Archive for September, 2017

Some stories require a lot of patience and a lot of checking.

This is such a one.

I began following the U.S. Tax Court case of former Waddell & Reed C.E.O. and chairman Keith A. Tucker in May 2010, two months after I started writing this blog and five years after Tucker was forced out at Overland Park-based Waddell & Reed.

I was a Johnny-come-lately because in 2010 the case had already been in Tax Court for six years.

Tucker, who formerly lived in one of the most breathtaking homes in Kansas City — a Louis Curtiss designed residence on the northwest corner of 55th and Ward Parkway — claimed a very questionable tax loss of $39.2 million for the year 2000, the same year he and his wife Laura reported $44.2 million in wages and salaries.

The $40-million-plus windfall came from Tucker having exercised options on nearly two million shares of Waddell & Reed stock two years after the company went public and its stock price rose sharply.

Tucker didn’t want to pay the taxes on the windfall, so he got himself into a tax shelter designed by a former employer, the accounting firm KPMG.


The IRS ruled against the shelter, which revolved around foreign-currency options, and billed Tucker and his wife Laura, $15.5 million for a year 2000 tax deficiency, plus a $6.2 million penalty. The Tuckers contested the ruling in 2004, setting in motion a torturous, 13-year journey in U.S. Tax Court.

I thought it might never be resolved. Exceedingly rich people, as we all know, have a knack for forestalling their day in court. Of course, having oodles of money and being able to hire an armada of lawyers helps push the calendar back, back, back. (Tucker hired at least eight lawyers to represent him in the tax case.)

So, the case dragged on through countless motions and counter-motions, through a one-day trial in 2016 and finally through post-trial filings. I have a manila folder headed “Tucker, Keith” that I would pull out every few months and then go to the U.S. Tax Court website to see if there had been any developments.

Yesterday, I pulled out that file, went to the website and — lo and behold — discovered a judgment had been entered on Sept. 20 by Judge Joseph Goeke in Washington.

The ruling: “(T)here is a deficiency in income tax due from petitioners for the taxable year 2000 in the amount of $15,518,704.”

I could hardly believe it…Even though the judge nullified the penalty, it appears the government is going to get its share of taxes from Tucker’s windfall, realized here in Kansas City 17 long years ago.

Tucker is expected to appeal the ruling, and that, too, could take years to resolve.


The federal tax case is not the reason I initially homed in on Keith Tucker.

What first stuck in my craw was the fact that after buying the 55th and Ward Parkway home in 1998, he and his wife had tall shrubs erected around the house, effectively blocking the views from both 55th and Ward Parkway.

Built for Bernard Corrigan, a Kansas City streetcar developer in the early 1900s, the home is considered to be one of the best examples of Prairie Style architecture in the Midwest. Two of its most prominent features are its leaded-glass windows and gray limestone walls.

The 55th and Ward Parkway home, as seen either from within a shrub line designed to block the street view or before the shrub line was erected.

I used to look at that house every time I drove by. And then, after the Tuckers shrouded it, it took on a whole new connotation for me. Truth is, it made me want to throttle Keith Tucker. (I wrote one blog post about this in April 2010 and another in May 2010.)

But if hiding that jewel of a home wasn’t enough, the tax-scamming Tucker did something else that absolutely galled me.

In trying to evade a $1.2 million bill in city earnings taxes — a tax the city imposes on both residents and people who work in the city — Tucker claimed he never legally resided at that home. He contended he was actually a resident of Dallas, where he and his wife had come from.

Talk about crust…He and his wife bought the house, together, in 1998 and lived in it until it was sold in 2005. During that period, they also hosted cocktail parties, political fund-raisers and even Waddell & Reed board meetings at the home. And — oh, yes — the phone book listed Keith Tucker at that address.

Fortunately, a Jackson Country Circuit Court judge saw through Tucker’s smokescreen and ruled in the city’s favor. In 2008, the Missouri Court of Appeals upheld the lower court ruling, and Tucker had to pay up.


I took this picture from 55th Street, the south side of the home, in 2010.


After leaving Kansas City, the Tuckers returned to Dallas, where Tucker heads a company called Century Bridge Capital, which describes its focus as investing in “the growing Chinese real estate sector by forming joint ventures with Chinese real estate development companies.”

Oh, boy…I just hope officials with the Chinese companies Tucker is doing business with get a chance to read Judge Goeke’s 86-page ruling. Actually, all they have to read is one key line, which says the foreign-currency options Tucker purchased in December 2000 “offered no reasonable expectation of any appreciable net gain but rather were designed to generate artificial losses by gaming the tax code.”

Tax gamer, that’s Keith Tucker. I’m glad he’s gone. Now I just wish whoever lives on the northwest corner of 55th and Ward Parkway would rip out those shrubs and let area residents once again delight in the view of that incredible home.

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I could have spent years stomping my feet and pounding the walls about football and traumatic brain injury before I would have made the slightest dent in football’s popularity.

But out of left field, so to speak, along came President Trump on Friday to advance by huge strides my personal crusade to kick football to the curb.

Trump didn’t kick with his feet, though. He used his most deadly weapon — his big, fat mouth.

A little more than a year ago, many of us would have been flabbergasted to hear a President, any President, call someone, anyone, a “son of a bitch.” But now that we’ve seen and heard how President Trump talks — i.e., “Grab ’em by the pussy; you can do anything” — whatever insulting language or specific words he uses barely register on the shock meter.

Before Trump spoke out Friday, only a slight crack was visible in football’s institutional bulwark. The increasing awareness and evidence of the link between repeated concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.) has been giving more people, especially mothers of young boys, pause about the hazards of football. But by essentially declaring war on National Football League players who choose to publicly demonstrate their frustration with racial injustice (see white cops killing unarmed black men with impunity), we may well see a lot more people turning their backs on pro football. And that could, in turn, push down to the college, high school and grade school level.

(As an aside, I found it interesting — and a bit cowardly — that Trump made his indictment in Alabama, which does not have an NFL team but has the nation’s No. 1 college team.)

Pro football was at the height of its popularity a year or two ago, just before former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided he would start kneeling in protest during the playing of the National Anthem before games.

After a preseason game in August 206, he told NFL media…

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

On Sunday, we saw that this situation has, indeed, gotten a lot bigger than football.

It was reassuring to me to hear reports that owners, coaches and players alike were banding together and metaphorically locking arms against Trump’s blusterous campaign to purge the NFL of protesters.

In the end, though, I don’t think we’ll look back and see the past weekend as the straw that broke the NFL’s back. There’s too much money on the table, for owners, the league and the players themselves. This will get worked out and we’ll probably see a Super Bowl-winning team back at the White House before the end of Trump’s first term.

In the end, it will be the brain injuries that drags football off its lofty entertainment perch and leaves it in the same category as boxing, which, not that long ago, was America’s favorite sport.

We’ve come a long way. It’s important to keep in mind that as recently as 2010, a neurologist named Ira Casson, who had recently resigned as co-chairman of the NFL’s “Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee,” told a congressional committee…

“My position is that there is not enough valid, reliable or objective scientific evidence at present to determine whether or not repeat head impacts in professional football result in long-term brain damage.”

For we who are intent on making more Americans aware of football’s danger to the human brain, we can use all the help we can get — even from a President who often seems deranged.

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It’s a go!

We’ll have an airport election on Nov. 7, and things are looking — if not up, up and away — at least up.

After a torturous, four-month process that has tested everyone’s patience and trust in City Hall, the City Council voted 10-2 this afternoon to enter into a terminal-construction contract with Edgemoor of Bethesda, MD.

As you regular readers know, I’ve called at times for dumping the process and starting all over again in a couple of years — next time putting the horse (design) before the cart (construction contract).

Nevertheless, it appears the Council made the right choice. One of the four competing firms, Jones Lange LaSalle, was never seriously in the hunt. Two others, AECOM and Burns & McDonnell, wore out their welcome by being whiny (AECOM) and avaricious (Burns and Mac).


Here’s how the council vote went. (You probably won’t get the full rundown in The Star, and it’s important.)


Mayor Sly James
Heather Hall
Dan Fowler
Quinton Lucas
Jermaine Reed
Katheryn Shields
Jolie Justus
Alissia Canaday
Kevin McManus
Teresa Loar


Lee Barnes Jr.
Scott Taylor


Scott Wagner


Here are my observations on some of those votes:

:: For all the criticism Sly James has come under in this blog and elsewhere for supporting Burns and Mac’s flagrant push for a no-bid contract, he made the correct call in the end, getting off the Burns and Mac bandwagon and switching to Edgemoor. As I reported last night, he told me and Mary O’Halloran at Steve Glorioso’s memorial service yesterday he thought there would be nine votes for Edgemoor today. His forecast was pretty much on target.

:: My old friend (although I backed her opponent Jim Glover in the 2015 election) Katheryn Shields was very instrumental in redirecting the process away from Burns and Mac and opening the project up to other competitors. Her deep governmental experience (an earlier stint on the Council, plus two terms as Jackson County executive) was pivotal. Where James’ bold move cowed at least two council members (Wagner and Justus), Shields was one of several who did not flinch.

:: I am proud of Teresa Loar for voting yes, even though she probably still doesn’t believe we need a new airport. She saw the scales tipping strongly in favor of selecting Edgemoor, and she went along. Like Shields, she, too, had an earlier stint on the council, and I feel sure her experience was a factor in her final decision.

:: Lee Barnes Jr. is a problematic council member because he is heavily influenced by a longtime adviser (not going to name him) whose political instincts are not very good.

:: I really like Scott Taylor, 6th District at-large councilman, who is running for mayor. (Disclosure: A few months ago, I contributed $250 to his campaign.) He was in a tough spot here. Burns and Mac built its big, new headquarters right in the middle of his district, at the intersection of Wornall and Ward Parkway. I’m sure he felt a deep loyalty to Burns and Mac, and I can’t blame him for that. It’s notable, though, that Kevin McManus, in-district councilman from the 6th, left the Burns and Mac fold and went over to Edgemoor. Congratulations to Kevin; that took some guts.

:: Where was Scott Wagner? An early supporter of Burns and Mac, along with James and Justus, he was a no-show today. I hope he didn’t “take a walk,” as they say when an elected official ducks a big vote.


All in all, the council deserves a tremendous amount of credit for what it did today. The process was ugly, but now that the sausage is made, it looks a lot better. On Nov. 7, let’s chow down. We need a new airport.

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As you might expect, more than beer and wine was flowing at Steve Glorioso’s funeral service tonight at the Chamber of Commerce meeting room at Union Station.

Information was in abundant supply, too.

Here are some of the nuggets I picked up:

:: Mayor Sly James told me and Mary O’Halloran, a former panelist on the “Ruckus” show on Channel 19, he believed Edgemoor would get nine votes tomorrow when the City Council meets at 3 p.m. to possibly select a contractor to build a new KCI terminal.

If the council is to approve Edgemoor tomorrow, it will take a minimum of nine votes — a two-thirds majority of the 13 members — because the council will be taking up the ordinance out of the customary sequence. If the council waited another week, it would only take seven votes, but with the airport election scheduled for Nov. 7, every day counts.

This is good news. If Edgemoor is selected tomorrow, Burns and Mac may, at last, slide into the background. If it contested the legality of the Edgemoor selection, or if it decided to campaign against the Nov. 7 proposition, it could do significant and lasting damage to its reputation locally. Its reputation has been dented as it is, and I hope company officials come to their senses and realize the battle is lost and it’s time to unite behind Edgemoor.

:: I heard from another person that James has dropped his push for Burns & McDonnell and is on board with the special airport committee’s selection of Edgemoor, based in Bethesda, MD.

That’s more good news, obviously. The upside-down process the mayor set in motion by agreeing to support Burns and Mac’s push for a quick, no-bid contract has already damaged his reputation and legacy. If he wants to continue his political career after his term expires in 2019, he needs to get back in step with a council majority and then be out front in the election campaign.

:: JE Dunn Construction officials are very disillusioned with Burns and Mac, which recruited Dunn to be on its “team.” The relationship has not gone well.

This is problematic but not fatal for the airport election. It is hard to imagine Dunn not involved in construction of a new terminal. I believe it will happen, but some sorting out will need to take place.

:: James told me and Halloran that Edgemoor won’t have a proposed design until next month. “They can’t do anything until they have a contract,” James said.

Makes sense, but it’s not good, of course. It harkens back to the upside-down nature of the process, where construction proposals were sought before design proposals. Speaking avidly, Halloran told James people would be more likely to get excited about a new terminal if they were shown a design that looked appealing and also appeared to be convenient. Another element that would add excitement, she said, would be incorporating many “green” elements, including numerous solar panels.


Tomorrow should be a very interesting day at City Hall. I won’t be able to attend the council session, however. Patty and I are heading out of Union Station on the Southwest Chief tomorrow night, for a weekend at some friends’ cabin in southern Colorado. So, you’ll have to rely on the “traditional” media — The Star, the TV stations and perhaps KCUR — for your news. I’m sorry I won’t be here to try to help sort things out for you.

…As we all know, this has been an ugly process. Nevertheless, I have been convinced for several years we really need and deserve a new airport. We are a first-class city with a second-rung airport. An opportunity to change that appears to be at our fingertips. I hope Edgemoor gets the votes tomorrow and that it quickly produces a design that Kansas Citians will embrace…I hope the residents in other area municipalities will embrace it, too, but for the six-week campaign that appears to be on the horizon, my sole focus will be the town I have called home for 48 years, KCMO.

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There’s so much to be mad about that tonight I’m just plain sad. Dispirited. Disillusioned.

Let’s take a few recent events by the numbers:

:: Two dead, one badly injured

That would be the aftermath of the horrible, horrifying crash on the 23rd Street ramp off I-435 Sunday afternoon.

A dickhead driving a black pick-up barreled down the northbound ramp about 3:40 p.m. and plowed into the back of a stopped SUV. Indications are the driver of the pick-up made no attempt to stop. The force of the crash thrust the SUV into two eastbound vehicles, including a red Hyundai. A beautiful 16-year-old girl in the SUV, Emely Raudales of Shawnee — a student at Turner High School — was killed on impact. Emely’s father, Geovanny Raudales, is hospitalized in critical condition. He suffered a brain injury.

A 3-year-old Independence girl, Ryan Hampel, who was riding in the Hyundai, was also killed.

The pick-up and the SUV continued across the four lanes of 23rd Street and crashed into a stone wall. Video taken at the scene by a bystander shows the driver of the pick-up — a scruffy guy with an unkempt beard and wearing scuffed boots and long red, polyester shorts — walking around picking up broken pieces from his truck and finally kicking a large piece.

He doesn’t appear to be the least bit interested in the havoc he just wrought on the lives of the other two families.

And one of the most disturbing things about this? Video and still photos appear to show he was flying a large American flag from his truck.

That flag must have been flapping hard and fast as this patriot flew down that ramp without a care in the world for anyone else in the world.

The patriot was questioned and released, but I fully expect charges to be filed. In the video, his reactions are those of a person in an altered state. Before the crash, witnesses told police, he was speeding and weaving in and out of traffic, presumably on I-435.

…Like I’ve said, every day we are out on the roads, we are all sitting ducks for the many irresponsible, law-breaking assholes out there. We need a lot more traffic enforcement. A lot.

:: Eight months.

That’s how long Randy Potter’s body sat unnoticed, in his vehicle, in Economy Lot B at KCI.

Thank you, SP+ Corp., for running such a tight ship!

Here are some things about the company…Until December 2013, it was known as Standard Parking Corp., a more familiar name perhaps. Its headquarters is in the Aon Center, formerly the Standard Oil Building (or Big Stan) in downtown Chicago.

According to Wikipedia, SP+ manages more than one million parking spaces across the United States and Canada. It employs more than 26,000 people to manage 4,200 parking facilities, as well as parking and shuttle bus operations at 75 airports.

Yeah, boy, that sure is a big company. Mighty impressive. Twenty-six thousand employees…But nobody notices a truck parked in B Lot for eight months? I wonder if all 26,000 employees are sleep walking?

:: Ten days

That’s how much jail time Missouri Highway Patrol Trooper Anthony Piercy got for bouncing Brandon Ellingson out of his speeding Water Patrol boat on May 31, 2014, and then watching Ellingson thrash around in the Lake of the Ozarks waters and ultimately drown.

The Star’s Laura Bauer has done a great job of covering this debacle from the outset. I said two years ago Brandon’s family was going to be victimized again — the second time by a little-known dance called “the Ozarks Shuffle.” And that’s exactly what happened. The case was kicked around from one judge to another, one prosecutor to another, and ultimately Piercy was charged with a misdemeanor boating violation.

(Piercy also got two years of supervised probation and was ordered to complete 50 hours of community service.)

If it weren’t for Bauer’s dogged reporting and the strength and perseverance of Brandon’s father, Craig Ellingson of Clive, Iowa, no charges would have been filed and the case would have drifted away like a stray cloud.

“Ten days is like a vacation,” Craig Ellingson said after the sentencing. “It’s a joke.He knows he’s guilty and he’s damn lucky to get what he got.”


I guess that’s more than enough negativity for tonight. Sorry, but I can’t let these things go. My heart goes out to those who lost their lives and to the survivors and to the family members whose lives have been upended. And I think again, how lucky I am to be sitting here at my keyboard tonight, safe and healthy.

Now, I’m going to bed, and tomorrow I’m going to get up and try to put my Mr. Poztiv pants back on.

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The guiding hand of Steve Glorioso is still with us, thank God. And all of us — particularly the Kansas City Council — should heed the advice he indirectly dispensed days before his death.

What he said, in an off-the-record-interview with me on Sept. 6, was that Burns & McDonnell had tried to pull the wool over city officials’ eyes when it made its play, in concert with Mayor Sly James, for a quick, no-bid contract to build a new KCI terminal.

Actually, he said it a hell of a lot stronger than that, which you know if you’ve been reading my posts. His exact words were that Burns and Mac had tried to engineer “the biggest scam in Kansas City history.”

The scam was of such an immense scale, he added, that “Tom Pendergast would have blushed.”

Tom Pendergast

I used that quote, but off the record at his request, in my Sept. 6 post. Off-the-record quotes carry far less weight than those on-the-record, but it’s not off the record anymore. It’s a damn shame Steve is gone, but the fact he is gone freed me to identify him as the author of the quotes.

And they say a lot, coming from a man who was at the epicenter of Kansas City/Jackson County politics for more than 40 years and who helped bring us the Sprint Center with a brilliantly run 2004 hotel-and-rental-car tax campaign.

What Steve was saying, although he didn’t say it explicitly in these words, was:

There is no way in hell that Burns & McDonnell can be awarded the airport job. Ever. It overplayed its hand; it tried to get the airport job at a tremendously bloated amount we airport users would have been paying off for decades.

When we do get a new airport (I think it will be a reality within 10 years), we, the flying public, will indeed be paying for the new terminal for a long time, but we probably won’t be paying nearly as much as we would have had Burns and Mac’s fast-break resulted in a slam dunk. It could have happened, but, fortunately, Councilwoman Katheryn Shields and a few other council members played defense.

So, here’s the deal that Burns and Mac tried to pull off, the rabbit it tried to produce from the hat:

:: The airlines are currently paying about $33 million a year to retire the city’s airport debt from a renovation some years back.

:: In its initial, proposed “memorandum of understanding,” Burns and Mac said it would build a new $1 billion terminal, but it wanted a payback of “approximately” $85.2 million a year to retire the debt and (although it didn’t say so) reward Burns and Mac with a handsome profit.

:: Look again at the two numbers in the preceding two sentences…The company wanted the airlines to pay more than $50 million per year more, for 30 to 35 years, than they are paying now!

:: From the get-go, the number seemed high on its face, and it would have involved a significant mark-up in air fares so the airlines could pass the additional expense on to their customers.

That’s all we knew until Burns and Mac was exposed. After the city opened the selection process to other firms, Los Angeles-based AECOM said it could build a $1 billion, 35-gate terminal for an annual payment of slightly less than $70 million a year.

Over 30 years, the saving — the difference between slightly more than $85 million and slightly less than $70) would be more than $450 million.

Game over!

Or at least it should be.

And yet, even now Burns and Mac contends it should still get the contract, that the airport selection committee unfairly eliminated it from consideration. What gall!

…I was relieved to read last week that City Manager Troy Schulte, a member of the selection committee, said the City Council cannot overturn the committee’s recommendation of Edgemoor Infrastructure and Real Estate and select one of the three other companies, including Burns and Mac, the committee eliminated from consideration.

He said attorneys had advised the council that the city’s procurement ordinance requires Edgemoor to get a “fair and equal” opportunity to negotiate a development agreement with the city. If the council dumped Edgemoor and selected one of the other firms, he added, Edgemoor would almost surely file a lawsuit.

That’s all we need, right, a lawsuit?

This Thursday the council will probably take up the selection committee’s recommendation of Edgemoor. Edgemoor hasn’t made much of its proposal public, and we need to see their numbers and whatever tentative design they’ve come up with. (They’ve got to have some sort of design, right? How could they possibly come up with a reliable estimate without having some idea representation of what they propose to build?)

I’m not too concerned about the prospect of the council rejecting Edgemoor’s bid. As I’ve said many times before, I think the city needs to start over — under a new mayoral administration — first commissioning a design, then putting the construction contract out to competitive bids that can be compared side by side, element by element, figure by figure.

What we absolutely cannot have, though, is a shell game that hands the contract to the former “Hometown Team.” It has forfeited its right to play.

We should all remember the words my good friend Steve said on one of the last days he was upright in this world: “Tom Pendergast would have blushed.”

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I am very sad tonight. I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut.

I learned from an email — and then The Star — that political consultant Steve Glorioso, a friend for about 45 years, died today.

Steve was one of the best political consultants to ever roam the political tundra in Kansas City. He knew politics at every level — city, county, state and national. He had the pulse of the voters, and he had incredible political instincts.

Steve Glorioso

He was a chief strategist on many big campaigns, including Kansas City’s successful $800 million general obligation bond election last spring and, in 2004, the hotel-and-rental-car tax campaign that fueled construction of Sprint Center, a key component in then-Mayor Kay Barnes’ successful crusade to rejuvenate of Downtown.

In the Sprint Center campaign, Steve managed to make the Enterprise car rental company, which largely financed opposition to the tax proposal, Public Enemy No. 1. He deftly painted Enterprise as the ogre from across the state (it is based in St. Louis) that sought to block Kansas City from having a state of the art, Downtown arena.

I remember being so mad at Enterprise that I vowed to never again rent from Enterprise. (A few years later, however, I found myself renting once more from Enterprise, whose commitment to customer service is hard to top.)

Steve wasn’t just a high-profile presence around election time, though. On an everyday basis, he was the go-to-guy for political and government reporters (and sometimes this blogger) who needed a good quote — a quote that was lively and summarized a situation in a few words. Steve was that guy; he could always be counted on for a quote, or for inside information about what was going on behind the scenes.

Pat O’Neill, a fellow political consultant, put it best when I talked with him tonight:

“His stock in trade was information,” Pat said.

The last time I spoke with Steve at length was a week ago yesterday, Sept. 6. I hadn’t talked with him in probably two months, and I wanted to pick his brain about the airport committee’s surprise recommendation of Edgemoor, over three other firms, including Burns & McDonnell, which had been the favorite for weeks.

As usual, Steve gave me a lot of good background information, and I quoted him off the record. (Just so you know, when you quote someone who later dies, the off-the-record commitment goes away because it is impossible for the information dispenser to suffer any repercussions.)

When I asked him what Burns and Mac’s biggest mistake had been, he said, “Trying to jam through a no-bid contract.”

He went on to say that Burns and Mac had attempted to engineer “the biggest scam in the history of Kansas City.”

Then he offered up this plum: The company’s attempted coup was so brazen that…“Tom Pendergast would have blushed.”

We both laughed heartily at that, and he said he was tempted to let me use it on the record because he liked the line so much. His fear of incurring the wrath of Burns and Mac overrode his infatuation with the line, however, and he held it off the record.


In that same conversation, Steve told me he was retiring and he didn’t expect to be involved in the November airport election — if it, indeed, takes place as scheduled. The campaign will be run by The Dover Group, which is based in Chicago and has been Mayor Sly James’ consulting group of choice since he was first elected in 2011.

I think one reason Steve was planning to “retire,” or at least sit out the airport election, is that he got crosswise with one or more Dover strategists during the $800 million general-obligation bond campaign. A mutual friend told me the strategist or strategists rejected recommendations of Steve’s that, in hindsight, turned out to be correct.

…Steve also told me in that Sept. 6 conversation that he’d undergone major intestinal surgery three weeks earlier and that he had been in Research Medical Center for a week. In the surgery, the doctor had removed an abscess from his stomach and a section of colon several inches long. Steve told me he was recovering well, however, and he sounded good. He did say toward the end of our conversation, which must have lasted about 30 minutes, that the conversation was wearing him out. I apologized and we rang off.

I talked to him briefly one more time, a day or two later, and again he sounded good and didn’t indicate he was experiencing any problems. He signed off on that conversation by saying, “Always good to talk to you, Jim.”

That line stuck with me because — good guy though he was — gracious and genial personal comments seldom came out of his mouth. He was always preoccupied with and focused on developments in the news and how political situations were playing out. Information and using it to his advantage animated his whole being.

So, it was nice to hear him say, “Always good to talk to you.”

To the best of my recollection, I responded by saying, “You, too, Steve.”

…Steve had a setback over the weekend and was readmitted to the hospital within the last several days. Then sepsis set in. Sepsis is a complication of infection that leads to organ failure. The University of Michigan Health website says anywhere between one in eight and one in four patients with sepsis die while hospitalized.

That’s what got Steve.

I’m really going to miss him…and so will Kansas City.

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The shakedown for concessions in return for organized support of the new-terminal election is now officially underway.

On Tuesday, Clinton Adams, counsel to the black political organization Freedom Inc., and Gwen Grant, president and C.E.O. of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, went down to The Star and told the editorial board they wanted a guarantee that 40 percent of subcontracting firms on the airport project be minority owned and 40 percent of the actual workforce consist of minorities.

You could see this coming a mile away. A week ago, after the special airport committee’s surprise recommendation that low-profile Edgemoor Infrastructure & Real Estate get the terminal contract, I wrote the following:

Edgemoor will have to move quickly to convince the Kansas City Labor Council that it will provide plenty of local jobs.

Every significant voting bloc, such as Freedom Inc., the firefighters union, the Committee for County Progress and the Citizens Association, will have to endorse it (for it to pass). Freedom Inc., the city’s leading black political organization, will be in a particularly enviable position because it will be able to extract just about whatever concessions it wants and will be able to demand payment of tens of thousands of dollars to help finance its get-out-the-vote effort.

So, here we are. Freedom Inc. is smacking its lips and getting ready to chow down. The Labor Council is surely poised to saw away at this big, fat hog, too. I bet we’ll be hearing from the firefighters’ union at some point. Maybe they’ll want leather La-Z-Boys in the fire stations.

This goose is laying dozens of golden eggs and a lot of hands are going to be reaching into the nest.

As has been clear all along, the vast majority of voters are not charging the doors of City Hall demanding replacement of the nostalgic dump up I-29. If this issue does make it to the ballot in November and it happens to pass, it almost assuredly won’t be by more than a few percentage points. So, like I said last week, proponents are going to need every conceivable constituency. And that puts every organization that has a constituency — however small — in an excellent bargaining position.

The unsettled nature of the situation is a big reason Freedom and the other influential organizations are wasting no time in striking.

Although the selection committee chose Edgemoor, the full City Council will have the final say on contractor selection, and the selection of Edgemoor is no sure thing.

Burns & McDonnell, the committee-spurned “Hometown Team” appears to be continuing to sniff around the edges, looking for an opportunity to elbow its way back into the picture. (A neighbor told me she had a call from a polling firm asking questions that seemed to be pushing her toward favoring a local firm. Now I wonder who that might be?)

And even if a council majority should vote in favor of Edgemoor, a memorandum of understanding (in effect, a contract) must be developed, and it, too, will require council approval. Developing and approving an MOU could take weeks, and then — whoosh! — we might find ourselves just days away from the Nov. 7 election.

It’s not a pretty picture, is it? So much has gone wrong already that it’s difficult to see how things are going to start falling into place and the pendulum is going to swing from opposition or indifference to avid enthusiasm for a new terminal.

With about half the sand already settled at the bottom of the hourglass, the two biggest questions are still unknown:

:: What will the new terminal look like?

:: Who will build it?

I’ve said all along this process has been completely ass backwards: Mayor Sly James and the other council members should have first chosen a firm to create a design and then put the project out for competitive bids. That would have positioned a selection committee to methodically compare bids side by side, point by point, before recommending the “lowest and best” bidder.

It wouldn’t necessarily be easy doing it that way, but it would be a heck of a lot easier and a lot less painful than what has taken place the last few months.

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Let me say something nice about The Star before I start whaling away at the pathetic job the paper has done on three major stories in recent days.

We can be thankful for one thing, at least — that the paper’s editorial page is functioning at near full strength and very admirably.

(I say nearly full strength because when the new editorial board was introduced to readers months ago, readers were told one more editorial writer would be added. But that has not happened, and I fear funding for the job might have evaporated in the haze of owner McClatchy Co.’s wobbly financial situation.)

The editorial board’s performance has been particularly impressive on its analysis of the airport issue and its sound advice to the city through the various setbacks that have cropped up during the contractor-selection process.

From the beginning, right after Burns & McDonnell’s no-bid gambit emerged in public, the editorial board began hammering on the importance of allowing other firms to submit proposals. It held firmly to that position through all the head-spinning twists and turns the process took and through Burns and Mac’s chest-thumping, self-promotional campaign.

And then this week, when Burns and Mac cried foul and the whole dang process was on the verge of imploding, The Star continued to hold steady. Some people, including me, panicked and said it was time to trash the process and cancel the planned November airport election.

To its credit, The Star kept a steady hold on the rudder. Its pivotal editorial, which appeared on Wednesday, bore this headline: “Now Burns & McDonnell wants fairness?”

The editorial not only chided one of the city’s biggest companies for whining in the face of adversity, it also hammered Mayor Sly James for his leading role in trying to steer the contract to Burns and Mac. The editorial said, in part:

“He’s given every appearance of believing that…Burns & McDonnell’s interests and the city’s interests were one and the same. And however this goes now, he has a lot to answer for.”

And then, after the airport selection committee knocked the socks off nearly everyone by selecting the firm that had presented probably the lowest profile (Edgemoor Infrastructure and Real Estate), a Wednesday editorial correctly reminded us, “Competition has given us a better airport proposal, and a real chance for a better airport.”

…This airport drama still has several more chapters, but the book is still being written partly because The Star’s editorial board has been doing exactly what a good editorial board should be doing: Weighing in on important public issues in a calm, steady and strong voice.


While the editorial page has been on the upswing, the overall decline on the news side has continued. In fact, I’m afraid we readers can no longer count on The Star to regularly break big, emerging stories. And that’s completely a function of the gradual erosion of the editorial staff and the diminished staff’s necessarily reduced reach.

I’ve seen three examples in recent days of significant stories not being sniffed out in advance or being missed entirely.

In the case of stories not being sniffed out in advance (which I will address in the first two examples below), I’m talking about stories that could have been, should have been, scoops. Until several years ago, The Star routinely scooped the electronic media. But no more. Most of the time, it seems, Star reporters show up for news conferences as clueless as the other media about what’s going to be announced. That’s embarrassing.

Those examples:

:: A week ago Tuesday, reporters were summoned to a press conference called by Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker. When the reporters got there, they heard from her and KC Police Chief Rick Smith the shocking news that a suspect had been arrested in the Indian Creek Trail murders and had been charged in connection with two murders and was suspected in three others. Peters Baker and Smith were flanked by more than a dozen prosecutorial and law enforcement officials. It was almost unimaginable to me that no KC Star reporter was able to cull out that story in advance and post at least an online story suggesting what was about to unfold. Nobody got a tip? Nobody heard anything? Or, worse, did somebody hear something and not bother to exercise their “little gray cells”? Whatever the reason for the breakdown, it was horribly telling.

The serial-killer news conference that took the Kansas City media, including The Star, by surprise

:: On Tuesday of this week, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback came to Tonganoxie to announce plans for a $320 million Tyson Foods poultry complex in Leavenworth County. Hundreds of residents showed up — many to protest the complex — and once again The Star was caught with its pants down around its ankles. Oh, The Star had a reporter at the announcement — a features reporter, curiously — but no advance tipoff to readers. It was, and is, a huge story because the plant could negatively impact the quality of life and schools in Leavenworth County. But The Star doesn’t have enough reporters to cover Leavenworth County. The Wyandotte-Leavenworth bureau, which I proudly headed from 1995 to 2004, has long been closed, as have all the other suburban bureaus. If The Star got a scoop out of Leavenworth County these days, it would be the journalistic equivalent of a miracle.

:: While reading a KC Star online editorial about the Tonganoxie situation, I learned tonight that the Kansas City regional office of the federal Environmental Protection Agency has a new acting administrator. The interim leader was not appointed yesterday. Nor the day before. No, Cathy Stepp — who, among other things, appears to be a climate change skeptic — was appointed by the Trump administration last week. Puzzled, I went to The Star’s online search box to see if I had missed a news story about Stepp’s appointment. The closest thing I found was an Aug. 29 Associated Press story about Stepp resigning as secretary of Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources. The story noted in the third paragraph — that’s what we in the news business call “burying the lead” — that Stepp would be assuming the top EPA job in Kansas City. What we have, then, is a situation where The Star did not bother to produce a local story about the assignment of a new top federal official in Kansas City…No big deal, I guess. Shrug, shrug.

All of this is very galling and upsetting. McClatchy has really done a number on The Kansas City Star’s reporting capabilities. Working as a reporter at 18th and Grand these days has to be a frustrating and dispiriting proposition for anyone who understands what a good metropolitan daily paper is supposed to do.

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Well shiver me timbers.

In a million years, I would not have guessed that the KCI selection committee would have recommended Edgemoor Infrastructure & Real Estate to build a new single terminal.

Not only did Edgemoor of Bethesda, MD, keep a low profile but it was the only one of the four competing companies that declined to make its proposal public.

So, we, the public, know nothing about their proposal, including what type of design they proposed or how much they bid. (It should all come out in time.)

I think this is a positive development…A release from the city said selection committee members went with Edgemoor partly because it submitted a plan “that would deliver the terminal at the best price.”

That sounds promising, but as I suggested yesterday, this whole thing could still fall apart.

At least two major hurdles remain before we can be sure Kansas Citians will go to the polls on Nov. 7 and determine if a new terminal will be built.

The first hurdle is the full City Council’s review of the selection committee’s recommendation. As disjointed as this process has been, it is foolhardy to assume that seven members of the council will vote to approve the selection of Edgemoor.

Only two council members were on the selection committee — Jermaine Reed and Aviation Committee Chairwoman Jolie Justus. The other committee members were City Manager Troy Schulte, Aviation Director Pat Klein, Aviation Deputy Director of Planning and Engineering Phil Muncy and Aviation Chief Financial Officer John Green.

Some council members, including a few who backed Burns & McDonnell, might be looking to derail the committee’s recommendation.

The second major hurdle is development of a memorandum of understanding between the city and the selected company. That memorandum is going to be complex and lengthy — probably well over 100 pages — and it’s going to take several weeks to put it together.

All the while, the clock leading up to Election Day, Nov. 7, will be running, and the longer it takes to jump both hurdles, the less time the campaign consultants will have to convince the public to vote “yes.” An earlier survey showed that only about 38 percent of Kansas City voters would vote for a new terminal. A source told me tonight he had heard that a more recent survey now put the “pro” side at 42 or 43 percent.

If that is accurate, I’m glad to hear it, but I still think gaining voter approval will be a tortuous battle.

Here are some of the pieces that will have to fall into place for the proposal to pass.

:: The business community will have to step up with campaign contributions in the range of $500,000.

:: Edgemoor will have to move quickly to convince the Kansas City Labor Council that it will provide plenty of local jobs. (The labor council had been in lockstep with Burns and Mac and is probably as confused as everyone else at this point.)

:: Every significant voting bloc, such as Freedom Inc., the firefighters union, the Committee for County Progress and the Citizens Association, will have to endorse it. Freedom Inc., the city’s leading black political organization, will be in a particularly enviable position because it will be able to extract just about whatever concessions it wants and will be able to demand payment of tens of thousands of dollars to help finance its get-out-the-vote effort.

:: Voters will have to look past the ragged selection-and-recommendation process and be convinced the city is 1) getting a good product for its money and 2) that the terminal will be convenient and appealing.

Finally, it will be important — although maybe not vital — for Burns and Mac to swallow its pride, bury its resentment and embrace the new-airport proposal.

From the outset, Burns and Mac officials talked about how proud they would be to build a new terminal for the city they love. They were fairly busting their buttons…They realized too late it was a huge mistake to have plotted with Mayor Sly James and a couple of other council members to engineer a no-bid, sweetheart contract that would produce a huge profit for the company. (It’s ironic that James has now been reduced to little more than a bit player in this drama.)

“It was a political miscalculation of unprecedented proportion,” a source told me tonight.

Burns and Mac’s original proposal was such a scam, he said, that “Tom Pendergast would have blushed.”

Now that Burns and Mac is in a totally different role than what it expected, its civic dedication is going to be sorely tested.

And yet, I’ve heard Burns and Mac could still be in for a piece of the action. Word is that Edgemoor, if it gets the job, might bring the company on board for at least part of the engineering work.

That would certainly help get Burns and Mac representatives out of the grousing mode and back into their cheerleader outfits.

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