Archive for November, 2018

John Carnes, one of the Kansas City area’s most colorful and checkered political figures, is back in the news for alleged shady dealings. And, in typical fashion, Carnes is defending himself with glib and sardonic comments.

Carnes, who is in his mid-60s, is a convicted felon who served two years in federal prison more than 25 years ago for bribing an Independence councilman. He himself is a former Independence councilman, as well as a former member of the Jackson County Legislature.

Since getting his law license back in 2006 — he was disbarred after his 1989 conviction — Carnes has stayed under the radar, for the most part, in Independence.

John Carnes, now…

On Wednesday, however, KSHB-TV published an investigative piece, saying that Carnes participated in some “backdoor meetings” that led up to the Independence Council approving deals that cost the city millions of dollars. In one of those deals, a council majority awarded a $9.7 million contract to a politically connected St. Louis firm, Environmental Operations Inc., to buy, demolish and remediate the city’s old power plant.

One of two council members who voted against the contract said the old power plant, located in a desolate area of Missouri City, had been deemed safe by the EPA. “EPA was not requiring us to do anything, so my position was, why spend $10 million?” Councilman Scott Roberson said.

As journalistic investigations go, this is pretty thin. The biggest smoke cloud the reporters were able to generate revolves around this paragraph, which was well down in the story…

While digging through city records, the 41 Action News investigators found a dinner receipt that shows within days of Environmental Operations meeting exclusively with the City Council, council members Curt Dougherty, Tom Van Camp and John Perkins met with John Carnes about the project.

That meeting took place in 2016. The council approved the contract with Environmental Operations in 2017. Carnes told Channel 41 he was involved in the meeting because he had a client who was interested in financing the clean-up. That explanation seems ludicrous, however, in light of City Manager Zach Walker telling reporters that outside financing was never considered for the project.

Channel 41’s story does not quote any law enforcement officials, and it is unknown if officials are looking into the deals — or if they might do so as a result of the station’s story.


I go way back with John Carnes. We aren’t exactly friends, but we’ve been acquaintances for decades. I’ve always found him to be funny and engaging.

…and then.

I remember him when he was young and handsome and a budding politician. For a while he dated a woman I knew through my City Hall connections. One summer night, according to my friend from the city (and she was in a position to know), Carnes and his date got drunk and took a dip in the Meyer Circle Fountain. It bordered on scandalous, given that he was a lawyer and on the fringe of politics, but nothing came of it.

To the best of my knowledge, I never wrote about him; he was involved with Independence and later Jackson County while I was covering City Hall, but I would cross paths with him occasionally. After he got out of prison, I ran into him one night — I think it was a New Year’s Eve — at the old Jimmy and Mary’s Steakhouse, 34th and Main, and I said, “You’ll probably be back in politics pretty soon.”

He smiled and said, “I doubt that.”

More than any other disgraced, local politician, Carnes has always stood out for his contentious, unrepentant statements in the face of personal — and self-inflicted — adversity.

Here’s a sampling of some of his public responses…

:: After being sentenced to five years for bribery in 1989, Carnes told reporters (this is not exact but close to it): “At least the judge didn’t sentence me to spend five years with you guys.”

:: When asked, on the same occasion, if he had learned his lesson, he said (again, this is not exact but close), “No, I’m having so much fun it makes me want to go out and commit more crimes.”

:: At a county courthouse ceremony when he was sworn back in as an attorney after regaining his law license, he acknowledged that his problems were of his own making but couldn’t keep from lashing out at a political enemy. Former Independence Mayor Barbara Potts belonged in “the rat hall of fame,” he said because she had cooperated with investigators.

:: When approached recently by a Channel 41 reporter about his role in the Missouri City contract, he told the reporter, “I’d rather stand out in a snow drift than talk to you.”

:: He later put out a statement that read: “The negative comments of my critics are fiction and fantasy. However, these comments directed toward me on your newscast concern me because it will increase a demand for my legal services at a time that I am attempting to retire.”

:: He capped that statement with this sentence: “It should be noted that vendettas, feuds and grudges are recreational activities in Independence.”


Carnes looks a lot different now than he did when he was young and handsome and doing laps in the Sea Horse Fountain. Video of him taken outside an office by a Channel 41 camera person shows him to be paunchy, balding and a bit disheveled.

In the video, which is not accompanied by sound, he pulls off his sunglasses, removes a cigar from his mouth and gestures toward a reporter as if to say, “Get out of here!” Then he pulls on the office door to go inside.

Alas, the door doesn’t open; it’s locked.

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Let’s hear it now…How many of you are expecting big, explosive results from Attorney General and U.S. Senator-elect Josh Hawley’s investigation of clergy sex abuse in Missouri?

I said, let’s hear it now…but all I’m hearing is the silence of this cold November night.

I think the vast majority of us — whether we be liberals, libertarians, moderates or conservatives — are expecting to hear nothing more than a pop, at best, out of Hawley’s investigation.

There will be no boom because Hawley already got what he wanted — and why he might have promised an investigation in the first place. On Nov. 6, he handily beat Claire McCaskill, and his sights are now clearly set on Washington, where he’ll team up with Missouri’s incumbent Republican senator, Roy Blunt.

Of course, Hawley must continue acting and saying his investigation will be vigorous and thorough because, well, if he said anything other than that, he’d be acknowledging the investigation was politically motivated all along.

It’s no wonder, then, that he responded strongly to an op-ed piece in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that suggested his investigation was a lot of hot air.

Rebecca Randles

In the opinion piece, attorney Rebecca Randles, who has represented hundreds of clergy sex abuse victims, and David Clohessy, former director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said they had heard nothing from Hawley’s office during the three months since he announced his investigation.

“It’s hard to give Hawley the benefit of the doubt when he refuses to even make a simple phone call to those with considerable knowledge of the scandal in Missouri…” Randles and Clohessy wrote.

They also wrote that Hawley’s reliance on the “voluntary cooperation” of bishops was “laughable.”

“Like us,” Randles and Clohessy said, “these prelates have also been involved in the abuse issue for decades. Unlike us, they’ve devoted considerable time, energy and resources into keeping this horror hidden, disclosing only when essentially forced to do so by courageous victims, investigative reporting or pending cases, both criminal and civil.”

Hawley responded on Twitter, saying, “We have spoken with the current president and executive director of SNAP multiple times, as well as former leadership of SNAP. We have spoken with other victims groups, those representing victims and dozens & dozens of victims and witnesses.”

…We shouldn’t have to wait too long to find out who’s right about this because Hawley will be sworn in as a senator on Jan. 3. He’s got less than six weeks to deliver the results of his investigation, unless he intends to subcontract it to his successor, Eric Schmitt, who will take over immediately upon Hawley’s departure. And if Hawley does that, we will know for sure that his “investigation” was never a serous undertaking.


Another day and another inscrutable correction in The Star. The correction in Tuesday’s paper related to a Nov. 24 op-ed piece by Steve Rose.

The Star, as I’ve written before, has a ridiculous policy of not repeating the incorrect information it published. The editors decided, mistakenly, long ago that it was only necessary to publish the correct information in corrections. The result is often a muddle because the correct information usually makes no sense without the context of what was incorrect.

So, here’s how the correction read..

The column by Steve Rose in the Nov. 24 Opinion section should have said that campaign materials for Johnson County Commission candidate Janee Hanzlick stated that they were paid for by the Kansas Democratic Party. There was no such wording on campaign literature for county commission candidate Becky Fast.

I read that two or three times, trying to make sense of it, but it eluded me. I had to go back to Rose’s column (I still had Saturday’s paper, fortunately) to put Humpty Dumpty back together. His column said that in the recent election campaign both Hanzlick and Fast, who were running in nonpartisan races, had said in printed ads that the ads were paid for by the Democratic Party. (Rose’s point was if the races were nonpartisan, it was odd that they would align themselves with one party or the other.)

Sooooo, the correction was supposed to tell the readers that while only one of the two candidates had invoked the name of the Democratic Party, Rose had incorrectly written that both had done so.

…I ask you: Wouldn’t it have cleared the waters to just write this:

A column by Steve Rose in the Nov. 24 Opinion section mistakenly said Johnson County Commission candidates Janee Hanzlick and Becky Fast cited the Kansas Democratic Party as the funding source for campaign materials they used in their campaigns. In fact, only Hanzlick cited the Democratic Party as the funding source.

The length is almost identical to the correction The Star published Tuesday…and it is 100 percent clearer.

The Star’s stubborn insistence on writing tortuous corrections reflects its unwillingness to use the words, like “incorrectly” or “mistakenly,” that acknowledge full responsibility. When it comes to saying, “We were wrong,” The Star would rather not.

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Thanksgiving Day is winding down. The dishes are clean (two rounds in the dishwasher), the food that was not consumed is either in the refrigerator or sent home with guests, and the trash and recycling are curbside.

Time, then, for a few passing thoughts and anecdotes…

:: We turned on the TV to watch the Plaza Lighting Ceremony but we missed the flipping of the switch by a minute or two…I’ve written about this before. I used to go to the ceremony almost every year but lost interest when they added the fireworks. The Plaza Association took what had been a distinctive, utterly sublime event and dumbed it down into essentially into another fireworks show. The cacophonous discharges serve only to disrupt and quash the deep stillness of the minutes following the light-up. Ooohs and aaahs and hypnotic gazes have given way to Pow! Bam! Kaboom!

When the Plaza changed hands a few years ago, going from Highwoods to a partnership headed by the Taubman company out of Michigan, I wrote to CEO Bobby Taubman, asking him to consider dropping the fireworks. He sent back a personal letter that was one step above a form letter, saying it would be evaluated. Of course, nothing happened, and the fireworks have continued.

I hate to say it, but I think my days of going to the Plaza Lighting Ceremony are over. I would go back if they dumped the fireworks, but I don’t see that happening. In this age of high technology and low attention spans, many people have come to need almost continuous entertainment — the louder and more obnoxious the better, it would seem.

So tonight, instead of going to the Plaza, I walked out into my front yard and took a good long look at the totally mesmerizing full moon rising in the southeastern sky. It was a satisfying substitute for an event that now revolves around artificial, exploding colors.

:: The Star’s Eric Adler had an irresistible Thanksgiving story today about a kindly, 66-year-old homeless man whose base of operation, if you will, is a Little General Store on Woods Chapel Road in Blue Springs.

Steve Arnold doesn’t beg, and partly because of that people open their wallets and hearts to him. He lives in the woods in a blue tent that someone gave him. It’s big enough for him to stand in and replaced a red pup tent.

The manager of another Blue Springs convenience store summed up Arnold’s innate appeal, saying: “He’s very down to earth. He’s very quiet, very polite. He doesn’t ask people for money. Just very humble. Very thankful all the time. Gives people hugs. He’s such a sweet guy.”

What a contrast to the ubiquitous guys (and some women) who position themselves at major intersections, holding up their requisite cardboard signs, often staring  down motorists stuck at the red lights.

After this story, it wouldn’t surprise me if someone gave Steve Arnold a nice little house or set him up in an apartment with a year’s rent paid in advance.

:: Peg Nichols, widow of Dick (Nick) Nichols, a longtime KC Star copy editor who died several years ago, was thinking about an experience long ago at a KU football game. Maybe it was because of the football on TV today. I don’t know, but anyway, here’s what she wrote…

Nick was never a student there himself (sent several kids), but he loved KU sports. I didn’t have that college experience, but when we were first married, Nick took me to a KU football game. It was cold, a thick haze surrounding everything. Just as we stepped into the bleacher area, the fans got to the Rock Chalk Jayhawk chant. I was transfixed. Of course you have heard it but probably not the way in which we heard it. At that time the entire chant continued in a monotone, clear up to the last “U.” The beginning of the “U” was in the same monotone, until the very last second when it dropped, probably an octave. The drop toward the last of the “U” was so unexpected it just sent a shiver through my body. Unless you’re heard it yourself, it’s hard to describe. It was like a dire warning to the opposition: “You think you know us, but you don’t know us at all.”

I don’t know when the change occurred. At some point the fans began singing in a monotone until the beginning of the “U.” The drop came, as one might expect, at the beginning of the “U,” — totally predictable and losing all the fearsome power of the earlier version.

Peg and I think alike. As I’ve written before, my favorite part of KU football (when I went to those) and basketball games (I go to a few women’s games every year) is the longstanding tradition of the band playing a languid, soul-stirring rendition of “Home on the Range” as the fans head to the exits at game’s conclusion. Me, I don’t go anywhere. I stand and wait, my attention fixed on the band. And when the last note of that great song has faded away, I’m always tempted to join in when the band leader yells, “What kind of day is it?” and the band shouts back as one, “It’s a great day to be a Jayhawk!”

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UMKC Chancellor Mauli Agrawal’s relatively quick and strong response to a Kansas City Star investigation of a university pharmacy professor is a promising sign that the school might be starting to shed its bunker mentality.

On Tuesday, two days after The Star published the latest UMKC expose by the reporting team of Mara Rose Williams and Mike Hendricks, Agrawal, who came to UMKC from the University of Texas-San Antonio five months ago, met with The Star’s editorial board and told its members he had suspended Professor Ashim Mitra with pay.

He also said that depending on the results of an internal investigation, Mitra could face further disciplinary action.

Look for Mitra to either resign or be fired in the coming months for using PhD pharmacy students as slave labor, leaning on them to do such things as house and pet sit.

Mauli Agrawal

Agrawal’s timely response has to be reassuring to area residents who want to see the school continue to grow and prosper. People expect and deserve truth and transparency from institutions whose goals include seeking truth, and his handling of this matter should go a long way toward gaining the confidence of students and the public.

He acknowledged precisely that in his response when he said, “We want to send a clear message to our students that they are our most important asset.”

At the same time, the school’s response was not perfect. For one thing, Agrawal, who is in his mid- to late 50s, did not personally respond to The Star’s accusations before publication of the story. Instead, he delegated that task to Barbara A. Bichelmeyer, UMKC’s provost and executive vice chancellor.

It is disappointing that Mauli, as the school’s top official, did not stand up, front and center, to address the situation before publication.

In addition, in interviews and written responses before publication, university officials did not divulge that the school had embarked on an internal investigation of Mitra. Why they didn’t divulge that is hard to figure out. It seems to me it would have made the school look like it was more on top of the situation.

Nevertheless, the school’s acceptance of responsibility Tuesday marked a night-and-day difference to how UMKC responded to an even bigger scandal four years ago. That was when the same reporting team, Williams and Hendricks, reported and wrote a blockbuster detailing how leaders of UMKC’s Henry W. Bloch School of Management had cheated their way to getting the management school named the No. 1 business school in the country.

Back then, the university chancellor was Leo Morton, who had taken the reins at the school in 2008 after a career in business. He had no previous administrative experience in education.

Leo Morton

Not only did Morton not respond to the charges, he delegated the job of defending the indefensible to his P.R. department, which includes, to the best of my knowledge, two former Kansas City Star editors and one former Star reporter.

In a written P.R. department statement, the school not only defended the professor at the center of the scandal but attacked a professor who had blown the whistle on the fraud, calling the professor “a disgruntled Bloch School faculty member” who had been passed over for promotion.

It took seven months — and the resignation of the professor at the heart of the scandal — for Morton to step forward and accept responsibility.

And when Morton finally did swallow his pride and do his mea culpas, he did so, not to The Star, but on KCUR-FM, which is licensed to the University of Missouri Board of Curators but is otherwise independent of the university.

On KCUR’s “Up to Date“ program, Morton said, “This is very serious to me because this is not what we are about, and I want everyone to know that we are addressing it in a very serious way.”

It’s tough to convince people you’re serious when it takes seven months to respond to a crisis.

Morton resigned in May 2017, and, unfortunately, in a story about his retirement it was The Star’s turn to go timid.

Mara Rose Williams wrote a fawning story and failed to point out that what was probably the biggest scandal in UMKC history took place on Morton’s watch. The lead sentence of the story called Morton “a champion for Kansas City.”

…With Tuesday’s acknowledgement and action, Agrawal demonstrated that in a short time he has brought UMKC a long way from where it was four years ago.

We can only hope this is the dawn of a new era at UMKC. If Agrawal wants the trust of UMKC students and Kansas City area residents and business leaders, he needs to continue along this path. It would also help if the school could avoid another scandal in a few years.

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I checked Monday on progress in the criminal and civil cases involving David Jungerman in the slaying last year of lawyer Thomas Pickert, and what I found was two slow-moving cases — a situation that didn’t surprise me, given the fact he’s a wealthy defendant with high-priced attorneys.

Another thing I found was that Jungerman appears to be following his old, misguided, legal instincts:

Two of the three lawyers who had been representing him in a “wrongful death” case filed by Pickert’s relatives have withdrawn from the case, and Jungerman, acting “pro se” (on behalf of himself, without counsel) recently filed a motion seeking a change of judge in that civil case.

Jungerman’s decision to represent himself in another civil suit in the summer of 2017 was a factor, I’m convinced, in the jury returning a $5.75 million verdict against him…Pickert represented the plaintiff, a homeless man whom Jungerman had shot, and a few months later, Pickert was shot dead in the front yard of his Brookside home. In all likelihood, Jungerman shot him from across the street, while sitting in a white van he had driven from his home in Raytown.

In his recent “pro se” filing, Jungerman wrote, “It appears you, Judge (Kevin) Harrell, have decided to revert back to your background as a prosecutor by crippling defendant from having any funds to provide an effective first-degree murder defense.”

Jungerman is pissed off because Judge Harrell appointed a “receiver” to take control of all Jungerman’s property and other assets, which Jungerman went to extreme lengths to disperse in order to make then inaccessible to authorities. One key step he took was removing himself as executor of the “Jungerman Family Irrevocable Trust” and installing his daughter as executor.

Jungerman is believed to be worth more than $30 million. His assets include several thousand acres of farmland in Bates and Vernon counties.

Judge Harrell has not ruled on Jungerman’s change-of-judge motion, but I doubt he’ll grant it. For one thing, Jungerman, a rigid libertarian, has a way of alienating people — which prompts some who have dealt with him to dig in more firmly.

Trial in the wrongful death case is scheduled to start Dec. 2, 2019. The plaintiffs in that case are Pickert’s widow, Dr. Emily Riegel, and his parents, Allan and JoAnn Pickert.


In Jungerman’s first-degree murder case, a “case management conference” was held Monday morning before Judge David Byrn.

Dan Ross

Tim Dollar

The conference, in open court, started promptly at 8:30. Assembled in front of the bench were Jungerman; his attorney Dan Ross; and three prosecuting attorneys — Tim Dollar, Dan Nelson and Lauren Whiston.

Nelson and Whiston are employees of the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office. Dollar, a former assistant prosecutor, is a private attorney who was brought in by the prosecutor’s office.

A handful of people were in the audience, including Jungerman’s daughter Angelia Buesing, who lives in Harwood, MO, 100 miles south of Kansas City in Vernon County.

Jungerman was dressed, as he has been for all his courtroom appearances, in an orange “Detention Center” jumpsuit. His white hair was uncombed; he had a couple of days’ stubble of whiskers; and his collar was up on one side, down on the other. His shoulders were slightly stooped, and occasionally he leaned in to hear what the lawyers were saying.

It appeared, in general, that the 80 years he has lived were pressing down on him. When I saw him in court in Vernon County on another matter early this year, he was clean shaven, his hair was combed, and he was wearing crisp khakis and a white dress shirt.

…Assembled before Judge Byrn, the lawyers argued over prosecutorial access to some of Jungerman’s bank records. I couldn’t follow all the ins and outs, but defense attorney Dan Ross was basically seeking to ensure the prosecution took appropriate and proper legal steps to gain access to them. He appeared to get most of what he wanted.

Nicole Forsythe

Another development yesterday was that Nicole Forsythe, another lawyer who had been representing Jungerman, withdrew as co-counsel. Outside the courtroom, Forsythe said she withdrew because she was involved in the civil case (on Jungerman’s side, of course) and the two cases had been getting “conflated” over Jungerman’s finances.

While I was speaking with Forsythe and Ross, a sheriff’s deputy brought Jungerman out of the courtroom. He approached us, and I leaned forward and asked if he remembered me from Vernon County, where I had spoken with him extensively outside the courtroom.

He smiled but looked perplexed — which didn’t hurt my feelings at all. I’m just a pesky blogger who’s doing all he can to see justice served in one of the most shocking and repulsive murders in the history of Jackson County.

The case is scheduled to go to trial Feb. 25.

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Every day, with its buzz-cut staff, The Kansas City Star faces a difficult balancing act in terms of what stories its editors decide to pursue and what beats it should focus on.

But that reality does not lessen my frustration — and I believe that of many readers — at important stories going uncovered as a result.

The latest example of The Star opting for a big-splash story at the expense of important daily coverage is Sunday’s lead story about a UMKC pharmacy professor and department chairman, Ashim Mitra, who “used students as servants,” with UMKC administrators letting him get away with it for years.

Reporters Mara Rose Williams and Mike Hendricks spent several weeks on this expose, and it’s a very good, important story. It is also, however, partly to blame for The Star failing to cover another, less eye-catching, story before the Nov. 6 election.

First, a little background. It was the Williams-Hendricks team that brought us the 2014 investigation that shattered the UMKC’s claim that its Henry W. Bloch School of Management had attained the rank of No. 1 business school in the country. Williams and Hendricks exposed the ranking as a sham, mainly because the business school had previously employed the two experts who produced the rankings. Obviously, it was extremely embarrassing for UMKC.

The lead Sunday story

This year, Williams and Hendricks pounced again after someone familiar with the business-school story tipped them that Professor Mitra had been using students as his personal servants, for such jobs as yard work and house sitting when he and his wife were away.

Williams has been an education reporter at The Star for more than 20 years, so the Mitra story was clearly up her alley. Hendricks is spread much thinner, dividing his time between investigations and the Jackson County Courthouse, which is his assigned “beat.”

The problem is Hendricks’ investigative work leaves him very little time to cover the courthouse, one of the most important beats at the paper, along with the Kansas and Missouri state houses, City Hall and cops.


A perfect example of a significant, developing story going uncovered was the Jackson County Legislature’s attempt to get voters to approve several amendments to the Jackson County home-rule charter. Like constitutional amendments at the state level, charter amendments are a big deal.

As most of you know, a package of seven charter amendments was on the recent Election Day ballot. But because Hendricks was devoting most of his time to the UMKC story, Star readers got precious little information about how these amendments came about and what effect they would have on county government.

It was a very confusing package of amendments, produced largely by an outgoing eastern Jackson County legislator named Greg Grounds. The best way to go about amending the Kansas City or Jackson County charter is to appoint a blue-ribbon commission, including at least some citizens, and give them plenty of time to hold public hearings, study the issues and come up with a package of recommendations.

But the “Grounds amendments” were shot from the hip and shot full of holes. Grounds’ main goals were to give all county elected officials big pay raises and strip the county executive of significant powers. Frankly, the amendments were a bouquet — fragrant only to county legislators — that Grounds tossed over his shoulder, to his friends, on the way out the door.

This situation could have provided The Star with at least a dozen stories over the last several months. If Hendricks hadn’t been otherwise engaged, he could have reported compellingly on the wheeling and dealing that was going on behind the scenes, with little or no public input.

As far as I can tell, however, coverage consisted of a couple of news stories and a couple of editorials. More important — and more disturbing — Hendricks failed to write an explanatory story in the days leading up to the election. In times past, The Star threw a phalanx of reporters at pre-election coverage, publishing “election guides” that covered every contested race and every issue on the ballot.

…In a last-minute attempt to catch up, The Star published an editorial a week before the election attempting to sort out the charter amendments. The editorial was very confusing and frustrating, however, partly because readers — as well as the editorial writer — did not have the benefit of previous stories to imbue it with depth and familiarity.

In the editorial, The Star endorsed three of the amendments and recommended a “no” vote on the other four…That, in itself, was confusing because voters relying on The Star for guidance would have had to take the paper to the polls as a voting guide.

…If you’ll recall, after reading that editorial and doing some research on my own, I recommended a “no” vote on all seven amendments. In my opinion, all were half baked and ill advised.

In the end, voters approved three of the amendments — two authorizing term limits and pay raises for the prosecutor and sheriff and one allowing the County Legislature to fire the county counselor — and voted down the four others, including two that would have set term limits and provided pay raises for the county executive and the County Legislature (themselves, in other words).

I believe that if the paper had covered the story properly, voters may well have rejected all the amendments and forced the Legislature to go back and start all over again, this time doing the job forthrightly and with extensive public participation.

In the end, thankfully, voters did a pretty good job of sorting through the mess, even with the benefit of very little information from the hometown newspaper. Unfortunately, readers are getting accustomed to being left starved by The Star when it comes to routine coverage of developing stories.

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Wouldn’t you just love to see someone in the dominant party — maybe the President, maybe Mitch McConnell — stand up and say what is obvious about the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi?

That would sound like this…

“I don’t believe a word, not one word, of the ridiculous, contradictory stories the Saudis have put out about the murder of U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi. The truth is, in my opinion, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent a team of trusted agents to Istanbul with orders to summarily kill Khashoggi, and the team carried out the order with ruthless efficiency.”

I say the hell with billions of dollars of (mostly prospective) in arms sales; the hell with Saudi Arabia being allied with the West against Iran; and, finally, the hell with Saudi Arabia’s oil.

(In  total energy consumption, the U.S. was about 90 percent self-sufficient in 2016, and that self-sufficiency is increasing all the time. We don’t need their oil, and we don’t need them otherwise.)

How our government can stand by and allow bin Salman to puppeteer a long-range assassination inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey is mind boggling. I understand that world order and international relations are tricky matters, but when an ally exhibits utter, deadly immorality on the world stage, it is time to call it out, condemn it and cut ties.

…In case you haven’t kept up closely with developments, here’s how Saudi accounts of the Khashoggi matter have unfolded:

First: Khashoggi wasn’t killed; he left the consulate safe and sound on Oct. 2 shortly after he entered.

Second: A fistfight erupted inside the consulate and a Saudi agent put Khashoggi in a headlock and accidentally killed him.

Third: A single intelligence agent on the scene — a man acting without authorization from his superiors in Riyadh — decided Khashoggi had to die, and injected a deadly dose of tranquilizer.

The only consistent thing the Saudis have put out, since admitting Khashoggi was murdered, is that his body was dismembered. The latest account, though, is that dismemberment was a spur-of-the-moment decision to get the body out of the consulate. The remains have not been found. The Saudis say the remains were given to a “local cooperator.” The Turks say it was dissolved in acid…Which account sounds more plausible?

Now, in a desperate effort to give bin Salman cover, the Saudis — undoubtedly at the crown prince’s direction — say they’ve charged at least 11 people in connection with the killing and that five of the defendants could be executed. None of the defendants has been identified, however, other than that none is a member of the “royal court.”

Ironic, isn’t it? Some of the thugs who dutifully carried out the crown prince’s order could find themselves sacrificed for a job well done.

But the truth is out there in plain sight. Even President Trump called the first Saudi explanation (accidental strangulation) “one of the worst in the history of cover-ups.” Yet, he hasn’t done or said anything to hold bin Salman directly to account…And I doubt that he or the Republican-dominated Senate will.

The Washington Post hit it on the head today with an editorial titled “Saudi Arabia’s latest account of Khashoggi’s death is shocking in its audacity.”

The editorial concluded with this paragraph…

“Congress should not allow this travesty to continue. It should suspend all military sales and cooperation with Saudi Arabia until a credible international investigation of the Khashoggi killing is completed. The Saudi cover story is just one more instance of Mohammed bin Salman’s arrogant and reckless behavior. The true murderers of Jamal Khashoggi must be named and punished.”

If a valid investigation is undertaken, it won’t take a Sherlock Holmes, Columbo or Perry Mason to determine who the main murderer is. Just look for the smug, shady-looking, mustachioed guy with the checkered scarf over his head.

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After little more than a year, the Bill Turque “era” as KC Star City Hall reporter is over.

A Star story this week said Turque, a 40-plus-year veteran of journalism, is becoming The Star’s political editor.

Succeeding him at City Hall, one of the three most important “beats” at the newspaper (along with the Jefferson City and Topeka correspondents), is 24-year-old Allison Kite, who has been with The Star for nine months. Before that, she covered Kansas politics for the Associated Press and later the Topeka Capital Journal.

Allison Kite

Bill Turque

From what I have seen, Kite is a solid, up-and-coming reporter, and I feel sure she will do well at City Hall. At the same time, it is disappointing to see Turque, whose arrival as City Hall reporter was announced with much hoopla, moving out of the limelight. (I can tell you from experience editors are important, but once you leave reporting, you’d better prepare yourself for public anonymity.)

Turque has had some ground-breaking stories, including a September story on extensive and questionable City Council travel, and he brought to The Star a deep and distinguished background. He had previously worked at The Washington Post, Newsweek and the Dallas Times Herald. He also was a familiar name to some Kansas Citians, having worked at The Star from 1977 to 1981 early in his career.

Not only was he a “big name” when he returned to Kansas City, he knocked out another big name at City Hall — Lynn Horsley, who had covered the city with distinction and determination for nearly 20 years.

After Turque’s return, The Star’s management moved Horsley to the Johnson County beat, where it appears she is now comfortable and getting accustomed to suburban reporting. (I can tell you from experience there, too, it’s a lot different than urban reporting. After I moved from the Wyandotte County bureau to the Johnson County bureau in 1995, I never could make the adjustment from being enmeshed in big-time political battles to scrounging around for “lifestyle” stories.)

Horsley’s displacement was awkward for The Star because management had hired Turque as part of a package deal and had to find a place for him. A year earlier, in 2016, The Star had hired Turque’s wife, Melinda Henneberger, to be part of the paper’s new editorial-page team, headed by Colleen McCain Nelson. I’m sure the deal was then, “Uh, yes, I’m prepared to take the job, but what about my hubby?”

Interestingly, Nelson’s hiring also had been a package deal: Her husband, Eric Nelson, was hired to lead The Star’s digital news operation.


Another change The Star announced in the story about Turque and Kite was that Jefferson City correspondent Jason Hancock will now cover Kansas politics as well as Missouri.

Jason Hancock

That’s a lot to bite off, and as good as Hancock is, I’m dubious about his ability to do spread his wings over Kansas and Missouri. Tapping him to handle politics in both states is another example of The Star trying to stretch its painfully reduced staff impossibly thin. It’s hard enough for one reporter to cover one big building, like City Hall, much less two states.

And, finally, The Star has thrown in the towel as far as having its own reporter covering state government out of Topeka. The paper is now shoveling that job off to Jonathan Shorman of The Wichita Eagle, another McClatchy paper.

Shorman is very good, but just as Hancock is going to have trouble extending his reach into Kansas, Shorman will find it extremely challenging to do justice to coverage of legislative developments revolving around Wyandotte, Johnson and Leavenworth counties. Residents in those counties who depend on The Star for legislative news may be sorely disappointed.

…In any event, good luck to these reporters as they try to bear up under back-breaking assignments I couldn’t have dreamed of handling when I was in my prime. I covered Jackson County government from 1971 to 1978 and City Hall from 1985 to 1995, and at both places I was one of three or four Kansas City Times and Kansas City Star reporters on those beats…I believe we also had at least two people in Jeff City and two in Topeka. My, how times have changed!

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Election Day is almost upon us, and although a lot of information has been put out, the Missouri ballot is going to confuse a lot of people going to the polls tomorrow.

In a phone call last week, Shawn Kieffer, a director at the Kansas City Election Board, described the 42-question Kansas City ballot as “horrifying” and said he expected some voters to spend 30 minutes or more poring over it.

But at least three sources of information can help you have a low-anxiety voting experience:

:: The League of Women Voters has an online voters guide that summarizes the issues and lets people print out their own “sample” ballots, which they can take to the polls and use to register votes on their official ballots.

:: I expect The Star to publish a list of its recommendations for both Missouri and Kansas at least by tomorrow morning…In my experience, The Star has the best interests of voters in mind, and I usually follow its recommendations.

:: Finally, you’ve got me. I’ve studied the ballot carefully and voted absentee last week, and I covered elections for most of my 36 year-career at The Star.

Here, then, are my recommendations on the major races and issues on the Kansas City ballot. (I believe the only place where my ballot and The Star’s will be at odds is on the proposed Jackson County Charter amendments. The Star is recommending some amendments be approved and some be rejected, but I’m recommending all seven be rejected.)

U.S. Senator — Claire McCaskill (God spare us from the dangerous geek running against her.)

State Auditor — Nicole Galloway (No reason I know of not to give her a second term.)

U.S. Rep. — Emanuel Cleaver II (He’s flawed, but he’s ours. Plus, never forget he snapped KC out of the inferiority complex that had settled in during the 12 years Dick Berkley was mayor.)

Jackson County Executive — Frank White (He’s bad but there’s no viable alternative.)

Jackson County Sheriff — Darryl Forte (Guess we’ve gotta give this guy a few more years in office so he can get two public pensions.)

Jackson County Circuit and Associate Circuit Court judges“Yes” to retain every judge. (Judicial retentions always confuse people because they don’t know who the judges are and if they’re making the right move when they vote “yes.” Don’t worry; none of these judges has done anything remotely scandalous.) 

Constitutional Amendment No. 1 — “Yes” to placing limits on campaign contributions for state legislative candidates and to limit gifts that legislators and their employees can accept from individuals or entities. (It’s about time.)

Constitutional Amendment No. 2“Yes” to legalizing medical marijuana and imposing a 4-percent tax on sales, with the revenue to be used to provide care for military veterans and to administer and regulate marijuana retail facilities. (Of the three marijuana proposals on the ballot, this one has the backing of longtime legalization activists; trust them.)

Constitutional Amendment No. 3“No” to legalizing medical marijuana and imposing a 15-percent tax on sales to fund a cancer research institute headed by Brad Bradshaw, a Springfield lawyer and physician. (This is a power grab by Bradshaw, who likes to put up big billboards of himself.)  

Constitutional Amendment No. 4“Yes” to removing language from the Constitution that limits bingo-game advertising. A court has ruled the prohibition unenforceable. (If lottery advertising hasn’t killed us, we can live with bingo advertising.) 

Missouri Proposition B“Yes” to raising the minimum wage to $8.60 an hour, with an 85-cent-per-hour increase each year to 2023, when the minimum wage would be $12 an hour. (Investment in low-end workers will lead to long-term economic growth.)  

Missouri Proposition C“No” to legalizing medical marijuana and imposing a 2-percent tax on sales, with the proceeds going for veterans’ services, early childhood education and public safety in cities with medical marijuana stores. (Consider the source: This proposal is brought to you by the Missouri General Assembly.)

Missouri Proposition D“Yes” to raising the 17-cent-per-gallon gas tax by 2 1/2 cents per year for four years — 10 cents over the four years — with most of the proceeds going for highway and road and bridge construction and maintenance. The ballot says $288 million a year would go for “Missouri state law enforcement” and $123 million a year would go for road construction, but that is misleading because the Missouri Transportation Department finances the Highway Patrol. Revenue from the higher gas tax would free up the money that has been going to the Highway Patrol and would redirect it to roads and bridges. (Finally, a road-improvement tax increase to be paid by those who use the roads, including those damned truckers.)

Jackson County Charter amendments (Questions 1 through 7)“No” on all. (As you will see, the ballot language is maddeningly vague on proposed pay increases for county officials. In addition, several of the questions are aimed at increasing the County Legislature’s power and reducing that of the County Executive…I believe it is best to continue centralizing power with the County Executive so voters can ultimately hold one person accountable for the county’s overall direction.)

Kansas City Public Library question — “Yes” to increasing the property tax levy by eight cents, from about 47 cents to 55 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. It would be the first such increase in 22 years. (Not only is this a meritorious proposal, its backers came up with the best political yard sign of the 2018 general election campaign. Tilting one book against the others was a stroke of genius.)


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News reports have been floating around the last few months about the possibility of McClatchy, The Star’s deeply indebted owner, buying another newspaper chain, Tribune Publishing, which owns The Chicago Tribune and several other large papers, including the Orlando Sentinel and the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Times.

On Friday, Bloomberg reported McClatchy was one of three companies that had submitted bids for Tribune, and that Tribune’s board is scheduled to meet early next week, possibly to consider the bids. I’ve seen estimates of a sale bringing $640 million to $700 million.

But as far as McClatchy is concerned, allow me to put this story in perspective…Ha! Ha! Ha!

(I could have added several more exclamation points, but it would have taken up valuable digital space.)

Not only can a newspaper chain with an $800 million debt not buy another newspaper chain, it can’t afford new office furniture.

Here are a couple of facts that illustrate the point:

— McClatchy has a stock market capitalization (total value of all outstanding shares) of about $57 million; Tribune’s market capitalization is about $570 million. So, we’re talking about one company buying another 10 times its size in terms of valuation.

— This is not the first time McClatchy’s eyes have been bigger than its stomach. Remember what happened after relatively small McClatchy bought the much larger Knight Ridder newspaper chain back in 2006? That was a move one industry analyst likened to “a dolphin swallowing a small whale.” The result was McClatchy saddling itself with the massive debt it has been laboring under ever since.

That being said, it’s still possible that we’ll see a headline saying, “Tribune agrees to be purchased by McClatchy.”

But what that would amount to, according to a friend who is an investment banker, would be McClatchy reorganizing without going through bankruptcy. And it wouldn’t be McClatchy money on the table; it would be somebody else’s.

There are at least two ways McClatchy could nominally buy Tribune.

:: This year, McClatchy has consolidated much of its debt with a hedge fund called Chatham Asset Management, based in Chatham, NJ. Chatham is now McClatchy’s largest shareholder, as well as its biggest creditor. Institutional Investor magazine has described Chatham as a firm that invests in companies with “distressed debt.” So, McClatchy would be little more than a stalking horse for Chatham. In addition, the New York Post reported that McClatchy had approached Apollo Global Management, a public equity firm, “to shore up its bid for Tribune Publishing.”

:: Five months ago, a Los Angeles surgeon, entrepreneur and philanthropist named Patrick Soon-Shiong bought the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune from Tribune Publishing for $500 million. Soon-Shiong also happens to be the largest shareholder in Tribune (a 25-percent share), and it’s possible he could end up controlling McClatchy by striking a deal with Chatham. Soon-Shiong is believed to be interested in McClatchy largely because of its string of California papers. If Soon-Shiong emerged as top dog, he could establish a 500-mile-long newspaper juggernaut from Sacramento (McClatchy’s home base) to San Diego.


Now let’s take a look at the other two companies that Bloomberg says have submitted bids for Tribune.

One is Donerail, an investment firm founded this year by a man named Will Wyatt, a veteran investor in media companies. Newspaper industry analyst Ken Doctor wrote on the Nieman Lab website in August that if Donerail succeeded in buying Tribune, it would take the company private “and then most likely sell the papers off to individual buyers — some of whom it already has lined up.” A Reuters story, also published in August, said that if Donerail succeeded, Tribune “would become the latest U.S. newspaper publisher to fall in the hands of a private equity firm or a hedge fund, as regional papers struggle with declining circulation amid the proliferation of online media.”


The other company reportedly in contention for Tribune is AIM Media, a fast-growing, private company that owns papers in at least four states — Texas, Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia. The chairman and money man behind AIM is Jeremy Halbreich, former president and general manager of The Dallas Morning News and former chairman and CEO of of Sun-Times Media. Among other things, Halbreich helped resuscitate the Chicago Sun-Times, a tabloid that had gone into bankruptcy in 2009 under previous ownership.

One thing you need to know about Tribune is it’s a certifiable disaster as a company. Since 2000, when it acquired the Times Mirror company (which owned The Los Angeles Times and Baltimore Sun, among others), it has suffered under terrible management, as well as experiencing the steep advertising and circulation losses that have left many metropolitan dailies shells of their former selves.

In my opinion, Tribune would have its best chance to survive and rebound under AIM, the only one of the three suitors led by a person (Halbreich) with a proven record of successful newspaper management.

I don’t believe McClatchy is going to end up with Tribune. It shouldn’t. It would be a farce. Like Tribune, McClatchy is an awful company. It shouldn’t be given a chance to swallow a second whale after puking up the first.

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