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Ivan's picture
Between the Lines

by Ivan Foley
Landmark editor

AT CENTRAL PLATTE FIRE, IT'S A RETURN TO THE NOT-SO-GOOD-OL' DAYS; AND AN ETHICS COMPLAINT LEVIED AGAINST PARK HILL

Written 4/16/14

A catch phrase that rings true is one used by the National Federation of Pachyderm Clubs. It reads like this: "We get the government we deserve, not the one we wish for."

Basically it means if you’re not voting and participating in the election process, that can be a dangerous thing. This slogan comes to mind when I think of the Central Platte Fire District and its publicly-elected board of directors.

First, a brief history. Until Andy Stanton was elected to one of the three spots on the board of directors, spending decisions in the department were rarely, if ever, questioned. When Stanton came on board and asked tough questions about spending proposals, it was a rude awakening to the firefighters and to other board members. They viewed (and still do) any and every question as a personal insult and reacted in an always defensive and often angry manner. Their attitude is one of disbelief that any spending idea would be questioned. They seem to have this attitude for three reasons: 1. “We’ve always done things this way.” 2. “We’re in the business of saving lives.” 3. “We’re volunteers.”

So, of course, Stanton immediately started getting pushback and the monthly board meetings became ugly. I’ve categorized their meetings as less organized than a monkey poop fight. That’s putting it as mildly as I can put it. Other descriptions I’ve heard used by people who sat in on a raucous fire board meeting include: “a screaming match,” “most heated meeting I’ve ever sat through,” “wild,” and “like an episode of Jerry Springer.”

Regan, as chairman of the fire board, either has no idea or no interest in running a meeting that can have a calm and civil discussion of the issues. When Mike Ashcraft came on board as the third member after the death of Junior Coons, Stanton and Ashcraft, who at the time also saw the need to professionalize the meetings just a tad, were able to put some procedures in place to quiet things down a bit. Stanton had been on this from the start, pointing out that the board was putting itself in a position of getting caught in Sunshine Law violations for reasons that included voting on items that were not listed on the meeting agenda.

Things improved significantly for a short time. Meetings, which always feature several firefighters in the small room, became more civil. Then old habits slowly started to return. The district’s bookkeeper, whose tongue is sharper than her pencil, started firing off unnecessary opinions on matters not directly related to her position. One meeting night, I’m told the district attorney even reminded her that she works for the board and is not a member of the board.

At last week’s meeting when Stanton had questions about the need for a new fire truck and the process (lack of bidding, which is another topic for a different column) being used by Regan and Ashcraft to purchase the truck, I’m told the ‘less organized than a monkey poop fight’ atmosphere returned in full force. I was covering election results that evening and not present at the fire board session (instead of personally covering every meeting, lately I’ve been sending a reporter to cover some of these because I thought my absence might actually help calm some of the quick-to-anger types in the room--silly me), but we did have a reporter on hand.

I’m flattered to hear that once again this newspaper in general and your humble columnist in particular were mentioned during part of the “discussion.” I do enjoy the verbal flares that Regan and some firefighters often throw at yours truly during their meetings. This newspaper doesn’t naively and carelessly close its eyes at the fire district’s often carefree handling of decisions involving the spending of taxpayer dollars. Some folks associated with the department seem to be offended by that. It’s fine, they have the right to be offended. We’ve cut them much slack by not yet reporting in detail on additional spending and procedural items that would offend many taxpaying members of the public, instead choosing to allow the fire board time to clean things up a bit. We’ve been diligent but fair. My prediction is those same people will continue to be offended in the future. Their reactions will never affect our decisions on coverage and commentary.

In the next few days I’ll find time to listen to the audio recording of last week’s meeting and perhaps be able to provide more specifics in a future column. For now, I would encourage members of the public to attend a Central Platte Fire Board meeting anytime in the future. The board meets the second Tuesday night of every month, 7 p.m. at the fire station in downtown Platte City.

You only live once.

******

In a nutshell, here’s what you need to know about last week’s fire board meeting. The board voted 2-1 to purchase a $650,000 fire truck. They did this without seeking competitive bids, even though there was nothing to lose and the potential for much to gain by following a bid process.

One of the highlights of the meeting was Regan, the fire board chairman, letting fly with this quote when defending his decision to not seek bids. This is scary in more ways than we have room to cover here:

“We need to buy the best equipment for our people. They are risking their lives. The people out in the public ain’t. They might be financing it, but they ain’t out there giving their lives up.”

******

Ashcraft’s vote to buy a $650,000 fire truck without a competitive bidding process came on the same night it was determined he had been re-elected by voters.

Remember, we get the government we deserve, not the one we wish for.

******

A Park Hill patron says he has filed a complaint with the Missouri Ethics Commission against the Park Hill School District for what he believes were inappropriate uses of “taxpayer dollars, staff, students and other resources in violation of Missouri Revised Statute 115.646.”

Josh Blackman, of Kansas City in Platte County, says he put the ethics complaint in the mail last Friday. He enclosed two district “Connection” newsletters mailed by the school. “The newsletters are extremely pro-levy, unnecessarily frequent, and immediately preceding the vote. The Park Hill School District used taxpayer dollars to fund them and several other newsletters in part that promoted the levy,” Blackman says.

He also cites several district-produced videos, quoting extensively from one featuring Superintendent Dr. Scott Springston. Also in his complaint, Blackman says school board member Matt Pepper chaired a campaign committee known as Citizens for Park Hill Levy. “This is a clear (coordinated) effort between the district and the committee. Mr. Pepper was also found on election day at one of the polling places handing out materials in support of the levy.”

The ethics commission generally stays mum on any potential investigation until it has determined whether the complaint is legitimate. As we learn more we’ll pass it on.

(Get Between the Lines updates at your convenience on Twitter @ivanfoley)

 


HOLDEN’S SHOWING
MAKES IMPRESSION;
PARK HILL LEADER IN DENIAL

Written 4/9/14

The outcome at Tuesday’s local elections may or may not have been to your liking, but the important thing is that you’re paying attention. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t be reading this right now.

******

Kirby Holden, a political newcomer, gave an uphill battle a strong effort on Tuesday but fell less than 50 votes shy in his effort to land a spot on the Platte County R-3 School Board. On the bright side for Holden, his mental state will be helped by the fact he won’t be spending time being outvoted 6-1 at board meetings. His web site plattecountyr3facts.com has done a tremendous amount for raising awareness of needs of the district and keeping administrators and their numbers honest. His efforts along that line will be a better use of his time over the next year, not only because it’s better than beating his head against a 6-1 wall at a monthly meeting, but because it will help shed continued light on areas the district can improve effectiveness and transparency.

I caught up with Holden Wednesday morning to get his reaction. He makes a valid point in stating that nearly 49% of voters marked him on their ballot, meaning nearly half of R-3 voters have some level of dissatisfaction with the district. Holden’s showing is especially impressive considering you can rest assured he received very few, if any, votes from the many R-3 employees who are voters.

“The results show 1518 people voted, of these I received 741 votes. That means 48.8% of the people voted for a person who is a strong critic of the current administration and board. I only missed the third spot on the board by 48 votes, just 201 votes off of the current sitting board president. That's a miss by less than five votes per polling site,” Holden said Wednesday morning. “If the board does not get its act together before the next election, I will run again and do a better job of getting the word out.”

******

How about the way the Park Hill laptop levy was crushed at Tuesday’s election? 61% opposed to only 39% in favor. There’s no doubt the excellent points brought to light in letters that appeared in this newspaper by Jim Dunn, former Park Hill administrator, had some effect in pointing out holes in the proposal and questioning the proposed program, its potential effectiveness, and its need.

Also, kudos to Chris Seufert, the only Park Hill board member who questioned the proposal and made his opposition known at a January board meeting and in an extensive interview that was published in The Landmark. Seufert, who did not seek reelection on Tuesday, was the only board member in touch with constituents on this one.

******

The butt whooping Park Hill’s tax increase took at the polls makes the decision by the Platte County R-3 School Board to not put a tax increase on the ballot this year look even smarter than it did when I praised it here several months ago.

Voters across Platte County have sent messages in recent proposed school tax increases. Park Hill’s proposed 32-cent levy hike was smashed 61-39%. In 2012, Platte County R-3’s proposed 60 cent tax levy increase was squashed 55-45%.

It’s going to take some work--and probably a better economy--to get a significant property tax levy passed. Due to a variety of factors, these are different times for Mr. and Mrs. School Board Member. The days of tossing just any tax increase on the ballot and expecting it to be approved without organized opposition are over. If your proposal seems over the top, expect a strong fight.

******

To me, this quote from the Park Hill superintendent sounds like a man in denial.

“I would like to see more people engaged in the process by voting,” said Dr. Scott Springston after learning of Tuesday’s levy election results.

Oh my. Be careful what you wish for, Doc. Do you know how hard it is for a school tax levy issue to get defeated in an April election? Mighty hard. The anti-tax crowd typically isn’t motivated in a spring election.

Do you know who is motivated to go vote in April elections? Groups like PTAs and other organizations directly affiliated with the school who are prodded to do so by the district, teachers and administrators, district employees and their friends and families. That’s what the “no” vote has to overcome. Put that levy proposal on a heavy turnout ballot, like in an August primary during a countywide election or a November ballot in any even-numbered year, and the Park Hill proposal would have been trounced even worse than it was.

******

In our front page story, you’ll see that the meetings of the Central Platte Fire Board have returned to the riot level of 12-18 months ago. Once again these things have become less organized than a monkey poop fight. More on this embarrassing turn for the worse in future columns.

******

Dr. David Lowry is our Bracket Battle winner. You’ll remember last week I noted that the local pediatrician was in the lead but in looking at the rest of his bracket I predicted the good doctor would not finish on top. Well, that all changed on Saturday in an exciting day of Final Four action featuring unexpected results. Congrats to Dr. Lowry. He gets $100 (which he has chosen to donate to the Kansas City Humane Society--he insisted his winning check be made out directly to those folks) bragging rights, a free one-year subscription to The Landmark, and did I mention bragging rights?

******

Have you been paying attention to the news in Between the Lines? Take this little Between the Lines quiz to see if you’re in tune.

1. Pat Daly, facilities manager and self-proclaimed HVAC expert for Platte County, became a household name last fall after the temperature in the county’s meeting room reached heat stroke levels. How hot did Between the Lines say it got in the room that night?
A. 187 degrees.
B. 287 degrees.
C. 387 degrees.
D. Kate Upton.

2. Between the Lines told you that Boon Lee, Park Hill School Board member, let fly with a head-scratching quote at a board meeting when promoting the district’s laptop levy increase proposal. What did Boon say?
A. “If you like your laptop you can keep your laptop.”
B. “Fred Sanchez is packing heat.”
C. “We have to spend like we can't afford it, but we've got to work like we can't afford not to have it.”
D. “This proposal is a Boon-doogle."

3. Bev Roper, county commissioner, is now shown on the Between the Lines YouTube channel leading a sing-a-long to which tune?
A. Free Fallin’
B. Sexy and I Know It
C. Socially Awkward and I Don’t Know It
D. Way Down Yonder in the Pawpaw Patch

(Get Between the Lines 24/7 on Twitter @ivanfoley)


ON TUESDAY, YOU GET TO HIRE YOUR EMPLOYEES

Written 4/2/14

Please take the time to head to the polls for city and school elections on the ballot next Tuesday, April 8.

Local government has always been important, and in times like these when families are watching their dollars very closely, financial decisions made by the local elected are more important than ever.

Remember, elected officials work for you. You don’t work for them. Head out to the polls next Tuesday to make choices on whom you want to hire.

******

At Platte County R-3, I’ve been told there is a little bit of confusion circulating by the way the ballot is worded. The ballot says “vote for three.” To be clear, ballots in other school districts are worded the same way, so this isn’t something specific to R-3.

Anyway, that wording is somewhat misleading. There are three positions open, but you don’t HAVE to vote for three. You can vote for UP TO three. If you vote for just one or vote for just two, your ballot is still good and will get counted.

In fact, if there is one candidate you feel more strongly about than the others, you’re better off simply voting for that one particular candidate. No sense in upping the vote totals for the other candidates--it could mean your guy or gal doesn’t get in.

******

Speaking of the race for Platte County R-3 School Board, the interview that candidate Kirby Holden gave this newspaper (see front page story) is filled with some of the most frank and straightforward remarks you’ll ever read from a local candidate. Holden leaves no doubt where he’s coming from, and you’ve got to appreciate his straightforward approach. I’ve said it before: Holden has a tremendous mind, is great at research, and would be a tremendous asset to the board in particular and to the district as a whole.

Of this much I’m certain: A discussion to take an auditing bid that is 26% higher than a competing bid would have included some candid input from Holden. He won’t have a problem questioning recommendations from administrators. Taxpayers will find Holden’s presence in the decision-making process at R-3 very refreshing.

******

Similar comments apply to the Central Platte Fire District Board of Directors race. A voice for fiscal accountability would be brought to the board by Rusty Townsend.

Townsend’s opponent, current board member Mike Ashcraft, is being widely supported by firefighters. Certainly firefighters have the right to support the board candidate of their choice, there’s nothing wrong with them exercising that right. But as a taxpayer if you want clear distinction and checks and balances between the decision-makers (the board) and the workers (the firefighters), take note.

******

RIP Ivan Foley’s bracket.

Looking for the Bracket Battle standings? The entire list of entries and everyone’s score can be found on page A-7.

My pal local pediatrician Dr. David Lowry currently sits on top of the standings, but glancing at the remainder of his bracket makes me think the good doctor won’t finish in first. I have no room to critique anyone’s bracket this year. My total right now is 114 points and I can say with confidence that a lot of you are going to be able to claim a free one year subscription to this fine newspaper after next week’s final standings are published.

******

How close were we to seeing a contested GOP race for county auditor? Very close.

After two potential challengers to incumbent Kevin Robinson in the days close to deadline stepped away from the opportunity to run to instead focus on their private businesses, I’m told a last ditch recruitment effort was made to a third person very close to deadline. And by very close to deadline I mean within the last two hours until the close of filing, which was 5 p.m. last Tuesday.

The potential candidate who was being recruited--a person with great business sense and impeccable character who would make a great elected official in the future--called me 45 minutes prior to deadline to pick my brain on a personal level. One of my thoughts was to encourage this person to give consideration to a different, more influential office in the future rather than to jump into a race for auditor at the last minute. Let’s face it, under normal circumstances the county auditor has some, but not a tremendous amount, of influence. The influence by Robinson over the course of the last two years has simply been magnified because two rookie associate county commissioners have (not so wisely) leaned on him. If these were normal circumstances with experienced and confident county commissioners in place, the auditor doesn’t have that much real effect. Well, other than to make ridiculously inflated projections of golf course revenue and to consistently recommend raises for all county employees in an economic downturn.

Besides from a selfish point of view, if Robinson were to get beat, whose financial projections would we be able to have some fun with here in Between the Lines?

Anyway, had this person been given a longer period of time to consider the race, including time to successfully phone the spouse to talk it out, it’s likely we would be seeing a contested auditor’s race.
I think you’ll see this person on a countywide ballot in the not too distant future, just not for auditor. But that’s a decision only this person can make after a deliberate thought process of more than a couple hours.

******

Once in a while I lose myself in the moment and get excited about this year’s Kansas City Royals. Then I remember Ned Yost is manager. Ned’s stubbornness and his awkward in-game decisions probably cost the Royals 8-10 victories a year. Case in point was Monday’s season opener.

Episode 2 of the summertime comedy Nedly is today in Detroit at 12:08 p.m. Related note: Who from the Tigers made the decision to start their games at eight minutes past the hour? Like a more common 12:05 or 12:10 wouldn’t be good enough? Nope. Game time is 12:08. This makes me laugh.

Obviously I’m easily entertained.

(You can sometimes get easily entertained on Twitter @ivanfoley. His best stuff normally posts at eight minutes past the hour.)


SOME JETS ARE BEING COOLED ACROSS PLATTE COUNTY

Written 3/26/14

Looking for the Bracket Battle standings? The entire list of entries and everyone’s score can be found on page A-5. For some reason, Landmark office manager Cindy Rinehart asked me to remove her from the standings list. Check closely to see if I honored her request.

******

Here’s the best way to summarize what the final day of county candidate filing means: There’s a three-person race for presiding county commissioner; there’s a two person race for county clerk; and taxpayers can look forward to four more years of overstated revenue projections and wet-dream analysis on the financial status of the county’s golf course by auditor Kevin Robinson.

Which means you’ll never be at a loss for news.

******

Dave Brooks, former mayor of Platte City, told me Tuesday that he will run as a write-in candidate for mayor against Frank Offutt at the April 8 election. Brooks said he was out of town during much of the filing period and didn’t get his name on the ballot. He has registered as a write-in candidate with the Platte County Board of Elections, he said.

More on this next week.

******

This “separated at birth” observation was sent to me by a Landmark reader: Iowa State basketball coach Fred Hoiberg and Platte County R-3 Superintendent Mike Reik.

Dead on. Check it out next time Hoiberg’s team is on your TV screen.

******

Hope you enjoy the outstanding photos by The Landmark’s Doug Baldwin from Royals Spring Training in Arizona. Look for these and possibly more on my Facebook page. The Landmark is your local paper large enough to get credentialed by Major League Baseball.

******

Jets are being cooled across the county on a couple of proposed actions. Let’s take them one at a time

Here we go:

******

Things are slowing down considerably in Parkville’s recent flirtation with the idea of selling its sewer system to the Platte County Regional Sewer District.

“I was expecting your call this week. I don’t really have new information to share,” Lauren Palmer, city administrator, told me on the phone Wednesday morning, before proceeding to share significant new information.

“We were expecting to have the final report on that cost-benefit analysis this week, but we intentionally slowed (the firm doing the analysis) in their work to give us a chance to do more evaluation,” Palmer said.

The biggest piece of news to come to light is this: The city’s legal counsel has concluded the sale of the sewer system would require approval of the voters. And not just a simple majority. The sale would require 2/3 voter approval.

“That’s a steep hill to climb,” Palmer acknowledged.

No kidding. Especially when the sale of the sewer could--let’s stop kidding ourselves and use the word ‘would’ here--bring higher sewer rates to Parkville residents. Palmer, and perhaps other city officials, aren’t ready to fully admit that the transaction would mean higher sewer rates for its residents. But that stance is starting to look a little silly. Dan Koch, executive director of the proposed buyer of the system, says the acquisition would definitely mean higher sewer rates for Parkville residents who are currently served by the system. Also indicating the transaction would cause higher rates is something called basic math. Algebra has not yet checked in with an opinion, but algebra sucks, so its opinion is irrelevant.

My guess, based on the reaction to phone calls and emails received here at Between the Lines headquarters, is that there is a very slim chance 2/3 of Parkville voters would check yes on the question.
In a memo to aldermen this week, Palmer said the city will be taking its time to analyze all the pros and cons of the potential multi-million dollar deal to determine if it has adequate merit to even submit to voters. In our conversation, Palmer said if it does go to voters it wouldn’t be until November at the earliest or more likely next April. “Now that we know it requires voter approval, we’re not feeling the same urgency that we were before,” she told me.

Palmer says though the deal was originally proposed as a potential solution to retire about $5 million of Brush Creek Neighborhood Improvement District debt, “the city is not considering that as a factor in the sewer analysis. The city is evaluating the sale on its merits completely independent of the Brush Creek NID obligation,” Palmer said. This comment has just a hint of BS to it, so I asked Palmer to expand. She said it means the city will evaluate the potential deal from a standpoint of “are there operating efficiencies to be gained?”

In the meantime, the city will proceed with the limited general obligation bond financing for the Brush Creek NID, anticipating a bond sale in May or June. Assessments will be collected--or at least attempt to be collected--beginning in December.

Stay tuned. But don’t be surprised if this proves to be the beginning of the end of the city’s proposed deal with PCRSD.

******

As noted here recently, jets continue to cool significantly in the county’s push for a $21 million expansion of the county jail and new sheriff’s department offices. In a development that comes as a surprise to the sheriff, apparently some on the county commission have suddenly started to question whether the daily jail population shows a true need for expansion. There are some political angles and outside influences at play here. The two associate commissioners, Duane Soper and Beverlee Roper, are tight with presiding commissioner candidate Jim Plunkett, who, while supporting the half cent sales tax for parks and fun stuff, wasn’t exactly an advocate of spending money on major law enforcement projects during his time as district two commissioner.

This puts Roper in an interesting spot, as she has in the past publicly mentioned the county should propose a law enforcement sales tax. She made that comment at an audio-recorded January 2013 meeting with road district officials in which she and Soper successfully pushed for putting the road sales tax back on the ballot at its 3/8 cent level instead of devoting a portion of it to law enforcement needs. Roper asked for support of the road district officials when the county came back to voters for law enforcement funding.

Maybe her position has “evolved.”

(Having withdrawals? Twitter @ivanfoley is the place to go for more Between the Lines observations)

 


COUNTY SCHEDULES A PAWPAW PARTY; AND READ 'EM AND WEEP

Written 3/19/14

Sad news from the Platte County Administration Building, where self-proclaimed HVAC expert Pat Daly has announced his pending retirement as facilities manager.

Daly became somewhat of a legend around these parts after the temperature in the meeting room for a crowded planning and zoning session last fall reached about 287 degrees. People resorted to bringing in their own ice-filled coolers and bottled water just to survive. It was like a Red Cross disaster scene. Think Hurricane Katrina without the flood.

Fortunately, there were no fatalities.

The next day Daly angrily responded to my questions with an epic temper tantrum in which he, among other things, declared himself an HVAC expert. The result was a Between the Lines column that took on a life of its own.

Though we can now look forward to more consistent temperatures in the county administration building (in more ways than one), Between the Lines is going to miss you, Pat Daly. We wish you nothing but pleasant days, cool nights and cold bottles of water in your retirement.

******

One day this winter after it was announced the county buildings were closing during a major snowstorm, a clever Landmark reader sent this out via Twitter: “Will the meeting room be open as a warming center?”

******

Your fearless Platte County Commissioners, never shy about tackling problems head on, have announced they intend to declare the pawpaw as the official county tree.

Finally. I mean, how long has the public been demanding an official county tree? Especially one with that unique pawpaw shape. These things are so ugly they’re cute. Kind of. Not really.

Have you seen a pawpaw? Google images for a pawpaw. I can’t decide if it looks more like a twig or a berry.

******

During an event dubbed “PawPaws for Platte!” at Platte Ridge Park, the county commission will make the official tree declaration at 10:15 a.m. on Saturday, April 5. Seedlings of these native trees will be given away. Ukelele players will strum “Way Down Yonder in the Pawpaw Patch.”

Don’t miss this event. It’s the kind of day only an $80 million park tax can bring you.

******

Filing deadline for county offices is next Tuesday, March 25. The only contested race to this point is Jim Plunkett vs. Ron Schieber for presiding commissioner. There is still some talk on the streets questioning whether Plunkett is in the race to stay. To my knowledge, Plunkett hasn’t given any indication of dropping out, but still the speculation is out there. It’s probably because late last year Plunkett told folks he wasn’t running, then in January he announced he was running and in February he filed. That kind of positioning creates natural skepticism.

I’ve also been told at least one more Republican is giving serious thought to entering the presiding commissioner race.

Still no action to this point from what’s left of the Democrat party.

******

The Central Platte Fire Board has been asked and is considering buying parkas for all its firemen. Total cost would be $7,000.

Just thought you should know.

******

It’s Bracket Battle time. If you’re reading this before 11 a.m. on Thursday, you’ve still got a chance to get your entry to me. Winner gets $100, everyone who scores better than yours truly gets a free one-year subscription to The Landmark. Email your bracket to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com or fax it to 816-858-2313. Or you can always drop it by our office at 252 Main St., Platte City.

With so many potential free subscriptions at risk, you can bet I’ve spent hours upon hours studying all the teams in the days after the bracket pairings were announced on Sunday, right? Yeah, something like that.

Ladies and gentlemen, here’s the bracket you’re up against. Good luck. Remember, if you get off to a slow start, don’t sweat it. These contests are won or lost in the later rounds due to a scoring system that rewards later round victories with more points than early rounds. (I say this because I’m known for getting off to a notoriously slow start).

FIRST ROUND WINNERS: Florida, Pitt, VCU, UCLA, Ohio State, Syracuse, Stanford, Kansas, Virginia, George Washington, Harvard, Michigan State, Providence, Iowa State, St. Joseph’s, Villanova, Arizona, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, San Diego State, Baylor, Creighton, Oregon, Wisconsin, Wichita State, Kentucky, North Carolina State, Louisville, Tennessee, Duke, Arizona State, Michigan.

SWEET SIXTEEN: Florida, UCLA, Syracuse, Kansas, Virginia, Michigan State, Iowa State, Villanova, Arizona, San Diego State, Creighton, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Louisville, Duke, Michigan.

ELITE EIGHT: Florida, Syracuse, Michigan State, Villanova, Arizona, Creighton, Louisville, Duke.

FINAL FOUR: Florida, Michigan State, Arizona, Louisville.

CHAMPIONSHIP: Michigan State 74, Louisville 68.

*******

Follow the standings as the contest progresses. We’ll print every entrant’s name and score each week here in your Landmark, and provide updates and some commentary at plattecountylandmark.com and on my Twitter @ivanfoley and on my Facebook page.

Get settled in near a TV during the games and let’s have some trash-talking fun.

(Get news, information and entertainment at all hours of the day and night on Twitter @ivanfoley)

 


LOCAL DEMOCRATS
DON’T EVEN BOTHER FILING
AS DEMOCRATS ANYMORE

Written 3/12/14

I think the straw that broke the camel’s back in Jason Brown’s decision not to seek reelection is when the anti-Chapel Ridge crowd caught him trying to take more than 20 items through an express checkout.

*******

The other day I bumped into a member of the Platte County Democratic Central Committee. Yes, apparently there still is one.

I asked this person if there are any Democrats considering stepping forward to run for any of the open countywide offices in 2014.

“No, not at all. Nothing. Nobody is even thinking about it, to my knowledge.”

Just as well. A candidate filing as a Democrat has basically zero chance of being elected in Platte County these days. That’s why for the last couple of election cycles, a few folks who are Democrats at heart have become Republicans on paper just for the sake of having a shot to win. And one or two have been victorious.

******

But Democrats filing as Republicans hasn’t been the biggest sideshow.

In 2012 we had Beverlee Roper fooling the public--including this columnist--into thinking she was a small government fiscal conservative. During her campaign, Roper talked about basic government functions and said she would demand transparency of what she at the time agreed was an over-funded parks department in the county.

You’ll remember in her campaign, she painted herself as a former federal government lawyer who had worked in tune with the values of the Reagan Administration. Her campaign website even featured a video of her with Reagan.

Though she filed and ran as a Republican, she has not so quietly told a lot of people she is a Libertarian. Really? Libertarians generally prefer small government and political freedom and are skeptical of governmental authority. Does that sound like the Roper we have come to know? Not even close. Roper has governed like a person who loves layers of bureaucracy, a pandering type who believes government should try to be all things to all people.

Roper campaigned as a female Ronald Reagan but has governed like a female Jimmy Carter.

******

Second district county commissioner Duane Soper seems to be getting a pass from most people because, quite frankly, not anyone I know expected much out of him. Though he filed as a Republican, most observers in tune with the local political landscape were of the opinion he leaned more Democrat than Republican going into this thing. Soper is a nice guy who has his heart in the right place. By most accounts, he decided to run for office because it sounded like a noble thing to do. Generally speaking, nice guys who are worried about what their friends think of their political decisions don’t make good elected officials. The old saying “In politics, if you want a friend get a dog” rings true.

Unlike Roper, who painted one picture and delivered another, Soper ran on a vague “good guy” platform and has governed in vague “good guy” ways, doing things like supporting the road tax in its entirety because of his road district background and jumping full force without public input into naming the county courthouse after a longtime family friend.

It’s not good government and it’s not strong leadership, but it’s not a surprise.

I don’t know of anyone who is busy planning campaign strategy to use against Soper if he seeks reelection in 2016. On the other hand, strategists and those who are feeling they were misled by Roper’s campaign statements are licking their chops thinking ahead to a potential Roper run for reelection.

******

Keep your eyes on how the county’s $21 million jail proposal plays out. Have you noticed things have become very quiet around this topic all the sudden? After The Landmark ran the pretty architectural design drawings of the proposal on the front page several weeks ago, one of the most-often asked questions I’ve heard is this one: “Why are new sheriff’s department offices being included in the (proposed) addition to the jail?’

Good question. It’s one of many good questions that will need to be answered if the proposal actually gets traction. Perhaps the idea is dying on the vine.

******

If only Platte County had a larger park tax everything would be fine. Can we get that park tax raised from half cent to a full cent next time?

Unicorns for everybody.

******

Ready for The Landmark’s annual basketball Bracket Battle?

Selection Sunday is just days away. Once you’ve filled out your bracket, email it to me at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com or fax it to The Landmark at 816-858-2313. If you prefer, drop it by the historic Landmark office in historic downtown Platte City just two doors down from the historic Platte County Courthouse.

Top scorer wins $100. Most importantly, anyone and everyone finishing with a higher score than yours truly wins a free one-year subscription to The Landmark. See the article in this issue for all the details.
We’ll tally the scores after each round of the three-week tournament and print the standings in the newspaper. We’ll also have the standings available for review at plattecountylandmark.com and on Twitter @ivanfoley and on my Facebook page.

Good luck. Let’s have some fun with the madness that is college basketball in March.

(Get your local news, notes, observations, and commentary as it happens on Twitter @ivanfoley, or email ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)

 

 


STOP DREAMING ABOUT LOWER SEWER RATES; PARKVILLE WAS SOLD A BILL OF GOODS ON PARK TAX RENEWAL

Written 3/5/14

Some housekeeping items:

No. 1: Our left winger--and proud of it--Aimee Patton told me this week she can’t keep up with the load and is giving up her weekly piece that had appeared on page 3. We wish her nothing but the best.

I think she’s moving on to become a community organizer.

******

We enjoyed offering a view that was an alternative to most of the other editorial pieces you’ll find in this politically conservative publication. Aimee had some spunk and was a fun gal to visit with, as those of you who took the time to chat with her at our Christmas party discovered.

Aimee is giving up the weekly commitment--and it is a commitment, these projects don’t write themselves--because she’s busy with a new job. In addition to her new job, she’s also writing for something called Midwest Voices. Going to confess that I’ve never met anyone who knows what Midwest Voices is. It sounds like it might be something about voices from the Midwest. But I’m just guessing.

At any rate, I’ll put out some feelers to see if we can land another lefty to take Aimee’s former spot on page 3.

*******

Housekeeping item No. 2: Make plans to enter the biggest, baddest, longest-running and most prestigious bracket contest around. The Landmark’s annual Bracket Battle gets underway in a couple of weeks when the NCAA Basketball Championship pairings are announced. You can find all the gory details about how to enter and what you can win in a detailed article elsewhere in this issue. But here are the basics: Finish with the highest score, you win $100. The best part: Simply finish with a higher score than yours truly and you’ll win a year’s subscription to The Landmark. We’ll tally the standings and print everybody’s score as the contest moves along. When it’s done, if/when your record is better than mine, you’ll need to call us at 816-858-2313 or email ivan@plattecountylandmark.com to claim your prize.

Should be a good time. Our cast of characters that includes Chris Kamler, Brian Kubicki and Greg Hall will all be playing along for you to compare your hoops knowledge. Have some fun and take a shot at beating your favorite columnists--and the publisher, too.

******

Hey, have you seen the promotional video that Kansas City put together as part of its package to attempt to lure the 2016 Republican Convention? I think it’s excellent. If you haven’t seen it, take a couple of minutes to give it a watch and let me know what you think. Here’s a link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KD_DVGuL9Ko&sns=em

******

As you’ve read in The Landmark, the cost-benefit analysis of a potential deal by the city of Parkville to sell its sewer system to the Platte County Regional Sewer District is underway and should be wrapping up in a matter of days.

In the meantime, we’ve had some fun in Between the Lines the past couple of weeks poking at some Parkville city officials who have been running around town telling their residents there will NOT be a rate increase to city sewer customers if the sale goes through.

By doing some simple math (simple math only, because Algebra sucks) and some existing rate comparisons, we’ve been telling you to expect a rate increase.

But enough of my own conjecture and analysis. Let’s go right to the source. Dan Koch, executive director of the Platte County Regional Sewer District, confirmed my point of view in a phone conversation this week. Here’s how the conversation went down:

So Dan, some aldermen are saying they expect rates for their citizens to decrease. If the deal goes through, can Parkville sewer customers expect their rates to go down? His answer: “No.”

His answer wasn’t even “maybe.” There was no “well, if this happens or that happens.” His answer was a quick and decisive “no.”

Now, Platte County Regional Sewer District does serve a section of homes that lie within the Parkville city limits. Those homes are primarily in The National and the newer phases of Thousand Oaks, Koch said. Those homes--who are already PCRSD customers, not Parkville customers--will see a rate decrease. The reason for that is with the acquisition of Parkville’s system, the PCRSD would widely expand its customer base and the PCRSD would be able to lower its rates to its customers based on an expanded customer base.

“I would anticipate the acquisition would mean lower rates for our current customers, but not down to what Parkville’s current rates are,” Koch said.

So to summarize, here’s the deal: If you live in Parkville and are served by the city’s sewer system, the city’s sale of its system will mean higher rates for you. If your aldermen are telling you differently, ask them to specifically tell you how they’re reaching that conclusion. Because that’s not what the math shows to be possible and it’s certainly not what the would-be new owners of your sewer system are telling us upfront.

We’ve been told the average customer in Parkville uses 4,000 gallons of water. The city’s monthly sewer charge for 4,000 gallons is $34.26. Meanwhile, the Platte County Regional Sewer District’s monthly charge to treat 4,000 gallons is $41.22. Doing the math, it means the PCRSD’s rates are currently 20% higher than the city’s on 4,000 gallons.

******

Here’s something else you can be upset about, Parkville residents: The Landmark has come across some of the feel-good promotional material that was distributed by the county when it was engaged in the feel-good half cent park tax renewal in 2009. Do you recall how many dollars of that park tax renewal it was said would go toward your Platte Landing Park project? You supported the tax that was promoted by county commissioners at the time based on a figure that didn’t come close to being accurate. Those May 2009 information sheets put out by the county in the form of a Park System Master Plan showed Parkville would get $2.75 million for Platte Landing Park. As it turns out, when it came time to hand out the dollars, Parkville was given only $1.5 million.

The park tax was promoted to be renewed at a half cent by the 2009 county commissioners, who chose not to warn the voting public about other higher priority expenses ahead, such as mandated emergency radios, jail concerns and other law enforcement needs.

Imagine that. A feel-good tax promoted at the expense of basic county services ended up not living up to its feel-good promises.

Sounds like a two-handed pie in the face of voters and taxpayers.

(Always stay ahead of the game on Twitter @ivanfoley)

 


IT'S NOT ALWAYS SUNNY IN PLATTE COUNTY PARKS

Written 2/26/14

Word is spreading that there will soon be a new episode of the Rambling Morons videocast featuring Chris Kamler and yours truly.

Plans call for the Rambling Morons to gather next Wednesday night, March 5, at CarSmart, which is Ted Heater’s car lot in the Northland. There’s a chance we may even go live with this broadcast on Kamler’s internet sports radio station at kansascity.ourcityradio.com.

Whether live or recorded and then uploaded to YouTube later, you can bet the Rambling Morons will be touching on, perhaps even parodying, many topics and issues familiar to Platte Countians and loyal Landmark readers.

Follow the Twitter accounts of @chriskamler @ivanfoley @ramblingmorons and @thefakened for updates as the March 5 show draws near.

******

Uh, oh. There’s trouble in paradise.

We’re learning that internally, the Platte County Parks Department isn’t exactly the smooth sailing ship much of the feel-good tax crowd would have us believe.

At the top layer of the department, overly funded by a half cent sales tax, there has been some uncomfortableness. Some apparent differences of philosophy. While the decision of parks director Brian Nowotny to fire assistant parks director Jim Kunce (see our front page) is being framed as a “restructuring,” insiders are telling me there’s more to it.

Without telling them that Kunce had been let go, I approached several sources with the news I had heard that Nowotny plans to “restructure” the parks department. One person had it nailed without knowing what major event had already unfolded.

“That probably means he (Nowotny) is going to fire Jim Kunce. He has been trying to get rid of Jim for years,” one insider told The Landmark this week. According to this person, who worked in a position to know both men, Nowotny felt bothered, even intimidated, by Kunce’s willingness to be open and straightforward with the higher-ups at the county. Nowotny prefers a more sugar-coated way of working things to his advantage when it comes to dealing with his superiors. “When (Nowotny) doesn’t get what he wants, somebody pays, often in a passive-aggressive way,” the source says.

Nowotny, citing personnel reasons, declined to discuss specifics with me in regard to what went into his decision to release Kunce, who has already found work in a temporary full time post with the state parks department. He said only: “Jim made a lot of good contributions to projects over the years and I wish him nothing but the best.”

Kunce, despite being caught off guard by his dismissal after a dozen years on the job, was not in a mood to openly criticize anyone this week. But can we read anything into the comments he did make? You be the judge.

“I wouldn’t be comfortable trying to describe the difference of philosophies between Brian and me. My philosophy is very community-focused. I don’t think that Platte County parks should be a place to build a personal legacy,” Kunce said. He then added: “I don’t think using public tax dollars as a playground to build my own ego is the right thing to do.”

Asked to expand, he simply said: “I’m not speaking on behalf of Brian. I’m just stating my opinions on how I conducted my business.”

Hmm.

******

We’ll be closely following the story The Landmark reported on last week about the city of Parkville considering selling its sewer system to the Platte County Regional Sewer District. The sale would be the city’s way of escaping the $5 million of Neighborhood Improvement District debt the city has on the books for the Brush Creek NID, where there was expensive construction of sewer service to an area that has yet to develop. Some property owners in the NID have had their properties foreclosed upon, which means a severe lack of sewer assessments being paid. There is only one active business, a convenience store, located in the Brush Creek NID. This has left the city on the hook to potentially be handcuffed with mountains of debt payments.

A study is being done by an outside firm to analyze the potential deal with the sewer district. A key question to be answered will be: What will this mean to sewer rates for existing Parkville residents?
I can tell you this: Parkville aldermen behind the scenes are telling people they think a deal would mean rate decreases for city residents. I can also tell you this: If they truly believe that, Parkville aldermen are living in a fantasy world consisting of nothing but parks, boat ramps, and golf carts.

Run the numbers, run some comparisons. Just unofficially eyeballing some preliminary numbers here at Landmark headquarters, it appears rates for Parkville residents could go up anywhere from 12% to perhaps somewhere in the 70% range, depending upon the number of gallons used. Low volume users would see the highest percentage increase.

It’s going to be fascinating to watch this situation unfold.

But remember, Parkville residents, your aldermen are expecting your rates to go down.

You might want to clip and save this piece.

******

Major kudos to Platte City Mayor Frank Offutt for putting together a terrific sales pitch to organizers of the Missouri Photo Workshop. Largely due to the efforts of the mayor--who gives an assist to Bill Hankins, The Landmark’s Hall of Fame photojournalist who broguht the idea to the mayor’s attention, and to a lesser extent a task force the mayor put together to help make the sale--Platte City has been chosen as the host city for the 66th Missouri Photo Workshop in September.

Our front page story has all the details. Check it out.

And plan to come meet the 40 photographers from all over the world who will converge upon Platte City in September. Who knows, they may even choose you or someone you know as the subject of their photojournalism project.

It will be an excellent way for stories of Platte City and Platte County to be shown through pictures.

Exciting stuff.

(Get exciting news and commentary 24/7 on Twitter @ivanfoley)

 


THE LOCAL POLITICAL SCENE CONTINUES TO INTRIGUE

Written 2/19/14

Hockey is where it’s at. Well, Olympic Hockey is where it’s at this week. I enjoy hockey for about 10 days every four years.

That overtime match last Saturday between USA and Russia, decided in exciting shootout fashion, wasn’t exactly the 1980 Miracle on Ice but it was pretty close. The United States has advanced to the quarterfinal round, with that game being played today as The Landmark is hitting the streets. A victory would advance the team to the semifinal round on Friday. The gold medal game is Sunday.

Check it out.

******

In case you missed it earlier, here’s my analysis of the Chapel Ridge opponents vs. Platte County lawsuit in a nutshell: Less than a snowball’s chance.

******

Hats off to the Platte City Police Department for its quick work in solving the break-in/theft/vandalism at Platte County High School.

Kind of amazing what those juvenile suspects must have been thinking as they (allegedly) terrorized the inside of a school that they know has security cameras rolling. Even without cameras, the ‘whodunit’ behind an act like that almost always comes out in time.

******

Police say the suspects wrote/spray painted “Algebra sucks” while painting some graffiti on the school’s interior.

So really, all police had to do to solve the crime was find two high school students who think Algebra sucks.

*******

A report circulating in the community, thanks to high school students, is that the case was broken wide open when one of the 16-year-old students/suspects wore the same clothing to school that was worn by suspects seen in the widely-distributed security video.

Big, if true.

******

Visual learners will want to check out some of the newest information posted at Kirby Holden’s website, plattecountyr3facts.com, to see a helpful illustration of the difference in how Platte County R-3 publicized a forecast of significant enrollment growth from a study done in 2010 to a later study that projects enrollment growth to be significantly less.

******

The 2014 Platte County political scene continues to get more intriguing. State Rep. Ron Schieber of southern Platte County told The Landmark on Friday that he’ll be running for presiding commissioner. That makes him the second announced candidate for that office, with former second district commissioner Jim Plunkett spreading word last month that he’ll be filing.

In all this, what is still not known is whether incumbent Jason Brown will be seeking reelection. Brown has yet to make a public announcement of his future plans. Filing opens next Tuesday, Feb. 25, so things will start happening soon.

Schieber brings with him solid credentials as a fiscal conservative. He has a broad base of support, is very effective in one-on-one discussions with voters, and has never had trouble raising campaign money. In other words, he will be a formidable candidate.

If Schieber, Plunkett and Brown all end up in the race, it will be a match of three political heavyweights and fascinating to watch.

******

I was able to sit down with Schieber on Saturday to listen to some of his observations and stances. His remarks will resonate with fiscal conservatives, and that’s a good sign for a man about to run in a Republican primary.

Some of the highlights of my conversation with Schieber included his comments about the jail situation in particular, but more importantly long range planning and tax issues in general.

“I’m not a real fan of putting a tax out there. That should be the last resort. Once you have a tax, even if it has a sunset, those are easy to extend,” he said.

Furthering our conversation on general terms and not speaking to any specific issue, Schieber said: “I’m an idealogue when it comes to taxes and regulation. As an idealogue, I realize we still have to govern. You don’t always get what you want but maybe you can negotiate something that’s not quite as taxing and not such a burden on the taxpayers.”

As for tax issues:

“The people expect us (their elected officials) to know the ins and outs and what the options are. If we put something on the ballot, it’s got a pretty good chance of passing. So I think the people need options and need to know what the other options are before we put stuff on the ballot. We’ve seen in our own county, taxes get put on, then they sunset, then they get extended. . .I just think we have to do more long-range planning for fundamental services,” he remarked.

That’s a stance that makes a lot of sense.

******

So, Parkville’s plan to deal with the impending doom of $5 million in Neighborhood Improvement District debt in the Brush Creek NID at the west end of the city is to sell the city’s sewer system to Platte County Regional Sewer District.

It’s an interesting scenario. And probably the city’s only feasible way out of a mess.

Obviously, PCRSD believes taking over the city’s sewer system and serving the city’s 5,500 residents will be a profitable business acquisition or it wouldn’t even be considering the deal. It will be fascinating to watch this unfold, as details on the purchase price and the effect the transaction will have on sewer rates for customers inside Parkville’s city limits will eventually be known. The early analysis is that the sale could mean (considerably?) higher sewer rates for Parkville residents.

Don’t touch that dial.

(Occasional sense is made on Twitter @ivanfoley. Or you can email the publisher at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)

 


GET READY TO GET BUSY,
DAVID JONES,
PARKVILLE NEEDS YOU

Written 2/12/14

Big 12 Conference basketball this season is absolutely insane. If you haven’t spent some time on these cold winter nights watching a Big 12 game or two, you’re missing college basketball at its finest.

I’m reserving a spot at the Big 12 Tournament at Sprint Center March 12-15. There should be some great games on tap.

******

And yes, you can count on The Landmark holding its annual Bracket Battle contest when the field is announced for NCAA March Madness. You’ll get a chance to win a year’s subscription to this fine publication by finishing with a higher score than yours truly.

Better start doing some homework.

******

What’s it gonna take for Kansas City to be successful in getting a bid together in its effort to host the 2016 Republican National Convention?

Apparently one of the things it may take is more available hotel rooms. As you can see in our front page scoopage by Valerie Verkamp, KC is running short of available hotel rooms at this point, though a push is ongoing for existing hotels to make more rooms available to convention-goers. We’ll keep you posted.

******

If you follow The Landmark’s large social media presence on Twitter and Facebook--and if you don’t, you need to jump on it because it’s news and entertainment in real time--you know we’re excited that JCPenney has signed on as a long-term Landmark advertiser. You saw their inserts for the first time in last week’s issue and will see them in many more, including this week with a doorbuster ad that features savings of up to 60% Friday and Saturday.

Just in case you didn’t realize, your nearest JCPenney is right here in Platte County at Tiffany Springs. Shopping there helps generate sales tax revenue that is the economic engine for your county government.

*****

Speaking of county sales tax revenue, the latest sales tax report is out and it’s a mixed bag. On the positive side, year-to-date general sales tax revenue is up by 4.5% compared to this time last year. That’s the good news.

But more importantly, the overall report is not so rosy. Remember, county general operations are funded by a combination of sales tax revenue and use tax revenue. While the sales tax dollars are up by 4.5%, the use tax--basically a tax on purchases made out of state--numbers are down by 11.8%. Combining the two numbers, the total sales and use tax collections year-to-date are 2.4% below what they were at this time last year.

“Negative numbers (when it comes to revenue) are never good,” Jason Brown, presiding commissioner, quipped this week.

Yikes. It’s still early and things could change, but damn, the county auditor looks pretty silly right now.
So much for that growth in county revenue that Kevin Robinson, county auditor, had predicted. You’ll recall in November, Robinson said he was forecasting an eight percent growth in use tax collections for 2014. He was forecasting an eight percent growth. After two months, the use tax collections are down by nearly 12 percent which means right now, Robinson’s forecast is off by 20 percent.

To be that accurate, he may as well have closed his eyes and thrown a dart at a number on the wall. Maybe that’s what he did. Remember, this is the same auditor who tells us that revenues at the county-owned golf course are going to rise by 33% this year.

To be fair, Robinson forecast a one percent growth in general sales tax collections. So far those collections are up by 4.5%. But most observers expect that number to come back down to Earth, in light of the bitterly cold weather this area has been experiencing in January and so far into February. Remember, due to the lag from the time that retailers collect the sales tax, then send it in to the state, then the state sends the money to the county, the February numbers reflect consumer purchases that were made in December. The March receipts will reflect consumer activity in January, the April receipts will reflect consumer purchases in February.

In other words when you read the county’s monthly report, keep in mind the numbers are two months behind the consumer activity.

“I’d read the sales tax numbers with a guarded optimism. January’s bitter cold will take a toll on the March report,” said Rob Willard, county treasurer, this week. “And use tax is still lagging.”

******

I have high hopes for David Jones, a candidate for Ward 3 alderman at Parkville. Jones, who became a Parkville resident a couple of years ago, is running unopposed for the seat currently held by Chris Fisher.

Why do I have high hopes? Jones is the former mayor of St. Joseph. He served as mayor of that city of 77,000 people from 2002 to 2006. One of the city’s major accomplishments during that time was the development of a major retail center known as the Shoppes at North Village.

You know what Parkville--with millions of dollars of west end Neighborhood Improvement District debt staring it in the face--needs to be concentrating on? Attracting development. That’s going to be the ticket to saving the city from financial embarrassment.

And you know what else? Jones is already aware of this, and the NID debt was the first thing he mentioned when discussing Parkville’s future in a phone conversation I had with him this week. I anticipated I would have to bring up the NID issue. I didn’t. It’s already in the forefront of his mind, which is a great thing. To this point, I’ve had the impression leaders at City Hall in Parkville have been more interested in whistling past the graveyard.

“I feel the NID is the top priority. I really do. You’ve got to find a way to pay that back and find the right development that benefits the community in the right way without doing things to hurt Parkville’s character,” Jones said.

“I have experience with infrastructure--doing it in a way that it doesn’t hurt the taxpayers while still being able to attract developers,” Jones said.

Boom.

The April election can’t get here soon enough. Get ready to get busy, David Jones. Parkville and its 5,500 residents need your experience.

More from my conversation with Jones in future columns.

(Get ahead of the game by following Between the Lines on Twitter @ivanfoley and finding him on Facebook)

 


MORE ABOUT THE
CONSULTANT’S JAIL IDEAS;
AND HOLDEN IS A POSITIVE

Written 2/5/14

How’s your Polar Vortex this morning?

******

By most accounts, the major snowstorm that hit the area much of the day Tuesday and into the very early hours of Wednesday dropped anywhere from 8-12 inches of snow in the area. Making it even more fun was the fact some winds accompanied the storm, creating significant drifting.

******

Refresh me, are alarmists calling this Global Warming or Climate Change? Somebody help, I’m confused as to which term I’m supposed to get more panicked about.

******

The county closed offices at 2 p.m. Tuesday as the storm was getting grumpy and then waited an hour later than normal to open offices Wednesday morning. Kudos, I have no problems with that level-headed, concerned-but-not-panicked approach.

I think officials at Platte County handled their reaction to the conditions perfectly, though their naming the blizzard The Owens Lee Hull, Jr. Geez Criminy was a bit over the top.

******

We’re keeping an eye out for upcoming county commission discussions over future jail expansion possibilities. As The Landmark exclusively reported last week, a study by consultants and architects resulted in some pretty pictures of a possible $21 million expansion of the current jail on the county’s existing ‘footprint’ at the government complex along Third Street in Platte City.

As we reported last week, the proposal calls for 315 beds to be added to the current 154-bed capacity facility. That would be 469 beds total. Doing the math, that’s tripling the current capacity.

Seems excessive, which leads me to speculate the county would get in the rent-a-cell business to other area jurisdictions, including, perhaps, Kansas City and/or Jackson County.

The architectural drawings I’ve seen show the future jail addition being constructed primarily on what is now an employee parking lot to the west of the existing jail. It shows a new sheriff’s department headquarters on the lower floor of that new construction, with two floors of new jail housing on top of the new sheriff’s department, with the existing jail remaining where it is.

We’ll keep you posted on discussion and any new developments.

******

For those who chose Kurt Foley to win this year’s Landmark Pigskin Picks contest--and you know who you are, don’t make me name names--you’ve won a free three year subscription to The Landmark.

College boy Kurt edged your Landmark publisher by one game in our annual stab at picking the winner of every NFL game played throughout the season. It’s the second consecutive winning year for our Washburn student, bank employee and (very) occasional Landmark facilities manager. Last year he edged Brian Kubicki by one game.

Final standings for your Landmarkers: Kurt Foley 176-90-1; Ivan Foley 175-91-1; Greg Hall 172-94-1; Chris Kamler 164-102-1; and Brian Kubicki 162-104-1.

I’m proud to say we stack up very well compared to the sports writers at the Kansas City Star who cover this stuff for a living. Only one Star sportswriter did better than your top two prognosticators at The Landmark.

Kansas City Star standings: Terez Paylor 182-84-1; Sam Mellinger 174-92-1; Jeff Rosen 170-96-1; Vahe Gregorian 167-99-1; and Randy Covitz 162-104-1.

We’ll do it again next fall. In the meantime, if you picked Kurt, three years of Landmark journalistic adventures are coming your way.

******

The interesting thing I’ve noted about the discussion between Kirby Holden and Dr. Mike Reik (see front page story), superintendent at Platte County R-3 Schools, is that Holden’s information turns out to be accurate. The school never says that Holden has distributed inaccurate numbers when it comes to the school’s projections of enrollment growth.

I mentioned in this column space many months ago that I’ve known Holden for five or six years and can tell you he takes his research seriously. He is not some off the cuff radical--he is a bulldog who gets accurate information and drives home his points using common sense along with that accurate information. His web site, plattecountyr3facts.com, is a wealth of information with statistics and analysis that sometimes paint a different picture than what we may be used to seeing and hearing.

His most recent revelation, made in a letter to the editor here last week, is that Platte County R-3’s growth projections have dropped dramatically. A 2010 enrollment study had much higher numbers of enrollment projected by the year 2018 than the most recent study this past year. The district’s projected rate of growth has lowered by at least 800 students, about 50 classrooms, by the year 2018.
He also pointed out last week that the five school buildings in the northern part of the R-3 district this year have a total growth of one student--that’s one student--over last year.

Every patron should thank Holden for bringing helpful information to the public’s attention. District officials, who are busy planning a 2015 tax levy increase vote that will be based on needs they’re tying to projected growth, weren’t exactly going out of their way to broadcast the fact that growth projections have dropped significantly. I’m not saying they were hiding that information under a rock, but I am saying it wasn’t being openly broadcast in the fashion the previous study had been.

******

Holden has made himself a candidate for Platte County R-3 School Board in the April election. He is an intelligent person who does research and asks tough questions of those making decisions that impact the community. His inclusion on the board would be a positive for the district, and certainly would make board meetings more interesting.

(Ignore the Polar Vortex at your door and warm yourself with Twitter @ivanfoley)


 

 


SO MANY CELLS COULD BE A TOUGH SALE

Written 1/29/14

Take precautions, you may have heard there’s a stomach virus going around.

Confirmed.

I’m confirming based on the fact that at 5 o’clock this morning I found myself on the floor in the hallway bathroom hugging a toilet. And while it’s a nice enough toilet, I’m normally not that attracted to it.

That’s all you need to know, really.

******

The Between the Lines column began in 1993 and hasn’t missed a single week for loyal readers since 1999. So we’re not gonna let a little stomach bug keep us down, am I right?

Now let’s stop talking and get through this so I can go lay down before it’s time to mail papers this afternoon.

******

Platte City Mayor Frank Offutt, who has become a well-rounded public servant with expertise in many areas, is excited about the fact there are several community events that will brighten up Main Street--specifically the courthouse square--during 2014.

“It appears that Main Street will have eight to nine events this year,” the mayor said recently.

The mayor didn’t go into specifics in our brief exchange on the topic, but I’m guessing there will be some music/movies on the courthouse lawn during the warm weather months, perhaps the return of the Ladies Night that was held for the first time this past September, and other similar events.

It’s cool that City Hall is getting behind the effort to liven up the downtown square after normal business hours.

******

One of the downtown events the mayor is referring to will involve an open-to-the-community celebration of The Landmark’s 150th year of continuous publication.

Yes, later this year The Landmark will note its 150th anniversary. That’s a lot of newspapers, a lot of deadlines, a lot of dead trees.

Our downtown celebration will actually piggy-back on an event with our friends and fellow downtown merchant at The Law Offices of Scott Campbell, whose staff had jump started planning a celebration when it was decided to combine the two sideshows into one.

This celebration will take place on Main Street the evening of Friday, Oct. 3. There will be a band (Outlaw Jim and the Whiskey Benders) cranking out excellent music. There will be food and beverages. Rumor has it other merchants in the downtown--such as the Pool Hall--will have a role in this shindig.

We’ll have the historic Landmark office at 252 Main open for walk-through tours that night, with the old-time machinery, handset type, and those antique typecase drawers in a display that would make Ben Franklin--and former Landmark publisher Max Jones--feel at home.

Save the date of Oct. 3. More info in the coming months.

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It was a little weird last night watching the president pull out his cell phone and snap a selfie during his State of the Me-yun address.

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Las Vegas oddsmakers say the chances of Chapel Ridge opponents winning their lawsuit against Platte County are less than my chances of keeping down a large meal today.

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Holy heck, the numbers presented to the county commission this week in regard to a proposed expansion of the current jail are not pretty. In fact, they’re downright frightening. See our front page story for more details.

Consultants recommend adding 315 beds. That’s adding, not total. The 315 would be added to the 154 beds already in place, which if my math is correct, would mean 469 beds.

That sounds. . . high.

Here’s another number that sounds high: The price tag is estimated at $21 million. Somebody call the cops.

So many cells could be a tough sale for the county when it reaches out to taxpayers for some funding.

We all know $21 million doesn’t grow on trees. It grows in the county’s park tax fund.

Boom.

Just another reminder of what a terrible governing mistake was made by the 2009 county commission of Betty Knight, Kathy Dusenbery and Jim Plunkett. Instead of providing far-sighted leadership to constituents, the commission at that time took the easy way by guiding voters to renew the park tax at a half cent instead of developing and proposing a plan that would have cut the park tax to a quarter cent while directing a quarter cent for law enforcement needs.

The passage of time--and issues like emergency radios and jail needs--has only made it more evident what a mistake that was.

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And that mistake was doubled down by a later county commission, specifically commissioners Duane Soper and Beverlee Roper, last January.

Roper and Soper had only been on the job a few days when they rushed into pushing renewal of a 3/8 cent road tax instead of taking a deep breath and studying the opportunity to direct a portion of that sales tax to assist with law enforcement needs. You know, like, maybe this thing called a jail and that thing called emergency radio debt.

So here we are.

(Twitter is where you can head for a Between the Lines fix between issues of the printed newspaper. Get it @ivanfoley)

 


IN POLITICS, IT'S BEST NOT TO ASSUME ANYTHING

Written 1/22/14

It was mentioned in last week’s column to expect some questioning of Park Hill’s proposal for a 32-cent increase in its tax levy. The impetus for the proposed increase is a technological program that, among other things, would put a laptop in the hands of every student.

Already the debate is underway in a district where many patrons have rarely questioned expenses. As eventually happens, times and economic conditions change and more folks begin to realize every proposal does not automatically deserve a ‘yes’ without some tough questions and a thorough examination of priorities and needs.

Jim Dunn, as a former teacher and administrator in the Park Hill district, is able to examine the question from a unique angle. Read his commentary by clicking here:

We’ll have more from the ‘yes’ side and the ‘no’ side on the Park Hill issue as the April election draws near. For now, I encourage you to give Dunn’s commentary a read.

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Time for a quick informational item, because the more you know. . .
Central Platte Fire Board members at a meeting last week indicated they’ll be investigating the possibility of buying a new pumper truck this year. Paul Regan, chairman of the three member board that also includes Andy Stanton and Mike Ashcraft, said the district has four pumper trucks and one aerial truck. The model years of the current pumpers are 2012, 2007, 2005, and 1986. Regan said the aerial (sometimes called a boom or ladder truck) is 14 years old.

The process is in its preliminary stages, and board members indicated they’ll be attending an expo in Columbia next month to take a look at some of the new models. Larry Bigus, fire chief, estimated at last week’s meeting that a new pumper truck could cost anywhere from $600,000 to $700,000.

Regan said once a truck is ordered it takes several months for it to be built and delivered. Fire officials indicated if a new pumper is purchased the department would dispose of the 1986 model, perhaps to a small rural department.

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I’m not an attorney, but occasionally I like to play one in this column. That being said, of this much I’m certain: Anybody can file a lawsuit. Not everybody can win a lawsuit.
Listen, there are good people on both sides of the Chapel Ridge opponents vs. Platte County lawsuit. Everybody has the right to their opinion on the issue and certainly everyone has the right to file legal action when they think they’ve been wronged. In last week’s Landmark, we devoted nearly half a page of space to the opponents’ attorney, Bill Quitmeier, outlining the case against the county. Based on his comments in that article, Quitmeier seems to have built his case on the fact he believes Jason Brown, presiding commissioner, is something similar to Satan.

“I think Jason Brown thinks he is king.”

“I feel Jason Brown turned his back on the seven on the commission and his fellow commissioner.”

“Jason Brown sold out to Platte Valley Bank. He does not want to bite the hand that feeds him.”

Got it. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say Quitmeier and some Chapel Ridge opponents won’t be supporting Brown in any future elections. But court cases are decided on the law, not political opinions. My guess is if you start spewing political opinions in the courtroom, you’re going to irritate a judge, not win him over.

Later in the article, Quitmeier tried to get into legalities with his comments, but even then didn’t exactly nail it. Some of his other comments: “This is a slap in the face to all who developed the land use plan.”

That point, even if you believe it to be true, can be countered by the fact the land use plan is not a legally-binding document. So if your magic bullet to win a legal battle is based on your contention the county didn’t follow a plan that is not a legally-binding document. . . .I don’t know that I like your chances.

Quitmeier later made reference to the fact he believes Brown violated the Sunshine Law by ‘conjuring up’ amendments to the Chapel Ridge plan. There’s no bigger defender and supporter of the Sunshine Law than this newspaper in general and this columnist in particular. When the smoke clears, I think what will be discovered is that those amendments were discussed in a properly posted and properly noticed meeting that included Brown and fellow commissioner Beverlee Roper.

We’re all human and occasionally emotion gets the best of all of us at some point in time. Hopefully the good people spending their hard-earned money in this legal fight truly believe they have solid legal grounds--not just political opinions, hurt feelings or negative emotions--on which to stand.

Maybe they do and we just don’t know it yet. Maybe Quitmeier has better bullets in his legal arsenal and just isn’t showing them at this point.

Or maybe he’s using somebody else’s money to fight an expensive legal battle based on little more than emotion and political opinion. Only time will tell.

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It’s important to keep a grounded approach in the world of politics and not let emotions rule the day. Heck, if politicians start letting emotions dictate their actions, before you know it they’ll be giving 10 percent salary increases to friends and naming public buildings after people.

But I digress.

The grounded approach political observers should take this week is in regard to the potential Jason Brown vs. Jim Plunkett race for presiding commissioner. It’s exciting to think about, because if it happens it will be a battle of experienced public servants who each would have the ability to run a well-funded campaign.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Brown hasn’t yet announced whether he is running. And even though Plunkett issued a news release indicating he is going to run, that’s not a guarantee. Just a few months ago in an interview for this column, Plunkett said he had no plans to run.

We’ve also seen that even after a candidate files, there’s no guarantee they’re going to stay in the race. Chris Fisher, Parkville alderman, originally filed for reelection before withdrawing last week. Not too many years ago, Sherri Plunkett, Jim’s wife, announced as a candidate for a state representative position and had started a campaign before deciding to end her bid. Those things happen.

The point is, while it’s fun for all of us to speculate, filing doesn’t even open until Feb. 25. It’s far too early to assume anything.

(It’s safe to assume you can keep up with Between the Lines 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


CRAZY COMMENTS ALWAYS MAKE FOR A FUN NEWS WEEK

Written 1/15/2014

One of the things I like best about The Landmark is that every week, every day in fact, is different. We just never know where the events of the day are going to take us, mentally or physically.

So what’s been happening this week? It’s been a week of crazy comments in the local news world.

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This week, Dwayne Bowe told a Kansas City radio station that he was “profiled” by Riverside police when he was ticketed for speeding and charged with marijuana possession in November.

How can you think about this and not be entertained? This sounds like parody material for an upcoming episode of our Rambling Morons podcast.

Bowe was driving through Riverside. It was late at night, which of course means it was dark. He was (allegedly) driving 48 in a 35. When the officer approached the car, he detected an aroma of marijuana. According to the report, Bowe admitted to the officer he and friends had “smoked a little while waiting at the (downtown) airport.” Marijuana was found in a search of the car.

So was Bowe profiled?

Well, it depends on how you define ‘profiled,’ I suppose. Sounds to me like Riverside police officers ‘profile’ vehicles traveling at 48 in a 35.

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Next up on the topic of crazy comments we have Parkville Alderman Nan Johnston, whose public remarks on this Vikings water situation (see front page) have been all over the map. One meeting, she’s really mad at the Vikings. Then at a later meeting (a Vikings rep is in the room) she sounds much more mellow on the issue. Then with the Vikings absent at a this week’s meeting, she’s back to being mad. Then a few minutes later within the same meeting, she implies it’s all this newspaper’s fault.

Slow down, Nan, by the time we make note of your mood it has already changed. Sybil is jealous of Nan’s personalities.

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Let’s go to the tape. Here are Nan’s quotes in the order in which they occurred:

•At the Nov. 4 meeting where the city--not the newspaper--first raised the topic of the Vikings being on the receiving end of free water, Nan said: “It really pisses me off, quite frankly, because (the Vikings) are using taxpayers’ money and they have no right to do that.”

•At a meeting Nov. 25: “I do want to give the Vikings a clear name.”

•In the middle of a meeting Jan. 13: “I have a little bit of a non-trusting factor (when it comes to the Vikings).”

•Toward the end of the meeting Jan. 13: “The newspaper made it seem the Vikings did something sneaky.”

So to summarize, Nan was against the Vikings before she was for them. And then she was against them. And then she was for them.

And by now that has probably changed.

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Meanwhile, The Landmark’s reporting on this topic has been an accurate depiction of the facts as they have come to light and an accurate recording of public comments as they have been made. Our lone editorial (Nov. 27 issue) on the matter said there was blame on both sides, pointing out that “this mystery draws attention to the fact somebody at City Hall has not been minding the store” and criticized the city for “not being anxious to thoroughly address it. Both sides look silly.”

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Two more quick thoughts on the Vikings water topic.

1. The club has agreed to pay restitution for past water usage, which in itself is an admission of guilt. A person or organization doesn’t voluntarily pay restitution without that being seen as an admission they were in the wrong.

2. The amount of restitution Vikings club officials told The Landmark the city administrator has mentioned is $1,000. This is a ridiculously low amount. That’s an insult to the taxpayers who have been paying to water a football field for a community organization. City officials should do some old-fashioned math and come up with a more accurate figure. The club has been watering a football field about three days a week for four months a year for a decade. If you’re looking for a somewhat accurate level of reimbursement, $1,000 isn’t going to scratch the surface, folks.

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Park Hill will be asking for a 32-cent increase in its tax levy at an April election to implement a program that calls for every student in the district to get a laptop computer. In the meantime, expect some patrons in the district to be asking some tough questions.

In fact, the questioning started at Thursday night’s meeting (see front page story) and the topic has already generated a letter to the editor on this page.

One of my favorite comments to this point came from one of my Twitter followers, who tweeted this: “If laptops made kids smarter, mine would be geniuses. I will be voting no.”

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Continuing with the theme of interesting quotes this week, we turn to Thursday night’s Park Hill School Board meeting. Board member Boon Lee, who by the way seems like a great guy, always polite, let fly with a couple I want to reprint here:

•“We have to spend like we can't afford it, but we've got to work like we can't afford not to have it.”

Honestly, I’ve listened to that remark, then read it in print 20 times or more trying to make it compute. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m still not sure how to interpret it.

“As I evaluate whether or not to do this, I look at the sense of obligation we have to our kids. Yes, we don't have all the data to prove that laptops or other devices work, but remember 250 years ago the school system decided to use textbooks. Back 250 years, there were controversies whether textbooks were effective. Today, we don't question why we spend $800,000 to $1 million in the Park Hill School District for textbooks. So hopefully in a few years we will get to the point where we don't question why we need devices for the kids. It will just become part of their learning tool.”

I have run that one through the Between the Lines logic meter multiple times. I’m not sure that’s going to amount to a catchy campaign approach.

Compute the news and commentary as it happens on Twitter @ivanfoley

 


NICE THOUGHT, BUT THERE
WERE BETTER WAYS TO HONOR
A RESPECTED RETIRING JUDGE

Written 1/8/2014

Well, here I am, sitting in the Ivan Foley No BS Building catty-corner from the Jack Coots Bank Vault in the middle of the Ronnie Pine Business District cranking out another Between the Lines column.

Thanks for reading.

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Ahh, there’s the Owens Lee Hull Justice Center.

I’m old enough to remember when it was the Platte County Courthouse.

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If the Platte County Commissioners tell you they aren’t getting negative vibes about the decision to permanently attach the name of the retiring judge to the courthouse, then they are either being less than straight with you or they truly do live sheltered lives in a capsule of bureaucracy.

Been to any local cafes lately? Taken a walk up and down Main Street? Wow. It’s still the buzz more than a week after it happened. Folks aren’t going to start a letter-writing campaign because they don’t want their reaction to be misinterpreted as disrespecting the judge. But wow.

Last week I mentioned the behind-the-scenes feedback when a previous county commission attached the name of former sheriff Tom Thomas to the new sheriff’s department (technically, it’s named the Tom Thomas Law Enforcement Center, thanks to then-commissioners Betty Knight, Michael Short and Diza Eskridge. You’ll notice Thomas’ name does not appear anywhere outside the building, only in the lobby. Reaction at the time caused the commissioners to cool their jets a bit). So I’m not at all surprised about the negative reaction in most circles by last week’s move. Heck, my ears were set on fire by a respected, normally quiet, very civic-minded longtime resident as I walked away from last week’s ceremony. It was then I knew that if this very civic-minded person was so strongly opposed to it, the county has a PR problem on its hands.

And let’s be clear, the negative vibes are no disrespect to the good judge himself. The negativity is from attaching the name of any local taxpayer-paid public official--doesn’t matter whom--to the historic structure that is an iconic symbol of Platte County, its history and a general picture of strength for which the county and its people stand.

Now when you’re out of town and mention that you live or work in Platte County and someone says, “Oh, I remember seeing the Platte County Courthouse on the square” you can correct them by saying “You mean the Owens Lee Hull, Jr. Justice Center.”

Naming the courthouse in the judge’s honor is one of those ideas that probably sounded good on the surface when it was kicked around inside the insulated walls of the government building. But had county commissioners stepped outside those walls and sought some honest feedback from the community before proceeding with the move, I think they may have settled on something a little less drastic.

How about renaming the jury deliberation room inside the courthouse in honor of the judge? How about settling for his picture and a plaque inside the lobby? How about renaming the judge’s chambers in honor of the longtime judge? Maybe dedicating in his name the courtroom in which he served?

Anything like that would have been very appropriate and very fine.

But renaming the courthouse? To a lot of folks, it comes off as cheesy, patronizing, and condescending, all at the same time. At minimum, it seems disrespectful to other longtime judges who have served, are serving and will serve in the future.

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He had an accomplished career and has served the public well. Please be clear that I respect Judge Hull as much as the next guy. He deserves major kudos and respect for a job well done.

But you may have noticed there have now been two days in the last few months at the government complex dedicated to celebrations of Hull’s service. When’s the next one? And if the next one is gonna be outdoors again, can we do it on a warmer day?

There have been two ceremonies filled with pomp and circumstance and praises and speeches and blessings and congratulations and ministers and cake and handshakes and hugs and kids singing and bands playing and forced laughter and Color Guards and more hugs.

It’s like somebody at the county is having separation anxiety.

Hey, you guys gonna be ok? Do you need us to send in grief counselors?

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I applaud the decision by the Platte County R-3 School Board to delay bringing a tax increase vote to the public until 2015 instead of this April. It’s the right move.

It does make it clear that the 2012 proposal was bloated and overflowing with an alarmist mentality. In essence, the district will have waited three years to put the same ‘needs’ back on the ballot for voters. That’s a sign those needs weren’t nearly as immediate as voters were being led to believe in 2012. Voters were justified in turning that proposal down by a 55-45% margin.

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Platte County’s budget hearing was certainly interesting. It featured Duane Soper, second district commissioner, going into elementary school tattletale mode at the end, criticizing Jason Brown, presiding commissioner, for not attending some of the budget meetings with various officeholders, while Soper praised himself for attending every one of those meetings. Kudos to Soper for keeping a chair warm during those meetings. Beyond that, I’m not sure he accomplished anything worthy of a celebration.

Honestly, can you blame Brown? There are portions of this budget that clearly have the Soper/Roper Tax and Spend trademark, so Brown was probably asking himself why he should beat his head against the wall at multiple meetings on the topic. Clearly Brown was aware of the details of the budget on which he was outgunned by a 2-1 margin. He likely knew very early in the process that he was going to vote no on the final proposal.

Since Soper attended every budget meeting with every department head and Roper said she attended all but one, they should be willing to take full ownership of this budget. Let’s be honest, portions of this budget are the stuff of fairy tales. For instance, does anybody in their right mind believe revenue generated by operations at the county golf course is going to increase by 33 percent? That’s what this budget projects.

Plugging in phony revenue numbers is a way to avoid having to make spending cuts at a golf course that is losing $700,000 in taxpayer dollars each year. Keep in mind the $700,000 is what taxpayers are losing at the golf course. The county is spending more than that on the golf course when you include expenditures needed just to keep the doors open.

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Here are some names to watch for in the future in Platte County. At least until we run out of taxpayer-financed buildings and monuments to name after ‘good dudes who have served the county well.’

The Bob Shaw Administration Building.

Brian Nowotny Park.

Duane Soper Golf Course.

Betty Knight Trail (check the closets, Betty probably already had the plaque made for this one before she left office).

(Get commentary while it’s hot on Twitter @ivanfoley)

 



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