Archive for August, 2018

The Star had three outstanding “enterprise” stories on its front page Sunday.

By enterprise, I mean stories that, while news based, are not in the category of “breaking-news” stories that must be written and published as soon as possible.

Each was a “must read,” if you are interested in keeping up with what’s going on in an around KC and Missouri government.

One story was the most comprehensive assessment in decades regarding the Country Club Plaza. It was reported and written by Joyce Smith, who has been covering retail for many years.

The story was accompanied by an excellent, color-coded map that differentiated between national and local retailers.

Under new ownership as of 2016 (from Highwoods Properties to Taubmann Centers and the Macerich Co.), the Plaza is undergoing its biggest change in years.

One thing we can expect to see is even more restaurants than are currently there. A restaurant many people are looking forward to — including me — is the Shake Shack, which is under construction on south side of 47th Street, west of J.C. Nichols Parkway. Shake Shack, founded in New York City, bills itself as “a modern day ‘roadside’ burger stand serving a classic American menu of premium burgers, hot dogs, crinkle-cut fries, shakes, frozen custard, beer and wine.”

(I’ve never known a roadside burger stand to sell wine, but I guess that’s the “modern-day” element.)

Another story was about Toby Dorr, formerly Toby Young, who, in 2006, helped murderer John Manard escape from the Kansas state prison at Lansing by hiding him in a dog crate and driving out the gate. They were captured several days later after being discovered in a love-nest cabin in Tennessee.

Toby Young, before she helped murdered John Manard escape from the Kansas state penitentiary in 2006

Frankly, I never thought we’d hear from Toby Young ever again. But damned if she hasn’t redeemed and transformed herself in the 10 years she’s been out of prison. She’s remarried (her first marriage was broken before she helped Manard escape), and she and her new husband visited Manard in prison two years ago.

That story was reported and written by Lauren Fox, a relatively new staff member. Fox did a very good job on it, starting out with some previously unreported details about the escape and then segueing to the lead-up to the escape and Young’s personal transition during the 10 years since she got out of prison after serving a little more than two years.

The third story was the closest of the three to breaking news. Reported and written by Jason Hancock, The Star’s Jefferson City correspondent, the story is about the state’s rushed awarding of four consulting contracts worth a total of about $4 million. One of the elements that raises red flags about these contracts is that officials who were appointed by the disgraced former governor, Eric Greitens, orchestrated them.

The biggest contract was one for $2.7 million that went to a company that Drew Erdmann, a top state official, formerly worked for. The amount of the contract, the goal of which is to identify fraud and abuse of Missouri’s Medicaid program, was more than the combined total of three other bids.

Hancock quoted a Democratic state representative from St. Louis as saying the contracts gave “an appearance of corruption.”

Hancock, who has many years experience covering state government, was smart to use that quote high in the story, high enough that it was on the front-page part of the story, before it “jumped” to an inside page.


So those were the highlights, in my view, of Sunday’s paper.

On the flip side of the coin, I was disappointed that the editorial page did not carry a complete list of The Star’s recommendations on voting in tomorrow’s primary election.

In the past, The Star has usually listed its recommendations in the Sunday paper preceding elections. It makes a lot of sense because Sunday’s paper is, by far, the biggest-selling paper of the week, and people spend more time reading the Sunday paper than any other day’s edition. Also, on the weekend before any election, people are talking about the issues and candidates and exchanging viewpoints and looking for guidance in many cases.

As a side note, I have hewed to The Star’s endorsements almost issue by issue and candidate by candidate since I arrived in KC in 1969 because I know that, with rare exceptions, The Star is motivated by what’s best for the citizens, not how to make more money, win over more readers or curry favor with one group or another.

…Today, however, I realized why the Sunday editorial page didn’t list the endorsements: They were not complete. In today’s paper, The Star recommended a “no” vote on Proposition A — the “right to work” issue — and endorsed Josh Hawley for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.

That’s not a good excuse, however. The Star has had plenty of time to make its endorsements and shouldn’t be weighing in on something as important as Prop A two days before the election. The full list of endorsements should have been in yesterday’s paper.

…Come on, Colleen, you gotta plan better next time…And make sure you’ve got those endorsements prominently placed on the website tomorrow!

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Riding in the car the other day, I heard an oldie in which the organ played a prominent role. I made a mental note to remember the song, thinking I might do an “Oldies with Organ” post.

I should have jotted down the name of the song — I had pen and paper with me, as usual — but I didn’t, and the song promptly slipped away.

Then this morning, I head another organ oldie, Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride,” which reinforced my inkling to blog about songs featuring the organ.

So here, in no particular order, are four great organ oldies, minus, unfortunately, the song I heard the other day and have not been able to retrieve from memory:

“Magic Carpet Ride”

This song was released in 1968 and went to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Steppenwolf was a Canadian-American band formed in 1967 in Los Angeles by lead singer John Kay, keyboardist Goldy McJohn (who is on the organ in “Magic Carpet Ride”) and drummer Jerry Edmonton.

(Interesting footnote: Wikipedia says guitarist Michael Monarch and bass guitarist Rushton Moreve were recruited by notices placed in Los-Angeles-area record and musical instrument stores.)

Steppenwolf sold over 25 million records worldwide, had eight gold albums and 12 Billboard Hot 100 singles, including three Top 10 hits: “Born to Be Wild,” “Magic Carpet Ride,” and “Rock Me.” According to Wikipedia, “Steppenwolf enjoyed worldwide success from 1968 to 1972, but clashing personalities led to the end of the core lineup.”

Here it is, “Magic Carpet Ride”

“A Whiter Shade of Pale” by Procol Harem

The group Procol Harem released this song in 1968, and it went to No. 1 on the United Kingdom singles chart and No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Wikipedia says it is one of the best-selling singles in history, with sales of more than 10 million worldwide. In 2004,Rolling Stone magazine ranked “A Whiter Shade of Pale” 57th on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

As well as for its commanding organ lead, the song stands out for its inscrutable yet compelling lyrics, including…

And so it was that later, oh
As the miller told his tale
That her face at first just ghostly
Turned a whiter shade of pale…

The website Clocktower says organist Matthew Fisher began his musical career on bass guitar and later fell in love with the bluesy style of bands like The Animals, which inspired his move to the organ.

Here, then, is, “A Whiter Shade of Pale”


“Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye”

I have a particular, nostalgic fondness for this song because it was by The Casinos, a group that came out of Cincinnati, where I lived when I held my first newspaper job as a cub reporter for The Kentucky Post in late 1968 and early 1969.

This song was released in 1967 and was The Casinos’ only Top 40 hit, rising to No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Wikipedia relates an interesting story about the band and the song…

“The Casinos were playing in a Cincinnati club where WSAI disc jockey Tom Dooley liked to visit. Dooley had a song he wanted to record but needed a band to provide the music. The Casinos had been getting great reaction to “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” at the club and wanted to record it. Dooley offered to pay for studio time at Cincinnati’s King Records Studio for the group to record their song if they would back up Dooley on his song. While Dooley’s song didn’t see success beyond WSAI, the Casinos’ tune quickly became a national hit.”

Another fascinating sidelight is that the organist, Bob Armstrong, went on to a career as a bridge-lighting designer and technician. Among the bridges for which he provided lights included the John A. Roebling suspension bridge in Cincinnati, a forerunner of the Brooklyn Bridge, which Roebling also designed.

Wikipedia says Armstrong also worked as business manager for a Catholic church in Amelia, Ohio, about 20 miles east of Cincinnati. He died of cancer, at age 67, in December 2011.

Here’s a great droopy-drawers song, “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye.” (Note the swoony organ solo in mid-song.)


“The Happy Organ”

Who could forget this feel-good, get-a-move-on song by Dave “Baby” Cortez (provided you were alive in the 1960s)?

It was released on the Clock Record label in 1959 and soared to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 list. It was co-composed by Cortez and James J. Kriegsmann, who, in addition to being a song writer, was a noted celebrity and theatrical photographer.

It was the first instrumental song to reach No. 1 on the pop charts.

As with “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye,” this song strikes a strong personal chord with me.

One day when I was in high school back in Louisville, I was playing golf at the Seneca Park Golf Course. The green on Hole No. 8 — a Par 3 at the time — borders Park Boundary Road, which carries a lot of traffic. Our group was either on the green or approaching it when a long, wide convertible — maybe an Olds or Pontiac — came cruising around the corner, top down. The song “The Happy Organ” was blaring from the car radio. The members of our group stopped, watched and listened for several seconds as the car rounded the Park Boundary Road curve and went up a hill toward the clubhouse.

…Oh, my. What a day. And what a time to be young, in the 60s, with songs like “The Happy Organ” propelling us from one carefree day to the next.

Let’s hear it, then…“The Happy Organ.”

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The Kansas City Star is never far from my mind, and I know a lot of your readers like to know what’s going on at and around the newspaper, so here are some recent developments…

Sanchez gone

I’ve heard from two very good sources that Mary Sanchez is out after a career of more than 30 years as a reporter and columnist. From what I understand, this is not a cost-saving layoff but just the result of ongoing, often-inevitable, work-related friction.

In early 2017 Sanchez, then a Metro columnist, was named a member of the paper’s revamped editorial-page operation under the oversight of Colleen McCain Nelson, whom Publisher Tony Berg hired from the Wall Street Journal in late 2016.

As I’ve said many times, Nelson has done a fabulous job of reviving the editorial page, and before Sanchez’ recent departure, it was fully staffed at eight people.

From arm’s length, and from what I’ve seen of her personality, Nelson seems like she would be an inspiring and easy person to work for, but, as we all know, friction arises in many supervisor/direct-report relationships. Both of my sources mentioned relationship difficulties as a possible factor in Sanchez’ departure.

In any event, Sanchez had a great run at the paper and can take gratification in a very successful career there, regardless of how it ended…And The Star, of course, will continue to muddle along without her.

The story on the “non-election” 

It’s extremely rare that you see an election canceled — I can’t remember ever having seen it happen before — but that’s the situation with the primary election for Jackson County Sheriff. What happened was county officials gave would-be candidates a chance to file for the office after the March 27 filing deadline. They did so because the former sheriff, Mike Sharp (you remember that mess!) resigned in April, after the filing deadline.

Two Republicans and three Democrats, including interim Sheriff Darryl Forte and Capt. Mike Rogers of the Sheriff’s Office, filed during the re-opened period. However, the Jackson County Democratic Committee filed suit, contending the county did not have the right to reopen filings. On Tuesday, a Jackson County Circuit Court judge sided with the committee and ruled that the Democratic County Committee and the Republican County Committee will each select a nominee to run in the November general election…It’s out of voters hands at this point, although the candidates’ names will be on the ballot because the ballots were prepared before the judge ruled.

But the story here — the story as it relates to The Star, anyway — is that, as far as I can tell, the paper somehow managed to miss the fact that the Democratic County Committee had sued the county in an attempt to stop the primary election.

I think the first that KC Star readers knew about the lawsuit was after the judge ruled on it. The paper prominently displayed the story — and an accompanying editorial — on its website Tuesday, but it didn’t run the story and editorial in the printed edition until yesterday, Thursday.

Not running the story and editorial in Wednesday’s printed edition was a disservice to readers, but the biggest disservice was being in the dark on the legal challenge. That’s exactly what happens, though, when reporters are spread too thin. You can’t lay off scores of editorial staff members and offer the same level of coverage…This says it all: Where The Star once employed more than 2,000 people, it’s now down to somewhere between 200 and 300.

(P.S. KCUR published a story about the lawsuit a week ago today.)

Renovation of the former 1729 Grand building

In the CityScene KC blog, former KC Star development reporter Kevin Collison wrote last week about developer Vince Bryant’s planned $95 million redevelopment plan for the former KC headquarters, which Bryant and his partners bought for $12 million last year.

Construction already is underway on the north side of the property, where freshly printed newspapers were loaded onto delivery trucks waiting at a series of docks. That area is being converted to a sports pub with several outdoor, sand volleyball courts.

Other key components of the redevelopment plan include:

— Renovation of the 225,000 square-foot existing building into office, data center and retail space

— Construction of a new 45,000 square-foot “food hall,” boutique grocery store and office complex on the south side of the property, along 18th Street. (That has been a grassy area with big, old trees.) Bryant is also planning a 500-space, four-level garage beneath the food hall and grocery/office building.

…That all sounds fine, but I’m left with one big question: What the hell is a “food hall”?

What I’m envisioning is an upscale Horn & Hardart automat, with row after row and machine after machine of irresistible items, including many kinds of pie…

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President Trump has taken his battle with the mainstream news media to a new, frightening low, with his indirect encouragement of people who scream obscenities at reporters he doesn’t like.

If you haven’t heard, CNN’s Jim Acosta, a White House correspondent, was the target of obscenities and shouts of “CNN sucks” from Trump supporters at a Trump rally in Tampa on Tuesday.

It was an unsettling scene, as this photo indicates.

Acosta later wrote, “I’m very worried that the hostility whipped up by Trump and some in conservative media will result in somebody getting hurt. We should not treat our fellow Americans this way. The press is not the enemy.”

In an interview on CNN, when asked for his reaction to the taunting he got on Tuesday, Acosta said: “It felt like we weren’t in America any more…He (Trump) is whipping these crowds up into a frenzy to the point that they really want to come after us…And, honestly, it needs to stop.”

At a White House news briefing today, Acosta gave Trump spokeswoman Sarah Sanders the opportunity to lessen the rising tension and say the press was not the “enemy of the people,” as Trump has alleged.

She wouldn’t do it. Instead she talked about how the press “continues to ratchet up the verbal assault against the president” and how she herself had been the victim of press attacks, including at the White House correspondents dinner, where comedian Michelle Wolf pummeled her with several low blows.

“I appreciate your passion,” she told Acosta. “I share it. I’ve addressed this question. I’ve addressed my personal feelings. I’m here to speak on behalf of the president. He’s made his comments clear.”

In other words, Trump’s assault on the mainstream media — that is, almost every outlet besides Fox News — will rage on.

Adding to the unease was the emergence at the Tampa rally of a group called QAnon, which a Huffington Post reporter has described as “every conspiracy, all at once — an orchestra tune-up of theories.”

If you’ve heard an orchestra tuning up, you get the picture.

In an opinion piece in today’s Washington Post, an editor named Molly Roberts wrote:

“QAnon isn’t your average story of all-powerful actors exercising complete control over a helpless populace. This time, the heroes are already in charge and, still, the theorists see themselves as victims. Why, even with their man in the Oval Office, do they feel embattled?”

Yet another oddity at the Tampa rally was the presence of a few black people brandishing signs that said, “Blacks for Trump.”

The leader of that group is a wacko named Maurice Symonette, who also goes by Michael Woodside and “Michael The Black Man.” Symonette is associated with a couple of websites that spew a laundry list of conspiracy theories, including one that claims to link Hillary Clinton with the Islamic State. Symonette has been arrested many times and was once charged with conspiring to commit murder. He beat the rap and has now managed to get himself situated two rows behind Trump.

Symonette, front and center, at the Trump rally Tuesday in Tampa


Margaret Sullivan, The Washington Post’s media columnist, had an insightful — and disturbing — piece on Trump’s persistent agitation of his acolytes.

She said Trump is unlikely to call off the dogs because he uses the media as a foil in hopes of undermining the reporting about special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of him. His ultimate goal, she said, is to “ward off the negative effects of whatever Mueller finds.”

Sullivan concluded her column with these sentences:

“Defending press rights — and the safety of journalists — would be a sign of real patriotism, as opposed to hypocritical flag-waving.

“That’s a fantasy, of course, given how crucial this coordinated anti-media messaging is for Trump.

“Nevertheless, it would be a way for him to show that he is more than just the president of his base. And it should happen before his hands are splashed with blood.”

Those are strong words. And, yes, blood could flow. What then? Where would we be as a nation?

…So far, Sullivan’s column has drawn more than 3,100 comments — a higher number than I’ve ever seen on any story and a direct reflection of the depth of public concern.

I never envisioned things getting to this place, but it’s time for mainstream reporters covering the White House to beware and be watchful. I fear we are venturing into waves and winds a lot higher than those that sank the duck boat in Branson.

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The two most pervasive problems in our country, gun violence and racism, were on display in two high-profile cases recently — one here in Kansas City, the other in Florida.

In the local case, which occurred last Sunday afternoon, 57-year-old Leonard Joyner III was gunned down by a 19-year-old punk after Joyner’s Lincoln Town Car accidentally rolled a short distance back down a hill into a car being driven by the punk’s 18-year-old girlfriend.

Joyner and the two people in the other car got out of their vehicles, and Joyner — probably realizing right away that he was dealing with a couple of hotheads — pulled cash out of his pocket and, according to witnesses, appeared to offer it to the two. But the 19-year-old punk, Treyvon D. Shepheard, went to the passenger side of the SUV, returned with a semi-automatic handgun and proceeded to shoot Joyner several times, including after he had fallen to the ground.

Shepheard and his girlfriend, Rafeasia Kirkland, got back in the SUV and drove away.

Larry Joyner

Meanwhile, friends of Joyner’s were waiting for him to return to the apartment complex where they all lived so they could go out to dinner. Instead, the friends heard about the shooting, rushed to the scene and saw their friend lying dead in the street.

The scariest thing about this horrible case is, once again, it could have happened to anyone. Could have been you, could have been me. Could have been my son or daughter. Could have been your son or daughter.

I don’t know how or why Joyner’s car rolled back down the hill on East 51st Street, where it intersects with Swope Parkway. Maybe he had pulled too far forward and put it in reverse to back up a bit. Or maybe he put it in neutral and it just drifted back a bit before he hit the brakes.

At the same time, I have no idea what prompted Shepheard to shoot Joyner. Maybe it was simply that he was a hothead with a gun. Maybe he was trying to impress his girlfriend…and had a gun. The gun, that’s the single constant element here.

Regardless, mishaps like Joyner’s car rolling back happen all the time. What isn’t supposed to happen — and may well not have happened in a civilized, sane society where guns are more strictly controlled — is for the guy whose car got bumped to pull out a gun and kill the driver of the bumper car.

This is the hill on East 51st Street, at Swope Parkway, where Larry Joyner’s car rolled back down the hill into an SUV with an 18-year-old driver and a 19-year-old passenger…Joyner’s Town Car would have been near the spot where the smaller car is.

Now, Shepheard is charged with second-degree murder, armed criminal action and tampering with evidence; Kirkland is charged with tampering with evidence; and Joyner is gone forever.

It is hard to comprehend. And yet it happens all the time. Watch out.

The second case happened in the Stand-Your-Ground State…Oh, dammit! I meant the Sunshine State.

Maybe you’ve seen the video. If you haven’t be sure to check it out.

This horrific event occurred July 19 outside a convenience store in Clearwater.

A confrontation occurred between Michael Drejka, a 47-year-old white man, and Markeis McGlockton, a 28-year-old old black man. According to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, Drejka confronted McGlockton’s girlfriend, Britany Jacobs, about parking in a handicap space without a permit.

In the video, Drejka appears to be scolding Jacobs — for a minute or more — about parking in the space without a handicap permit. Suddenly, McGlockton emerges from the store, goes straight up to Drejka and pushes him to the ground — hard. On the ground, Drejka pulls a handgun. McGlockton takes about four steps back before Drejka shoots him once in the chest. McGlockton then stumbles back into the store, where he died.

While this unfolded, the couple’s 4-month-old and 3-year-old children were in the car. Their 5-year-old son was in the store.

…Even with Florida’s “stand-your-ground” law — made famous in the 2012 Trayvon Martin case — Drejka’s reckless, impulsive action was completely unwarranted. Was McGlockton wrong to shove Drejka to the ground? Of course. But the stand-your-ground law clearly says a person using deadly force in self-defense must “reasonably” believe deadly force is necessary. In this case, deadly force was not at all necessary, not with McGlockton having backed away and no longer posing a threat to Drejka.

And yet, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who is white, refused to arrest Drejka, saying “he had to shoot to defend himself.” Gualtieri went on to suggest his office could be sued just for arresting the shooter.


His position is so indefensible, however, that even the NRA said he misconstrued the law. Politico quoted Marion Hammer, Tallahassee’s NRA lobbyist, who helped shepherd “stand your ground” through the Florida Legislature, as saying…

“Nothing in either the 2005 law or the 2017 law prohibits a Sheriff from making an arrest in a case where a person claims self-defense if there is probable cause that the use of force was unlawful…Nothing in the law says a person can sue the Sheriff for making an arrest when there is probable cause.”

Fortunately, the state attorney in Pinellas County will have the final say on whether Drejka should be prosecuted. (That doesn’t mean justice will be served, of course, and my guess is it will go the way of the Trayvon Martin case.)

A facet of this case that strongly suggests Gualtieri’s assessment of the facts has racial overtones is the fact that during a press conference in which he explained his decision, the sheriff made no mention of the fact that McGlockton was backing away when Drejka shot him.

That, plus similar events that have taken place in Florida, makes me think that if McGlockton had been white, Gualtieri would have arrested him. I also think that if both shooter and victim had been black, Gualtieri would have arrested the shooter. But white on black? No way. This is Florida, where it seems to be OK for white people to use deadly force against black people for little or no reason.

And more broadly, like the Kansas City case, Drejka’s action would not have happened in a sane and civilized society where guns were more strictly controlled.

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