Archive for June, 2019

The campaigning is just about over, and our mailboxes are about to get considerably less full.

So, what to do? Who to vote for?

Flatteringly, a few friends have taken to asking for my suggestions before local elections, and, being a closer than average political observer, I always indulge them.

Today, then, I thought I’d put my recommendations out there for the vast JimmyCsays world to see.

The ballot is mercifully simple: It consists of mayor, the six at-large council seats, the in-district seats, an up-or-down vote on the retention of several municipal judges and the issue of whether to limit tax abatement on economic development agreements to 50 percent of the taxes due.

Because I don’t closely follow the campaigns and candidates in the individual districts — other than my own 6th District — I’m not going to offer recommendations on the in-district races.

Here we go…

For Mayor — Jolie Justus

Justus’ 12 years’ of elective experience are a major factor in my preference for her. She’s done a good job, in my opinion, on the City Council the last four years, and before that she spent eight years in the Missouri Senate. The fact that she could rub elbows with hidebound, narrow-minded, outstate conservatives in Jeff City for eight years and still come back to Kansas City with a smile on her face says a lot about her temperament and willingness to give and take. I think she would represent Kansas City very well on the national stage, and, let’s face it, at this stage of our politics, both locally and nationally, it’s time to give as many women as possible the opportunity to lead. The men, for the most part, have made a mess of it.

For Council Member, 1st District at-large — Kevin O’Neill

Kevin O’Neill

O’Neill, editor of the KC Labor Beacon, got lucky when he filed and no one else did, even though the seat was open and O’Neill had never held elective office. He will win by default, but I’ve met him and contributed to him, and he seems to be a good guy. He lives in Kansas City North and is the brother of Pat O’Neill, a well-known marketing executive and political consultant who lives in Brookside. You just have to accept, up front, that Kevin O’Neill will always be on the side of organized labor.

For Council Member 2nd District at-large — Teresa Loar

I’m not a big fan of Loar, mainly because she had her head in the sand on the need for a new airport. Until it became clear a council majority was intent on proceeding to approve a new terminal, Loar was a holdout. But like Kevin O’Neill, she is unopposed, so there’s no alternative. This will be her fourth term on the Council: She served two terms years ago, took a break and then ran again successfully four years ago.

For Council Member 3rd District at large — Wallace Hartsfield II

Wallace Hartsfield II

I’m not crazy about ministers in politics, but when the choice comes down to a minister (Hartsfield is pastor at Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church, 2310 E. Linwood) or a state representative who carries a gun on the floor of the Missouri House of Representatives (Brandon Ellington), I’m with the minister. (Ellington is running for Council because he is term limited in the General Assembly.)

For Council Member 4th District at large — Katheryn Shields

I don’t know anything about Shields’ opponent, Robert Westfall, a political newcomer, but I do know Shields has been a good public servant for many years and there’s no reason to vote her out now. Like Loar, this will be her fourth term on the Council over a period of many years.

For Council Member at-large 5th District — Lee Barnes Jr.

Lee Barnes Jr.

I am not familiar with Dwayne Williams, Barnes’ opponent. Barnes is one of the quietest members of the Council, and although he doesn’t offer leadership, he hasn’t done any major harm, as far as I can tell. In the airport debate, he pushed hard for a company that did not get the nod — AECOM. He told me he liked that company because they were the biggest — and he thought — the best of the companies that submitted proposals. There may have been more to it than that, but, in any event, it appeared to me the contract went to the right company, Edgemoor. Freedom Inc. supported Barnes four years ago but is backing his opponent now. That’s not enough of a reason for me to throw my vote to an unknown.

For Council Member 6th District at large — Stacey Johnson-Cosby

Now we’re talking about my district and candidates I know. Andrea Bough is a development attorney and a member of Country Club Christian Church, where I, too, am a member. She’s a fine person, and her husband, Steve Bough, is a U.S. District Court judge. Stacey Johnson-Cosby is a Realtor and longtime south Kansas City political activist. She is also one of two 6th District representatives on Kansas City’s Public Improvements Advisory Committee (PIAC).

Stacey Johnson-Cosby

I’m for Johnson-Cosby partly because, two years ago, after the Sea Horse Fountain at Meyer Circle broke down, she recommended $285,000 in PIAC funding toward a total renovation of the fountain. The Council subsequently approved that funding, and it spurred a public-private partnership that got the fountain renovated and raised about $400,000 in private funds for a permanent endowment fund for the fountain. I was co-chairman, along with David Fowler of Mission Hills, of the fund-raising committee…Like I said, Andrea Bough is a fine person, but the kind of help Stacey Johnson-Cosby lent my neighborhood was phenomenal.

Municipal Court judges — “Yes” on all

People ask me from time to time how to vote on the retention of judges, and I always say, unless you have some good reason — based on personal experience or reputation — to vote “no,” then vote “yes.” I don’t know of any good reason to vote against any of the nine Municipal Court judges who are up for retention, so vote “yes,” and don’t fell guilty because you don’t know anything about them or haven’t heard of them.

Question No. 1 — “No”

The proposal to limit tax exemption to 50 percent (from the current 75 percent) got on the ballot through an initiative petition. I applaud the petitioners — members of a group called the Coalition for Kansas City Economic Development Reform — but they’ve done very little campaigning. The Star said they raised $2,310 between April 1 and early June and spent $556.45 on yard signs. That’s pathetic. If you’re going to go to the trouble to get a couple of thousand signatures to get something on the ballot, you ought to follow up with a significant campaign effort…In addition, I’m not sure all development projects should be limited to 50 percent abatement. There could well be projects that cry out for 75 percent, or more. (The Council can authorize exceptions to the 75  percent.)


I intend to monitor and report on voting in the mayor’s race. Check me out Tuesday night. ‘Til then, if you live in KCMO, be sure to vote.

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Along with a handful of other people, I had the unique opportunity earlier this week to get a sneak preview of what the “new” Kansas City Museum is going to look like when it opens late next year.

As many of you are aware, the museum, which has been under the Kansas City Parks Department’s umbrella the last several years, is undergoing complete renovation. When all is said and done, the renovation will have cost $22 million. Six million of that is being raised privately by the museum foundation; $8 million is from the 2017 general-obligation bond issue; and the rest will come from the museum levy, which generates $1.7 million annually.

This is no superficial makeover, and that should be clear from the amount of money being spent. Museum director Anna Marie Tutera said the project is so sweeping that, to a degree, it’s a “start-up.”

“We’ve been around since 1940, and within the imprint of the museum’s rich history, we’re starting over,” she said.

All architectural features, inside and out, are getting a facelift (the so-called “architectural construction” is substantially complete); new exhibition spaces are being readied on the second and third floors; and all-new exhibits are being planned and prepared. That part of the work — the “museum construction” — is in the early stages.

Basically, the museum will tell the story of Kansas City, charting its development and exploring its rich history…For me, seeing the progress that has been made in the former mansion of lumber baron R.A. Long and his wife Ella was very exciting. I trust it will excite you, too, when it opens.

General admission will be free every day. The only charge will be for ongoing special exhibitions. Three new galleries — one on the second floor and two on the third — are being readied for special exhibitions.

And now some photos…

From the outside, the museum, the former R.A. Long mansion on Gladstone Boulevard, looks much the same.


One new feature will be a first-floor a soda fountain. It’s light and airy, and there’ll be plenty of room for visitors to rest their “museum legs” and relax.


The marble staircase just inside the main entrance


The leaded glass doors and windows at the top of the marble staircase


The library


The new ceiling in the living room


The arching ceiling (minus light fixture) in the former breakfast room. All new decorative detail work has been done in plaster.


Anna Marie Tutera (left) is the museum director. To her left is Pam McKee, a former museum employee, and next to her is Allen Dillingham, the Kansas City Parks Board member who arranged the tour.


There is a nice balance of old and new on the first floor. This original, decorative woodwork, for example, is above a fireplace in the billiards room.


On the other hand, here is a modern light fixture that blends in so well I had to ask if it was a reproduction.


Looking out from the second floor


The second and third floors will be the main exhibition areas. This will be a classroom and meeting room on the second floor.


While it may not be on the grandiose scale of the Sprint Center, the Power & Light District or the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, the new Kansas City Museum will be a significant addition to the city scene. It will elevate Kansas City as a tourist destination, and it will be another attraction, like the Nelson Gallery, that many area residents will visit again and again.

It should also help lift historic Northeast area of Kansas City. As Allen Dillingham said: “We’re hoping this project is a catalyst for the whole area; it’s just the beginning.”

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The Star’s front page was almost consumed Sunday with two great enterprise stories — both of which rendered a tremendous public service in showing politicians at their worst.

At the top of the page was a story by Steve Vockrodt, one of the paper’s standout reporters, about two Clay County politicians’ brazen and successful effort to make it difficult and expensive for citizens, reporters and others to get records through open records requests.

The turds in Clay County’s punch bowl are County Commissioners Luann Ridgeway and Gene Owen, who consistently outvote the third commissioner, Jerry Nolte, who, at least in regard to Sunshine Law, seems to be on the correct side.

The three-member commission has been in a state of upheaval for at least the last two years, and it seems to me the ultimate resolution is for a citizens group to take the leadership in pushing for expanding the county commission to at least five members so that political power is more widely dispersed.

The second story, by Jeff City correspondents Edward McKinley and Jason Hancock, details the all-out effort by a self-dealing lobbyist and his wife, an administrative commissioner who hears Title IX appeals cases, to tip the balance of federal Title IX provisions away from the accusers and to the accused.

But in an April 23 story, McKinley revealed that the couple’s primary motivation was to try to protect their son, who was in the process of being accused and finally expelled from Washington University in St. Louis for Title IX violations. The House and Senate bills died after that story.

One of the most disturbing elements of the latter story is that Richard and Audrey McIntosh were aided and abetted by two outstate, Republican legislators — Rep. Dean Dohrman from Pettis County (Sedalia area) and Sen. Gary Romine, who represents a district mostly in St. Francois County, about 70 miles south of St. Louis.

Maddeningly, Dohrman and Romine functioned as shills for the McIntoshes, sponsoring the bills the couple drafted and apparently never questioning their motivation and keen interest in Title IX changes.


Let’s back up and take a closer look at the Clay County and Jeff City situations The Star homed in on.

In 2016, the County Commission hired a Kansas City attorney named Joe Hatley, with the Spencer Fane firm, to represent the county in open records matters. Hatley agreed to work for the county at an hourly rate of $373.50, a discount of his usual $415 an hour fee. (What a deal!)

Up to that time, County Clerk Megan Thompson had been handling open records. She did not charge for her time, and when she needed another staff member’s help, the county charged $12 an hour.

But sometime in 2017, on a 2-1 vote — with Owen and Ridgeway voting “yes” and Nolte voting “no” — the Commission shifted open records responsibilities from Thompson to Hatley. And the county began passing on Hatley’s fee to people who submitted requests.

Capping the outrage, the Commission hired Hatley at a closed meeting on June 6, 2016, and no minutes or other records of the meeting appear to exist.

Earlier this year, Hatley asked The Star to pay $4,200 to provide it with records pertaining to Spencer Fane’s legal bills to the county. The paper ultimately got the records elsewhere.

I’ve bemoaned in this blog how cheap The Star has become with its reluctance to file lawsuits pertaining to Sunshine Law violations, but, thank God, this time The Star is fighting back. Last month, the paper filed suit alleging that the June 6, 2016, meeting and the vote to hire Hatley were illegal.

…I said above that the long-term answer to Clay County’s problems is expanding the County Commission. In the shorter term, voters should oust commissioners Ridgeway and Owen in November 2020. What is going on at the Clay County Courthouse is insulting to county residents and should not be tolerated a day longer than necessary.


On the Title IX story, while the McIntoshes’ meddling and machinations are appalling, the bigger concern is the lap-dog attitude of the two legislators who sponsored Title IX bills in the House and Senate. They essentially slapped their names on the bills and let Richard McIntosh draft them and attempt to orchestrate their passage.

State Rep. Dean DohrmanExplaining his hands-off approach to the bill, Dohrman told The Star: “When I get a bill that’s extremely complicated, I kind of let the person work it out…I just kind of let it (the Title IX bill) work out to see where it went.”

That is total abdication of legislative responsibility. Yes, those legislators see a lot of bills, and some bills are complicated. But that’s what legislators sign up for when they run for office: To do their homework and propose and carefully evaluate proposed legislation, with the goal of improving life for the residents of Missouri.

State Sen. Gary Romine

Fortunately, Dohrman will be term limited when his current two-year term expires in 2020, and Pettis County residents will be able to elect a new rep.

As for Romine, he was even more co-opted than Dohrman. He let McIntosh send out emails under his — Romine’s — name promoting the Senate version of the Title IX bill. In addition, the day after a committee hearing on the bill, McIntosh wrote out a long list of questions to be sent to each Missouri Title IX administrator. At the bottom of the list, McIntosh wrote, “Sincerely, Gary Romine.”

What a sell-out…Mercifully, again, term limits will put an end Romine’s service in the General Assembly in 2020.

…The biggest problem with Missouri government, obviously, is there are too many hick legislators. We residents of urban areas — Kansas City, Springfield, Columbia and St. Louis — are at a distinct disadvantage because the hicks significantly outnumber the urban legislators. There are way too many Dohrmans and Romines, and that’s not going to change anytime soon; we’re at those dopes’ mercy.

Today, let’s be grateful The KC Star, stripped the last decade or so of many of its senior reporters and editors, is still able to expose some of the shenanigans.

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The Star’s Allison Kite and Bill Turque have been doing a good job overall of covering the attack mode that candidate Jolie Justus recently embarked on in the mayor’s race, but sometimes they have failed to get to the heart of things.

Such was the case with today’s coverage of a low-blow mailer produced by a political action committee affiliated with the carpenters’ union in Kansas City and St. Louis.

The carpenters PAC — called Carpenters Help in the Political Process (CHIPP) — has been going all out to get Justus elected over her opponent Quinton Lucas. The carpenters’ regional council represents more than 20,000 members in Kansas, Missouri and southern Illinois, and the PAC has spent about $90,000 promoting Justus.

What do they want? The Star hasn’t offered readers any explanation, but here’s the deal:

The carpenters are trying to insure a Justus victory so that union carpenters will get hundreds of carpentry jobs that will be available in building the airport terminal. As chairperson of the City Council’s Aviation Committee, Justus has been a driving force in charting the course for the new terminal, and as mayor she would have even stronger control of airport-related matters.

The carpenters are worried that if Lucas wins the mayor’s race, he would push for more non-union, smaller outfits, which tend to have more minority workers. Lucas, of course, is African-American.

In their eagerness to make Lucas look bad, the carpenters went beyond the pale with their mailer. In a story today, Turque (who functions more as an editor these days but occasionally writes a story) said the problem with the mailer was that it included a “dark, grainy photo” of Lucas. (The mailer didn’t come to my house.)

The fact is dark and grainy weren’t the main problems; what makes the mailer so objectionable and nasty is that the photo depicts Lucas as an “Uncle Tom,” with drooping cheeks and lips and eyes cast downward. If the photo was doctored and had him in working clothes, he would have looked alarmingly like a slave.

Jolie, on the other hand, is depicted as her usual, smiling self, dressed in the bold red colors she tends to favor.

Check it out…
There is nothing particularly objectionable in the text below the photos; it’s all in the photo.

During an hour-long debate yesterday at Union Station, Lucas said the carpenters use of the photo was “disappointing” and “distasteful.”

“I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if it was my campaign” — that produced such a mailer, he said.

Justus didn’t respond to Lucas’ criticism during the debate, but Turque reported she denounced it shortly afterward and said in a statement, “I found the photo distributed by the CHIPP committee to be racially insensitive and in poor taste.”

Carpenters Regional Council political director Joe Hudson issued a statement saying, “We deeply regret using imagery that some of our fellow Kansas Citians felt was offensive.”

That was a lame apology — another instance of what we see a lot of these days: qualified, back-door apologies. Instead of saying flat out that the photo was offensive, Hudson light-footed it by saying “some of our fellow Kanas Citians” might regard it as offensive.

Translation: We’re not really sorry, and we hope the photo had the desired effect.


Online, The Star ran a photo of the mailer at the bottom of Turque’s story…Not prominent enough.

In the print edition, the story ran on page A-4 without a photo of the mailer…Big mistake.

The story should have run on the front page in the print edition, with a photo, in place of a story about Kansas officials negotiating to send some inmates to a sketchy, private prison in Arizona.


While Justus probably wasn’t directly responsible for the carpenters’ mailer, she and they have been pursuing similar lines of attack striking at Lucas’ trustworthiness.

Calling Lucas’ trustworthiness into question is one thing but depicting him as “Uncle Tom” is another. This is the kind of thing that could backfire on Justus. She’s lucky The Star underplayed the story and failed to accurately describe the objectionable photo. That might limit the degree of backfire.

Now we’ll see what editorial page editor editor Colleen McCain Nelson and her writers have to say about this. The editorial board already leaned toward Lucas, and this episode will probably seal the paper’s endorsement for Lucas.

And that could cost Justus the mayor’s race.

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More than once relatively early in my career at The Star I thought about leaving the news business and going into public relations. The main reason was that periodically I felt the urge to get back to Louisville, my hometown, but I was never able to get a reporting job at the Louisville Courier-Journal.

The closest I came to getting a job in Louisville — and this was before I met Patty in 1983 — was after interviewing for a p.r. job with Kentucky Fried Chicken, which is based there. I didn’t get the job, partly because I had no experience with convention and conference planning, which they wanted.

I can’t tell you how lucky I was I didn’t get that job. I would have been miserable — probably would have quit, and who knows where I would have ended up.

I remember an old friend saying to me later, disdainfully, “You don’t want to work for the Colonel and his greasy minions.”

…People in the newspaper business used to — and maybe still do — call it “going to the dark side” when reporters, editors or other editorial employees shift from newspapers to public relations.

It can look attractive from a distance — regular hours, a better salary and fewer deadlines — but it’s a total change of mission. From a mission of gathering facts, seeking the truth and exposing it, you go to promoting the business or institution you’re working for. Image burnishing is Job 1, while the truth may or may not take a place somewhere down the line.

The night-and-day difference between p.r. and working for a newspaper jumped at me once again today, when I read how UMKC pushed a phony story relating to the fatal shooting of a graduate student in July 2018.

Twenty-four-year-old Sharath Koppu, a native of India, was killed while working at a restaurant at 54th and Prospect. The Star initially reported, as police had said, that Koppu was working at the restaurant. But after internal discussions and emails among UMKC officials, Chancellor Mauli Agrawal issued a statement saying Koppu had not been working but instead had been “assisting family friends” at the restaurant.

Today, the skilled investigative reporting team of Mike Hendricks and Mara Rose Williams exposed the truth about Koppu — indeed, he was working at the restaurant — and why UMKC wanted to conceal his employment there. To quote Hendricks and Williams:

“Koppu’s off-campus job violated his F1 visa, which could have led to a federal investigation and put UMKC’s lucrative international student enrollment at risk. A precipitous drop in foreign students had already cost the university millions of dollars.”

Under U.S. Department of Homeland Security regulations, international students are prohibited from working off campus, seemingly because they could be filling jobs that U.S. citizens otherwise would have.

Hendricks and Williams obtained numerous emails that led up to Agrawal’s decision to attempt to hide the fact that Koppu was working at the restaurant. (An interesting fact that Hendricks and Williams did not report is that Agrawal had only been on the job about three weeks at the time Koppu was killed and the internal jousting over how to describe his role at the restaurant was taking place.)

One UMKC official who weighed in on the issue was media relations director John Martellaro, a former assignment editor at The Star. Martallero is a good guy and was a good journalist, and his instinct to tell the truth came through in an email he wrote to his supervisor, Anne Spenner, a UMKC vice chancellor who had previously had worked at The Star and had risen to the rank of assistant managing editor.

John Martellaro

Martellaro wrote: “I think saying he worked there is vital to establishing that he was an innocent victim and not someone who was engaged in violent activity. I doubt the legal formalities will come into play here.”

But Kevin Truman, vice provost for international initiatives, lobbied hard against quoting the police department account of what Koppu was doing at the restaurant.

“Let’s not emphasize where he worked,” Truman wrote. “I doubt that he had a work authorization.”

The emails do not show what position, if any, Spenner took or what she recommended to Agrawal. Ultimately, however, she issued the statement under Agrawal’s signature.

…You had, then, two former newspaper editors, groomed and accustomed to rooting out the truth, caught in a debate where it was in the university’s financial interest to misrepresent a key fact related to a case in which one of its student’s lost his life.

It’s easy to see that this incident probably left Martellaro frustrated and disgruntled. He’s on the record in a good way and can be proud of the position he took in the email. (I just hope he doesn’t pay a price for expressing an honest opinion and having it reported in the newspaper.)

Anne Spenner

We have no idea how Spenner reacted, but, knowing her, I would think the big lie that the international initiatives department advocated also rubbed her the wrong way and made her lose some sleep.

Whatever the case, when they go back to work in the morning, Martellaro and Spenner will still have impressive-sounding job titles, but they’ll also still be in jobs that too often make it very hard to feel good about what they’re doing.

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