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It’s unfortunate, in a way, that Chris Hernandez’ legal allegations that Kansas City Manager Brian Platt enthusiastically endorsed lying to reporters as an an acceptable “media strategy” is getting overshadowed by the news swirling about the Kansas City Police Department and Board of Police Commissioners.

Make no mistake, however, that the civil allegations by the former city communications director have significantly damaged Platt, and his future in Kansas City is extremely tenuous.

I don’t see the 37-year-old executive making it through 2023. He will either resign or be fired.

At this point, it’s fair to say, the City Council members, including Mayor Quinton Lucas, have their fingers in the air to see if this story “has legs,” and they are trying to gauge how strong public reaction will be and how long blowback will last.

Here is how the political chess board lines up in this intriguing situation…

  • Lucas, who was Platt’s strongest advocate when the Council hired Platt on a 9-4 vote two years ago, is now clearly holding Platt at arm’s length. Lucas has defended Platt only in broad generalities, saying things like, “We are into truth telling,” and “I’ve never heard the city manager say that.” What he has not said is, “I don’t believe the allegations” or “I have spoken with Brian, and he assures me he did not advocate lying to the media.” I have sent emails to Lucas’ chief of staff, Morgan Said, and to Lucas himself, asking if he has spoken directly to Platt about the case, and neither has responded.
  • Platt is not well liked by many people at City Hall. That is not particularly unusual for city managers, who have to make difficult decisions affecting many employees, but I have heard an unusually high level of grumbling about Platt — both about his style and substance.
  • His personal life has not been stable, either. He filed for divorce in September from his wife Margo Aaron, who has family ties to Kansas City, and a hearing is scheduled for early next month. The divorce is uncontested, but last week Platt filed a motion to close the case file, and today the judge denied the motion. The couple, who lived in the Beacon Hill neighborhood, has a young child.
  • Platt started out on unsteady political footing, with four of the five Black City Council members — all except Lucas — voting against him. The four who voted “no” — Lee Barnes Jr., Melissa Robinson, Ryana Parks-Shaw and Brandon Ellington — complained that they were not consulted on the selection and that it was rammed through by Lucas and a majority. There is no reason to think any of the four have warmed to Platt.
  • All 13 Council posts will be up for election next spring, and at least six new members will be coming on board when the new Council takes office in August. (Six current Council members are “term limited,” meaning they are finishing up their second consecutive terms.) The upshot? If the current Council members don’t fire Platt, the next Council, with several new members who might want a city manager of their choosing, well could. (See Phil Cardarella’s comment below regarding the number of votes needed to fire a city manager.)
  • The Hernandez lawsuit, which was filed in Jackson County Circuit Court, will not have a clear cut resolution. These cases seldom go to trial. We can expect numerous filings in the case, and it will probably end in a settlement. If it’s a large settlement, say $250,000 or more, it will be a major embarrassment for the city. If it is dismissed for some reason, or if it is a low-six-figure settlement, it will mitigate the embarrassment.

Whatever happens, though, this issue will be hovering over City Hall for months, and I don’t think the Council — either the current one or the next one — will want to wait around for judgment day. In the end, the city very likely will be writing a check to Chris Hernandez, and the Council will not want the man responsible to still be calling the shots on the 29th floor of City Hall.

Note: Minutes before the start of today’s meeting of the Board of Police Commissioners, Lucas responded to my email. He really didn’t say anything new, and he didn’t answer my question about whether he had spoken directly with Platt about the Hernandez allegations. He also said this: “As the matter is currently the subject of pending litigation, I will not discuss specific details of the case. I would expect if they’re listening to their lawyers that neither the City Manager nor Mr. Hernandez will have further comment beyond that which has been shared.” That means we will hear nothing from Platt other than what is filed in court, and the mayor will continue to be vague.   

I am writing this post against my best interests as far as my major civic activity is concerned.

As president of the City of Fountains Foundation, a partner organization to the Parks and Recreation Department, I lobby city officials, including City Manager Brian Platt, to keep Kansas City’s publicly owned fountains, monuments and sculptures in good shape so we can continue living up to our reputation as

In fact, I had a meeting scheduled with Platt in early October to discuss a particular project, but it turned out he could not make the meeting. Instead, another COFF board member and I met with an assistant city manager.

But today, after reading The Star’s story about the former city communications director’s lawsuit against the city, alleging that Platt urged him to lie to the press, I’m calling for Platt’s head. On a platter.

Brian Platt

The story, prominent on the paper’s website (if you have a subscription), reports that Chris Hernandez alleges in his lawsuit that Platt instructed the city communications staff to lie as part of a “media strategy.”

In the civil suit, filed in Jackson County Circuit Court, Hernandez said he was “not willing to put his credibility on the line” for Platt. As a result of his resistance, Hernandez said, he was reassigned to another city department. (On his Linkedin page, he says he is special liaison officer in the Civil Rights & Equal Opportunity Department. Obviously, that is a major comedown.)

The suit says that in a January meeting, Hernandez and Platt discussed strategies for handling Kansas City news media. In the course of that meeting, Hernandez contends, Platt broached the prospect of lying as a “legitimate media strategy.”

Platt, the lawsuit says, was angry about at least one story in The Star — a story regarding the city’s work on potholes. Platt allegedly instructed the communications staff to call the newspaper and say that “the numbers were wrong” when they were actually correct.

**

There’s more, and you can either read the story or go to Case.net and look up the petition for yourself, but here’s where I come down…

Chris Hernandez has been a good newsman and a reliable and straightforward communications manager in Kansas City for nearly 30 years, with the exception of five years when he worked as a TV reporter in Cleveland and Chicago.

I dealt with him several times as communications manager, and he was always helpful. I knew him when he was a reporter for KSHB-TV and, earlier, with WDAF-TV. He was very good.

He has a B.S. in journalism from the University of Kansas. He became city communications director in 2013.

Platt, 37, has been in Kansas city only two years. He came from Jersey City, NJ, where he had been business administrator for four years. It was a big jump from “business administrator” in a city of about 300,000 to city manager in the most prominent city with the city-manager/council form of government.

He was hired on a 9-4 City Council vote, with each of the four Black Council members other than Mayor Quinton Lucas voting against him. Of the four finalists for city manager in KC, Platt had the least experience in city government.

In short, I trust, Chris Hernandez a lot more than Brian Platt. I do not believe Hernandez would accuse Platt of urging him to lie to the media if he had not done so.

Not coming clean with the press is one thing; it happens. But telling your communications manager that lying to the media is part and parcel of a “media strategy”?

No. That’s just plain wrong. It’s outrageous. It’s maddening.

I’ve written, individually, to Lucas and to every City Council member I know personally and urged them to fire Platt.

He must go.

Personally, I don’t have anything to do with Twitter, but some people I know — some of them very smart — do.

I understand…You get to follow the people you trust and like, and many Twitter users are reliable and interesting and entertaining.

But, my God, for those who get their “news” from Twitter, it’s no wonder the country is in the shape it’s in. Let me give you a great example.

Last night, I read on ESPN’s website that a couple of teams, including the San Francisco Giants, were pursuing Yankees’ star Aaron Judge. I was mildly interested in that, and thought it was surprising that he might leave the Yankees, so I Googled Judge to see what I could find.

One of the first things I came across was some tweets by a self-described “MLB, NFL and NBA insider” named Ben Dover.

I saw that the tweet at the top of his feed was dated Nov. 12. It said, “The San Francisco giants are signing free agent Aaron Judge to a 9 year deal.”

Beneath that was another tweet from earlier yesterday that said, “Free agent OF Aaron Judge is signing with the San Francisco Giants pending physical.”

Well, blimey, I thought, this is quite a story! Judge is not only leaving the Yankees, he’s going across the country to play for a team in the National League, and this fellow Dover has scooped the world; he knew it a month ago!

…Well, imagine my surprise when I got up this morning and read, on plodding, old ESPN, that Judge had signed a $360 million deal to stay with the Yankees.

I contacted my friend Lonnie Shalton, a retired Polsinelli founding partner who writes a “Hot Stove” baseball newsletter to hundreds of followers and is also a Twitter follower. (He’s one of the “very smart” people I referred to up top.)

I asked him how to interpret that Nov. 12 tweet and why it was at the top of Dover’s feed. Lonnie said it was a “pinned tweet.”

And what, I replied to Lonnie, is a “pinned tweet”?

His answer: “A person will sometimes want to highlight an older tweet and keep it at the top of his feed — one they are proud of, or maybe in this case, to make fun of themselves for being so wrong. It is not intended nor understood to be a part of the chronological order.”

I don’t know whether Scoop Dover was making fun of himself or what. I’ll just let you judge for yourselves from his full description of himself (as full as you get on Twitter, apparently):

“Has been, currently is, and will continue to be the best. MLB, NFL, and NBA Insider, Husband, Father of 1. *legally obligated to remind you all this is a PARODY.”

Based solely on his Aaron Judge reporting, I think it’s fair to describe him differently: Pending a physical…he’s nothing but a puffed-up bullshit artist.

But Father-of-One Dover wasn’t alone on the Giants scoop.

Lonnie sent me a story about a New York Post columnist named Jon Heyman who “reported” on Twitter Tuesday afternoon that Judge was signing with the Giants. The story said Heyman later deleted his tweet and apologized for “jumping the gun.”

The story said Heyman, “who is known for baseball breaking news to his 807,000-plus followers on Twitter, tweeted ‘Arson Judge appears headed to Giants,’ at 2:20 p.m. Minutes later, the tweet was taken down.”

How about that? Somehow, Scoop Heyman fell face down in a deeper mud puddle than Scoop Dover because, in addition to getting the story wrong, he misspelled Judge’s first name!

Heyman

This episode confirmed my steadfast belief that it pays to stick with mainstream news outlets (mine are basically The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Kansas City Star and KCUR) to get news you can trust.

If Dover and Heyman were legitimate news men, they would be bathed in ignominy. But it’s just Twitter. What the hell?

**

Note: As I reported last month — and as The Star announced today — Mike Fannin is out as the paper’s president and editor. This has been a long and painful saga, with Fannin apparently suffering from alcoholism. He picked up his third DUI this past summer, in Olathe, and after the arrest he went on a leave of absence. I understand that either the day he returned, or soon thereafter, he was discovered sleeping in his office, apparently under the influence. He was sent home and that was unofficially the end of his 14 years as the paper’s top editor. All that was lacking was the official announcement…The one surprise I got from The Star’s story was that Fannin pleaded guilty Oct. 7 “and was sentenced to two days in jail, 120 hours of house arrest and one year of probation.”

Is everybody sitting down? I’ve got something shocking to tell you: I might be voting for a Republican for Missouri governor in 2024.

Yes, indeed. Sometimes circumstances dictate a shift in political loyalties.

What made me almost gasp this morning was a headline in the Missouri Independent that said, “Lawmaker wants to use Missouri surplus to widen I-70.”

The story, written by Rudy Keller, said state Sen. Bill Eigel, a Republican from Eldon Spring, was proposing to use at least $2 billion of Missouri’s $6 billion budget surplus to widen I-70 to three or four lanes between Kansas City and St. Louis.

This idea has been long talked about, but this is the first legislator I know of who has stepped forward and said effectively, “Let’s do this.”

Before even reading the whole story, I looked up Eigel’s phone number, called his office and left a voice message saying I was 100 percent behind the project and would consider voting for him for governor if his plan was implemented.

Eigel

I’d never heard of Eigel, but just the fact that he came out with a bold proposal for a crying need at a time when money is cascading like water over Niagra Falls was enough to make me call his office.

Eigel, an Air Force veteran, owns St. Louis Skylights, a skylight installation company. From photos, he looks like he’s in his 40s. He’s a founding member of the Senate Conservative Caucus, which is troubling, but a conservative Republican is going to be elected governor, anyway, so what the hell? (In the race to succeed U.S. Senator Roy Blunt, I’m sure you noticed that the Republican candidates were falling all over each other to claim the mantle of “most conservative.”)

Eigel filed his bill Thursday, the first day bills could be “pre-filed” for the 2023 legislative session starting in January. It was one of several hundred bills filed. Eigel had to think his bill would upstage the vast majority of bills, and he was right.

Keller quoted Eigel as saying, “I don’t think it is necessarily a great thing for cash to be sitting in the government’s bank account. We need to invest those funds in actual big infrastructure projects like I-70.

The story went on to say: “Under his proposal, any general revenue funds in excess of a $4 billion cash balance would be transferred to the project fund. And from ongoing revenue, Eigel would dedicate about 2% annually — nearly $300 million this year — for 10 years.”

Eigel said the formula could generate as much as $9 billion for the project. MODOT Director Patrick McKenna told Keller he was not sure how much it would cost to widen I-70. This summer, the department estimated it woud cost $2.75 billion to add a third lane in each direction, primarily by building within the current right of way. An accurate estimate for four lanes would be extremely difficult to develop because four lanes would involve the acquisition of additional right-of-way, and many interchanges would need to be rebuilt.

…Well, I say, Bill, ol’ buddy, let’s just keep it simple and go with three lanes in the existing right of way. Just make sure they’re wide enough…I’m afraid with four lanes the far-left lane would become grounds for a daily Missouri Grand Prix, with people routinely going 80 to 100 mph. It could be a nightmare for law-abiding motorists and the Highway Patrol.

Yeah, just give us three lanes, and look for me in the far right lane; I’ll be plugging along at 60 to 65 and praying that the speed demons in the outer two lanes leave me alone.

A friend and fellow board member of the City of Fountains Foundation got a tour on Monday, with a few other people, of the new airport terminal, which is expected to open in March.

I was at the airport last week and again on Monday and could only see the project from a distance. Several photos that my friend took give a much better idea of how well the new terminal is coming along.

There doesn’t seem to be anything particularly striking about the new terminal, architecturally speaking — and that’s too bad — but it looks like it’s going to be very functional. Certainly, it will be leaps and bounds better than the old crescent-shaped terminals, which are now about 50 years old and no longer practical.

Here are some photos, compliments of Casey Cassias, a retired architect with BNIM.

This is the outside drop-off area, with supporting “Y” beams, which might be the airport’s most distinctive feature.
Inside the terminal
This will be the security checkpoint.
A ticketing and check-in area.
One of two concourses
A gate area…Are you ready to board?
A section of terrazzo floor taken from one of the existing terminals.
Baggage carousels, lower level
Gates along a concourse
A closer look at several gates

**

We’ve waited a long time for a modern airport, and now, thankfully, the day is just about on us.

(Thanks to Casey Cassias for this exceptional phographic preview.)

Former KC Star development reporter Kevin Collison has done a great job with his CitySceneKC website. If you don’t subscribe, I suggest you do so. At $6 a month, it’s the best bargain in town for keeping up with what’s going on in the heart of the city, between the River Market and the Crossroads District.

The thing you have to keep in mind about Kevin, however, is that he’s a cheerleader. First of all, like me, he loves Kansas City and wants to see it prosper. And then there’s the personal consideration: The more action there is downtown, the more it creates interest in his website.

The problem is that Kevin’s advocacy and rosy view sometimes get in the way of a clear-eyed look at a situation.

Take the prospect of a downtown baseball stadium…In general, Kevin has been a promoter of a downtown stadium, and at this point anyway that seems to be running counter to public sentiment.

In today’s edition of CitySceneKC, Kevin has an analysis of “parking, traffic and taxpayer costs” related to the downtown stadium idea being pushed first and foremost by KC Royals’ majority owner John Sherman.

Essentially, Kevin contends, there’s plenty of parking downtown and (fingers crossed) Sherman might not be planning to ask for a tremendous amount of help from the city — that is, from you and me.

Kevin

So, let’s take a look at some of Kevin’s specific points and assume that the preferred stadium site is the downtown “East Village,” which starts at about 12th and Holmes and extends north to about Eighth Street.

Kevin says…

First off, there is a lot of parking already available to the public downtown. Just within the Loop, there are 17,100 garage and 3,300 surface lot spaces, according to a survey done recently by the Downtown Council.

I say, get real, Kevin…The number of people who will park in a downtown garage to go to a stadium several blocks from the stadium will be ridiculously small. Some people would be interested in parking in a multi-level stadium garage, of course, but the prospect of being stuck in an exit queue for an hour or more would scare off many people…The price of surface-lot parking would jump from about $15 to $50, and you could forget about close-in street parking. All that street parking along Holmes and Charlotte (a great place to park if you’re going to City Hall or the Couthouse) would go away with a new stadium.

Kevin says…

There’s also the streetcar, which by the time a new ballpark would open, would extend on Main Street from UMKC to the riverfront. If the East Village is the site chosen for the Royals ballpark…it would be a less than a half-mile walk to the closest streetcar station at 12th and Main. That’s about eight minutes.

I don’t know how Kevin calculated eight minutes, but it takes the little stick-like pedestrian on Google maps 12 minutes to get from 12th and Main to 10th and Holmes. That’s seven long blocks — from Main to Walnut to Grand to McGee to Oak to Locust to Cherry and finally — “Ah, we can now see the stadium” — to Holmes. And, remember, that 12-minute walk just gets you to the vicinity of the stadium, not inside and to your seats.

Kevin says…

Fans could also use parking lots and garages along the streetcar route including Union Station, Crown Center, the riverfront and Country Club Plaza to reach their destination. People living near the route could leave their cars behind.

Oh, my. Pack your lunch and be sure to bring your credit card for dinner along the way. Such a trip would be in the category of a “great adventure.” About the only people I can see who’d be interested in going the streetcar route from Union Station or anywhere south of it would be members of the Kansas City Hiking Club, if there is such a thing. The vast majority of people attending games just want to park fairly close, get in their seats and get out as fast as possible.

Kevin says…

There’s also a notion that city taxpayers would be asked to be a big funder of a downtown ballpark. Nowhere in Sherman’s letter is there any ask from the city, although there will likely be a request for tax incentive help.

A notion? Duh! A $2 billion stadium project is clearly out of Jackson County’s league. County Executive Frank White might be on deck but he will never get to the plate…Will there be an “ask” from the city? You bet your ass there will. And it will be big. I’m guessing a sales-tax increase of at least one cent on the dollar, a city property-tax increase and scores of millions in property-tax breaks for the developer, Sherman and Co.

Finally, Kevin says…

Cordish, the operator of the Power & Light District, has had discussions with Sherman about potentially participating in the redevelopment plan.

The city is already supplementing the P&L District to the tune of $14 million a year because revenue projections didn’t pan out and development of the district lapped over into the Great Recession. The only way I can see Cordish participating in this plan is if the stadium site would be within easy walking distance of P&L. Sherman envisions a “Ballpark Village” type of development around the stadium, with bars and restaurants and perhaps office buildings. Such a development on the east side of downtown would be curtains for Cordish.

…There you go, Kevin. Sorry to burst your bubble. We’re still buddies, right? It’s just “business.” But, please, take off those rose-colored glasses and get Costco to order you some clear lenses.

On Sunday, The Kansas City Star published one of its best stories in recent months. It was the heartbreaking story of a 14-year-old Afghan immigrant, Rezwan Kohistani, who committed suicide last May after he and his family were sent off by immigration officials to a small town in southwest Missouri, where there were no other Afghans and where no one spoke the Kohistanis’ native language, Dari.

Rezwan essentially died of loneliness and frustration.

Telling his story, and that of his family, were Matti Gellman, a reporter for The Star, and Kartikay Mehrotra, a reporter for ProPublica, a nonprofit organization based in New York. ProPublica was the first online news source to win a Pulitzer Prize.

One of the best parts of the story is how Gellman and Mehrota describe America’s “gutted system” of handling refugees — gutted in no small measure by former President Donald Trump’s decision to slash the number of refugees that the U.S. would accept each year by 80 percent. As a result, hundreds of nonprofits, which get a small payment for each refugee they relocate, had to cut their staffs or close.

Under President Joe Biden, the system’s cylinders are starting to fire up again, but many refugees are still getting lost in the shuffle.

After being passed along from one immigration organization to another, the Kohastani family ended up in Oronogo, MO, a town of 2,500 that is west of I-49 and north of Joplin. The family had asked to go to St. Louis, where a relative lived, but in the shuffle, the request got lost.

At Webb City High School, which Rezwan attended sporadically, he attempted to communicate with the few students who reached out to him through a telephone translation app, but most students simply ignored him.

Gellman and Mehrotra describe his last day at school like this…

On the last day of Rezwan Kohistani’s life, he ate lunch alone.

Three other boys were at his table in the high school cafeteria, two of their trays touching Rezwan’s, surveillance video shows. They laughed among themselves, seemingly oblivious to their classmate, even after one of the boys accidentally knocked over Rezwan’s milk carton. Rezwan, a tall and handsome freshman, had arrived at the school four months earlier, after fleeing Afghanistan with his family. He sat at the table for a few more minutes, at one point covering his face in apparent distress. Then he got up and made his way through the halls, past a bulletin board announcing, “You belong.”

Rezwan pushed open the school door, walked out into the rain and sent his mother a text in his native language, Dari, saying “goodbye.”

That was on May 4. The next morning police received a 911 call that a student had been found dead near the high school baseball field.

Rezwan

The preliminary autopsy report declared Rezwan’s death a suicide…The story does not describe the manner of death.

The story says that a few students who had befriended Rezwan grieved. One was quoted as saying, “I think this whole thing could have been avoided if there were other Afghan kids and he had a group to be in instead of being alone.”

Others, on the other hand, were completely indifferent. For example, when investigators asked the boys who had sat at Rezwan’s lunch table what they recalled, they said they had been unaware of him. One said, “What’s a Rezwan?

Sadly, Rezwan, the oldest of six children, had set his sights on moving to Dallas, where the family had relatives and where there is a large Afghan community that had offered to help the Kohistani family.

In mid-April, a few weeks before Rezwan took his life, he and his father had driven to Dallas to check it out. The trip went well, and the family decided to move. However, the executive director of the immigration organization that had brought them to Oronogo convinced Rezwan’s father to hold off until the end of the school year.

Rezwan must have been crushed…He had had enough of Oronogo, enough of life without significant connection to his peers, and despair overwhelmed him.

…Congratulations to Matti Gellman and Kartikay Mehrotra and The Star and ProPublica. I hope this story turns out to be a big prize winner.

Kartikay Mehrotra
Matti Gellman

The New York Times published an absolutely devastating story Sunday that exposed how Kansas elected officials, including Gov. Laura Kelly, completely prostrated themselves to the promoters of online sports betting earlier this year.

The first three paragraphs of the story — which an investigative reporter and a financial reporter worked on for months — painted a stunning picture, almost a caricature, of an elected official on the take.

Here’s how the story opens…

TOPEKA, Kan. — Representative John Barker, a cattle breeder, retired judge and chairman of one of the most powerful committees in the Kansas legislature, had a glass of 30-year Redbreast Irish whiskey in his hand and a Don Tomas cigar from Honduras in his mouth.

Both had been passed to him as he entered a party a few blocks from the State Capitol. It was co-sponsored by lobbyists who had recently turned to Mr. Barker for help legalizing sports betting in Kansas.

“They keep a special bottle for me up there — they know I like it,” he said of the lobbyists as he surveyed the crowded room. “I’m in my element when I have a whiskey and a cigar.”

Barker, a Republican from Abilene, was the sponsor of a bill to legalize online sports betting. The House approved the bill on April 28 on a 73-49 vote, and the Senate approved it 21-13 in the early-morning hours of April 29. Kelly signed the bill on June 20 and placed Kansas’ first-ever sports bet in September.

Kansas City Star photo

So eager were Barker and other legislators to accommodate more than two dozen sports-betting lobbyists that, in the course of negotiations over the bill, they made significant concessions to the gambling industry. One provision insured that casino companies, like Hollywood Casino in Kansas City, KS, would get a cut of sports-betting revenue. Another expanded the list of venues where sports betting would be allowed. Those sites included Kansas Speedway and Children’s Mercy Park, where Sporting Kansas City plays its games.

The biggest concession, however, was slashing the state’s share of gambling companies’ sports-betting revenue from 20 percent to 10 percent.

The lobbyists claimed that the 20-percent rate would mean less money available to pay out to bettors, which, they said, would drive Kansans to illegal gambling websites.

The NYT reporters, Eric Lipton and Ken Vogel, debunked that claim, however, saying statistics show that residents of high-tax states, like New York, have spent as much per capita on gambling as residents in states with low tax rates.

Now, three months into sports betting, the results have tended to indicate that the legislators who approved it were bigger suckers than the bettors. In September and October, Kansans placed $350 million of bets and, of that amount, the state collected less than $271,000 in taxes.

Told about that paltry amount, Barker, the whiskey-drinking, cigar-smoking lawmaker from Abilene, admitted to one of the NYT reporters: “I didn’t think of the consequences. Maybe we need to fix that.”

And then there’s the kicker of the story: Barker, who served four terms in the House, will not be around to propose any fixing. He was defeated in the August primary by a candidate who, The Times said, criticized him “for going too far to please the gambling industry.”

John Barker (Kansas Reflector photo)

**

Of course, this is ruby red Kansas and Barker’s successor doesn’t sound like he’s going to be much better.

Curious to learn more about who beat Barker, I found it was a man named Scott Hill, a “rural Abilene farmer and rancher,” who’s anti-abortion and anti-gun control. His biggest claim to fame came in 1999, however, when, as a member of the Kansas Board of Education, he voted with five other board members to eliminate evolution as a principle of the state science curriculum.

From lap dog (Barker) to meathead (Hill). It’s Kansas, after all, and it could just as easily have been Missouri, which doesn’t yet have sports betting but probably will follow Kansas’ lead in a year or two.

The best thing that can happen for this community as far as David Jungerman is concerned is for him to be transferred from the Jackson County jail to the Missouri Department of Corrections and never to be heard from again until he dies.

I thought the transfer process might have begun on Friday, when the 84-year-old killer was to have been sentenced for the October 2017 murder of lawyer Thomas Pickert.

Unfortunately, the sentencing was delayed after Judge John Torrence granted a defense request for a mental evaluation. Last week, Jungerman’s lead attorney requested a continuance, alleging that Jungerman’s physical and mental condition has continued to deteriorate.

After a conference call Friday, Torrence ordered a mental evaluation and scheduled another conference call for Jan. 20.

As a result, the conclusion of this awful case is going to carry over into 2023.

As badly as I would liked to have seen the sentencing take place Friday, I trust that Torrence is just being careful to protect the conviction that the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office won in September. Daniel Ross, lead defense attorney, is expected to base his appeal, at least in part, on his contention that Jungerman was not competent to stand trial. So, Torrence probably doesn’t want to give him any ammunition.

Near the end of the trial, Torrence halted the proceedings for a couple of days because of Ross’ contention that Jungerman did not understand what was going on. The trial resumed, however, and the jury took only two hours to return a guilty verdict.

It was clear at the trial that Jungerman was in worse condition than he had been a year or two earlier. He no longer walked normally; he shuffled. Instead of paying attention to what his attorneys were saying and what was transpiring in the courtroom, he frequently yawned and had a vague look in his eyes.

Some people suggested he could be faking it to advance the “not-competent” assertion, but he’d have to be as good an actor as Brad Pitt to pull that off.

As I said, Jungerman is now 84, and he looks every bit that old.

He doesn’t have much to live for, either. He was a multi-millionaire, but he had to transfer control of the family trust to his daughter, and his attorney bills have probably exceeded $1 million.

He has been married and divorced three times. One of his ex-wives might have attended an early session of the trial, but otherwise it appeared there was no one in the courtroom with personal connections to him.

He seemingly has alienated even the daughter, his only offspring, partly because he appealed a monetary settlement she had agreed to in a civil case brought by Pickert’s family. (A judge summarily rejected the appeal.)

Only once during the trial did I see someone other than his three attorneys approach him in anything resembling a friendly manner. One day, I heard Ross call to his attention someone who was in attendance. “He likes you…a lot,” Ross said to Jungerman. A few minutes later, during a break, Ross summoned a man forward from the audience, and Jungerman smiled as he and the man exchanged a few words.

Why Jungerman thought it was a good idea to kill Pickert — and to think he could get away with it — is beyond comprehension. He was angry because Pickert had represented a man whom Jungerman had shot, and the jury returned a $5.75 million civil verdict against Jungerman. That was in July 2017, three months before Jungerman shot Pickert with a rifle while Pickert was standing in his front yard in Brookside.

Tom Pickert

But to kill him because of that? Especially when Jungerman had assets estimated at more then $30 million? It doesn’t make sense, not to normal-thinking people anyway. Of course, murder is almost always a bad idea, and fortunately most criminals become less violent as they get older.

Jungerman, obviously, was an outlier. He got more violent as he aged. I believe he shot a total of four people, in two separate incidents, for trespassing on his business property. One of those victims was the man whom Pickert represented. In that case, the huge judgment came about mainly because Jungerman chose to represent himself. He foolishly thought he was so smart he could save money and argue successfully on his own behalf.

Jungerman has said he suffered a serious head injury some years ago, and it’s possible the injury contributed to his plunge into late-life irrationality. But I don’t think that was the main factor. He’s just a bad guy with a low level of goodwill and a high quotient of evil.

We can’t get this guy down to the Missouri State Penitentiary — or some other state facility — soon enough.

In a column posted on The Star’s website this morning, Greg Farmer, the paper’s managing editor the last six years, thanked readers for their loyalty and talked about “connecting better” with them.

However, as we used to say in the newsroom when the biggest news was not played prominently at the top of the story, Farmer “buried the lead.”

Clear down at the bottom of the story, where there is customarily a line identifying the writer and his or her title, the sentence describing Farmer said simply, “Greg Farmer is The Star’s interim executive editor.”

That would mean little or nothing to the casual reader, but to insiders who have been around journalism, it was a ground-shaking sentence. What those eight words said was that Mike Fannin, who has been on leave twice since being arrested June 7 in Olathe on suspicion of DUI, is out. (The arrest was his third on a DUI charge.)

Heretofore, stories in which Farmer has been mentioned have described him as managing editor. Today that changed, and it was a back-door way of saying that Fannin was no longer the editor. If Fannin was still the editor — even if he was on leave — The Star would not have have bestowed the title of interim editor on Farmer or anyone else.

Unfortunately, a failure to be straightforward with readers regarding top management changes, has plagued The Star in recent years. Just three years ago when Fannin was announced as president and editor, the paper did not once mention the name of Tony Berg, the president who had either been let go or left on his own volition. (He’s now president of The Wichita Eagle, which is part of the McClatchy chain.)

That was extremely odd because Berg’s arrival had been announced with much fanfare in January 2016.

In a prominently placed story announcing Berg’s appointment, Mark Zieman, then vice president of operations at McClatchy, was quoted as saying: “This job sparked a great deal of interest both inside and outside of McClatchy. I’m confident Tony has the skills to get us through the digital transformation. He has the drive.”

It’s a big deal, being named publisher and editor at a major metropolitan newspaper…And yet, when Berg departed, his name was never mentioned. That’s not right. That’s poor journalism.

**

Now, I admit the current situation, with Fannin having personal problems, is difficult. But The Star reports on difficult situations all the time; that’s one of its most important roles. So, The Star should be equally forthcoming when the news is inside its own operation.

In this case, as soon as upper McClatchy management determined Fannin could not stay on, The Star should have run a story saying Fannin had resigned or been relieved of duty and that Farmer would serve as interim editor until a successor had been selected.

That’s how The Star would report a change in top management at any of KC’s biggest companies, such as Hallmark Cards or Cerner, which was purchased by Oracle in June. But when it comes to self-reporting, The Star has proven itself to be dodgy. And that’s not the way to cultivate trust with readers.

Not that readers need to know everything that’s going on inside the paper, such as who’s going to be city editor. But they certainly deserve to know who’s running the show.

…I like Farmer and think he will do well, assuming that he becomes the next editor. As I wrote last month Farmer has been at the paper since 1997 and has been managing editor (the No. 2 post) since 2016.

He’s about 50, making him about six years younger than Fannin, who is 56. When I was at The Star (I retired in 2006), Farmer was highly regarded by almost all staff members. He is reasonable and calm; he knows the city; and he’s a good leader.

I realize that Farmer can’t order up a story about his elevation to interim editor — that call probably would be made by McClatchy CEO Tony Hunter but if he is serious about “connecting better” with readers, he should encourage Hunter to authorize a story informing readers there’s been a change at the top of the hometown paper.