Archive for April, 2022

From time to time, people have urged me to run for elective office — presumably because of my, uh, great wisdom and deep experience in covering local government.

I’ve never been tempted because, for one thing, I know I wouldn’t last long in elective office. If I’d been a member of the Missouri General Assembly back in the 1980s, I would have voted against the state lottery. And if I’d been a legislator in the early 1990s, I would have voted against legalizing casino gambling, which was euphemistically framed as “riverboat gaming.”

I would have voted against the lottery and casino gambling because they dig disproportionately deeper into the pockets of lower-income people than the wealthy and because casino gambling contributes to serious social problems. (According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, more than 103,000 Missourians have a gambling disorder.)

Outside Bally’s Casino last year

Which brings me to the debate that took place this week in the General Assembly over expanded slots-style gambling and the prospect of legalized sports wagering.

Rudi Keller reported on it Saturday in the Missouri Independent, and his third paragraph said everything you need to know about greed and slime…

“Wednesday began with the Senate galleries jammed with dozens of lobbyists representing casino operators, professional sports teams and video gaming companies.”

He might as well have said the galleries were jammed with lobbyists representing filthy-rich people aiming to suck blood from low-income people and further enrich themselves.

It’s neither the gamblers nor average Missourians whom the lobbyists and their employers are looking out for; it’s the wealthy.

Ironically, as it turned out, the greedy could not agree on how to divide the spoils. Nothing got passed Wednesday and might not before the legislative session ends on May 13.

Here’s how Keller described the fracture among those chasing the newest potential pot of easy money…

Casinos don’t like the provisions allowing the Missouri Lottery to place video gambling machines at fraternal clubs, veterans halls and truck stops. Video lottery advocates don’t want the casinos to get a new source of revenue if they aren’t included. And the companies that have placed thousands of unregulated machines…would prefer that nothing pass at all because it might make it tougher for them to do business.

Going unspoken in the debate was whether any of this was in the best interests of the people who patronize Elks clubs, American Legion halls, Love’s Travel Shops and the gas stations and bars where thousands of unregulated machines have been installed.

And now into that rancid stew sports wagering probably will be stirred.

Those who would benefit the most, and almost exclusively, are the casino operators and the owners of the state’s major professional sports teams. The casinos and the teams would get cuts of the betting action, as would the state, which would levy a 10 percent tax on the profits.

And who would lose? Why, the bettors.

My late father, an accounting professor, explained it to me a long time ago when I was single and spending a majority of my vacation days at various racetracks. He said that with the track taking out 10 percent or more of the pooled bets, the bettors would ultimately come out behind.

It’s no different with sports wagering; it’s the “house” that wins and the bettors who lose, if they keep playing long enough.

Another element in the gambling picture is the economic competition between Missouri and Kansas.

In Kansas, the Senate and House have approved legalized sports betting, and a bill is awaiting the signature of Gov. Laura Kelly, who is expected to sign it. In his story, Rudi Keller said that if Kansas got sports wagering and Missouri didn’t, “the odds of the Chiefs jumping the state line to a new stadium will grow shorter” because the vast majority of the state’s take would be funneled into a special fund to be used to lure major sports teams.

I say fine. Let Kansas have sports wagering and let the Chiefs move over to I-435 and I-70 into a $1 billion stadium built partly with sports-wagering proceeds. Jackson County residents have been bled long enough. From his home in Dallas and his suite on the “gold level,” Clark Hunt is perfectly happy to pit Kansas against Jackson County. And how do you think he’d vote on sports wagering?

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Here’s a quickie for you from last night’s fabulous show at Knuckleheads…Patty and I fell in love with Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band last July when we saw them at Knuckleheads. When I discovered a couple of weeks ago Chubby was returning, I quickly ordered tickets.

Patty was out of town, so son Charlie, who is in town from Chicago, and daughter Brooks, who lives here, came with me.

Fifty-four-year-old Chubby, one of the leading zydeco musicians in the land, has been coming to Kansas City since the Grand Emporium was in its heyday 20 or more years ago.

He puts on a highly polished, high-energy show. A woman who apparently travels with him (I have no idea what the relationship is) dances on the side of the stage and periodically funnels audience members onstage to join in the dancing. The onstage spontaneity gives Chubby’s shows a jolt of unexpected energy.

A special treat last night was the introduction of a longtime Kansas City musician whose nickname is Hot Sauce. (Chubby introduced him by his real name, but I didn’t catch it.) He plays the washboard with gusto and, even though well over 50, dances with an agile turn of foot.

Hot Sauce was featured in two or three numbers last night and got a huge ovation. Fittingly, Hot Sauce was was wearing a red shirt and deep red pants, accentuated by bright white tennis shoes. Between songs, he pulled out a bottle of hot sauce and distributed sips to fans who had gathered at the front of the stage. Disgustingly (to me) they lapped up the spicy condiment.

Chubby’s signature song is “Chubby Party,” featuring the lyrics, “Ain’t no party like a Chubby party cause a Chubby party don’t stop.”

Charlie, Brooks and I had to leave after the first set, which lasted two hours, but it looked like this Chubby party was headed close to the midnight hour.

Here’s what the scene looked like last night…

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In a world full of bad news, we have some good news locally: Tomorrow is Police Chief Rick Smith’s last day in office.

I can’t wait to see him in the rear view mirror — and then not see him ever again. Let’s hope he doesn’t end up with some cushy job like president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission.

His nearly five years as chief have been a certifiable disaster. Consider…

  • The department’s reputation has slipped badly on his watch.
  • He has unconditionally supported rogue and reckless officers.
  • He has ignored Kansas City’s east side and worsened the divide between the department and the Black community.
  • He has refused to cooperate with Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker on internal affairs cases where officers deserved to be scrutinized for possible criminal violations of people’s rights.

Let’s look at a couple of the outrageous, specific things he has done.

Minutes after a now-convicted Kansas City police detective fatally shot Cameron Lamb in December 2019, Smith was captured on audio saying “Everyone is good, house is clear. Bad guy’s dead.”

It would have been fine if he’d stopped after the first sentence. But no, Smith, siding as usual with his officers assumed the person who was shot was necessarily in the wrong.

Last November, a Jackson County judge later disagreed, finding Det. Eric DeValkenaere guilty of involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action when he fatally shot Lamb, who was Black, in his garage.

DeValkenaere, who is White, was sentenced to three years for manslaughter and three years for armed criminal action. The terms are to be served concurrently, so, unless he prevails on appeal, he will serve at least some prison time, maybe a couple of years.

Then, very recently, The Star reported that Smith was not acting out of genuine concern for human rights when he knelt at Mill Creek Park with Mayor Quinton Lucas and citizens who were protesting the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota.

Star reporters talked with departmental commanders who were at a meeting with Smith last year, when he said, “I may be doing things or saying things, and that may not be my personal beliefs, but I’m gonna do what I need to do that’s best for the department.”

In other words, back the blue regardless of whether they are in the right…or, in the alternative, committing second-degree murder, which a jury found Officer Derek Chauvin guilty of in Floyd’s death.

Now, on to Nick Haines…I was stopped cold when I got an email from Kansas City PBS, Channel 19, on Sunday, saying that Haines, of “Kansas City Week in Review,” was going to have a “special edition” on Smith, airing at 7 p.m. tomorrow.

Here’s what the promo said:

“On a special edition of Week in Review, outgoing KC Police Chief Rick Smith swings by the Kansas City PBS studios. He hangs up his badge next week, but before he does, he tells all to Nick Haines.”

I was flabbergasted…”swings by” and “tells all.” What a crock of shit. What a flip way to deal with the retirement of possibly the worst chief Kansas City has ever had.

I immediately fired off an email to Haines, saying:

I hope you’re going to ask him — or, better yet, check for yourself — how much of a payout he’s walking away with. The previous chief, Darryl Forte, walked away in 2017 with a $500,000 windfall in accrued vacation, sick and comp time. Now we’ve got Smith, the most unpopular chief KC has ever had, walking away with, undoubtedly, a huge sum and a record reflecting outright racism. I hope we’ll be seeing a more somber side of you on April 22. I suggest holding the wide smiles.

I admit that “holding the wide smiles” was a bit of a cheap shot, but Haines has always reminded me of the famous, old-time actor Joe E. Brown, who was known for, to quote Wikipedia, his “enormous elastic-mouth smile.”

Joe E. Brown

To his credit, pro that he is, Haines responded more than diplomatically. Here’s what he said:

“Hi Jim — Thanks for reaching out. By the way, I love your blog. In fact, it’s one of only four news related content sites I check every day just to make sure I haven’t missed an update. I’m not kidding. You have an insightful, knowledgeable take on many important issues around town and I am grateful for what you do. As for the police chief, it’s always a balancing act. My job is not to judge him but to understand him. Thanks for the advice on not too “wide a grin.” With regards to his potential retirement windfall, is that really in his control or is he just the benefactor a bad system? Also on this week’s show is Mayor Quinton Lucas. I think it would be more appropriate to direct that question to him.”

…While I applaud Haines’ professionalism, I disagree with his assertion that it’s his job “to understand him.” And I said so. I replied, saying, “There’s no need to try to understand Smith after five years. What we’ve seen and what we’ve heard…says everything.”

And in response to Haines’ suggestion that a likely windfall was the result of “a bad system,” I said: “If it’s a bad system, how else do you plant the seeds for change other than by calling it out — each and every time?”

I concluded with this…

“I don’t envy your assignment here; the guy is the turd in the punch bowl. Most of south Kansas City (meaning south of the river) — and surely all of east Kansas City — will be watching with disgust from the moment he appears.”


I’m sure this report will help, to some small degree, pump up viewership of Haines’ show Friday evening. But I doubt I’ll be watching. I’m not the least bit interested in a “tell-all” from a horrible, almost despicable, police chief.

Good riddance.

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The death of a young person — whether by accident, illness, homicide or suicide — is about the most crushing experience a family can go through.

Patty and I bore witness to another family’s tragedy this week, when we attended the funeral ceremony for 21-year-old Sean Patrick North, a St. Louis University sophomore, who took his own life on April 5.

Sean was the grandson of longtime friends and neighbors of ours, Jim and Mary North. Jim called me with the news over the weekend. It was the second such tragedy the North family has endured, with one of Jim and Mary’s three sons having taken his own life 12 years ago.

Now, their son, Jim North Jr., and his wife Cara have lost one of their three sons.

I am writing about this not to emphasize one family’s terrible fortune, but to amplify the hope and broader perspective that a Catholic priest — the priest who presided at Monday’s funeral — was able to bring to Sean’s tragic death.

First, take a look at Sean’s photo. Here was a young man with good looks, brains, athletic skill, a loving family, a girlfriend and legions of other friends. As a testament to his popularity, the sanctuary at Church of the Nativity, 119th and Mission Road, Leawood, was filled with hundreds of people, including 300 or more young people who had encountered him somewhere in his life’s journey.

You look at this picture, and there is just one question: WHY?

Officiating at the funeral, at what in Catholic terminology is the Mass of Christian Burial, was the Rev. Jerry Arano-Ponce, who is pastor at a church in Bucyrus, KS. Father Jerry formerly was pastor at St. Agnes Church in Roeland Park. It was there, 12 years ago, that he presided at the funeral of our friends’ son.

I had never seen or heard of Father Jerry. He is a native of Mexico, I found out later, and English is his second language. He speaks with an accent and enunciates carefully.

Once he began the eulogy, however, it was clear that not only was he a master of his second language but that we who were on hand were in the presence of oratorical, theological and philosophical greatness.

Father Jerry started by tackling the suicide issue — which, of course, can be very uncomfortable — head on. He said:

As for Sean, I presume no one is unaware that he took his own life. I think we ought to say that out loud so that we can hear it publicly as we try to deal with it.

But let’s not remember Sean by that weak moment he had. Let’s remember him as he truly was: a caring son and brother, grandson, cousin and friend, a smart young man, a gifted swimmer, a fun friend who had a hilarious one-liner for every occasion, cracking everyone up with his sharp wit.

Then he took on the unfathomable question: WHY?

Making sense of Sean’s loss so soon after his untimely death is futile…The answer may never be known in this life. The wisdom that is needed to understand his death is beyond our ability. And if we did know WHY, it would not bring us any comfort.

He proceeded to talk about Sean — how he was “a young man of faith” and “a man for others” — and then he turned, metaphorically, to the throng of young people, many of whom had to be struggling more than the adults with the “WHY?”

Father Jerry Arano-Ponce

Father Jerry knew he had to try to start helping them cope, and he began with an anecdote. It went like this…

I want to share with you a story about Puccini. Puccini was the great Italian writer of such classic operas as Madame Butterfly and La boheme. It seems when Puccini was fairly young he contracted cancer and so he decided to spend his last days writing his final opera, Turandot.

When his friends and disciples would say to him, “You are ailing, take it easy and rest,” he would always respond: “I am going to do as much as I can on my great masterwork, and it is up to you, my friends, to finish it.

Well, Puccini died before the opera was completed. Now his friends had a choice: They could forever mourn their friend and return to life as usual, or they could build on his melody and complete what he started. They chose the latter.

In 1926, at the famous La Scala Opera House in Milan, Italy, when Puccini’s opera was played for the first time — conducted by the famed conductor Arturo Toscanini — and it came to the part in the opera where the master had stopped, Toscanini stopped everything, turned around with his eyes welling up with tears and said to the large audience, “This is where the master ends.” And he wept.

But then, after a few moments, he lifted his head, smiled broadly and said, “And this is where his friends began.” And he finished the opera.

You see the point — and the point of the question I asked you: What are you going to do about Sean’s death? What are you going to do about his unfinished masterpiece?


Father Jerry could have ended it there, and it would have been memorable, but he transitioned to a powerful image that piggybacked onto the Puccini story…

Think about the ocean. Picture yourselves standing on a dock beside one of those great, old-time sailing vessels. It’s standing there, sails folded, waiting for the wind.

Suddenly a breeze comes up. When the captain senses the breeze as a forerunner of the necessary wind, he quickly orders the sails to be let down and, sure enough, the wind comes, catches the sails full force and carries the ship away from the dock where you are standing.

Inevitably, you or someone on that dock is bound to say, “Well, there she goes.” And from our point of view, it indeed does go.

Soon, the mighty ship, laden with its crew and goods, is on the horizon, where the water and sky meet, and it looks like a speck before it disappears. It’s still mighty and grand, still filled with life and goods, but it’s left us.

We’re standing on the dock, quite alone. But, on the other side of the ocean, people are standing in anticipation, and as that speck on the horizon becomes larger and larger they begin to cry something different. They are crying, with joy and not abandonment, “Here she comes!” And at the landing, there is welcome, joy, embracing and celebration.

We miss Sean. He is quickly receding from our sight, and this funeral and his burial at the cemetery are our farewells, our version of, “There he goes.”

But goes where? From our sight, from our embrace, from our care and love and friendship. How we miss that. How we will miss him!

But he is not diminished, not made poorer. We must remember in faith that, “Here he comes!” is the cry on the eternal shore where Jesus, who understands the human heart, even when it goes wrong, is waiting.

And there is Sean, now forever larger than life, filled with life, intoxicated with life and laughter and in the arms of the One who makes all things new again, the One who says: “Welcome, Sean, welcome home!


As I typed those words, tears welled up. I hope it’s the same for some of you.

Happy Easter, everyone. It’s the Resurrection.

Note: If you would like to see all of the funeral or Father Jerry’s eulogy, you can do so here. Look for the words “Funeral Mass Livestream” near the bottom of the page. Father Jerry’s eulogy begins at the 22:30 mark.

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You remember, of course, when the felony, invasion-of-privacy criminal case against former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens fell apart?

The reasons, if you need a reminder, were 1) a reported photo of his tied-up, naked lover never turned up, and 2) an overzealous prosecutor, Kim Gardner of St. Louis, messed up the investigation

Well, now it appears very possible that another photo will end up putting the proverbial nail in Greitens’ coffin.

In an excellent story in today’s Missouri Independent, Rudi Keller reported that Greitens’ former wife, Sheena Greitens, said in a court filing last week that she has photos and other evidence to back up her earlier assertion that Greitens physically abused her and at least one of their two sons “as his political career unraveled.”

The domestic-abuse allegation has ramped up quickly since Sheena Greitens raised it in a March 21 affidavit in a child-custody case that she wants moved from Missouri to Texas, where she now lives and works.

In last month’s affidavit, Mrs. Greitens said that in November 2019 one of their sons came home from a visit his father with a swollen face, bleeding gums and loose tooth, and said his father had hit him.

Sheena Greitens

Never one to hold his fire and be tactical, Greitens responded with a statement alleging his ex-wife had a history of “emotionally abusive behavior” and asserting he was a “great Dad.”

Naturally, that didn’t sit well with Mrs. Greitens, who last week fired back with a new filing in which she said, “I will provide…photographic evidence of my child’s 2019 injuries, to the court at an appropriate time.”


Now, it makes perfect sense that Mrs. Greitens would have taken photos of her son if he returned home injured after a visit with his father. The couple was separated at the time, and the former governor seemingly would not have had the opportunity to destroy those photos, as he may have done with the incriminating nude-former-lover photo, or photos.


Greitens is one of the most despicable people to ever hold public office. He’s an established liar and self-serving politician, and now, it turns out, he might have been a child beater.

Eric Greitens

The initial abuse claim blew up the hotly contested, U.S. Senate Republican primary. Until then, Greitens was leading in the polls, but now his leading rivals, U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler and Attorney General Eric Schmitt, appear to have caught up to him.

The next development in the child-custody case should be very interesting. But if you hear of Sheena Greitens bringing forward a photo of a swollen-faced, bleeding-gum youth, just don’t expect to see it on the home page of your favorite news site. It won’t happen. It will be tightly held in the court file. Anyone who released it would be risking contempt-of-court charges and jail time.

But it would finish Greitens’ political career once and for all. In addition, Sheena Greitens and her sons might finally be able to find some peace of mind in the Lone Star State…Yes, it’s a shitty state, but the three of them would be a lot better off — a lot safer — than they are here, where a seething, maniacal former governor continues to run amok.

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I’ve been thinking lately about ticket prices to entertainment and sporting events.

For a lot of events, prices have skyrocketed. For example, this week two friends offered us two orchestra seats to Jesus Christ Superstar at Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

The face value was a not-unreasonable $88.50 each. But our friends are “Broadway in Kansas City” season ticket holders, and they got a discount for individual events.

I wanted to join Brooks and Patty at the show, and when I called to find out what a single orchestra seat would be, the answer was $135.

I passed and ended up going to the Kauffman Center about 40 minutes before the 7:30 p.m. show Wednesday and was able to get a ticket free from three KCK women who had an extra because the fourth person in their group had taken ill. Once in the theater, I finagled my way down to the orchestra level, next to Brooks and Patty, by simply telling the ushers my situation and being patient. (Because I couldn’t be seated until after the first song, I even got to see the dancers gather and warm up outside the door where I was waiting.)

Online photo from Broadway in Kansas City “Jesus Christ Superstar” production


What really got me thinking about ticket prices was when I was checking into a club-level ticket for last year’s regular-season KC Chiefs’ finale. To my surprise, I discovered that club-level seats were going for several hundred dollars each. I ended up passing and did not attend the game.

As for Royals’ tickets, last year I paid $75 a seat for four lower-level seats at Kauffman Stadium for a late-season game. I had not attended a game the previous year, and that $75 price tag jolted me. This year, it appears, Royals’ ticket prices might be a little lower. Owner John Sherman, who paid $1 billion for the team a few years ago, needs to put more butts in the seats.

Now, consider tickets for the Men’s NCAA finals Monday night at Caesars Superdome in New Orleans, when KU will meet North Carolina.

When I checked earlier tonight, you could buy tickets for $110 at the very top of the Superdome…which I doubt I could climb up to and where even binoculars wouldn’t help much.

And if you want to be up close and alongside the court, it would cost you anywhere from $1,750 to $4,000.

The Women’s Finals, which I’ve been to several times, used to be a great deal: you could buy tickets for about $50 to $60, as I recall. When I went by myself several years ago, in Denver and Cleveland, I nabbed tickets on the curb for considerably less.

This year, few tickets remain for tomorrow’ night’s championship game between UConn and South Carolina. The only options I saw were $387.50 or $430 for lower-level tickets angled behind one of the baskets.

But if you can resist going to the championship game and want to see some good teams well into the tournament, the best deal is the regionals, which were played last weekend. I went to the semifinals in Wichita, and for $35 ($25 for the ticket and $10 in fees) I got to see two great games: Louisville-Tennessee and South Dakota-Michigan.

I believe the main reason Final Four tickets are so much more expensive than the regionals is that the NCAA has jurisdiction over the Final Four, where the individual venues set prices and sell tickets for the regionals.


Finally, let’s look at my favorite sporting event, the Kentucky Derby.

I’ve been to many Derbies, often buying tickets outside the track on Derby Day. One of my best curb-buying performances came several years ago, when we needed five tickets — for me, Brooks, Patty, Charlie and a friend of Charlie’s.

I went out to the track early and was able to buy five tickets — various seats in the same general area from three different people — for a total of $1,350. If I would have bargained smarter, I probably could have cut $200 from that, but I was eager to finish up and paid too much for the fifth ticket.

More recently, Patty and I bought a couple of tickets on the first turn, in Section 110 (see chart below), for about $100 each.

On the lower level, when you are sitting past the finish line, you only see the horses come by you once — when they’re entering the first turn. The rest of the race you watch on a huge screen in the infield. Similar tickets to those I bought for about $100 several years ago are going this year for $946 on the resale market, over which Ticketmaster has complete control.

If you want to sit in Section 117, just before the finish line (you still can’t see much because of the pancake perspective), a ticket will cost you $1,850.

Last year, I dickered online with a guy before the Derby, offering him several hundred dollars each for two seats in one of those lower-level sections near the finish line. Ultimately, we couldn’t agree, and we ended up going to the home of a Louisville couple, watching on TV and betting online.

This year, we’re not even going to Louisville for Derby Week. The lodging prices are way too high — several hundred dollars a night for mandatory, three-night packages — and I have no intention of paying a couple of grand for two bad seats on the first turn.

…Sadly, I think there are no more live-and-in-person Kentucky Derbies in my future. Gratefully, I attended many over the years — well over 20, I think — and have good memories.

As for the bigger picture, when I look into the sporting- and entertainment-event crystal ball, I see more women’s regional tournaments and a lot of finagling on last-minute deals to arts events. The first dates circled on my calendar are May 13, 14 and 15, when Oklahoma! will be playing at Starlight.

If you see a guy outside holding this sign, you will be looking at me.

I used that sign successfully for at least two Derbies, and people would always ask me, “Who goes if you only get one ticket?”

My gentlemanly answer was always, “Patty.”

But it never came to that: I always got two, maybe not right together but close enough that we ended up sitting together.

Rule of thumb from a veteran ticket hawk: It’s always a lot easier and cheaper to get two singles than two together.

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