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Archive for January, 2019

It’s been a long time since a local politician stood up to Local 42 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, and I wasn’t surprised, reading this morning’s KC Star, to see the person standing up to them now is Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker.

Peters Baker is one of the few Kansas City or Jackson County elected officials with a spine stiff enough to challenge the firefighters.

The issue is a new contract between the county and Local 42, which represents the assistant prosecutors working under Baker. The assistant prosecutors are one of a dozen bargaining units represented by Local 42, whose largest constituency, of course, is the 1,000-plus staff of the Kansas City, MO, Fire Department.

Two main issues are on the table. First, Local 42 wants to raise starting prosecuting attorneys pay to more than $61,000 — up from the current $50,000.

Second, Local 42 wants the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to handle disputes that go to arbitration, while Peters Baker wants to continue with retired judges doing the job.

Local 42 officials don’t think retired judges can be impartial because of their connection with the county, and Peters Baker, on the other hand, said the federal mediation service would be too costly.

I don’t think Local 42 is off base in asking for salaries of $61,000 or more for prosecutors — assuming, that is, we’re talking about full-time prosecutors. But her position that using the mediation service would be much more expensive than retired judges strikes me as very logical, and I hope she prevails on that point.

As usual, however, Local 42 officials are making outrageous statements and figuratively frothing at the mouth.

Tim Dupin

For example, Local 42 president Tim Dupin alleges Peters Baker is trying to “bust the union.”

What balderdash. (And how irresponsible for The Star to put such hyperventilation in its headline).

Overall, Local 42 might represent a couple of thousand union workers. The prosecutor’s office probably doesn’t have more than 30 assistant prosecutors. So, how in the world could a contract involving a few dozen workers “bust” a union the size of Local 42?

In its skirmish with Peters Baker, Local 42 is getting help from its umbrella organization, the Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO, which has about 50 affiliated unions. In support of Local 42, the AFL-CIO has taken the step of voting to stop contributing money to the Missouri Democratic Party, which Peters Baker has headed since last month.

According to The Star, nearly 14 percent of the state party’s contributions last year came from unions, so if the labor stalemate continues very long, it could set the party’s fund-raising back significantly.

This could also have political ramifications for Peters Baker, who probably has statewide political aspirations. The fact that she appears to be putting the county’s interests before her own is another reason to applaud her pluck in this matter.

**

Louie Wright

Local 42 has long been used to getting its way.

Going back to Local 42 president Louie Wright, who served as union president for about 30 years before retiring in 2012, the firefighters have always played hardball, holding in their back pocket the ultimate threat of a firefighter strike in Kansas City. They went on strike in 1975 and four years later engaged in a work slowdown, and both events threw residents into a state of anxiety.

Here’s why Local 42 almost invariably prevails:

:: Their leaders are relentless. Every benefit they can extract and every dollar in pay they can get for their members benefits all current firefighters and the legions of firefighter “brothers” who come after them. One big benefit of pay raises is higher pensions, which are tied to salary levels.

:: They are a powerful political force. They vote, and they campaign hard for their candidates. More than 25 years ago the union filed and won a lawsuit that gave it and its members the right to be active politically, including contributing to candidates. (Before that, firefighters hid behind the skirts of an organization called Taxpayers Unlimited, which they contended was populated by their wives and other relatives.)

:: Most elected officials don’t want to tangle with them because…well, see above…Candidates who have the backing of Local 42 generally have better chances of winning than those who don’t. As a result, when push comes to shove, elected officials — primarily City Council members — usually back down quickly, sometimes after initially declaring they will fight tooth and nail to defend taxpayers’ interests.

:: Finally, the vast majority of bureaucrats charged with negotiating with Local 42 (such as personnel directors) don’t have much incentive to engage in a protracted fight. In most cases, the bureaucrats aren’t going to get pay or pension increases regardless of how disputes are resolved. Most bureaucrats are putting in their time and trying to keep their powder dry until they can retire and start drawing their own pensions.

**

Thus, it’s rare to see a prominent elected official go to the mat with Local 42.

But it sure is refreshing, and it warms my heart.

We Jackson County taxpayers can be grateful for Jean Peters Baker’s display of guts. She is the kind of politician who deserves our unconditional support now and going forward. I hope some day she’ll carry the title of governor or U.S. Senator.

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Do you remember how quietly former Kansas City Police Chief — now Jackson County Sheriff — Darryl Forte left the police department in 2017?

He announced in March of that year that he would be retiring after six years as chief. Less than two months later, he was gone.

On his last day in office, which should have been cause to celebrate 32 years on the force, he wouldn’t even consent to be interviewed.

And what was the biggest “takeaway” from his retirement? Well, we all remember that, don’t we? A $500,000 windfall in accrued vacation, sick and comp time. Basically, Forte snuck out the back door with money spilling out of his pockets.

At the time, it was hard to figure out why he floated away so quietly, even with the half-million-dollar golden parachute wadding up around him. In the past few days, though, it has become clear why Forte didn’t want any hoopla about his departure: The lead headline on Wednesday’s front page said it all…

17 disciplined after failures in KC police children’s unit  

Had The Star chosen to add an editorial element to that headline, it would have looked like this…

17 DISCIPLINED AFTER FAILURES IN KC POLICE CHILDREN’S UNIT!!

Now, more than two years after The Star fleshed out the story it’s clear this is a scandal of epic proportions. Seven officers in the children’s unit lost their jobs; some were transferred to other units; and some were busted and put back on patrol duty.

Apparently frustrated at their heavy caseload, investigators in that unit responded by doing little or nothing. They sat on cases, ignoring them for months and twiddling their thumbs. In some cases, evidence was stuffed into desks with no notes indicating what cases the evidence belonged to. Parents of victims were left frustrated. They and the children who were victimized saw no action taken against perpetrators.

It was truly outrageous — a failure of oversight at several levels up the chain. The buck, of course, stops at the top. That would have been at Forte’s desk.

The investigators’ negligence apparently got started about the time Forte became chief, in 2011. And while he was chief it mushroomed. The way I see it, he allowed it to go on. He had to know about it. There’s no way an entire unit could have been so unproductive without him knowing about it. I believe he just turned a blind eye — didn’t want to open a can of worms he knew would bring terrible publicity down on the department.

But it was so bad it had to come out…couldn’t be contained. Like I said, that was in September 2016, thanks to The Star. And six months later, Forte announced his resignation.

Meanwhile, the police department’s internal investigation dragged on for two years. And then, after it was completed, the new chief, Rick Smith, sat on it for a year. During that year — all of 2018 — Forte was appointed sheriff to succeed Mike Sharp, who had resigned, and in November Forte was elected to serve the last two years of Sharp’s unexpired term.

All I can say is I sure hope Forte sent Rick Smith a big box of candy for Christmas as thanks for delaying release of the damning report until after the election.

There’s no reason that investigation couldn’t have been completed and a report released within a year. In California, in fact, state law requires internal police investigations to be completed within a year. If they’re not, the officer or officers involved can’t be punished.

**

Like criminal defense attorneys, police understand delay can be their friend. In criminal cases, witnesses often move away, change their minds about testifying or even die with the passage of time. Evidence gets stale. And big cases tend to lose their emotional energy.

So that’s the tack Kansas City Police Department officials did with this scandal; they let it get old, hoping most people would forget, or at least that outrage would subside.

Thankfully, The Star didn’t forget, and the editors put the “17 disciplined” story where it belonged, at the top of A-1.

I’m now waiting to see what the editorial board says about Forte and this report. In an editorial about Forte after he announced his retirement, The Star was mostly laudatory, beginning its assessment by saying Forte “will be remembered as the first African-American chief to lead the department.”

The editorial contained just one paragraph about the failures in the Crimes against Children’s unit.

What the editorial should have said was it was too soon to assess his tenure as chief; that a more thorough assessment would have to wait until all the facts surrounding the scandal had come out.

Now we know, and now we can put his years as chief in proper perspective: Darryl Forte — Jackson County Sheriff Darryl Forte — presided over the most shameful police department episode during at least the last half century.

…I don’t know if he got a pizza and sheet cake party on his last day as chief, but if he did, he didn’t deserve it. My hope now is that a good candidate will emerge to run against him in two years and shove that scandal down his throat, where it has belonged all along.

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A sickly looking white man driving a red truck; an African-American woman going with her three daughters to a convenience store for breakfast supplies in the darkness of a Houston morning; shots ringing out and penetrating the car.

That chaotic confluence of vehicles, people and weapons exploded recently into a frenzied reaction to an event in which a 7-year-old girl named Jazmine Barnes was killed in a drive-by shooting.

Jazmine

The shooting not only took the life of a happy second-grader, it also triggered a rally — attended by hundreds — with seething racial overtones, the participants believing it had been a straight-up, white-on-black hate crime.

As it now stands, however, this was a case of one horrible mistake on top of another. First, the sickly looking white man — so described by an occupant of LaPorsha Washington’s car, the car in which Jazmine was riding — apparently had nothing to do with the crime. Police now believe he might simply have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. After or during the shooting, he drove off. Police are still looking for him to find out what he knows.

Second, it was a black man, being driven by another black man, who shot into Washington’s car. They — and here’s the most maddening thing about this heartbreaking and opaque tragedy — attacked because they mistook the car for one whose occupants they had argued with hours earlier.

After the Dec. 30 shooting, Washington, who was wounded in the arm, told The Houston Chronicle she believed the attack was racially motivated, and the case whipped up attention from civil rights activists across the country.

“I have no tint on my windows or anything so you can see there is a mother — a black mother — with daughters, beautiful children,” Washington told CNN. “You took my baby from me and you have no care in the world.”

LaPorsha Washington at a rally in Houston on Saturday

Nothing in that quote was inaccurate, but within the context of her allegation that the shooter was white, it whipped many people into a frenzy.

And then things started to turn.

Shaun King, a social justice activist and journalist, got a tip that the the shooting had been a case of mistaken identity and that the initials of the men involved in the shooting were “LW” and “EB.” The tipster said the two men did not realize they had shot into the wrong vehicle until they saw TV news reports the night of the shooting.

On the basis of the tip, investigators arrested 20-year-old Eric Black Jr. Saturday after stopping him for a lane-change violation. On Sunday he was charged with capital murder after telling police he had been driving the vehicle and a companion had shot into Washington’s car. The second man has been identified as 24-year-old Larry Woodruffe. He was already in custody on drug charges and is likely to be charged in Jazmine’s killing.

…And then there’s the confounding element of the sickly looking white man driving the red truck. After the shooting, police distributed a composite sketch of the man and considered him a suspect on the basis of a description given by 15-year-old Alxis Dilbert, Washington’s oldest daughter, who had been sitting in the front passenger seat, directly in front of Jazmine.

Alxis told police she noticed a red truck pull up beside their vehicle. She described the driver as a blue-eyed white man wearing a black hoodie and looking sickly. She didn’t think much about the truck until it changed lanes, moving around to the driver’s side of the Washington vehicle. The girl said the man then opened fire.

As they should have, Harris County Sheriff’s Department investigators released the composite sketch (below left), as well as a frame from a video that showed the red truck (below center).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the incident started coming into clearer focus, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez pointed out something we all know — that in an instantly developing accident or crime, it is very easy for witnesses and victims to form erroneous impressions of what took place.

“It went down very quickly when the gunfire erupted,” Gonzalez said. “You’re talking about small children; they witnessed something very traumatic, and it’s very likely the last thing they did see was indeed that red truck — and the driver in that red truck — and that’s what they remember last.”

**

Now, after all the tumult and all the ramped-up feelings, we’re left with one problem that has been with us a long time and will be with us for a long time to come: race relations.

The other thing we’re left with: the loss of an innocent girl who was barely old enough to be thinking about becoming a teenager, much less the possibility of a violent death.

We truly are a broken people, aren’t we?

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With the passage of time, it is becoming increasingly clear how lucky former Gov. Eric Greitens was.

Last spring, two criminal charges against him were dropped — one because he agreed to resign, the other because of prosecutorial overreach — and last week fellow Republican and Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley dropped investigations into two possible misuse-of-funds cases.

It is absolutely galling to see such a loathsome individual walk off into the sunset with so much scandal in his wake. He certainly appears to be one of the crookedest people to reach Missouri’s highest elective office in many decades.

Just to recap…

:: On May 30, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner announced her office has reached a deal to dismiss a felony charge of computer data tampering against the governor. That was a day after Greitens announced he was stepping down.

:: Earlier in May, Gardner dropped another felony charge in the wake of accusations she had failed to properly oversee a special investigator who investigated an allegation that Greitens had taken a compromising photo of a woman with whom Greitens had had an extramarital affair.

:: Last Friday, with Hawley on his way out as attorney general (he’ll be sworn in today as a U.S. Senator), his top assistant cleared a veterans’ nonprofit group, The Mission Continues, which Greitens founded, of allegations it had illegally supplied its donor list to Greitens’ gubernatorial campaign. (The donor list was also at the root of the computer-tampering charge.)

:: Hawley’s top assistant also cleared Washington University of St. Louis of possible wrongdoing pertaining to an academic grant. Greitens’ campaign was suspected of using part of a $362,000 grant from WashU and the John Templeton Foundation to pay political staff as he began his run for governor. The A.G.’s office said there was no evidence anyone with the university knew about or participated in any misappropriation.

…Yesterday, in its lead story, The Kansas City Star built up false hopes that somehow, some way, Greitens could still end up being held accountable for some of his suspected chicanery. The story reported the release of a report prepared by a special committee of the Missouri House of Representatives.

Even though the committee’s jurisdiction over the matters involving Greitens  ended with his resignation, the chairman of the special committee, Republican Jay Barnes of Jefferson City, said he hoped the Missouri Ethics Commission would “take appropriate action to endorse Missouri’s campaign finance laws against Eric Greitens.”

Jay Barnes

I applaud Barnes for not wanting to bring the hammer down on Greitens, but it is laughable to suggest that the Missouri Ethics Commission might take meaningful action. Although the Ethics Commission can refer complaints to prosecuting authorities, it mostly levies fines for campaign finance violations.

In one of its last significant actions, dating to 2012, it fined two Freedom Inc. officials about $3,000 each for financial irregularities. It also fined the organization’s former treasurer a little more than $500 for failing to keep accurate records.

What can we expect the Ethics Commission to do about Greitens?

Don’t hold your breath. Don’t cross your fingers, and don’t give it another thought. If it does anything, we’ll read about it in a very short story in a year or two. In all likelihood, however, Greitens will keep distancing himself from his past legal troubles.

Our best hope for him getting any kind of comeuppance is that, having emerged legally unscathed from his appallingly scandalous governorship, he resumes his reckless behavior and gets caught in some new, legally questionable foray.

What a turd. At least we can be thankful that when we closed the books on 2018, he was out of the picture.

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What I didn’t tell you in my New Year’s Eve post yesterday was that my goal on New Year’s Eve is always to find the closest thing to Times Square in Kansas City.

And that’s what I had in mind when I mentioned that after having dinner in Parkville, I wanted to stop by KC Live! and Union Station — the two places where the biggest stroke-of-midnight crowds would be assembled.

Minutes after I published that post, Patty firmly rejected the idea of KC Live!, saying it was going to be too cold. I didn’t argue but thought, OK, there’s still Union Station.

Union Station had been advertising its annual “New Year’s Swingin’ Eve” celebration — $120 per person — in the Grand Plaza, formerly the North Waiting Room.

We had never been to that event, and I’d long wanted to see what it was like. To my surprise, however, Patty started balking at that idea, too, saying, “I don’t want to go there; it’s going to be too loud.”

I countered by saying yes, it would be loud, but it would be a big, boisterous gathering where we undoubtedly would run into people we knew.

“We won’t see anybody we know,” Patty said flatly.

“Oh, yes, we will,” I said, “and I’ll bet you ten dollars we do.”

“I’ll take that bet,” she said.

At that point, I figured that even if I lost the bet, I had prevailed in the “go-don’t go” argument.

With that backdrop, here’s the story of our New Year’s Eve…

**

We arrived at Cafe des Amis a little before 8:30 and were soon joined by longtime friends Cindy and Bill Molini, who live in Lawson.

Cafe des Amis is quite a treasure for Parkville. It’s a 30- to 45-minute drive from Brookside, depending on traffic, but it’s a warm and cozy place, and the food is excellent. It’s owned and run by a French couple named Ingrid and Guillaume Hanriot. Ingrid is in charge of the kitchen, and Guillaume oversees the tables areas and serves customers, along with several other wait-staff members.

As I expected, the restaurant was bustling and busy. Our table was in a room that had five or six tables, and it was quite loud. Even with my hearing aids turned up a notch, I had to cup my ear to hear Cindy and Bill across the table.

The principal offenders in the noise department were two of three people who were sitting at a table 8 to 10 feet from us. At one point, the lady was on the Internet reading something off her phone. She was talking at such a level that she might as well have been announcing at Arrowhead Stadium.

After a few glasses of wine, her husband assumed the announcing chores. Toward the end of our (and their) two-and-a-half hour stay, he was bellowing about Jesus (whom he liked) and President Trump (whom he didn’t like). The third person at the table, an elderly man who didn’t seem to say much, functioned as the loud couple’s audience.

Fortunately, the couple’s commentary was subsumed, for the most part, by the lively conversation of people at the other tables in the room. Only at the end, after most of the other people had left the restaurant, did the Jesus fan’s voice become insufferably loud. That’s when I said, “Let’s get out of here.”

Time had whizzed by, and to my surprise it was almost 11:40 by the time we left the restaurant and started back to town. To my dismay, I realized we weren’t going to make it to Union Station for midnight and that, for the first time, in our 33-year marriage we would be observing the turn of the calendar in an automobile.

Traffic was light, and we moved right along, but still at 11:58 we were on Broadway approaching Pershing Road. Patty, being very resourceful, had been punching buttons on the radio looking for a station that featured something akin to a New Year’s Eve observation. To our delight, 90.9 FM, “The Bridge,”was playing Frank Sinatra’s recording of”New York, New York.” So, we celebrated the first moments of the new year singing along with Frank and exchanging a quick kiss while stopped at the light at Broadway and Pershing.

The front Union Station parking lot was full, but I manufactured a spot, and as we walked into Union Station, men in coats and ties and women in glittering dresses were already starting to trickle out of the Grand Plaza. As I expected, no one was checking people in or collecting money at that point, so we walked right in.

Lights were flashing, hundreds of people were drinking and mingling and scores were dancing to the music of Dave Stephens and the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra. We navigated through the crowd and got close to the stage and dance floor. Even though the sound in that cavernous room is always terrible, it was an enthralling scene and, indeed, it was as close as I was going to get, in Kansas City, to Times Square.

We stayed until the last song, Puttin’ on the Ritz (written by Irving Berlin in 1927), and then started working our way back toward the front of the room to leave.

**

Out of Patty’s view, I pulled a $10 bill out of my wallet as we walked and held it in my left hand…Unless we saw someone we knew within the next minute or two, I was going to owe her $10.

Moments after I had pulled out the bill, she turned to me and said, “Have you seen anybody you know?”

I extended my hand, holding out the folded $10 bill. She looked at it and said, “What’s that?”

Then she remembered. “Oh,” she said and reached out and took the bill.

We hadn’t walked more than another 20 to 25 feet when Patty slowed and approached a waitress who was standing off to one side. Patty handed the waitress the $10 bill and exchanged a few words with her. Nodding and smiling, the woman thanked Patty.

When Patty caught up with me, she said, “Those people look so tired.”

I looked at her, put an arm around her and said, “That’s one of the many things I love about you; you’re always paying it forward.”

**

Yes, it was a great New Year’s Eve. Every day is great when you’re with someone like that.

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