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Archive for June, 2020

I hope Mayor Quinton Lucas’ proposal Thursday for a preferential election on local control of the Kansas City Police Department didn’t get any of you thinking he might be trying his hand at leadership.

If anyone fell for that misdirection play, I’m here to set the record straight: What he wants to do is lead from behind.

In proposing a preferential vote on the November ballot, Lucas said people have been talking about local control for decades and that they are “tired of waiting.”

Well, he’s sure right about the tired-of-waiting part: Many of us are also tired of waiting for HIM to pick up the flag and get out front.

Lucas says if voters indicate in November they want local control, he will make it a legislative priority with the General Assembly next year.

Well, big deal. That’s just kicking the ball diagonally, instead of straight ahead.

Gwen Grant, president of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, put the matter of a preferential election in perspective when she told The Star…

“Quite frankly, the ballot language in this ordinance is superfluous. A referendum to determine the alternative governance structure would make better sense.”

**

I assure you Lucas doesn’t want to pick up the flag and be at the point of any wedge that might develop regarding local control. He wants to be tucked back inside, where he thinks it’s much safer politically and where he can occasionally holler, “I’m still here! Still with you!”

The thing about a wedge is it doesn’t develop without someone very strong out front, someone whom the voters overwhelmingly approve of, which is where Lucas finds himself after last year’s mayoral election.

He soundly defeated the favorite, Jolie Justus (maybe he’s still surprised about that), and he has just barely sipped from the deep trough of goodwill that almost every elected official starts out with.

So, this is the time to lead. This is the time to go to Local 99 of the F.O.P., which supported him in the 2019 election, and say: “Hey, I know I told you before the election I was against local control, but, as you can see, the public mood has suddenly and decisively changed. People are demanding a change, and this might be our best, real chance to get local control. The way things are, I’ve got to go back on my word to you and look out for the best interests of the city as a whole. Sorry.”

That’s what a strong leader would do. But as I’ve said before, I doubt Lucas has the stomach to get out front. He’s already thinking about a second term and how in the world he he would get it if Local 99 and its even stronger counterpart, Local 42 of the fire fighters union, turned on him.

**

But here’s the rub. The public has been watching closely as police overreacted during the recent protests and to the predictable performance of hidebound police Chief Rick Smith. And I feel sure a large majority didn’t like what they saw and now want genuine reform.

For the first time, maybe ever, I think many people realize what folly it is to have local taxpayers picking up the bill for police department operations while the department is effectively being run out of Jefferson City. Jefferson City…part-time home to the biggest troglodytes the state has to offer!

And so, if Lucas continues to equivocate, continues to try to play both sides (as I feel sure he will), a majority of voters will sooner or later recognize him as just a smooth talker with little conviction or substance. And when voters conclude a politician is weak, they often turn their backs. In the long run, his equivocating and demurring could cost him a second term, or a chance for higher office down the road.

…For all his strutting and chest swelling, former Mayor Sly James never exhibited signs of weakness. I didn’t agree with how he did it, but he was up to the biggest challenge of his two terms: getting a new KCI under construction.

Quinton Lucas is now confronted with what may well be the biggest challenge of his time as mayor, and what is he doing? Running for cover behind an election that carries no real weight and won’t move the needle an inch in Jefferson City.

**

Here’s the proposed ballot language for what would be Question 1 on the Nov. 3 ballot, if a City Council majority approves…

Shall the City of Kansas City, Missouri establish as a City legislative priority in the Missouri General Assembly the pursuit of a state legislative or referendum action that will return Mayor and City Council-led local control to the Kansas City Police Department rather than the current control of the Kansas City Police Department by a committee comprised of four members appointed by the Governor of Missouri and an additional position held by the Mayor of Kansas City?

YES [ ] NO [ ]

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It’s been awfully serious around these parts lately, not just here on the blog but also in KC and around the country, so I thought this would be a good time to Lighten Up!

Yessir…And one of the best ways to lighten up is to go down in the basement, root through the plastic milk crates and pull out some of the best 45s from the 1960s.

So, a bit dusty but no worse for the wear, I have come up with, for your listening pleasure, five of Billboard magazine’s top songs of 1961.

(The rankings were based on Hot 100 charts from the issue dates of January through November 1961.)

Why did I pick 1961 you ask? Well, as I’ve been driving around lately, I’ve made note of some of the best songs I’ve heard on SiriusXM, and it just so happened that two of the songs I jotted down were from 1961.

So — I says to myself — why not pick three others from that year and make it a 5-pack? (I wasn’t serious about the milk cartons.)

Here we go, then, with five of the very best songs from 1961, when I was miserable as a freshman at all-boys St. Xavier High School in Louisville, KY, with the music helping to soothe my savage adolescence.

“Pretty Little Angel Eyes,” No. 77

This song, recorded by Curtis Lee, who died in 2015, would be in my Top 10 for ’61. One of the back-up singers, Arthur Crier, just kills it with his bass intro. “Pretty Little Angel Eyes” spent 11 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 7. It was produced by Phil Spector.

(Listen, in particular, for the bell sound at the 1:36 mark and the down-and-dirty sax solo at the 1:50 mark.)

 

**

“Daddy’s Home,” No. 41

Fantastic song by Shep and the Limelites. It’s in the droopy-drawers mode, slow and heart piercing, but the message is happy because Daddy (be he father, boyfriend or husband) is home after a long spell away. The song was written by the band members, James “Shep” Sheppard (1935–1970), Clarence Bassett (1936–2005) and Charles Baskerville (1936 to 1995). The group recorded the original version on Feb. 1, 1961, and it was released on Hull Records the following month. It reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was kept out of the No. 1 spot by Ricky Nelson’s “Travelin’ Man.”

Killer line…“How I waited for this moment…to be by your side…”

 

**

“Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” No. 16

What I remember most about this song is one of my high-school buddies, Dan McFarlane, singing this in full falsetto while driving us around in his white and bronze, ’56 Chevy convertible. Now that was some fun. (Thank God he never wrecked us ’cause there was some fast driving going on.)

The song was written by the nonpareil team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King, who herself recorded an achingly penetrating version in 1971. The Shirelles, who did the original version, were the first Black, all-girl group to record a song that reached No. 1 in the U.S.

Do you love the timeless question…

Is this a lasting treasure
Or
just a moment’s pleasure

**

“Take Good Care of My Baby,” No. 12

My favorite “Bobby” singer is either Vee or Darin, depending on what I’m listening to and when. They were both fabulous. “Take Good Care of My Baby,” of course, was a Bobby Vee hit.

This, coincidentally, is another gem from the Goffin/King team, but it got a slight augmentation by King before Vee recorded it. The story goes that while searching for material for Vee to record, producer Snuff Garrett heard a demo sung by King. Garrett told publisher Don Kirshner he wanted the song for Vee but thought it needed an introductory verse. Garrett met with King, and, voila…“My tears are fallin’ ’cause you’ve taken her away…”

The song spent 15 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, reaching No. 1 on Sept. 21, 1961. It stayed there three weeks.

 

**

Tossin’ and Turnin,’ No. 1

You’ll never find a more deserving No. 1 than this…It kicks ass and keeps on kickin.’

The call-and-response between the driving lead of Bobby Lewis and the soaring back-up of The Swanettes makes me want to jump up and dance with the door knob, even with my two replaced knees.

And how about that line that takes you back even past the early ’60s — “I heard the milkman at the door…”

Now that’s insomnia!

The song was written by Ritchie Adams and Malou Rene and originally recorded in the fall of 1960. It was released on the Beltone label in December 1960, reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on July 10, 1961, and spent seven weeks there. It sold three million copies. In 2008, Billboard ranked it the 27th biggest song of all time.

Bobby Lewis lived to be 95 and died less than two months ago, on April 28. The cause was reported to be pneumonia, which makes me wonder if it was really the coronavirus.

In any event, thank you, Bobby, for a song so powerful I think it would make a despondent person come down from the ledge.

(This isn’t the best audio version, but I couldn’t resist the American-Bandstand dancing.)

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Now that an initial outburst of racial-equality protests has passed, it’s a good time to assess the status of three big issues in Kansas City: the push to rename the Nichols Fountain and Nichols Parkway; the calls for Police Chief Rick Smith to resign; and the prospect of local control of KCPD.

Let’s start with the issue where we are most likely to see change…

J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain

We won’t be seeing that name on that fountain much longer. In fact, it will probably be gone on June 30, the day the Kansas City Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners will next meet in regular session to consider board member Chris Goode’s proposal to change the name to Dream Fountain.

Chris Goode

It’s a bit troubling, however, that in the face of opposition from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Goode quickly backed off his proposal to rename the nearby parkway Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. The way things are shaping up, the parkway could end up reverting to its pre-Nichols name, Mill Creek Parkway.

The SCLC says the parkway is not big enough, long enough or important enough to bear the King name. At least one park board member favors putting the King name on Linwood Boulevard, which stretches from Van Brunt Boulevard on the east to Broadway on the west, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the board ultimately go that route.

The fountain situation is less muddy, and I hope Goode holds his ground. “Dream Fountain” is perfect, as I see it. It works in a linear way, alluding to Dr. King’s most famous speech, and laterally, reflecting timeless human aspirations to personal and social betterment.

If Goode pushes as strongly on June 30 for the change to Dream Fountain as he did the day he formally introduced the proposal on June 9, I believe it will pass unanimously. Goode emerged as a park board and community force with his bold proposal, and now I hope he doesn’t screw it up by equivocating.

(A public, online hearing will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday on the renaming issue. For more details, look here.)

Police Chief Rick Smith

Momentum to force Smith to resign has slowed considerably during the last week.

The man should go, but propping him up is a ridiculous, outdated governance system that prevents elected city officials from holding him or the department accountable.

Among other reasons Smith is unacceptable:

— At least two times, he has not cooperated with Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker on investigations into allegations of police officers using excessive force.

— He has dragged his feet on approving the purchase of body cameras for patrol officers.

— The Kansas City Star reported recently that in 2017 (perhaps the last full year for which statistics were available), the police department’s homicide-clearance rate was 51 percent, compared to 60 percent nationally.

— As of Saturday, Kansas City had 88 homicides this year. If that pace holds, we would surpass Kansas City’s record year for homicides, 2017, when we had 155 murders. As far as I know, the police department has come up with no particular strategy or plan to counter the homicide rate.

In addition, Smith simply is not reform minded, and he looked out of step the way he responded to the recent protests…For example, when he and Mayor Quinton Lucas took a knee in memory of George Floyd near the Nichols Fountain, Smith couldn’t keep his eyes down and head still.

I was hopeful that calls for Smith’s resignation would accelerate after a coalition consisting of the Urban League, the NAACP and MORE2 demanded on June 3 that he resign. Last week, the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime joined in the call, but a wave has failed to materialize.

The Star’s editorial board has questioned if Smith is the right person to be in charge now, but, regrettably, it has not come straight out and called for his resignation. Same with Quinton Lucas; he’s AWOL.

Local control

I could start this paragraph the way I started the last one: “I was hopeful…”

The statement from the Urban League, NAACP and MORE2 packed a one-two punch — out with Smith and in with local control.

Depressingly, a wave has not materialized on the local control issue, either.

A successful push for local control would require a Phil-Spector-like wall of sound from a wide range of groups and institutions, including the City Council, the Civic Council, the Chamber of Commerce and The Star.

Once again, though, the pivotal person is Quinton Lucas. And, just as on the issue of Smith staying or leaving — Lucas is AWOL.

My pre-mayoral-election concerns about Lucas are coming to pass: He’s indecisive and in the grip of the interest groups that helped get him where he is, including the police union, the fire fighters union and the development crowd.

I don’t know if Jolie Justus, the candidate I backed, would have had the courage to stand up to the developers, or to the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners, or to Local 99 of the F.O.P., or to Local 42 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, but I’d sure like to see what she would have done in this situation.

…Before the Urban League coalition came out with its statement, political activist and analyst Clinton Adams sent me a text calling Lucas “duplicitous” and “a feckless wimp.”

I asked him if I could quote him on that, and, in typical Adams fashion, he readily agreed. Nevertheless, I was hesitant to use the term “wimp” — thinking Lucas just might need a few days to summon his courage — so I used the adjectives “duplicitous” and “feckless” and left out the wimp part.

It was a mistake; he is a wimp. And it looks like his shaky hand will be on the helm for another seven years.

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Four former Kansas City Star publishers, as well as some lower-ranking former employees, are among 596 former McClatchy and Knight Ridder employees seeking supplemental pension money that McClatchy stopped paying after it filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year.

Mac Tully

The group includes Robert Woodworth, Arthur Brisbane, Mac Tully, and Mark Zieman.

All members of the group want the bankruptcy judge to force McClatchy or its new owners — whoever they might be — to pony up.

Each of the four former publishers is owed more than $100,000, with Brisbane checking in on top at more than $800,000 and Woodworth at more than $160,000.

Two of the lower-ranking people among the 596 were former Star Managing Editor Steve Shirk and former Vice President of Sales and Marketing Susan Cantrell.

The names of all the former employees seeking redress were linked in a June 17 story written by McClatchy reporter Kevin G. Hall, who is in McClatchy’s Washington D.C. office and has been reporting extensively on the bankruptcy case.

Standard pensions (like mine at $891.23 a month) are not what we’re talking about here. By virtue of their rank or perceived value to either Knight Ridder or McClatchy, these 596 people got supplemental, that is, additional pensions.

I never knew that some employees were getting supplemental pensions, but, of course, it doesn’t surprise me. I was aware that some employees got special benefits of one kind or another, such as private club memberships.

As it goes through bankruptcy proceedings, McClatchy is still paying its standard pensions, but it has asked the federal government to take over that obligation. Some retired Star employees are concerned about what might happen, but my understanding is the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. usually steps up and pays the vast majority of standard pensions in bankruptcy cases.

The government is not responsible for the supplemental pensions.

The person who rallied members of the group to submit their claims was former Knight Ridder chairman Tony Ridder, who is owed $5.3 million.

Tony Ridder

A duller person and less inspiring corporate leader you will never meet, but Ridder had the right name, and he made a smart move when he decided to sell the company in 2006, just before the newspaper industry started sliding down a steep slope because of the internet.

At the same time, then-McClatchy CEO Gary Pruitt made one of the worst decisions in newspaper industry history when he recommended to his board that McClatchy buy Knight Ridder for $4.5 billion. That sowed the seeds for this year’s bankruptcy filing.

Of course, the deal worked out great for Pruitt himself, who made tens of millions of dollars as CEO and now is owed $14.5 million in supplemental pension money. He is far and away the largest creditor among the 596 supplemental supplicants.

Here now are the former KC Star employees I was able to identify on the list, and how much they are owed…

:: Robert Woodworth, publisher from 1992 to 1997, $162,737

Arthur Brisbane

:: Arthur Brisbane, publisher from 1997 to 2005, and later senior vice president at Knight Ridder, $815,327

:: Mac Tully, publisher from 2005 to 2008, $475,904

:: Mark Zieman, publisher from 2008 to 2011, $358,795

:: Mike Petrak, former executive vice president and general manager, $688,866

David Zeeck

:: David Zeeck, former managing editor and executive editor, and later publisher of the Tacoma News Tribune, $213,429

:: Sharon Lindenbaum, former vice president and chief financial officer, now with UMKC, $104,192

:: Susan Cantrell, former vice president of sales and marketing, $70,186

:: Steve Shirk, former managing editor, $20,365.

Steve Shirk

**

My friend Fred Wickman, who worked at The Star for many years, put his eagle eye on the list and came up with three more…

:: Dan Gillmor, former reporter who went on to work for the Detroit Free Press and the San Jose Mercury News, $36,090

:: Greg Edwards, a former mid-level editor who went on to become editor at the Belleville News-Democrat, $12,333

:: Rich Hood, former editorial page editor, $5,937

**

And Tom Jackman, former federal courts reporter, now at The Washington Post, came up with these…

:: Dan Peak, a former photo editor who segued into technology for McClatchy, $21,719

:: Jeanne Meyer, a former managing editor, $8,759.

**

Yet more help, this time from former employee Krys Reese

:: Wes Turner, a former vice president who went on to become publisher of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, $1,244,954

::Randy Waters, former vice president of production, $42,376

:: Del Campbell, who, I believe also was an executive on the production side, $96,795

**

Correction: Earlier I said Art Brisbane went on from The Star to become a senior v.p. at McClatchy. It was with Knight Ridder; he never worked for McClatchy.

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This may be the only time, I ever agree with Attorney General William Barr.

But, boy, is he right to proceed with the executions of Wesley Purkey and Keith Nelson, perpetrators of three ghastly and grizzly murders in the Kansas City area.

The Department of Justice issued a press release Monday scheduling execution dates for four federal death-row inmates “who were convicted of murdering children in violation of federal law and who, in two cases, raped the children they murdered.”

These would be the first federal executions in 17 years.

I will never forget either of these cases…

Wesley Ira Purkey

A handyman, Purkey, had driven to Kansas City from Lansing in January 1998 to interview for a plumbing job. After the interview, he smoked some crack and, on the street, spotted 16-year-old Jennifer Long, who had earlier left East High School after having an argument with some other students. Purkey pulled his truck alongside Jennifer and said, “Do you want to party?”

Her answer did her in.

He stopped at a liquor store to buy gin and orange juice and then told her he needed to go back to his home in Lansing.

A federal court filing tells the rest…

“She asked to be let out of his truck. Instead, Purkey reached into the glove box, grabbed a boning knife, and placed it under his thigh, making it clear that he would not let her go. When they arrived at his home, Purkey took Jennifer into a room in his basement. Holding a knife, he ordered her to take her clothes off and lie down on the floor, where he raped her. After Purkey finished raping her, Jennifer told him that she had been a virgin. He then grew fearful, and as Jennifer tried to escape his house, he grabbed her leg and forced her to the ground. The two briefly struggled before Purkey became enraged and repeatedly stabbed Jennifer in the chest, neck, and face with the boning knife, eventually breaking its blade inside her body. When he confessed, he told FBI Agent Dirk Tarpley, “It’s not like in the movies. They don’t die right away.”

He then stuffed Jennifer’s body into a toolbox and over the next few days used a chainsaw to dismember her. Later, he enlisted his stepchildren to help him clean the basement with bleach.

Purkey, years ago

Purkey would have gotten away with that murder except for the fact that nine months later he was arrested for beating to death 80-year-old Mary Ruth Bales with a claw hammer. Bales, who walked with a cane as a result of having had polio as a child, had called the company where Purkey worked for some service at her KCK home. After killing Bales, he hooked up with some friends, including women, brought them back to the house and “partied,” with Ruth’s body nearby.

Purkey pleaded guilty to murdering Bales and was sentenced to life. In October 2001, he admitted to killing Long. Having transported her across the state line, a federal crime, Purkey hoped he could serve his life sentence in what he deemed to be a more comfortable federal prison rather than a state prison. Instead, he got the death sentence.

Purkey is now 68, and his attorneys say he suffers from advancing Alzheimer’s disease and does not understand why the government wants to execute him. His attorneys have argued the execution would thus violate his constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment.

He is scheduled to be executed by injection with pentobarbital on July 15.

Keith D. Nelson

Who could ever forget the Pamela Butler case?

My God, I think about that poor girl and her mother, Cherri West, at least once or twice a week.

Pamela

On an Indian summer day in October 1999, Nelson lay on the seat of his work truck near 11th Street and Kansas Avenue in KCK, about to hatch a vile plot he had fashioned in his twisted brain. Ten-year-old Pamela, an A-student and a girl with a brimming personality, was rollerblading on the sidewalk outside her home. When she rolled by Nelson’s truck, he sprang out and snatched her and started to drive off. A few people were nearby, including an older sister of Pamela, Casey Eaton, then 16 or 17, saw what was happening and began yelling.

So bold and brazen was Nelson that he slowed down and yelled out the window, “You’ll never see her alive again!”

A guy in a vehicle nearby was chatting with another man when he heard a commotion and people yelling something like, “He’s got her!” The man took off after Nelson, who, I believe had tied Pamela to the driver’s door, near the floorboard, and chased him a few miles, first along 18th Street Expressway and then into Rosedale Park. The man giving chase later said he had several opportunities to cut Nelson off and get him stopped, but he didn’t because he wasn’t sure what was going on. Apparently he didn’t or couldn’t see Pamela. (He certainly can’t be blamed for not being more aggressive if he wasn’t sure the fleeing man had kidnapped someone.)

Nelson

Nelson lost the pursuer somewhere in or near Rosedale Park and got onto northbound I-35 and later onto eastbound I-70. He then drove to a secluded area behind a Grain Valley church, where he raped Pamela and strangled her with speaker wire.

In 2001, Nelson pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to a charge of interstate kidnapping resulting in death.

An awful tangent of the Pamela Butler story is that Casey Eaton was murdered in April 2017 by a low life she was dating named Enemencio Lansdown. Lansdown shot Casey after the two had argued in a vehicle outside a house where Lansdown lived. The house was less than two blocks from where Pamela had been kidnapped and almost adjacent to a park that had been named for Pamela.

In April 2018, Lansdown pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 20 years and seven months in prison. In court that day, Cherri West said, “My heart is broken beyond repair for the loss of my daughters.”

(I wrote about the Casey Eaton case right after the murder occurred.)

Cherri got out of Armourdale several years ago and moved to Mound City, KS.

Nelson is now 45. He has been on death row in a federal prison in Terre Haute, IN. He is scheduled to be executed Aug. 28.

**

I am a liberal. I profess to be against the death penalty. But I want these two guys dead as soon as possible.

In his statement, Barr said: “We owe it to the victims of these horrific crimes, and to the families left behind, to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.”

Just this once, I’m on his side.

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The final, tawdry move in the KCMO sales-tax ambush of 2020 came to light very quietly three days before the June 2 election.

I wrote on Friday, May 29, that Freedom Inc., the influential Black political organization, had endorsed the proposed quarter-cent, Fire Department sales tax and said Freedom “either has been paid or will be paid tens of thousands of dollars by…Local 42 to help get out the vote on Kansas City’s east side.”

As it turns out, I — and nobody else — knew then how much Freedom got because Freedom was late filing a campaign finance disclosure report due eight days before the election, that is May 25 .

Freedom finally filed the eight-day-prior report on Saturday May 30, five days late and just THREE DAYS before the election. I found the report recently when I returned to the Missouri Ethics Commission’s website.

The report shows Local 42 paid Freedom $15,000 for endorsing the sales-tax proposal and helping promote passage at the polls.

I imagine Freedom can be fined a nominal amount for the late filing, but I’m sure Freedom officials would regard it as a small price to pay for concealing the Local 42 payment until the last minute.

Freedom’s endorsement was probably worth at least a few thousand votes in the June 2 election, although probably not enough to overturn the final result, which was 20,578 “yes” votes to 16,092 “no,” or 56 percent to 44 percent.

Yet, the endorsement was very troubling. As I’ve written many times, sales taxes are the most regressive of all taxes, hitting poor people the hardest, because the tax represents a much larger proportion of their incomes than the incomes of middle-income and wealthy people.

To those of us who care about egalitarianism, it’s just galling to see a bad tax — which the Fire Department tax increase unequivocally was — promoted by an organization that purportedly works in the interests of the city’s neediest people.

**

I’ve watched Kansas City and Jackson County politics for about half a century now, and Freedom has a history of not consistently taking positions that represent the best interests of its constituents.

I’ve always loved Freedom’s motto: No Permanent Friends, No permanent Enemies, Just Permanent Interests.

Unfortunately, Freedom has too often sold out rather than stood on what should be its top permanent interest, improving economic opportunities and the quality of life for African Americans living in Kansas City.

Certainly, Freedom spends a significant portion of the money it derives from endorsements to produce campaign material, including mailers and yard signs, and to pay poll workers to distribute sample ballots.

But a significant amount of money also goes into the pockets of Freedom leaders. Sometimes it’s big money, and sometimes it’s “walking-around money.” (The first time I heard that term was when Bobby Hernandez and the late Charles Hazley were on the City Council, and developers and others who were interested in obtaining their votes reportedly provided them, as well as some other Council members, with “walking-around money.”)

**

In the two issue campaigns I’ve worked on in recent years, Freedom was on the right (proper) side once and the wrong side the other time.

In 2013, Freedom opposed a half-baked proposal put forth by civic leaders for a sales tax for “translational medical research.”

I don’t think the civic leaders even bothered to take the tax proposal to the City Council because they knew it wouldn’t fly. So, they leaned on then-Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, who brought it to the County Legislature, which voted to put it on the ballot. (Sanders, of course, turned out to be a crook.)

I was so mad after that vote I quickly filed paperwork to form an opposing committee, Committee to Stop a Bad Cure.

I worked hand-in-hand with Freedom on that campaign, and the tax lost in a record-breaking landslide: 86 percent “no” to 14 percent “yes.”

Freedom leaders and I celebrated that victory at a bar at 31st and Gillham. Memorable night.

The following year, instead of voting to increase Missouri’s gas tax, one of the lowest in the nation, the Missouri General Assembly voted to put on the ballot a three-quarter-cent sales tax for highway improvements.

It was a patently ridiculous proposal because the public would be paying for it, while the truckers, who inflict the most damage on the highways, would pay nothing.

I worked against the proposal in Kansas City, in concert with a newfound St. Louis friend, Tom Shrout, a regular commenter on this blog. We came up with great yard signs saying, “You pay. Truckers don’t!”

We really wanted Freedom Inc. to join us in opposition to the proposal, but to our chagrin the organization sold out to the Heavy Constructors Association, which paid Freedom tens of thousands of dollars.

In the end, it didn’t matter: Voters crushed the proposal 59 percent to 41 percent.

**

Freedom’s inconsistency is very regrettable. Its current president is Gayle Holliday, a retired Area Transportation Authority executive. If she and other Freedom leaders, including Beatty, the treasurer, would adhere to the organization’s slogan, Freedom would have a lot more credibility, and its constituents would be a lot better off.

Freedom could start by committing to do the little things right, like filing timely campaign finance disclosure reports and not trying to hide the booty.

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Less than two weeks ago, Mayor Quinton Lucas took a knee, along with Police Chief Rick Smith, in memory of George Floyd.

A week ago today, Lucas told a big crowd of protestors at City Hall he was on their side and supported their list of demands, including local control of KCPD.

Wednesday, in a “Dear-Members-of-the-Kansas-City-Police-Department” letter, he praised officers “for the tough work you perform each day.”

“I thank you for your work, your patience in trying times and your commitment to our city,” he said.

When I first read the letter, hurriedly, I thought it was a love letter, that Lucas was completely capitulating to the police union, which supported him in last year’s mayoral race — just as he capitulated recently to the fire fighters’ union on its quarter-cent sales-tax proposal. (The fire union also supported him over opponent Jolie Justus last year.)

But as I read the two-page letter more closely last night, I saw hints that Lucas might be paving the way to pick up the leadership mantle in pushing for local control. Intertwined with his praise for police officers (and he seemed to be talking directly to them), he alluded four times to the possibility of substantive change.

Lucas at last Friday’s protest outside City Hall (Dan Cohen/KSHB TV)

Here are three examples; read these words closely…

:: I also want to make clear that as we evaluate policies in the future, any critiques I share — and I would hope other electeds may voice — relate not to the tough work you perform each day, but instead to political choices made by myself and my predecessors in some cases long before you swore an oath.

:: Those of us in politics and leadership have much work ahead to address public sentiment, as is our job in this system.

:: We will discuss policing a great deal over the months and years ahead.

When Lucas became mayor last August, he had a reputation for equivocating and being unduly influenced by the last people he spoke to on controversial issues.

In office for less than a year now, he has yet to prove he has the guts to put the public interest above political considerations.

For example, during the campaign, he said he would take a tougher approach on tax incentives and that he did not favor any new taxes.

But four months after being sworn in, he caved to developers and voted in favor of a controversial, $35-million incentive package to help Waddell & Reed to move more than 900 jobs to a new building at 14th and Baltimore.

Then, two weeks ago, he came out in favor the the Fire Department sales-tax increase, one of the most brazen tax ambushes any City Council has pulled off in recent history. (The ordinance authorizing the election was proposed one Thursday and passed the next, with just one public hearing that few members of the public knew about.)

…So, here we are again, and this time with the thorniest issue that has surfaced in the Lucas administration: how to get a go-it-alone police department out from under state control.

As I’ve said several times, local control can only be achieved in one of three ways: 1) a successful, statewide initiative petition followed by a statewide vote; 2) a state law authorizing a statewide vote; 3) a state law ceding control to the city.

Succeeding on any of those options is going to require, among other things, an unrelenting push by the mayor, strident insistence from organizations like Freedom Inc. and the Urban League of Kansas City, and a vigorous editorial campaign by The Kansas City Star.

It will meet with stiff opposition from several vested interests: the Republican- and rural-dominated General Assembly; Gov. “Farmer Mike” Parson; the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 99; probably Local 42 of the fire fighters union, which often runs interference for its law enforcement counterpart; and possibly the Board of Police Commissioners, appointed by the governor.

**

Is Quinton Lucas up to this challenge? Does he have the intestinal fortitude to stand up to the two most important unions that supported him? In his letter to police officers, is he sticking a finger up to see how the wind is blowing, or is he laying the groundwork for the most important initiative he could take as long as he is mayor?

Those are open and nagging questions. I think he is certainly the best person to have in the mayor’s office now, with race relations and racial injustice at the hands of law enforcement having thrust itself head, shoulders and chest above all other issues.

Yet Lucas has a lot to prove, and not just to me.

Another skeptic is my friend Clinton Adams Jr., perhaps the shrewdest and most unblinking City Hall analyst around.

Clinton Adams Jr.

In a series of text exchanges yesterday, Adams called Lucas “feckless” and “duplicitous” and said that while he was “a better option than Jolie (Justus), he’s no Kay Barnes or Emanuel Cleaver.

Adams, former attorney for Freedom Inc., went on to say…

Some people find the pandering to police offensive. He’s waffling on local control. The F.O.P. supported him because privately he is opposed or will not fight for it…He can’t be in both camps. Rank and file officers (who comprise the largest of two police unions) are the ones who abuse and brutalize; who harass and stop for driving while black; who use excessive force. It’s generally not commanders.

Now, there’s a tough and clear-eyed assessment; there’s a challenge laid down.

On June 2, in the wake of Lucas’ role as a peacemaker in the protests, a Kansas City Star editorial was headlined, “KC Mayor Quinton Lucas has met this moment. Will Police Chief Rick Smith join him there?”

I think a bigger question by far is, “Does Quinton Lucas have the heart to lead an all-out battle against the General Assembly and the governor over control the Kansas City Police Department?”

This is his best opportunity to take a stand on behalf of the public at the risk of losing the support of the F.O.P. and maybe Local 42. He’s less than a year into his first term. If he fails, all could be forgiven by 2023. If he wins, he never loses an election in Kansas City or Jackson County, and he could even go on to compete for a statewide office.

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In a move sure to spark controversy, Kansas City parks board member Chris Goode today formally proposed removing the name of Kansas City’s most prominent real estate and neighborhood developer from the city’s most visited fountain and the adjacent parkway.

If the five-member Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners should give its approval after a process that will take at least 30 days, the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain and J.C. Nichols Parkway would be renamed Dream Fountain and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway.

Chris Goode

Goode submitted his proposal to the other board members in a memo last Thursday, and he made it official at today’s park board meeting, which was conducted via video conference.

(Members of the public can view the video meetings on Skype, and they have an opportunity to speak toward the end of each meeting. I was among those listening in, but neither I nor any other member of the public spoke during the public comments segment.)

Goode cited the recent protests in the area of Mill Creek Park and the Nichols Fountain — at the south end of the park — as a motivating factor behind his proposal.

In the memo, he said, “Having seen our beloved Mill Creek Park become the backdrop for the reactionary protests and visual displays of pain and frustration, I…find myself compelled to act.”

Jesse Clyde Nichols

He also lashed out at the legendary J.C. Nichols, who developed the famed Country Club Plaza and many neighborhoods south of the Plaza on both sides of the state line but whose reputation was badly stained by racially and ethnically restrictive covenants Nichols insisted be included in the deed restrictions of the many neighborhoods his company developed.

At today’s meeting, Goode said: “We find ourselseves celebrating the legacy of a man who didn’t stand for all people. He spoke for a very singular group of people, and he created broadspread division.”

A 1993 Missouri law banned the offensive covenants, but the language nevertheless remained in the deed restrictions of many neighborhood associations years afterward. In 2006, after a Kansas City Star expose, the General Assembly passed a bill that became law calling for homeowners associations “to delete violative restrictive covenants.”

And yet, some of the prohibited language undoubtedly remains in some neighborhood deed restrictions, albeit without legitimacy.

The Plaza, modeled after Seville, Spain, opened for business in 1923. The 80-foot-wide Nichols fountain was dedicated in 1960, 10 years after J.C. Nichols died. At some point, the adjacent parkway, then named Mill Creek Parkway, was renamed to honor Nichols.

The parkway extends four long blocks, from 47th Street to 43rd Street, where it becomes Broadway.

Goode’s proposal set in motion an established board process providing for two public hearings within the next 30 days. Under current policy, the board could not take final action during the review period.

A time and place for the first public hearing was not set today, but park board President Jack Holland asked parks department staff to make recommendations within about a week.

Goode, who owns the restaurant Ruby Jean’s Juicery, urged the board to take action as soon as possible. He said that “every second” the board allows the Nichols name to adorn the fountain and the parkway, “we are standing for racism as a body, as a board.”

“We need to get it going now,” Goode said. “The longer we wait, the more pain we allow…the more blood we allow to flow through our city’s borders.”

None of the other four park board members indicated whether they favored or opposed Goode’s proposal, but three members said it was important to hold hearings and give the public plenty of opportunity to weigh in. One board member, former City Councilman Scott Wagner, noted that the timing of Goode’s proposal was excellent.

Scott Wagner

“Now more than ever, symbols are important,” Wagner said, “and names tell a story as to what is important to a community and what is not.”

**

Goode, Wagner, Holland and former Councilwoman Mary Williams-Neal were appointed park commissioners last year by Mayor Quinton Lucas. Lucas also reappointed Northland resident David Mecklenburg, whom former Mayor Sly James had appointed.

The board meets every other Tuesday at 2 p.m., but it can also schedule special meetings.

Correction: When first publishing, I incorrectly reported that Commissioner Goode was proposing renaming the Nichols Fountain “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Fountain.” It would be “Dream Fountain.”

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I’m just as mad about George Floyd’s murder as anyone, but I’m also realistic about the way our court system works.

So, I hope we don’t have more gnashing of teeth and bleeding in the streets after some of the former Minneapolis officers charged in his death are not convicted of the most severe charges against them.

We’ve all seen, maddeningly, juries acquit one officer after another of criminal wrongdoing after facing criminal charges in the deaths of black people…even in cases when it looked guilt was obvious.

Let’s consider, then, each of the defendants in the Floyd case and what could transpire.

Derek Chauvin, 44

I believe we will see Chauvin, one of the most revolting people to ever wear a law enforcement badge, convicted of one of the two most serious charges against him: second-degree murder without intent or third-degree murder.

He had 19 years on the police force and was by far the senior officer on the scene that fateful day. He faced 17 complaints as an officer.

…Chances are Chauvin will seek a plea deal because, after all, what kind of defense can his attorney put up? It’s all there on the video, and there’s nothing that makes it look like anything but murder. His only chance to avoid spending the next 30 to 40 years in prison would seem to be pleading to one of the two big charges, accepting full responsibility, exhibiting genuine remorse (including a vale of tears) and hoping the judge will give him a sentence in the 20- to 25-year range. If he insists on a jury trial, he’s going away for either the rest of his life or most of it.

Tou Thao, 34

Thao was Chauvin’s partner and the second most experienced officer of the four.

He dropped out of college in about 2008 and soon after caught on as a community service officer for the Minneapolis department before being laid off for budgetary reasons in December 2009, three days after becoming a full-fledged officer. He was rehired in 2012. Over his career, Thao has faced at least six complaints.

He and the third and fourth officers are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

Of the three officers who were at the scene, Thao, it seems to me, is the one who would have been most likely to take aggressive action to stop Chauvin. And judging from Chauvin’s impassive demeanor and insistence on keeping his knee on Floyd’s neck, it would have taken aggressive action, like shoving Chauvin to the ground.

Only Thao knows why he didn’t do that, but you know he’s wishing with all his heart he’d done exactly that. How many times do you think he’s replayed the scene in his mind, with him shoving Chauvin and maybe even punching him?

…Thao has been cooperating with investigators, and I believe he, too, will seek a plea deal, perhaps to the lower charge, aiding and abetting. I would guess he’ll end up getting a sentence of at least 10 years.

J. Alexander Kueng, 26   

Kueng graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2018, with a degree in law enforcement. By then he was working part-time as a community service officer for the Minneapolis department. He joined the police academy early last year and became an officer last December. There are no records of complaints against him.

Kueng’s attorney said in court last week that Chauvin was his client’s main training officer. Even though police records show he had become an officer in December, his lawyer said he was in just his third shift as a full-fledged officer the day Floyd was killed.

…With Kueng being a rookie and having been under Chauvin’s wing earlier, it is hard to imagine he would have had the courage or nerve to knock the 19-year veteran off Floyd. In addition, his lawyer said in court that both Kueng and the other junior officer urged Chauvin more than once to ease up on Floyd. I think he will plead guilty to aiding and abetting or to a lower charge, and be sentenced to five years or less.

Thomas K. Lane, 37

Lane came to police work relatively late. He graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in the sociology of law, criminology and deviance. (I wonder if he recognized signs of deviance in Chauvin.)

He started working in the criminal justice system as an assistant probation officer for juveniles and as a juvenile correctional officer. In January 2019, he was accepted to the police academy and, like Kueng, became an officer in December, according to records.

During his court appearance last week, his lawyer, Earl Gray, said Chauvin had also trained Lane.

Gray said: “They’re required to call him ‘Sir.’ He (Chauvin) has 20 years’ experience. What is my client supposed to do but to follow what the training officer said? Is that aiding and abetting a crime?”

Gray also said the day Floyd died was Lane’s fourth day on the force.

(I don’t really understand how Kueng and Lane were on their third or fourth days after having graduated from the academy five months ago, but I trust we will get more details in due course.)

…Lane and Kueng appear to be in the same boat — rookies beholden to and probably afraid of Chauvin. I expect Lane to plead to whatever charge Kueng pleads to and also get five years or less.

That’s the way I see it, through binoculars and 439 miles from Minneapolis. Let’s see how it plays out.

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Last week, I took out an online subscription to my hometown paper, The Courier Journal in Louisville, KY. (If you’re interested, the rate was 99 cents a month for the first three months and $8.99 a month for the next nine months.)

Like Kansas City, large demonstrations have been taking place there, and Louisville, unfortunately, had a homicide, when police killed a 53-year-old barbecue-restaurant owner after he stupidly fired a handgun out the door of his restaurant in the direction of police. (The New York Times had a gripping story about that incident, if you’re interested.)

But Louisville also had an extremely uplifting story over the weekend — an account by staff photographer Michael Clevenger about five people who came to the aid of a police officer who found himself surrounded by a group of protesters. Most or all of the people who helped the officer were protesters themselves.

One of the unusual elements of this story — besides its premise — is that Clevenger is a photographer, not a reporter. In this case, he not only took several excellent photos of the action but later pulled together a compelling story.

Michael Clevenger

Clevenger is a longtime Louisville resident who attended the University of Kentucky. He has won national awards for his horse racing photography.

I think you will enjoy reading Clevenger’s story, so here it is in its entirety…

**

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Officer Galen Hinshaw heard the call over the radio. One of his fellow officers was in trouble.

A crowd of protesters had marched to Second and Main streets and surrounded a police cruiser at the base of the Clark Memorial Bridge. The officer inside radioed for help as protesters — strobed in blue and red patrol car lights — banged on the car’s hood and windshield.

Hinshaw, a Fourth Division patrol officer and part of Louisville Metro Police Department’s Special Response Team, drove as close as he could to the scene. As he got out of his cruiser, he was immediately surrounded by protesters.

Some yelled profanities. Others balled their fists.

He made his way through the crowd wearing 40 extra pounds of safety gear — a baton, vest, helmet and body armor.

He was alone.

As the crowd grew, Hinshaw detoured to the front of Bearno’s pizzeria so he could keep his back to the wall. He needed a place to stop and reassess the situation — to be sure that nobody could get behind him. He also needed to keep an eye on his trapped colleague.

Overhead, a police helicopter kept watch and occasionally flooded the intersection with a spotlight. Sirens pierced the air, and protesters chanted ever louder.

Hinshaw’s nearest help was still blocks away.

The crowd moved closer, and the yelling got angrier. Protesters hurled questions at him.

“Are you one of the good ones?”

“How do you think we feel?”

One women screamed, “All gas, no brakes!”

He tried to respond but was drowned out by the cacophony of sirens and yelling.

“We do care, man, we do care,” he said.

Hinshaw tried to reason with the crowd.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry you feel this way,” Hinshaw yelled, trying to make his voice heard over the anger of the crowd.

The 32-year-old was scared.

It was only going to take one person, and everyone would jump in, he knew.

The Special Response Team trains once a month, but that hadn’t quite prepared Hinshaw for what was in front of him. If the protesters decided to attack him, there were just too many of them.

“Here we go,” he thought. “I’m preparing to be injured.”

Hinshaw kept his voice calm as he radioed in: “Charlie 12, this is a 10-30. We need help.” 10-30 is code for officer needs help.

He watched people’s hands in the crowd, making sure nobody had a weapon and scanning for things thrown from protesters in the back.

It was at this moment that a man emerged from the crowd in a red University of Louisville mask covering the lower half of his face. He put himself between the closest protester and Hinshaw.

The Courier Journal captured the moment in a photograph that has now been shared across the nation.

Local entrepreneur Darrin Lee Jr. spotted Hinshaw and the advancing crowd and linked arms with the stranger in the red mask.

“Once I saw the guy with the red mask step up, I said, ‘I gotta step up,’” said Lee, who also runs a child care center. “It was reactive. I just went.”

He had no idea what would happen next.

“I really thought at that moment, ‘Protect him. It really isn’t his fault.'” Lee said.

Lee was also worried that Hinshaw would react and hit him from behind, so he turned to reassure the officer that they were going to protect him.

“He was looking nervous and scared,” Lee said. “If he panicked, then there was gonna be a war out there.”

Suddenly, the protesters seemed to turn on Lee. One man who had marched with him for nearly the whole protest was surprised. Another shouted in Lee’s face: “How can you protect him!”

Lee got nervous.

Ultimately, five men formed a human shield to protect Hinshaw. All of them strangers to one another. Nobody knew the name of the man to his left or to his right. Three were black, one white, one Dominican —all linking arms to keep harm away from Hinshaw, himself half-Pakistani.

Protesters surrounded Officer Galen Hinshaw on Thursday, May 28, but five people a human shield formed around Hinshaw after one protester called for the crowd not to harm him. (Michael Clevenger/The Courier Journal)

“A human was in trouble, and right is right,” said Ricky McClellan, a factory worker from Old Louisville who was locked onto Lee’s left arm.

After reaching the bridge and watching some protesters throwing rocks at police cars, McClellan spotted Hinshaw as he walked around the group and thought, “Whoa, you’re by yourself?”

McClellan watched as the crowd around Hinshaw grew larger and louder. Then he heard Lee yell, “Lock arms! Lock arms!”

That’s when Julian De La Cruz saw the men locking arms and jumped in.

“I saw the guys link up and I saw a weak spot,” De La Cruz said, and took up a position on the end of the line.

He was nervous, scared.

“Things could’ve gotten really bad,” he said.

The entire scene lasted no more than two minutes.

It felt much longer to those who were there.

Hinshaw’s squad arrived, and Lee escorted him back to his unit. Hinshaw thanked him.

Julian De La Cruz

For De La Cruz, a local businessman, the moment was about accountability.

“If I can hold my brothers accountable, if I can march with my brothers and turn against them to say, ‘This isn’t right,’ that’s where the accountability comes in,” he said.

“In the end, that’s all that we are asking for,” said De La Cruz, whose uncle is a police officer. “What we need is for those great cops to hold their brothers and sisters accountable at all times.”

As proud as De La Cruz is of that night, he shakes his head and says that this shouldn’t be an extraordinary event.

“This should be the norm,” he said. De La Cruz also feels that media images of violence, vandalism and looting misrepresent Louisville and the protest.

“What happened that night with us linking arms was just one of many heroic acts that night,” he said.

He hopes that those are the moments that define Louisville.

That is Louisville,” De La Cruz said.  “Louisville showed up that night.”

Lee agreed.

“Nobody knew anybody but we just stood up and did that,” he said. “If the officer was black we would’ve done the same thing. He’s somebody else’s son. He’s somebody else’s loved one.”

Hinshaw has reached out to the men through social media and texts. But he’s looking forward to meeting them all and thanking them in person.

George Timmering, co-owner of Bearno’s, said he’ll buy the pizza when they’re ready to meet.

“Those guys, they saved me,” Hinshaw said. “There’s no doubt about it. And I am beyond thankful. If it wasn’t for them intervening and recognizing that I was in trouble and helping me, I am sure that I would’ve been assaulted in one form or another.

“If they didn’t intervene, something was gonna happen to me.”

Hinshaw continues to be moved by the moment.

“I’ve cried over that incident,” he said.

“It was a moment where strangers came together to help another stranger, and that stranger was me.”

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