Archive for August, 2020

I intended to do this post a week ago, right after Patty and I returned from a week in Colorado. But news stories immediately began cropping up, and I had to head in a different direction.

But today, finally, I had the time to get back to that trip. We were out on the Western Slope of Colorado — the entire part of the state west of the Continental Divide — visiting a longtime friend who lives in the town of Paonia, which has a population of about 1,450.

The area has a lot of incredible natural attractions, including Crested Butte, Grand Mesa and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

Here’s a map of the general area…Grand Junction is at the upper left; Grand Mesa is upper left center; Paonia is upper center; and Crested Butte is upper right.

The area around Paonia was first explored in 1853 by John W. Gunnison, a U.S. Army captain who was on an expedition for the Corps of Topographical Engineers to locate a suitable pass through the Rocky Mountains.

My friend Don Huber, whom I’ve known since we were both about four years old, moved to Paonia about 12 years ago after retiring as an art teacher at Pensacola (FL) Junior College. I’ve been out to visit him a few times — twice with Patty — and each time I am more awed by the area and its natural wonders.

Our trip (we drove) was complicated by wild fires near Grand Junction and Glenwood Springs, both of which are on I-70. The section of I-70 where we would have turned south toward Paonia was closed because of the Glenwood Springs fire, so we had to take the southern route, along U.S. 50 (at lower right on the map).

U.S. 50 was slower than I-70 but more scenic, with less severe mountain driving, and I’m glad we got to take it. For many miles it tracks the Arkansas River, which is mesmerizing, even from a car. It was all I could do to refrain from stopping the car at various places and finding a point from which I could toss a fishing line into the river.

I did get some fishing in, however, near Paonia and also at the Gunnison River.

…But enough of the commentary; let’s get to the photos!

Salida, about 150 miles east of Paonia, is a major access point for rafting and floating on the Arkansas River. This spot is within 50 yards of Salida’s downtown, where we had lunch on the way West.

This was at the same spot a few minutes later.

This is Grand Avenue, Paonia’s main street. The centerpiece is the Paradise Theater, the “tall” building at right.

One of the most gratifying things about Colorado is that the temperature starts dropping as soon as the sun sets, and the nights are invariably cool. I took this photo from Don’s porch. The building behind his truck is his art studio.

Patty and I stayed at the Rocky Mountain Inn, a few blocks from Grand Avenue. Our room — “the king suite ” — is a stand-alone structure nestled at an angle behind the main building and the stretch of rooms at left.

Our first day trip was to Crested Butte. That’s Patty and Don outside an ice cream store on Crested Butte’s main street.

And this is Crested Butte Mountain.

One day we went to two or three wineries near Paonia. Patty took this photo, which we dubbed “wine and feet.”

Patty also took this photo — me looking for a spot to cast a line at Lost Lake in the Paonia area.

The most breathtaking area in the region is the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River. From scenic overlooks high in the mountains you can gaze down to the Gunnison, which over millions of years carved out this incredible gorge.

Then, almost magically, you can drive down a 5-mile-long road with a steep grade and many switchbacks and get right down to the river bank. (The fishing is supposed to be excellent in this area, but the fish weren’t responding to anything I was throwing.)

Walking along the rocky river bank was a bit challenging, and Patty showed off her superior hiking skills, which I memorialized with this photo.

Going through Salida on the way back to Kansas City, we got a whimsical reminder of the great area we were leaving. A “fourteener” is a mountain peak with an elevation of at least 14,000 feet. There are 96 fourteeners in the United States, all west of the Mississippi River. Colorado has the most, with 58. Good friends of ours have a daughter who lives in Denver and has several fourteener notches in her belt…Me, I’ll take the wieners and leave the fourteeners to her and the other “high” achievers.

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Kansas City’s three leading civil rights organizations today increased the pressure on Mayor Quinton Lucas to push for the firing of Police Chief Rick Smith.

In an “open letter” to Lucas, the Urban League, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the KC chapter of the NAACP challenged Lucas to use his position on the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners to force a vote on Smith.

Lucas is one of five police board members, and he may be the only Democrat on the board. The other four board members — businessman Don Wagner, lawyers Nathan Garrett and Cathy Dean and minister Mark Tolbert — were all appointed by Republican governors.

Those four do not challenge the chief and rubber stamp every move he makes.

Lucas has told some civil rights officials that he would like to fire Smith but that he doesn’t have the two other votes it would take to remove him.

Urban League President Gwen Grant and others have questioned whether Lucas is sincere about wanting to fire Smith and, perhaps more important, whether he has the courage to lead an effort to fire Smith and lead a movement for local control of the department.

In the letter, the three civil rights organizations put Lucas squarely on the spot…

“On numerous occasions you have told us and others that you and Bishop Tolbert are ready to fire Chief Smith but you don’t have the votes. Our community wants to see you stand on your convictions and do the right thing, irrespective of the politics. If you and Bishop Tolbert believe Smith needs to go, then make it known on the record. At the next Board of Police Commissioners meeting speak up for justice. Make a motion to fire Chief Smith. If what you say about Tolbert is true, he can second the motion. Make your case for Smith’s removal and call for the question. Let the votes fall where they may.

“Let the public see if Don Wagner, Nathan Garrett, and Cathy Dean’s guiding principles are more aligned with perpetuating abusive practices and institutionalizing a two-tiered system of justice, where victims are denied recompense and officers are protected from punishment for abusing their powers, rather than promoting fairness in processes, transparency, accountability and impartiality in the administration of justice.”


Smith, who became chief in 2017,  has virtually no relationship with the Black community. He lives in far south Kansas City and is well liked in the Northland, the least diverse area of the city. This is the record he has established:

He has unilaterally and unequivocally supported officers involved in police shootings of unarmed black people; he has a terrible relationship with Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker; and he has thrown up roadblocks to the prosecution of officers who appear to have assaulted or shot people unnecessarily.

The civil rights groups’ letter went even further, saying Smith “presides over a culture of corruption that breeds a pervasive disregard for the letter of the law throughout the police department” and has “allowed his department to operate without integrity and accountability.”

Those are strong words…and I completely agree.


For many years, I thought we had a very good police department. But, over time, it has deteriorated under a long string of “home-grown” chiefs and Republican-dominated police boards that have stood by as the police union has gradually increased its power to the point that officers can’t even be questioned about shootings they’re involved in for 48 hours. (They need time, don’t you know, to recover psychologically.)

Thankfully, the police administration has now lost the support of The Kansas City Star’s editorial board, which has begun crusading for Smith’s ouster and local control.

An example of the soured relationship between the police department and The Star evidenced itself at this week’s police board meeting, part of which I watched on YouTube. Smith complained to the board about a weekend story that said the police department’s homicide-clearance rate this year was 43 percent, which is below the national average.

The Star used straightforward, easy-to-comprehend numbers: There had been 129 homicides as of Saturday, and 56 of those cases had been cleared (suspects in custody and charged). The math is simple. Fifty-six divided by 129 equals 43 percent.

Right? No, said the chief; the clearance rate is actually a whopping 70 percent.

And just how did he get there? Well, onto the top number he added 29 cases from 2019 and before that have been cleared this year. Conveniently, though, he kept the same bottom number, 129. Then he put 89 over 129 and came up with 69 percent, which he rounded up to 70.

He didn’t explain his math to the police board, and, naturally, they didn’t ask. But listening to his twisted rationale, my first thought was Smith was not only a bad chief but a guy who would have flunked any high-school math class.

But this lame police board, at least the three commissioners who control the board (Wagner, Garrett and Dean), didn’t dare question their faultless leader. In fact, they began whining about The Star’s story and asking if somebody — somebody — shouldn’t ask for a correction.

I could have laughed out loud. What a bunch of dummies! And what a duplicitous chief.

Geeez, they’ve all got to go, including Lucas, who clearly doesn’t have the balls to stand up to either his fellow board members or the police union.

It’s a sorry state of affairs…


Now, here’s that lineup of do-nothing, Republican-appointed commissioners who refuse to hold this police department accountable to them or the community. From top to bottom: Board Chairman Don Wagner, Cathy Dean, Nathan Garrett and Mark Tolbert.









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For two or three years now, Kansas Citians have been twisted, torn and flummoxed on how to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Today, finally, we have the answer: The compilation of thoroughfares now known as Volker Boulevard, Swope Parkway and Blue Parkway are positioned to be consolidated into Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

The news came in a late afternoon, Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department news release, which revealed that the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, led by a group of Black ministers, has endorsed the proposal.

Until fairly recently, the SCLC had been pushing, almost relentlessly, for renaming The Paseo, despite the fact that voters last year overturned the City Council’s unilateral and high-handed decision to rename that iconic road Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard..

The SCLC’s turnabout came after discussions with members of the Kansas City Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners, which will have the final say.

Chris Goode

At the center of those discussions was Park Board Member Chris Goode, who led the push to drop the J.C. Nichols name from the city’s most prominent fountain at 47th and Main streets. At first, Goode also suggested that Nichols Parkway be renamed after King, but others argued that the parkway was not significant enough or long enough to warrant such an honor. So, the park board decided to restore the parkway’s original name — Mill Creek Parkway. (The park board has not yet renamed the fountain.)

Dr. Vernon P. Howard

In a letter to Goode, Dr. Vernon P. Howard Jr., SCLC president, said his organization had settled on Volker/Swope/Blue partly because of its length and partly because many Black residents live along it.

Howard wrote…

“This artery assures direct exposure…to Black Lives, more particularly Black children, who suffer the most in our city from a lack of African American cultural and historical landmarks and education that bolster their sense of value, esteem and worth.”

Volker Boulevard starts at Brookside Boulevard, just south and east of the Country Club Plaza, and turns into Swope Parkway after crossing The Paseo.

Where Swope Parkway turns south near the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center, the road becomes Blue Parkway. Blue Parkway then goes all the way to the eastern city limits, near Unity Village.

In all, that’s a distance of about 13 miles.

Another felicitous aspect of renaming this route — besides its length and the fact that it passes through Black and white residential areas — is that Martin Luther King Jr. Park is on Swope Parkway, just west of U.S. 71/Bruce R. Watkins Drive.

The park, whose main feature is several tennis courts, has not received a lot of attention from the Parks Department, but I suspect it will be getting significant improvements, which would be fitting, of course.


The Parks Department release, combined with the SCLC letter, almost assures this is a done deal.

Nevertheless, the Park Board will hold two public hearings, and the public will have 30 days to comment.

The times and dates of the two hearings have not been set. Comments can be submitted at this website.

After the 30-day public notice period, the Park Board will undoubtedly vote on a resolution supporting the proposed renaming.

…This is an outstanding proposal, in my opinion. I cannot imagine it generating significant opposition or controversy. The Black ministers want it; the African American community should embrace it; and white people who have wanted the King name bestowed on a road that crosses diverse communities should be satisfied.

Congratulations to the SCLC and the Park Board for coming up with a winner!

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The McClatchy vortex

After seeing who Chatham Asset Management, the soon-to-be new owner of the McClatchy newspaper chain was selecting as the firm’s new C.E.O., a certain Oldies song came to mind.

The key lines of the lyrics go like this…

I’m a joker
I’m a smoker
I’m a midnight toker

…You remember the song, of course, The Joker (1973), by the Steve Miller Band. Not a great song, but once you hear those three lines, you never forget them.

And why did I think of that song? Because Tony Hunter, McClatchy’s new chief executive, has been chairman of the board of a marijuana company the last 13 months.


Hunter, 59, also is a motivational speaker, which should come in handy since he’s going to be overseeing a lot of dispirited newspaper employees.

On a slightly more hopeful note, before he transitioned to pushing weed and telling people how they can realize their full potential, he was C.E.O. and publisher of The Chicago Tribune for eight years.

I say slightly because Tribune, which also owns papers such as the Baltimore Sun, the Hartford Courant and the Orlando Sentinel, has been a mess the last 12 years, ever since it went from being publicly owned to privately owned. (It’s now back to being publicly owned.)

But questions about Hunter’s qualifications are not my biggest concern about the direction McClatchy, which owns 29 daily papers, including The Kansas City Star, takes from here.

No, my chief concern is that since July 12, when McClatchy announced that Chatham, a hedge fund, would be purchasing the chain out of bankruptcy, we have not heard one word from Chatham’s secretive C.E.O., 52-year-old Anthony Melchiorre.

Every release I have seen regarding the changeover has been attributed to either Chatham, the entity, or “a Chatham spokesman.”

Take Friday’s announcement about Hunter’s appointment, for example…

“Tony is an energetic, adaptive innovator with unparalleled expertise in the publishing industry. At this critical time for journalism, we are confident that his proven track record of implementing positive change and enhancing digital capabilities will serve McClatchy well,” Chatham said in a statement. “We look forward to furthering McClatchy’s legacy of informing readers and providing meaningful value to the clients and communities its publications serve.”

My theory is Melchiorre wants to keep this entire enterprise as impersonal as possible because he knows he’s going to be persona non grata after his intentions become clear.

Since he started Chatham in 2002, Melchiorre, a former junk bond trader, has been interested in just one thing: Making oodles of money. The sole goal of Chatham and other hedge funds is to maximize return on investment. They do not invest in businesses because they’re drawn to their missions or values; they invest because they see either a chance to get a good return or an opportunity to bleed cash out of failing ventures and reinvest elsewhere. (Guess which category newspapers fall into?)

So, it’s no accident that no name other than “Chatham” is attached to these news releases. Chatham and Melchiorre want to be as anonymous as possible for when the company starts laying off more people from already-paper-thin employee ranks at the company’s newspapers.

Hunter will be Melchiorre’s front man. I look for him to the hatchet man. His main job, I believe, will be to orchestrate significant cutbacks that Melchiorre will order.


It will be interesting to see how visible Hunter will be and if he will go around to the various McClatchy papers, introduce himself to employees and answer editorial employees’ questions.

But that’s just one unknown in this unfolding transition. Two other questions I have are where will the new McClatchy have its headquarters (currently in Sacramento), and will Hunter relocate there (from his home in Boca Raton, FL)?

I tried in vain Friday to get the answers to those two questions. My efforts were almost laughable.

First, I called a woman listed as a McClatchy spokesperson in the news release about Hunter. I left her a voice message, posing the questions about the headquarters and Hunter’s intentions regarding residency. About half an hour later, a woman who works for a consulting firm that works with McClatchy returned my call and left a message saying the p.r. woman was on vacation and that the residency issue would probably be worked out between “Chatham and Mr. Hunter.” She didn’t address the headquarters issue.

I then tried to reach Kevin G. Hall, a McClatchy Washington bureau reporter who has written extensively on the bankruptcy proceedings. No one outside of Chatham would know more about what might be coming down the road, I figured.

But when I called the bureau, I encountered the telephone system from hell. I expected a programmed system, but I had no idea how maddening it would be. First, I punched the number that was supposed to transfer me to the newsroom, but I ultimately got bounced back to “The Main Menu.”

Then I punched the number that took me to the “dial by name directory.” The directions were to enter “the first few letters of the person’s name,” only it didn’t indicate whether to start with the first name or the last name. After a couple of aborted attempts, I heard the words I wanted to hear: “Transferring you to Kevin Hall.”

But, alas, as soon as it rang, the call immediately bounced back to The Main Menu. I thought that must have been an aberration and tried again. Same result — back to “The Main Menu”!

At that point, I gave up. I felt like I was caught in a vortex — which, I’m afraid, is where all of McClatchy’s approximately 3,000 remaining employees are right now.

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For the first time I can ever recall, I had a clean sweep in Tuesday’s primary election.

Each of the five candidates I recommended in my election-guide post last Thursday prevailed, as did Constitutional Amendment No. 2, Medicaid expansion.

Of course, it probably will be a much different story in November, when three of those winning Democratic candidates — Nicole Galloway, Alissia Canady and Rich Finneran — go up against Mike Parson, Mike Kehoe and Eric Schmitt, the Republican nominees for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, respectively.

(My other successful local picks, Patty Lewis for state representative and Darryl Forte for sheriff, do not have opponents in November.)

The most important statewide win in the interests of good government was, by far, Medicaid expansion. Let’s dig deeper into that monumental victory…

Despite the stoutest efforts of mean-spirited Republicans, led by Gov. Parson and Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, Amendment 2 passed by a total vote of 672,967 to 590,809, or 53 percent to 47 percent.

Once again, though, the result highlighted Missouri’s rural-urban divide, which is huge.

Amendment 2 was approved in just nine of the state’s voting jurisdictions: Platte, Clay and Jackson counties on the western side of the state; Greene County (Springfield) in the south; Boone County (Columbia) in the center; St. Charles County and St. Louis County in the east; and the cities of Kansas City and St. Louis.

As you might expect, the margin of victory was widest in the state’s two largest cities, with a stunning 88 percent of voters in both St. Louis and Kansas City voting “yes.” Those two jurisdictions alone delivered a nearly 99,000-vote majority, which put the measure over the top.

In each of the state’s other jurisdictions — all counties — Amendment 2 was voted down. The election-result map looked much like the U.S. map the night Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton: Lots of red.

This was a particularly hard-earned victory for two reasons. First, it took a statewide petition drive to get the measure on the ballot, and, second, Parson and Ashcroft conspired to try to kill it.

The petition drive

A statewide initiative petition is always a massive undertaking. It would be easy enough to concentrate signature collectors in St. Louis, Kansas City and Columbia. But the Constitution requires procuring the signatures of 5 percent of registered votes in six of Missouri’s eight congressional districts. That means hiring, organizing and herding a small army of signature collectors.

Missourians have learned from experience, though, how to circumnavigate the hidebound Missouri Legislature and the Republican, statewide officeholders. In 2018, successful petition drives led to two statewide votes — one for a minimum-wage increase, the other to stop a right-to-work law pushed by former Gov. Eric Greitens. In both cases, voters sided with the grassroots petitioners and against the Republican monolith.

On Medicaid expansion, proponents formed a campaign committee, Healthcare for Missouri, in March 2019 and quickly went to work. They needed 172,000 valid signatures, and when they submitted the fruits of their work to Ashcoft’s office three months ago, they had nearly 350,000 signatures.

Ashcroft-Parson hijnks

The signature submissions set the stage for two of Missouri’s worst-ever public officials to attempt to derail the effort.

While proponents wanted the measure to go on the November ballot, which would have the largest turnout and thus would have afforded the best chance for passage, Ashcroft and Parson conspired to put the measure on the August ballot.


Instead of having employees in his office check all the signatures, as is traditionally done, Ashcroft authorized a random sampling. In short order, he certified the drive as successful, and then Parson, his partner in crime, scheduled the election for August to avoid the large November turnout.

Ha! There must have been some serious back-slapping and high-fiving between the unmasked duo over that little gambit…

Unfortunately for them, a majority of voters had had enough of the stalling and excuse-making on Medicaid expansion.

As a result of Tuesday’s vote, an estimated 200,000 to 230,000 low-income residents will be eligible for Medicaid, and many rural hospitals that were facing the prospect of closure will be able to remain open and serve more people.


The onerous thumb of the Republican-dominated General Assembly and heartless officials like Parson and Ashcroft don’t give charitable Missourians much to cheer, but today is different. Today is a boost for improved healthcare statewide and a victory for everyone who wants to do right by the state’s neediest people.

How sweet it is!

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