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What’s a person to do? People are driving too fast and scaring the wits out of me; we’ve got an idiot for a governor (I’m talking Missouri, of course); and we’ve got a President whose vocabulary is so limited he doesn’t know “origins” from “oranges.” (I trust he knows apples from oranges.)

What’s a person to do, then, to escape the Covid/political funk?

I know…Let’s play some Oldies!

I’ve got a nice mix of songs for you today. Last time, if you’ll remember, I went with five songs from 1961, headed by “Tossin’ and Turnin’ ” by Bobby Lewis.

Today, I’m dipping back even further, picking three songs that were recorded in 1958 and became big hits. As a bonus, they have interesting back stories.

Here we go then…

:: “To Know Him Is to Love Him” by The Teddy Bears.

I was only 12 when this song was released, and I have a vivid memory of hearing it at a “mixer” at some place like an American Legion hall in when I was about 14 and in the eighth grade. Those adolescent yearnings for mixing with the opposite sex had set in, and this song lit a fuse under those yearnings.

The song was written by Phil Spector and, according to Wiki, inspired by the words on his father’s tombstone (same as the words in the song title with one small exception), “To Know Him Was To Love Him.”

It was first recorded by the only vocal group of which Spector was ever a member and was released in September 1958.  The record spent three weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and reached No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart.

A lot of groups and solo singers have covered this song, but no other versions are as good as the original. The only other one that approaches the original, in my opinion, is the 1987 rendition by Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris.

Long live The Teddy Bears.

 

:: “Mack the Knife” by Bobby Darin

Bobby Darin was an incredibly talented man whose entire, short life was clouded by the fact that he knew his health was bad, from bouts of rheumatic fever in childhood, and that he would not live very long.

He died, in fact, at age 37. But he packed a lot into those few decades, including four great songs — “Splish Splash,” “Dream Lover,” “Mack the Knife” and “Beyond the Sea.”

Darin was much more than a singer. He tried his hand at acting, was an enthusiastic chess player and was married twice, once to actress Sandra Dee.

In 1968, he worked on Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign and was present at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles the night Kennedy was assassinated. That same year, Darin discovered he had been raised by his grandmother, not his mother, and that the woman he thought was his sister was actually his mother.

The combination of Kennedy’s assassination and learning about his true parentage sent Darin into a tailspin, and he spent most of the next year living in seclusion in a trailer near Big Sur.

The focal point of the broad canvas of Darin’s life, though, was his music. Not only did he have an outstanding voice and a tremendous sense of phrasing, he threw himself into his songs in such a way that he takes the listener on undulating rides in each of his four big songs.

“Mack the Knife,” the most unique of those songs (and one of the most unique songs in all of music), was composed by Kurt Weill, with lyrics by playwright Bertolt Brecht, for their 1928 music drama The Threepenny Opera.

Darin recorded it at Fulton Studios on West 40th Street in New York on Dec. 19, 1958. It was released in August 1959 and hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was named Record of the Year at the Grammy Awards.

Dick Clark had advised Darin not to record the song because of the perception that, having come from an opera, it would not appeal to rock and roll audiences. Later, Clark would jokingly recount the story of his misguided counsel.

Here we go, then, with some of the most inventive lyrics ever composed.

“Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear…”

 

:: That was so good, it merits a Bobby Darin “twin spin.”

Who can resist “Beyond the Sea,” which was released in October 1959 and reached No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100?

The song was written in 1945 by Jack Lawrence, with music taken from the song “La Mer” by Charles Trenet.

Trenet had composed “La Mer” with French lyrics. Lawrence added the word “Beyond” to the title, changed a few words and, Voila!, transformed it from a paean to the sea into an achingly captivating love song.

And I say thank God for that bit of inspiration!

(Note the muted trumpets, which comprise the perfect bookends.)

No more sailin’
So long, sailin’
Bye bye, sailin’

 

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As regular readers know, I’ve been closely following two big murder cases — David Jungerman in Jackson County and Kylr Yust in Cass County.

Progress in both cases has slowed because of Covid-19 factors, but the Yust case has become particularly problematic in the last six weeks.

It’s looking now like the Cass County Prosecutor’s office, the Cass County Sheriff’s Office, the Belton Police Department and the Kansas City Police Department have made combined mistakes that may result in Yust going free before there’s a trial.

Another possibility is that he could be tried and convicted, with the conviction being overturned by an appeals court later.

The least likely scenario is the one I envisioned before the mistakes began surfacing: a straightforward conviction, with Yust being sent to prison for the rest of his life.

The troubling news has dripped out in three Kansas City Star stories. Here are the dates of those stories and the gist of the problems they exposed…

Kylr Yust

May 29: The Star reported that when police were cleaning out an old desk at the Belton Police Department they found a VHS tape of a suspect who confessed to multiple people that he killed Kara Kopetsky, one of the women, along with Jessica Runions, Yust is accused of murdering. (Kopetsky was killed in 2007, so the tape was at least 10 years old.)

After reading that story I wasn’t too concerned for two reasons: First, it is not unusual for goofballs to confess to high-profile murders they didn’t commit, and, second, Yust told at least four people that he had choked Kopetsky to death.

July 9: One of Yust’s attorneys released a statement saying a Kansas City police officer had a sexual relationship with a witness in the case and conducted his own ad hoc and unauthorized investigation before being told to stop.

On top of the tape found in the desk, this was troubling. Again, however, it didn’t worry me too much because, I reasoned, it could knock out just one witness, and surely there were plenty of others to override this investigative embarrassment.

July 14: Yesterday, The Star’s Katie Moore reported that Yust’s attorneys had filed a motion alleging Cass County jail officials had recorded phone calls between Yust and his attorneys — calls that fell under the protection of attorney-client privilege and were thus draped in legal confidentiality. As Sharon Turlington, one of Yust’s attorneys, said in the motion, “Confidential communication is the basis of preparing an effective defense in a criminal case.”

This mistake makes the two reported earlier pale by comparison and could well sound the death knell of the case against a man who is almost surely an odious and vicious killer.

Prosecutor Ben Butler

Recording the phone calls reverberates beyond what jail officials, under the direction of the Cass County Sheriff’s Office, might have done. A big question is: Were jailers recording at the direction of Cass County Prosecutor Ben Butler? At this point, we don’t know. A few weeks ago, the judge in the Yust case appointed a “special master,” a retired judge, to try to sort out the web of confusion about the phone calls. At some point, the special master will probably submit a report on his findings, and we may find out if Butler was the instigator.

…Whatever the special master concludes, this is terrible news for everyone interested in seeing justice served in the murders of Kara and Jessica.

As Katie Moore reported in The Star, several significant Kansas criminal cases were thrown out after an investigation found federal prosecutors had listened to recordings of confidential phone calls and meetings between defense attorneys and their clients at a private prison in Leavenworth.

A special master who investigated that debacle said he had never been involved in a case with such broad accusations of prosecutorial misconduct. The scandal led to the firing of one prosecutor and the retirement of another.

And now, here we are with much the same situation in the Yust case. In June, after I wrote about the tape found in the desk at the Belton Police Department, regular reader Steve Porter, a former reporter in Cass County, submitted a comment that could prove to be prescient. Steve wrote…

“Belton Police may not be the weak point in the prosecution of Yust. Cass County Prosecutor Ben Butler may not be up to the job, and there’s no talent behind him.”

I sincerely hope Butler, the Belton Police Department, KCPD and the Cass County Sheriff’s Office have not collectively blown the case. But that appears to be a distinct possibility.

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A wise uncle once told me, “Expect the unexpected.”

I’ve witnessed the accuracy of those words more than once, but not today.

With a decision made by the McClatchy Co.’s board of directors, the expected has, indeed, come to pass: The company, with its 29 daily papers (including The Kansas City Star), will soon pass into the custody of the Chatham Asset Management, a hedge fund out of New Jersey.

Chatham, McClatchy’s largest shareholder and biggest creditor, has been sinking its claws more deeply into McClatchy the last several years.

After the U.S. Bankruptcy Court approves the transition, the McClatchy papers will be owned by the same company that owns the National Enquirer. That, in itself, is a fact that should make any self-respecting journalist shriek.

I’ve said before, Chatham is a shadowy company; they don’t even have a website. The company was founded in 2003, and its managing partner is a man named Anthony Melchiorre…I’ve searched the web far and wide and have never found a photo of the guy.

What this tells me is journalists and avid newspaper readers here and in cities like Miami, Fort Worth, Sacramento, Charlotte and Wichita (also with McClatchy papers) should be cringing. The newspaper industry’s angle of descent has just steepened.

News of the pending transfer of ownership came in a press release issued by McClatchy this morning. The bitter, hard-to-swallow lead of the press release said…

“McClatchy announced today that the auction held as a part of its court-supervised sale process has concluded with Chatham Asset Management deemed the successful bid.”

It went on to say…

“The proposed agreement positions McClatchy to exit Chapter 11 protection in the third quarter of 2020, having achieved a resolution and restructuring of the company’s complex legacy debt and pension obligations, while maximizing value for the company’s creditors.”

Let me put that sentence into plain, sterling English: McClatchy’s 2006 purchase of the Knight Ridder chain for $4.5 billion was an abject failure, and the vulture that first sought to capitalize on the mistake will now gorge on the detritus.

So The Star, which was employee owned when I arrived as a general assignment reporter in 1969, will now have its fourth ownership change since 1996.

The blissful era of employee ownership died in 1977, when a newspaper-TV-radio company called Capital Cities Inc. paid $2 for every dollar of employee stock ownership, or a total of $125 million, which seemed like an astounding amount at the time.

The Star prospered under Cap Cities ownership for nearly 20 years, but in 1996 things started going south. That’s when Cap Cities, which had earlier acquired the ABC network, sold to Walt Disney Co., which had no interest in newspapers and put The Star and three other Cap Cities papers up for sale within a year.

Knight Ridder, a longstanding, tradition-rich newspaper company seemingly came to the rescue in 1997. But that didn’t go as expected, and Knight Ridder, under pressure from an unhappy, major shareholder, sold to McClatchy in 2006. (For a variety of reasons, including x-ray vision into the future, I retired on June 30, 2006, exactly three days after McClatchy closed on its $4.5 billion deal.)

So, here we are again. Or, I guess I should say, here again are the current crop of KC Star employees — the 250 or so that remain of a legion that once numbered more than 2,000.

What’s in the future for these employees? Hard to say, but changes at the top and more staff reductions would not surprise me. The hedge fund model is to extract as much cash as possible from businesses they own and reinvest the money elsewhere, at a bigger return on investment.

Ken Doctor, the best industry analyst around, put it this way in a recent New York Times story…

“The truth is, to make a huge profit in the newspaper business, you have to cut, cut, cut, and be willing to see the product get worse year by year. They (the hedge fund operators) will have a number, and they will cut whatever they have to — to meet that number.”

You don’t see anything in that quote about quality journalism because that isn’t part of the equation. It’s just hitting the numbers.

McClatchy, at least, made a pretense of quality journalism, but now that’s gone, and everybody down at 1601 McGee should brace for more unsettling changes.

We’ll see what happens. In the meantime, so long, McClatchy, it wasn’t that nice knowing you.

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Well this is passing strange.

I wrote three weeks ago that for the first time since he has been U.S. Attorney General, I agreed with a decision made by William Barr.

In that case, the Department of Justice issued a press release scheduling execution dates for four death-row inmates, including two of the Kansas City area’s most horrific rapists/murderers, Keith Nelson (Pamela Butler) and Wesley Purkey (Jennifer Long and Mary Ruth Bales).

Barr

Then came more welcome news late yesterday: The Justice Department is launching a new initiative to curb violent crime in Kansas City. The project will be named after LeGend Taliferro, the 4-year-old boy who was recently shot and killed in a drive-by shooting near 63rd and The Paseo as he slept in his bedroom.

The goal of Operation Legend will be to quell a “surge of violent crime.”

This appears to be a very focused and significant project. More than 100 agents from the four Justice Department law enforcement agencies — the FBI, the United States Marshals Service, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — will be dispatched to work with state and local law enforcement agencies.

The department will also send additional resources to Timothy A. Garrison, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri, to help handle an expected increase in prosecutions, the release said.

Operation Legend will begin in Kansas City and be expanded to other cities dealing with rising rates of violent crime, the release said.

Mayor Quinton Lucas said his understanding was the federal officials investigate unsolved murders and shootings and would not participate in daily policing or patrol activities.

Obviously, the timing could not be better. Kansas City is on pace to set a record for homicides in one year, and the Kansas City Police Department’s homicide resolution rate stands at about 50 percent, significantly below the national average.

Moreover, the situation seems to have swallowed up the police department.

The Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners — all but one of whose five members is appointed by the governor — has not directed Chief Rick Smith to produce a plan to address the spiraling murder rate, and Smith has not volunteered to produce one.

What we have seen, as I have written before, is Lucas — the only police board member not appointed by the governor — beating his breast and inviting the public to hold him accountable for the murder rate.

I don’t know why he does that because he is only one of five votes on the police board, having neither the power to fire Smith nor the ability to direct him to come up with a plan.

As a result, we’ve got a police department and city administration that are about 100 yards apart physically but about 10 miles apart in every other sense.

It’s a shitty situation, and it is abundantly clear that it is time for control of the police department to transfer from the state to the city. Unfortunately, that is probably going to take two elections (one local and one state) and maybe years or even decades.

…In the meantime, Bill Barr has made another good move. From 1,000 miles away, he could see the Kansas City Police Department wasn’t up to the job and is sending help.

Thanks, Bill…You’ve got a long way to go to redeem yourself, but you’re headed in the right direction.

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It is maddening and painful to watch The Star and Mayor Quinton Lucas wring their hands and nibble around the edges of two big issues that should be clear cut and unequivocal.

Before going any further, let me make clear the words we desperately need to hear from The Star’s editorial page and from Lucas:

“Kansas City needs local control of its police department, and it’s time for Police Chief Rick Smith to resign.”

First, let’s look at Lucas.

He has not called for Smith’s resignation, and he has been strictly equivocal on local control. Why? I’ve said it many times: He’s afraid to cross the police officers’ union, Local 99 of the F.O.P., which supported him in his successful election campaign last year.

As a result, we see Lucas hemming and hawing and calling for a preferential election to take the public’s temperature before he dares to take the plunge.

And regarding Kansas City’s spiraling murder rate, we see Lucas beating his breast and saying the buck stops with him, when, in truth (a truth he fully realizes) there’s little he can do. He’s just one member of the state-appointed, five-member Board of Police Commissioners, which calls the shots at 12th and Oak.

The people most responsible for the police department’s failure to respond effectively to the cascading homicide rate are the four other members of the police board, the ones other than Lucas.

The four who control the board are essentially cardboard cutouts. We hear absolutely nothing from them, and 99 percent of Kansas Citians couldn’t name one of them. They are insulated because they are appointed by governors sitting 145 miles away — a Republican governor who doesn’t really care what goes on in this Democratic city.

Wagner

I want people to know who these commissioners are because it is they who allow Smith and other police administrators to run the department however they want. The commissioners, besides Lucas, are Chairman Don Wagner, Vice President Mark Tolbert, Treasurer Cathy Dean and member Nathan Garrett.

Wagner, Tolbert and Garrett were all appointed by former Gov. Eric Greitens, and Dean was appointed by Gov. Mike Parson. I have to presume that all four are Republicans, which again puts them out of sync with this Democratic city.

It’s a pathetic and illogical situation. In this city of nearly 500,000 people (estimated in 2018 at about 492,000), the police department and its chief are not accountable to the local elected officials who authorize the funds to keep the police department functioning.

If we had local control, the mayor could tell the police chief, “Give me a murder-reduction plan in two weeks.” Instead, he’s limited to saying things like, “I’m heartbroken and disgusted by what our fellow Kansas Citians and our officers confront each day. “

…As much as I hammer on Lucas, I do not dislike him. I know he’s smart, and I know he cares deeply about the city and its residents. The residents know that, too, and they would follow him into the battle for local control if he would just swallow hard and step out front, where he belongs.

Now, The Star

Lot of tentativeness here, too. Maybe it’s the “Kansas City nice” thing. I don’t know. Whatever is holding back Editorial Page Editor Colleen McCain Nelson, it sure is frustrating.

Two recent editorials tell the story of timidity regarding Smith.

On June 2, during the George Floyd protests, The Star ran an editorial under this headline: “KC Mayor Quinton Lucas has met this moment. Will Police Chief Rick Smith join him there?”

The editorial was 95 percent about Lucas, but it tapped into the questions about Smith, saying: “When Lucas and Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith spoke at a  joint news conference on Sunday, we saw only one of them meeting this moment with focus, leadership and urgency.”

The only other reference in the editorial to Smith came at the end, when it noted that Smith had joined Lucas in observing a moment of silence for Floyd and concluded with this backhanded compliment to Smith: “But that Smith showed up and showed respect at least makes progress seem possible.”

We sure haven’t seen any progress since then, have we? The murder rate has gone through the roof, and Smith continues to offer no strategy or plan to attempt to counter it.

Then, yesterday, the editorial page took ventured out a bit farther when it criticized Smith for indirectly blaming the recent shootings of two police offiofficers on critics of police brutality following the murder of George Floyd.

The editorial said the police-officer shootings “were not political” and went on to suggest that Smith should know better.

Nelson

Once again, Colleen McCain Nelson chose to hit Smith with a pillow and to leave the hammer on the work bench.

I don’t understand why she doesn’t just come out and say Smith is not the person to be chief at this critical juncture. He’s not a progressive chief; he’s not a good communicator; and he has alienated Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker.

There’s no reason to feel sorry for Smith, either, as he will probably retire as a millionaire, or close to it. Remember, his predecessor, Darryl Forte, walked away in 2017 with $500,000 in accrued vacation, sick and comp time.

**

Regarding local control, the editorial page has spoken favorably but is hardly campaigning for it — which is what it will take to help coalesce public support.

After Lucas called last month for the preferential vote, an editorial urged the City Council to put the question on the November ballot and urged voters to approve it “in overwhelming numbers.”

I just wish Nelson would come out as strongly on the editorial page as lead editorial writer Dave Helling did in a June 8 Op-Ed column. Helling wrote…

“Kansas City has known for half a century that state control of the police is oppressive and undemocratic…Yet decades’ worth of studies, town hall meetings, debates, editorials and calls for change have produced nothing.”

But that was Helling speaking for himself, not for The Star.

Let’s hope, in the days ahead, Colleen McCain Nelson will borrow Helling’s hammer and start whaling away.

**

Note: The lead story in today’s Kansas City Star — titled “Invisible Man?” — is a detailed look at “embattled KCPD chief” Rick Smith. The adjective “invisible” alludes to the fact that while he frequently makes appearances in the predominantly white Northland and seems responsive to residents there, he is seldom seen at neighborhood meetings south of the river and is viewed as unresponsive to many there. Even former Chief Darryl Forte has found Smith unresponsive to his overtures…If you have a subscription, it’s a good read. The lead writer is longtime police reporter Glenn Rice.

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Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

Patty, Brooks and I beat the crowd out of town and back this week and had a mostly relaxing four days at Table Rock Lake. I say mostly because, well, you know any significant change of routine involves some bobbing and weaving and discombobulation.

This is the second time in the last five years we went to Table Rock, and we stayed at the same resort this time, Lighthouse Lodge in Kimberling City.

The cabins were a little rough in 2015, but we gave it another shot because we liked the setting and the nearby stores in Kimberling City.

We discovered that the resort is under new, group ownership and that some of the cabins, including ours, had been renovated and others were in the process of being renovated.

All in all, it was pretty good. The man who owns the cabin we were staying in was on the premises two of the four days we were there, and he was helpful and accommodating. He even let me borrow his kayak one day. (You’ll see that in one of the photos.)

I made a big mistake, though, by failing to arrange in advance to rent a boat. The boats at several marinas were booked, but I finally was able to arrange one-day rental of a pontoon boat at a marina in northern Arkansas. It took about an hour to get there, but it was a nice drive and we got to see a different part of the lake, right on the Missouri-Arkansas border.

With that, let’s get on to the pictures…

We love the old sign for the lodge, even though it hasn’t lit up for years. And our favorite part of the sign is the whited-out section under the word “pool.” The words that were there were “indoor toilets.” Fortunately, one of the new resort owners also loves the sign and is planning to refurbish it…including restoring the words “indoor toilets.”

The cabins — this was ours — are atop a relatively steep slope that eases down to the water.

This is the view from our cabin, looking down the slope. There are more than a dozen piers in this area for people to dock their boats.

Plenty of people swim off the ends of the piers. Here Brooks and Patty were enjoying life on floaties.

This was my first time in a kayak. It took a little getting used to — the craft responds immediately to the slightest shift in weight — but it was a lot of fun. Being out on the water on anything is fun…Photo by B. Fitzpatrick

It didn’t take Patty long to get the hang of driving the pontoon boat, while I “trolled.” The only setback related to the pontoon rental was our anchor got stuck — really stuck — at the end of the day, and I had to cut the line and consign the anchor to the bottom of the lake. That cost me an extra $65, plus the $20 to rent the damn thing. (Next time I’ll forgo an anchor and either just drift or tie up to trees.) Photo by B. Fitzpatrick

Here’s another singular sign, this one on Highway 13, no more than a mile from Lighthouse Lodge.

Just past the Kimberling City sign, Highway 13 swoops down to the lake and the graceful Kimberling City bridge.

I hate to end on this note, but I would be remiss if I didn’t show you this. I felt like I had stumbled on to Stone County Trump re-election headquarters, but it was just a pop-up operation out of the back of a trailer that had been set up in a strip mall on Highway 13. Business was brisk. Take a close look at those two “American” flags bearing images of guns. Also, the message on the flag in the foreground is unmistakable and, unfortunately, reflects the political persuasion that dominates southern Missouri.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

**

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

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

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

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

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

**

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

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

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

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

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

**

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

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

YES [ ] NO [ ]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Pretty Little Angel Eyes,” No. 77

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

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

 

**

“Daddy’s Home,” No. 41

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

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

 

**

“Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” No. 16

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

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

Do you love the timeless question…

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

**

“Take Good Care of My Baby,” No. 12

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

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

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

 

**

Tossin’ and Turnin,’ No. 1

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

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

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

Now that’s insomnia!

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

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

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

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

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

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

J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain

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

Chris Goode

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

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

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

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

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

Police Chief Rick Smith

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

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

Among other reasons Smith is unacceptable:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mac Tully

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The government is not responsible for the supplemental pensions.

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

Tony Ridder

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

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

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

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

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

Arthur Brisbane

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

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

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

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

David Zeeck

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

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

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

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

Steve Shirk

**

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

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

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

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

**

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

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

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

**

Yet more help, this time from former employee Krys Reese

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

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

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

**

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

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