Archive for October, 2016

Having bailed on the silly idea of convincing Kansas City voters to approve a bond issue for a new, modern airport, Mayor Sly James is now pinning his legacy on another proposal. It’s a…it’s an arts festival.

But not just a plain-old arts festival. This will be a mind-boggling arts festival — a huge, Donald-Trump-scale arts festival. (I’m sure he’s put one on somewhere, sometime.)

“My vision for the festival,” the mayor intoned last week (undoubtedly emphasizing the word “vision”), “is simply to maximize Kansas City’s talent and resources, put them on display, provide a venue for them to collaborate, bring regional and national attention to the city, and finally to produce some revenue related to the arts.”

Wow…I mean WOW!

This gigantic, national-attention-drawing festival — let’s call it Big-A-Fest — should once and for all strip Kansas City of its cowtown image. Plus, it should, at long last, give us a festival we can be truly proud of.

I mean, who pays any attention to the piddly little cultural events and occasional parades we have now?

I’m talking about things like the Ethnic Enrichment Festivalthe Plaza Art Fair…the Brookside and Westport art fairs…Kansas City Irish FestKC RiverFest…the 18th and Vine Jazz & Blue FestivalSanta-Cali-Gon-Daysthe St. Patrick’s Day Paradethe Snake Saturday Parade.

artfestYeah, those crummy events barely draw a couple million people a year, so what we need is a big, BIG, BIG arts festival (that’s why we’re calling it Big-A-Fest, don’t you know) that will probably draw six or seven million people over what…maybe a week or so? Yeah, let’s give it several days so the horns, violas and violins can really get cookin’ and the painters, sketchers and leather-hat vendors can get their creative juices flowing and whip up some of their best-ever work right here in our own KCMO!

…Did I tell you how the mayor proposes to finance this BIG, BIG arts festival. Why easy as falling off a Lake of the Ozarks dock. He’d pluck $250,000 from the Neighborhood Tourist Development Fund, a tax-funded pool the City Council created about 25 years ago.

There’s one catch, though…Until now, the NTDF committee members have been real sticklers for how those millions of dollars are spent each year. They’ve been requiring, among other things, detailed applications and line-item budgets, as well as supporting documents and recommendations from interested parties.

Unfortunately, nothing like a complete application and proposed budget exists for Big-A-Fest. But not to worry: Mayor Sly…Oops, I mean Mayor James…waved off such petty concerns, saying the arts generate an estimated $250 million in economic impact (!) for Kansas City and can be an even bigger engine for cultural tourism and growth.

Even bigger…Yes!

This afternoon, the City Council, in a frenzy of efficiency, voted 11-2 to approve the $250,000. The only council members who failed to be swept away by the mayor’s vision and wisdom were Jermaine Reed and Quinton Lucas. Those guys must be wearing blindfolds.

So, it’s just about a done deal, I guess. Look for Big-A-Fest at a park near you. Oh, did I mention it ain’t gonna be free? They’ll be charging admission.

Now, some of you might be saying, “But…but, Jimmy, what about that dump of an airport we’ve got up by Cookingham Drive?

It can wait, I tell you, it can wait. It has to wait. When an idea this BIG comes along, you gotta jump high and fast or you end up on your back in the wading pool.

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I was too harsh in my criticism of two Kansas City Star reporters in my last post, and today I’m going to try to make amends.

I’m not going to steer away from warranted criticism of The Star and other papers in the future, but I am going to be more careful with my wording and also make a better effort to verify things I present as fact.

First, I related that a friend, a former KC Star colleague, told me that a young reporter named Ian Cummings wore a T-shirt and jeans when he went to interview R. Crosby Kemper III, Kansas City Public Library director, last week. My friend got that from a friend who is a top manager at the library.

I could easily have emailed or called Cummings and found out if that was true, but instead I went with my friend’s information. Bad move. Cummings sent me an email a several hours after the post was up, saying he had worn a Polo-type shirt and slacks.

I quickly posted a comment noting what Cummings had said — although I still questioned the propriety of wearing a Polo shirt to an interview with a person of Kemper’s stature.

Cummings was under the impression I was going to change the original paragraph in the blog, and from a later email he sent, I got the impression he was disappointed in the way I handled the “correction.”

I don’t shrink from corrections, but they often don’t look like the formal corrections you see in The Star and other papers. Most blogs have a personal, informal tone and that’s what I shoot for here.

In any event, my apologies to Ian Cummings, but, like I said in my follow-up comment yesterday, reporters should be ready to shift gears, sartorially and otherwise, depending on the nature of their assignments. Casual Fridays are not always observed in executive suites, and whatever Cummings wore to his interview with Crosby Kemper, he had library officials talking.


I also criticized reporter Steve Vockrodt for what I deemed to be “lazy” reporting on a weekend story about a Nevada U.S. District Court judge having ordered a former payday lender from our area to pay $1.3 billion to the Federal Trade Commission for cheating several million people out of their money.

My main objection to the story was it included no indication that the defendant, Scott Tucker, would probably never pay anything close to $1.3 billion. A lot of his profits are undoubtedly gone, and besides, first-level court judgments often get altered as the cases forward on appeal.

Vockrodt called and said he didn’t get the court ruling until Saturday (the story appeared in Sunday’s paper), when it would have been very difficult to identify and contact sources who might have offered comments tempering the prospect of Tucker ever making full restitution. He also made it clear he was unhappy with my assessment he was guilty of lazy reporting.

Vockrodt said he planned to do a follow-up story, and today he did so. Today’s story says, among other things, that The FTC has estimated Tucker’s liquid assets are $106 million. My guess is the FTC will get far less than that.

…If I had to write it again, I would not have used the word “lazy.” I would have said, simply, that Vockrodt, a veteran business reporter, should not have left readers with the impression that the FTC would be collecting anything close to $1.3 billion from Tucker. He wasn’t lazy; he just knew better.

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The payday loan guys who operated under our noses for years, bilking people throughout the country of hundreds of millions of dollars, are now getting the big squeeze they have long deserved.

A couple of the biggest operators — Scott Tucker and Richard Moseley Sr. — are facing criminal charges in New York, and on Friday a federal judge in Nevada ordered Tucker, a Rockhurst High graduate, and others to pay a massive amount of money to the Federal Trade Commission to resolve an FTC civil lawsuit.

On the front page of Sunday’s Kansas City Star, reporter Steve Vockrodt reported that the fine (if that’s what you call it) was nearly $1.3 billion.

Now, the reaction many readers had to that story was probably something like, “Wow, that’s a lot of money!”

Of course, it is…But the next question I had — and I expect many other readers, too — was “How much money might Tucker and the other defendants actually end up paying to the FTC?”

Seldom do parties who are awarded huge amounts in court cases ever see a majority of the money. There are two reasons for that. First, as the cases go up the ladder on appeal, awards often are lowered, or cases are settled. Second, most defendants, like Tucker, have squirreled away or lost much of their ill-gotten gains, making full restitution very unlikely.

And yet, reporters covering the first go-round of civil awards seldom bother to qualify the big, juicy numbers or inform readers that the initially victorious parties will never see anything close to those eye-popping amounts.

And so it was with Vockrodt. He didn’t bother, apparently, to try to contact legal experts who could have set him and the readers straight. Not only that, but Vockrodt didn’t even mention that the ruling — made by a U.S. District Court judge in Nevada — would undoubtedly be appealed. Vockrodt wrote that Tucker’s attorney “was not immediately available for comment,” but he certainly should have told readers the judge’s ruling was not the last word on the case.

…Vockrodt came to The Star in June from The Pitch, and he’s already established himself as a strong addition to the staff, especially at a time when The Star is laying off older editorial employees and replacing them with young, relatively low-paid people. But I have to say, that was lazy reporting on the Tucker story. Vockrodt  did little more than regurgitate the court ruling and throw in some well-established background about the Kansas City hucksters who have shamed themselves, their schools and their families…On stories like these, reporters have to take the time to identify and contact experts and, through them, caution readers that what they see is not what the prevailing parties are likely to get.


Two good sources have suggested that, to help fill the gaps on The Star’s depleted editorial-page staff, a familiar face could be returning to 18th and Grand.  Don’t be surprised, the sources said, if Rich Hood, former vice president and editorial-page editor, rides in to help out. Somebody has to step in, we know, because last week Publisher Tony Berg laid off his primary editorial writer, Yael Abouhalkah, and a few days later the only other editorial-page writer, Lewis Diuguid, announced he, too, was leaving. The last day for both men is Friday.

Hood, who is in his early 70s, was vice president and editorial-page editor for eight years before then-Publisher Art Brisbane canned him in 2001. Hood landed on his feet, however, going on to become director of communications for the Missouri Department of Transportation and later as a top regional administrator for the EPA. He retired from the EPA about three years ago.

Since last summer, Hood has been writing editorials for The Star on a freelance basis. When I reached him at his Lenexa home on Saturday, he said he had not met with Berg about taking on a part-time or full-time role at The Star, and he declined to say if he was interested in returning in a bigger way.

If Hood does come back, it would be quite a turnabout: He was basically fired by Brisbane for setting too conservative a tone on the editorial page, and Berg is now looking for “more balance” on the page, which has been decidedly liberal since Hood’s departure.




Finally, a former KC Star colleague told me about a reporting episode that made me cringe. It seems that in the course of reporting a story about an incident that took place at a Kansas City Public Library event, a young Star reporter named Ian Cummings made an appointment to interview library C.E.O. R. Crosby Kemper III. According to a library official who’s tight with my friend, Cummings arrived at Kemper’s office wearing a T-shirt and jeans…I don’t know what Kemper’s specific reaction was, but Cummings and The Star sure didn’t make any points with one of our most important non-elected public officials.


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