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Archive for March, 2019

In the hubbub of knee-replacement surgery, the Kansas City mayor’s race and Frank White’s self-immolation as Jackson County executive, I’ve been derelict in writing about Public Enemy No. 1…none other than pop-’em-up-shoot-’em down David Jungerman.

Today I went to the courthouse and checked out the latest filings in the criminal and civil cases pending against Jungerman in the October 2017 killing of Kansas City attorney Thomas Pickert.

From all indications, Jungerman is very pleased with himself because, from his jail cell, he’s doing what he loves doing best — making everyone in his sphere miserable.

That includes not just Pickert’s family members but also his own attorneys and even his own daughter, who spent nine days in jail after the judge in the civil, wrongful-death case held his daughter in contempt of court for failing to heed his orders.

The daughter, Angelia Buesing, was jailed from Feb. 26 to March 7 by Judge Kevin Harrell for refusing to turn over financial records the judge had ordered her to surrender. Apparently, Buesing didn’t care for confinement because on the 7th, Harrell ordered her released after determining she “has begun to cure her discovery deficiencies.”

(Got to love the legalese, don’t you? He could have said she “started getting the message through her thick skull,” but he chose to exhibit judicial temperament.)

The civil case — filed by Pickert’s widow, Dr. Emily Riegel and his parents — is a veritable legal slog that will turn on the financial records. Jungerman is believed to be worth more than $30 million, but sorting out his assets, which include thousands of acres of farmland in southwest Missouri, is proving to be extremely challenging. Not to mention that Jungerman and his family members are throwing up every possible road block.

The finances also play a significant role in the first-degree murder case, but a convincing case conceivably could be made without a mountain of financial evidence because the state has a mountain of circumstantial evidence. That evidence includes video that shows Pickert’s distinctive, white van traveling to and from his home in Raytown to Pickert’s home in Brookside the morning Pickert was shot outside his house.

In the one interview he gave police, Jungerman said the van did not move from his property that day.

Here are the major developments in the murder case:

:: The start of trial, originally set for last month, has been pushed forward to early September.

:: As I reported in December, Jungerman filed a motion, which the state did not object to, for a mental competency evaluation. The result of that evaluation was filed on March 12, but unlike almost all other filings, it is not open to the public. I have to assume, however, that psychiatrists determined Jungerman was competent to stand trial because the criminal case appears to be moving forward without alteration.

Dan Ross

:: For a period of less than 24 hours, Jungerman wanted to fire his criminal attorney, Daniel Ross. On Jan. 23, he filed a hand-written “motion to discharge attorney.” In the motion, he said, among other things, he had paid Ross $137,500 even though Ross had failed to produce “any major trial preparation.”

“Defendant doubts Mr. Ross will be willing to refund those funds,” Jungerman astutely noted.

He and Ross must have kissed and made up, however, because the next morning Ross filed a formal motion, obviously with Jungerman’s approval, to withdraw the motion to discharge.

:: The goofiest part of the discharge motion was Jungerman’s contention that he had pushed Ross to get the prosecutor’s office to file second-degree murder charges against one of the police detectives who investigated the Pickert case, Bonita Cannon.

Jungerman’s beef with Cannon is that she “included fake information on the probable cause statement” — the court filing that lays out the gist of the state’s case. Jungerman doesn’t say exactly why Cannon should be charged with murder — or whose murder — but the reader is left to presume that Jungerman is contending that she killed Pickert and then attempted to frame Jungerman.

…Yeah, you gotta watch these damn detectives. Sometimes they kill witnesses and plant guns on them, and sometimes they just kill lawyers and try to pin the blame on a guy sitting at home in Raytown watching TV.

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What do you make of this mayor’s race?

The Kansas City mayor’s race…the one that doesn’t seem to be firing anyone up.

I think the lack of excitement attending the race is partly the result of what I’ve been writing about recently in regard to the twin fiascos of Frank White and the Jackson County jail:

With The Star a slip of its former self, people simply are not paying as much attention as they did in the past. A big reason they’re not paying attention is there’s not much coverage. Candidate forums involving the 11 candidates in the April 2 primary (the top two will go on to the June 18 general election) are taking place all the time. But The Star has only covered a few of them, and it’s almost impossible with that large a field to write an interesting story.

The reporter’s unappealing task is to try to be fair by including some snippet from every candidate — which has the effect of killing narrative. What you get is more or less a roll-call story.

This will change after the primary, when the field is down to two candidates, but it sure makes for a lousy primary.

…Enough bitching for now, though; let’s get down to the horse race.

At the track — where I spent a lot of time, mostly before I was married — you’ve got to keep a close eye on the tote board and weigh how the odds change as people bet. Since no betting is taking place in the mayor’s race, I can’t give you changing odds, but what I’m going to do is give you what the track calls the “morning line” odds, which are listed in the programs sold to people arriving at the track.

It’s the track handicapper’s best guess as to which horses are most likely to win and what their odds could be at post time.

As a brief primer, even odds — 1 to 1 — mean if you bet $5, you win $5, so your total return on the wager is $10.

If a horse is “odds on,” say 3 to 5, that means you get $3 back on your $5 wager, or a total of $8 when you collect at the pari-mutuel window.

(There’s an old racetrack saying, which I love, about the hazards of betting odds-on horses: If you’ve got the five, you don’t need the three.)

If a horse goes off at 10 to 1, you get $10 back for every dollar you bet, or $11 at the collection window.

The highest odds listed on the tote board are 99 to 1. What that means is you’ll get back at least $99 dollars for every dollar you bet. The actual odds could be 150 or 200 to 1, though, and the bettors don’t know exactly how much a 99-1 horse goes off at unless it wins and the tote board flashes the exact payoff.

So, let’s roll! Here are the JimmyCsays odds on each candidate seeking to be the next mayor.

Jolie Justus

Odds: 1 to 1

Although she has only very few yard signs so far, Justus, a lawyer, has three huge factors working in her favor. First, she has the most elective experience of any candidate, including eight years in the Missouri Senate (2007 to 2015) and the last eight on the City Council. Second, she has the most name identity of any council member (other than Mayor Sly James, of course) by dint of being Aviation Committee chairwoman and being widely credited, along with James, with the push for a new single-terminal airport. (James endorsed her today in a video announcement.)

Third, and perhaps most important, she has a winning personality and an extremely welcoming presence. She puts people at ease and focuses on them when she’s engaged in conversation or listening to them testify before her committee. The first time I met her, in 2007 I believe, the person who introduced us told me she was running for state Senate. After about five minutes of conversation, I pulled out my checkbook and gave her a contribution.

In this primary campaign, Justus has been flooding registered voters’ mailboxes with flyers. They are well done, and she has adopted as her logo the image of the Christopher S. Bond bridge, with its steel cables and triangular-shaped pylon. That was a stroke of genius, implying that her campaign is soaring.

On the down side, some of her 4th District constituents say she has become somewhat unresponsive to them as her city-wide profile has risen. For example, she sided with Quik Trip in its successful push to double the size of its store and gas pumps west of Southwest Trafficway on Westport Road. That left a bad taste in the mouths of a lot of area residents.

 

Quinton Lucas

Odds: 5-1

Lucas is probably going to join Justus in the general-election campaign, primarily on the basis of his looks, smarts and organized support. He’s a lawyer and teaches law classes at the University of Kansas. He’s razor sharp and excellent at spontaneous debate. At a City Council meeting a few weeks ago, he blew away Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner, another mayoral candidate, with a blistering fusillade  in a debate over renaming The Paseo after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Most important to his chances, Lucas has the backing of the black political organization, Freedom Inc., which is the biggest single, deliverable block of votes in Jackson County. Freedom will produce several thousand votes for Lucas, enough to insure he makes it out of the primary.

Nevertheless, I have been surprised that his campaign has not been more visible and energetic. I’m ambivalent about his yard signs — featuring a large “Q” — and I’m just not hearing much buzz about him.

He also has a shadow hanging over his campaign: A DUI charge he picked up several months ago in Lawrence, when he was sitting at the wheel of his car, motor running, after having had too many drinks at a party. He is fighting the charge, and I have the feeling — can’t give you a good reason why — it’s going to be dropped, at least before the general election.

Steve Miller

Odds: 9-1

Miller, also an attorney, is making a lot of noise and generating some publicity. For a person who has never run for elective office, he is making an impressive run. He knows his way around politics, having served several years on the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, including two years as chairman. He also hails from a well-known south Plaza family. His late father Dick Miller was a well-known contractors’ lawyer, and his mother Bernadette Miller is a beloved figure at Visitation Parish, a resident of Bishop Spencer Place and a fixture at the Kansas City Symphony.

Miller has raised a lot of money (up there with Justus and Lucas), thanks mainly to his fellow lawyers, and he recently sent out a catchy email under the headline, “Why has Kansas City been swallowed by potholes.” In an accompanying photo, Miller was wearing a hard hat and reflective work shirt, holding a shovel and standing next to an asphalt-laying machine. Good stuff!

Still, name identity outside the Plaza and Ward Parkway corridor is going to be a problem for Miller. Moreover, he’s a Republican. City elections are nonpartisan, but if he should beat out Lucas for second place in the primary, Jolie Justus will make sure everyone knows Steve Miller is a Republican. Justus is already emphasizing the fact that she’s a Democrat in her flyers.

Scott Taylor

Odds: 15-1

At one time, Taylor led the way in fund-raising, but he has tailed off not only there but in overall visibility. From all indications, he’s been a good, honest councilman the last eight years; he just doesn’t seem to be mayoral timber. As chairman of the council’s Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee, Taylor raised a lot of money initially from developers and development attorneys. The problem is he’s seen as never having seen a development project he didn’t like.

Taylor will do very well in his home area, south Kansas City, but I can’t see him doing particularly well elsewhere.

**

The rest of the field — the seven other candidates — I’m lumping in the 99-1 category.

:: Scott Wagner. A councilman for eight years, Wagner hopes to do well in the Northland, from which he hails, but, like former Councilman Jim Glover eight years ago, he just doesn’t seem capable of making the jump to the big time.

:: Phil Glynn. A Ward Parkway resident and member of Visitation Parish, he will pull some votes from Miller but not enough to get anywhere. He should have exhibited patience and run for City Council.

:: Alissia Canaday. She is another council member who hasn’t been able to project a strong image or message.

:: Jermaine Reed…Ditto.

:: Vincent Lee. He calls himself “General Lee” and lives on a battlefield of his own making. I met him a couple of months ago at the Price Chopper in Brookside. He introduced himself as “General Lee” and bent my ear for 20 minutes but never once mentioned he was running for mayor.

:: Henry Klein. He ran eight years ago without making any impression on voters and is, for some reason, back again. He has several goofy yard signs, including one that says, “Fighting for Lost Causes.” It should have said, “Fighting a Lost Cause.”

:: Clay Chastain. I take it back on the 99 to 1. The odds on Chastain becoming mayor are 10,000 to 1. What a turd.

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I remember when Frank White ran for County Legislature in 2014, and my friend Pat O’Neill of O’Neill Events & Marketing was running his campaign. Pat said something to the effect that it was the easiest campaign he ever took on: All he had to do was order up hundreds of yard signs bearing White’s name and the image of a baseball and…voila…he had a winner.

Like many people, I imagine, my reaction to White running for the Legislature was, “What the hell harm can this do, even if it doesn’t work out?”

But, oh my! How we all now rue the day Frank White got elected to the Legislature!

Along with the moral disintegration of former County Executive Mike Sanders, that November 2014 election sent Jackson County spinning into a downward spiral like we have never seen since the advent of Home Rule, county government in 1973.

Like me, White’s fellow legislators must have thought, How bad can this be? when they selected White to succeed Sanders on Jan. 11, 2016.

In November of that year, he was elected to serve the final two years of Sanders’ term, and then came the capper: Last November — just four months ago — he was elected to a new, four-year term in an election so dominant there was no Republican nominee.

…And so it came to be that we are stuck, absolutely stuck, with one of the most incompetent elected and administrative officials who has ever held office in our region.

In our defense, this kind of crept up on us. In 2017, it became apparent that despite personal income of more than $250,000 a year ($145,000 a year as county executive and more than $100,000 a year from his MLB pension), White could not manage his personal finances and was in debt.

And then the news about the jail started coming, first as a trickle and then as a flood.

Throughout, however, White has never come clean about the jail. Instead, he has done everything he could to conceal its degradation.

The latest jaw-dropping expose came in today’s Kansas City Star, offered up by ace reporter Mike Hendricks, who, fortunately for the public, passed on a McClatchy buyout offer last month.

With The Star’s financial and journalistic backing, Hendricks obtained 1,700 pages of grand jury testimony about the jail and thousands of pages of supporting documents. (I’ve criticized The Star in the past for failing to be aggressive on the legal front, but it deserves full credit for going after these explosive documents. The Star spent at least $13,000 pressing its case, and a judge has ordered the county to reimburse the paper for that expense.)

The most shocking aspect of this new information is the cavalier attitude White adopted in testimony before the grand jury.

Consider some of these quotes…

:: On his lack of urgency in addressing the jail debacle: “When you talk to the people in the community, they’re saying, well, we don’t want a bigger jail because jails are for poor people. Jails are for locking up more black people.”

:: When asked why it took so long for problems to be addressed, such as toilets caked with feces, White said: “I don’t have an answer for that one. I don’t know if there was a lag or I don’t know whether it was an oversight at this — at this one time. Again, I can’t speak to that. I’m sorry.” (Jail staff members had told the grand jury they thought the discoloration was calcium deposits.)

:: White was so disengaged regarding the jail that although he took regular tours of the jail, he never ventured into inmate housing units to see conditions first hand: “I’ll leave it up to them (subordinates) to tell me where I need to go and where — where they feel comfortable for me going and that type of thing. They’re the experts.”

:: Despite the complaints about filth and mold, White donned his best pair of rose-colored glasses and told the grand jury, “Everything seems to be clean to me.”

**

In retrospect, how far off base we were when we voted White onto the County Legislature five years ago. And how far astray were his fellow legislators when they elevated him to succeed Sanders.

On that fateful day — Jan. 11, 2016 — then legislative chairwoman Crystal Williams said of White:

“One of the reasons I am so thrilled he has agreed to take on this rather hefty job is because Frank has said — since the very beginning when he got elected to the Legislature — that his priorities were for constituents to have an operating and transparent county government…”

What Williams — and we — didn’t realize was that Frank’s version of transparency was not the same as everyone else’s. Where everyone else saw shit on the jail toilets, Frank saw calcium deposits. And where the grand jury saw a dire need for corrective action, White saw a chance to twiddle his thumbs.

Oh, my…four years.

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Quarter after quarter and year after year, McClatchy Co. officials have been trying to convince investors that they are producing butterflies when, in reality, they have been mired for more than a decade in the caterpillar business.

And so it was again today when Craig Forman, McClatchy’s CEO, emphasized only the few positives about his company in the fourth quarter, 2018, earnings-report call with analysts and investors.

Before the call — which lasted about 45 minutes and which I listened in on — McClatchy released its fourth-quarter results.

The headlines from those results were impossible to sugar coat: McClatchy incurred a net loss of $27.5 million, or $3.52 per share of stock, in the fourth quarter of last year.

For all of 2018, the company reported a net loss of nearly $80 million, or more than $10 per share. (The stock price closed today at $5.25 per share, down almost three percent.)

For years, McClatchy has stuck relentlessly to one refrain: its “continuing digital transformation.”

It is in that area that McClatchy is always looking for signs of hope, and Forman found some.

Forman

“We grew digital-only subscribers by 51 percent year-over-year in the fourth quarter, and they were up 13.5 percent…from the third quarter of 2018,” Forman said in the news release accompanying the fourth-quarter report.

Another point he could brag about: “This is the eleventh consecutive quarter of digital subscription growth, and indicates that the digital subscription platform we have built is delivering value, keener insight and benefit to our business.”

The problem is the platform is unsteady. McClatchy owns and operates 29 daily papers, and its total number of digital-only subscribers is 155,500. That’s about 5,360 per paper — lame when you consider that The New York Times has more than three million digital subscribers (to its various digital products), and The Boston Globe has more than 100,000.

The Kansas City Star has about 8,500 digital-only Sunday and weekday subscribers.

**

In the conference call, a media-industry analyst from Connecticut, Craig Huber, asked Forman about the prospect of shutting down its print operations in the next “three, four, five years.”

Deciding when to go all-digital, Forman replied, “has been the $64,000 question.”

Beyond that, he would not speculate, saying, “I’m not going to put some sort of date on (eliminating) print.”

He acknowledged, however, that print was becoming a “premium product,” meaning McClatchy has begun demanding extremely high rates from people who are wedded to their print subscriptions…Although the price of print subscriptions is somewhat negotiable, The Star is now asking upwards of $700 a year for seven-day-a-week print subscriptions. (The only reason I still take the print edition is I get a “retiree” rate of $129 a year.)

I’ve told a few people it wouldn’t surprise me if, in the relatively near future — this year, next year, the year after — McClatchy announced one day that it would be eliminating all print publications on a certain date.

Such a move would cost the company a lot of revenue, but it would significantly reduce expenses and would force people to make the transition to digital or find their news elsewhere.

**

One final point…That big debt that McClatchy has been hauling around lack a sack of coal since it bought the Knight Ridder chain in 2006 is still very heavy.

The company’s principal debt was $745.1 million at the end of 2018. The company finished the quarter with $21.9 million in cash, resulting in net debt of $723.2 million.

At the end of 2017, net debt was $705.6 million.

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The more I think about the state of the Kansas City area’s second largest political jurisdiction — Jackson County — the more galling it is and the angrier I get.

This is the most inept and anemic political organization — the combination of the county executive and the County Legislature — you could ever find.

It’s so bad that when the downtown courthouse closed for three weeks earlier this year because of water main breaks and flooding, there was very little publicity, and I didn’t hear one complaint. That told me one thing: Most people just didn’t care and didn’t need county government’s services very badly.

By comparison, when City Hall closed for a day and a half for the same reason, the news was all over TV and other outlets, and there was a palpable sense of urgency to get the building reopened as soon as possible.

…I wrote last week about KC Star reporter Mike Hendricks’ big scoop regarding County Executive Frank White covering up and watering down a damning report about shortcomings at the Jackson County jail. I wrote that relatively few people knew about it or cared about White’s chicanery mainly because The Star, which carried the story on its front page, no longer has the clout or readership it did as recently as 15 years ago.

The public’s tepid reaction to that revelation was disturbing but not surprising because I’ve been painfully aware of The Star’s fading influence. But what did surprise me was the County Legislature’s collective reaction to White poking his index finger in the Legislature’s eye.

A couple of legislators had reacted angrily in Hendricks’ story, but when the legislators had the opportunity to grill White at Monday’s regular weekly legislative meeting, not one of them dared to confront him as he sat before them.

White had essentially said, “Fuck you,” to the Legislature, and the nine of them (assuming they were all present) sat on their hands and pinched their tongues.

And The Star’s editorial page — which we could look to in the past to bring the hammer down on cowardice in the face of bad government — offered a very pablum-esque assessment: “Such avoidance tactics are counterproductive because the jail story isn’t going away.”

Counterproductive? Are you shitting me? Where the hell is the outrage? Where’s the cudgel, calling the Legislature cowardly and irresponsible and demanding members speak up on behalf of the public?

God this is maddening!

**

Let’s take a closer look at this increasingly awful debacle…

Everyone knows we need a new jail. The place is a disaster and it’s extremely dangerous as far as the health and safety of the inmates and the corrections officers. But how can we, the public, possibly put our faith in Frank White and this spineless Legislature to arrange financing and oversee construction of a new facility? It’s impossible. White and the Legislature and Sheriff Darryl Forte (he who ran from the Police Department so he could collect a fat salary as sheriff on top of his police payout and pension) have Zero Credibility with the public.

Who among you, Jackson County residents, would vote for a sales tax, a property tax or any kind of tax to build a new jail with that bunch in charge of the money? 

The previous administration, under County Executive Mike Sanders, was crooked to the core. Smilin’ Mike is now in prison for engineering a  kickback scheme, and so is his former chief of staff, Calvin Williford, a willing accomplice. Succeeding Sanders was White, a former star second baseman for the Kansas City Royals. White has shown himself to be completely in over his head and totally unqualified to manage not even his personal finances, much less the public’s.

Mike Sanders, after being sentenced to 27 months in prison last September

The County Legislature is an alarming mix of relatively inexperienced people and some who have been slurping at the public trough for decades.

Pop quiz: Have you heard of any of these people…Theresa Galvin, Charlie Franklin, Jeanie Lauer, Jalen Anderson and Tony Miller?

Theresa Galvin, the current legislative chairwoman, and Tony Miller are just starting their second terms on the Legislature, while Charlie Franklin, Jeanie Lauer and Jalen Anderson are in their first terms.

Crystal Williams, one of the more prominent members, was first elected in 2010.

Dan Tarwater

Scott Burnett

Then you’ve got the dinosaurs — Scott Burnett, Dan Tarwater and Ron Finley. Burnett has been drawing a nice paycheck since he was first elected 21 years ago. Tarwater has him beaten by four years — a quarter of a century at the county feed lot.

And, finally, Ron Finley. What a case!

Ron Finley

This guy was elected to the City Council in 1991, re-elected in 1995 and then ran successfully for County Legislature in 1998. He was re-elected to the Legislature in 2002 and then was out of public office for 16 years before deciding to run for the Legislature again last year. On the basis of his name identity in the African-American community, he won.

Before the outgoing Legislature wrapped up its 2018 business, legislators approved a special benefit for Finley: They passed an ordinance allowing him to simultaneously collect his $35,000 annual salary as well as the county pension he earned from his earlier eight years on the Legislature.

But that’s not all: Finley is also drawing a nice pension (not sure how much) for his seven years on the City Council.

…I tell you, this serving on the County Legislature is nice work if you can get it. And all you gotta do is sit there and keep your mouth shut when you see bad things happening.

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Today, sadly, I’m obliged to report another landmark in the contraction of my former favorite newspaper (and longtime employer), The Kansas City Star.

For the first time in at least a century, The Star’s Sunday print circulation has dropped below 100,000.

According to quarterly statistics from the Alliance for Audited Media, a newspaper industry trade organization, the number of Sunday papers being sold through home-delivery, mail and single copies was down to 97,376 at the end of 2018.

For the previous quarter, ending Sept. 30, 2018, the comparable figure was 104,195. At the end of 2017 it was 118,203.

The Star was founded in 1880, and by 1915 its circulation was more than 200,000. At its peak, probably in the 1950s, The Star’s Sunday circulation probably was between 400,000 and 500,000. That’s a spectacular fall.

For those of us who care, the time is long past to wring our hands about this free-fall in newspaper circulation. Many major metropolitan dailies are in the same situation and struggling to hang on and find light at the end of the online-era tunnel.

But here’s the tragedy: In Kansas City, at least, The Star has probably lost 90 percent of its former impact. Through the potent combination of its news and editorial pages, The Star used to be able to set and guide public policy, establish community goals and chart the course of civic engagement. With one well-timed editorial, it could kill a popular elected official’s future, or it could have Kansas City Council members or Jackson County legislators hopping to the beat of its drums.

Very seldom can it do that now. Elected officials know full well that The Star is a shadow of its former self and that relatively few people are paying attention either to what’s on the front or editorial pages, or what’s on the paper’s lame and mostly insipid website.

**

Let me give you a classic example…Today’s print and online editions are led by what should be a blockbuster, ground-shaking story by Jackson County Courthouse reporter Mike Hendricks.

The gist of the story is this: Either County Executive Frank White or members of his staff (it would appear with his knowledge), emasculated a damning report about shortcomings in the deeply troubled Jackson County jail.

Here are two key paragraphs from Hendricks’ story…

White gave no hint when he released the Shive-Hattery report at the first of this year that the 53-page document had been heavily edited, despite his outspoken support for government “transparency” during his three years as head of county government.

The Star learned of the extensive omissions — more than 60 pages of singled-spaced text and charts — after obtaining a copy of the original, 118-page draft independently. A reporter then shared the document with the past two chairpersons of the county legislature, which last spring appropriated up to $285,000 for the study that White said would finally lay the factual foundation for replacing the Jackson County Detention Center with a safer and more humane facility.

Even more outrageous than the facts was White’s refusal to accept responsibility for the whitewashing of the report when Hendricks reached him by phone Friday night.

He said some of staff members whom he didn’t identify decided it would be wise to restrict public access to the material. “That’s not my fault,” he told Hendricks. “That’s not my call.”

“Not my call.” That from the mouth of the most powerful person in Jackson County government.

It’s just a lie. It’s thumbing his nose at the public and at the County Legislature.

And how can he do that? How can he get away with it?

One reason and one reason only: The Star no longer carries the big stick it did as recently as the mid-2000s. With its circulation decline and the shocking erosion of its editorial staff (including at least eight top-level reporters and two widely admired photographers who took buyouts last month), White and other elected officials now have little to fear in the way of repercussions from The Star.

Like I said, fewer than 100,000 households will have gotten today’s print edition of The Star. And more than half of those are outside Jackson County, and the residents of those households won’t particularly care what Frank White is up to. Thousands of readers will also be going to The Star’s website for their news, but the first headline they will see is not about Frank White’s chicanery but about “dangerous cold coming.”

And even if The Star decides to embark on a series of editorials lambasting Frank White, they will have little effect. White realizes that relatively few people are reading, and heeding, what The Star has to say. He knows he can do just about whatever he wants to do and that he can throw up yard signs bearing his name and the image of a baseball and he would be hard to beat at the polls.

Here’s the main point, though: This is much more than a tragedy for The Star. People are moving on from The Star. But they’re also moving on without any major, institutional guideposts, which The Star was, to open their eyes to the outrages going on around them.

Largely because of the decline of the newspaper, area residents are much less informed and engaged than they once were…Look at the mayor’s race. The primary is a month away and I would bet most people couldn’t name three of the candidates. Many people are feeling their way along in what is, simultaneously, an informational void and overload.

**

One of my first editors at The Star, a man by the name of Don T. Jones once told me, “Fitzpatrick, you eat your bylines for breakfast, don’t you?”

He was 100 percent right. I loved to report and write stories, and I couldn’t wait to get out to the sidewalk the next morning and get the paper and see where my story was placed and how it read in black and white.

Those days, like the days of The Star’s several-hundred-thousand-copy runs, are over. And I am worried where we are going in this less-informed, less-enlightened era.

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