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Many police departments now find themselves reeling under waves of outrage against excessive violence against demonstrators, including the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and choke holds.

KCPD has taken a rightful place among those departments. During the local protest demonstrations, we saw KCPD officers overreact on at least three occasions last weekend:

— On Saturday, May 30, hundreds of peaceful protesters who had gathered at Mill Creek Park were laced with tear gas and pepper spray and intimidated with “flash-bang grenades.” Our old-school police chief, Rick Smith, rationalized the attack, calling the gathering “an unlawful assembly,” which is utter balderdash.

— The same day, police gassed two protesters on the Plaza after one of them stepped off the curb and into the street. Moments earlier, the man had yelled, “If you ain’t got the balls to protect the streets and protect and serve like you was paid to do, turn in your damn badge.” Video of the incident, which Smith described as an “extraction” arrest, has been viewed by millions of people.

— The most serious injury was inflicted on 32-year-old Sean Stearns, Kansas City, who took a rubber bullet, or something like it, in the eye at the May 30 demonstrations. With his girlfriend, Sydney Ragsdale, he had taken shelter behind a Mill Creek Park tree when he was struck. He has lost most of the vision in the eye, and a doctor told him he could lose sight in it altogether.

(Later, I read that a 38-year-old man suffered a badly broken leg in the May 30 demonstrations when he was struck by a tear-gas cannister fired by police.)

Stearns and girlfriend Sydney Ragsdale before May 30 demonstrations

…after

**

Against that backdrop, it was very encouraging to read that Mayor Quinton Lucas, at a large demonstration yesterday outside City Hall, signed onto a list of demands to reform the police department, including local control.

Leading the newfound push for local control are three significant organizations: the Urban League of Kansas City, the local branch of the NAACP and MORE2, that is, the Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity.

On Wednesday, those three groups issued an extraordinary, joint statement calling for Smith’s ouster and also taking control of the department away from the governor’s office and putting it in the hands of the mayor, the City Council and the city manager.

Here are two key points in the statement:

:: “The Board of Police Commissioners behaves as if they were appointed by the Governor to protect and serve the police chief and police officers rather than to ensure that the department is committed to fair and impartial public safety strategies, dedicated to the principles of fairness, equity and accountability and working actively to build bridges that lead to substantial change. Approximately 70% of the City’s operating budget is allocated to public safety with over $250 million dedicated to the police department, yet the City of KCMO has no authority over KCPD decisions, policies, practices, and procedures.”

:: “Recent news reports detailing police-board-approved, multimillion-dollar out-of-court settlements for police involved shootings, homicides, and excessive force incidents along with the recent uptick in police involved shootings and homicides of African American men have heightened the level of our distrust in Chief Smith. We have no confidence in his ability to lead this department in a manner that respects and values the humanity of all Kansas Citians, irrespective of race, ethnicity, and socio- economic status.”

No confidence.” That says it all, does it not?

**

As I have written several times before, wresting control of the police department from Jefferson City will be a steep climb. My understanding is it could be done in one of three ways:

:: A successful, statewide initiative petition followed by voter approval (again, statewide).

Sinquefield

:: The Missouri General Assembly passes a bill, signed by the governor, authorizing an election to change state law to give control of the police department to the city.

:: The General Assembly passes a bill, and the governor signs it into law, authorizing local control in Kansas City.

Any of those options would be very challenging. The General Assembly is Republican and rural dominated, and most of the senators and representatives don’t look kindly on measures giving St. Louis or Kansas City more power at the expense of the state. I think the current governor, Mike Parson, would not have a favorable view of such a change, either.

An initiative petition would be a massive undertaking. It would require procuring the signatures of 5 percent of registered votes in six of Missouri’s eight congressional districts. That means paying a small army of people to collect signatures, which, in turn, requires a big benefactor.

In St. Louis, a powerful, conservative activist and political contributor, Rex Sinquefield, largely financed a successful petition drive in 2011 and early 2012, and that resulted in voters statewide approving local control of the St. Louis Police Department in November 2012.

I doubt that Sinquefield would be willing to make that kind of investment on the western side of the state, and I can’t think of anyone else who might be willing to step up and fund a statewide petition drive. (James B. Nutter Sr., mortgage banker and big-time contributor to Democratic politicians, might have done it, but unfortunately he died three years ago.)

Nevertheless, with the events of the last two weeks, I am much more optimistic than I have ever been about the prospect of local control of KCPD.

**

In the shorter term, I think Smith’s time as chief can now be numbered in months, not years. I believe he will be out by year’s end.

Reforms to KCPD will be coming soon, but whatever they are, they will not be sufficient to stop the push for local control or Smith’s ouster. I doubt he will have the stomach to go on. He’s had a long career, a hefty pension awaits.

And even if he should want to go on, things have changed so much in the last couple of weeks that a majority of the five-member police board may now be thinking about the wisdom of a change at the top. Under state law, a Missouri police chief can only be fired “for cause,” which sets a high bar. Nevertheless, if a majority of the police board was bent on making a change, it would be uncomfortable for Smith to try to stay.

Here’s how change at the top could occur…

The board consists of the mayor and four people appointed by the governor. The four appointed members are private investor and multi-millionaire Don Wagner; retired lawyer Cathy Dean; Mark Tolbert, pastor of an African-American church; and lawyer Nathan Garrett.

As board officers, Wagner (president), Tolbert (vice president) and Dean (treasurer) would probably hold sway in regard to Smith’s future, along with Lucas.

Lucas has not said directly if he supports Smith, but by signing on to the NAACP/MORE2/Urban League demands, he has effectively said he does not support him.

There’s one solid vote against Smith.

Dean

Of the other board members, I have only met Cathy Dean, and it was totally unrelated to her board service. Nevertheless, she strikes me as someone who would be very concerned about this situation and receptive to calls for major reform.

That could be another vote against Smith.

It’s almost a given that Tolbert will side with the groups demanding that Smith leave.

If Dean was of like mind, that would be three votes, a majority.

 

 

Then, there’s Wagner, board president. He is rich (made a fortune in the steel-tank business), elderly and probably in his waning years of civic service. I don’t see why he would feel beholden to either Smith or even Gov. Mike Parson. He might envision himself — or come to envision himself — as the man who presided over a much-needed and critical change of direction at the police department.

Readers, it’s almost a done deal: Rick Smith is on the way out.

Editor’s note: I amended the sections pertaining to local control and firing the police chief after learning more about state law pertaining to both issues.

I haven’t forgotten about either of our co-Public Enemies No. 1 in the Kansas City area.

A year ago, I had David Jungerman, who probably killed lawyer Thomas Pickert, as Public Enemy No. 1. Now I’m giving equal status to Kylr Yust, who probably killed Kara Kopetsky and Jessica Runions.

Both of these guys have been in jail more than two years now — Jungerman in Jackson County and Yust in Cass County — and their murder cases have been inching along painfully.

Here are the latest developments…

The Yust case

The trial was scheduled to start July 27, but at a video conference Tuesday, Judge William B. Collins said he would grant a defense motion for a continuance (date to be determined), partly because previously unknown information pertaining to some other possible suspects surfaced recently.

In one instance, a VHS tape was discovered during the cleaning of a desk formerly occupied by a Belton police lieutenant. The tape contained material about someone who apparently was interviewed at some point about the Kopetsky murder. (She was killed in 2007, Runions in 2016.)

Tuesday’s hearing, which I watched via WebEx, included Yust, his three St. Louis-based public defenders and Cass County Prosecutor Ben Butler and Assistant Prosecutor Julie Tolle.

One of the people listening in, as I did, was John Runions, who must be related to Jessica.

Yust was videoed while seated in a room at the Cass County Sheriff’s Office. A couple of times before the hearing began, he waved at the camera, either to acknowledge his attorneys or indicate he could see all the other parties. He did not smile when he waved.

As soon as the hearing got underway, Judge Collins showed his frustration at the belated surfacing of new information, including the VHS tape, and also at the Sheriff’s Office failure to produce a report on prison calls various parties had had with Yust.

With the corners of his mouth often drawn up tightly, Collins, in casual attire, said…“It’s troubling. I’m asking the same questions, and we’re not getting quick answers from law enforcement agencies about these requests” for documents and reports.

“I need to find out what is exactly happening.”

Collins said that in hopes of moving the case along, he intended to appoint a retired judge as a “special master,” whose job it would be to sort through the “discovery” issues, that is, the puzzle of the VHS tape and other late-surfacing information about additional witnesses.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys wholeheartedly agreed on the importance of getting access whatever information the Belton Police Department failed, for whatever reason, to forward to the Cass County Prosecutor’s Office. The defense is entitled to see any evidence the state has, so it works both ways.

…What I am worried about is that this case might have been too complex for small-town Belton Police Department. It is the biggest case Cass County has seen in decades, and Belton PD might have been in over its head. If that’s so, it could ultimately and fatally compromise the state’s case.

It will be a tragedy if the Belton PD’s failure to consolidate and hand over information in timely fashion allows Yust to one day go free.

**

The Jungerman case

Trial was scheduled to begin last week but has been pushed back to Oct. 5.

It does not appear as muddled as the Yust case but, it, too, is bogged down in various motions.

Among them:

— A defense motion to set a bond for Jungerman so he could get out of jail while awaiting trial. This motion was filed March 20, and Judge John Torrence has not ruled. Currently, Jungerman, now 82 years old, is being held without bond, and I think the chances of Torrence setting a bond are one in a million.

— A defense motion to suppress items recovered from an Oct. 25, 2017, police traffic stop of Jungerman and subsequent statements he made while police interviewed him. (That was the day Pickert was gunned down in his front yard in Brookside.) Defense attorneys filed the motion to suppress last week, and the state has requested additional time to respond.

 

It’s election day, so let’s lighten up a bit while we wait to see if Local 42 of the International Association of Fire Fighters slips another turd (a quarter-cent sales tax increase) past a citizenry that is preoccupied with a pandemic, a recession and angry demonstrations in the streets.

…If you’ll recall, the comments board “lit up” on May 24, after I wrote about Star sports columnist Sam Mellinger’s flawed ranking of the “50 most influential people in KC sports history.”

The 41-(or so)year-old columnist failed to include such pivotal figures as Dick Howser, who managed the 1985 World Champion Royals, and Jack Steadman, the iron-fisted president of the Chiefs under owner Lamar Hunt.

More recently, the sports desk has been doing another “best of all time” series, this one the biggest plays in Kansas City sports history.

The team of Pete Grathoff, the laziest sports reporter at The Star, and Blair Kerkhoff, one of the most industrious, has been doing these stories in blocks of five plays at a time. I haven’t paid close attention to all 25, but I read with interest in Monday’s print edition the duo’s story on plays Numbers 1 to 5.

And I’ve gotta say, they nailed it.

No. 1. Who can forget the spine-tingling 65 Toss Power Trap, called by chiefs’ Coach Hank Stram in Super Bowl IV, Jan. 11, 1970, when the Chiefs beat the Minnesota Vikings? The play almost immediately catapulted into the annals of pro football because of NFL Films, which had wired Stram for sound.

When inspiration struck, Stram grabbed Chiefs’ wide receiver Glocester Richardson and said, “Glocester tell (Len Dawson) 65 Toss Power Trap. It might pop wide open.”

“The Mentor,” calling 65 Toss Power Trap in Super Bowl IV

Grathoff and Kerkhoff wrote, “The trap caught so many Vikings players out of position (Mike) Garrett could have walked into the end zone.”

Stram is then seen and heard cackling and exulting and saying, “Was that there, baby?”

If the world is around 100 years from now, that video will still be sending chills down people’s spines.

No. 2. Fast forward to the Chiefs’ next Super Bowl victory, an even 50 years later, when Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes asked offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, “Do we have time to run ‘Wasp?’ ”

Next thing you know Chiefs’ running back Tyreek Hill was wide open 44 yards down the sideline, and Mahomes’ high, floating dropped out of the sky and into his clutching arms…And the Chiefs were on their way to beating the San Francisco 49ers 31 to 20.

No. 3. On Oct. 27, 2015, when it looked like the New York Mets were on their way to winning Game 1 of the World Series here in Kansas City, Royals’ outfielder Alex Gordon stepped to the plate against the Mets’ dominating closer Jeurys Familia.

Gordon watches his homer head toward the center field wall.

I think just about everybody thought Familia was going to get Gordon out. But with Royals trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth and the count 1-1 on Gordon, Familia took an abbreviated windup and tried to quick-pitch him. Having watched Familia quick-pitch the previous batter, Gordon was ready. He crushed the pitch, and the ball headed deep toward straightaway center field. When the ball disappeared over the wall, the crowd went crazy. The Royals, of course, went on to win the game and the series. It was the most important home run in Royals’ history.

No. 4. In the 2008 NCAA Tournament Finals, Memphis led KU by three points with 10 seconds remaining. Point guard Sherron Collins dribbled to the three-point line and handed the ball off to the other guard, Mario Chalmers, who swished a three-pointer with 2.1 seconds remaining. That sent the game into overtime, when the Jayhawks pulled away to a 75-68 victory.

No. 5. This was another incredible Royals’ play, almost more astounding than Gordon’s homer off Familia. In the bottom of the 12th inning of the American League Wild Card Game on Sept. 30, 2014, the Royals and the Oakland A’s were tied 8-8 at Kauffman Stadium.

With the potential winning run on second base in the person of Christian Colon, Royals’ catcher Salvadore Perez was battling A’s reliever Jason Hammel. With the count 2-2, Hammel threw the right-handed-hitting Perez a pitch way outside the strike zone. Perez, a notorious sucker for bad pitches, bent way over, reached out and managed to get the bat on the ball. Somehow, Perez pulled the pitch to his left, down toward third base. A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson dove to his left but just missed the ball, and Colon sped home with the winning run.

The team went on to the World Series that year but lost, memorably, to the San Francisco Giants in Game 7.

…Ah, great stuff.

Hats off to the “-hoff” team, Grat and Kerk.

Few things are more gratifying to a columnist than seeing other columnists jump on the bandwagon they set in motion.

So I took great joy and satisfaction this morning when I opened The Star and saw that KC Star editorial board member and op-ed columnist Melinda Henneberger had taken a cudgel to our do-nothing, afraid-of-his-shadow police chief, Rick Smith.

It was 10 months ago that I first said Smith liked to hide behind his blog post and his public information officers, instead of answering reporters’ questions face to face or even holding news conferences. I accelerated the criticism in January, focusing on the need for local control of KCPD. Last week, as many of you will recall, I wrote saying local control had become a matter of urgency with Smith and his predecessor, Darryl Forte, at the helm.

Now, I don’t know if Henneberger, a Pulitzer Prize finalist in each of the last two years, even reads my posts (I’m honored if she does), but in today’s column she certainly picked up on my theme.

Her lead sentence summed up the situation in funnier and more penetrating words than I have been able to come up with. (She’s not a Pulitzer finalist for nothing.) She wrote…

“I was about ready to see if we couldn’t put Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith’s face on a milk carton: Have you seen this man?”

Bravo, Melinda, you nailed it!

I know a lot of you readers don’t have subscriptions to The Star and might not be able to open the above link to her column. So, here are some of the highlights…These are direct quotes:

(U)ntil Sunday, when he finally appeared at a news conference at Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas’ personal invitation, Smith had said zero words publicly about the sight of George Floyd pleading for air and for his mama, as dying men have always done.

For six days, Smith had no comment on the officer who’d held his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. For five days, he kept to himself his thoughts on the protests Floyd’s murder had set off in other cities. For two days, he said nothing about protests here in Kansas City.

Smith didn’t have the week off or anything; he was at the protests, though not visible, working from the police command center. But it was Capt. Dave Jackson, a public information officer, who was sent out to speak. That’s not leadership.

When Smith finally did show himself on Sunday, and was asked why it had taken him six days to make a sound, this was his answer: “I think we put out a statement when it happened.

— And still, he couldn’t bring himself to say these two words: George Floyd.

Kansas City should be better than this, he said to protesters, and he’s right about that; breaking glass and throwing rocks helps nobody. But Kansas City also deserves better than this, better than a police chief in hiding.

**

I think Henneberger’s column could be a breakthrough in terms of how the public and The Star’s editorial board views Smith and the issue of local control.

The public doesn’t pay much attention to the chief, or the police department in general, until they start to worry about their personal safety. It’s not really a major concern to most people when they read reports of high murder rates, as long as they don’t feel threatened themselves. But with what has been taking place on the streets the last few days, it’s starting to become personal. People can’t help but wonder what might happen to them if they’re out in their cars and encounter a seething group of protesters.

Protesters in Kansas City

The editorial board, on the other hand, has been sitting back watching Smith, giving him the benefit of the doubt, since he was named chief in July 2017. Unlike me on my little blog, the editorial board has to be extremely cautious, because once it collectively decides to shift positions, it’s hard to turn back.

That’s why I say this could be a turning point.

Also, I hope the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners is paying attention and not hiding behind their big titles, bestowed by the governor.

Maybe, if they don’t have their hands over their eyes and plugs in their ears, this will be the beginning of the end of a guy who is clearly a bad police chief.

Maybe, even, a significant number of people will start wondering if local control (which would be difficult to attain) isn’t such a bad idea.

It’s a damn shame that Lucas is just one member of that five-member board and has a minor, though important, voice in who we have as police chief. As I’ve said before, the other commissioners (lawyers Nathan Garrett and Cathy Dean, minister Mark Tolbert and businessman Don Wagner), as well as commissioners before them, have been virtual rubber stamps for the chief.

Damn it, that’s got to stop. As they’re saying on the streets, enough is enough. Rick Smith must be sent packing, and we need local control of KCPD now more than ever.

…And, finally, thank you, Melinda, for calling out our commander-in-hiding.

In fire houses all across Kansas City today, fire fighters must be cheering, shouting and raising toasts of sparkling grape juice.

Why? For the first time I can remember, The Kansas City Star did not weigh in with a Sunday editorial before voters were poised to vote on a city tax proposal the following Tuesday.

It appears to me Kansas City Question 1, which asks voters to increase the Fire Department sales tax from a quarter-cent to a half-cent, is poised to pass on Tuesday, despite the absence of any significant public discussion or justification for a tax increase.

Although voter turnout is expected to be less than 10 percent Tuesday, fire fighters, their friends and family members will turn out in large numbers. With no significant opposition — and no Sunday editorial against it — Question 1 stands a very good chance of being approved Tuesday.

It’s a damn shame this proposal has been getting a pass, because it’s a big deal and would hit poor people the hardest. The additional quarter-cent would generate about $21 million a year, or about $315 million by 2036, when the full half-cent tax would be scheduled to expire.

The money would go primarily for fire station improvements and equipment, including new trucks, pumpers and ambulances.

The Star’s Dave Helling had a stinging op-ed piece about Question 1 in January, but otherwise the editorial board has been largely silent on the matter. Nevertheless, I fully expected to see an opposing editorial today. Instead, what I found was another editorial relating to Gov. Mike Parson’s tepid response to public protection from the coronavirus.

Wanting an explanation, I sent an email to editorial page editor Colleen McCain Nelson. She replied that an editorial on Question 1 would be published tomorrow, Monday.

Monday? One day before the election, in the dullest paper of the week?

That is extremely unusual. Probably since its inception in 1880, The Star has reserved its strongest voice for the Sunday paper. It is the week’s biggest and best paper, even as a shadow of its pre-internet self.

Look at the numbers: According to the latest figures, Sunday’s print circulation is 77,468; Monday’s is 61,249. In addition, longtime subscribers, which includes those most likely to vote, are conditioned to seeing political endorsements the Sunday before an election.

I don’t know why Nelson decided to hold off ’til tomorrow…I sent her a follow-up email seeking an explanation, but she hasn’t written back.

**

Years ago, a City Council majority gave up putting up any meaningful fight against Local 42 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, and now, it would seem, so has The Star.

I realize that everyone at The Star has been preoccupied with developments relating to the pandemic the last two and a half months, but surely the editorial board could have found time to hammer at the dishonesty of this brazen ploy by the fire union and departmental leaders.

All you need to know to tell you this is a trap-door election is that the ordinance approving Tuesday’s vote was introduced and approved in one week.

City Councilwoman Katheryn Shields, a longtime FOF (friend of fire fighters) and the shrewdest Council member, introduced the ordinance on Jan. 16. The press didn’t pick up on it, and six days later, the ordinance had its only public hearing. The hearing was held, naturally enough, in Shields’ finance committee, and the committee unanimously voted in favor.

The next day, Jan. 23, the Council approved the ordinance on a 10-2 vote.

Mayor Quinton Lucas was conveniently absent the day of the vote. Afterwards he told a reporter he needed to be convinced of the need for an increase in the fire tax.

Let’s put his hedging in context. Before last year’s City Council and mayoral elections, Lucas had told The Star he was against any new taxes. In those elections, Lucas had the backing of Local 42, and it helped him defeat Councilwoman Jolie Justus, who had won the primary.

So how does Lucas feel about the Fire Department tax increase now? Not surprisingly, he’s quoted in today’s paper as saying he’s for it. Interestingly, however, he said it’s not because Local 42 or Fire Department management made a strong case for it.

“I don’t know if they so much made a case as the conditions have,” he said.

Whaaa?

I guess that’s supposed to mean the coronavirus has demonstrated that the Fire Department needs tens of millions of additional dollars for bigger and better stations, and new ambulances and trucks, so it can better respond to people calling 9-1-1 with virus symptoms.

Balderdash.

**

Here’s how it is, sadly. The Star no longer has the willpower or firepower to challenge Local 42 in a big way. And with the paper unable to hold the union or City Council members’ feet to the fire, the union goes its merry way and will continue to get about whatever it wants.

My guess is tomorrow we’ll see an equivocal editorial that ultimately recommends a vote against Question 1. It will be too little, too late. It would have taken a hard-hitting, methodical campaign by the editorial board to defeat this measure.

Yael Abouhalkah, longtime former editorial page writer for The Star and steadfast defender of taxpayer interests, must be grinding his teeth and pulling his hair out.

**

Here’s the ballot language…

Shall the City of Kansas City impose a sales tax of 1/2% to expire on December 31, 2036, for the purpose of providing revenues for the operation of the Kansas City Fire Department which will include making capital improvements to, and purchasing equipment for, such Department as authorized by Section 321.242 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri and which will have the effect of increasing the existing sales tax from 1/4% to 1/2%?

I’m afraid we’re about to see a blink-and-you-just-missed-it sales tax election in Kansas City.

That is unfortunate and discouraging.

On Tuesday, a very low number of people will go to the polls to vote on Question 1, which would increase the existing Fire Department sales tax from a quarter-cent to a half-cent. (An election board official told me today he was estimating a 6 percent to 8 percent voter turnout.)

I expect the proposal to pass. That, too, is discouraging.

Like many incremental sales taxes, this one sounds like it doesn’t amount to much. It does.

:: If voters approve Question 1, the sales tax in much of Kansas City would go from 8.61 percent to 8.86 percent, or nearly 9 percent. It is higher in certain commercial areas, including the Plaza and Downtown.

:: An extra quarter-cent would raise about $21 million a year, or about $315 million by 2036, when the full half-cent tax would be scheduled to expire.

(And, believe me, it probably won’t expire then; once these taxes are set, voters almost always renew them.)

This is a bad, bad tax proposal, one of the worst I’ve seen in my 50 years in Kansas City. The City Council, which hurriedly approved putting this on the ballot, should be ashamed of itself. But it’s not because, as usual, a Council majority fears retribution at the polls from Local 42 of the International Association of Fire Fighters.

Along with the African-American group Freedom Inc., the fire fighters control the largest block of votes in the city. And Freedom is arm-in-arm with the fire fighters on this proposal. The organization either has been paid or will be paid tens of thousands of dollars by a committee affiliated with Local 42 to help get out the vote on Kansas City’s east side.

This is a bad proposal for two main reasons:

:: The sales tax is the most regressive tax of all; it hits hardest those who can least afford to pay. And yet its often the easiest one to get passed.

:: This is an ambush by the fire fighters and a large majority of the City Council, including Mayor Quinton Lucas, who was out of town when the Council approved the election and refused to speak out against it. (He had told The Star before he was elected mayor that he was against any new taxes.)

The ambush aspect is particularly galling. Let me walk you through the elements of this lightning bolt…

Shields

— At the Jan. 16 City Council meeting, Councilwoman Katheryn Shields, now in her 13th year on the Council (two terms earlier and second term this go-round) introduced an ordinance calling for an election on this issue. As far as I know, no one in the media picked up the story, and, as a result, the vast majority of the public had no idea it was on the Council’s radar.

— The following Wednesday, Jan. 22, the ordinance came before Shields’ finance committee, and Fire Chief Donna Maize told the committee the department needed nearly $80 million for immediate and long-term station improvements and for equipment, including new trucks, pumpers and ambulances. The committee unanimously approved the ordinance, and The Star had its first story about the tax proposal that afternoon.

— The next day, Jan. 23, seven days after the ordinance was introduced, it went to the full Council and was approved on a 10-2 vote. (Voting “yes” — besides Shields — were Kevin O’Neill, Heather Hall, Teresa Loar, Dan Fowler, Brandon Ellington, Lee Barnes Jr., Kevin McManus, Andrea Bough and Ryana Parks-Shaw. Voting “no” were Melissa Robinson and Eric Bunch. And, as I said, Lucas was absent.

Normally, tax proposals emerge from City Hall after weeks or months of planning, deliberation and public discussion.

The fact that this measure blew through the Council like a tornado, with little or no public input, clearly shows the goal was to keep the measure under wraps as much as possible.

Years ago, The Star would have sniffed this out and exposed it when it surfaced, but, as we all know, The Star has lost the bulk of its editorial staff, as well as much of its core readership.

Where The Star used to stand as a bulwark against government-launched “trick plays” and other abuses, its influence is now greatly diminished. I expect The Star’s editorial page to come out against Question 1, but here we are four days before the election and it hasn’t happened yet. And now it’s probably too late.

**

In addition to successfully rushing this measure onto the ballot, the Council majority and the fire fighters got another favorable break with the spread of the coronavirus. As it should, the pandemic has taken front and center in everyone’s lives, and few people are paying attention to local government, except how it is dealing with the epidemic.

As a result, many people, I’m sure, are not even aware of Tuesday’s election, much less Question 1. Furthermore, many of those who are aware of it are probably leery about going to the polls. It’s possible we’ll see a record low turnout, possibly less than 10 percent of registered voters.

But I’ll tell you who will be going to the polls — the fire fighters, their relatives, their friends and others who are connected to them in any way. They are a powerful and relentless political force, and they vote in their interests. Along with Freedom Inc.’s help on the East Side, they should carry the day.

The firefighters have been sending out full-color mailers (see example below) focusing not on the tax but on how “our fire fighters are responding to the pandemic” and how voters can safely vote on Tuesday.

It is an ingenious approach — minimizing the tax and maximizing what the fire fighters are known for, ensuring public safety.

It’s also a con. But the fire fighters have just as much experience swaying the public as they do protecting it.

For what it’s worth, I strongly recommend a “no” vote on Tuesday. We should not let the fire fighters and the Council members who brazenly rammed this proposal onto the ballot play us for fools.

 

I have no doubt that KCPD has many excellent officers.

I had an encounter with two last year when our daughter had a wreck late one night last year, and the responding officers were outstanding. Brooks wasn’t injured, just shaken up, but her car was totaled.

In addition, a member of the police Public Information Office who lives in our homes association is top of the line, and everyday police and press relations have improved since he joined the unit.

At the same time, however, I am very troubled — and I’ve said this before — about the direction of the organization in general.

Under the last two chiefs — Darryl Forte and now Rick Smith — we have seen a disturbing tilt toward increasing secretiveness and insulation.

For example:

:: When Forte retired unexpectedly in 2017, he slipped out the back door with $500,000 in accrued vacation, sick leave and comp time, and he refused to talk to the press about it.

:: Twice last year, Smith hindered the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office in investigating incidents involving questionable police responses. In one, two officers beat up a transgender woman, Brianna Hill, who was resisting arrest. In the other, an officer shot and killed 26-year-old Cameron Lamb under opaque circumstances.

:: Smith has chosen to communicate with the public and the media primarily through his blog, instead of phone calls and in-person interviews.

:: The department appears to be dead set against buying body cameras, which would be of immense help in determining appropriate and inappropriate police actions in controversial and deadly incidents.

Smith

Forte

While there are many specific problems with the police department, nearly all are rooted in a basic problem: Governance of KCPD has been a certifiable disaster since the demise of the Pendergast organization in Kansas City.

Follow along on a bit of interesting (you bet!) police department history.

Some time after the Civil War, the Kansas City and St. Louis police departments came under state control. In 1932, however, boss Tom Pendergast’s political machine challenged Missouri law to regain local control of Kansas City’s department. The move was successful, and Pendergast added the police department to the list of other departments that were reservoirs of patronage, with the boss’s lieutenants doling out jobs to reward political support and insure loyalty.

After Pendergast went to prison for tax evasion in 1939, the General Assembly passed a bill, which the governor signed, returning control of the department to the state. The law put the department under the control of a five-member Board of Police Commissioners, consisting of the mayor and four citizens appointed by the governor.

Significantly, the law gave the board the power to hire and fire the police chief, but it made the city responsible for paying for police department operations. Thus, in the case of police body cameras, the mayor and Council cannot force the police department to buy them because it has little say regarding the department’s budget.

An even bigger problem is that police boards have long coddled and rubber-stamped the chiefs. The citizen board members, who have a 4-1 advantage over the mayor, generally are very flattered to serve, and they tend to put the police department’s interests above the interests of the general public.

For example, The Star’s editorial board recently called for the department to allow an outside agency to conduct use-of-force investigations — which makes obvious sense — but Police Board President Nathan Garrett (a lawyer, wouldn’t you know it?) refused.

The Star quoted Garrett as saying, “No one has shown me convincing evidence that our practice has resulted in a miscarriage of justice.”

Of course not. When you’re wearing blinders, you don’t see anything you don’t want to see.

**

The only sure way to cure the adversarial relationship between the police department and City Hall, and to flush the police department from the cave it’s been in for decades, is for the city to gain control of the department.

It would be difficult but not impossible.

One way is by initiative petition, which would entail getting signatures of five percent of registered voters in six of Missouri’s eight congressional districts. That would be a very expensive proposition because signature procurers have to be paid, and even if the drive was successful, the proposal would be put to a statewide vote.

Another way would be for the General Assembly to pass a bill authorizing a statewide vote on local control. That’s what happened in 2012 with St. Louis. Political agitator and conservative supporter Rex Sinquefield reached an arrangement with then-Mayor Francis Slay, and Sinquefield bankrolled a $2 million statewide campaign. Voters then approved it overwhelmingly.

The day after the election the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a story saying:

“With the victory of Prop A, Kansas City will be the only city in the country that still lacks control of its police force. Kansas City Mayor Sly James said his city wasn’t yet ready to be included as part of Prop A.”

The only city in the country…

It was a huge mistake for James not to try to piggyback on the St. Louis measure. Kansas City was ready then, and we are desperately ready now.

Call the EMT’s. Get the best doctors available; this is an emergency.

Sam Mellinger, The Star’s lead sports columnist, is very sick. I feel sure he’s been feverish for several days and very little oxygen is getting to his brain. He’s a COVID-19 candidate, for sure.

Mellinger

Nothing else could explain a couple of jaw-dropping decisions he made in compiling “the 50 most influential people in KC sports history” in today’s Kansas City Star.

He got some of the obvious ones right, such as Lamar Hunt (No. 1), Ewing Kauffman (No. 2), Len Dawson (No. 5), Andy Reid (No. 6), Hank Stram (No. 12) and Tom Watson (No. 18).

But, as I perused the list, I was thunderstruck by two things:

:: Mellinger had Ned Yost, who guided the Royals to a World Series Championship in 2015 and to Game 7 of the World Series the year before, down at No. 46. He almost didn’t make the cut!

:: More outrageous, Dick Howser, who led the Royals to the 1985 World Series Championship, didn’t make the cut! Perhaps an even greater manager than Yost, Howser was “nowhere to be found.”

Let’s take a closer look at these two unforgivable miscalculations…

**

Ned Yost

Yost, in Mellinger’s esteemed view, merited no better placement than between current Kansas City Chiefs’ assistant coach Eric Bieniemy (No. 45) and former Chiefs offensive lineman Will Shields (No. 47).

Is there any way Bieniemy and Shields will be remembered longer in Kansas City than the great Ned Yost?

…Consider some of those ranked well ahead of Yost:

:: The team of Neal Patterson and Cliff Illig, co-founders of Sporting KC. Somehow, they made No. 9.

:: Former Unified Government Mayor Carol Marinovich, who laid the groundwork for the conversion of I-435 and I-70 into a sporting and entertainment destination. She came in at No. 15.

:: Matt Besler, a Sporting Kansas City defender since 2009. He stood at No. 17.

:: Evelyn Gates, whom Mellinger described as a “sports official and advocate for KC-area girls sports for 45 years.” Mellinger placed her at No. 29, even though the vast majority of area residents have probably never heard of her. (I haven’t. Have you? This is a joke, right?)

Yost

Now, Marinovich and the team of Patterson and Illig certainly belong in the top 50, but their achievements don’t approach those of Yost, in my opinion. He should at least be in the top 20, maybe the top 15.

Some people contend that the manager’s role is overrated in baseball. I disagree. It’s the ultimate managerial challenge. The manager has to keep the egos in check, maintain as much harmony as possible in the clubhouse and keep the players focused and energized through the interminable 162-game season. And when it comes to the World Series, he’s got to keep his wits about him when the sporting world is watching and do whatever he can to help the players keep theirs.

Yost was incredible in his relentless optimism and equanimity. When we fans would be pulling our hair out over something like Salvadore Perez striking out on a pitch he couldn’t possibly reach, Yost would be leaning against the dugout railing, expressionless, hand never moving from his chin.

**

Dick Howser

For Mellinger to completely overlook Howser is maddening and disgraceful, not to mention insulting to Howser’s family and the tens of thousands of Royals fans who cherish the memory of Kansas City’s first-ever World Series-winning team.

That was a phenomenal achievement, promised by Ewing Kauffman and delivered by the humble and unflappable Howser.

Howser

One thing in particular stands out in my memory of Howser. I once read what Howser told the team before Game 7, when the Royals beat the St. Louis Cardinals 11-0 at Kauffman Stadium.

Howser wasn’t a bit worked up and he made no effort to fire up the team in the clubhouse. He was calm and realistic. According to relief pitcher Dan Quisenberry, now deceased, Howser said something like: “This is going to be difficult; they’re a good team. But we can do it. We’ve just got to play our game, be smart and stay focused.”

Just like Yost 30 years later, Howser’s equanimity carried the day and brought the championship flag to Kansas City.

Tragically, less than two years later, the beloved Howser was dead at age 51. He died at St. Luke’s Hospital on June 17, 1987, after battling a brain tumor for about a year.

(The closest thing I have to a personal memory of Howser is covering the 1985 World Series parade down Grand Avenue. The players and team officials rode in low-riding, classic cars, some of which caught fire after wadded up paper got stuck underneath. Howser and his wife Nancy were among those who had to bail out. I peered into the Howser car and saw a woman’s shoe, just one, in the back seat.)

**

Regarding Yost and Howser, I don’t know what Mellinger’s problem is. With Yost it’s obviously a serious miscalculation.

With Howser, perhaps the omission has to do with the fact that Mellinger, who is about 41, was about six years old when the Royals won their first World Series.

If Mellinger was 41 and not from the Kansas City area, I could better understand why he might underrate Howser. But he grew up in Lawrence and got his first newspaper job when he was about 16, so he heard plenty about the 1985 Royals and their legendary leader, Howser.

…As I said at the outset, the only logical explanation is illness. The sports editor should call 9-1-1 and have Mellinger transported to the ER. And when he’s recovered, fire him.

The McClatchy Co., which has been mired in bankruptcy proceedings the last three months, is continuing to slash payroll and shove veteran newspaper people off its merry-go-round.

The latest cost-saving move was announced Wednesday: At the Tacoma (WA) News Tribune, both the publisher and the editor, with a combined 57 years of newspaper experience, were dumped.

Phelps

The ousted editor, Dale Phelps, has deep Kansas City roots. He graduated from Center High School and William Jewell College and spent 17 years in The Star’s sports department. For many of those years he was assistant sports editor.

Now, at about 60 years old, Phelps is faced with the prospect of retiring early or looking for work elsewhere. (I can tell him from experience that 60 is a good age at which to retire. Plenty of good golf left, if your health holds up.)

Phelps was appointed editor about three years ago by another Kansas City Star veteran, David Zeeck, who had risen to publisher of the News Tribune. Zeeck was lucky: He got to retire in December 2018, after 24 years in Tacoma. He and his wife, Valerie, purchased a home in Kansas City last year. (It wouldn’t surprise me if Phelps moved back, too.)

The ousted publisher in Tacoma was Rebecca Poynter, who succeeded Zeeck in January 2019. Poynter’s run in the publisher’s job turned out to be a measly 16 months. Like Phelps, Poynter, who is about 53, is faced with an uncertain future in the news business.

Last month, McClatchy announced the elimination of four executive positions, including another person who earned his spurs in Kansas City, Bryan Harbison. Harbison, a Kansas City area native, formerly was vice president of finance at The Star.

In recent years, McClatchy has fixed on a money-saving M.O. in which it replaces the editor and the publisher of a given paper with a new leader, who gets the title of president.

That’s what McClatchy did in Kansas City in October 2019, when Mike Fannin, then editor of The Star, was named president, and publisher Tony Berg was shuttled off to Wichita to become “president” of the Wichita Eagle.

The Star lost tons of credibility in its handling of Berg’s demotion by never mentioning Berg’s name or saying what happened to him in its story about Fannin’s ascension. Berg magically vanished.

Pedersen

McClatchy employed the same 1-for-2 tactic with its Tacoma move. The News Tribune’s new president is Stephanie Pedersen, who, according to her LinkedIn page, has exactly nine years of journalistic experience. She is about 35.

Before being catapulted into the top job at Tacoma, she was an editor for five years at the Ledger-Enquirer in Columbus, GA, and was executive editor at The Sun News in Myrtle Beach for four years. (Both are McClatchy papers.)

**

All this moving and shaking within McClatchy is just a prelude to what could happen if and when McClatchy’s biggest creditor, the hedge fund Chatham Asset Management, takes control of the company. Things seem to be moving in that direction.

A Feb. 14 story in The Washington Post summed up how bad things had gotten for McClatchy since its $4.5 billion purchase of the Knight Ridder chain in 2006…

“From the 2006 acquisition to 2018, McClatchy cut its operating expenses by nearly 60 percent. By mid-2019, it had cut 82 percent of full-time workforce from the time of the deal — shedding reporters, editors, photographers and other staffers across the country — going from 15,378 to 2,800. At the same time, advertising revenue fell by 80 percent and total daily print circulation fell 59 percent.”

Total number of employees down to 2,800. That’s just a few hundred more than The Star had as recently as about 15 years ago.

And watch out if Chatham decides to operate the chain rather than sell it off as a whole or sell individual properties.

If it looks grim now, it could be much worse in a year or two. There might not be anything left of the merry-go-round except the sound of a calliope.

 

For all the wrong reasons, people from Kansas, Oklahoma and Kansas City, MO, made The New York Times today.

Let’s run down the list…

Kansas

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whose other home is in Wichita, is coming under increased scrutiny for reportedly having State Department underlings do such things as pick up restaurant takeout meals, pick up his dry cleaning and walk his dog.

Another issue is the propriety of wife Susan making overseas trips with him (at taxpayer expense, of course) and exercising Secretary-of-State-type authority. (That will smack a familiar refrain with Kansas City residents who recall the role former Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser’s wife Gloria Squitiro played in his ignominious administration.)

The Pompeos

Regarding Pompeo, let’s just say he’s the worst secretary of state since…well, at least since Rex Tillerson, whom President Trump fired two years ago. (Now there was a match made in hell. In one meeting with senior administration officials, Tillerson reportedly referred to Trump as “a moron.” And later, after firing him, Trump said Tillerson was “dumb as a rock.”)

The Times story says Tillerson “was perceived as aloof and dismissive.”

Pompeo, on the other hand, is smug and crooked.

Last week, at Pompeo’s request, Trump fired the State Department inspector general, who was investigating Pompeo’s alleged misuse of personnel. Today, Pompeo said the firing of Inspector General Steve Linick was not an act of political retaliation because he didn’t know beforehand that Linick was investigating allegations that Pompeo had an aide run personal errands for him.

Yeah, uh-huh, the guy just wasn’t living up to Pompeo’s high expectations of a high-ranking public official.

Oklahoma

Here we go again with another self-anointed, white, neighborhood watchdog detaining (but at least not killing) a black man.

Miller

Forty-three-year-old Travis Miller Sr., an appliance and furniture deliveryman, had completed a delivery in the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond on May 11 when the president of the gated community’s homeowners association blocked Miller’s truck as he approached the exit gate.

The association president, David Stewart, approached Miller’s truck and said he would move his car if Miller told him where he and his co-worker, also black, were going. Miller, who was wearing a uniform bearing his name, called his supervisor and then started recording the incident on Facebook Live. In the 37-minute video, which has been viewed more than half a million times, Miller says, “I’m trying to leave, and I got Super Neighbor over here blocking me in, so I’m going live.”

Here’s one of the more interesting exchanges that took place between Miller and Super Neighbor:

Miller: You do realize this is unlawful detainment, right? You have absolutely no reason and no right to hold me here and block me with your car.

SN: All I need to know is why you’re here.

Miller: You don’t need to know anything.

SN: I own one-eighteenth of what you’re sitting on. This street is private. This is not city property. This street is maintained by the people that live in here.

Miller: You’re being nosy. That’s all you’re doing. You’re trying to use privilege, and you’re not getting it from me. Just move your car. Unlawful detainment.

Finally, the customer who had taken the delivery from Miller came along and spoke to Stewart, and Stewart allowed Miller to pass.

…I wonder, just wonder, who David Stewart plans to vote for in November. That would be interesting to know, wouldn’t it?

Kansas City

Last week The Star reported that two KCPD officers had been indicted on misdemeanor charges after being caught on video using excessive force to arrest Breona Hill, a transgender woman, last May 24. The story is on Page A21 of today’s NYT.

The police department was not cooperative with the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office. Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said in a news release that her office was “prevented from filing the charge independent of a Grand Jury” after the police department declined to submit a probable cause statement to the prosecutor’s office.

(When charges are filed on the basis of “information,” the probable cause statement provides the rationale for charges. A grand jury can indict on the basis of testimony it hears and evidence presented; “probable cause” is not a factor.)

Hill

In response to Baker, Police Chief Rick Smith said the department didn’t submit a probable cause statement because investigators determined there was “no probable cause to conclude the officers broke the law.” He added, however, that the department submitted the case file to the prosecutor’s office, to federal prosecutors and to the FBI.

To be sure, this is an odd case. Hill had created a ruckus at a beauty supply store before police were called, and she might well have been mouthy with police, and maybe she even put up some resistance. But there is no reason for the officers to have slammed her face against the sidewalk and kneed her in the face, torso and ribs, as the indictment and video indicate.

The officers — Matthew Brummett and Charles Prichard — could be fined $2,000 and sentenced to a year in jail if they are convicted of the low-level assault charges.

I would imagine that the video will be the main evidence if the case goes to trial. That’s because there’s another oddity to this case: The victim, Hill, was shot to death in an unrelated incident last October. A suspect has been charged in that case.

…Regardless of what kind of lifestyle Hill was living, Brummett and Prichard almost certainly went too far last May 24. And it’s just another instance of KCPD playing down and covering up cases of excessive force.

If it wants to start regaining public confidence, this department should do three things: Start being more forthcoming with the press and public, start holding its officers to a higher standard of conduct, and come up with a plan to try to reduce the incredibly high murder rate.

As it is, this department is looking increasingly hidebound and reactive.