things, he reads staff reports, works on speeches and reads 10 letters — letters from the public and chosen each day by his staff.

The story says he also “watches ESPN, reads novels or plays Words With Friends on his iPad.”

He doesn’t rely on caffeinated drinks to keep him going. Usually it’s just bottled water.

Now, you would think that working four or five hours would require lots of snacks. Not for this reed-thin chief executive. His nightly indulgence is seven lightly salted almonds. Never more, never less. Seven.

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I’ve become greatly enamored lately of a certain straightforward, strong-minded woman running for the nation’s highest elective office.

She appears calm and assured in the face of crisis and someone you can trust to put the nation’s interest ahead of personal aspirations.

Her name is Theresa May, and she’s the odds-on favorite to become leader of Britain’s Conservative Party, and thus the next prime minister. For the last six years, May has been Britain’s Home Secretary, a post in which she is responsible for the internal affairs of England and Wales, as well as immigration and citizenship for the United Kingdom.

Another thing I like about this lady…she would fit right in at the Kentucky Derby. Take a look at this photo of her taken Friday at a regatta in Henley, England.

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If you haven’t noticed, an irresistible stew of British intrigue, personalities and high-wire politics has relegated the Trump-Clinton race to down-page headlines this week. It started, of course, with last week’s “Brexit” vote and escalated sharply this week with a political betrayal that turned the prime minister’s race on its ear. 

The former mayor of London, a free-wheeling, frumpy-looking fellow named Boris Johnson, seemingly was on his way to 10 Downing Street to succeed Prime Minister David Cameron when Michael Gove, a man who had been a close ally of Johnson, decided he was going to run for Conservative Party leader.

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Michael Gove

Gove had the portfolio and standing to leapfrog Johnson. He is Britain’s Justice Minister — a senior cabinet member — and a longtime government official with a lot of clout. Once he said he was running, Johnson, who has no current governmental foothold, was toast.

Gove has a few things working against him, however. For example, he has said several times that he did not feel equipped to be prime minister and did not want the job. Then, there’s the specter of his wife, Sarah Vine, a columnist for a conservative British tabloid, working behind the scenes as puppeteer.

In a recent email she wrote to her husband — an email that inadvertently ended up going public — she cautioned Gove to seek “reassurance” from Johnson about his own future in government before pledging to support Johnson. That apparently contributed to Gove’s decision to renege on supporting Johnson.

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At a news conference this week.

Against that backdrop, May quickly moved to fill the void. In a news conference within hours after Johnson announced he wouldn’t run and Gove said he would, May made a strong case why she was the best person to lead the way into Britain’s clouded future, even though she had quietly supported the “Remain” campaign.

Here’s part of what she said:

“First, following last week’s referendum, our country needs strong, proven leadership to steer us through this period of political and economic uncertainty and to negotiate the best possible terms as we leave the European Union…Brexit means Brexit. The campaign was fought, the vote was held, turnout was high, and the public gave their verdict. There must be no attempts to remain inside the E.U., no attempts to rejoin it through the back door.”

She went on to say she was not motivated by “ambition or glory.”

I know some politicians seek high office because they’re driven by ideological fervor…But my reasons are much simpler. I grew up the daughter of a local vicar and the granddaughter of a regimental sergeant major. Public service has been a part of who I am for as long as I can remember. I know I’m not a showy politician; I don’t tour the television studios, I don’t gossip about people over lunch, I don’t go drinking in parliament’s bars, I don’t often wear my heart on my sleeve, I just get on with the job in front of me.

…Every once in a while, a politician comes along who really connects with people — who speaks in a way that inspires confidence and makes you want to run out and pull the lever for him or her. I wish I could vote for Theresa May — or somebody like her.

And like I said, she sure would look good at the Kentucky Derby.

**

In light of Laura Hockaday’s comment (below) about Boris Johnson, I’m adding this photo of Boris, seen with his wife Marina leaving a hotel after announcing he would not run for Conservative Party leader.

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