Archive for March, 2019

The Star endorses WHO?

Well, no one can accuse The Star of making “safe” endorsements in the Kansas City mayor’s race.

I was fairly astounded to go to The Star’s website today and see the paper was endorsing Phil Glynn and Alissia Canady in Monday’s primary election.

Neither of those candidates would be on just about anyone’s betting list of which two mayoral candidates will emerge from the primary and go on to the June 18 general election.

The endorsements are puzzling partly because Canady and Glynn both appear to be regional — and by regional I mean almost limited to a few neighborhoods — rather than city-wide candidates.

Glynn’s base is Visitation Catholic Church and, to a somewhat larger extent, the Ward Parkway corridor, although he’s got plenty of competition there from Steve Miller and Jolie Justus.

As for Canady, the 5th District City Council representative the last four years, her name does not resonate with many voters beyond the East Side.

Canady and Glynn both appear to be fine people, and I think both of them can have successful political futures. I just don’t think either is ready for the responsibilities that go along with being mayor of a city with nearly half a million people.

The Star’s rationale for selecting Canady and Glynn is that it would like to see a “change agent” in the mayor’s office. This strikes me as something of a slap at Mayor Sly James, who has had a very successful eight years in office, and also at Justus, the 4th District councilwoman, who is my even-money favorite to be Kansas City’s next mayor and is running with James’ support.

The editorial endorsing Canady and Glynn took a fairly strong swipe at Justus, pegging her as something of a go-along-get-along type of politician. The editorial said in part that “in her endorsement meeting with us, she repeatedly used the term ‘half a loaf’ as if that were the goal instead of the fallback position.”

That’s thin reasoning, if you ask me, and I’d like to know more about the context of those “half-a-loaf” comments…If I were Jolie, I’d be mighty pissed off.


The endorsements of Canady and Glynn represent a big risk by The Star. At a time when circulation is at all-time low (except for when the paper was getting started) and people’s confidence in The Star as a community weather vane has dimmed considerably, the editorial board is asking readers to make a great leap of faith in entrusting the reins of government to either of two relatively unknown and unproven candidates.

While I don’t think The Star should necessarily go with candidates who have the most money or are waging the most prominent and aggressive campaigns, I do believe it would be in the paper’s best interest to back a winner.

I can tell you this: I want a winner!

I’ve backed two losers in the mayor’s races that have been held since I retired — Jim Glover in 2007 and Mike Burke in 2011 — and being on the losing side is lousy. That’s one reason I’ve contributed to five mayoral candidates: Councilman Scott Taylor, Councilman Scott Wagner, Councilman Quinton Lucas and Justus and Glynn.

As I’ve written before, however, I think there are only two really “live” candidates in the race: Justus and Lucas.

Who knows. Maybe The Star will pull off the biggest surprise in modern mayoral politics and get one of its “change agents” into the general election. But I seriously doubt it. Like a lot of metropolitan dailies, The Star has been charting a different, downward course the last decade or so, and people just aren’t reading the paper or following its guidance like they used to.

In addition, of course, a lot of young people don’t even remember when The Star was a community beacon. That’s the real change that’s been going on.

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It’s starting to look like the mayor’s race might be a runaway.

Councilwoman Jolie Justus has raised and spent more money than her closest rivals, and she has more endorsements.

The primary election is now just a week away, and yesterday marked the last day for submitting campaign finance disclosure reports before the primary. (The reporting period began on Feb. 17 and went through last Thursday.)

Each of the top four candidates — Justus, lawyer Steve Miller, Councilman Quinton Lucas and Councilman Scott Taylor — filed reports yesterday with the Missouri Ethics Commission. Let’s take a closer look at the reports, and the campaigns, of those four.

Jolie Justus

Justus raised nearly $150,000 during the most recent reporting period, and she spent about $333,000 — more than twice as much as Miller, Lucas or Taylor.

For the entire primary election campaign, she has raised about $676,000 and has spent nearly $633,000.

Justus is relying almost exclusively on mailers in the primary, sending at least half a dozen to frequent voters. Her campaign consulting company is The Dover Group, which has offices in Philadelphia and Chicago. It’s the same company that strategized Mayor Sly James’ 2011 and 2015 campaigns.

Not coincidentally, James has endorsed Justus. Justus’ other endorsements include the Greater Kansas City Political Caucus; LPAC, an LGBTQ advocacy group; and Emily’s List, a political action committee that strives to elect pro-choice Democratic women.

Endorsements like those serve urban, Democratic, female candidates very well, and Justus fills the bill. Were she running county wide, it would be a different story.

The maximum amount that any person, company or political organization can give to a mayoral candidate in the primary (or general) election is $3,325. Those who have given Justus the maximum include Rosana Privitera Biondo, president of Mark One Electric; Taxpayers Unlimited, a political organization affiliated with Local 42 of the International Association of Fire Fighters; Cliff Illig, co-founder and retired vice-chairman of Cerner Corp.; David Westbrook, a Children’s Mercy Hospital executive; and Hailee Bland Walsh, owner of City Gyms.

Other noteworthy contributors to Justus in the most recent reporting period include members of the Bowen family, which runs Superior Bowen Construction Co.; Cynthia Siebert, founder of the Friends of Chamber Music; former city councilman and now-convention hotel developer Mike Burke; and Nick Benjamin, vice president of the Cordish Companies, which developed the Power & Light District.

Steve Miller

Miller with Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, a former classmate at Rockhurst High

Miller, a former chairman of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, raised about $112,000 in the most recent reporting period and spent about $148,000.

For the entire primary campaign, he has raised $557,421 and spent $486,865.

The breadth, effectiveness and aggressiveness of Miller’s campaign has surprised me, but I still wonder if he’s going to be able to draw a significant number of votes outside the Ward Parkway corridor, where he lives and where most of his yard signs are located.

He has an endorsement from a Northland group, Forward Kansas City, and he could do well in the Northland partly because of his Transportation Commission experience, but I haven’t been up there and have no way of gauging the depth of his name identity or support there.

Miller has received several maximum-amount contributions. One of those came from Anthony Biondo, who, I believe, is Rosana Privitera Biondo’s husband. Rosana, you will recall from above, gave $3,325 to Justus.

That could be nothing more than the Biondos wanting to “cover their bases.” In races with large fields, that happens a lot, and you will see other examples of it as we go along here.

Other maximum or near-maximum contributors to Miller include two former DST executives, Tom McCullough and Tom McDonnell; McDonnell’s wife, Jean McDonnell; Michael Atha Merriman, a financier who was involved Burns & McDonnell’s unsuccessful bid to build the new airport; and Ellen Merriman, Michael’s wife.

Quinton Lucas

Lucas raised about $34,500 during the reporting period, and spent about $159,000. His $3,325 contributors include Local 42 of the International Association of Fire Fighters; Taxpayers Unlimited; and real estate developer Kenneth Block.

Other significant contributions came from members of the Bowen family, of Superior Bowen Construction.

…I still think Quinton Lucas has the best chance of being the second candidate to survive the primary and move on to the June 18 general election. I base that partly on his support from the black political organization Freedom Inc., which delivers more votes than any other organization, and also from the fact that he appears to be the favorite of Local 42 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, which can deliver several thousand votes.

What gives me pause is the fact that Miller’s campaign seems to be making more “noise” than Lucas’ campaign at this point.

Scott Taylor

Taylor with his wife Cathy Jolly and their son Drake

Taylor has significant support in his home area of south Kansas City, but his campaign has been on the wane. During the most recent reporting period, he raised only $24,760, while spending $147,626.

Taylor’s biggest contributors during the most recent period include $3,325 each from IBEW Local 124 and Taxpayers Unlimited.

Other noteworthy contributors to Taylor include lawyer David Fenley ($2,750), formerly of the Husch Blackwell firm; development lawyer Roxsen Koch ($2,250) of the Polsinelli firm; and former City Councilman John Sharp ($600).


From the reports filed yesterday, it appears that of the three candidates I’m writing about today, only Taylor had bought TV or radio ads during the most recent reporting period.

It is possible other candidates made media buys after the period closed last Thursday.

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The world is moving fast, and a lot of interesting stories are playing out internationally, nationally and locally.

It is fitting to pause, however, and take note of three tragedies in our area the last nine days that have taken the lives of two women and a toddler.

Let’s take them as they happened…

Kathleen Kennaley Tripp

Kathleen K. Tripp

The 65-year-old Ms. Tripp was crossing Troost about 6:15 p.m. Wednesday, March 13, when she was hit by a Fed Ex truck. She was critically injured and died two days later.

I don’t know where Ms. Tripp lived or where she was going that evening.

Here’s the dry language of the report the KCPD sent me:

Investigation determined that a delivery truck had been westbound on 55th, entered the intersection under a green traffic signal, and initiated a left turn to continue southbound on Troost. A pedestrian was crossing Troost and was struck when the truck turned. The driver stopped immediately and remained at the scene throughout the investigation. The pedestrian, identified as a 65 year old Kansas City woman, was most recently listed as critical at an area hospital.

Of course, if the truck had a green light, that meant Ms. Tripp also had a green light. I don’t know if she had a “walk” or “don’t walk” sign — or if the signal was even equipped with that. Doesn’t really make a lot of difference; she was in the intersection, walking with a green light.

It also should be noted it was light at that time of day.

You seldom hear about delivery vehicles striking pedestrians, and I believe the main reason is the major carriers — Fed Ex and UPS — put an extremely high priority on driver safety. I’m sure this driver is beside himself or herself. Nevertheless, the driver will probably face traffic charges, perhaps careless driving and failure to yield.

Ms. Tripp is survived by two daughters and several nieces and grand nieces. Her obit, on the Muehlebach Funeral Home website, says this, among other things:

Kathy graduated from St. Therese High School in 1971. (I presume it’s St. Teresa’s Academy.) She then attended Loyola University New Orleans, Louisiana. Kathy was a woman of many humanitarian hats. She worked as an orthopedic lab technician at St. Luke’s on the Plaza in her youth then continued her career as an awarded hostess and bartender. She worked as a paralegal in several law firms around Kansas City. Never one to sit idle in her later years Kathy continued to show her compassion for others as a peer counselor with Truman Medical Center helping the homeless and actively volunteering at the World War I Memorial.

Celena Duncan

Ms. Duncan, who, I believe, was a minister at the Metropolitan Community Church in Topeka, was killed in a three-car crash about 10 a.m. Tuesday in the eastbound lanes of Shawnee Mission Parkway, a block or so east of Antioch.

This was much more egregious than the Fed Ex incident because the driver of the vehicle that caused the chain-reaction crash — 57-year-old Vicky Walter of Shawnee — was driving under the influence and her license had been suspended.

Walter, who is being held in the Johnson County jail on $500,000 bond, is facing a felony charge of involuntary manslaughter, in addition to charges of DUI and driving while suspended. A Fox4 News report said that after appearing in court Thursday, “Walter burst into tears as she heard the orders and walked back to her jail cell.”

I certainly hope she was crying because of the life she had taken and the other damage she had wrought, and not because she was losing her freedom.

The other damage I referred to? Ms. Duncan’s husband Jack Boren, who was driving the car they were in, was hospitalized with “crushed knees, damaged arms, broken clavicle, spinal fractures and a badly injured face.”

I have not been able to find out a lot about Ms. Duncan (her obituary had not appeared by this morning) but I believe she also lived in Shawnee and was in her 70s.

…Ten o’clock on a Tuesday morning on Shawnee Mission Parkway. Holy shit.

Jayden Courtney

Three years old. Father holding the boy’s hand. 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, 11th and Grand. Boy breaks free and runs into street. Spire Gas truck that is trying to make the light hits boy as he enters 11th between two parked vehicles.

This from Fox4…

From the window of the Jimmy John’s sandwich shop, John Garcellano saw Jayden and his dad walking down the street moments before the crash.

“He was right there. The father was on the sidewalk and had a hold of his kid, and he just — the kid just broke free and ran right in the middle of the street.”

Garcellano also saw the Spire Gas utility truck coming over a hill: “The truck actually was going pretty fast, pretty fast for downtown. He was trying to catch the light before it turned red.”

Garcellano told the station his “heart sank” when he say the little boy lying lifeless in the street.


I think I speak for all of us when I say all of our hearts sink for all three of the people who were killed and for the husband who has a long recovery in front of him — and no wife to go home to.

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It appears to me that the McClatchy Co., owner of The Star and 28 other daily newspapers, is not long for this world.

One hedge fund, Chatham Asset Management, has been digging its claws into McClatchy for a few years — becoming its largest creditor and buying up at least 20 percent of the company’s stock — and on Wednesday another big stockholder filed notice demanding that McClatchy sell all its “non core assets,” including real estate.

That company, Bluestone Financial LTD, based in the British Virgin Islands, has increased its ownership stake in McClatchy from 5.16 percent a year ago to 8.82 percent as of Wednesday.

In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Bluestone said it believed McClatchy stock shares “represent an attractive investment opportunity.”

The filing went on to say…

“The McClatchy company should improve its balance sheet by selling all non core assets including real estate and its 49.5% stake in The Seattle Times Company. While right sizing its workforce The McClatchy Company should consider right sizing The Board and its compensation until the business stabilizes and starts growing again.”

I don’t know much about technical financial statements, but it seems to me there’s a lot of meat in that paragraph.

For starters, non core assets are commonly defined as the parts of a company’s business that are not essential for the generation of revenue, cash flow or profits. So, I take that to mean that Bluestone wants McClatchy to sell off just about everything it owns that is not generating significant revenue, which would include its headquarters buildings and perhaps its printing plants.

(The Star’s longtime headquarters at 1729 Grand has already been sold, of course, and recently McClatchy once again put the print pavilion at 16th and McGee up for sale. The asking price for the pavilion, built at a cost of $199 million in the early 2000s, is $31 million. The Star proposes to lease the building back and continue publishing The Star and other publications.)

The second piece of that paragraph that needs deciphering is the bit about the 49.5 percent stake in The Seattle Times. It’s my understanding McClatchy owns 29 papers outright and has the 49.5 percent stake in the Seattle paper. So, Bluestone apparently sees the Seattle investment as non critical or “non core.”

The third part of the paragraph that catches the eye is the strong suggestion that McClatchy right size “The Board and its compensation until the business stabilizes and starts growing again.”

I don’t know if that means Bluestone wants compensation lowered throughout the company or just in terms of board members’ compensation. I wouldn’t think that “right sizing” board members’ compensation would save enough money to make much difference in the long term, so I’m assuming Bluestone is referring to compensation company wide, including corporate officers like CEO Craig Forman, V.P. of Operations Mark Zieman and CFO Elaine Lintecum.

(I don’t know how it could “right size” salaries in the newsrooms, however, because it’s already laid off and bought out thousands of higher-earning employees and replaced some of them with younger people at much lower salaries.)

…The ultimate goal of companies like Chatham and Bluestone is to move in and get control of media companies’ still-significant cash flow. The strategy is called “harvesting market position,” a euphemism for peeling away the cash and reinvesting it elsewhere — anywhere but back in the company.

Which brings me to the last phrase in that pithy paragraph about “right sizing” until the business stabilizes and starts growing again.

There, I believe, Bluestone hangs out an empty hope that it knows is an empty hope.

Bluestone, Chatham and other such companies closing in on newspaper companies are betting that business is never going to stabilize and never going to grow again; they believe it’s going to wither away, and they want to be the ones grabbing the cash before the elevator hits sub-basement.

Oh, and here’s one final piece of information I don’t think I’ve reported before: Chatham, the hedge fund that is McClatchy’s biggest creditor and stockholder, owns the National Enquirer.

So, papers like The Star, the Miami Herald, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Charlotte Observer, are, to some extent, sister papers to the National Enquirer, the paper that believes in paying big bucks for potentially embarrassing stories and then killing those stories to protect the reputations of people its owners favor, like President Donald Trump.

How do you like that for fine company?

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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.


“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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