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Posts Tagged ‘Charles E. Curry’

I know…’tis the season to be jolly. But it’s hard for me to be jolly when I see what my old employer, The Kansas City Star, is up to these days.

Or isn’t up to, to be more precise.

In recent days, two stories that The Star has chosen not to do have really surprised and disappointed me.

Take a look.

:: On Sunday, The Star ran a long obituary on former Jackson County politician Charles E. Curry, who died Dec. 13 in Key Largo, FL. He was 92.

I looked for a news story that day, but there was none. I wrote a blog on Curry that day and fully expected a news story in The Star on Monday. But nothing. Nothing again Tuesday, nothing Wednesday and nothing today, Thursday.

To me, the oversight (and slight) is inexcusable and reflects the poorest of news judgment.

Charles E. Curry

Charlie Curry was a giant in Jackson County politics. He, along with the two other administrative “judges” who ran Jackson County from 1962 to 1970, ushered in perhaps the greatest era in county history.

A $102-million bond issue that his court put to voters (and which voters approved in 1967) gave us the Truman Sports Complex, a modern Truman Medical Center, the Little Blue Valley Sewer District, upgraded juvenile facilities and expansion and improvement of the parks system, among other things.

Then, his court approved the creation of a Jackson County Charter Commission. The commission drew up a proposed home-rule charter, which voters approved in 1970, the last year Curry served.

The charter, which took effect Jan. 1, 1973, replaced the three-judge administrative court with a county executive and county legislature and instituted a merit system of employment. Since 1973, Jackson County has been much more professionally run, with less patronage and more accountability by elected officials.

Curry was a quiet but effective operator. His successor, on the other hand, George W. Lehr — the first “county executive” under the new system of government — was blessed with a big personality and the ability to fill reporters’ notebooks, and he quickly capitalized on the spotlight cast on the fledgling “charter” government.

He capitalized so well that was able to get himself elected state auditor in 1974, two years after becoming county executive. In about 1978, he left politics and took a cushy job as executive director of the Teamsters Central States Health and Welfare Fund in Chicago.

Why do I bring up Lehr, whom I covered during my seven years as county courthouse reporter, from 1971 to 1978?

Because when Lehr died of a brain tumor in March 1988, The Star gave him a front-page send-off. I remember it well because my first child, a daughter, had been born on March 17, and I was called in from paternity leave to write the story.

Spring forward to the present. Now, we have the death of Charlie Curry, who did immeasurably more for Jackson County than Lehr did, and what does The Star do? Nothing. Not a word, besides the family-paid-for obit.

On Tuesday, I sent an e-mail to Managing Editor Steve Shirk, saying:  “Have you decided, God forbid, that Charlie Curry’s death does not merit a news story?”

I haven’t received a response. Well, maybe Steve isn’t working this week. Maybe he’s ducking me. Maybe he’s afraid of an “anti-Star blogger,” as readers representative Derek Donovan has labeled me.

Or maybe he’s ashamed…I hope that’s it.

:: God knows, I’ve already stirred up enough dust reporting the Zach Myers story, but a bit more has to be said.

Zach was the 16-year-old Lenexa boy who died Dec. 2 as a result of injuries he received in a head-on collision a day earlier in Olathe. A police report released on Tuesday said the car in which he was riding was traveling at least 51 miles an hour when it collided with a car being driven by a 20-year-old woman.

The Star had one, and only story, about the wreck. It ran on Saturday, Dec. 4, and reported, essentially, that Zach was one of three boys in the car; that the crash took place shortly before 10:30 a.m. in the 600 block of Iowa Street; and that none of the other people involved in the crash was seriously injured.

The story did not attempt to explain:

–Why the boys were out of school on a Wednesday morning.
–Where they were going.
–Who was driving.
–If speed was involved.
–If Iowa is a residential street or major thoroughfare.
–If the boys or the woman were wearing seatbelts.
–Where the boys were seated in the car.
–What type of injuries Zach suffered.
–If toxicology tests were being conducted.

It didn’t even say that police were investigating. As feeble and vacant as the story was, The Star should have written a two- or three-paragraph brief and let it go at that, instead of writing a relatively long story, with a photo, that agitated reader interest but provided no answers. 

I have written four stories about the case (see blog entries for Dec. 6, 9, 15 and 21) and have given a complete account of the tragedy. I have also been the object of considerable criticism from people who think I imposed on the Myers family and that I went overboard on coverage.

To the critics, I say, fine. If you’re not interested in the case, don’t read about it. To those readers who wanted to know more and supported me in the reporting effort, I thank you. 

To The Star, I say: Shame on you for abdicating your responsibility to make any effort to report the circumstances of the wreck — circumstances that show how easily the tragedy could have been avoided and how important it is for parents to impress on their children the proper use of seatbelts and the inherent risks of speeding.

The many self-respecting reporters and editors at The Star should be embarrassed at their paper’s ineptitude on the Curry and Myers stories.

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The man who propelled Jackson County government into the 20th century has died.

A Kansas City Star obituary, published today, said that Charles E. Curry died Dec. 13 at his home in Key Largo, FL. He was 92.

The Sunday Star did not have a news story about Curry’s death.

Charles E. Curry

In the 1960s, while presiding judge of the old Jackson County administrative court, Curry began reforming the county, which had fallen deep into a spoils and patronage system. 

Among other things, the county can thank the Curry administration for home-rule government, the Harry S. Truman Sports Complex, a modern Truman Medical Center, the Little Blue Valley Sewer District, upgraded juvenile facilities and expansion and improvement of the parks system.   

The building boom came from a massive (at the time) $102 million bond issue that voters approved in 1967. Voters approved each of seven specific proposals, including the sports complex, by more than the required two-thirds majority. (Back then, bond issues to be paid for with property-tax increases, required two-thirds voter approval.)

The sports complex alone was a $43 million proposal. Former Mayor Charles B. Wheeler said Sunday that when construction bids later came in above estimates for the twin stadiums, Royals’ owner Ewing Kauffman and Chiefs’ owner Lamar Hunt pledged $10 million each to make the complex a reality. 

It turned out to be a spectacular deal for the county and a tremendous boon for the region. In recent years, more than $600 million has been spent on sports complex improvements. 

The 1967 bond issue had been approved for a public vote by the three-judge county court consisting of Curry; Wheeler, who was western judge; and Alex Petrovic, eastern judge, who also is still alive.

“He (Curry) was very important in Kansas City history,” said Wheeler, who served as Kansas City mayor from 1971 to 1979. “He really stepped forward and did the whole thing.”

Wheeler said that, before the bond issue, county court inhabitants “hadn’t spent a nickel on improvements in Jackson County for years.”

Wheeler credited a Curry ally, the late John E. Kelley, with putting together the $102 million bond issue. Kelley, who died several years ago, was county counselor at the time.

One of Curry’s major, lasting contributions to the county political scene was his founding of the Committee for County Progress, a progressive, Democratic organization that remains influential in county politics to this day.

Wheeler said that when the C.C.P., as it is known, fielded its first slate of candidates, in 1964, Wheeler was the only one of seven C.C.P.-backed candidates to win. Wheeler’s first post was county coroner. He was elected western judge two years later.

In 1966, however, it was a different story. With one exception, the entire C.C.P.-backed team soared to victory. The lone survivor from the “machine” era was public administrator  Bill Morris, who two years later was elected lieutenant governor under Gov. Warren E. Hearnes.

The biggest single reform that the Curry court set in motion was the changeover to “home-rule,” charter government. A charter commission, headed by lawyer Harold L. “Fritz” Fridkin, wrote a proposed charter, and voters approved it in 1970.

The charter, which took effect in 1973, gave the county the ability to create its own laws, instead of depending on the state. In addition, the three-judge court was succeeded by a county executive and a 15-member “county legislature.”

Under the charter, the late George W. Lehr, the last presiding judge, automatically became the first county executive. He served as presiding judge in 1971 and 1972 and then as county executive in 1973 and 1974.

Several years after the advent of charter government, voters approved a reduction of the legislature from 15 to nine members. 

Curry later held other political posts, including treasurer of the Democratic National Committee in the early 1980s, but his greatest contribution remains his indelible stamp on Jackson County.

Fridkin, who is 84 and still practicing law, said he believed the key to Curry’s success was attracting capable and dedicated people to the government to carry out the reforms that he envisioned.

“He brought in people who believed in what they were doing,” Fridkin said.

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