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Last week’s start of the 2022 Iowa legislative session saw some hand wringing and gnashing of teeth by some members of the media because of a change in media policy by the Republican-controlled Senate.

No longer would members of the media be allowed to watch, record and take notes from a “press bench” on the Senate floor. By order of the Senate leadership, the media was consigned to the public galleries in the Senate balcony.

You might think I’d be outraged by this, but, no, it’s just part of a trend going back at least 25 years to inject space between legislators at various levels of government and the dreaded “press.”

Caleb Hunter, a spokesman for Iowa Senate Republicans, had a valid point when he explained his party’s reasoning…

“The principal dilemma faced by the Senate is the evolving nature and definition of media. As non-traditional media outlets proliferate, it creates an increasingly difficult scenario for the Senate, as a governmental entity, to define the criteria of a media outlet.”

I’m a blogger…So, does that make me a member of the media? I tend to think not, but who can say with any assurance? Suppose, in past years, a blogger would have demanded to be allowed onto the hallowed “press bench” (and maybe that happened). Would he or she have a right to be admitted? Tough call.

There are a lot of other non-traditional “media” types now who fancy themselves as “press,” complicating elected officials’ role of trying to determine who and what is media and the privileges they should be accorded.

I’m not going to spend any time thumb-sucking on this issue…For purposes of today’s post, I just want to tell you how it used to be, back when it was quite clear who and what qualified as media and when many public officials and members of the press were, if not joined at the hip, pretty darn close.

When I started covering the Jackson County Courthouse for The Star in 1971, reporters had free run of the place. I was at the courthouse six, seven or eight hours every day; I knew people in every department: I knew all the elected officials and could walk into just about every office and usually be greeted with a smile from a secretary and allowed to go back to the inner sanctums.

I would stroll into the County Prosecutor’s Office on the seventh floor mezzanine, past the front desk, and make a loop among the desks of the various assistant prosecutors, stopping to talk to whoever was there about what cases they had and how they were coming along. I remember one longtime assistant prosecutor who used to ask for positive coverage in a nasally voice, saying, “Hey, scoop, give me some B & W?” B & W was black and white…the only colors newspapers offered back then.

I would also spend a good deal of time talking to the secretaries in every department, and that paid off in the form of numerous dates.

When I would go in to see County Executive George Lehr, whose office was on the second floor (where Frank White’s is now), he would usually shoo away whoever he was talking to and say, “Let me talk to Fitz now.”

Of course, this wasn’t because Lehr thought I had a swell personality. It was because he wanted “good press” and knew he had a good chance to get it if he gave me ready access. Lehr, who died of a brain tumor in 1988, had me wrapped around the tip of his finger. Stupidly, naively (I never had any formal journalism schooling or training other than on the job), I let him compromise me in ways that would have made journalistic ethicists gasp even back then, when things were a lot looser than they are now.

For example, those were the days when the Chiefs were coming off their 1970 Super Bowl win and tickets were hard to come by. Lehr had two tickets on about the 20 yard line in the lower level. Several times he offered me those seats at face value. And I took him up on them. Even though I was paying for them, this was out of bounds because I wouldn’t have been able to get tickets like those on my own.

**

When I went to City Hall in 1985, the City Council offices on the 24th floor were wide open to me. I would greet the front desk person and walk on into the labyrinth of individual council offices. Almost all the council members kept their doors open, and I’d just appear at the door and ask if I could come in. The answer was almost always, “Sure.”

One time when I was in the council offices, outside and a few steps away from the office of Councilman Bobby Hernandez, I heard him make a phone call in which he asked a retailer for a favor. What I overheard was him say went something like this: “Hi, this is Councilman Bobby Hernandez. When I was in your place a few months ago, you were kind enough to give me a 20 percent discount, and I was wondering if you’d extend me that courtesy again.”

After a few seconds, he said, “Well, thanks, I really appreciate it; I’ll be around in a few days.”

At council meetings, held in the council chambers on the 26th floor, there were one or two press tables that were a few feet from the mayor’s podium. We had full access to the 12 council members, even during meetings. We could get up from the table, kneel beside a council member’s desk and question him or her about the proceedings.

The City Council Chambers on the 26th floor of City Hall

We also had access to an anteroom behind the council chamber where council members would sometimes hang out before meetings or where they would go to take a break, duck a vote or make a phone call.

The only official at City Hall who was difficult to get in to see was Mayor Richard Berkley, who was mayor from 1979 to 1991. His door was always closed and access to him was strictly controlled by an aide named Kristi Smith Wyatt. Reporters would ask Kristi to arrange an interview, and she usually came through, but it almost always involved a wait of half an hour or more.

I remember the reporter who preceded me at City Hall, John Dvorak, saying, “If I had a nickel for every minute Dick Berkley has kept me waiting, I’d be a rich man.”

The first sign of real change in media access at City Hall came soon after former Councilman (now U.S. Rep.) Emanuel Cleaver became mayor. In short order, he moved the press room from the 29th floor, where the mayor’s office was (and still is), to the 26th floor, which is kind of a wasteland, except for the city council chambers.

The 29th floor was the nerve center. We in the press room could sometimes tell something big was going on by who was coming and going. I remember one time, during the days Missouri was on the verge of getting casino gambling, when a riverboat operator from St. Louis was in the building and meeting with the mayor. I wanted an interview. This guy didn’t want to be interviewed. But I waited by the guard’s desk until I saw him emerge, along with some aides, and he headed straight down a set of stairs. The guard let me through, and I hustled down the stairs after them and got a stairwell interview.

At some point before I left City Hall in 1995, reporters’ easy access to the council offices on the 24th floor was shut off. After that, reporters had to tell the front desk person which council member they wished to see, and the front desk person would ring the council person’s aide, who would then check with the council person — if that council person was in.

Over the years, elected officials at almost every level have made it more difficult to get access to them. I can’t say that I blame them. So, nobody should be surprised that the Iowa Senate has banished the press to the public galleries. You can still see and hear what’s going on from the galleries (assuming your hearing is good). It’s just not nearly as much fun as being up close and personal.

We’ve seen a tremendous amount of change the last 25 years, both within the media and how media members (however they’re defined) interact with government and public officials.

I mean, who would have predicted in 1995, that in 2022 The Kansas City Star would be operating out of a post office box?

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For The Kansas City Star, it’s been a hiccuping start to 2022.

On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Jan. 3, 4 and 5, I didn’t get my New York Times, which, like the Wall Street Journal and some other papers, is delivered by contractors who deliver The Star.

The first day, I thought it was just an aberration, but the second day I realized it was probably a significantly broader problem because my neighbors weren’t getting their papers either.

So I called my carrier, and he told me that his contract and those of about 25 other carriers had expired at the end of the year. (He delivered a couple of days beyond the 31st.) My carrier said he didn’t like the new contract he was offered and decided to call it quits, after more than 20 years of delivering The Star.

Then, I called my former carrier — a guy I got to know pretty well over the years — and he opened the conversation by saying, “You’re not getting your paper, are you?”

He said the distributor he had worked for (the carriers now work for distributors, not McClatchy or The Star) had offered him a contract to resume his old routes, including the one we live on. But the contract he was offered was essentially for the same amount of money he’d been earning in 2018.

“No thanks” — understandably — was his answer.

I heard nothing from The Star about delivery problems until this morning, when I got an email under the heading “important delivery update.”

It said in part: “Due to carrier shortages, there is a possibility that upcoming editions of The Kansas City Star will be delayed in some areas. While we continue to recruit carriers, the area manager is delivering multiple routes each morning and is working hard to ensure all routes are completed as quickly as possible.”

Then, whoever wrote that email, tried to divert our attention to the bright side, reminding us that, on our digital versions of The Star, we were getting “more than 60 pages of bonus content each day; subscriber-exclusive features on politics, sports and entertainment; (and) a customizable reader experience.”

Well now…that sure must have eased the frustration of the elderly readers who don’t read the paper online and count on having the print edition with their morning coffee.

But then, as I read on, I came across something very interesting. At the very bottom of the email, in small print, The Star’s address was listed as “4741 Central Street, Ste. 541, Kansas City, MO 64112.”

Hmmm, I mused, so The Star has rented space on the Plaza??

When last I wrote about The Star, it did not have a physical location, having sold both the former headquarters at 1729 Grand and the printing plant at 1601 McGee. Under a lease agreement with the new owner, some employees remained at the printing plant until late last year.

I had heard that The Star would be leasing space somewhere in the Crown Center area, so I was a bit surprised to see the 4741 Central address.

I quickly Google-mapped it, and what popped up was an image of a UPS store. That confused me, and when I showed it to Patty, she said, “That’s the old Halls store.”

Now, I knew damn well the old Halls building didn’t have five stories, so I wondered where the heck Suite 541 could be in that building.

So, this afternoon I drove down there and confirmed with my own eyes that it’s a three-story building, with a few retail businesses, including UPS and an Apple store, on the first floor, and parking on the top two floors.

Still mightily puzzled, I went into the UPS storefront. Two employees were behind the counter, and I said, “Say, do you know where Suite 541 might be?”

One of the employees directed my attention to a bank of rental mail boxes across from the counter.

“There’s Suite 541,” he said, pointing at this…

And sure enough, surrounded by “suites” 537, 538 and 542 was The Kansas City Star’s new address and– let’s hope temporary — home.

My immediate thought was that Suite 541 was a hell of a descent from the ornate building on Grand Boulevard and the stunning print plant with its angled face pointing toward the heart of downtown and T-Mobile Arena.

Before leaving the area, I took a couple of other photos, which help put The Star’s new address in perspective.

Suite 541 is in the first column of large boxes at lower right.
Like 1729 Grand, The Star’s new location has an ornate facade; it’s just not as impressive.

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One thing I’m known for, especially among family and friends, are my sweeping pronouncements and swear-offs. For example, as many of you know, I swore off pro football a few years ago, citing the incidence of head injuries and CTE.

I’ve also sworn off certain restaurants, often because they are too loud. (I am hard of hearing — eh? — and there’s nothing quite like restaurant cacophony to ruin a nice dinner with friends.)

My family and friends also know that my pronouncements often don’t stick. For example, I’m back to watching the Chiefs’ games and even some non-Chiefs games. And tonight, I’m looking forward to watching part of the Oregon-Oklahoma bowl game, with the return of former Sooners’ coach Bob Stoops, who has returned as acting head coach.

In addition, I’ve capitulated on some of those off-limits restaurants, going back and cupping an ear to try to hear over the din.

Having failed to live up to most of my pronouncements, however, I am not giving up on blanket declarations. In fact, today I’ve got a new one!

I AM THROUGH WITH CVS. I WILL NEVER STEP FOOT IN ANOTHER ONE.

I’m sure many of you feel the same way, even if you haven’t gone so far as to swear off the world’s largest pharmaceutical chain.

This company is now so big that it also owns my Medicare insurance company, Aetna. I can’t get out from under that, but at least I can try to stay out of their stores.

As CVS and Walgreeens have smothered virtually all competitors, the choice of products has dwindled and prices have escalated. A few months ago, I went into a CVS looking for Ban stick deodorant. Well-known brand, right? CVS should have it, right? No, they don’t. They’re pushing Gillette and a few other brands.

I presume that as they’ve grown, CVS and Walgreens have gotten like Walmart, pressuring manufacturers they choose to do business with to give them the products at the prices they’re willing to pay. The manufacturers that don’t knuckle under are off the shelves.

The end of the line for me came this week. First, I went to the CVS at 51st and Main and bought a large roll of tan packing tape and two pairs of socks, the latter being an impulse buy.

When I got home, Patty said she wanted clear tape, not tan. No problem, I said, I’ll exchange it. Then I pulled the thin, cardboard packing off the socks, clipped the plastic “T” strands and found that the soles of the socks were about as thick as a mattress pad. To get them on, I’ll probably have to buy a pair of orthopaedic shoes with an 8-E width instead of my usual 6-E. (Yes, my feet are a bit unusual. I had to give up swimming because when I would go to the pool, the foot prints that I left beside the pool were scaring the little kids.)

I couldn’t return the socks, of course, with the “T” strands snipped and the exterior binding torn away, but it was some solace knowing I’d be able to exchange the tape.

Next day, I was out south and took the tape, with receipt, to the CVS at 75th and Wornall. When I got to the tape section, it was practically bare. No packing tape at all. Now, I understand a lot of tape is sold before Christmas, but, hey, it’s tape, it should be stacked to the ceiling in the stockrooms.

Then, I had to make a run to Overland Park to get a new compost bin, so I stopped at the CVS at 75th and Metcalf. They had one roll of clear tape left — one roll! — and I made the exchange.

Today was the capper. We are pointing to get together with a couple of good friends at our house on New Year’s Eve, and they want us to get Covid tests before coming over. So, on the way home from the airport, where our son Charlie was catching a flight back to Chicago, Patty attempted to call the CVS on Barry Road, just off I-29, to see if they had any of those rapid tests that sell for about $25 for a pack of two.

Naturally, Patty couldn’t get through to a live person. She just kept pushing the “make-a-selection” buttons, trying to get to the pharmacy. As we neared the Barry Road exit, she pointed at the exit sign, suggesting wordlessly that I pull off and head to the CVS.

Nothing doing. I knew it would be a waste of time. Then, inspiration struck. “Dial this number,” I told her. She punched in the number of my independent pharmacy, located in the Price Chopper store at 85th and Wornall. The pharmacist picked up on the first or second ring.

“Do you have any of those rapid Covid tests?” Patty asked. “Okay,” she said after a few seconds. “Can you hold two for us; we’ll be by to get them.”

Patty disconnected and gave me a look that combined admiration and amazement. Inflated with my own brilliance, I just smiled.

…Yes, I think it just might be possible to live without CVS. You can get your pharmaceuticals at places other than CVS and Walgreens, and you can get anything else you need through Jeff Bezos’ operation.

Well, that’s a story for another day. In the meantime…

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If you haven’t seen the extensive video from the police shooting of the 24-year-old man who was viciously attacking a woman with a bike lock on a cable, you need to.

It is at first mesmerizing, as we watch Daniel Elena Lopez attack three women with a cable bike lock in a Burlington store in North Hollywood, CA. And then it turns gripping and jolting, as about a dozen police officers arrive, move in on Lopez and an officer with a rifle shoots him in an aisle where he has just left a woman bloody after repeatedly assailing her with the lock.

Lopez

We see the chaos as officers work in close quarters, with limited visibility and a tight line of fire. We hear the loud report from three shots, and we see Lopez go down and police rush in and turn him over.

We also hear muffled cries and screams in the background. Blood curdling screams, even though muffled. What we don’t see is the woman who is screaming and her daughter, both of whom had sought refuge behind a fitting-room door, perfectly and tragically aligned with the police shooter and Lopez’ body.

The woman, Soledad Peralta, is shrieking, because her 14-year-old Valentina Orellana-Peralta, who had been in the U.S. less than a year, has just been struck in the chest by one of the bullets the officer fired.

Valentina

Moments after the shooting, police opened the dressing-room door and found Valentina dead in her mother’s arms.

Lopez was also shot in the chest, and he too died, but he immediately became an afterthought.

And now we are embroiled, once again, in a questionable police shooting in which an innocent victim died.

**

As I said, this is gripping video. The action unfolds slowly, until the climax, and we see it all from two vantage points — surveillance cameras on the first and second floors of the store and also from police body cameras.

To its credit, LAPD released the body-cam footage four days after the Dec. 23 incident, and viewers can judge for themselves whether the officer, who has not been identified, shot too quickly or needed to shoot at all.

The police department had received conflicting reports about whether the assailant was armed with a gun, but it is clear from the video that the officers went in expecting the worst. Understandably, tension abounded, and the officers proceeded methodically but warily as they advanced up an escalator to the area where Lopez was beating the woman, who was later taken to a hospital with injuries to the head and other parts of her body.

An officer accompanying the officer who ultimately fired can be seen pushing the barrel down as the two officers approach. One or more other officers can be heard saying, “Slow down, slow down.” The tension escalates with every step. An officer yells, “Hey, she’s bleeding, she’s bleeding,” and then we see the assault victim lying on the floor at the near end of an aisle, her blood on the floor.

At the other end of the aisle is Lopez, who starts to move to get out of the line of fire. Too late. We’re looking down the barrel, and it’s bang, bang, bang…Lopez down.

A freeze frame from the video homes in on the bike lock, on the floor next to Lopez. Yes, he had a weapon, and, yes, he had just hurt a woman. The question is: Did the officer need to shoot? Lopez’ arms were at his side and the woman was out of harm’s way, lying just below the officer with the rifle.

The police department said it believes Valentina was struck with a bullet that skipped off the floor and pierced the dressing room door.

I’m skeptical about the bullet-off-the-floor theory. That could be an attempt to mitigate the tragedy. Both Valentina and Lopez were shot in the chest. It would have been odd, indeed, if one of the three bullets had hit the floor while another bore through the air chest high. This officer was obviously a crack shot, and those three bullets almost certainly traveled in close proximity.

**

One of the most interesting things about the video, to me, was watching the reactions of people coming in and out of the store and passing by Lopez before the shooting. For several minutes, his bike partly blocked access to the down escalator, and he circled around idly, holding the bike lock, looking agitated and irritated.

At least twice while standing at the top of the escalator, he picked up the bike and raised it to head level as if he was considering tossing it over the railing. On the video, we see people entering the store below. Some of them look up and do double takes at the sight of this guy holding up a bike, looking as though he might be preparing to toss it down.

Most of the people who enter the store continue on to the first floor, focused on their shopping intentions. But there’s one woman — one woman in particular — who reacts differently. Immediately upon entering, she espies Lopez on the second floor, holding up the bike. She stops and gazes. She goes on. She stops and assesses again and goes a few more steps. Then, as she passes the foot of the escalator, having gone about 50 feet, she turns around and looks one more time.

She’s had enough. Instinct tells her something very weird, something potentially dangerous, is afoot. She heads back to the door, looks up one more time, pauses and melts away.

…I’ve got my 2022 resolution. I’m going to try to be as alert and on guard as that woman was in the Burlington store two days before Christmas.

**

Now here’s the 35-minute, LAPD video that includes 911 calls, police radio audio, body-cam footage from responding officers and in-store video.

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Well, we lost another “devout Catholic” the other day. And this one happened to be one I knew from my long stand at The Star.

Baseball writer Sid Bordman died Monday at age 98. The Star gave him a good send-off, talking about his 35 years with The Star and an additional 18 as sports information director at Rockhurst University.

The line in the story that really got my attention, though was this: “Bordman was a convert to Catholicism and was baptized at St. Vincent’s in 1950. He was a devout Catholic who never missed Mass, even when he was on the road covering baseball.”

Now, for the benefit of non-Catholics, the chief criterion for qualifying as a “devout Catholic” is attending Sunday Mass regularly. If you only go to Mass when it’s convenient, you can’t wear the mantle, and you can’t claim it in your obit.

At one time, I probably qualified as a devout Catholic because I attended Mass regularly and volunteered for committees and various tasks at the churches I belonged to. But I jumped ship and joined the alienated ranks mainly because of the priest sex-abuse scandal. The clincher was when former Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn was convicted of covering up the deeds of a parish priest who was taking “upskirt” photos of girls at the parish school.

(You will find it interesting that before he became police chief, Rick Smith, then a colonel and a member of the diocesan review board, was asked, unofficially, by a diocesan official if the photos constituted child pornography. Smith’s answer: Maybe but probably not. Based on that, the diocesan official did not take the matter to the police department.)

Well before Finn’s conviction I had become disillusioned with the all-male hierarchy and with the priest being “king of the flock,” with little room for dissent among members of any particular congregation.

For the last 15 years or so I’ve been a Protestant, and I’m now a member of Country Club Christian Church (call for tee times) on Ward Parkway.

But I’m still kind of obsessed with this idea of an exclusive club of “devout Catholics.”

What is the deal with them? What’s the long-term play?

After thinking about it, I reasoned that if one’s lifetime goal is to acquire the title of devout Catholic, his or her longer-term goal must be to go straight to heaven and be assured of ready access to God and super humans like Joseph and Mary, Mother Teresa and Abe Lincoln.

Then I started wondering if there’s any here-on-earth corollary to heaven and hell. And while taking a walk today it occurred to me that Arrowhead Stadium, with all its bowls and bowels, is probably the best parallel.

Going back to those devout Catholics, where would they found in the afterlife, with Arrowhead as our model?

Why, the Club Level, of course!

For the privilege of paying $300 to $500 a ticket, those folks can quickly move to warmer areas on cold days, they don’t have to stand and crane their necks to see the playing field, and they can catch occasional glimpses of Kansas City celebrities. Plus, they never get rained on…Yes, I do believe, “devout Catholics” must have their own Club Level in heaven.

Next we move to Arrowhead’s lower level — the second best place to watch a Chiefs’ game. I think its heavenly equivalent would be the area where non-devout Catholics end up, as well as Protestants and other people who lived pretty good lives, by which I mean they didn’t lie a lot and treated their fellow man (and woman) with kindness and compassion. In heaven’s lower bowl, life is good…just not as good as on the gold level.

That brings us to purgatory, where the majority of us, according to Catholic teaching, will have to do some time before gaining access to heaven. The Arrowhead equivalent of purgatory is those wide sidewalks that corkscrew up to the stadium’s various levels. Doing time in purgatory, I suspect, is like being assigned to plod up and down, for who knows how long, those circular paths and not being allowed to go to your seats until finally being summoned.

…Well, I hate to bring it up, but we’ve now covered all the levels but one.

Arrowhead’s got that unspeakable place, too.

It’s the main concourse at the top of the lower bowl. It wasn’t always akin to damnation, because it used to be big and wide and friendly to navigate. But then came the $375 million renovation about a dozen years ago, and the concourse was significantly reduced to make way for expanded concession and seating areas. Now, the main concourse is a hell hole, a place where you’re embedded in a stinking, teeming flow of humanity, where beer is being sloshed on you and you’re stuck in a veritable bumper car arcade.

Imagine Game Day going on forever and being consigned to the concourse, without recourse. Never to get to your seat, never to see the field…Verily, I tell thee, you have found your way to the devil’s door.

**

Just one more thing before we leave the heights and depths of Arrowhead and visions of eternity:

I’m looking for two seats on the Club Level for Sunday’s game with the Steelers.

Heaven, the real one, can wait.

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The family of Kansas City lawyer Thomas Pickert, who was shot and killed in his front yard on Oct. 25, 2017, got some very bad news today: The first-degree murder trial of defendant David Jungerman has been continued until Sept. 12, 2022.

Jackson County Circuit Court Judge John Torrence made that ruling this morning after a 45-minute, in-chambers hearing at which Jungerman was not present.

…This is lousy, deflating news for almost everyone. After four years of motions and delays, partly due to Covid-19, the case was supposed to go to trial this week. Now, Pickert’s family, the KC Police Department, the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office and area residents who were outraged by the slaying will have to wait at least another nine months for resolution.

Thomas Pickert

I don’t know all the reasons behind the long delay, but I believe there are two main factors:

First, the court system is very backed up after it was shut down for many months due to Covid-19. Even though this is a high-profile case, it may have had to go to “the back of the line,” behind other cases that have been scheduled. A related problem is that, because of the pandemic, trials are now being scheduled for just three courtrooms at the downtown courthouse.

Second, Torrence this week sustained a defense motion demanding that the police department produce emails, some of which pertain to preparation of a slide show of a 1997, white Chevy van that police and prosecutors believe Jungerman drove from Raytown to Brookside the day Pickert was killed in his front yard. Two police civilian employees have testified in depositions that efforts to retrieve emails the defense has demanded have been unsuccessful.

Lead defense attorney Daniel Ross has filed a blizzard of motions asserting police and prosecutorial misconduct. The motion regarding the emails stuck.

As recently as last Tuesday, Torrence rejected a defense motion for a continuance. The next day, however, he granted the request.

In that Wednesday, Dec. 8, order he said he was “regrettably” acquiescing to a delay “after discussion of new issues related to discovery that just emerged this morning.” (“Discovery” pertains to evidence the prosecution is required to turn over to the defense before trial.)

The order did not say what the “new issues” were, and it is entirely possible that the missing emails are not the only matters causing the delay.

Jungerman, in July 2019

After leaving Torrence’s fifth-floor courtroom this morning, I went down to the Circuit Clerk’s office on the third floor and reviewed numerous filings in the case. One in particular caught my attention.

At some point, the prosecution apparently informed the defense that the lead detective on the case, Bonita Cannon, and two other front-line detectives, Richard Sharp and Heather Leslie, will not be called to testify at trial.

The defense has alleged misconduct by Cannon in other cases, but it appears from the case file that Judge Torrence dismissed those concerns. He said in one filing that he reviewed the personnel files of Cannon and several other detectives and concluded that “there is absolutely nothing contained in these records that should be disclosed to the defendant for any reason or purpose whatsoever.”

Nevertheless, it is extremely unusual for the lead detectives not to take the stand in big murder trials. I would think it would be difficult to make a strong case without them. The defense, seemingly, could point out to a jury that the lead investigators are “nowhere to be found.”

On that point, though, as on others, time will tell.

**

While this delay is frustrating and confounding, it is now more likely than ever that Jungerman, who would turn 84 in March, will die while in confinement.

He has been held in the Jackson County jail since 2018, and, as you would suspect, life behind bars is not agreeing with this one-time multi-millionaire. (He might still be a multi-millionaire, but he now claims to be homeless…other than his jail cell, of course.)

In one filing with the court, he said he suffers from prostate cancer and skin cancer, has a pacemaker and endured a serious case of Covid, apparently either late last year or early this year.

“Defendant,” he wrote, “…suffered 14 days in the hospital with 104 degree tempetatures (sic), double pneumonia and being close to death while shackled to the bed.”

In a July motion to dismiss the case against him, Jungerman said the prosecutor’s office had denied him his Constitutional rights “in hopes this case will just disappear through my death creating a win, win situation for everyone but me.”

…David Jungerman is probably on to something there. His attorney, Ross, is happy to continue submitting invoices while his client is drawing air and pumping blood, and his prosecutors, while they probably don’t like the new continuance, are undoubtedly content to see him continue deteriorating behind bars.

Like almost everyone else in town, I want to see this old man dragged into court, convicted and committed to Missouri DOC (Department of Corrections).

But if he dies first — and as long as he’s miserable in jail — it’s okay.

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I’m sure many of you know by now that sports columnist Sam Mellinger will be leaving The Star within a few days and taking over as vice president of communications for the Kansas City Royals.

It was interesting to me how The Star handled the Mellinger story. This morning, it was one of about 10 featured stories on The Star’s homepage. The story quoted Star president, editor and hand-sanitzer procurer Mike Fannin as saying, “It’s been an honor — and an adventure — working with Sam on his journey to becoming such an accomplished journalist.”

By this evening, however, most of the love the paper slathered on Mellinger in the a.m. was gone. The story was nowhere to be found on the homepage, having been relegated to the sports page, which you have to specifically click on to find the Mellinger story.

Mellinger

I’ve got to think Fannin is a little miffed about this, even though he recognizes it’s a great move for the 43-year-old Mellinger and his family. The pay will be significantly better; the work will be fascinating and challenging; and he and his family get to stay in the KC area. (He’s a native of Lawrence.)

Fannin is notoriously thin skinned. He once broke off a collaborative journalistic relationship with KCUR after KCUR ran a news story about the paper that Fannin didn’t like. It was a legitimate story, not a hit job.

Mellinger was one of Fannin’s first hires after he was named sports editor in 1999, and he later gave him one of The Star’s precious sports columnist jobs. The other columnist, of course, is Vahe Gregorian, who came to KC from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2013.

The question now is what will — or can — Fannin do to replace Mellinger. As many of you know, the hedge fund Chatham Asset Management, out of New Jersey, bought the McClatchy chain out of bankruptcy in September 2020. I’m sure most Star employees were fearing the worst under hedge-fund ownership, like jobs being cut and salaries of remaining employees being frozen or cut. In recent months, however, The Star has expanded its Wednesday and Sunday editions and announced the hiring of 11 new journalists.

Chatham never shows its hand, so it’s difficult to know what to make of the expansion, but it will be interesting to see if Fannin gets the latitude to hire an experienced columnist from outside the paper or if he has to promote from within. (If he has to stay inside the paper, a qualified successor would be Blair Kerkhoff, who’s been the national collegiate sports reporter, and periodic columnist, for many years. Kerkhoff is in his 60s, however, and might be eyeing retirement.)

Mellinger’s departure will also put more pressure on Gregorian, who’s about 60, to take over the pole position on the sports page. As No. 2 to Mellinger, he’s had a relatively free hand in deciding what he wants to write about. Now, for at least the time being, he’ll be the go-to guy for analysis and commentary on everything from the Chiefs to his beloved MU Tigers.

A lot of readers, as well as current and former Star employees, will be watching closely to see what happens in regard to this key position. We once had the great team of Jason Whitlock (no longer great) and Joe Posnanski (still great), and Mellinger and Gregorian have filled their shoes pretty well.

The Star sells a lot of subscriptions because of its sports coverage, and I know Fannin will be pushing to make an impressive hire. Will the hedge-fund management give him that leeway, or will it tell him to figure it out with current resources?

TBD.

**

Another interesting thing about The Star is that it is essentially “homeless.” By that I mean all employees have left the big, green, former printing plant at 1601 McGee and are now working from home…with their own cellphones and self-procured Reporters Notebooks.

I attended a lunch today consisting of about 10 former employees, and we were having trouble grasping how that could be. Our working lives revolved around the three-story, brick building at 1729 Grand. It was our fortress and our journalistic raison d’etre.

The headquarters building, along with the printing plant, was sold several years ago and supposedly is being redeveloped, although I don’t see much serious work taking place at 1729 Grand.

The former Star building on Grand

Since last year the paper has been printed at the Des Moines Register, which is at least three hours away. The Star has continued to lease space for the editorial employees in the former printing plant, but that lease expires Dec. 31, and, like I say, the employees are already out.

Word has it The Star will be leasing space in the Crown Center area, but, to the best of my knowledge, the employees have not been told exactly where that will be or when they might be moving in.

So, there’s almost no tangible KC Star any more. It doesn’t have a physical home, and its journalistic presence is primarily online. There are no lights to turn out, except those in the employees’ houses.

Very weird.

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Today I read two stories about the same subject — an insurance company’s proposal to build a new office building near Crown Center — but they were so different it was almost like they were about different projects.

One story was by KC Star development reporter Kevin Hardy; the other was by CityScene KC website proprietor Kevin Collison, who was The Star’s development reporter years ago.

Now, up front, I’ve got to say that Collison is a friend and a former colleague. I don’t know Hardy and have never met him.

That said, Collison’s story from Dec. 2 about Fidelity Security Life’s proposed $84 million building at 27th and Grand was far and away more objective and factual than today’s story by Hardy, in which he reported that the City Council had approved the plan on an 11-1 vote. (Collison usually publishes weekly, so he didn’t have a story on today’s development.)

About the only similarity in the two stories was the gist of it: The building would house 300 employees of Fidelity Life, which currently is headquartered at 3130 Broadway, and Fidelity Life would get more than $7.5 million in tax breaks, including a 15-year-property tax reduction (10 years at 70 percent off, five years at 30 percent off) and a sales tax exemption on construction materials.

From there, the stories were entirely different. Hardy’s story was a screed against tax-incentive projects, aimed at agitating reader sentiments against any and all such projects. Collison’s story, on the other hand, did what a news story should do — lay out all the facts, quote people on both sides of the issue and let the readers come to their own conclusions.

Rendering of the proposed Fidelity Security Life building at 27th and Grand

Now, the fact that the vote was 11-1 (Ryana Parks-Shaw voted “no” and Brandon Ellington was absent) should indicate one of two things: Eleven City Council members are on the take, or the project has significant merit…There is no hint of the former, and Collison’s story cites plenty of the latter.

Despite the overwhelming council vote, Hardy, who has been at The Star the last two and a half years and was at The Des Moines Register before that, did not have one person speaking favorably about the project. He did quote one council member who voted “yes,” Eric Bunch, but it was regarding Bunch’s concerns about the way the council handles tax-incentive projects.

In all, Hardy quoted four opponents of the project. One was Parks-Shaw. One was from the Kansas City Public Library. One was from Kansas City Public Schools. The fourth was a professor of government at the University of Texas-Austin who researches government incentives and has studied the tax-incentive border war between Kansas and Missouri.

Now, here are some of the facts that Collison reported and Hardy didn’t bother with:

  • The developers estimate the project will generate $9.2 million for the city and the other taxing districts, including the library and the school district, over the 15-year life of the incentive package. Without the project, the vacant lot would generate $946,000 over the first 15 years.
  • The building would have 11 stories, five six levels of offices above a five-level parking garage.
  • Crown Center owns the site and is selling it for $6.9 million
  • The developer is Van Trust Real Estate, which has completed many significant projects in Kansas City, including the Polsinelli building on the western edge of the Plaza.
  • The financing package consists of $20.8 million in owner equity and $62.5 million in loans.
  • The architect for the curving building will be Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, which Collison described as “a renowned national firm.” (One of the firm’s founders designed the 2600 Grand building and the Federal Reserve Bank building.) Local design firms BNIM and HOK would also be involved.
  • Construction is expected to start in the fall of 2022 and be completed in about two years.

**

Is this a good project? Is it too much of a giveaway? I don’t know. What I do know is that Kevin Collison, representing the “old guard” of development reporting in KC, gave his readers a lot of reasons to consider it favorably. Kevin Hardy, on the other hand, just slashed away in what was supposed to be a “straight” report.

**

If you have a subscription to CityScene you can read Collison’s story here. If you have a subscription to The Star, you can read Hardy’s story here.

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It was great to see Chiefs’ defensive safety Daniel Sorensen make the game-securing pick-six last night against the Broncos. Daniel has had a tough year, coming under a lot of criticism, most of it justified because, at 31, he seems to have lost a couple of steps and hasn’t covered opposing teams’ receivers as well as he did in previous years.

It was thrilling to see him celebrate that pick-six in the fourth quarter. Once he got past two potential tacklers, including Broncos’ quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who knocked him off balance but didn’t bring him down, he raised the ball above his head and waved it back and forth like a trophy as he headed toward the end zone. At the same time, he performed an eye-catching ballet routine, alternately dragging one toe into the turf, then the other, kicking up small clouds of dust. It was quite an athletic performance. I don’t know how he did it. I would fall flat on my face if I tried to drag a toe while running. (Of course, it’s moot because, with two replaced knees, my running days are behind me.)

Daniel Sorensen’s dirt-kicking romp to the goal line.

**

Next week, Kansas City Public Enemy No. 1, David Jungerman, is scheduled to go on trial for the 2017 murder of Thomas Pickert, the lawyer who had kicked Jungerman’s ass in a civil lawsuit. In that case, a jury returned a $5.75 million civil judgment against Jungerman for shooting a trespasser on the northeast Kansas City property where Jungerman operated a baby-high-chair business.

As some of you may recall, soon after he was charged, Jungerman was pushing for a speedy trial. Well, all that changed, and the case has dragged along interminably the last three years, including the year or more when most criminal cases came to a screeching halt because of Covid-19.

Jungerman’s main defense attorney, Dan Ross, has been raking in tens- or hundreds of thousands of dollars, filing a mountain of motions designed to slow down the proceedings. Just last week he filed a motion for a continuance, which I expect Judge John Torrence to overrule. Of course, once the case actually goes to trial, the legal bills from Ross and other defense attorneys will slow to a trickle, so they’ve got a strong incentive to try delay the trial as long as possible.

So Jungerman’s day of reckoning is now around the corner — and just in time for his 84th birthday, which would be March 3.

As I’ve said, the KC Police Department, especially the homicide division, has deteriorated the last 10 years or so, but they went all out of this case, and I fully expect a guilty verdict. I think some of the most interesting evidence will be video, captured from buses and buildings, showing Jungerman’s distinctive white van moving between his home in Raytown and Brookside, where Pickert lived. Jungerman told police neither he nor the van left his Raytown home the morning of Oct. 25, 2017. I expect the video to blow that lie wide open.

**

Our laughable governor, Mike Parson, has demonstrated once again how disinterested he is in the welfare of Missouri residents at the expense of pleasing his Trump-trusting political base.

The Missouri Independent, which does a hell of a job of covering Jefferson City and state government, reported last week that the state Department of Health and Senior Services conducted an analysis showing definitively that masks help prevent Covid-19 infections.

The first important thing to know is that Parson’s office requested the analysis in November. I feel sure Parson, anti-science politician he is, expected the analysis to show that wearing masks would not make a significant difference in infection rates.

The study compared infection and death rates in St. Louis, St. Louis County, Kansas City and Jackson County with the rest of the state from the end of April to the end of October. What the health department came back with was that jurisdictions with mask mandates experienced an average of 15.8 cases per day for every 100,000 residents compared to 21.7 cases per day for every 100,000 residents in unmasked communities.

Smilin’ Mikee

Here’s the kicker…Analysis in hand, Parson decided not to release it. He sat on the information. Of course he did! Why would he want Missouri residents to see proof that masks work when he and Attorney General Eric Schmitt are determined to thwart mask mandates to satisfy their heads-in-the-sand constituents?

The results of the analysis probably would not have come out if The Indepenent hadn’t gotten a tip and submitted a Sunshine Law request.

Thanks to the publication’s resourcefulness, you can read all about it.

**

Finally, it was fantastic to see Kansas City’s own Buck O’Neil elected to Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Patty and I went down to the Negro Leagues Museum yesterday afternoon for the festivities. A boisterous crowd of about 200 people was on hand, and we let out a mighty roar when the announcement was made on the MLB network. I saw several people wiping tears from their eyes. My eyes welled up, too. A memorable day, for sure!

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You might be wondering why KC Police Chief Rick Smith is hanging on to his job — insisting that he leave on his own terms and his own timetable, sort of — when his support among police board members has ebbed and the news about him gets worse all the time.

The latest news, in case you haven’t heard, is that shortly after Det. Eric DeValkenaere shot and killed Cameron Lamb in Lamb’s garage, Smith, who had responded to the scene, got on his police radio and said: “Everyone is good, house is clear. Bad guy’s dead.”

That choice of words plays right into criticism from civil rights groups and The Kansas City Star’s editorial board. The paper and civil rights leaders have insisted for the last year or so that Smith has never seen a police shooting of an unarmed Black man he didn’t think was justified. It’s like a knee jerk reaction: The cop was right, the “bad guy” had to be shot.

Within the criminal justice system, though, that attitude is being upended. Recently, of course, a Jackson County Circuit Court judge found DeValkenaere guilty of involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action in the 2019 killing of Lamb after DeValkenaere and another detective barged onto Lamb’s property on suspicion of possible wrongdoing and DeValkenaere shot the 26-year-old Black man, who was probably unarmed.

That conviction cost Smith the support of Police Board President Rev. Mark Tolbert and apparently dented the support of at least one other police board member. That was enough for Tolbert and Mayor Quinton Lucas, a police board member, to meet with Smith last week and demand that he step down.

Smith

That’s when Smith started dancing on the polished, wood floor. He said he’d leave sometime next year just like he planned to do all along. (Yeah, sure.) If it was up to Lucas, Smith would have been gone within a week. But he’s only one of five police board members. The others are much more forbearing with Smith and allowed him to set his own timetable. As a result, we have to put up with this guy until mid-April.

It’s galling, but at least he’s on the way out, and he’s in for a lot of bad press and public flogging until he goes. Which is why I raised the question in the first paragraph: Why does he choose to stay on.

Ego is part of it, but not the biggest part. The main reason is financial. The longer he stays, the bigger his pension checks will be. He’s already earning close to $200,000 a year, and he’ll probably be getting more than $100,000 – possibly way more — after he retires.

I tell you, it’s been the same old story with virtually every chief we’ve had during the past 50 years. One insider succeeds another, time after time, and in almost every case their main goal is not to improve the department or make necessary changes but to serve a few or several years, long enough to enjoy substantial pay raises and boost their pensions. Most of these chiefs serve about five years and then leave smiling after a pizza and sheet cake party.

Unlike most of the desk-warming chiefs we’ve had, though, Smith ran into a buzz saw, and yet he’s decided he’s going to let the bleeding continue another few months so he can say he left on his own terms and also run up his pension.

The truly unfortunate part of this for Kansas City is that this once-proud and outstanding department has diminished considerably under a long string of chiefs whose main aim is to keep their powder dry. This includes the only Black chief KC has ever had, Darryl Forte, who snuck out the back door after a massive scandal surfaced in the children’s division.

On Forte’s watch, several officers in the children’s division decided they’d really rather not work. Instead they stuffed evidence in their desks and sat on cases, ignoring them for months, while children who had been the victims of crime, and their parents, were left hanging.

Eventually, seven officers in the children’s unit lost their jobs. Several others were transferred, some were busted and put back on patrol duty.

Now, Forte is Jackson County sheriff, drawing a big salary there, while also drawing his fat KCPD pension.

I cite Forte’s case only because it’s the most obvious one I know of where a chief stood by while a division disintegrated.

**

There are still a lot of great officers on the force — tons of them, some of whom I know and some whom I’ve had interactions with — but the department hasn’t had bold leadership in 50 years.

With any luck, things may be about to change. Even with this boot-licking police board — two or three of them being boot lickers, anyway — it’s almost certain that the next chief will be a Black person from outside the department. It has to be. We need someone in that office who can break out of the go-along-get-along rut, make significant policy changes, start to change departmental culture and begin to win back the confidence of non-Northland residents, particularly minority residents.

I would prefer that the next chief be a Black woman. Why? Because there’s a better chance a woman will not be looking at the job as a way to boost salary and pension but to do what has to be done to start righting the listing ship. For the most part, in my experience, women administrators are superior to men. They tend to take their jobs more seriously, perhaps because they feel they have more to prove, and many tend to listen better and make less impetuous decisions, with less ego involved.

That’s just my opinion. Do I think a Black woman will be hired as chief? Unlikely. A board majority is probably capable of doing one revolution off the high board but not two.

This much is clear, though: if the board hires a Black man from outside the department, it can start to build a better relationship with Kansas Citians living south of the river. But if the board is insensitive enough and stupid enough to hire another white man — whether from inside or outside the department — the police department’s relationship with the minority community will remain where it is with a majority of KC residents, rock bottom.

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