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Archive for January, 2018

It’s no wonder many people are cynical about politics and the notion of public service.

This week we have seen two examples of once-respected public officials having given in to the temptation to line their own pockets.

The two I speak of are former Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders and former Shawnee Mission School District Superintendent Jim Hinson.

Let’s look at Sanders first…

Mike Sanders and wife Georgia, outside the federal courthouse

Once considered a “rising star in Missouri’s Democratic Party,” as The Star put it, Sanders — a lawyer, no less — pleaded guilty Friday to a federal corruption charge, admitting he misused tens of thousands of dollars for his personal gain and then lied about it on campaign finance records.

Specifically, he and his former chief of staff Calvin Williford, who also pleaded guilty to one felony count, acknowledged they used campaign cash for gambling trips to Las Vegas and other personal purposes.

What a couple of idiots. But Sanders more than Williford. My guess is Williford allowed himself to fall under Sanders’ misguided influence and felt honored and flattered to be asked to join the boss on junkets to the “Entertainment Capital of the World.”

The Star’s “killer team” of Mike Hendricks and Steve Vockrodt had a very telling paragraph in their story:

“While the 50-year-old Sanders was stoic during and after his hearing, Williford, 60, sobbed following his proceedings after greeting friends and family members in the audience. He could be heard telling his family, ‘I am such an idiot.’ ”

That certainly makes me more sympathetic to Williford, and I hope he can turn his life around and get a good job somewhere after prison — if, indeed, he and Sanders end up doing time.

But Sanders…Wow, what a turd. What a phony.

He took everybody by surprise on Dec. 21, 2015, when he called a press conference and dropped a bombshell: He would be leaving his elective position in 10 days, at the end of the year, with three years left in his third term. He had previously served a four-year term as county prosecutor.

At the news conference, his wife Georgia sat off to one side, smiling pleasantly, as Sanders explained he was leaving politics because the job was taking too big a toll on his family life.

He said:

“Now it’s time for me to really focus on my family and do what’s really necessary to raise my two sons, 9 and 12, and focus on that. For us, I think it’s a great time as a family…The thing about politics, the thing specifically about this job is it takes you away so much. It is truly a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week job. You never know when that phone call’s going to come…”

We know now that the FBI was onto him even then and that he was making his exit because of the nasty cloud that had formed over him.

How much his wife knew then we have no idea. I hope it was nothing, or not much. In any event, her words that day have a decidedly different ring to them in light of yesterday’s plea.

“I’m so thrilled,” she said back then. “It’s time. It’s time for him to move on and do something different. I’m so happy for him, and for us.”

Again yesterday, Georgia Sanders was with her husband. Again she was off to the side. But she was not smiling.

And what about those boys? They would now be 11 and 14…I wonder what they’re thinking about good ol’ Dad. How confused and disappointed they must be. I hope they were spared the images of their father on the steps of the federal courthouse, listening to his lawyer speak for him, professing how apologetic he was “not only to his family but the residents of Jackson County.”

Yes, Friday was a bad day for Jackson County residents. Once again we are left sorely disappointed by an elected official who seemed like an advocate of good government but turned out to be another crook trying to enrich himself.

**

Hinson

Hinson isn’t nearly as reprehensible as Sanders, but he’s another who left people wondering why his commitment to public service evaporated in a flash.

Hinson announced last April that he would retire at the end of the last school year, even though he was only 54 at the time and had only been on the job four years. In a statement, he played the same, tired song Sanders had played, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family and “pursue other lifelong goals.”

What was clear, though, was he just wanted to disappear. And no wonder: Rumors of romantic liaisons with one or more district officials swirled, and there was a rumor of a D.U.I.

So he did disappear, for a while, anyway. This week, though, he was back in the news.

The Shawnee Mission Post, which does a great job covering central and eastern Johnson County, reported that Hinson had taken a consulting job with the very law firm he had brought on, as superintendent, to handle most of the school district’s legal business.

It’s a classic case of the old revolving door, where a public official channels a lot of business to some firm or some “consultants” and then doubles back after leaving office and gets rewarded for his earlier beneficence.

The Post had the figures showing just how deep the beneficence was. The law firm, EdCounsel, billed SMSD $10,106 during the 2013-14 school year; $69,982 in 2014-15; $188,823 in 2015-16; and a whopping $405,111 last school year.

I’m sure EdCounsel very much appreciated Hinson’s patronage. But, like Jackson County residents with Sanders, what good did any of that do for the patrons of the Shawnee Mission School District? Hinson’s legacy, in my opinion — and I’m a substitute SMSD teacher — is having constructed a wide moat between parents and district governance on one hand, and between teachers and district administration on the other.

Under him, the district became insular and secretive, and teachers chafed under his autocratic rule. The district will be struggling for a long time to undo the damage Jim Hinson wrought. I’m sure he doesn’t care, though; he’s getting big payback for enriching a bunch of lawyers.

**

Note: A big thank-you to friend and regular reader Tracy Thomas for the tip on Hinson.

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Clear the children from the room; I’m goin’ on a rant…

Yesterday, The Star turned four reporters loose on the Sam Brownback story: their top political reporter, their Washington (McClatchy) correspondent, their Topeka correspondent and the Wichita Eagle’s Topeka correspondent.

In today’s print edition, those four reporters produced 65 inches of copy — more than enough to fill half a page without photos or graphics.

They topped their story, naturally, with the news that Vice President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote in the U.S. Senate to put Brownback’s ambassadorial nomination over the top on a 50-49 vote. (Bear that count in mind.)

Then, they proceeded to review Brownback’s checkered legacy as Kansas governor.

…I have no beef with the structure of the story or its length. Brownback’s stand as governor has been a certifiable disaster, and it called for an extensive look back.

But, my God, these reporters — all four of them — skipped over one of the most important elements of the Senate’s dramatic vote: Who were the two absent Republican senators, and why were they not there?

I had to do a Google search today to find the answer. On about my third hit, I got the critical information in a Chicago Tribune story that was generated by The Washington Post. The Post writers — Sean Sullivan and Julie Zauzmerput the information up high, where it belonged, and described the climactic vote this way:

In a dramatic turn Wednesday afternoon, the Senate hit a 49-49 stalemate on a procedural vote to end debate on the nomination. Two Republican senators were absent: Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is in his home state battling brain cancer, and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who was at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Pence quickly traveled to the Capitol to break the deadlock.

Senators John McCain and Bob Corker

The Post reporters understood that on a vote of this magnitude, the vast majority readers would want to know which senators were absent and why.

(In a follow-up, online story posted several hours ago, The Star included the information about McCain and Corker. But it was a day late and a lot of dollars short.)

**

To me, it’s ridiculous that The Star omitted that basic information in its print edition, which is still what the vast majority of Star rely on for their news.

I’ve been bitching (I told you to get the children out of the room) about The Star’s consistent failure to detail who voted how on any number of local stories, and yesterday they dropped a turd on a major national story.

And while the reporters were certainly at fault, here’s the bigger question: Where the hell were the editors??

Well, I’ve got the answers: Heads up their asses. Brains drifting on wispy clouds. Faces buried in their phones, checking for incoming texts.

We know The Star can do some good work — we’ve seen it in the secrecy in government stories in both Kansas and Missouri — but on the whole the paper has lost its moorings. It no longer covers local news anywhere close to what it did up to the mid-2000s. And more and more, it shovels overly long stories into the paper without giving them a decent edit. Just slaps them online and moves them along for the press run.

**

Yesterday, the editors turned four reporters loose and let them write a dirge about a horrible governor, but everyone involved in the story missed one the fundamental elements of any newspaper story: the “Who” of the “Who, What, When, Where and Why.” In a sense, they also missed part of the “where,” that is, where were the two missing senators? 

For the record the four reporters wearing dunce caps today are political reporter Bryan Lowry; Washington correspondent Lindsay Wise; and Topeka correspondents Hunter Woodall (Kansas City) and Jonathan Shorman (Wichita).

I’m sorry I don’t know the name of the editor who was ultimately responsible, because if I did, I’d put an extra tall dunce cap on him (or her), set him in the middle of the classroom and let the kids fire away with tomatoes.

Splat.

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The newest member of The Star’s editorial board offered his first by-lined commentary today, and one thing is clear: He’s got a lot to learn.

Just last week, Editorial Page Editor Colleen McCain Nelson introduced Toriano Porter as eighth member of the editorial board that Publisher Tony Berg reconstructed after blowing up what was left of the former board in late 2016.

Toriano Porter

In Porter — who is African-American — Nelson is giving a young, relatively inexperienced reporter a great opportunity to make a mark at a major metropolitan daily. Although I certainly applaud the appointment of a second minority member to the board (Mary Sanchez being the other), I was concerned when I read that Porter’s major qualification was having been a general assignment reporter at The Star the last two years.

Before that, he worked at a suburban St. Louis paper and the The Independence Examiner and The Lee’s Summit Journal.

Suffice it to say, Toriano Porter is very “green” as a journalist, and the fact is there’s absolutely no way he would have been appointed to the editorial board, with such limited experience, during The Star’s glory days.

**

His column today was about the thoroughly discredited and about to-be ex-president of the Kansas City convention and visitors bureau, which is formally named Visit KC.

My objection to Toriano’s column is he was naively sympathetic to the executive in question.

But first, here’s the backdrop…

Ronnie Burt

The C.E.O., 49-year-old Ronnie Burt, submitted his resignation two weeks ago in the wake of formal, internal allegations that he had harassed and bullied three bureau employees. In addition — and perhaps more important — his firing of another bureau executive led to a discrimination lawsuit that resulted in a settlement that cost the bureau $250,000.

The plaintiff in that case was former human resources manager Janette Barron, who contended Burt fired her last year after she sought an investigation into the harassment and bullying allegations.

It’s pretty clear, this was a big mess and the bureau was in chaos under Burt, who came to Kansas City from a similar organization in Washington D.C. in 2014.

Janette Barron

Under the settlement, which resourceful reporter Steve Vockrodt got under a Sunshine Law request, the visitors bureau agreed to pay Barron $137,500 and her attorney $112.500. Burt tendered his resignation, effective Jan, 31, after the bureau’s executive committee met three times to discuss the situation.

Burt was present at the first of the three meetings but not at the last two, so it’s clear the executive committee decided Burt needed to go. This was not a voluntary resignation.

**

Porter’s column got off to an alarming start:

“I don’t know if Ronnie Burt is guilty of the harassment and the bullying behavior he’s been accused of. But what if the allegations aren’t true, as the outgoing C.E.O of Visit KC contends?”

Wow…Talk about rushing to a guy’s defense! He might was well have written, “Did Ronnie Burt get screwed???”

Porter went on to quote Burt as saying, “I was deeply hurt by the allegations,” and, “This is my character. This is my integrity, who I am as a person.”

Holy cow…To be sure, it is all about character. The problem is all the evidence — not the least of which is a $250,000 bureau payout — is Burt’s character and temperament are sorely wanting.

Porter’s naivete boiled over when he said, “Burt seemed sincere in his response.”

Well, hell yes he sounds sincere! He’s a trained salesman, for Christ’s sake…a pitchman, a glad-hander whose main job has been to convince people (sincerely) they will have a great experience if they bring their convention to Kansas City.

Porter concludes his column on a syrupy, sentimental note:

“A contrite Ronnie Burt still could rebound and learn from his time in Kansas City. This is his chance.”

Sorry, Toriano, you got it wrong: Ronnie Burt had his chance here. But he fucked up, and now his prospects of becoming C.E.O. at another convention and visitors bureau are very dim…unless some other bureau falls for his phony sincerity.

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One reason Mayor Sly James is controversial and has many detractors is he doesn’t always bow and scrape to the City Council.

He’s bull-headed and self-confident and tends to charge ahead like Don Quixote.

If he thinks he’s onto something — like awarding a no-bid, $1 billion contract Burns & McDonnell to build a new airport terminal, he grabs a couple of council members whom he has empowered — Jolie Justus and Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner — and off he goes.

On the other hand, his self-confidence and willingness to throw the dice (Remember the $800-million general-obligation bond issue campaign last year?) endear him to an electorate that likes its mayors to be strong, in the style of former mayor and now U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver and former Mayor Kay Barnes.

In addition, he doesn’t kowtow to anyone or any group and doesn’t shrink from using scathing language to call out people and/or companies he believes are trying to sidetrack his good intentions.

I remember another type of mayor — Richard L. Berkley (1979-1991) — one who cowered in his office, afraid to face the media’s “on the record” questions. He always insisted on a dry run off the record to help himself formulate an innocuous on-the-record comment. My predecessor on the City Hall beat once told me, “If I had a nickel for every minute I’ve waited on Berkley to answer some questions, I’d be a rich man.”

Berkley’s standing criticism of anything — be it an unwelcome comment by a fellow council member or a firefighters’ strike — was, “That’s inappropriate.”

When Cleaver succeeded Berkley in 1991, it was like a stifling, heavy paper bag was suddenly lifted from City Hall. To this day, I believe it was Cleaver — for all his faults — who exploded Kansas City’s inferiority complex. He put us on the road to self-respect.

Sly James is no Dick Berkley. He is locked and loaded, and you never know when he’s going to pull the verbal trigger. I trust you recognize, like me, that for that reason alone he is fun to follow and watch.

In mid-December, for example, after a council majority launched a sneak attack that almost undermined the selection of Edgemoor as airport contractor, James called the gambit “an ambush” and said, “You can’t lead people you can’t trust.”

Ouch!

Then, over the weekend, he was at his word-slinging best again, lambasting the people behind a covert, robo-call campaign to discredit Edgemoor as “hogs who have to belly up to the billion-dollar trough.”

He wouldn’t say whom he suspected of initiating the dial-up effort, but the two prime suspects are Burns & McDonnell, which is still on the outside looking in, and AECOM, which the city’s terminal-selection committee ranked second behind Edgemoor. (Recently, Burns and Mac and AECOM teamed up, hoping to jump in and get the job if a deal with Edgemoor fails to materialize.)

**

Despite my appreciation for James’ candor and passionate outbursts, I am not optimistic about the contractor-selection process resulting in a first-class terminal. More than any other escapade of Sly’s that I can think of, this badly flawed initiative has played out in a way that could leave us with a difficult and painful construction process and a mundane and problem-plagued facility.

Because the city (Sly & Co.) decided to put the cart before the horse — i.e., forgoing the conventional design-first, take-bids-later process — we are entirely betting on the come in regard to what this new terminal will look like.

We are in a situation where the contractors, labor unions and other special interests are calling the shots. Guns firmly placed at our temples, we the public are marching down the aisle with Edgemoor. There was  no engagement party, and there is no ring symbolizing commitment — a design we can examine and comment on.

Worse, it looks like there’s no graceful way to exit this union; the suitor waiting in the wings is uglier and greedier than the one we’ve got on our arm.

All in all, I tell ya’, this wild ride could result in a homely terminal that may or may not be functional. For me — and I hope for you — it takes a lot more than a fancy drawing of a two-story fountain to get excited about a new terminal. To me, it just looks like a flimsy veil.

Edgemoor rendering

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I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say I’m shocked and appalled that Kansas City didn’t make Amazon’s Top 20 list for its secondary headquarters.

I’m almost at a loss for words, other than to say, as the unforgettable Seinfeld lawyer Jackie Chiles would have couched it: “It’s outrageous, egregious, preposterous.”

…What could these Amazon people have been thinking? They must have had scales on their eyes, blinding them to some of our greatest upsides, including:

:: A start-up streetcar system that runs two miles. (We might even get it extended a few miles, if we can wade through a miasma of legal complications.)

:: A new airport on the way. (If you squint, you can see it dimly in the far horizon. See it there, with the two-story fountain in the main concourse?)

:: One of the most successful arenas in the country. (“WWE Smackdown Live” coming Feb. 6. Don’t get shut out; tickets start at $18!)

**

But enough of the sarcasm, eh? Nobody, not even Mayor Sly James in his wildest dreams, thought KC would make the Top 20. It was an exercise in pseudo chest thumping and inevitable disappointment.

Of, course, we had to do it. Every self-respecting city had to do it, had to try. If we hadn’t submitted an application, we’d be saying we’re a shitty, undeserving city and all our residents should pack up and look for someplace better.

And by no means is that what we are or what the vast majority of KC residents think we are.

We are a great city. We are vastly, monumentally improved over the last 15 years or so, since former Mayor Kay Barnes embarked on her crusade to reinvigorate Downtown and make it a worthy leg in the River Market/Downtown/Crown Center/Plaza corridor. (The corridor will be significantly strengthened, of course, if we can get the streetcar expansion up and running.)

Nevertheless, we don’t come close to matching up with the priorities Amazon was looking for, including:

— An advanced transit system

— Strong higher education institutions

— A highly trained technical force

— Financial incentives

On the latter point, A KC Star editorial today noted that Newark, NJ, which made the cut, offered an incentive package of $7 billion — many times bigger than Kansas City was able to offer.

On that point, the editorial said: “Matching New Jersey’s $7 billion would have been foolish. Amazon’s HQ2 is an important project, but not that important.”

**

One point that jumped out from the list of cities that made the cut is that most are in the Eastern Time Zone.

So, this much is starting to become clear: With its headquarters in Seattle, Amazon is probably looking for a counterbalancing HQ in the East. That would make all the sense in the world from a business standpoint.

Here’s a list of the cities that were selected to go on to the next phase:

Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Miami, Montgomery County Maryland, Nashville, Newark, New York City, Northern Virginia, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, Toronto and Washington D.C.

Before today, I thought Denver had a great chance to be get the nod for HQ2, but now I think the odds on Denver have risen quite a bit, despite all it has to offer. It’s in the Mountain Time Zone, just an hour ahead of Seattle.

Among the other cities, two in particular pique my interest…

Nashville

I’ve been there a few times and love it. One big advantage it appears to have over several of its competitors is a thriving public K-12 school system. According to Wikipedia, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools has about 89,000 students. As of the 2013-2014 school year, the make-up was 37 percent Caucasian, 43 percent African-American, 15 percent Hispanic, 3 percent Asian and 2 percent other. (KCPS, by jaw-dropping comparison, has just 15,568 students, with a racial make-up of 57% black, 28% Hispanic, 9% white and 6% other.)

Another selling point for Nashville is Vanderbilt University, which The Star called “one of the most well-regarded private universities outside of the Ivy League.”

And yet, while Nashville is in the hunt, I doubt if it will win. Going back to that time-zone thing, it’s in the Central Time Zone, like us.

Columbus 

Even though I grew up not too far away in Louisville, Ky., I had never paid any attention to Columbus (which is in the Eastern Time Zone) or given it much thought until Patty and I went there for the denominational convention in 2015.

(Patty, for those of you who don’t know, has a business that designs and manufactures clergy garments, and she had a booth in the convention center’s exhibition hall.)

It was an eye-opening experience. Columbus’ assets include Ohio State University, one of the largest public universities in the country; unique and attractive neighborhoods with a variety of restaurants; and the seemingly ubiquitous Nationwide insurance.

With an estimated 2016 population of 860,090, it is the third most populous state capital in the United States, after Phoenix and Austin. Among midwestern cities (yes, it’s considered Midwest), it has the second highest population, after Chicago.

According to Wikipedia, Money Magazine ranked Columbus as one of “The 6 Best Big Cities” in 2016, calling it the best in the Midwest and citing a highly educated workforce and excellent wage growth. In 2013, Forbes gave Columbus an “A” rating as one of the top cities for business in the U.S. and later that year included the city on its list of Best Places for Business and Careers.

Iron arches announce the entry to Columbus’ Short North Arts District

Concentrated downtown, within walking distance, are the Nationwide Arena, the sprawling but navigable Greater Columbus Convention Center; and the alluring “Short North Arts District,” which is similar to (but, frankly, not as good as) our Crossroads Arts District.

**

It will be fascinating to see how this competition plays out and which city lands HQ2. In a way, it’s a relief that Amazon won’t be establishing a second beachhead in Kansas City. Can you imagine the upheaval that would have generated throughout the metro area?

Among other things, think about traffic congestion and the soaring cost of homes, apartments and condos. For the privilege of having a huge headquarters building here, we would be guaranteeing ourselves a ton of inconveniences.

When I think about things like this — glittering baubles you’re tempted to reach out for — I often go back to Warren Beatty’s character John McCabe in the movie McCabe & Mrs. Miller. He’s in love with Julie Christie’s character, Constance Miller, whom he brings into a fledgling mining town to operate a whorehouse.

But things don’t go entirely smoothly, either on the business or romantic front (she’s addicted to opium), reducing Beatty to muttering one night, under the influence of alcohol, “Money and pain. Pain and money…Money…Pain.”

Can’t think of a better way to describe the prospect of Amazon plopping down here in KC.

Editor’s Note: On Friday morning, I changed the ending of this post.

 

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Thursday was a big news day in Kansas City, with Ronnie Burt resigning as convention and visitors bureau C.E.O. for allegedly bullying and harassing female employees and Gov. Eric Greitens in the grasp of political self-destruction for allegedly threatening to blackmail a woman with whom he had an affair in 2015.

But another story that surfaced yesterday could well have longer-lasting and deeper ramifications for Kansas City than either of the others. That was KC Star reporter Mark Davis’ story that local technology company DST Systems Inc. has agreed to be purchased by a Connecticut-based rival, SS& Technologies Holdings, for $5.4 billion.

DST employs 14,400 people worldwide and 4,000 in the Kansas City. Just as important as its large employee base, however, is the fact that it has played a huge role in Downtown redevelopment, particularly Downtown’s west side.

It is unclear how the SS&C acquisition affect DST’s employment and presence here, but, as we all know, consolidation and personnel reductions almost always follow corporate takeovers.

In addition, and perhaps of more concern, it seems unlikely DST will continue to maintain the high civic profile it has achieved as a planter of seeds for exciting Downtown projects. Undoubtedly, DST has made a lot of money for its stockholders — it’s a publicly traded company — but it has also made civic betterment, and specifically a revitalized Downtown, a top priority. An essential element of its corporate philosophy was that what was good for Kansas City was good for business.

Consider some of its civic contributions:

:: Conversion of a 104-year-old building at 10th and Central into the extremely successful Crossroads Academy charter school.

:: Assembling the land for the majestic Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts at 16th and Broadway.

:: Conversion of the stately First National Bank Building at 10th and Main into the Central Library, which has become a Downtown destination point for library programs and events.

**

Each of those is an impressive landmark. But to truly appreciate DST’s civic contributions, it is necessary to trace its corporate roots. That takes you back to a Kansas City civic and business giant, the late William N. Deramus III, who led Kansas City Southern during a transformative period between 1961 and 1973.

Deramus

Deramus, who died, in 1989, was a man of few words but had a powerful presence. For one thing, he always wore a hat. In later years it was dress-type cowboy hat. I saw him only one time, to the best of my recollection, at a Kansas City Park Board meeting in the late 1980s, when he was advocating for improvements at the Kansas City Zoo. I remember that everyone at the meeting was extremely deferential to Deramus, including Park Board President Anita Gorman, a civic legend in her own right.

Deramus inherited the reins of Kansas City Southern from his father, William N. Deramus Jr., and led the company through a transformative 12-year period from 1961 to 1973.

The year after he took charge, he changed the company’s name to Kansas City Southern Industries to reflect the diversification he pioneered.

Wikipedia offers this summary of the Deramus-initiated changes:

“In 1969 KCSI started the two largest companies that came out of the diversification, DST Systems and Janus Capital Group…DST Systems is a software development firm that specializes in information processing and management, with the goal of improving efficiency, productivity, and customer service. Janus Capital Group is a finance firm that provides growth and risk-managed investment strategies.”

Both firms were spun off from KCSI. Janus Capital moved to Denver and last year merged with a London-based company. But DST stayed put and, under the leadership of another legendary business and civic leader, Thomas A. McDonnell, became one of the city’s premier businesses.

McDonnell was with DST for more than 40 years, before retiring in 2012. He subsequently headed the $2 billion Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation for 18 months.

**

What happens with DST from here, no one knows. The acquisition is expected to close by the end of September, assuming DST shareholders and federal regulators approve.

Mark Davis’ story in The Star includes predictable statements from the respective C.E.O.’s of both companies. Bill Stone of SS&C is quoted as saying, “We are…excited to have the DST employees from around the world join the SS&C team and look forward to having a continued local presence in Kansas City.”

DST chief Steve Hooley said, “We thank all of our employees around the world for working hard to make this compelling combination possible.”

I’m sure both men mean what they say, and maybe Kansas City will come out OK in this deal. But the formulaic statements and mutual flattery can’t gloss over the fact that this marks the end of a truly great era for a company that helped lift Kansas City from also-ran status to refreshed, reinvigorated and respected urban center.

Regardless of what comes next…thanks, DST, for all you’ve done to make Kansas City a better place. And thank you, Bill Deramus and Tom McDonnell, for your outstanding leadership.

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Before driving to Nevada, MO, yesterday for a hearing in an attempted burglary case involving David Jungerman, whom police have questioned in the slaying to lawyer Thomas Pickert, I had not decided if I would try to talk to Jungerman. I thought I’d just see what unfolded.

Moments after I arrived at the Vernon County Courthouse, things did, indeed, begin unfolding.

I was about 15 minutes early, and as I waited for the elevator, two men — one of whom I immediately recognized as Jungerman — entered the courthouse and approached the elevator.

I held the elevator door to give them time to get on, and after the door closed, I turned to the elderly, white-haired man standing next to me and said, “Mr. Jungerman, right?”

He leaned back slightly, looked at me and said: “Yes…Remind me…My mind’s not so good.”

“I’m Jim Fitzpatrick,” I said. “I’m a blogger from Kansas City, and I’ve been writing about the case.”

Small talk continued until we got off the elevator. Then, standing outside the only courtroom in the building, Jungerman turned to me and said, “What’s a blog?”

**

Pickert

Thus began a new chapter, at least for me, in the tragic, unsolved murder of Pickert, 39, who last summer had represented a client who won a $5.75 million civil verdict against Jungerman.

While talking on his cell phone and standing in the front yard of his Brookside home, Pickert was gunned down — probably with a rifle and probably from a vehicle — by a person described in a police document as “an older, gray-haired, white male” driving a white van.

…Where Jungerman was curious about the nature of a blog, I was interested in asking him what he knew about Pickert’s murder. So, at one point, I put it to him straight:

“Did you kill him?”

After the slightest of hesitations, he replied: “My attorney has told me not to answer any questions, so I’m not going to say I did, and I’m not going to say I didn’t.”

**

Pickert’s murder was not a random event. Police immediately zeroed in on Jungerman because of the $5.75 million damage case, in which Jungerman had shot and seriously injured a man who was trespassing on property Jungerman owns in northeast Kansas City.

Jungerman

The victim, a homeless man named Jeffery Harris, was, indeed, on Jungerman’s property but was not threatening him in any way. Jungerman actually ambushed Harris and another man, shooting them from inside a building he owns while Harris and the other man stood outside on a loading dock.

During a five-day trial, Jungerman represented himself and, consequently, had frequent interaction with Pickert. After the jury verdict had been read — and after the judge and jury had left the room — Jungerman, according to police, directed an “angry outburst” at Pickert and others remaining in the courtroom. (For his part, Jungerman says there was no angry outburst.)

The civil case, combined with the white van being driven by the “older, gray haired, white male” may be the most incriminating evidence authorities have relating to Jungerman.

With the Pickert case seemingly in limbo, the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office has been in contact with the Vernon County Prosecutor’s Office regarding the attempted burglary case, which is now scheduled to go to trial on Tuesday, April 3.

**

Yesterday’s hearing pertained to motions in that case, where Jungerman allegedly kicked at the door of a tenant’s home outside Nevada in June 2016 and demanded, “When are you getting out of here, you mother fucker?”

Jungerman had a .40 caliber Glock, semi-automatic handgun in his waistband, and witnesses said he had his hand on it part of the time he was at the house.

After arriving at the scene, a Vernon County deputy sheriff found the handgun, loaded with 10 hollow-point bullets, in the console of Jungerman’s vehicle.

One possible problem for the prosecution is that Jungerman was initially charged with straight-out burglary for allegedly “kicking in” the tenant’s door, but the charge was later lowered to attempted burglary, with amended wording alleging Jungerman only kicked the door.

If Jungerman had the good sense to hire an attorney — he is a multi-millionaire and could easily afford one — the attorney probably would be able to exploit the ambiguity. Jungerman, on the other hand, will be at a disadvantage, with his limited courtroom experience and lack of legal training.

Should a jury convict him, he could be sentenced to as much as seven years in prison. If convicted, however, he probably would have the means to post even a large bond and remain free while appealing the case.

**

I ended my afternoon in Nevada the same way I started — in conversation with Jungerman. After the hearing we spoke for 10 to 15 minutes outside the courtroom and then for about another 15 minutes outside the courthouse, while making our way to our vehicles.

The conversation was wide ranging. He spoke, among other things, about his libertarian philosophy, his knee replacements and his antipathy for Israel. “I’m not anti-Semitic,” he declared, “I’m anti-Israel.”

And at one point he complained that a radio talk-show host and some Kansas City TV reporters had trashed him in their reporting on the Pickert case.

Looking squarely at him, I said, “So have I.”

“Have you been killing me?” he said, returning my direct gaze.

“Yes,” I replied.

…And so it went, Day 1 of my association with David Jungerman.

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