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Archive for August, 2017

I have not read any of the four proposals for a new Kansas City International Airport terminal and, frankly, don’t know if they have been made public yet.

All I know is what I read in The Kansas City Star and elsewhere — and what I hear from people who know more than I.

But my first impression, from reading in today’s paper about the proposals submitted yesterday, is that Burns & McDonnell’s first proposal — the one it submitted when it appeared poised to get a no-bid contract with the enthusiastic support of Mayor Sly James — would have resulted in the city and the airlines paying the firm hundreds of millions of dollars more than necessary for a new terminal.

We taxpayers can be very grateful that several City Council members, especially Councilwoman Katheryn Shields, pushed for a slowdown and insisted that other firms be permitted to submit proposals.

More about the possible cost saving in a minute, but first an observation on the politics….The deeper into this we get, the worse Sly James looks. Bow-tie man was so desperate to get a new airport started during his second term that he dumped the customary process — time tested by governments at all levels — of presenting a project, soliciting bids and determining the “lowest and best bid.”

Burns & McDonnell came to James (or vice versa, perhaps) with the unconventional idea of giving the firm a short-arm contract to build the terminal and do so with money the firm would borrow privately at a significantly higher interest rate than the Aviation Department could get by issuing municipal revenue bonds. The big plus — as pitched by Burns and Mac — was the city wouldn’t be on the hook if debt payments outstripped airport revenue. (The prospect of taxpayer dollars being on the line is a phony proposition on its face because the airlines, not taxpayers, would have to make up any shortfall. But that’s another story…)

Now, it’s all ass backwards, and there appears to be little chance of getting this project back on the conventional track, which offers the best chance of getting a new, vibrant, functional terminal at the lowest possible price.

Here’s where we are:

:: Instead of the city issuing a thorough “request for bids” outlining exactly what it wants and then being able to compare proposals side by side, line by line, four firms are throwing out hundreds of pages of proposals about wildly divergent plans, leaving City Council members to wade through the mess and attempt to figure out, or guess, which plan might yield a good airport and which would waste the least amount of money.

:: If pursued to conclusion, this loosey-goosey process will essentially place the contractor, not the city, in charge of the project, with citizens reliant on the goodwill and honesty of the “winning” contractor to give the city a good product at a good price.

Do you like that scenario? I don’t. Putting the contractor in the traditional role of “owner” leaves way too much to chance, not to mention significantly increasing potential fraud and waste.

The initial proposals, submitted yesterday, show exactly how vulnerable the city is with this tails-up approach.

…The original “memorandum of understanding” — put forth several weeks ago — between the city and Burns and Mac called for the airlines to pay “approximately” $85.2 million a year to repay the project financing. Now, the airlines are currently paying about $33 million a year to retire the city’s airport debt costs, so jacking it up by $50 million seems like an incredible hike.

Under the memorandum (now on the shelf), it was impossible to tell how much of that $85.2 million Burns and Mac intended to use for debt payments and how much it intended to retain as profit. That was all supposed to be worked out. But it sure sounded like Burns and Mac was going to have about $85.2 million a year to work with.

Yesterday, another firm that submitted a competing proposal, Los Angeles-based AECOM, homed in on that sky-high figure, saying it could build a $1 billion, 35-gate terminal for an annual payment of $69.8 million. Over 30 years, the firm said, the saving (the difference between $85.2 million and $69.8 million) would be $462 million.

Burns and Mac promptly responded by saying, essentially, “Oh, what we were talking about in the memorandum was the maximum annual debt payment commitment (the firm’s exact words), not the exact amount that would be needed year in and year out.”

Recognizing it was now in a bidding war, Burns and Mac went on to say its own annual financial commitment could be as low as $58 million.

…So, that’s what you get when you open up a big project to competition: One company exposes another’s numbers as outrageously high, and, almost miraculously, cost estimates drop precipitously.

That’s why the formal bid process, with the Aviation Department issuing revenue bonds and the city overseeing the project as “owner,” is the safest and surest way to go. The other approach doesn’t come close to guaranteeing the “lowest and best” bid.

But because of Sly James’ impatience and frustration at a lack of progress on the airport, we, the citizenry, have been stuffed into a box where we are totally dependent on pledges and cost estimates put forth by private firms. It’s a shitty position to be in…I hate it. And the best thing to do now — the way to put the city back in the role of card dealer and casino owner — is to call in all the cards, reshuffle, change the game and deal again.

Yes, starting over would be a pain in the ass, and it would mean putting off the election until next year. But it’s the right thing to do. Sly James has put the city in a big hole, and it’s time to stop digging.

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I’m just back from the Boston area and Cape Cod, where we had a family reunion revolving around my last living aunt and uncle, Nanette and Jim Eckert, who are in their mid-80s.

When my Aunt Nanette, my late father’s sister, mentioned that the Eckert family was planning a reunion and invited me along, I jumped at the opportunity. Who knows? It could be the last time that part of my family would be intact and assembled.

Like the rest of us Fitzpatricks, Nanette was born in Louisville, but after she married Jim, who’s also from Louisville, they moved around because of his job with GE. Among other places, they lived in Kansas City (before I got here in 1969) and Omaha. More than 40 years ago they landed in the Boston area. That’s where they raised their four children and where they stayed. Now they live in a retirement complex in the Boston suburb of Needham.

One of their sons and his wife, Bob Eckert and Marie Therese Wolf, live in Milan, Italy, but have a large vacation home in the town of Yarmouth on Cape Cod. Another son and his wife, John and Elaine Eckert, have a vacation home in Plymouth, adjacent to Cape Cod, on the Atlantic Ocean.

Besides Milan, we came from California, from Nevada, from Missouri, from Kentucky, from Washington D.C., from Ohio and from New Hampshire. (I might be missing a state or two.)

On Saturday, about 18 of us gathered at Bob and Marie Therese’s house in Yarmouth. On Sunday afternoon, we loaded up and traveled west and north to Plymouth, where we met up with John and Elaine Eckert and one of their three children and her husband and two children.

All but one person attending the reunion stayed in one of the two “reunion” houses Saturday and Sunday. The exception was me…My days of sleeping on air mattresses, bunk house style, are behind me. I got an Airbnb room in a house strategically located between Yarmouth and Plymouth.

The reunion was very gratifying. The climax came Sunday night at dusk in the backyard of the Plymouth house. Aunt Nanette summoned everyone around, and we stood in a loose circle. She expressed her gratitude for the reunion and specifically thanked the two grandsons who instigated it, David Temming and Tom Parker. Then, in a voice halting and breaking, she said, “And I want to thank all of you for the joy you’ve brought to my life.”

It was a short speech, but one of the best I’ve ever heard.

Here are the photos…

The Yarmouth home of my cousin Bob Eckert and his wife Marie Therese Wolf. It was built in about 1850 by a shipmaster named Capt. Solomon Taylor.

Uncle Jim

Aunt Nanette

One of their two sons, Bob Eckert, who lives in Milan, Italy

One of their two daughters, Alice Temming of Cincinnati

My cousin Sharron Hilbrecht of Louisville and Doug Parker, of Napa, CA. Doug is a son-in-law of Jim and Nanette.

Grays Beach on Cape Cod Bay is less than half a mile from Bob and Marie Therese’s house.

The boardwalk adjacent to the beach

I took a chance and parked in a handicapped space and was lucky…as usual.

Alms House Road, between the house and the beach

One of Bob and Marie Therese’s daughters, Mailina, left, agitated for a baseball game.

Back at the house, Ralph Till, husband of Claire Till, a granddaughter of Nanette and Jim, got in a little basketball.

Just before we headed off to Plymouth, I got our Yarmouth hosts to sit still for a moment. That’s Marie Therese Wolf, Lola Wolf, Mailina Wolf and Cousin Bob.

From one spectacular vacation house to the next. This one, within easy walking distance of the Atlantic Ocean in Plymouth, is owned by John and Elaine Eckert. It was built by Elaine’s late father, Henry Sentola.

John Eckert, taking care of his guests

What’s a reunion without some corn shucking?

White Horse Beach, Plymouth

Ralph Till and Claire (Eckert) Till

David Temming (fore) and Tom Parker, reunion instigators, and Lola Wolf

I, too, am grateful…for this great aunt and uncle!

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The lead editorial in Tuesday’s print edition of The New York Times contained a grammatical error so bad I read it four or five times trying to figure out if my eyes or my knowledge of the King’s English were failing me.

The editorial, titled “Drop the Bluster on North Korea,” urged the Trump administration to reach out to North Korea in an effort to initiate talks regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

The last paragraph of the editorial went like this:

“Are the North Koreans even interested in talks? American experts who study the issue say there have been repeated signals in recent weeks that they is.”

The italics are mine because those are the two words at issue. “They” — as everyone with an eighth-grade education knows — is a plural subject, while “is,” is a singular verb.

Like I said, I was so confounded I read that sentence over and over to see if I was missing something. But no, there it was, clear and simple, a classic and embarrassing screw-up.

The next thing I did was read the paragraph to our daughter Brooks, who is also an avid Times reader. After reading it to her, I said, “That’s pretty funny, isn’t it?” And she replied, “It are.”

Today I put in a call to Phil Corbett, standards editor for the Times, to see if he knew about the screw-up and what his reaction was. He didn’t pick up, so I left a message. A few minutes later, he sent this email:

“Thanks for the call. My reaction: ugh. I assume something that egregious must have resulted from a last-minute editing change where someone didn’t read it over one more time. Glad they fixed it online, but ouch. Bear with us, and I hope that won’t happen again.”

…It was a bad error, but you gotta like it when the standards editor’s response is “Ugh.”

**

For almost a month, I’ve been wanting to follow up on the July 6 crash at K-7 and Parallel Parkway crash that killed Paul W. Scott, a 68-year-old Tonganoxie resident. Scott, a retired Johnson County firefighter, was sitting in his tan SUV that Thursday — stopped at the Parallel Parkway intersection — when a white SUV plowed into the rear of his vehicle. Scott’s SUV was pushed into a box truck, which, in turn struck a third SUV.

Paul W. Scott

Scott was pronounced dead at the scene, and the driver of the white SUV was taken to a hospital with serious injuries. The drivers of the other two vehicles escaped with minor injuries.

In a July 8 post, I said it was very likely the driver of the white SUV was not paying attention, and I speculated he might have been texting or dialing up a song on his phone. A week or so later, I called Officer Cameron Morgan, the KCK police public information officer, to see if charges had been filed. He told me a detective had the case and was investigating. I checked with Morgan a week or so later, and the answer was the same. Another week went by, and the answer was the same.

By the third check, I was starting to get suspicious…Could it be the driver of the white SUV was someone important? Or someone with connections, and law enforcement was playing the delay game or even trying to make the case go away?

Today I requested another update, and Officer Morgan sent me this response:

“The subject causing the accident has died so no charges will be filed.”

That’s about the last thing I expected to hear, but it didn’t answer all my questions.

I sent Morgan another email, asking for the driver’s name, age and city of residence. He replied:

“I’ll have to ask the detective but he’s not answering my call right now. I believe he died in Nebraska so you would have to check with that city if they released his name. I don’t believe they will though.”

Realizing I had assumed the driver had died of the “serious injuries” from the crash, I sent Morgan another email, asking if the man (note that Morgan used the word “he”) died as a result of injuries suffered in the crash and if he was a Nebraska resident.

Morgan answered one of my two questions…

“No, he didn’t die from injuries in the crash. I believe it was possibly suicide but you would have to confirm that with them.”

One of the things I love about the news business is the element of surprise. Not only will there be no charges but the man responsible for the crash is dead, in all probability having killed himself.

I would still like to know more: Who is this guy? Where did he live? How old was he? But with suicides, the information flow often dries up. What was a public case becomes a personal, family matter, and what he was doing behind the wheel on the morning of July 6 becomes moot…I think it’s fair to speculate, though, that the Parallel Parkway crash took not one life but two.

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