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After plunging into a months-long period of uncertainty, the Kylr Yust case is lurching its way back onto track.

At a 30-minute hearing in Cass County Circuit Court this morning, Judge William Collins told the prosecution and defense attorneys to keep their schedules open for a trial to be held in March or April or straddling those two months.

He said he would be scheduling case reviews weekly, if necessary, “so we can get this thing resolved.”

“We’re not going to get blindsided with new things like we have here the last year,” he added.

Yust has been in the Cass County Jail since October 2017, when he was charged with murdering Kara Kopetsky in 2007 and Jessica Runions in 2016. The women’s remains were found in a wooded area south of Belton in April 2017.

Late last year, the case seemingly was headed for trial in July, when two things happened: First, Covid-19 hit, and then Yust’s defense attorneys exposed a problem that could have jeopardized Yust’s right to a fair trial. The attorneys discovered that the Cass County Sheriff’s Office and a subcontractor that handles its phone system improperly recorded numerous client-attorney calls. In addition, it turned out, a number of client-attorney emails were unencrypted and all text communication was not secure.

The “communication” was accessible to all members of the Cass County Sheriff’s office, and two deputies accessed and listened to all or part of the phone calls between Yust and his attorneys.

A big question at the time was how deeply, if at all, the Cass County Prosecuting Attorney’s office was involved in the improper recordings and other communication snafus.

In light of the flaws, the defense moved to dismiss the case or at least remove the Cass County prosecutor’s office from the case.

Judge Collins appointed a “special master,” retired Judge James Bickel, to sort through the mess and determine if Yust’s rights had been fatally compromised. Two weeks ago, Judge Bickel ruled that the prosecutor’s office “was never provided the content of the above communications” and that neither of the sheriff’s deputies who recorded the calls would testify at trial, assuring that the verboten conversations would not be used against Yust.

Judge Bickel concluded that while Yust’s right to confidential communications had been violated, “the violations do not rise to the level of prejudice that will violate his right to a fair trial.” (Although the case will go forward, the defense would still be able to appeal Bickel’s ruling if Yust is subsequently tried and convicted.)

The privileged communication problem could, in the end, be eclipsed by the biggest issue of all: How strong a case does the prosecutor’s office have against Yust?

Here are some of the shortcomings…

— The Kopetsky case is now 13 years old, and the ticking clock and calendar almost always work in favor of the defense.

— If there is any physical evidence in either case, I believe it is scant. There’s been no indication of DNA evidence and no eyewitnesses that we know of.

— Yust has consistently denied to authorities that he killed either woman. He apparently told some people he killed one or both, but, as assistant prosecuting attorney Julie Tolle told Judge Collins today, all confessions are second, third or fourth hand.

— Sitting in the courtroom, Yust does not look the least bit menacing. He is slight and impassive. His hair is cut short, and while he has a lot of tattoos on his body, none are visible with his arms covered and his T-shirt covering most of his neck.

Besides those alleged confessions, here are some of the strengths…

— Yust dated both women, and he was reputed to be hot tempered. Runions was last seen in September 2016 leaving a gathering with Yust. Witnesses at the gathering said Yust was drinking heavily and “acting very possessive towards (Runions) and aggressive towards others at the party.”

— If the state can establish that Yust was the last person to see Runions alive and that he was acting possessive of her and aggressive toward others, it would be highly incriminating.

— The biggest thing the state has going for it is that there are no other suspects. I don’t think the defense will be able to show, credibly, that anyone else had a serious beef with either woman. In other words, who besides Yust would have had a motive?

— Judge Collins is going to keep the case moving forward.

**

Before testimony begins, Judge Collins and the attorneys will travel to St. Charles County, west of St. Louis, to select a jury. (The judge ruled earlier it would be too impossible to impanel an impartial jury in Cass County.)

After a jury has been selected, the jurors will come over to Cass County, where the case will be tried.

It’s going to get interesting. I guarantee it.

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I know some of you are probably wanting to share your thoughts on the booing that took place during the “Moment of Unity” at the Chiefs-Texans game last night, and I invite you to fire away in the comments section.

…I didn’t see it live, but I watched the first half of the game and later saw replays of the “Moment of Unity,” when members of the Chiefs and Texans locked arms and bowed their heads.

Chiefs management permitted about 17,000 people to attend the game, and it’s hard to say what percentage of people was booing. I’ve heard estimates of no more than a hundred or so, but it sounded like a lot more to me. Could it have been 40 percent? Which is about the percentage of Americans who support President Donald Trump. Could have been.

I have seen suggestions that the booing was not directed at the “Moment of Unity” but at the Texans, who had just taken the field. “Unfortunate timing,” one person said on Twitter.

I’m not buying that. I think many people were booing the “Moment of Unity.” And KC Star sports columnist Vahe Gregorian got it exactly right when he said in his column today that the booing “spoke volumes, betraying the city and team” and “broke faith with the players they (the booing fans) apparently support only as gladiators.”

The game was on national TV, of course, and the booing stirred a lot of reaction. Before you weigh in, here’s a sampling of what a few notable people had to say…

Terez Paylor, former KC Star sports reporter who is now with Yahoo! Sports:

Terez Paylor

So that booing during the “show of unity” is a real good example of why players feel so strongly about these causes in the first place.

Matt Maiocco of NBC sports:

I have a feeling that stadiums in areas that allow fans will be stadiums filled with people most apt to boo “a moment of unity.”

Texans defensive tackle J.J. Watt:

The booing was unfortunate…I don’t fully understand that. There was no flag involved, there was nothing involved with that besides two teams coming together to show unity.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas:

We’re a good city of good people. I heard boos, too. But we also have hundreds of thousands more around here who respect the message the players are sharing; who respect the rights of our players and people to voice a strong message and who are working to make us better each day.

Kansas City Councilman Eric Bunch:

Some NFL fans booing the players for standing and locking arms in a moment of silent unity proves that for them “standing for the flag” was always about perpetuating white supremacy.

**

That’s a strong statement by Bunch, and I’m glad he said what he did. Fortunately for him politically, he represents the city’s 4th Council district, which is populated largely by liberals. If he ever runs for mayor, that statement could be used against him in the Northland and the non-urban parts of the city.

Lucas, on the other hand, played it safe, landing in the middle, which he has clearly demonstrated is where he likes to be. He didn’t quite say there were “very fine people on both sides,” but the “good people” reference was too close for comfort to that seminal Trump statement, when he spoke of the white supremacists who wreaked havoc in Charlottesville.

And with that, readers, the ball is in your Red Zone…

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Watching the continuing decline of The Kansas City Star is both depressing and frustrating.

As most of you know, I canceled my subscription to the print edition last month, and I have no regrets. Even in the last month, the paper has slipped noticeably. For one thing there seems to be less urgency to get breaking news in the paper — either the print or online edition. (Online subscribers can still see what print subscribers are getting by going to the “eEdition” online.)

The online “home page” — what you see when you go to http://www.kansascity.com — changed within the last few months to where the lead stories often revolve around sports and features instead of news.

Early today, for example, the lead story on the website was, “How Clark Hunt and the Champion Chiefs went from mess to model.” One day within the last week or so, the lead story was about the Chiefs’ Super Bowl rings.

As you might expect, as the website has gone softer, the overall emphasis on news stories both local and national has dropped off. Sometimes, it seems, there is little or no effort to keep up with the news.

Let me give you some examples…

  • On Aug. 25, the Black ministers of Kansas City unveiled a proposal that would resolve, after two or three years of uncertainty and confusion, how to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The proposal, voiced at a park board meeting, was for Volker Boulevard, Swope Parkway and Blue Parkway — which run east and west — to be consolidated into Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. This was a major development after the proposed-passed-and-finally-defeated effort to rename The Paseo after Dr. King…I reported the story the day it broke (please hold applause), but The Star, which had been covering this twisting, turning story all along, suddenly wasn’t interested. To this day, a news story has not appeared regarding the proposal. On Sept. 3, nine days after the story broke, The Star ran an editorial under the headline, “Could a new plan to rename KC street for Martin Luther King Jr. finally end this debate?” 

 

 

  • On Aug. 31, The Star had a story about an appellate court ruling on the ballot language of Amendment 3, which is on the Nov. 3 ballot and would overturn the Clean Missouri amendment, approved by voters in 2018. Among other things, the story said the Missouri Attorney General’s Office “will likely move to have the case transferred to the state Supreme Court.” That did not happen, however, and the Springfield News-Leader reported Sunday (Sept. 6) that Missouri lawmakers had decided not to appeal…The Star has failed to report that the language the appellate court came up with is what voters will see on Election Day.

**

Jason Hancock

The main reason for the spotty coverage of Amendment 3 developments is that the paper recently lost one of its best reporters — Jason Hancock. Hancock had anchored the paper’s coverage of state government since 2012 and was as reliable as an atomic clock. He announced on Twitter on Aug. 21 that he was leaving to be editor of “an as-of-yet unnamed nonprofit news site focused on Missouri politics and government.”

The Star has not indicated if Hancock will be replaced. It would seem imperative, but with McClatchy’s recent change of ownership, going from publicly traded to controlled by a New Jersey hedge fund, who can say what is going to happen?

What is clear is that the exodus of veteran reporters is going to continue. Some of the veterans who survived the years between McClatchy’s purchase of Knight Ridder in 2006 and now are nearing retirement, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see several more veterans depart in the coming months.

It’s rough — rough on the employees and particularly rough on the readers, who, it seems, will be getting a diet of more pablum and less meat as time goes by.

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Today, in these maddening political and social times, I’d like to bring you some “droopy drawers” songs.

I’m not aiming to make you sad with this post, just reflective. The great, sad songs of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s don’t make you break down and cry so much as they calm you, slow you down and soothe the rough edges of the soul.

One reason I’ve always loved the droopy drawers songs is I was always a lousy fast dancer. The Twist was the only popular dance I could do even adequately. Forget the Mashed Potato, the Watusi and the Loco-Motion. But, hell, everybody could slow dance. I particularly remember one steamy summer night dancing with a good-looking redhead at a teen “mixer,” and when I got home I discovered the blue Madras shirt I’d been wearing had bled all over my chest and back.

But enough about my youthful excitability…Bring on the songs!

“Happy, Happy Birthday Baby” — The Time Weavers, 1957

One of the best songs of the Doo-Wop era, it was written by Margo Sylvia and Gilbert Lopez, members of the group that recorded it. It went to No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. The lead vocals were by Margo Sylvia, who is backed up by her husband John Sylvia, her brother Gilbert Lopez and her cousin Charlotte Davis.

 

“Blue Velvet” — Bobby Vinton, 1963

Songwriter Bernie Wayne was inspired to begin writing “Blue Velvet” on a 1951 visit to Richmond, VA. At a party at the Jefferson Hotel, where he was staying, a female guest dressed in blue velvet caught and held his eye. He went on to have a fling with her. The song was originally recorded in 1951 by Tony Bennett, but it was Vinton’s version that went to No. 1 on the charts.

Wikipedia says a music publisher who was a friend of Vinton’s spontaneously suggested the song be included in Vinton’s “Blue on Blue” album. The friend sent his secretary to a store to purchase the sheet music, and an hour later Vinton had recorded “Blue Velvet” in two takes.

 

“Will You Love Me Tomorrow” — Carole King, 1971

The great songwriting/husband-wife team of King and Gerry Goffin wrote this song for The Shirelles, who took it to No. 1 in 1960.

King had a slower, more evocative version of it on her landmark “Tapestry” album in 1971. (Who over 65 doesn’t have a “Tapestry” album somewhere in the house?)

Great story behind the song. This (with edits) from the Financial Times in 2016…

It was released in the same year (1960) as the first oral contraceptive pill, and few songs have captured the bittersweetness of a cultural revolution more perfectly than “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.”

King and Goffin had hastily married in 1958 after King became pregnant aged 17, and Goffin was still working at a chemical company when the Brill Building’s Don Kirshner commissioned the ambitious duo to write something for the up-and-coming New Jersey doo-whoppers. One of the few girl groups to compose their own material, The Shirelles needed a follow-up to their minor 1960 hit “Tonight’s the Night.”

King bashed out the melody in an afternoon (with their infant daughter in a playpen beside the piano), then dashed out…leaving a note for her husband near the tape recorder reading: “Please write.”

“I listened to it a few times,” Goffin told King’s biographer, Sheila Weller, “then I put myself in the place of a woman — yes, it was sort of autobiographical. I thought: what would a girl sing to a guy if they made love that night?” In just a few simple lines, Goffin nailed the insecurities of a new generation of sexually liberated women. He wrote for a voice that was confident and vulnerable in equal measure: “So tell me now and I won’t ask again/ Will you still love me tomorrow?”

Here’s King’s version, followed by — if you can spare another five minutes — a second stripped-bare version by Norah Jones.

 

“Tracks of My Tears” — Linda Ronstadt, 1975

This song was written by Smokey Robinson and two of his “Miracles,” Pete Moore and Marvin Tarplin. Robinson’s group recorded it in 1965, and it became a Top 10 hit.

I lean toward the Ronstadt version for a couple of reasons. First, I saw her perform live at Memorial Hall in Kansas City, KS, twice in the 1970s and was completely blown away. (My buddy and I were high on marijuana the second time I saw her. We arrived after she had started singing and ended up sitting in the back row because we couldn’t get to our assigned seats…Still kicking myself about that.)

Second, this is the best recording-session video I’ve ever seen. It’s captivating from the lead-in, where three smiling, long-haired engineers are sitting at a sound board not knowing what they’re about to experience…to the end, when the incomparable Ronstadt gives a slight shrug of her shoulders, as if to say, “OK, I guess.”

The three-plus minutes of music between the lead-in and the shrug are unadulterated uplift, even thought the drawers are drooping wa-a-a-y down.

 

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If you didn’t know better, you’d think Missouri Republicans had experienced an overnight conversion and were attempting to mop up the mess they’ve made of Missouri government.

But that’s not what Missouri Republicans are known for, is it?

No, what they’re known for is subverting good government, hatching trick plays and, specifically, having honed gerrymandering to a fine art that has enabled them to maintain overwhelming majorities in the state House and Senate for a decade or more.

So it’s not surprising that Constitutional Amendment 3, which will be on the Nov. 3 ballot, appears to be something good, when it is decidedly bad.

Voters will have to be on top of their game in November and not rush through the ballot because Amendment 3 would overturn the Clean Missouri amendment, which voters approved by a 62 percent to 38 percent in 2018 after a successful statewide initiative petition.

It took an initiative petition because, God knows, the Republican-dominated General Assembly would never have attempted to make redistricting fair or to severely reduce lobbyists’ gifts to legislators. It took Clean Missouri to do that, and, like I say, voters overwhelmingly approved it, which means one thing: Republican voters as well as Democrats endorsed it.

But now, having been beaten at the polls two years ago, the Republican legislators are making a renewed run, this time by trying to enter through the back door. Earlier this year, they approved a bill, which Gov. Mike Parson signed, that put Amendment 3 on the November ballot.

The ballot title the Republicans came up with is extremely deceptive. It’s also extremely important because the ballot title is what the vast majority of voters will be guided by. Here’s the Republican language:

Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to:
  • Ban all lobbyist gifts to legislators and their employees;
  • Reduce legislative campaign contribution limits; and
  • Create citizen-led independent bipartisan commissions to draw state legislative districts based on one person, one vote, minority voter protection, compactness, competitiveness, fairness and other criteria?

Sounds great, right?  Ban lobbyist gifts? Reduce the campaign contribution limit? Create bipartisan commissions to draw state legislative districts? How could any of that be bad???

The critical element in play here is the third bullet, the redistricting.

Under pressure from the press and the public, the legislators have, for the most part, thrown in the towel on lavish dinners, drinks and trips from lobbyists. And the contribution limit for state Senate candidates would go down by only $100, from $2,500 to $2,400 per election, so that’s not critical.

It’s redistricting — the key to long-term power — that the Republicans are fighting to the death over.

The pea under the shell in Amendment 3 is that having “bipartisan commissions” draw state legislative districts is not new. Not at all! It was the very system that enabled the Republicans to gerrymander the House and Senate districts and maintain a firm grip on political power. The system was bipartisan in name only because Republicans, thorough their control of the House, Senate and governor’s office, were able to manipulate the redistricting process.

The most critical element of the Clean Missouri amendment was supplanting the “bipartisan commissions” with a “nonpartisan state demographer,” who would be selected in what appears to be a truly bipartisan fashion. (I don’t have space to delineate it here, but you can read about it on the Common Cause website.)

A nonpartisan demographer — a professional, not a politician — is anathema to the Republicans. So they hatched this cynical plan to try to pass off Amendment 3 as a new, fairer system, when in fact, it would take Missouri back to the old, crooked way of doing redistricting.

**

Fortunately, some Democratic judges have, to some extent, derailed the Republicans’ outrageous maneuver.

Clean Missouri filed suit, seeking to force state officials to clarify the ballot title to represent what it actually would do, that is, overturn the Clean Missouri amendment.

Juldge Patricia S. Joyce

The first judge to get a shot at the language, Judge Patricia S. Joyce — a Democrat who is presiding judge of Cole County Circuit Court in Jefferson City — came up with the best and clearest ballot language:

Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to:
  • Repeal rules for drawing state legislative districts approved by voters in November 2018 and replace them with rules proposed by the legislature;
  • Lower the campaign contribution limit for senate candidates by $100; and
  • Lower legislative gift limits from $5 to $0, with exemptions for some lobbyists?

Note that Judge Joyce made the most important element, redistricting, the first bullet point, which it deserves and cries out to be.

Of course, Joyce’s language upset Republicans, who appealed Joyce’s decision to the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District, based in Kansas City.

On Monday, a panel of three judges — two appointed by Democratic governors and one by a Republican governor — further modified the ballot language.

If there are no more changes, this is the title voters would see on Nov. 3:

Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to:
  • Ban gifts from paid lobbyists to legislators and their employees;
  • Reduce legislative campaign contribution limits;
  • Change the redistricting process voters approved in 2018 by: (i) transferring responsibility for drawing state legislative districts from the Nonpartisan State Demographer to Governor-appointed bipartisan commissions; (ii) modifying and reordering the redistricting criteria.

The judges who made that ruling were Alok Ahuja, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Matt Blunt in 2007; Lisa White Hardwick, who was appointed by Democratic Gov. Bob Holden in 2001; and Karen King Mitchell, who was appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon, the last Democrat to hold the office, in 2009.

Judge Lisa White Hardwick

Judge Karen King Mitchell

 

Judge Alok Ahuja

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although redistricting fell back down to third place, the language Ahuja, Hardwick and Mitchell approved at least makes it crystal clear for voters that Amendment 3 would unravel Clean Missouri.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Tuesday that state officials had decided, for the time being, not to appeal the latest ruling to the Missouri Supreme Court.

However, an attorney for Clean Missouri went back to the appellate judges Tuesday and asked them to reorder the bullet points and make redistricting the first bullet. If the judges agreed to do so, Republicans might change their minds about appealing to the Supreme Court.

**

Obviously, I recommend a “NO” vote on Amendment 3. It is chicanery of the worst order and deserves to be defeated as soundly as the Clean Missouri amendment was passed in 2018.

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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

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

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.

Aschcroft

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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