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Ivan's picture
Between the Lines

by Ivan Foley
Landmark editor

BRACKET BATTLE STANDINGS AFTER FOUR ROUNDS

Posted 3/30//10

John L Steffel 140
Alyssa Foley 138
Dianne Lockhart 132
Kevin Lockhart 132
Jimmy Hensley 130
James Thomas 126
Melvin Grame 126
David Lowry 126
Jerry Grame 122
Ann Riggs 124
Joe Carroll 120
Travis Steffel 120
Bob Bennett 120
Melissa Hill 120
Brian Kubicki 118
Dorothy Anderson 118
Graham Sampsell 118
Julie Davis 116
Rick Porter 116
Mark Jackson 116
Brooke Zenner 116
CK Rairden 114
Linda Foley 114
Cameron Kincaid 114
Katie Anderson 114
Anne Thomas 114
Daryl Grame 114
Nancy Meers 114
MaryLou Highlander 114
Sarah Farr 112
Pat Pearson 112
Judy Williams 112
Steve Manville 112
Duane Eckhart 112
Lori Meyer 112
Annie Palmer 110
Charles Turner 110
Taylor Sampsell 110
Steve Sampsell 110
Deana Anderson 110
Mark Wittmeyer 110
Steve Lubbs 108
Michael Kincaid 108
Lewis Meyer 108
Zach Heiser 108
Ron Nelson 108
Derek Shultz 108
Mary Conrad 108
Randy West 108
Carissa Bouchard 106
Ken Pearson 106
Tony Farr 106
Mark Huber 106
Lawrence Anderson 106
Jack Carter 106
Steve Hays 106
Kurt Foley 106
Larry Van Fosson 104
Loren Block 104
Kenna Sampsell 104
Sandra Thomas 104
Sydney Meers 104
Kathy McKay 104
Tom Taulbee 104
Christy Myers 104
Irvin Reineke 104
Linda Whitmore 104
Jackson Cook 104
John Steffel 104
Rebecca Rooney 104
Gordon Cook 102
Billy Breed 102
Austin Bouchard 102
Nick Palmer 102
Stan Palmer 102
Whitney Meers 102
Todd Shifflett 102
Judy Wilson 100
Billy Anderson 100
Bradley Anderson 100
Brett Anderson 100
Larry Block 100
Anna Nutt 100
David Woods 100
Sue Palm 100
Bill Williams 100
Kenny Miller 100
Travis Henderson 100
Eddie Highlander 100
Chris Turner 100
Andrew Palmer 100
Ivan Foley 98
Bobby Hensley 98
Johnny Shultz 98
Andy Hyland 98
Karla Weigman 98
Desmond Davis 98
Blaire Sampsell 98
Steve Kincaid 98
Nikki Lewis 98
Greg Hall 98
Randy Meers 96
Curtis Moppin 96
Sherry King 96
Christine Harris 96
Terrie Taylor 94
Dave Richey 94
Judy Grame 94
Helen Steffel 94
Grant Jackson 92
Sara Van Fosson 92
Ken Smith 92
Beth Taulbee 90
Willie Smith 90
Jennifer Steffel 90
Logan Block 88
Sue Shultz 88
Lakin Block 88
Eddie L Clay 88
Judy Eckhart 86
Frank Thurman 86
Donna Van Fosson 84
Shannon Thomas 82
Meaghan Domann 80
Roberta Carroll 76
Robert Schultz 24

 

 


 

AT THE COUNTY, HR STANDS FOR HUMAN RIDICULOUSNESS

Posted 3/27//10

Despite waking up with a headache that felt like it was sent from down under, thanks to the healing power of a couple of Excedrin Migraines mixed with Mountain Dew, I’m at my desk on Wednesday morning, cranking out another edition of journalistic genius. Or at least a reasonable facsimile .

Are occasional migraines covered under Obamacare?

******

Buddy The Landmark News Dog missed a stair in the dark and took a major tumble this morning. He quickly gathered himself and looked around to see if anybody was watching, because that’s what cool dogs do. I pretended not to see.

Full recovery from a bruised ego is expected.

******

(Please read the following section aloud in your best movie preview guy voice):

It’s a heavyweight battle of Judicial Giants.

It’s a Scales of Justice Death Math. More gruesome than a head-on crash on a winding stretch of Hwy. 92.

Friday morning. Platte County Courthouse. Two combatants. One survivor.

Christopher Byrd vs. Robert Harold Shaw.

Good seats are still available. But get there early.

Oh, the humanity. Oh, the carnage.

Be there.

(For mature audiences only.)

******

Have I mentioned the Tomahawke developer’s lawsuit against Platte County is set to be heard in Platte County Circuit Court Friday morning?

******

Deb Hammond, vice chairman of the Platte County Regional Sewer District board of trustees, in our front page story paints a picture of positive changes on the way to the PCRSD. Tip of the hat for that.

It’s not happening as quickly as a lot of folks desired or perhaps as quickly as it should have happened, but it does sound like the current PCRSD board of trustees will get a more user-friendly jockey in the saddle and have that horse headed in the right direction fairly soon.

******

Geez, don’t you wonder how many horse trails or mountain bike paths could have been built with the amount of money the PCRSD was overpaying to its past executive director?
Different funding mechanisms, I fully realize, but come on. Why waste money on sewer stuff when we can build essential toys with it?

******

Once again there are new developments in the story behind the story in this whole “The county auditor peered at me lovingly” saga in the Platte County Human Ridiculousness (HR) Department.

The female auditor’s accuser in a case of alleged discrimination, retaliation and sexual harassment is LeAnna Fannon. You’ll remember recent news stories involving Fannon. Fannon is the county HR employee who, while detectives were investigating allegations against a different HR employee, admitted to authorities she had told employees under her that she would allow them--and herself--to be paid an extra two weeks of vacation because the county had not authorized a pay raise.

Amazingly, despite initially making that pledge, Fannon is still employed by the county, and according to Between the Lines sources, likes to boast about her ability to dodge fire.
Now comes news that home foreclosure proceedings are underway against Fannon and her husband. According to a legal notice published in the Weston Chronicle last week, the Fannon home is currently scheduled to be sold on the courthouse steps at 10 a.m. on April 8.

Obviously no one takes joy in the financial troubles of another, especially in a tough economy. So why is this worthy of being reported? Consider that it takes some time for a mortgage holder to initiate foreclosure proceedings. It’s not like the process gets started after one missed payment. Some observers, especially those who cast doubt on Fannon’s claims against the auditor, will point out it’s conceivable Fannon was already experiencing financial challenges last fall when her accusations started to surface.

Digest it for what it’s worth, just as we’ve encouraged you to do with Fannon’s widely-reported accusations against the auditor. Bottom line is that it’s potentially pertinent knowledge the public should keep in the back of its mind as this whole soap opera moves forward.

******

A record number of players entered The Landmark’s Bracket Battle. One hundred twenty six of you make this the largest bracket contest in the Platte County media world. No surprise there.

Unfortunately for many of you, your champion is already out of the tournament (see cartoon at right). I say this every year: These bracket contests are won or lost in the later rounds. If you don’t see your name in the early leader board, don’t panic. If your champion is still alive (as mine--Kentucky--is), you’ve still got a shot. Leaders after two rounds are: Dianne Lockhart 94; Kevin Lockhart 94; Alyssa Foley 92; Melvin Grame, Bob Bennett, Nancy Meers, Sarah Farr, Austin Bouchard and Mary Lou Highlander, all with 88; Joe Carroll, Steve Sampsell and Larry Von Fosson, all with 86.

Me? I’m at 74. But ready to rally with the Kentucky Wildcats.

(Rally with the publisher via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com or follow his adventures on Twitter at twitter.com/ivanfoley)


 

BRACKET BATTLE STANDINGS AFTER TWO ROUNDS

Posted 3/24//10

Diane Lockhart 94
Kevin Lockhart 94
Alyssa Foley 92
Melvin Grame 88
Bob Bennett 88
Nancy Meers 88
Sarah Farr 88
Austin Bouchard 88
MaryLou Highlander 88
Steve Sampsell 86
Joe Carroll 86
Larry Van Fosson 86
Mark Wittmeyer 84
Zach Heiser 84
Willie Smith 84
Jimmy Hensley 84
David Lowry 84
Jerry Grame 84
Rick Porter 84
Mark Jackson 84
Brooke Zenner 84
Rebecca Rooney 84
Chris Turner 82
Dave Richey 82
Linda Foley 82
Daryl Grame 82
Anne Thomas 82
Mark Huber 82
Melissa Hill 82
Cameron Kincaid 82
Travis Steffel 82
Greg Hall 80
CK Rairden 80
John Steffel 80
John L Steffel 80
Steve Kincaid 80
Ann Riggs 80
Meaghan Domann 80
Dorothy Anderson 80
Graham Sampsell 80
Kathy McKay 80
Tom Taulbee 80
Pat Pearson 80
Judy Williams 80
Steve Manville 80
Bobby Hensley 80
Duane Eckhart 80
Lori Meyer 80
Charles Turner 80
Eddie Highlander 78
Randy West 78
Billy Breed 78
Christine Harris 78
Sherry King 78
Irvin Reineke 78
Beth Taulbee 78
Julie Davis 78
Linda Whitmore 78
Sandra Thomas 78
Stan Palmer 78
Taylor Sampsell 78
Sara Van Fosson 78
Brian Kubicki 78
Todd Shifflett 76
Michael Kincaid 76
Jack Carter 76
Katie Anderson 76
Bradley Anderson 76
Lewis Meyer 76
Whitney Meers 76
Ron Nelson 76
Anna Nutt 76
David Woods 76
Derek Shultz 76
Mary Conrad 76

Ivan Foley 74
Andrew Palmer 74
Travis Henderson 74
Judy Eckhart 74
Kenny Miller 74
Carissa Bouchard 74
Bill Williams 74
Grant Jackson 74
Karla Weigman 74
Johnny Shultz 74
Blaire Sampselll 74
Kenna Sampsell 74
Larry Block 74
Loren Block 74
Brett Anderson 74
Lawrence Anderson 74
Ken Smith 74
Nikki Lewis 74
Kurt Foley 74
James Thomas 74
Donna Van Fosson 72
Jennifer Steffel 72
Steve Hays 72
Deana Anderson 72
Sydney Meers 72
Frank Thurman 72
Christy Myers 72
Curtis Moppin 72
Tony Farr 72
Gordon Cook 72
Annie Palmer 72
Eddie L Clay 70
Sue Shultz 70
Randy Meers 70
Nick Palmer 70
Lakin Block 70
Logan Block 70
Judy Wilson 70
Stee Lubbs 68
Helen Steffel 68
Billy Anderson 68
Judy Grame 68
Desmond Davis 68
Andy Hyland 68
Sue Palm 68
Terrie Taylor 68
Jackson Cook 66
Ken Pearson 66
Robert Cook 64
Shannon Thomas 62
Robert Schultz 24

(Get more frequent updates by following Ivan Foley on Tiwtter at twitter.com/ivanfoley)


 

IT AIN'T EASY STAYIN' ONE STEP AHEAD OF THE POSSE

Posted 3/18//10

It’s official.

Chuck Reineke is out the door, no longer executive director of the Platte County Regional Sewer District. Based on interaction this newspaper has had with patrons of the PCRSD over the years, readers should not expect reports of many broken hearts.
One of the worst kept secrets in county political circles is that the current Platte County Commission, responsible for making the appointments to the sewer district’s board of directors, had been stacking the board recently with folks it hoped would be willing to give Reineke a gentle, or perhaps even not so gentle, nudge out the door. Frankly, it was time--no, it was past time--for a change.

Officially, Reineke submitted his resignation, he was not canned. It’s interesting that his resignation was submitted on Monday, just a few days after the board in a closed session had voted to place him on paid leave until the board could consult with its special legal counsel on some publicly unknown topic. This creates obvious speculation that Reineke was getting out of Dodge one step ahead of the posse, though board chairman Lewis Sanders--who was absent from the meeting in which Reineke was placed on paid leave--told me he doesn’t think Reineke’s resignation had anything to do with the board's action. Not sure I’m willing to blindly accept Sanders’ opinion on that one.

As you’ll see in our front page story, the board voted to put Reineke on leave “until such time the full board can meet with Ron Spradley.” The first question to come from that, of course, is who is Ron Spradley? Not exactly a household name. Turns out, I’m told, Spradley is an attorney the PCRSD has used as special legal counsel those times when its regular attorney/bill collector--Bob Shaw--has a conflict of interest. And let’s be honest, Shaw draws a check from so many public entity cookie jars those conflicts likely arise quite often.

For whatever reason, Reineke didn’t wait for the process to even get started. He resigned prior to the time the board had a chance to meet with its special legal counsel.

As we learn more, you’ll learn more.

******

Two questions I’m hearing most often from Landmark readers over the course of the past week:

1. Why in the world would Judge Abe Shafer reduce the prison time for an admitted child rapist/porn collector by 75 percent?

2. After admitting to sheriff’s department detectives that she told employees under her guidance that she would allow them--and herself--to take an extra two weeks of paid vacation because they didn’t get a raise, why is LeAnna Fannon still employed in the human resources department at Platte County? Is this the kind of behavior taxpayers should accept and expect from public employees?

******

My answers to the above questions:

1. I have no earthly idea. I have the utmost respect for Abe Shafer as a person and as a judge, but this is a mind boggler. How can a ruling to give a child rapist 26 years be followed by a decision by the same judge several weeks later to cut that same child rapist’s prison time all the way down to seven years? Those sentences are so far apart there’s no way they both can be right. Want to know which sentence the majority of the law-abiding public believes was the right one? My guess is I don’t have to tell you. Most folks don’t have much sympathy for child rapists.

2. This question I have to answer with more questions. Could it be because the employee in question has a complaint filed against the county with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights? Would that be the only thing that might keep an employer from dismissing an employee who admitted to investigators she endorsed the idea of taking salary that wasn’t legally and rightfully earned? Hey, I don’t know how that’s viewed in a government office, but those of us in private business tend to frown on employees who think it would be okay for them to encourage the taking of money a person has no right to take. There’s a term for those sorts of folks--and it’s not Employee of the Month.

The powers-that-be at the county seem to be playing scared on this one. Trustworthy county employees deserve and expect better. The county commission’s fellow officeholders deserve and expect better. Most importantly, the taxpayers funding the salary of everybody in that building deserve and expect better.

******

Here’s what you’re up against in our Bracket Battle. Get those entries in by 11 a.m. Thursday, via fax to 816-858-2313 or email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com. This would be a good year to get in our contest, as I have very little confidence in my selections this year.

FIRST ROUND WINNERS: Kansas, Northern Iowa, Michigan State, Maryland, San Diego State, Georgetown, Oklahoma State, Ohio State, Syracuse, Gonzaga, UTEP, Murray State, Xavier, Pittsburgh, BYU, K-State, Kentucky, Texas, Temple, Wisconsin, Washington, New Mexico, Missouri, West Virginia, Duke, Louisville, Utah State, Siena, Notre Dame, Baylor, Richmond, Villanova.

SWEET SIXTEEN: Kansas, Maryland, Georgetown, Ohio State, Syracuse, UTEP, Xavier, K-State, Kentucky, Temple, New Mexico, West Virginia, Duke, Siena, Baylor, Villanova.

ELITE EIGHT: Kansas, Georgetown, Syracuse, K-State, Kentucky, West Virginia, Duke, Villanova.

FINAL FOUR: Kansas, Syracuse, Kentucky, Villanova.

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Kentucky 77, Kansas 71.

******

Watch for special Between the Lines columns to be posted on our web site during our Bracket Battle to update you on standings in our contest. I may throw in some opinions and, if I start to feel lucky, maybe even some Guaran-dam-teed picks against the spread.
Also, follow our contest and get other local news and commentary on The Landmark’s Twitter page at twitter.com/ivanfoley

(Email The Landmark’s human resources department at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com or peer at him through an Internet window at twitter.com/ivanfoley)


 

WHY THE PATIENT APPROACH IS SOMETIMES BEST

Posted 3/11//10

My boss just informed me that my productivity over the past month or so has exceeded expectations to the point that I’ll be allowed a half day off Friday to hit the Big 12 Tournament afternoon festivities and the games that evening.

Not bad, but if I worked in the county’s HR department I may have gotten two extra weeks of paid vacation instead.

******

Just when you think the local news could not get any more bizarre or interesting, along come a couple of front page stories like those you’ll see near the top of this week’s issue.
I must admit it keeps the journalistic blood flowing and the skills sharpened. Landmark readers are the kind who take the time to digest it all.

Enjoy. And remember, if you miss one issue of The Landmark, you miss a lot.

******

Please take a moment to study the official list of applicants for the first of two open judge positions in Platte County. Most of the names you’ll see have already been reported in this column space over the past month.

Proof once again that Between the Lines sources are the best in Platte County.

You know who you are. Pat yourselves on the back.

******

Of course one never really knows how these things will play out, but is anybody else starting to think that case of allegations of retaliation, discrimination and sexual harassment made against the Platte County auditor by a human resources department employee might just fall apart?

Certainly the accuser’s overall credibility is taking a bit of a hit with information uncovered by detectives during a criminal probe into the HR department (see front page story).

******

While some other attempted pundits implied the allegations would result in her resignation, a public flogging, and perhaps the end of the world as we know it, in this column space we’ve always carried a more relaxed view of the questionable allegations against the county auditor. Perhaps the general public is starting to see some reasons why the patient approach is often best when these types of allegations start flying.

******

From the looks of things on the political scene, one can make the case that the general public isn’t overly convinced the auditor has been a bad public servant. Consider this: An auditor with those allegations against her and an auditor who has battled with county commissioners and other public officials during the course of performing her duties has not yet drawn opposition from the opposing political party in her upcoming reelection bid.

Fascinating.

******

Be on the lookout.

The Platte County Sheriff’s Department has received reports of automated telephone calls being made to Platte County residents that advise the recipient that their debit card has been suspended. The automated call then requests information from the cardholder that may include the card number and personal identification number.

Sheriff’s department officials tell me they cannot confirm the legitimacy of the calls and strongly advise residents to contact their bank or the originator of their card directly to resolve any issues with their accounts.

Always be cautious with phone calls of this nature. It’s common sense stuff but every now and then we all need a reminder.

******

It’s time for me to promote the heck out of our annual Bracket Battle.

Yes, it’s NCAA Tournament Time, also known as March Madness. The tournament field will be announced on Sunday evening. Your bracket entry in The Landmark’s contest is due next Thursday, March 18 by 11 a.m.

Never taken part in our reindeer game? You should. Nothing to lose, everything to gain. First place gets $100 and every entrant whose final score is better than mine will receive not one but two, count ‘em, two years of free subscriptions to The Landmark. But the key is you must beat me, and remember, I’m a legend in my own mind.

The process of entering is simple. Clip out a bracket from one of the daily papers or print one off the millions of Internet sites that will have them. Be sure to put your name and phone number on your bracket. Then, fill in which team you think will win every game throughout the tournament. Write legibly. No crayons. I’m not a mind reader--even though I play one in this column--so don’t leave any lines blank or that’s a loss. And be sure to write in the name of the team you think will win, not the number of their seed. This makes for much faster grading. Official scorekeeper Kurt Foley appreciates this new rule.

Finally, take a guess at how many total points you think will be scored in the national championship game. This will be used as a tiebreaker if needed.

Fax your entry to 816-858-2313 anytime day or night. Or you can email it to me at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com. If you prefer, bring it by our embarrassingly plush Landmark headquarters at 252 Main Street in Platte City and drop it in a box I’ll have on the counter.

Watch for updates on the standings in this column space or get them more promptly on my Twitter page at twitter.com/ivanfoley

Good luck. May the most fortunate prognosticator win.

(Test the publisher’s patience via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com or follow his off the wall adventures at twitter.com/ivanfoley)


 

IT WILL BE TOUGH TO GET TO THE RIGHT OF JASON BROWN

Posted 3/5//10

Will Platte County be a hot spot for local elections in 2010?

Just when I was starting to wonder whether we’d get any contested races at the county level--other than for collector, where we’ve known for months there would be competition among two current employees from opposite political parties looking to replace their retiring boss--Bobby Kincaid files for presiding commissioner. The race is on.

Jason Brown, current state representative in District 30 who is term-limited out, is expected to be unopposed in the Republican primary for presiding commissioner. It seems doubtful Kincaid will face opposition from another Democrat. So here we go.
This one could play out as a microcosm of the bigger political landscape. Brown’s response to Kincaid’s filing (see front page story) included remarks about Platte County voters likely to reject the platform of the Democrats, the party of bailouts and big government. Kincaid, in a visit within the embarrassingly plush confines of your historic Landmark office on Friday, painted himself as a fiscal moderate. Having followed Kincaid’s tenure as head of the Southern Platte County Ambulance District, I believe it’ll be easier for Kincaid to say he is a fiscal moderate than to establish any hard evidence of that claim. In other words, it’s my belief Brown will be able to convince voters that he is the more fiscally conservative of the two candidates. And in 2010 more than ever, voters are going to be hungry for fiscal conservatism.

At any rate, as I told Kincaid on Friday, it is great to see competition for any and all political races, so in that respect I am happy to see his candidacy and applaud him for stepping forward. Now more than ever, voters deserve to have choices in elections on every level, and in particular on the local level. It’s the local offices that affect our daily lives more often than the state and federal posts.

******

Word of Kincaid’s potential candidacy first hit the Between the Lines headquarters as last week’s paper was going to press. Then his name came up again on Friday as I was sitting in the waiting room at the awesome Heartland Clinic in Platte City (home of my excellent personal doc, Dr. Teresa Wesley, and a couple other outstanding physicians who ably treat patients when they’re not busy pondering their entries for The Landmark’s Bracket Battle). Your favorite publisher on Friday was one of many taking part in a free heart/cholesterol/blood pressure screening offered by Heartland. Anyway, a noted local Democrat soon walked in and my journalistic instincts took over. “Any Democrats gonna run for presiding commissioner?” I asked.

Two names were tossed my direction from this source. The first was a name I’d never heard before and will likely never hear again. The second was Bobby Kincaid. Two hours later, I noticed Kincaid’s vehicle pulling up in front of The Landmark. There was no doubt in my mind the reason he was walking into our office.

******

More political nuggets:

Jill Gregory-Miller, an employee under Platte County Clerk Sandy Krohne for the past 10 years, will be on the ballot this year. No, she’s not running against her boss. Miller is a lifelong St. Joseph resident and is running for county clerk in Buchanan County.

“I think some fresh ideas and a little facelift would be great for Buchanan County,” Miller, age 41, told me this week. She said she has several campaign fundraisers in the works.

Miller is always a happy face and a pleasant personality in the local clerk’s office. She says her decision to run for clerk in Buchanan County is “based on my belief that local government serves its citizens best when it is honest, open and transparent.”

Ah, a campaign slogan that can be embraced by the watchdog media types. In other words, The Landmark.

So is she getting political advice and help from her boss?

“I try not to involve her because she has her own stuff,” Miller says. “She is very supportive in my decision to run.”

******

While cleaning out some notebooks filled with pages of scribblings from recent interviews and events covered, I came across this remark made by Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser in his office on Friday, Feb. 5 while yours truly and representatives from fellow media outlets the Sun Tribune (now out of business), the Northeast News, kcfreepress.com and a Catholic publication listened to the mayor promote his SchoolsFirst initiative.

Funk predicts the Kansas City economy will be in a recovery mode by late in the 2011 budget year.

Funkhouser, who was city auditor for many years prior to becoming mayor, told us that he is extremely conservative in projections of this nature, so it could happen sooner. “But I think by the fourth quarter of the 2011 budget the Kansas City economy will be in recovery.”

Just thought the mayor’s outlook was worthy of your digestion.

******

If you need to reach me next Friday, March 12, do so by noon. After that, I will be in full escape mode. Landmark facilities manager Kurt Foley and I will be heading to Mayor Funk’s town, investigating the Power and Light district prior to attending the semifinals of the Big 12 Basketball Tournament that night. To say I’m looking forward to it would be a ridiculous understatement. Sorry, but no local news event is going to stop me next Friday. I was pleased to learn that the lawsuit by Tomahawke developers, which was originally set to go to bench trial on that day, has been moved to March 26 (story inside this issue). My thanks to the news gods who made that possible.

And don’t forget to be sharpening your college basketball prognosticating skills. The Landmark’s Bracket Battle (see article inside) gets underway soon and I’m vowing to kick everyone’s arse this year.

Kidding.

Sort of.

(Try to get to the right of the publisher via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com or get updates from him at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)


GRILL PULLS A BONEHEADED POLITICAL MOVE; JUDGE TALK

Posted 2/26//10

Trying to confirm that today is Wednesday. If it is, that means it’s time for another episode of Between the Lines.

******

Raise your hand if you’d like to be jailed liquor store operator Karen Backues right now. Anybody?

Sad story that seems to get sadder by the week. We’ve been all over it and will continue to be. Find the latest update on our front page, of course.

In her latest court appearance seeking a bond reduction, prosecutors urged the court to take into consideration that Backues had a prior felony theft conviction in Nebraska. This report has been quietly making the rounds since the story first broke. Prosecutor Eric Zahnd had declined to comment on Backues’ alleged earlier conviction when I questioned him about it two weeks ago. The remarks made in court on Tuesday would seem to substantiate email communication I have been receiving from a reader in Omaha, Neb., who claims to be familiar with Backues’ previous alleged criminal activity in Nebraska. I’m attempting to line up an interview with this emailer to gather more info as we speak.

******

Columnist Russ Purvis is unavailable this week, but never fear. Being held temporary hostage as a Landmark fill-in is Missouri State Auditor Susan Montee. Our thanks to the state auditor for pinch hitting on short notice. Check out her work in Purvis’ space on page A-3.

******

Apologies in advance if you catch me scratching. I’ve got an itch for March Madness. Maybe it’s the brutal winter weather this area has suffered through (take that, Al Gore) that has me more anxious than ever for the month of March and the college basketball madness it brings.

Rules for The Landmark’s annual Bracket Battle can be found in a story elsewhere in this week’s issue. Clip those puppies out and hang them on the fridge. The bracket will be announced on March 14 and entries into our dog and pony show are due by 11 a.m. on March 18. Winner will pry $100 from my tight hands, and everybody whose score tops mine will get two years worth of free subscriptions to The Landmark.

******

Here’s an early prediction for the month of March. Mizzou will beat KU in the regular season finale at Mizzou Arena on March 6. And let’s not be shocked if K-State ends KU’s amazing 58-game home court winning streak next Wednesday, March 3. K-State has some talent this year, folks.

******

Southern Platte County State Rep. Jason Grill pulled a . . . , wait, let me rephrase. Grill has pulled another boneheaded move.

Grill, of Parkville, had proposed House Bill 2187. This legislation would have exempted residents of Kansas City who live within Platte County from any tax imposed by a special road district in Platte County.

So why would this have been a bad thing? Because it would have had a tremendously negative impact on the Parkville Special Road District and on the Platte City Special Road District. For instance, I’m told about 40% of the Parkville Special Road District’s tax dollars come from residents within the city of Kansas City. For the Platte City Special Road District, the negative impact would have been even worse--about 70% of the PCSRD tax revenues come from district residents who are within the city limits of Kansas City. That could have all but destroyed the PCSRD’s ability to provide services.
Grill, in legislative session in Jefferson City, received word early this week that his bill was causing a major uproar with his constituents back in the Parkville area and further north into the Platte City area. The result? Grill withdrew the bill late Monday. It is not currently on a legislative calendar to be heard--and it won’t be.

So what was Grill’s motive behind this ill-conceived proposal? Excellent question. I left a voice mail on Grill’s cell phone Tuesday. The young state representative, who often is lampooned on this page for a variety of valid reasons, has not returned my call. Not exactly a shocker.

One can only speculate that perhaps an outspoken constituent of Grill’s who resides in Kansas City in Platte County--perhaps a campaign donor, who knows--had been complaining to Grill about paying taxes to these county road districts even though the city of Kansas City is responsible for maintaining roads within the city limits. Grill took the info--and as he has done on previous occasions--reacted to a situation without thinking through all of the potential consequences.

What are the consequences? Grill now has created some enemies who are determined to get him defeated in his reelection effort this year. Even Parkville Special Road District officials--headed by one of Grill’s fellow Democrats--are extremely irritated by his lack of foresight on this one. And another road district warrior told me this: “We’ll work to see he goes down.”

Bad move by Grill, who by the way officially filed for reelection on Tuesday. Particularly bad move in an election year. Granted, voters don’t always have long memories. But in this case, with the election season about to get into full swing, short term memory will be sufficient.

Grill’s Republican opponent in a November general election is expected to be Ron Schieber of Kansas City in Platte County.

******

Are more names hitting the rumor mill as possible applicants for the two soon-to-be-open judgeship positions at the Platte County Circuit Court? Yes they are. The two newest names in the rumor mill are Cole Eason, a former public defender who is now a Jackson County assistant prosecutor; and Lisa Rehard, an attorney based in Platte City. So add these names to those you first read in this column space a few weeks ago: Roseann Ketchmark, Tammy Glick, Ann Hansbrough, Quint Shafer, Brad Grill, Chris Patterson, Lyle Odo, Tom Fincham, and Dennis Eckold.

Applications are due Thursday, March 4. A panel of three nominees is expected to be chosen on March 11 and submitted to the governor for the appointment of the first of two positions to be filled in Platte County this year.

(Got newsworthy info? Send it down that information superhighway to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


 

THIS 'NEW' HWY. 92 DISCUSSION SMELLS A BIT LIKE PROPAGANDA

Posted 2/20//10

So for the past week or so I’ve been putting down the cell phone while I drive and listening to more talk radio. Of course the best place to catch talk radio is KCMO 710 AM where you’ll hear Landmark columnist/talk radio guru Chris Stigall dish out meaningful opinions in entertaining fashion from 5-9 a.m. each weekday. When Stigall goes to commercial and at other opportune times, I’ll change the station to sports talk.
A couple of quick and relatively meaningless observations after hours of morning radio listening: What is the deal with this Southwest Airlines commercial, the one where Southwest advertises flights from KCI to Milwaukee for only $49?

Woo-hoo! Wow, I bet that special is a big seller, cuz everybody wants to go to Milwaukee, right? Especially in the dead of winter. Nothing says ‘here’s a cure for spring fever’ like a mid-February trip to the frozen tundra of Wisconsin, that’s what I always say.

Call me crazy--go ahead, I’ve been called worse--but I wouldn’t fly to Milwaukee if you offered a first class plane ride for free. Maybe that’s just me.

******

That same Southwest Airlines radio commercial urges listeners to grab that $49 flight to Milwaukee because “this economy isn’t going to fix itself.”

Huh?

Damn, who knew fixing the nation’s economic troubles is as simple as having everybody grab a flight to Milwaukee? To heck with worrying about crafting a jobs bill or lowering the tax burden on small businesses, no sir, the cure for this economy is for all of us to stop what we’re doing right now and grab a flight to Milwaukee.

So there you go, I guess it’s our patriotic duty to head to Milwaukee, folks. I don’t know what we’re going to do when we get there, or where Milwaukee is going to put all of us, but at least we’ll know we have fixed the economy.

******

A Village of Farley resident fairly recently purchased 20 U.S. flags with his own money and donated them to the village’s board of trustees. The idea, of course, is for the village to display them on the main drag on holidays.

For at least the last two national holidays, the trustees have not seen to it that the flags have been posted. That’s a shame and a slap in the face to the well-intentioned soul who made the donation.

******

Supporters of the proposed controversial Lake at Tomahawke Ridge high density subdivision are trying to use a new “wish list” of projects put out by the Missouri Department of Transportation as a reason their development should be allowed to go in on the already dangerous stretch of Hwy. 92. This doesn’t fly.

As you’ll read in front page stories, improvement to Hwy. 92 is just one of many projects on a preliminary list of a 10-20 year plan for MoDOT. Most importantly, MoDOT officials are stressing that, uh, there currently is zero money available for any of these projects.

We all can wish for Hwy. 92 to see some meaningful improvements in our lifetime, but let’s just deal with facts, not pipe dreams. The facts are this: Hwy. 92 is fourth--that’s fourth, not first--on a list of desired projects for this region. That’s region, not state.
So here’s what we have to hope for: We have to hope that in a down economy, MoDOT comes up with a boatload of new cash for transportation improvements. Then, we have to hope that after MoDOT locates this rainbow with a pot of gold to do the three projects listed ahead of Hwy. 92 in this region, plus the other projects prioritized ahead of Hwy. 92 in other regions of the state, there is still at least $63 million remaining for them to do Hwy. 92 sometime in the next, oh, 10 to 20 years.

Anybody want to hold their breath while all this happens?

Bottom line is the decision on whether or not to approve the Tomahawke Ridge development should not be based on this wish list of unfunded MoDOT proposed projects.

All this “Hwy. 92 is going to get improved!” is just the latest desperate propaganda attempt by developers of a proposed project that has been kicked to the curb by every governmental planning group that has studied it. Don’t fall for it.

******

Platte County Circuit Court Judge Abe Shafer, whose work is highly respected here at Between the Lines headquarters, received a front page mention in the Feb. 1 issue of Missouri Lawyers Weekly. Shafer’s handling of a sentence of a repeat sex offender was mentioned in an article dealing with the future of the Sentencing Advisory Commission.
Defense attorneys may have shuddered at Shafer’s decision, but it will get nothing but praise from this column.

On Jan. 21, Shafer went way above and beyond the recommended sentencing guidelines in the case of sex offender Robin Roggenbuck. Those recommended guidelines from the Missouri Sentencing Advisory Commission suggested Roggenbuck be given 120 days of shock time in the pokey and treatment for his latest conviction, this one for child porn possession. Knowing Roggenbuck’s history of sexual crimes, Shafer, I think like many of us common folk, thought that was a ridiculous recommendation. Shafer instead opted for this for Roggenbuck: 35 years in prison.

It’s a great thing having a judge send the message that Platte County will be tough on sex criminals. A well-deserved salute to Judge Shafer.

(Talk Ivan Foley into jumping on that plane to Milwaukee via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com or follow his daily adventures that include breaking news and commentary at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)


 

NAMES ALREADY HITTING RUMOR MILL FOR JUDGE OPENINGS

Posted 2/12//10

It’s early in our relationship, but I’m developing a crush on that new Walgreens store in Platte City. No lines, no waiting, the staff is always friendly and helpful, easy in, easy out. Shortest wait time I’ve ever experienced in picking up a prescription.

Will the lines remain short now that the best kept secret in Platte City has been exposed? I selfishly hope so.

******

Southern Platte County State Rep. Jason Grill is being touted, again not for anything actually accomplished in the political world, but for being apparently attractive to women. It’s not clear when this was originally posted, but check out what Cosmolitan magazine has to say:

Http://www.cosmopolitan.com/celebrity/exclusive/shirtless-politicians?click=cos_new

******

Two judgeships at the Platte County Circuit Court will be filled in the coming months, with Gary Witt moving on to the court of appeals and Dan Czamanske hitting the mandatory retirement age of 70 (see our front page story).

Expect a crowded field of applicants to emerge. A couple of experts in the legal profession are telling me they expect Gov. Jay Nixon to feel some pressure to appoint a female to at least one of these two open spots. So let’s start there. Some of the names I’m hearing being mentioned as potential applicants? Glad you asked. Here are a few:

Roseann Ketchmark, former top assistant Platte County Prosecutor under Todd Graves and now an assistant U.S. Attorney; Tammy Glick, Platte City-based attorney who had a brief appointed stint as county prosecutor; and Ann Hansbrough, whose claim to fame might be that her nephew is Tyler Hansbrough, former college basketball star now playing in the NBA.

Now for the males. The following names are being circulated in the rumor and speculation mill as possibly being interested in a judgeship: Quint Shafer--son of Judge Abe Shafer, Quint practices from an office in Weston, serves as Weston city attorney, viewed as a solid candidate; Brad Grill--father of State Rep. Jason Grill who doesn’t carry the baggage his son does, Brad Grill is widely respected as a fine attorney and an even finer human being; and Chris Patterson, an attorney who has been an active leader for local youth organizations. Among other names being mentioned as potential applicants are attorneys Lyle Odo, Tom Fincham, and Dennis Eckold.

We’ll be all over this. Follow the story right here or on our Twitter page at twitter.com/ivanfoley

******

It was good to see downtown Platte City get some discussion at the first meeting of the Platte City Economic Development Task Force recently, a session exclusively covered by your Landmark. Who gets credit for first bringing up concerns about downtown? Betty Knight, presiding commissioner, was the first to bring downtown to the table for discussion. Credit to her.

And that brought something to my attention: Couldn’t downtown Platte City have been better represented on the task force panel? How about somebody like downtown icon Ronnie Pine? How about Mary Ann Brooks, former First Lady of Platte City who has been the biggest booster of downtown over the past twenty years or so? Or how about Susan Stewart of the Main Street Pet Resort? All would have been excellent choices.

Downtown appears to have been shortchanged a bit on the task force.

******

Downtown Platte City, we all know, has its challenges and limitations. It is primarily a service-oriented district with very limited retail offerings. Will downtown ever be a retail center? Probably not. Even the lay of the land works against it--you’ve noticed Main Street is sloped in quite steep fashion. Not really conducive for parking on one end of the street and walking to the other--unless you’re into hill climbing, and much of the population is not.

Downtown Platte City, in my opinion, needs to develop a niche. Having the courthouse is a major plus, but as was pointed out at the task force meeting, there isn’t even a true courthouse “square” due to the presence and design of the county complex to the north of the courthouse.

Downtown needs to find a theme or a topic on which to focus and build traffic from that focus point. A theme focusing on the history of the downtown district might be a catch point. Longtime readers know I’ve opined on the history topic before. A real opportunity was missed when the former library building east of City Hall was not grabbed by the county and turned into a museum--perhaps via a partnership with community organizations-- focusing on the historical aspects of the great people, places and things of Platte County. Would have been a perfect use of some of those overflowing parks and recreation sales tax revenues the county has. Certainly would have been more beneficial to the greater public, in my opinion, than more miles of walking trails or the addition of some horse trails, kayak trails, or mountain bike trails, for Pete’s sake.

******

One aspect of the downtown area that often gets critiqued is a lack of parking. That’s not an invalid concern, but in my opinion it’s currently overblown. Let’s find ways to get people downtown before we worry too much about a perceived lack of parking space.

Over the past few months as I do a daily glance up and down Main Street, I am seeing plenty of parking spots available on the main drag--even in the 300 block of Main in front of the courthouse. Does this mean the courts aren’t as busy as they used to be?

Point is right now I’m not buying that a lack of parking is the reason there aren’t more businesses downtown. Let’s not use it as an excuse.

******

If a sincere effort to develop a plan for downtown Platte City gets rolling, a Between the Lines suggestion would be to tap into the astute mind of Jeff Elsea of the Bank of Weston. Elsea was instrumental in developing downtown Weston into a successful destination point.

See what ideas Elsea’s creative mind is willing and able to offer.

(Talk to the mind of Ivan Foley at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com or follow his news and opinions on Twitter at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)


 

TOMAHAWKE DEVELOPER'S COST-BENEFIT DOCUMENT REFERRED TO AS 'A SHAM'

Posted 2/3//10

Here we go again, spanning the globe--at least the Platte County portion of it--to bring you a constant variety of Between the Lines news, opinion, and occasional relatively meaningless observations (I throw those in for the heck of it, because after all, this piece of weekly journalistic goodness only costs fifty cents).

******

Word on the street at Parkville seems to be centering around some growing dissatisfaction with the work of the city prosecutor. Some residents/alleged crime victims calling the Between the Lines bat phone say in their opinion the city prosecutor has been too quick to dismiss or fail to file charges, particularly in certain alleged assault cases. They believe the prosecutor, with his lack of action, is taking it upon himself to play judge, jury and non-executioner.

At least one concerned Parkville businessman is indicating he will soon be appearing at a Parkville Board of Aldermen meeting to state his dissatisfaction with the situation. We’ll keep you posted.

*****

It’s not often you’ll hear me say this, but let’s give credit where credit is due: The Kansas City Star finally stepped up and delivered a solid and meaningful editorial.

Yael T. Abouhalkah, editorial page columnist for the Star, in a piece penned last week, took the Kansas City Council to task for buying a bill of goods and the developers of the proposed Tomahawke development to task for selling a bill of goods.

Abouhalkah has apparently acquired a copy of the magic bullet. It’s that mysterious “cost benefit summary” promoters of Tomahawke keep referring to in their sales pitch efforts. In this column space a few weeks back, you first heard KC Mayor Mark Funkhouser proclaim how important the studies showing Tomahawke being a financial benefit to KC are to his stance in favor of the proposed development being annexed into the city. But, according to the Star, the document makes exaggerated claims. The Star, in fact, calls the document a “sham.”

It seems the document states the average home sales price would be $250,000. That’s hardly “workforce” housing price of $170,000 that Tomahawke promoters have been claiming, and as a result the estimated property taxes in the document--the largest component of tax revenue--would be dramatically overstated. In addition, the Star points out, earnings tax revenues in the report are based on an average household income of $76,500 in Tomahawke Ridge. As the Star’s piece notes, that’s a lofty figure for a “workforce” neighborhood and about 40 percent higher than the city’s estimated average household income of $54,000.

Good editorial work deserves credit. Credit to the Star for getting its hands on the Tomahawke developer’s magic BS bullet and exposing its holes.

******

Rumor had been circulating that if Kansas City turns down Tomahawke--and they’ve already been turned down more times than the nerd at an eighth grade dance--the developers may be considering bringing it back at the county level once Jason Brown (presumably) takes over as presiding county commissioner next year, hoping for a different outcome if Brown is in place and Betty Knight, a dissenting vote on the topic, is gone.

But if Kathy Dusenbery, first district commissioner, stands by her stated position to me on topics of this nature, Brown’s presence wouldn’t change the outcome. “My stance is that large subdivisions need to be in municipalities,” Dusenbery told me last week, in an interview posted on The Landmark’s Twitter page at twitter.com/ivanfoley.

If the Kansas City annexation effort is defeated, the particular section of rural Platte County is not inside a municipality. So there you go. She’s on the record.

******

Do you think there is any chance I can get my money back on that flu shot they stuck me with last fall?

Oh, I know the story. They’ll tell me the seasonal vaccine I received doesn’t cover that apparently unique intestinal virus that has kicked my journalistic ass this week. Without going into every gory detail, here’s how this unique thing attacks its victims, or at least how it attacked this victim.

Friday night: Twinges of nausea, victim crashes early anticipating an unproductive night of attempted sleep. Victim falls asleep and to his surprise makes it through the night with no further problems.

Saturday: Long car ride to Whiteman AFB and back to visit the first daughter and her hubby, brief periods of a nauseated feeling, no big deal. Sunday: Body aches dominate the day, especially late in the evening. Victim attributes the extreme lower back pain and overall blah feeling to the effects of the aforementioned long car ride. Victim takes muscle relaxer, crashes at 9 p.m.

Sunday night/early Monday morning: Amid waves of increasing nausea, victim makes repeated trips to bathroom throughout the night. A little after 6 a.m., victim makes especially hurried trip into bathroom in a half state of consciousness. Victim eventually finds himself on the bathroom floor, kneeling beside that well-known porcelain bowl, tossing his cookies repeatedly and violently. Victim’s four legged friend, Buddy The Landmark News Dog, whimpers and walks around on victim’s legs during the event, seemingly wanting to offer emotional support and a helping paw. Followed by four legged friend, victim gets to his feet, finds nearest resting place and falls into a somewhat comatose state the rest of the day. No desire or energy to eat, drink, think, work, or even call his bookie to place a wager on the Big Monday game. Yes, that’s when you know things are bad.

Tuesday: Fully realizing The Landmark has been published weekly without interruption since the closing days of the Civil War, victim decides he better stumble his way to work. Victim astutely notices how co-workers desire to keep their distance. Late in the day victim starts to feel almost alive, and by 7 p.m. small amounts of solid food are consumed for the first time since Sunday. Victim nixes earlier plan to attend Parkville aldermen meeting, figuring by doing so he was doing all parties a favor.

Wednesday: Victim again shows up for work. Writes column wondering if he can at least get his co-pay back on that non-effective flu shot. The end.

(Go on the record with the publisher via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com or follow his daily adventures at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)


NO DOG LEFT IN THE FIGHT, OR NO FIGHT LEFT IN THE DOG?

Posted 1/29/10

Seem like you’re spending more on gasoline thAn you did this time last year? This just in from GasBuddy.com:

Average retail gasoline prices in Kansas City have fallen about eight cents per gallon in the past week, averaging $2.48 per gallon as of early this week. Locally, we’re doing a bit better than that. Gasoline was selling for as low as $2.41 per gallon in Platte City as of Wednesday morning.

But prices today are about 80 cents per gallon higher than the they were at this time last year and are about 13 cents per gallon higher than a month ago.

According to GasBuddy.com, the national average has fallen 2.9 cents per gallon in the past week to $2.70. However, the national average has increased by about ten cents per gallon during the past month and stands about 88 cents per gallon higher than this time a year ago.

Not familiar with GasBuddy.com? It operates over 200 live gasoline price-tracking websites, including kcgasprices.com. GasBuddy.com was named one of Time magazine’s 50 best websites and was listed by PC World as one of the 100 most useful websites of 2008, back when gas prices were out of this world.

******

The letter to the editor at right about possible budget reduction plans at North Platte raises some interesting thoughts that can be pondered over the coming weeks. I put in a phone call to Dr. Jeff Sumy, North Platte superintendent, for his thoughts on Wednesday morning but the doctor wasn’t in. His staff said he was home ill. Proof that even doctors get sick.

More on the North Platte topic in future issues.

******

It had been awhile since my last visit and I’m sure they had missed my smirking face, so I sat in on the Platte City Board of Aldermen meeting Tuesday evening for kicks and grins. There aren’t many notable or quotable moments during their tightly run agendas these days, especially if outspoken alderman Andy Stanton is out of town, which was the case this week.

The lack of action at an alderman meeting isn’t all bad, unless of course like me you occasionally long for the days of the unintentionally entertaining sessions that often occurred under the previous regime. If it was a slow news week and columnists were looking for additional material, all we had to do was drop in on a meeting of Mayor Dave and the Sunshine Boys and our journalistic dreams came true.

Ah, the memories. Read about them in my book. Someday.

******

This is how dry the Platte City aldermen meetings can sometimes be nowadays. The only notable quote scribbled in my notebook was this one from Mayor Frank Offutt (that’s his image at the right of this column). As he was set to start the legislative portion of the agenda, Offutt remarked: “Let’s go.”

Reminded me of my early days here at the ol’ Landmark back in 1982. At an alderman meeting in the cramped quarters of the old City Hall in the 200 block of Main Street, legendary Mayor Truman Glenn was engaged in pre-meeting shooting of the breeze with aldermen. As the clock struck the scheduled time for the meeting to begin, Glenn let fly with this classic: “OK, let’s get this SOB rolling.”

Only he didn’t use the abbreviation for SOB.

In these days of political correctness, something tells me it’s a remark we’ll never hear again in that setting.

*******

A committee of Kansas City city council members will decide next Wednesday whether to advance the controversial annexation proposal of the proposed high density subdivision known as Tomahawke way up yonder here in Platte County. The committee vote was delayed last week by chairman Bill Skaggs. Both sides of this argument are now fully engaged with legal counsel and consultants.

As reported here earlier, Kansas City planning staff has strongly recommended against the city taking this property and allowing about 650 homes on 300 acres. That doesn’t seem to mean a thing to many of the money-hungry council members--and even Mayor Mark Funkhouser--from publicly proclaiming they would support a plan that has been kicked to the curb by every governmental planning entity that has studied it.

Chris Byrd, attorney for the developers, and I appeared simultaneously on the Chris Stigall radio show last Thursday with Tomahawke as the topic. During that time, Byrd made a comment that two Platte County commissioners would not be opposed to the city of Kansas City annexing the area and allowing Tomahawke to be developed. Based on the fact that Jim Plunkett, second district county commissioner, is still openly going out of his way to do what he can to help nearby property owners fight the proposal, the two commissioners to which Byrd is referring would be Betty Knight and Kathy Dusenbery.

If Byrd’s comment is accurate--and it’s not likely he would spew something like that on the radio without having the stuff to back it up-- it means two commissioners are now giving passive approval to a proposal that goes against the county’s land use plan, goes against the recommendations of the county’s planning staff, goes against the recommendation of the county’s planning and zoning board, and is contrary to the way Knight voted on the issue when it came up at the county level (Dusenbery, to whom I’ve placed a call seeking comment but have not heard back as we go to press, wasn’t yet a commissioner when the vote took place).

Wow. Planning and land use principles be damned, apparently. Nothing like rolling over instead of fighting for the county’s documented position.

******

He has a two game lead with only the Super Bowl yet to be played, so Parallax Look columnist Brian Kubicki will be your Pigskin Picks winner this season. Remember back in September when readers were encouraged to send in their guess as to which Landmark personality would win the contest? A free two year subscription was promised to everybody correctly picking the winner. So how many readers guessed Kubicki? Zero. The underdog prevails. But don’t feel bad, Brian, you weren’t alone. Amazingly, all readers’ guesses were split among two Landmark personalities: CK Rairden and Kurt Foley.

No readers gave Kubicki, Chris Stigall, Greg Hall or yours truly a snowball’s chance of winning. At least they were right about three of us.

Super Bowl picks next week to cap the season.

(Cap and trade Ivan Foley via email
to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com or follow his adventures on Twitter at twitter.com/ivanfoley)


 

WHAT'S UP WITH THE FIRE DISTRICT? AND A SAMPLE OF WHAT'S AHEAD

Posted 1/21/10

Buckle up, hoops junkies, this thing called Big 12 basketball is gonna be a wild ride from now through March. If somebody lined me up with tickets to the Big 12 tourney at Sprint Center, I wouldn’t hate it.

Three legitimate Top Ten teams in the conference this year with Kansas, Texas and now Kansas State. And Mizzou is almost impossible to beat at home. Looking for low cost entertainment? Plop your winter-weighted butt in a recliner on these cold January and February evenings and watch some quality college basketball.

******

Many taxpayers in Platte County noticed on their 2009 tax statements that their bill from the Central Platte Fire District was considerably higher in ‘09 than it was in ‘08. In fact, it nearly doubled. What gives?

Here at Between the Lines headquarters, we’ve been tracking this story on and off since November. Historically, we treat the Central Platte department with kid gloves. After all, this is a volunteer department with dedicated folks who do great things in being first responders at accidents, medical calls and in fighting fires, so it’s best to tread lightly.
My first inquiries into why the fire district’s tax levy in 2009 was .5852 (58.52 cents) per $100 of assessed valuation, up considerably from .3172 in 2008, went to Stanley George, chairman of the district’s board of directors, and to the district’s secretary. Both of them told me, in effect, this: “That’s out of our control. Our levy is set by the state auditor.”

Folks, I love ya, but anyone with knowledge of local government knows that is incorrect. Based on an entity’s assessed valuation and its level of bonded debt, the state auditor’s office sends notice on what an entity’s maximum levy could be. The auditor does not set the levy. Allison Bruns, director of communications for the state auditor, backed me up on this when I placed a phone call to the state office. “We don’t set the levy, that is the authority they (the local board members) have.” She confirmed the auditor notifies the county clerk what the maximum levy can be for entities like the fire district.

In 2009, Central Platte chose the maximum levy it was authorized to take. It’s levy of .5852 includes .307 for debt service. In 2008, for whatever reason, the fire board did not take the maximum allowable debt service portion of its levy. That year it levied only .0144 for debt service, when it could have levied up to .2646 for debt. In other words, the district in 2008 took a voluntary reduction of .2502. It didn’t take a voluntary debt service reduction in 2009, so what’s why taxpayers noticed the hefty hike in their bills.

The closest thing to a plausible explanation comes from Paul Regan, fire district board member, who tells me the reason the district wanted to levy the maximum allowable for debt service is so that it can pay off its bonded debt early. The district is paying on a 20-year bond for additions and improvements that were made to the headquarters building at Second and Main in Platte City several years ago. Regan says the district would like to pay the bond off after 12.5 years instead of 20, a move that he says would save district taxpayers $250,000 in interest payments.

I’m taking Regan at his word on this and haven’t personally checked the math. Saving $250,000 in interest on a bond that originally was only $1.5 million to begin with sounds a bit inflated to me, but there’s your explanation for the increase in the tax levy in 2009. At least according to one board member.

*******

Conservatives are loving the result of Tuesday’s special election in Massachusetts, where voters went to the polls to elect a new Senator for the seat held by the late Ted Kennedy, liberal Democrat, since the formation of Earth. Republican Scott Brown upset the favored Democrat Martha Coakley in the Democratic stronghold. As the Associated Press says, Coakley’s defeat “signaled big political problems for the president’s party this fall when House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates are on the ballot nationwide.” The victory for the more conservative candidate leaves “President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul in doubt” and “mars the end of his first year in office,” an Associated Press article aptly pointed out.

As for a local response, Sherri Plunkett, candidate for 30th District state representative seat, may have said it best on her Twitter account Tuesday night: “They wrote off the tea parties as fringe mobs. They said the anger was manufactured. They just got a sample of what is to come.”

******

Only in the minds of liberals and bureaucratic types can an increase of $22 to $25 million in government revenue be considered virtually nothing.

It’s true that new figures from state gambling regulators show the end of loss limits at Missouri casinos has generated for less school funding than promised in a 2008 ballot initiative. But the statewide vote to end Missouri’s $500 loss limit has bolstered the state’s largest casinos and helped them make it through what was a weak year for gambling across these United States of America. The St. Louis Post Dispatch reported this week the end of loss limits has raised less than a quarter of the predicted new revenue for schools. Proponents of the Proposition A initiative that was on the ballot in November of 2008 said ending the loss limit could generate at least $100 million a year in new tax revenue for schools. The actual number in the first year came in considerably lower, at $22 to $25 million in new revenue for schools. That prompted this sniffling comment from that whining and bureaucratic outfit known as the Missouri School Boards Association:

“The impact has been virtually nothing on school districts,” Brent Gahn, spokesman for the Missouri School Boards Association, wept to the Associated Press.

So proponents of a ballot initiative oversold its impact? Really? Hey, have you heard Jason Whitlock is overweight and Bill Grigsby enjoys an occasional cocktail? In other words, color me less than stunned. The more important point is this: If government and public schools can’t make a positive impact with an additional $22 to $25 million per year, that’s a reflection on government and public schools.

As one gaming industry official told the Associated Press: “Without the revenues generated by Proposition A, state education revenues would be even lower, possibly in the negative. We certainly hope that even $25 million additional dollars would be welcome.”

Agreed. Instead what we get is whining from the bureaucratic types at the MSBA.

Ridiculous.

(Whine to the publisher via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com or get more of his thoughts at twitter.com/ivanfoley)


 

IF TOMAHAWKE IS ANNEXED, IT WILL MEAN MORE ANGRY CUSTOMERS FOR MAYOR FUNK

Posted 1/14/10

It’s been written here before and will be summarized again: In general, I’m a fan of Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser. Don’t always agree with the man, but generally speaking I’ve liked the way he has approached his position since his election in 2007.

When it comes to Kansas City’s potential annexation of a proposed 300 acres in Platte County on which developers want to squeeze roughly 657 homes, the Funk and your favorite Platte County newspaper publisher are not on the same page. By now, most readers recognize--and many curse--this topic by one name: Tomahawke. Lake at Tomahawke Ridge is the proposed name of this high density subdivision proposed by landowners Hal and Peggy Swaney and realtor/developer Tim Dougherty. The property sits about 4.5 miles east of Platte City along Hwy. 92 between Winan and Interurban Roads. The proposed development has been blasted by every governmental study--recommended for denial by Platte County’s planning and zoning staff, denied by the county planning commission and eventually nixed by the county commission. So the developers tried a new approach: ask Kansas City to annex the property. The developers’ attorney, Chris Byrd, has some history of working with the folks at city hall in Kansas City. Even though city of Kansas City staff and the city’s plan commission have strongly recommended denial, the idea is still getting support from some of the ultimate decision-makers on the topic: city council members. It’s another situation that causes folks to shake their heads at the world of politics.

Anyway, on Tuesday Mayor Funk agreed to give me some exclusive interview time on the topic. Here are some highlights from our ten minute conversation, with the mayor’s comments in italics:

Does he favor Tomahawke?: “I lean heavily toward it,” he said, though left open the possibility that could change. “We’ve done careful financial analysis on this twice and it shows a positive financial benefit for the city. I’m trying to grow the city. We have very little housing development going on right now so I don’t think I can be terribly choosy about where I want it to happen. I absolutely want to grow the population of the city.”

Hmm. OK, does the fact his city staff strongly recommends against the annexation and proposed development mean anything? “I’m not significantly concerned. Things look differently when you’re the staff than when you’re the mayor. It gives me great pause but again, on the other hand, the positives that I just listed (greater net tax revenue generated vs. associated costs) outweigh the negatives.”

Do you believe residents of Tomahawke could count on quality services? “They can count on services as least as efficient as the rest of the city is getting.”

Uh oh, potential Tomahawke residents, sounds like you’re screwed. You can look forward to shoveling your own way out of the neighborhood after a snowstorm. Also, look forward to poorly maintained streets in general. All this and more while you enjoy paying that one percent earnings tax on every dollar you make. If you’d like more details on how it feels to receive crappy city services while paying through the nose, ask Landmark reporter/KC resident Dennis Sharkey. He’ll give you an impassioned monologue on the topic. Trust me, I’ve heard it.

The MAST ambulance representatives have reported increased response times in that area. The KC police department has reported the site is nine miles from the nearest patrol station and response time to the area from that station would be about 17 minutes. Good luck with that. Kansas City Fire Chief Smokey Dyer has submitted a report in which he says “There is no doubt in my professional opinion that we cannot provide adequate fire protection services to a subdivision situated at this location.”

So, mayor, concerns? “The developer has been responsive. For instance (after the fire department’s concerns were raised), they have agreed to require sprinklers in the homes.

“It’s my objective to run a more efficient city. I’m not interested in building some big building (sounds like a shot at former Mayor Kay Barnes’ obsession with constructing the Sprint Center). I’m interested in delivering good government services.”

My problem with The Funk’s explanation is this: If he wants to concentrate on delivering good government services, how about delivering on that goal before taking on more area to serve, especially an area 20 miles from downtown KC? Maybe he’s a glutton for punishment and just desires more angry customers. Surveys continue to show many KC residents are wildly displeased with the quality of basic services.

The mayor’s general thoughts on Tomahawke? “Is it going to be controversial? Probably. Every time I make a move down here it’s controversial. I’m not beloved. I’m not trying to be beloved. I’m trying to turn this city around.”

*******

There’s the mayor’s side of it. What’s the latest word from the organized opposition?

spokesperson Kirby Holden says the group is still actively opposing the development because of the negative impact it would have on the neighborhood, including traffic safety concerns. Opponents met with Russ Johnson, a KC councilman who initially was said to oppose the annexation but now seems to be supporting it (funny how that works). “I’m not real sure that he has even read the study,” Holden said of Johnson this week.

Holden says it would benefit his group’s cause if county commissioners would step up to emphasize why this proposal--which goes against the county’s land use plan--is a bad idea. Commissioner Jim Plunkett has been against the idea from the start and met with opponents as recently as Saturday. I’m not sure what the group will get from the other two commissioners. Betty Knight, presiding commissioner, is on her way out the political door. And Kathy Dusenbery, first district commissioner, I suppose could tell Kansas City that she has a journalism degree.

Meanwhile, Holden has been a busy man. He has established two web sites in opposition to Tomahawke. One is noto500homes.com. The other, which just went online in recent days, has a catchier name: lakeattomahawkeridgesucks.com.

******

In the meantime, I’m hoping to score more interview time with Mayor Funk in the future. He’s got just a little bit of Dave Brooks in him.

(Score interview time with the publisher via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com or follow his adventures on Twitter at twitter.com/ivanfoley)


 

A LISTING OF 2009 HIGHS AND LOWS ON THE LOCAL POLITICAL SCENE

Posted 1/8/10

Just dropped my pants at the dry cleaners. Don’t worry, I wasn’t wearing them at the time.

******

Oh good, it’s snowing again.

******

Hey, the Platte County Commission will be the hosting agent for an attorney general workshop on the Missouri Sunshine Law Monday night.

Insert your own wisecrack here.

******

Before we get rolling too far into the new year of 2010, it’s time for a Between the Lines look back at some of the best and worst of 2009. Feel free to play along.

BEST LOCAL POLITICAL PERFORMANCE IN 2009: This award goes to Frank Offutt, mayor of Platte City. Offutt had another smooth year. The mayor has helped himself by being thicker skinned this time around. He has also benefitted by having a less arrogant city administrator in place. Offutt sees the big picture, and “gets it.”

WORST LOCAL POLITICAL DECISION IN 2009: No surprise that this award goes to the Platte County Commission for its decision to push a half cent sales tax renewal for parks, trails, rainbows and butterflies. A small park tax is needed for continued maintenance, but to propose and then push a tax at this level was flat wrong. The county will have spent more than $60 million on parks and rec in the past 10 years by the time this new tax takes effect. The new one could raise around $82 million more over the next 10 years. I propose to you that this is an extravagant expense in a time of challenges in other areas of the county budget. If the county sales tax revenues don’t get back to the level of boom times, how silly is it going to look for the county to be hosting ribbon cuttings for new walking trails, bike paths, and kayak trails while spending for necessary items like law enforcement and employee salaries continues to take a back seat due to general fund budget constraints? It won’t look ridiculous. It will look ridonkulous.

BEST AREA POLITICAL EVENT IN 2009: Hands down winner here is the Kansas City Tax Day Tea Party held at Liberty Memorial on April 15. A crowd estimated at 5,000 by KC police gathered to hear speakers like Chris Stigall, Eric Zahnd, Rob Willard and Ivan Foley (I think I know those guys) rail against out-of-control federal spending and an overly intrusive government. Picture perfect weather made the day, uh, picture perfect. And personally I thought all the speakers did an outstanding job, but that’s just me.

BEST POLITICAL CAREER DECISION: Betty Knight announced she will retire and not seek a fifth term as presiding county commissioner. I applaud her for the decision and her sense of timing. While I chide her for some of her spending habits, Knight has accomplished some things she can be proud of in her retirement. She can also be proud of her crystal ball that told her she would be in an uphill battle if a fiscally conservative Republican challenged her in a primary. Knight gets a lot of crossover support from Dems--that crossover support would not have been there in a Republican primary. She can proudly step away having never lost a countywide race. I wish nothing but the best to Betty and her family in her retirement.

BEST POLITICAL CAREER DECISION, PART II: Jason Brown’s decision to run for presiding commissioner and not state senate. State senate sounds more prestigious to some, but consider this: Brown will make twice the money as commissioner that he would have as a state senator, and he’ll be working close to home--important stuff to the wife and kids.

BEST POLITICAL RACE WE WON’T GET TO SEE IN 2010: Brown vs. Knight in a contested race for the GOP primary for presiding commissioner. This would have been fun to cover. Brown has plenty of campaign money and support. Knight in previous election cycles never had trouble raising money. Would have been a big time campaign. The relatively narrow victory for Knight’s coveted park tax last summer told the world--including Knight herself--that she would be a vulnerable candidate. Brown would have captured this race, in my opinion.

CRAZIEST MOVE BY A GROUP OF POLITICIANS: In October, a group of elected officeholders known as the Platte County Salary Commission met to discuss the possibility of raises for their positions. Despite what is viewed as a down economy and despite the fact they had just heard projected revenues for the next year would be down about three quarters of a million dollars, all but one of the officeholders present voted in favor of a six percent raise for their jobs. Only Jim Plunkett voted no. Kathy Dusenbery was absent. The salary commission--after some public scrutiny--later came to its senses and rescinded this vote.

BEST PLATTE COUNTY SOAP OPERA: The back and forth feud between the county commission and the county auditor.

BEST LOCAL POLITICIAN WITH A JOURNALISM DEGREE: Kathy Dusenbery. Who said Kathy gets no love here?

BIGGEST BETWEEN THE LINES REGRET: That The Landmark has not yet formed a kayak team to fully enjoy the kayak trails the park tax renewal will bring us. Contact me. Characters welcome.

BEST NEW TOOL FOR BETWEEN THE LINES READERS: Breaking news and some tongue-in-cheek commentary available 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley. Around 180 of you have signed up to follow this sideshow. It’s free. Get the updates sent to your computer or even your cell phone. Among the newest Between the Lines followers: Former Gov. Matt Blunt. No fans turned away.

(Email the publisher at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com or follow his adventures on Twitter at twitter.com/ivanfoley)


 

BUDDY VOWS TO BE SPOKESDOG FOR CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTORS

Posted 12/31/09

It’s the last column of 2009. I’ve just been informed it’s also the last column of this decade. Better make it good.

Nah. Why start now?

******

Buddy The Landmark News Dog awoke in a sour mood on Christmas morning. He claims he will file a sexual harassment charge against eight tiny reindeer.

The poor guy now has a fear of bells and anybody with a red nose.

******

Will my lower back--forever weakened by a broken vertebrae when I took a flying leap off a garage nearly 10 years ago-- ever recover from the 8,000 pounds of snow shoveled over the weekend? I feel like I spent Christmas in Alaska. My back hasn’t hurt this bad since that time The Landmark facilities manager was riding instead of lifting when we moved a desk a couple of years ago.

My back isn’t the only thing hurting. Mayor Frank Offutt says the City of Platte City’s 2010 budget for salt and sand is already gone. As in already spent, thanks to last week’s blizzard. Oh, and the budget for public works overtime is depleted as well. The hard-working crew put in 157 hours of overtime as a result of the Christmas weekend blizzard. Obviously, it’s going to snow again this season, so some budget adjustments will have to be made, the mayor frankly says.

And a reader from Weston just called me to suggest we have a Global Warming 2009 photo contest. Send me your best blizzard pictures.

******

Do you have a carbon monoxide detector in your home? If not, go get one and plug it in. Today.

The night of Wednesday, Dec. 16, I was awakened to the sound of an alarm at about 1:30 a.m. My first reaction was that it was a smoke alarm. It was dark, of course, and I accidentally kicked the dog but I couldn’t smell smoke or see flames so there was no immediate “get everybody the hell out right now” kind of panic. Instead, I jumped up and grabbed the smoke detector installed above the doorway between the living room and kitchen. Still half asleep, I ripped the battery out of that sucker, but the loud ear-piercing sound never stopped. So I started flipping on lights and traced the noise to a long-forgotten carbon monoxide detector I had installed twelve years ago. It had never sounded, which of course means there was just a bit of doubt that the thing even worked.

After bolting upstairs to make sure everybody else in the house was alive and feeling no ill effects of any kind (I’m not sure they appreciated my attention to detail at that moment), I reset the detector and plugged it back in. A little unsettled but still leaning toward the thought that this was just a fluke from a detector that had decided to go bad at an inconvenient time, I encouraged others to go back to sleep while I pulled out my laptop and started Googling information about carbon monoxide detectors and a proper course of action (as if there were any doubt) when one sounds.

About fifteen minutes later, the thing sounded again. That was enough for me. It was time to shut down all the appliances and get the hell out of Dodge. Over the hills and through the woods to the kids’ grandmother’s house we went.

At the break of dawn, a call was made to a serviceman and he promised to get to the scene before the day was over. In the meantime, also at the break of dawn, I traveled to the nearest hardware store in pajama pants (again, it’s that attention to detail that makes a story) and bought another carbon monoxide detector. There were some on sale for $15. Not good enough for this concerned shopper at that moment. I went with a high dollar ($50) digital readout widgit that can also allegedly read levels of natural gas. I returned to the scene of the would-be asphyxiation to plug it in, knowing this step would answer whether there was a major malfunction somewhere or whether the malfunction was simply a faulty detector that just liked to see me run around like a half-dressed madman.

Plugged in the new one, and the digital readout soon went nuts, to levels well above what’s considered safe (experts say any number at all is cause for concern and above 50 ppm becomes toxic--this was reading 300 ppm. Exposure at 400 ppm will cause unconsciousness, brain damage and death).

Anyway, to make a long story just a bit shorter, the serviceman eventually arrived and the problem was diagnosed. An exhaust pipe leading from the lower level furnace to the outside had collapsed. Exhaust fumes of carbon monoxide--a colorless, tasteless and even odorless gas--instead of being funneled outside into Al Gore’s environment were escaping into the house.

Carbon monoxide is extremely toxic to humans and animals. We later pegged the collapsed furnace exhaust vent as the reason Buddy The Landmark News Dog, who normally possesses an iron stomach, had been tossing his cookies for a day or two. His smallish lungs weren’t able to handle the carbon monoxide at a low level that hadn’t yet tripped the alarm.

The presence of carbon monoxide is a dangerous situation that has taken lives from unsuspecting victims, but like other potential less than pleasant situations, you never think it can happen to you. We were fortunate to have a detector plugged in the wall. In my mind, it saved the lives of four sleeping humans and one news dog that night.

If you have a detector, good for you. Replace it about every seven years to be sure it’s in proper working order. If you don’t have at least one, remedy that situation. Soon.

******

Who needs a cooking columnist? Greg Hall, fellow connoisseur of fast food and sports media sound bite columnist on our web site, caved in to his cravings and tried out the new “Funnel Cake Sticks” at Burger King. Greg’s review? Here's what he sent me:

"Just finished off a serving of BK's funnel cake sticks and I give them four out of five stars. The aroma coming from the brown BK bag smells like you just stepped off the bumper car ride at the county fair. The nine super thin sticks look sparse inside the paper box but when paired with the white icing on the side, you have just enough for one (but not enough to share). Light, tasty and fried to perfection. A bit pricey at $1.74 but it won't be long before they're on the BK dollar menu. Tip: Eat the sticks first and your burger last to ensure your sticks are hot. Not that many will have the will power to do anything but scarf these sticks immediately."

(Reach the publisher by email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com or find him racing to Burger King for funnel cake sticks or shopping for carbon monoxide detectors in his pajama pants. Or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ivanfoley)


 

IT'S A PLATTE COUNTY CHRISTMAS, DON'T LET SORROW BRING YOU WAY DOWN

Posted 12/23/09

Welcome to your Christmas episode of Between the Lines, this one featuring a refreshing combination of frankincense and myrrh.

******

It has happened before and this year it has happened again. Kinda like the Grinch who stole Christmas, I am the columnist who steals letters to Santa. I was able to sneak into Santa’s mail room at the North Pole and grab a couple letters to the jolly old elf. As luck would have it, those letters were written by some area public officials. Here they are:

 

DEAR SANTA:
Wow, what a year this has been. As you know, Christmas came early for us this year!! Our $82 million park tax passed back in August. Whew, we are so excited to be spending millions of taxpayer dollars on this vitally important stuff! Santa, you have no idea how crucial this is to the nuts and bolts of this county. We really, really needed more walking trails, interactive playgrounds, canoe paths, kayak trails, and our fourth commissioner Dana wisely pushed us into asking for bike paths and horsey trails. Brilliant!

After all, who needs money for law enforcement or building repairs or employee salaries? Not Platte County. We need more walking paths, butterflies, unicorns and rainbows. Are we good at prioritizing or what? (Santa, please do us a favor and tell the county employees not to be too sad if they get hit with a 5% pay cut next year. They can forget their financial sorrows by spending more time in our parks!)

Anyhoo Santa, we know you’ve been keeping an eye on us this year because one of the gals in our Human Ridiculousness department caught you peering in our window. Santa, you can be so naughty! Next time we see you spying on us, Kathy is going to flash you her journalism degree.

Santa, are you excited for your arrival in our county? Please be on time and on budget. We can’t wait for Christmas. Betty, especially, is really anxious for a gift since she only has one more year left on the government gravy train. It’s true, Santa, Betty will soon be retiring as the grandmother of Platte County. Betty has an economics background--oops, we mean a home economics degree--so we have put her in charge of baking cookies to leave out for you on Christmas Eve. Be good and her ingredients will be sugar and spice and everything nice. But if you cross her, she has a special recipe of whiz and vinegar waiting for you. Lots of folks can tell you it’s not all that tasty.

The auditor will put out a $5 bud vase for Mrs. Claus. We hope Mrs. Claus doesn’t take it the wrong way. . . but you know how girls will be girls sometimes!

Brian Nowotny will be sprinkling magical pixie dust in our 800 acres of undeveloped park land, just in case Rudolph and crew need some nourishment while you’re in our county. And Dana can strap some fake antlers on a couple of her horses if you need to use them as backup reindeer.

Jim is as thrilled as anybody that you’re still coming this year, big guy. Back in the summer when Jim was worried the park tax might not pass, he picked up the phone and called some folks on the naughty list. He stomped his feet and spit some coal into their earpieces, saying things like “There’s going to be a fiscal bloodbath!” and even threatened to cancel Christmas if the park tax didn’t pass. Thankfully, the park tax passed and Jim can now concentrate on making angry calls to people who don’t believe the county auditor is Satan.

Another thing, dear Santa, is that should you run into any legal snags negotiating your way around these parts, as a token of our appreciation and since he owes Betty a huge favor for keeping him on the payroll all these years, we will offer our county counselor to you for the most absolutely definitive, kinda sorta, on the one hand/but then on the other hand/maybe/maybe not legal advice you will ever need. He can also act as a collection agent for you if any of those pesky elves are behind on their sewer bills.

Guess that’s all we’ve got to say to you, Santa. Well, actually there’s more but we don’t want the public to hear it right now so we will classify it under, uh, privileged attorney-client communication.

Till next time, remember, we love you and we love us!

--Platte County Commissioners
Betty, Jim, Kathy and Dana


DEAR SANTA:
Hey, dude, what is up, my man? It has been a year since we last hooked up. I don’t have your digits, so am dropping you a note.

Is this a great time of year or what? You know what makes it great? It’s the time of year when everybody is talking about a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. I love it. Even my priest mentioned this very special babe in mass the other day. How does he get by with that? Heck, when I talk all wild and crazy it ends up being a controversy in the newspaper.

Santa, all I wanted for Christmas was an unopposed path to my party’s nomination for state senate. You didn’t deliver. So what’s a GQ dude like me to do? I think in the future I’m just gonna pack up my ball and head out to some Wizards games.

That’s all I got for ya, Santa. Let’s party like rock stars--or Congressmen--sometime. Do you like college football?

--State Rep. Jason Grill
32nd District

 

(Have a holly, jolly Christmas. And send your letters to Platte County’s journalistic Santa anytime of year at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com. You can also follow Santa on Twitter at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)


 

SELECTIVE SECRECY PUTS COUNTY IN THE SHADE; THE HR CRIMINAL PROBE

Posted 12/18/09

We’ve been on somewhat of a roll here in busting the big stories well before other alleged media outlets start reporting them. Most recently, Monday’s announcement by Betty Knight that she won’t be seeking reelection as presiding county commissioner after serving in that post since the closing days of the Civil War came as old news to Landmark readers, who knew of Betty’s intention to step down well in advance of what the Kansas City Star called “breaking news” on Monday. We’ve also been telling you for weeks Jason Brown will switch from being a candidate for state senate to a candidate for presiding commissioner. If you still had doubts, check the front page for confirmation.

******

Can we taxpayers get our money back, please?

If the county commissioners have their hearts and minds in the right place, they will be asking the human resources firm known as People Wise for a return of the county’s $9,000 payment for the “independent management audit” the firm conducted recently. Let’s consider the facts as we know them.

The county at some point in this recent mess quietly appointed Mary Robinson, the wife of People Wise owner/founder/CEO Kevin Robinson, as interim HR director. But the intermingling and the gray areas didn’t stop there. Also after the audit was done, the county took it a step further, hiring as its new, permanent, $57,000 per year human resources coordinator--Mrs. Robinson. Coo coo ca choo.

It’s not the first time in the history of the real world that some type of outside employee does a review at an agency then ends up working there. But this isn’t just any employee. She is the wife of the firm’s owner. She was heavily involved in the review and then ended up being given a job with a $57,000 annual salary by county commissioners who are embroiled in a political tussle with their own auditor. To some of us, this puts off a less than pleasant aroma, though let it be known Jim Plunkett, county commissioner, disagrees. “We offered her a job after we got to see her professional performance,” Plunkett said when I inquired. Plunkett said the commissioners interviewed several people for the permanent HR job, but acknowledged no public posting of the position was done.

Obviously it wouldn’t be fair of me to suggest someone at People Wise approached the situation from the outset looking for a permanent gig. Kevin Robinson has yet to return my call seeking comment for this column. But such is the gray area that becomes the stuff of public speculation when the appearance of independence is compromised by hiring the “independent” for a permanent gig.

The only thing I can tell you with certainty is that many taxpayers are asking pointed questions about the situation. The firm’s report can hardly be taken as “independent” due to, at minimum, the “appearance” of a potential lack of independence. If Mrs. Robinson is keeping the $57,000 per year job, asking her husband’s firm to return the $9,000 fee would be a reasonable and responsible thing for commissioners to do.

With the county currently long on drama but short on revenue, lord knows it could use the cash.

******

We’re also learning Platte County commissioners like to pick and choose which documents they consider protected by “privileged attorney-client communication.”
Remember earlier this fall when the county commission hired special legal counsel to investigate claims by human resources department employee LeAnna Fannon that she had been sexually harassed and retaliated against by Siobhann Williams, county auditor?

When that special legal counselor completed his report, the county commission--obviously eager to throw rocks in the path of a county auditor with whom they had been feuding--furnished a copy of his report to Fannon’s attorney, who filed that report with Fannon’s complaint to the Missouri Human Rights Commission. Then, Fannon’s attorney faxed the complaint and the special legal counselor’s report to multiple media outlets. Obviously, the county commission wasn’t the least bit interested in claiming the special legal counselor’s report was “privileged attorney-client communication.”

But, recall that Fannon says she first made her claims of alleged harassment from Williams in 2007. “We took the situation very seriously,” Betty Knight, presiding commissioner, has told the media. “There was a process to go through and we did what we had to do to protect the county’s interests.” The county commission says it had its human resources attorney, Earlene Farr of the Enzs and Jester law firm, look into the matter. So The Landmark put in a request for the results of that 2007 probe by Farr. Interestingly, the county commissioners this week told us through their attorney they “will decline to make that document available.”

Without a document from that 2007 probe to study at this moment, we are left to speculate. The county commissioners were anxious to spread around copies of a recent legal counsel report they feel paints Williams in a bad light. Does their sudden desire to claim attorney-client privilege on a similar document from two years ago mean there is information in that report that would not assist Fannon in pursuit of her claim? Is there information in that 2007 report, in fact, that would help Williams fight the accusations against her? Thoughts to ponder.

Selective secrecy by the county commission only raises more questions.

******

Good to see a criminal probe launched into the county’s human resources department by Sheriff Dick Anderson. The investigation was begun after law enforcement authorities were asked by The Landmark about the recent civil lawsuit filed by the county commission against a former HR employee, alleging the employee took unwarranted pay.

It is still puzzling--and disturbing--why the commissioners never immediately reported this as an alleged crime to authorities and had only desired to pursue it as a civil case. If there is thievery and other shenanigans going on in HR, the victims are every taxpayer in the county of Platte. We’ve been told the sheriff asked for--and received--assurance from the county commissioners that all their employees will cooperate fully in the investigation.

******

Thanks to all who attended The Landmark’s annual Christmas party Friday at the Comfort Inn. Special thanks to Brady Rodgers and the fine staff at the Comfort Inn for their outstanding hospitality, and a huge tip of the cap to Jill Wade Daniels and her excellent crew from Most Excellent Catering for the unbelievable job with the meal and goodies.

(Email this not so selectively secret Santa at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


 

AT THE COUNTY THERE ARE MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS

Posted 12/10/09

The folks at Arbitron, the company that measures ratings for radio stations, have me taking part in their measuring process this week. I’m keeping a daily diary of all the stations I hear, the time I start and stop listening, and where the listening took place. This information will be used to help compile the fall ratings book for Kansas City area radio stations.

Based on my diary, I’m predicting a boost in this ratings period for Chris Stigall.

******

Yes, that’s Chris Stigall of KCMO 710 AM. And that’s Chris you see to the bottom right of where you are looking right now--in the right hand corner of page A-3.

Something tells me Stigall is the dominating force in talk radio in the Northland--no doubt boosted by his wildly popular appearance in these pages each week. Come out to our Christmas party on Friday to meet and greet the conservative crusader.

******

Hey, just in case you missed the screaming announcement on the front page, this Friday is one of my favorite days of the year. It’s The Landmark’s annual come one/come all Christmas party. The come-and- go event begins at 4 p.m. and will run till 8 p.m. or as long as loyal Landmark readers want to stay.

Again this year, Brady Rodgers of the Comfort Inn in Platte City is offering us complimentary usage of his fine conference room and breakfast area. Miss Christmas--Landmark office manager Cindy Rinehart--is primary party planner and determined to get the job done on time and on budget. Back again as Beverage Babe will be official Between the Lines hairstylist Victoria Lynn-Crook. She’ll pour your beverage, and if it looks like you need a little taken off the top maybe she’ll do that as well.

While the location is the same, we’re adding a new twist this year to keep the atmosphere fresh and delicious. Your Landmark has hired Jill Wade Daniels’ fine firm--known as Most Excellent Catering--to provide most excellent main selections and most excellent side goodies this year. After featuring most excellent barbecue the past few years, we’re headed a different most excellent menu direction. I won’t spoil the surprise, but if you want to get a most excellent preview, head to Jill’s website at www.mostexcellentcatering.com

Most excellent attendees? Too many to mention. I used to spend time making calls to gather RSVPs from notables, but this party has grown to the point it has taken on a life of its own. Important and informed constituents will be there enjoying the evening regardless of how many elected honchos do--or do not--make an appearance. One of the usual suspects who won’t be there this year--ending a streak of hitting every one of these gatherings since its humble beginning back in the mid 1990’s--is Todd Graves, former U.S. Attorney now nationally known private practice attorney. Graves will be away, uh, on assignment. Also missing will be my buddy Greg Hall, whose Off the Couch columns on our web site continue to be the most entertaining work in Kansas City sports coverage. Hall will be busy running a marathon in the Arizona desert this weekend.

Come out, have some good food and say hi to your Landmark staffers and columnists in a relaxed setting. See the front page story for more.

******

Despite the fact neither is talking publicly about their intentions, multiple sources--and I do mean multiple--in a position to know are saying this: Jason Brown, term limited out as a 30th District state representative, won’t run for state senate for the seat being vacated by term limited Charlie Shields. Instead, Brown will run for presiding county commissioner. And Betty Knight, first elected in 1994, will not seek reelection to what would be a fifth term as presiding county commissioner.

So sayeth the political lords.

******

You just never know. I’m referring to the sexual harassment/relatiation claim being made by county human resources department employee LeAnna Fannon against Siobhann Williams, county auditor. All of us should be careful not to rush to judgment--on either side--in this one. I’ve known Fannon for over a decade. She is very outgoing and has a very likable personality. I’ve known Williams since her election in 2006 and have always found her open, helpful and accessible when trying to acquire public information, and have admired the independent nature she seems to bring to her auditing job.

So let’s do our best to keep an open mind before passing judgment and ruining reputations on either side of this mess. Fannon’s allegations are serious, and if true, the auditor should face the consequences. If by chance the allegations are found to not have sufficient merit, will there be consequences for bringing an insufficient complaint?

A few early observations after reading the complaint and the alleged independent third party investigative report:

•Interesting that Kendra Montgomery, a potential star witness in the sexual harassment complaint, told The Landmark that she believes the allegations Fannon is bringing against Williams are “false.”

•Interesting that “peering” into an office window is potentially seen as a tool of sexual harassment. If this is the case, I am sexually harassed while working late every Tuesday night by sidewalk strollers peering into the window of our historic office. Suddenly I feel so violated.

•Should Williams have sent Fannon a small vase of flowers? Probably not. But if you’re really trying to make sexual hay with someone, wouldn’t you spend more than $5? Probably so. So is this sexual harassment? Maybe, maybe not. Why am I asking myself questions? I have no idea. Does it annoy me when people ask themselves questions while speaking? Yes it does. Which former county official used to ask herself questions in this manner? Tammy Glick.

•The county commissioners--who suspended and then demoted Fannon---accuse Montgomery of paying herself around $2,200 in unwarranted vacation, medical and comp time. Yet the county is choosing to pursue the matter in civil court. If there is merit to this allegation, this is a potentially felonious crime. Turn it over to the prosecutor. Or are the county commissioners choosing civil over criminal in hopes they will get favorable testimony out of Montgomery against the auditor by doing so? There I go asking myself questions again.

(Ask your questions of the publisher via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)

 


 

EXCITEMENT IN THE MU STANDS? AND CONNECT THE COUNTY'S DOTS

Posted 12/3/09

Hope you enjoyed the excellent weather we experienced for much of the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Speaking of weather, to put my calorie-heavy weekend into meteorological terms, I left work last Wednesday with the physique of Gary Lezac and returned on Monday looking like Bryan Busby.

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As first reported on Twitter.com/ivanfoley, Richard Sayles is out as police chief. He cleaned out his desk on Saturday and is not expected to return. The official word is the city is terming it a retirement and some officials are insisting there’s nothing more to it. But you’re a Between the Lines reader. That’s not enough. So here’s the scoop.

Landmark readers--and only Landmark readers, as we exclusively reported this for weeks--know this sudden action comes on the heels of a “personnel evaluation” by an outside firm. A public report on the results of that evaluation has not yet been released, and knowing how these things work, I expect that public report will be about as hard-hitting as a Joe Posnanski column. To put it another way, there will be a lot of fluff and very little substance.

What we’re hearing at Between the Lines headquarters is no juicy scandal involving any type of harassment or discrimination will come of the probe--which may come as disappointing news to some on the inside who may have pushed for the investigation on what now appears to be questionable grounds. But the phrase “control of the department” is a term being tossed around that might have come up as an alleged concern.

At any rate, best wishes to Sayles in his retirement. I always found him to be polite, cooperative and approachable. In contrast to previous police chiefs in Platte City, The Landmark never had any trouble in acquiring open public records from Sayles. We can’t say the same for the man who has been picked to serve as his interim replacement, former/current interim Chief Bill Massock.

During his first go-round in Platte City, Massock one time actually tried to deny me access to a public record by saying: “I don’t think that’s newsworthy.” Hello? This isn’t the Soviet Union and The Landmark isn’t Pravda. We eventually came to a mutual understanding later that day after I encouraged him to check with his city attorney while I checked with the newspaper’s attorney.

I then suggested that our mutual understanding should be that I won’t try to play the role of police chief if he won’t try to play the role of newspaper editor. Things eventually improved.

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The MU-KU game on Saturday wasn’t just noteworthy on the field.

Things involving state representatives often seem to happen at MU football games. Some are negative, some are positive.

Sometimes, a state rep (think Jason Grill) might have a few beers and proclaim to those sitting around him that he is a U.S. Congressman. Other times, a completely sober and well-behaved state rep (think Jason Brown) might let it slip to those around him that he intends to run for presiding county commissioner--and not state senator--in 2010.
Brown, when I reached him on his cell phone Tuesday, would neither confirm nor deny making the comment. I invite you to read between the lines on that.

(LATE UPDATE: On Thursday after the print edition hit the street, Brown called me to say he had misunderstood the context of the question I had posed to him. On Thursday he said he was not in attendance at the MU-KU game. I’m not sure how my question could have been misunderstood. Regardless, was he calling me Thursday to say he’s not running for senate or was he calling to say he wasn’t at the game? So I then posed the question the simplest way I know how: Will you be running for presiding commissioner or state senate? Adding to the mystery and intrigue, Brown responded by not answering the question. We can tell you at least one other potential state senate candidate this week has been on the phone with current state senator Charlie Shields, who is term-limited out. It’s not clear who initiated the call. What’s not a secret is that if Brown will not be running for senate against announced candidate Dr. Rob Schaaf, Shields--who is not on good political terms with Schaaf--will be looking for someone else to oppose Schaaf. Does that phone conversation between Shields and another potential candidate this week mean Shields believes Brown won’t be running for senate or was it merely coincidence? Oh, the drama.)

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Other possibilities for presiding commissioner in 2010? Incumbent Betty Knight hasn’t officially ruled herself out of the race. “I’m not ready to say anything,” she told me when I reached her Tuesday.

Rob Willard, a former assistant prosecutor, is also said to be looking at the race, but the educated guess is he wouldn’t touch it if either Knight or Brown are in.

On the Democratic side, the name of Fred Sanchez, current Park Hill School Board member/South Platte Ambulance District board member/Democratic Central Committee member, is being mentioned as a possibility.

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A sharp follower of the political scene in Platte County called me and let fly with this observation of the week: “Betty Knight’s ego has written checks that the county can no longer cash.”

I don’t mind a good debate and wanted to disagree. But I couldn’t.

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Could there be a third Republican ready to jump into the race for the 30th District state representative seat being vacated by Jason Brown? Maybe. Mike Fisher, member of the North Platte School Board, is said to be considering the possibility. Already announced as candidates are Sherri Plunkett and Nick Marshall.

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Just when you thought things couldn’t get more bizarre inside the Platte County Administration Building.

First, we had The Landmark’s exclusive story about the step-brother of the county director of administration coming onsite to do a “cursory review” of the county’s problems in human resources. Now, the “independent” management auditor the county commission hired at a cost of $9,000 to investigate accusations of payroll screw-ups in the HR department has been hired as the county’s permanent HR director.

What does this mean? For one thing, it means there’s no sense in county commissioners any longer trying to claim this was an independent probe into the accusations of mismanagement in the HR department first brought forth by Siobhann Williams, county auditor. You can’t hire Betty Knight’s local chamber of commerce colleague Kevin Robinson and his People Wise HR firm to do an HR management audit, then hire Robinson’s wife as the full time HR director, and still try to stand behind wild claims that the study by Robinson’s firm is a completely unbiased look into the county’s HR department.

Please. Some of us in the media, and most folks in the general public, are not that naive. It’s time for the county commission to start thinking outside the box--or at least outside a circle of family and friends--when it comes to addressing HR issues.

Be sure to read Dennis Sharkey’s front page story in this week’s print edition. It will connect a lot of dots between the players in this soap opera.

(The publisher will see you at The Landmark’s Christmas party next Friday, Dec. 11 from 4-8 p.m. at Comfort Inn. Send your Christmas wish list to Santa at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)

 


 

DOWNTOWN ICON MAY GET THE PRIZE; A CINDERELLA STORY

Posted 11/27/09

Locally, the holiday season gets kicking into high gear right about now. Parkville’s annual crowd-gathering Christmas event, Christmas on the River, will be Friday, Dec. 4. Downtown Parkville annually becomes a mass of humanity for that yuletide jingle jangle.

This week, Platte City’s kid-heavy holiday lighting ceremony is Wednesday evening. One of the highlights? A citizenship award will be handed out by Mayor Frank Offut on behalf of the city of Platte City.

The W.R. Fox Citizenship Award is “an award for honoring a resident of the city who has displayed a selfless act of devotion towards the improvement of the city which impacts the quality of life. The act cited should have been done freely and without recruitment or payment. Candidates are submitted in confidence to the mayor by citizens, community leaders or business people. The award is the highest which the city can present to a citizen,” says the criteria for the Fox Award.

I have no inside info on this one, but I will give you a guess: It would be an appropriate honor for downtown Platte City icon Ron Pine to take home the hardware on this one. Pine and his widely-known barber shop have been a staple on Main Street for 50 years. Pine was featured by our Hall of Fame journalist Bill Hankins in a Landmark People feature a couple of months ago.

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Thanksgiving, while a thorn in the side of many of us in the weekly newspaper biz who have to push up our normal deadlines by a day to get our product on the street in plenty of time for the holiday, is one of my favorite weeks of the year. Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week are traditionally wild and crazy, but once the paper hits the street it does give us a chance to catch our breath with a little slower pace the rest of the week. It’s kinda nice to experience a couple of slower paced days sandwiched around the Thursday holiday.

Wherever you are and however busy you may be, take a few moments to stop and smell the turkey this week.

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Got a little one wanting to get a note to the fat guy in the red suit? You’re in luck. Kids and/or their parents can take letters to the Platte City post office and Santa's helpers will be sure those lists get to the North Pole for responses. Starting this Friday, a drop box will be in the main lobby of the post office until Dec. 20.

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It wasn’t a letter to Santa, but a letter in my electronic mailbox tickled my funny bone this weekend. In cyber speak, it had me LMAO (Adults, if you don’t know what that stands for, ask your internet savvy kids).

Here’s the bulk of that note:

“Ivan, you have to quit picking on me. If you would just read my Twitter, you would know that I am working hard, attending meetings and doing other stuff for the county, like telling people where the free lunches are.

“And quit covering the story about the publisher of that little Parkville paper. If he isn't here, who is going to write nice things about me? If you had a journalism degree, like me, you would know that you are to support the people in charge (that's me), and tell people about all the ribbon cuttings, school events, and other nice things I do, like send twitters to Claire McCaskill. That's our job. What has happened to your journalistic standards? You have a newspaper and I don't.

“And quit making references to fiscal stuff, like balancing budgets and understanding revenues and financial condition, stuff you know I don't understand. They don't teach that in journalism school. Of course, you would know that if you had a journalism degree! The auditor has not shown up for two meetings now, so that must be why revenues are down. She is supposed to make this stuff work. How can we blame someone for revenues being down when they won't even show up for a meeting?”

The author of the letter? Well, the writer who emailed it to me signed it Kathy Dusenbery. Of course Dusenbery didn’t actually pen the letter, but it is a perfectly written parody that has made me laugh out loud each of the 47 times I have read it.

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Have you noticed county commissioners Kathy Dusenbery and Betty Knight often come off sounding like a pair of evil step-sisters every time they publicly address any issue involving Siobhann Williams, the county auditor? Our front page story this week on their demeanor in the most recent commission session is your latest evidence. Williams, on the other hand, has taken the high road each time she has been verbally targeted by the step sisters during public meetings with the media present.

It appears the evil step sisters jump at any chance to blame Williams for anything and everything that could be classified as negative news at the administration building. We all make errors--Williams has admitted her office has made mistakes, just like everybody else--but one could never tell by the public comments of Dusenbery and Knight. Anything that could possibly reflect negatively on them always seems to be, in their minds, the fault of Siobhann Williams or some other evil-doer.

It’s interesting Dusenbery and Knight are being so brazen in their public approach. Their aggressive demeanor isn’t getting rave reviews from the taxpaying public. It’s one thing for elected officials to stand up for what they feel is right, it’s quite another thing to constantly be promoting a public cat fight.

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The county’s unemployment rate may have just increased.

Word is a payroll person in the county’s human resources department is no longer employed. The newly displaced worker is not LeAnna Fannon, whom county commissioners recently said they have demoted from department head down to payroll specialist. Fannon is still on the job. I can tell you the phone line that formerly rang into the desk of Kendra Montgomery, payroll, is now answered with a recording of Fannon’s voice guiding callers to hang up and dial back to numbers that ring to either the desk of Fannon or Christy George.

Hmm. Expect an announcement about personnel matters in human resources any day now. As always, you’ll get it first at Twitter.com/ivanfoley

(He’s been in dog fights and doesn’t mind covering cat fights. Email the zookeeper at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


 

NOW, PUSHING THAT PARK TAX LOOKS SILLIER THAN EVER

Posted 11/19/09

Here’s the deal. Platte County has a budget crisis on its hands. As we’ve been telling you in this column space for weeks, the county’s revenue from sales and use taxes is projected to drop by at least $750,000 next year. The auditor’s long range forecast over the next five years is much the same. To make up for that shortfall in 2010, the county auditor is proposing to use projected carryover money from the 2009 budget--estimated to be about $600,000--plus grab $300,000 from a fund containing $4 million in building permit fees collected from Kansas City Power and Light for its Iatan II project. In other words, the auditor is suggesting dipping into pools of money the county in previous years has refused to touch.

Another option--which is one being considered by the county commission and one that most of us in the real world would find more plausible--would be to cut expenses. Ah, now there’s an idea, although an idea foreign to the bureaucratic types who don’t have a problem spending someone else’s money. To balance the budget via the cutting of expenses, the county auditor says county employee salaries would need to be cut by five percent. Keep in mind, this comes on the heels of the county officeholders recently voting their positions a six percent pay raise.

While you’re digesting all this grim county budget news, how silly does the entire county commission look now for promoting an $82 million sales tax for parks, fun, games, butterflies, unicorns, sugar and spice and everything nice this past summer? Good grief, now we’re finding out the county is hard-pressed to keep up with the basics and is discussing the potential need to slice employee salaries by five percent. And yet our alleged fiscal watchdogs encouraged voters to pass an $82 million tax for parks, bike paths, and something called kayak trails this past summer. Ridiculous. Wait, it’s worse than ridiculous. It’s ridonkulous.
As I suggested to a county commissioner recently, that park sales tax should have been, at minimum, cut in half and talk of a small law enforcement sales tax could have begun. That would have made a lot more sense and would have instilled a sense of fiscal appreciation in the minds of taxpayers. As things stand now, a good portion of the public views the county commission as having its fiscal priorities out of whack for promoting a tax for fun and games while basic staples are in danger of being sliced and diced.

•Note to the Platte County officeholders, I don’t really like to say I told you so, but I kinda did. Here is what I wrote on Oct. 21 in this column space, two days after they voted their positions a 6% raise: “Remember in years past when salary commission members boasted of what great financial standing the county was in and used that as a basis for justifying pay increases for officeholders? Well, if officeholders are going to take credit for good financial times, they must take the blame for bad financial times. Numbers right now are bad--general sales tax revenues are down. Siobhann Williams, county auditor, told me in a recent interview she is projecting next year’s county general (sales tax and use tax) revenues will be down by at least $600,000. Before the interview was over, she admitted she anticipates she will soon be adjusting that downward trend even further. Frankly, don’t be surprised if the projected revenue decline for next year ends up close to $1million. Hell, with those numbers the salary commission discussion should have focused on a pay cut, not a pay increase.”

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Ah, this Twitter phenomenon is a great thing for news junkies. Join the many folks who follow The Landmark’s Twitter account. Heck, even our competitors are following it to learn what’s happening in the county. It’s entertaining for us to watch them steal news off our Twitter page and then try to report it like they were in the loop, as if news junkies are easy to fool. Get the only local breaking news and meaningful commentary at twitter.com/ivanfoley. For instance:

•As first reported on our Twitter page last Friday, Sherri Plunkett, wife of Jim Plunkett, second district Platte County commissioner, will be running for state representative in the 30th District for the seat that will be vacated by a term-limited Jason Brown. Mrs. Plunkett has been active in the Tea Party movement, promoting fiscal responsibility among our elected representatives and smaller government. “I would like to see fiscally conservative officials making smart decisions and hopefully I can be part of that,” she told me. “I’m fed up with the direction our government is going. I just want to do my part.”

You’ll recall two weeks ago in this column space, an attorney by the name of Nick Marshall, 37, announced he is running for the 30th District spot, also as a Republican. This means at least a two-person primary between Plunkett and Marshall, unless one of them steps aside. Insiders say a meeting between the two was held on Friday. Marshall indicated at that time he is staying in. Plunkett, one can assume, is staying in as well, since she was aware of Marshall’s intention prior to making her announcement.

•The ‘draft Jason Brown for presiding county commissioner’ movement is still alive and well. Brown, as we’ve talked about previously, has indicated an intention to run for the state senate seat being vacated by the term-limited Charlie Shields. Brown’s campaign finance paperwork on file with the ethics commission says he is running for state senate. But. . . “I’ve heard the rumors, I’ve read your columns,” Brown told me this week. “I’ve been raising money. My paperwork says I’m running for senate. I have not done a press conference to announce, but when we announce I will do that.” Our phone conversation then turned to rumors in other political races. Brown commented about rumors: “Things can change a month from now.” Which prompted me to ask Jason if things could change a month from now regarding which race he’s in. “My phone is breaking up, I can’t hear you,” was the answer.

Presiding commissioner makes twice the money a state rep makes. Brown, who lives in Platte City, would have a much shorter commute to his political workplace. It would make his wife happy. Let’s see how this plays out.

•RINO season is about to begin in Platte County and across the state. Fiscally conservative Republicans are tired of some folks running as Republicans but behaving like free spenders when they get in office. That’s the species commonly known as Republican In Name Only (RINO).

Betty Knight, whose spot is up for relection in 2010 should she choose to pursue it, is accurately labeled a RINO by many fiscally conservative Platte County Republicans. Knight initially voted for a six percent raise for officeholders, but now after some public backlash is helping lead a movement to have the salary commission reconvene to reconsider that vote. Knight last week blamed the county auditor for allegedly not giving the elected officials a full understanding of the depth of the budget challenges the county will face. I’m calling BS. I sat in on the salary commission meeting. My notes say Williams that very day mentioned her projection for sales and use tax revenue would show a decline of $500,000 to $600,000 for 2010 compared to 2009. That projected decline has now grown to $750,000 (as I wrote last week, I personally think it will decline even more than that) but still the point is our elected officials were aware that county projected revenue was going to drop significantly and they still voted their positions a pay raise without asking financial questions of the auditor. Only Jim Plunkett voted no. Kathy Dusenbery, first district county commissioner, was absent.

In an officeholders meeting on Monday of this week, Plunkett chastised Sandy Krohne, county clerk, for not asking questions of the auditor on that day prior to voting for the 6% officeholder pay raises. While Plunkett directed disgust to Krohne, his irritation also needs to be directed to Knight, Sheriff Richard Anderson, Collector Donna Nash, Treasurer Bonnie Brown, Recorder Gloria Boyer, Assessor Lisa Pope, and Public Administrator Terry Edwards. None of them asked any questions in regard to the county’s financial outlook that day prior to making their vote in favor of a pay raise. And Siobhann Williams, county auditor, can be criticized for not making a stronger statement about the forth- coming financial challenges facing the county.

Even Anderson, one of the biggest proponents of higher salaries for county elected officials, admitted this week that the elected officials getting a six percent raise while employees take a five percent cut--should that need to happen--just wouldn’t fly.

(Even our competitors are welcome to follow us at twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


 

IS CHUCK ROAST ON THE MENU? AND JIMMY WENT AGAINST THE SPREAD

Posted 11/12/09

Mark your calendars. The date has been set for one of the highlights of the local holiday season.

The Landmark’s annual open-to-the-public Christmas party will be held Friday, Dec. 11 from 4-8 p.m. Our pal Brady Rodgers, owner of the Comfort Inn in Platte City, has again offered the use of his conference and breakfast rooms as The Landmark will serve up good food, beverages and some holiday fun to all who drop in.

As always, we’ll have some special guests and all your Landmark personalities are expected to be on hand to meet and greet readers. It’s a good time. If you’ve never been, make this the year.

Much more to come on the party and the special guests as the date draws near. For now, simply circle the date.

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Breaking news: Platte City Police Chief Richard Sayles is back in the office. The city’s outside “personnel evaluation” of the police department is said to be wrapping up. In a move that raised some eyebrows, a reserve officer, Beth Neland, was named by Sayles to serve as acting chief in his absence. Neland is now being considered for the Nobel Peace Prize.

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The Chuck Reineke watch is on. The appointment of Aaron Jung to the Platte County Regional Sewer District board of directors, has to be uncomfortable news for Reineke, executive director of the district. Reineke, his ego, his attitude, and his $82,000 salary are quietly drawing heat in some circles. Jung has shown he has no problem pulling the plug on longtime public employees who may have overstayed their welcome. Jung, you’ll recall, was one of the Platte City aldermen who finally gave the axe to longtime city administrator Keith Moody.

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What is it with the names of bands these days? Landmark facilities manager Kurt Foley and some buds recently attended an event called Freaker’s Ball at Midland Theatre. I asked which bands they got to hear. He started rattling off names and it sounded to me like he said All That Remains, Five Finger Death Punch, Kill Switch Engage, Inflamed Hemorrhoidal Tissue and Painful Private Itch.

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Made a phone call to the county auditor on Monday to see if she has come up with a final projected revenue total for the county for 2010. She has. Siobhann Williams projects county revenues to be down $750,000. You know what? I hope I’m wrong but it’s entirely possible she is being overly optimistic. Williams is projecting a 2.5% growth in general sales tax revenue for 2010.Hmm, I hope so. And the use tax, in my opinion, will take a bigger drop than what she is projecting. For the sake of argument, I will predict the county’s revenue will drop by a number closer to $1 million than $750,000. Guess we’ll know who’s right about a year from now.

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Chris Byrd, attorney for developers of the proposed high density housing kingdom known as Lake at Tomahawke, crashed an after-session pow-wow between county commissioners and anti-Tomahawke folks on Thursday. Byrd says the Kansas City Plan Commission that hears about Tomahawke next week actually has no say in regard to annexation. The plan commission will deal with the matters of a development plan and land use. If the issue is passed on to the next step--which is the Kansas City planning and zoning committee--the topic of annexation of the property comes up. Public testimony can be taken at both the plan commission and planning and zoning level. Jim Plunkett, second district county commissioner, told me this week he may make an appearance at city hall in Kansas City to give what would in effect be testimony against Kansas City’s taking of Tomahawke.

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Outside of sports and some news program, I’m not a big television watcher. But I will be checking out a special ESPN presentation this week entitled The Legend of Jimmy the Greek.

Jimmy the Greek, for the uninitiated, was a sports handicapper who helped spark a great interest in sports wagering back in the 1970s when CBS made him a part of its Sunday NFL pre-game show. Jimmy the Greek teamed with Brent Musburger, Irv Cross and a former Miss America by the name of Phyllis George on the CBS pregame show called The NFL Today. It was a show ahead of its time and became the standard by which all pre-game shows have since been judged. That’s when Musburger was in his prime, and not the oddball he has become the last twenty years or so. On the show, Jimmy the Greek would predict the outcome of games--not a simply who will win prediction, but a prediction against the spread. If you don’t know what against the spread means, you need to hang out with me on an NFL or college basketball weekend.

The NFL wasn’t all that crazy about the gambling connection to its league, but the team of Snyder, Musburger, Cross and George was outstanding and garnered a huge audience. Things started to cave for the Greek when during an interview he made a remark that was viewed as racist by some (wow, who knew inappropriate comments came long before the days of Twitter and Facebook?).

These days, while you’ll see analysts making predictions on the NFL pre-game shows, you won’t find analysts on those pre-kick-off shows making picks “against the spread.” The closest thing you’ll find anymore is some old codger named Hammerin’ Hank on ESPN early Sunday mornings (not on the network’s pre-game show) making against the spread picks, usually while sitting oceanside in south Florida, presumably while taking a break from playing bingo at his retirement home.

The first viewing of the special on Jimmy the Greek is Tuesday at 7 p.m. Set the DVR.

(Get the only insightful local commentary, as well as local news as it happens, by following the publisher on Twitter at twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


 

TOMAHAWKE DESERVES TO GET CHOPPED AGAIN; WILL BROWN LOOK AT PRESIDING COMMISSIONER?

Posted 11/5/09

It’s a week full of nugget-sized editorial comments. Here we go.

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Nearly every election cycle, there’s a race that reminds us of the value of every vote. It happened again Tuesday night in Platte County, where the North Platte School District bond issue passed by three votes. A 25% tax increase will hit the entire district, to the chagrin of 43% of the voters who went to the polls on Tuesday--and several others who for one reason or another failed to cast a ballot.

Now more than ever, it’s important to take an active role in political matters, especially at the local level. Voter turnout in North Platte on Tuesday was about 38 percent. That’s not terrible, but it’s not great. A lazy or apathetic public is a dangerous thing. While the North Platte issue has its supporters, the plan and its price tag were shaky enough that the question nearly went down the drain despite the fact there was no organized opposition. That’s almost unheard of in a school bond election.

A clear message has been sent by the tight result. Will the district eventually be able to win the trust and support of the 43% who opposed the issue? That’s the challenge from this point.

*****

Residents east of Platte City in the Hoover area are gearing up for what they hope will be another impressive Tomahawke Chop.

Many of you will recall the fight more than a year ago over a proposed high density housing development. Neighbors were up in arms--and rightly so--over a proposal that would have put more than 600 homes on 329 acres at Hwy. 92 and Winan Road. Pushing the proposal then--and still--is landowner Hal Swaney, a tobacco farmer who has previously argued that Platte County needs to protect its rural character and its farmground. Now that he is nearing retirement age and has a chance to become a developer, Swaney is promoting a high density village that would destroy the rural character of that area and further stress an already dangerous stretch of roadway.

Swaney’s group, after being rejected by the county, has now applied for annexation into the city of Kansas City. If annexed by the big boys, all considerations of the proposed development would be handled by Kansas City’s planning staff. Whether Kansas City sees an advantage in annexing the property and thereby playing a role in promoting the roadway carnage that would ensue remains to be seen.

Kansas City’s planning commission will take up the proposal at a Nov. 17 meeting. New this time: The development now calls for 657 homes on the 329 acres and calls for two entrances off of a narrow and winding stretch of Hwy. 92. One of the proposed entrances, apparently approved by a short-sighted soul at the Missouri Department of Transportation, sits near a bend in the road. This will be a fascinating discussion for the folks at KC to see whether they will okay a development that Platte County deemed inappropriate. In the meantime, take a drive along Hwy. 92 near Winan, look to the north and envision 657 homes crammed in there. Ask yourself if it seems an appropriate use for the area.

Don’t forget, Swaney has a lawsuit pending against Platte County, challenging its denial of his mini-city last year. The lawsuit is scheduled to be heard at a bench trial in front of Judge Charles Curless in January.

*****

Interesting.

Platte City Police Chief Richard Sayles, with his department being probed as part of an outside firm’s “personnel evaluation,” is on vacation for the next couple of weeks. In his absence, the chief asked a reserve officer, Beth Neland, to serve as acting chief. Word is this isn’t sitting well with some of the other higher ranking personnel.

No word yet on when the “personnel evaluation” will be completed.

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Does Platte City really want to become a fireworks outlet headquarters? Based on early discussions, it seems most aldermen are favoring allowing fireworks stands in the city limits. I’m withholding further comment until more information is gathered.

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Hats off to the Platte County Republican Central Committee for its resolution that in effect chastises county officeholders, including several RINOS, who voted for a six percent pay raise for the positions they currently hold. The six percent pay raise comes at a time when the county is talking budget cuts and projecting a decline--a significant decline--in general revenues in 2010. It really is mind-boggling that officeholders felt approving a raise at this time is appropriate.

Officeholders on both sides of the political aisle are at fault in this one. The only vote against the raises came from Jim Plunkett, second district county commissioner.

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New projections on just how far county revenues are expected to fall next year should be ready in a couple of days. The last guesstimate put out by Siobhann Williams, county auditor, projected general revenues for 2010 would be around $600,000 less than 2009. This should be interesting. Sound like a good time to approve six percent raises?

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Two Republicans have announced they will be candidates in upcoming state representative races. Attorney Nick Marshall, age 37, of the Walnut Creek area, says he will be a candidate for the District 30 seat being vacated by Jason Brown. Brown, by the way, will be running for something--the common belief is state senator, but not-so-quietly there is a grassroots movement afoot to try to prompt him into seeking the job of presiding county commissioner. Meanwhile, Ron Schieber, a school board member at Park Hill, says he will be running against Jason Grill, Democrat, in District 32. Both Marshall and Schieber attended the Platte County Republican Central Committee meeting Monday night and made brief comments.

(Email the publisher at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com and don’t forget to get your local news and commentary in real time by following the adventures of The Landmark at twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


 

DEMOCRATS ARE LOSING A GOOD ONE; AND HIGH SCHOOL NEVER ENDS

Posted 10/30/09

Times are getting tougher for the Democrat party in Platte County.

Russ Purvis, chairman of the Platte County Democratic Central Committee for several years, recently resigned. He didn’t just resign as chairman, he resigned from the central committee. And he didn’t just resign from the central committee, he quit the Democrat party entirely.

Purvis, who for the last couple of years has written a weekly opinion piece for The Landmark, explained his decision to jump the rudderless ship of Democratic liberalism in his Oct. 14 column. His decision and his Landmark column became an internet sensation that week, as it was linked by political bloggers anxious to further expose just how far to the left the Democratic party has drifted.

“First and foremost, the leadership of the Democratic party, including President Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, has, because of belief in the cause, or simple self interest, moved the party so far to the left that I can no longer play an active role. The nationalization of the auto industry and the banking system has left me cold. The continued attempt to socialize medicine makes my blood boil,” Purvis says.

The announcement shouldn’t have come as a total shock to consistent readers of Purvis’ column. He had often blasted Democrats on the national--and even local--level, in particular on spending issues. Purvis is a fiscal conservative, which means he marches in step with your publisher. I don’t agree with Russ on some of his social causes (he believes marijuana should be legalized), but more times than not he and I are on the same page in regard to fiscal matters. His column this week on the salary hikes Platte County officeholders voted for their own positions, for instance, is a thing of beauty. Cut that baby out and hang it on your fridge. Pull it out next county election day.

Point is, Purvis’ decision will be a step back for local Democrats. He had brought respectability and a sense of organization to the Platte County Democratic Central Committee, moving it from a group of folks past their prime in those types of matters to an organization that had become more in tune with the modern day political climate. Some local Dems won’t admit it, but their party will miss his touch.

Purvis, who now says he is an independent, will continue to write his weekly column for The Landmark. He has built a loyal readership with his honesty and cutting style.

******

Buzz in political circles continues to be about the elected county officeholders basically voting themselves a time-released pay raise of six percent last week. The hike won’t take effect until the next term of office, thankfully, but the act still shows a lack of appreciation for tough economic times many folks who pay their salaries are facing, as well as a disrespect for shrinking county revenues.

Only Jim Plunkett, second district commissioner, voted against this travesty. Every other officeholder is fair game for criticism on this. Kathy Dusenbery, second district commissioner, missed the meeting and is claiming she would have voted against. Many observers--and you can color me skeptical--aren’t so sure Dusenbery would have cast a nay vote. It would have meant she is going against Betty Knight, her political mentor. But hey, let’s be fair and give Dusenbery the benefit of the doubt and for argument’s sake accept her word that she would have voted against the raises had she not been out of town and her return flight not been (conveniently?) delayed. Dusenbery campaigned on the promise she would be a full time commissioner. Full time commissioners shouldn’t be missing a session of the salary commission. Those salary meetings are viewed as very important by voters. These meetings only happen once every two years and are scheduled well in advance.

Everybody deserves an occasional weekend away, but there’s no excuse for a full time commissioner to be unavailable for one of those puppies on a Monday afternoon. Unless it’s politically advantageous to be unavailable, perhaps.

******

My favorite email of the week came from an avid reader whose opinion I respect mightily. This guy reads The Landmark cover-to-cover and helps me with his critiquing eye. Anyway, an email exchange this week drifted to the topic of World War II and invasion of countries. The emailer wrote this to me:

“If the U.S. would ever get invaded, you know that you would be taken out and shot. Too independent. Not a sheeple.”

Indeed. I smiled at his intuitiveness. I’m not even sure it would take an invasion for the above scenario to happen. Thus, the historic Landmark office is a highly fortified compound with hidden crawl spaces and tunnels, with strategically placed caches of paper wad ammunition.

******

On our front page you can read the latest on the county commission trying to fire upon Siobhann Williams, county auditor, in regard to Williams’ assertion that there are problems in the human resources department. This is turning into a tickle fight. They are fighting, others are getting tickled.

As you know, Williams says there are problems in HR. An outside audit has confirmed there are problems in HR. With TV cameras rolling one day last month, even county commissioner Betty Knight said: “We’re not saying there aren’t problems” in HR. OK, based on all that I’m gonna go out on a limb and say this: There are problems in HR.

So why did the county commission attempt to make a grandstanding event out of information developed from its hired management audit that it says can refute two of the charges Williams has made against HR? My God, Williams recently listed around 20 specific problems with payroll and benefits in HR. Hey, but not so fast there, Ms. Auditor, the county commission says its $9,000 HR study can refute two of those.

And this is something to brag about? This is akin to a football team getting creamed 42-7 then boasting about scoring a touchdown.

High school never ends.

Will it ever get to the point our public servants will stop pointing fingers and simply work together to fix the problem? That’s what the taxpayers deserve.

(Fire your ammunition at the publisher via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com, or stalk him on Twitter at twitter.com/ivanfoley)


 

CONSIDERING THE REVENUE NUMBERS, HOW CAN A RAISE BE JUSTIFIED?

Posted 10/23//09

Throughout the course of a week, I make occasional notes to myself about topics that may be discussed in that week’s Between the Lines column. The other day, I made a note to myself that said this: “Dear Self: Praise the salary commission for holding the line on salaries.”

That note to self was written on Sunday. Color me overly confident that business sense would prevail. It didn’t.

Obviously, I was not anticipating that nine elected public servants--and in this situation we must use the term ‘public servant’ very lightly--in a down economy, with general revenues projected to decline by at least $600,000 next year, would vote in a six percent pay raise for those elected positions.

Check out our front page story. You’ll see Platte County elected officeholders--with the exception of Jim Plunkett, who seems to be regaining his conservative footing after some bad advice and faulty northern Platte County polling numbers led him to support an $82 million tax for parks, butterflies and rainbows last summer--voted in a six percent salary increase for the county’s elected positions. The raises, per state constitution, can’t take effect until the beginning of the next term for each office, thus the budget impact is delayed until 2011 and 2013.

Despite the delay, let’s be real. This is ego out of control. Your elected public servants think mighty highly of themselves to be voting for raises while the general populace is struggling with unemployment near 10 percent and private companies are at minimum holding the line on salaries or even laying off employees.

Remember in years past when Salary Commission members boasted of what great financial standing the county was in and used that as a basis for justifying pay increases for officeholders? Well, if officeholders are going to take credit for good financial times, they must take the blame for bad financial times. Numbers right now are bad--general sales tax revenues are down 3.6% in 2009 compared to 2008. Siobhann Williams, county auditor, told me in a recent interview she is projecting next year’s county general revenues will be down by at least $600,000. Before the interview was over, she admitted she anticipates she will soon be adjusting that downward trend even further. Frankly, don’t be surprised if the projected revenue decline for next year ends up close to $1 million.

Hell, with those numbers the salary commission discussion should have focused on a pay cut, not a pay increase. Unbelievable.

******

Questions to ponder for next week’s column: So will the central committees of the county Republican and Democrat parties take a stand on the salary commission action? Does her support for the raise mean Betty Knight will seek reelection to get a larger check or does it mean she will be retiring and therefore isn’t worried about political consequences of an in-your-face message to taxpayers? And, would Kathy Dusenbery--as she claims in our article--really have resisted peer pressure and voted against the raise had she been present or is she simply giving the people political lip service?

Topics to be explored in the near future.

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The deadline is fast approaching for new readers to take advantage of The Landmark’s Fall Fling subscription special. From now through Oct. 31, new subscribers can get one year of journalistic genius for the radically ridiculous price of $12.50. To order, simply phone our office at 816-858-2313. Call now, operators are standing by. Call before midnight tonight and we’ll stuff facilities manager Kurt Foley into a flying saucer-shaped hot air balloon to deliver your first issue. Be prepared to sign a release giving us permission to use your image in a reality TV show.

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My thanks to Hall of Fame photojournalist Bill Hankins for representing The Landmark at the Missouri Press Association convention over the weekend. Bill drove his truck to the convention so he could haul home the multiple statewide Better Newspaper Contest awards given to The Landmark. We are proud--yet still humble, mind you--to announce The Landmark earned awards for front page excellence, editorial page excellence, feature writing, and sports photography.

******

Ready for a Jason Grill update? Grill, as you know, is the District 32 state representative serving southern Platte County. His term expires in 2010. Grill flirted with the idea of running for state senate to fill the seat being vacated next year when Charlie Shields is prevented from seeking reelection due to term limits, but the major players in the Democratic party preferred Martin Rucker, state representative of St. Joseph, as their candidate. Grill’s future has been the subject of much speculation and debate as of late, especially when he started making amendments to his candidate filing paperwork at the Missouri Ethics Commission.

At one point his paperwork indicated he would be seeking a statewide office in 2010. Newest development is that Grill’s paperwork--filed on Oct. 2--now indicates he will seek reelection to his current state representative post. Of course that could still change.

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Word on the street--that would be the political rumor mill--at Parkville is that Gerry Richardson would rather not seek reelection as mayor. Further political whispering indicates Deborah Butcher, alderman, wouldn’t mind running for mayor if Richardson chooses to step away. Even deeper in the rumor mill is talk of a possible movement to try to persuade Jim Brooks, alderman, into seeking the mayor’s post.

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Word on the street, Platte City version. Remember that “personnel evaluation” special probe that was exclusively reported in your Landmark last week? City leaders are still being tight-lipped, but my gut instinct is the police department is the primary target of the evaluation being done by the firm Clarence M. Kelley and Associates.

Reports of some alleged personnel unrest within the police department reached The Landmark about a month ago. Whether the unrest can be validated or whether it’s simply a case or two of hurt feelings is not yet clear. When we learn more you’ll learn more.

(Vote the publisher a pay raise via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com. And get local breaking news and commentary from him at http://twitter.com/ivanfoley)


MISTAKES WERE MADE, OTHERS WILL BE BLAMED

Posted 10/15//09

Apparently for Platte County Presiding Commissioner Betty Knight and crew, running a human resources department--complete with payroll and employee benefits responsibilities--is not nearly as easy as it appeared.

In the year 2000, Knight and her BFF Michael Short, who at the time was first district commissioner, spearheaded an effort to wrest the payroll/benefits responsibilities from the county clerk. Implying that the clerk’s office was making mistakes and implying the clerk’s office didn’t seem to be able to grasp the responsibility, Knight, Short and friends grabbed the human resources department from the clerk and brought it under the umbrella of the county commission. Strangely, the commission also grabbed the clerk’s employee who had been primarily responsible for handling the payroll responsibilities, which as we look back now seems even more puzzling. If there are problems with payroll and you want to take over the department, why bring along the employee who has been a part of those problems?

Anyway, here we are 10 years later and a pattern of incompetence in the county commission/director of administration-run human resources department has emerged. It’s not just a recent development. The Landmark has perused the county’s outside (independent) audits from the years 2007 and 2008 and reports of problems in handling payroll and benefits issues were reported both years. Quite possibly if we take the time to continue to review even older audits, similar problems would be found. The troubling point is that sufficient corrective measures to end the pattern of mistakes were never taken.

As you’ll see on our front page, the county commission’s latest response to their human resources mess--and yes, it is their mess, no one else is to blame on this--is to pay for what will amount to a third audit on the HR department. Geez, even the director of administration’s step-brother would have to admit this is getting a bit ridiculous. If the commission’s goal here is to acquire what it truly feels is an “independent” audit, there are a couple of flaws to their logic. No. 1, the company hired to do this third probe is not an auditing firm. No. 2, since this company was hired and is being directly compensated by the county commission (and practically begs for future county business in its written proposal), will its findings be publicly perceived to be any more unbiased than the two other audits? The answer to that--no matter what kind of political BS county counselor Bob Shaw is trying to sell you in our front page story--is no.

So this has turned into a whizzing match to see who can have the most ‘unbiased’ audit? Good grief, aren’t there better things on which the county commission can spend another $9,000? I mean, come on Betty and Jim and Kathy and Dana, couldn’t you build a kayak trail or a horse trail somewhere with that?

There has been a consistent theme present in the results of every probe of the county commission/director of administration-run human resources department. That theme is there is a pattern of incompetence, which can be blamed on employees in the HR office, and a pattern of a lack of oversight, which can be blamed on the county commission and director of administration Dana Babcock. Not likely the $9,000 probe will change any of that. And if information comes out of this probe in a desperate attempt to try to change that reality, the circumstances are such that the public won’t buy the results anyway.

There’s already too much evidence to the contrary.

******

And by the way, the county commission’s desire to keep that outside firm on hand for an additional 30 days to “support the county’s human resources department” is an admission that the commission has zero confidence in its current HR workers and the person to whom the HR workers report. With its actions the commisson is admitting the HR work is being done by folks who can’t do the job correctly and the HR department is being overseen by a director of administration who on her own can’t figure out what needs to be done to get the problems solved.

I've seen monkey poop fights more organized than this.

Mistakes have been made, others will be blamed. That process has already started. The county commission will try to distract public attention away from the real issue and create a sideshow. Longtime readers know that the pattern in similar situations with county commissions led by Betty Knight has been to attack the messenger. The messenger, in this case, is auditor Siobhann Williams. Look for that sideshow to hit full stride soon.

But while you’re watching the sideshow, don’t forget one thing: the HR department operational disaster falls on the shoulders of the county commission and employees who report to them. No one else.

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I ran into former Platte County High School football coach Chip Sherman Tuesday night at Cash Saver, which by the way is the official local grocery store of Between the Lines. Sherman, now coaching at Shawnee Mission East, has a 3-4 record this season as he rebuilds what has been a downtrodden program. His most recent victory was the 200th win of his legendary coaching career, a pretty amazing feat.

Sherman’s SM East team needs to win two of its final three games to qualify for the Kansas state playoffs. We’ll be keeping an eye on the scores.

******

Welcome to all those new readers who have taken advantage of this month’s Fall Fling here at The Landmark. From now till Oct. 31, new subscribers get one year of The Landmark’s weekly journalistic journeys for only $12.50. Call 816-858-2313 to place your order. Call now, operators are standing by. Call before midnight tonight and the county’s human resources department will screw up your insurance benefits and cut you a paycheck made out to your dead grandma.

(When he’s not busy auditing the auditors who audited those who audited the first audit, Ivan Foley can be reached at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


 

IN GOVERNMENT, APPEARANCES ARE IMPORTANT

Posted 10/8//09

I need to start the discussion this week by disclosing a possible conflict of interest to my loyal readers. Kurt Foley, Landmark facilities manager, is my son.

I would also like to say there are times I believe The Landmark’s human resources department may have overpaid him. I mean, the guy is still alive, still has a pulse, but I haven’t seen him in the office since August. This is obvious based on a quick glance at the floor surrounding my desk, which is just screaming for some attention from a shop vac.

Despite his lengthy absence, I’m pretty sure I’ve still seen payroll checks cut in Kurt’s name. I’m starting to think there are some flaws in our system of checks and balances around here.

A full audit--or at least a cursory review done by a relative--is forthcoming.

******

Always trying to involve employees in certain management decisions--hey, it’s a team sport--I recently asked facilities manager Kurt for input on ways to keep the workplace atmosphere as comfortable as that old pair of tennis shoes he wears while mowing grass. His suggestion was to institute a “No Shave November” policy. I ran this by our human resources attorney and she seemed to think it’s okay. . .well, within reason. So during the month of November, Landmark workers will not be required to maintain a clean-shaven appearance. No Shave November is completely optional for employees, a fact the ladies in the office were relieved to hear.

Kurt further suggests that we go back to a more clean cut look in December, you know for the holidays and such, and then go back to the rough non-cut approach for January. The no-shave policy will mean the first month of the year will be referred to as Manuary.

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Don’t forget we’re now into the second week of The Landmark’s month-long Fall Fling. During my temporary loss of sanity, new subscribers can jump on board this runaway freight train at the crazy low cost of only $12.50 for one year.

To order your subscription, simply give The Landmark a call at 816-858-2313. Call now, operators are standing by. Call before midnight tonight and a Landmark staffer will organize your kitchen pantry, light your fireplace and read you a bedtime story.

******

My thoughts are with the family of Frank McCall, respected downtown Parkville business owner, who passed away from an apparent heart attack over the weekend. He was only 49 years young.

McCall operated Frank’s Italian Restaurant in a historic and intimate setting at 100 Main St. I don’t profess to have known Frank well, just through short visits in his restaurant and occasionally over the phone. His restaurant was an outlet for Landmark papers and we visited on a few occasions when I was the one to do the paper drop at his place (as I did last Wednesday evening). In our conversations, his interests always focused on what he felt was best for Parkville in general and downtown Parkville specifically. He was a respected businessman whose influence upon organizations such as the Main Street Parkville Association and the Community Improvement District in that downtown area will be missed.

******

Last week as I was perusing all the media reports in regard to the controversy surrounding the county auditor’s attempt to probe the county’s human resources department, I started to notice a consistent theme. That consistent theme is one of inconsistency.

Nearly every media report quoted officials giving a different reason as to why the human resources department and the folks who oversee the department--that would be the county commissioners and the director of administration--couldn’t meet the auditor’s request for needed documents in a more timely manner. Now that cooperation has improved (read more on that within our front page story on the atmosphere of conflicting opinions at the administration building) there’s no need to go into greater detail about the excuses, err, reasons that officials were spewing. But throwing enough different reasons on the wall in hopes that at least one of them will stick is kind of a self-indictment.

******

The step-brother of the county director of administration is employed by the firm that serves as insurance broker for the county, and he has worked closely with the county human resources department. By all accounts, he’s a true professional, an upstanding individual and has served the county quite well. Credit to him and we salute him for doing so. The step-brother services the county account directly, and in fact recently did an on-site review of the county’s HR department. As you recall, the county auditor was recently telling the media she was having trouble getting necessary documents from the HR department to do an audit.

But employees in the HR department, as you now know, report to the director of administration in an established chain of command. Conflict or not, it’s just not an ideal situation. It opens the county up for criticism. At minimum, it has caused another bit of turmoil and distraction in the middle of what has become an HR department nightmare.

A situation like this doesn’t need to be ruled inappropriate for it to lose in the court of public opinion. It’s my belief a majority of taxpayers are going to react unfavorably, not with a wild call of “Somebody needs to go to jail,” but with a reaction of “Hmm. .I’m not comfortable with that ” or “Ewww.” You know, similar to that expression you speak when you’ve stepped in a pile of dog dung while walking in the park. . you’re not fighting mad, but you’re irritated by the circumstance.

If the county insists on continuing to do business with its current insurance brokerage firm, the least it should do--for the sake of appearances if nothing else--is ask that the firm send someone other than the director of administration’s step-brother to service the account.

That’s not too much to ask. And most taxpayers will appreciate it.

(You, or your step-brother, can conduct a cursory review of Between the Lines via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark, or get up to the minute news and commentary at twitter.com/ivanfoley)


 

AUDITOR'S DOG AND PONY SHOW WAS NEEDED

Posted 10/1//09

Every fall, The Landmark embarks on a mission of sending sample copies throughout the great territory known as the county of Platte. This fall’s special begins with this week’s issue. Several hundred boxholders in the county are getting a sample copy of this issue in their mailbox, as we set sail on a community service effort of exposing journalistic excellence to the previously deprived.

In conjunction with this sampling effort, from now through Oct. 31 anyone taking out a new subscription to The Landmark can jump on board at half price, $12.50 for one year. Sorry, this offer is so good we’re limiting it to new subscribers at this time.
To order your subscription, simply give The Landmark a call at 816-858-2313. Call now, operators are standing by. Call before midnight tonight and we’ll waive the background check, the training course, and the five-day waiting period.

******

I must agree with fellow columnist Brian Kubicki in his shout out to Chiefs’ fans to take it easy on the team’s new regime. It’s early, folks, in what is going to be a longer than normal process of rebuilding an NFL franchise. I wrote in this column space last season that when (yes, I said when, not if) Herm Edwards is fired he will never get another head coaching job in the NFL. I still believe that. It’s because Edwards--with the help of an old, tired and lazy Carl Peterson--drove the talent pool of this franchise into depths seldom seen in the league. Edwards liked to boast about cutting some of the more veteran players and replacing them with young guys. That’s fine, it’s nice to have some young players, but the problem is those young guys Edwards brought in have no talent.

Chiefs fans will be paying the price for the Edwards years for a while. Forget this season, it’s like an exhibition game each and every week. I’m not even sure one more off-season will be enough for Scott Pioli and Todd Haley to acquire sufficient player talent to be competitive next year. Things are a mess right now. But I like the attitude Haley brings and believe when the talent level improves he may have the stuff to be successful.

******

Yes, a letter to the editor last week accused The Landmark “editorial writers” of being racist. Yes, you’ll notice I allowed the letter to stand last week with no rebuttal. Yes, it was that ridiculous.

Anyway, despite the fact the letter writer offered no names, no facts, and no examples to back up his claim, I immediately jumped into action and conducted a thorough investigation into this allegation. Sixty seconds later my investigation was complete. No evidence of racism found.

Carry on.

******

So it was a crazy day at the Platte County complex on Friday. Here’s a quick summary of how things went down.

10 a.m.: County auditor Siobhann Williams holds press conference on the steps of the courthouse. Williams says she has noticed many problems with payroll, employee benefits and other issues in the county’s human resources department. She needs--and intends--to do a full body cavity search on the department. She says she’s not getting cooperation from the HR department, the county director of administration, and the county commission in getting the documents she needs to conduct her probe.

11 a.m. (Approximate): Television cameras and reporters and a couple of us print journalists trek over to the administration building to get reaction to Williams’ remarks from the county commission and the director of administration. To my surprise, all three commissioners and the director of administration are found in the building, unaware that they had just been riddled with verbal bullets by the auditor in front of the regional media. With better advance intelligence sources, these folks likely would have busted the premises or at least had a Paul Revere-type warn them the media was coming. The cameras catch them by surprise but they all perform well in explaining their view of the situation. The key to the “hey, we’re cool, our emotions are in check” performance was to let commissioner Kathy Dusenbery only speak when spoken to. She did get in a couple of high school girlish rolling of the eye moments that didn’t go unnoticed by alert TV newsman Michael Mahoney. Dusenbery was either frustrated by the auditor or frustrated by the fact none of the media in the room were saluting her for having a journalism degree.

So all the behind the scenes drama was interesting--and I won’t deny a little bit entertaining--but the real story is outlined in our front page article. The county has some issues in its HR office, particularly with the way payroll and benefits have been handled.

To say a few mistakes have been made is an understatement. Numerous errors were brought to the attention of the commissioners by the auditor way back in January of 2007. The fact it took until just a few weeks ago for some personnel moves to be made within that office is a bit unsettling. The repeated problems were definitely a pattern of a lack of efficiency as well as a lack of oversight. The apparent lack of cooperation--though there is some dispute as to how deep the level of unfriendly play actually sunk--is also a bit disturbing.

We’re all human. None of us likes to admit when we’ve personally made mistakes or admit that errors have been made “on our watch.” In the newspaper business, we can’t hide our mistakes--in this industry our goofs are printed and circulated for the world to see. Transparency is required in the world of tax-supported agencies. Cover-ups are almost always worse than the original mistake. Criticize her for “grandstanding” if you like because there was a bit of that, but the fact is with better communication and better cooperation between offices, the auditor likely would never have felt the need to hold a dog and pony show on the front steps of the historic Platte County Courthouse with the TV cameras rolling.

The big picture is this: Mistakes have been made. Let the auditor do her work and develop recommendations on how similar mistakes can be avoided in the future. The taxpayers of this county deserve nothing less.

(Ivan Foley can be reached at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com, at twitter.com/ivanfoley, or taking part in dog and pony shows at the county complex)


 

SALARIES OF TEACHERS, ADMINISTRATORS NOW AT THE CLICK OF A MOUSE

Posted 9/24/09

Wow. Sit tight, I’m about to direct you to a link to one of the most interesting web pages you’ll see. Taxpayers will want to bookmark it for frequent use.

Some recent work by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper has created a buzz in education circles around the state. It’s a piece of journalistic genius and a great public service provided to interested taxpayers who like to keep an eye on the spending of public funds. The Post-Dispatch has published a searchable database of all public school teacher salaries in the state of Missouri. The newspaper put in a request for the public information database to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).

Yes, that’s ALL public school teacher salaries in the state. But wait, it’s not just teachers. Administrators’ salaries can be found here too.

This web link was brought to my attention one day last week. I’ve spent some interesting time plugging in various searches. It’s a great resource. Want to search the salary of any public school teacher or administrator from any of the school districts in Platte County? It’s easy to do. Just plug in the last name of a teacher or administrator, select the school district in which the educator is employed, hit search, and that person’s salary appears. Click on details, and more information comes up, such as level of degree earned, number of years as a public school teacher, number of years teaching in Missouri, and number of years in the particular school district.

Remember as you’re searching this information that the salary numbers shown are from last school year, 2008-09, not the current school year, so some salaries may now be higher than what you see.

There are a couple of interesting notes on the web site, including one that says: “When comparing salaries, it is important to note that some people are being paid more because they have more hours of education. For example, someone with a master's degree plus 20 hours would be paid more than someone with the same experience who has a master's degree.”

The following note on the web page clearly defines the source of the information and directs readers where to go if they question the information: “Source: Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Any issues with the figures listed should be taken up with the employee's school district.”

Without further delay, here’s the link:

Http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/special/infozone.nsf/story/715211C4751

DB67086257618005DDD05?OpenDocument

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The educators’ salary web link provided by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has already proven to be a helpful resource in clarifying information.

You’ll recall last year it was widely reported here and in other media that the salary of then-Platte County R-3 Superintendent Dr. Mark Harpst was $165,000. Close, but not entirely accurate, according to the information in the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education database, which includes other income from the district as part of contractual arrangements. Harpst’s actual income from the district for the 2008-09 school year was $174,527, around $10,000 higher than had been reported.

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Sincere sympathy to the family of Frank “Junior” Downing, former mayor of Dearborn and former Platte County planning and zoning officer, who passed away earlier this week (see our front page story). His health had taken a turn for the worse and he had become a resident at Hillview Nursing and Rehab in Platte City after suffering a broken pelvic bone recently. He died at North Kansas City Hospital Monday.

In his role as zoning enforcement officer with the county, Junior was one of the first public officials I developed as a contact when I started as a young reporter at this fine newspaper back in 1982. I arrived as a 19-year-old kid on the job, not knowing a soul in Platte County. After an early introduction when I was working on a story about a potential zoning violation, Junior and I quickly developed a trust, and he became a source of information for me on a variety of topics. He would later tell me I earned his respect through the aggressiveness with which I approached my job. I in turn respected him as a public official who seemed as though his bottom line was to always try to do the right thing. Through that mutual respect eventually developed a friendship, and he imparted wisdom and advice upon me--sometimes knowingly, sometimes unknowingly--many times over the course of the next 27 years.

Over the years he would let me know if he thought I wasn’t being aggressive enough on certain topics, and on the other side of the coin would call, visit, or write with congratulations when he thought I had accomplished something of note. We had spoken twice on the phone since his move to Hillview, once when he called to offer condolences at the time of my mother’s death about six weeks ago, and then a couple of weeks ago when he called just to talk. He sounded a bit down that day, and I will always kick myself for not dropping what I was doing at the time and heading up there for a visit.

Early on the job I was unfamiliar with much of the geography of Platte County, but Junior solved that problem. Several times he would insist I jump in the car and go along for the ride as he performed a zoning inspection in some part of the county that at the time seemed foreign to me. I vividly remember one of those trips took us to the Weston area. While there, he took a moment to drive past the Pleasant Ridge Cemetery. “That’s where they’re going to lay me to rest someday,” he told me that day in the fall of 1982.

About 10 years ago--as memory serves it was shortly after he had come out on the winning end of a brutal fight with cancer--he walked into The Landmark office and sat down in the chair in front of my desk. After a few seconds of silence, he asked if I would be willing to serve as one of his pallbearers when the time comes. As friends do, I tried to get him to focus on happier thoughts that day. I had just come out of a bout with cancer myself, and told Junior it was very possible he may be around long after I would be gone. Of course I eventually got around to answering his question. “I’d be proud and honored to do that,” I told him.

We’ll lay Junior to rest at Pleasant Ridge Cemetery Thursday morning.

He will be missed.

(Get breaking local news and commentary from the publisher 24/7 by going to Twitter.com/ivanfoley)


OFFUTT GETTING THINGS RIGHT; THE FUNK REACHES OUT TO NORTHLAND

Posted 9/18/09

Frank Offutt’s second go-around as mayor has been a picture of success to this point. Local political junkies, can you think of any major mistake the Offutt administration has made since his election in April of 2008? I can’t.

Offutt seems more relaxed this time around, displaying a patience with those who disagree with him and a confidence to do what he feels is right even though it may lead to criticism in some circles. When he comes across a problem--such as dissent among the board in regard to a direction on economic development--he attacks it from a fair point of view with a clear plan at attempting to come to a solution.

Most importantly, Offutt has avoided falling into an air of aloofness that plagued him, especially in the final couple years, during his initial time of service as mayor from 1998 to 2002. The mayor and Keith Moody, city administrator at the time, became almost inseparable in the public’s eyes, to the point the mayor was inadvertently carrying a lot of the negative baggage being hauled around by the unpopular city administrator.

To this point, new city administrator Jason Metten has been a breath of fresh air from a public relations standpoint, as has Offutt. The public, for the most part, seems to be recognizing and appreciating the new approach.

Treating the voting public with respect and staying humble allows the village people (I mean local residents, not the musical group) to overlook some flaws. The report card at this stage shows nothing but positives: Offutt is handling things with expert care this term, including making a concerted effort to promote friendly annexation and attempting to put infrastructure at-the-ready for potential development east of I-29.

******

It will be fascinating to watch how the North Platte $6 million bond issue plays out from now through the election in November. There are facilities needs there, no question, but it’s also a tough economic atmosphere to be selling a 25% tax increase. The North Platte tax levy right now is just a hiccup shy of $4. If the issue passes, the levy will climb to just a hair shy of $5 per $100 assessed valuation.

Every voting precinct in the North Platte district, you’ll recall, sided against the county’s half cent sales tax for parks last month, an indication the natives have taken a conservative tone. The outcome up north came despite the fact the Yes for Parks campaign committee --a committee that had trouble getting its reports filed with the board of elections in a timely manner--was headed by Karlton Nash of Dearborn.

As a sidenote, Karlton Nash’s son, Tim Nash, is president of the North Platte School Board.

******

Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser has often been battered by an outfit known as the Kansas City Star. You know what that means. That means he’s one of my favorites.
I don’t always agree with the man’s politics (for instance, his recent light rail proposal was a dud for Platte County) but I respect the job he has done and the effort he is putting forth to make Kansas City better in the areas of offering “nuts and bolts” services to its residents.

I headed down to the Wexford Place retirement community just off I-29 and 64th St., Kansas City in Platte County, last Wednesday for an Evening with The Funk. Some folks in The Funk’s office over the past several months have become avid readers of The Landmark. A female staffer of the mayor called recently with this remark: “We are getting responses to letters to the editor from the mayor you have printed in your paper. People are telling us The Landmark is the paper they read for political coverage in the Northland.”

Thanks for the acknowledgment. Welcome to the big show. Yes, we take late comers.

And yes, the mayor’s appearance at Wexford Place last week drew a crowd of 51 people, one of the larger turnouts for The Funk’s series of town hall meetings. You’ll find a picture or two from the event elsewhere in this issue.

Here are just a few of my favorite moments and observations from The Funk’s hour-long give-and-take with constituents:

•Funk, former city auditor who in physical appearance is one part John Kerry and one part Abraham Lincoln, said: “I’m a data monk. As a mayor, it’s really important for me to put faces behind the data,” explaining why he likes to hold the town halls.

•On the health care “crisis” in the country today: “We can’t continue to do it the way we do it now. Fifty percent of all personal bankruptcies are the result of a medical crisis.”

•The mayor makes it clear he likes to focus on the basic services of the city. He pays close attention to citizen survey results and uses those numbers as a measure of accomplishment or concern. KC residents are most unhappy with street maintenance, he says, though the most recent survey showed improved numbers. Manhole covers that are not level with the street have caused problems and are being corrected to bring a smoother ride for motorists. “I view manholes as potential potholes with a steel bottom,” he said.

•Citizen surveys show residents “are not crazy about building new stuff, they want us to maintain what we have,” he remarked.

•In response to an audience question about crime in KC, the mayor said the city’s homicide problem is “young men of color killing each other.” He said 70 to 80% of homicides are “young black men killing young black men. It’s not just in Kansas City. It’s a national problem, you can read about it in the New York Times.” Most of the homicides, he said, are in a very small portion of the city, and the city is working toward an increased police presence in the affected area. “There are 20,000 ex-cons in Kansas City’s urban core. We have to find ways to create jobs and skills for them.”

•On transportation: “I’m a guy who says don’t build more roads. Let’s take care of what we’ve got. And how about some transit? We have all our eggs in the automobile basket.”

******

More from The Funk in a future column. Also, more on the health of the county road tax bond replacement fund, a topic on which the county commission and county auditor disagree.

(Get local breaking news and every once in a while some entertaining local commentary on Twitter at twitter.com/ivanfoley)


 

PICK YOUR PICKER; AND AUDITOR SEES A PROBLEM AHEAD

Posted 9/11/09

The countdown is on. It’s Wednesday morning. NFL football starts, kind of, tomorrow night with one game. NFL football starts in earnest on Sunday with a full slate of games.

Have I mentioned I’m ready?

******

Find our Pigskin Picks feature, in which your Landmark personalities predict the winner of NFL games, beginning in this issue and continuing through the Super Bowl. To view our Pigskin Picks, click here.

Here’s a chance for you to play along, with a shot at winning a valuable prize. To enter, all you have to do is correctly predict which Landmark prognosticator will finish with the best record at the end of the season. Send your guess to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com by noon this Sunday, Sept. 13.

All readers who correctly pick the best picker will win two years worth of Landmark subscriptions. The two years can be added on to your current subscription, or keep one year for yourself and give the other to a friend, the choice is yours. And obviously if you’re not currently a subscriber, this is a great way to jump on board at--potentially--no cost.

Entries are limited to one per person. Again, the deadline is noon this coming Sunday and entries must be sent to my email address at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com

******

There’s a new sheriff in town.

Well, not exactly, but there is a new hard-working journalist in Platte County, and he’s right here at your public watchdog publication. Dennis Sharkey joined the staff of The Landmark on Tuesday and we’re happy to have him on board. Wait, let me clarify, I’m thrilled to have him on board after going through the past five or six weeks of publication operating a person short on the news side.

Dennis is a young guy but comes to us with a treasure full of valuable experience in the areas of journalistic focus you’ve come to expect from this newspaper. He spent the past year as news editor at the Richmond Daily News, where there was never a dull moment covering some officials who didn’t have a handle on the concept of open government. Dennis can tell some stories from his Richmond experience that make our local elected folks look like Sunshine Law angels.

Sharkey is a 2006 graduate of Northwest Missouri State University with a degree in journalism. At Northwest, he was editor of the Northwest Missourian when the publication won a Silver Apple Award from Columbia University and was a finalist for the Pacemaker Award. Also in 2006, Dennis won the Missouri College Media Association Journalist of the Year.

Dennis spent a brief time at Sun Publications covering the Lenexa, Kan. area and also worked at the Leavenworth Times, where he placed second in religion writing in an awards contest through the Kansas Press Association.

******

Platte County Auditor Siobhann Williams is seeing red on the horizon. And red is never a good color in the world of finance.

Williams says a financial shortfall looms in a county road tax bond fund. A balloon payment of $1.5 million on some bonds issued for road projects within the city of Kansas City in Platte County comes due in 2013. Through the current allocation of county road tax money, the portion of the tax allocated to a fund for Kansas City projects will not have enough money to make that balloon payment. In fact, Williams says the fund will be $1.4 million short.

Williams explains it this way: “What happened was when the (3/8 cent road sales) tax was passed, the county made a deal with the cities to allocate 50 percent of proceeds to the cities. They went along distributing the money, but then in 2005 changed the formula to distribute the money and the amount to cities went down significantly. Meanwhile, the county issued bonds for projects for the full amount that they expected to be in the Kansas City portion. The county is managing all projects within Kansas City. When the formula changed, it reduced the amount allocated to Kansas City and reduced the amount that was being set aside to pay back the bonds. If they continue to allocate the same way, there is a balloon payment due in 2013 and there won’t be enough money set aside to make that payment,” Williams told me on Tuesday, after I called her to follow-up on a piece done by Landmark columnist Russ Purvis last week.

“If they (the county commissioners) do nothing, they are going to have to come up with $1.4 million from somewhere else. If they do something now, they could take money from the countywide fund. That’s the only fund that would have enough money coming in to be set aside. But obviously that would mean fewer (county road) projects,” Williams remarked.

Williams says she first mentioned the long range concern to the county commission in February of 2008 when she did long range projections on all the county sales taxes.

"When I explained to them how it happened, they had a strange look on their faces. They have not done anything to change that allocation,” the auditor says. When she first ran the projections in 2008, Williams estimated the shortfall would be around $600,000. Now with the economic downturn and lower sales tax revenue, that estimated shortfall is up to $1.4 million. “They have not said a word,” Williams said.

On Wednesday morning, I left a voice mail on the cell phone of Jim Plunkett, second district county commissioner, seeking his input and to ask if he agrees with the analysis of the situation provided by Williams. I have not heard back as of deadline. There really is no point in calling the other two commissioners on this topic, at least not yet. Plunkett is the financial guru of the trio. First district commissioner Kathy Dusenbery doesn’t seem to grasp fiscal matters and presiding commissioner Betty Knight would be more interested in taking petty pot shots at the auditor than in analyzing the numbers. Hoping to hear back from Plunkett to update the matter in an upcoming issue.

(Get local breaking news and commentary 24/7 at twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


 

PLUNKETT GETS A SECOND CHANCE, WILL HE TAKE ADVANTAGE?

Posted 9/4/09

Good grief, has it ever taken so long for the NFL season to get here? High school teams will have played three games before the big boys ever play their first real contest (those mind-numbing preseason games don’t count).

Why does it seem like the NFL gets started so late this year? It’s due to the way the calendar falls, as Labor Day itself is a calendar week later than it was last year.

Longtime readers know the drill. There are two times of year where I get my mental release through sports. Those times are the NFL season and the college basketball tournament in March. I need the NFL season to get rockin’ and rollin’ before I get so frustrated with the wait that I pull a Dusenbery.

******

With the return of the NFL season--at least I’m hoping it will eventually get here--football fans can look forward to the reappearance of a gridiron tradition in The Landmark. That would be our Pigskin Picks feature, where many of your Landmark personalities predict the winners of each and every NFL game. It’s a feature that’s been known to rock the gambling houses in Vegas as smart money moves based on information gathered from our staffers’ picks.

Former columnist CK Rairden will make a return to these pages for the Pigskin Picks. Greg Hall, whose sports media sound bite news and commentary you can read on our web site (and if you aren’t checking out Hall’s almost daily columns at plattecountylandmark.com you are missing some great entertainment) will be taking part again this year, as will Parallax Look columnist Brian Kubicki and of course your not-so-humble publisher. And this year we’re excited to bring on board rookie prognosticator Chris Stigall, your newest Landmark columnist and the king of talk radio in Kansas City on 710 KCMO.

Landmark Years Ago columnist/facilities manager/last year’s champion Kurt Foley may--or may not--be doing the picks segment this year, as he is now, uh, diligently studying his life away from the library-like peace and quiet of his college dorm room. I hope to interrupt his studying for an answer soon.

******

Political nuggets you need to know:

•Despite what you may have heard from less reliable sources, Jason Grill has not committed to seeking reelection to his District 32 State Representative position. The only thing certain is that Grill doesn’t want anyone to know what he will be doing. The other very likely possibility is that Grill himself doesn’t know what he will be doing.

•Bureaucratic Democrat Fred Sanchez--a school board member, an ambulance board member, and Democratic Central Committee member--is considering running for Platte County presiding commissioner in 2010, so say sources on the political street. This rumor is quite interesting for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is this: I was in attendance when Sanchez openly gushed about how much he loves the incumbent, alleged Republican Betty Knight, back in July during the Democratic Central Committee discussion over the county half cent pork tax. So if Sanchez truly is considering throwing his hat in the ring it is a sign that Knight is considering not running. Sanchez and Knight hang with the same group of RINOS, which could be helpful in a general election but could bite Knight in the backside when she is challenged in the Republican primary.

Knight, coming off the much-narrower-than-expected margin of victory in the park tax vote, could be coming to grips with the fact that she’s going to be in the fight of her political life in a Republican primary. Let’s face it, Knight isn’t as young as she used to be and knows she has alienated the fiscally conservative crowd in her own party, so she may be considering stepping away on her own rather than going through what has the potential to be a rough-and-tumble campaign season.

•It’s time for Jim Plunkett to take the bull by the horns at the Platte County Commission. He needs to regain a political identity. Previously a fiscal conservative until he lost his bearings in support of an $82 million tax for horse trails, bike trails, butterflies and rainbows, Plunkett needs to come to terms with the fact he was getting some political advice from folks whose motives may not have been immediately apparent to him. His stance on the park tax has cost him more supporters than it gained him. More voters in his district opposed the tax than supported it.

It’s time to get back to his conservative viewpoints and strong leadership traits. In order to do that, Plunkett will have to separate himself from the other two commissioners. It shouldn’t be hard to do. One of them already has one foot in the political graveyard while the other has one foot in Dr. Phil’s office.

It’s time, Jim. The county is going to need some stable leadership until Knight can be replaced via next year’s election. It’s no longer acceptable to simply be satisfied playing nice with two commissioners who don’t have a complete grasp of--or an appreciation for--the ever-changing political climate. Plunkett needs to distance himself from two “Republican” commissioners whose poll numbers are higher among Democrats than among Republicans.

We’re all human and we all make mistakes. Plunkett made one with his park tax stance. He has a second chance to get back to the core beliefs that vaulted him into office in the first place. The other two commissioners are traditionally followers when surrounded by strong personalities with common sense. Plunkett needs to be that strong personality with common sense.

******

A couple of important political events on tap:

•The Platte County Republican Central Committee--with a vast majority of members who are in tune with today’s political climate--will host a Constitution Day event the night of Sept. 16 at O’Dowd’s in Zona Rosa. It will run from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

•Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser will be in Platte County next Wednesday night, Sept. 9, for a town hall meeting to be held at the Wexford Place retirement community. The Funk’s event begins at 6:30 p.m. at Wexford Place, 6500 N. Cosby, Kansas City in Platte County. The public is invited, and seniors are particularly encouraged to attend.

(Conduct a town hall meeting with the publisher via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


 

GO AHEAD, GRAB A FRONT ROW SEAT FOR THIS SHOWDOWN

Posted 8/27/09

No one has asked or offered a bribe for me to do so, but I’d like to do a promotional piece right now for the company that makes my cell phone. It doesn’t look like much, but this contraption has the heart of a lion. It’s a little Samsung Model SGH A737, if that means anything to you.

I have dropped this thing three times. Today. That makes for about a total of 77 drops since the time I acquired it back in January. It has been dropped, kicked, and drop-kicked more times than that pigskin son Kurt and I toss around in the yard. It has a slick, thin, narrow build, the perfect shape for falling out of my hands when I attempt to pull it from the holster clipped to my belt. It flies apart, the cover comes off, the battery comes out, and yet I’m always able to put it together. Kinda like a miniature Humpty Dumpty. As those old TV commercials used to say, it takes a licking but keeps on ticking.

Which is good, because I don’t have a maintenance plan on this abused piece of technology. Each time it hits the floor, or the concrete, or the asphalt, or some other landing spot, I experience a temporary moment of panic, thinking this will be the time it doesn’t answer the call for revival. But it has yet to fail me. I’m starting to believe I couldn’t kill this thing if I drove a stake through its heart.

******

Anybody else getting repeated sales pitches thrown your direction from the Kansas City Chiefs? Good grief, at least once a week I get an email from the boys at Arrowhead politely begging me to get in on some kind of season ticket, or half season ticket, or five game plan, or some other creative marketing ploy.

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say season ticket sales must be slow. Each time the offer gets a little sweeter. Each time I have resisted, much to the dismay of my son-in-law, who is trying to tell me the Chiefs are going to be good this year and would like to scrounge up loose tickets from his wife’s old man.

Ain’t happenin’.

I’m still a fan and I’ll be watching the games, but not at the stadium. I envision at least one, maybe two more productive off-seasons are necessary before the Chiefs will be ready to compete. Couple this with the “under reconstruction” obstacles you’ll currently find at Arrowhead, and I’m fine watching the games on the tube this year.

Unless somebody wants to throw me an occasional freebie, of course.

******

Gotta admit I was a little nervous when I first saw the ballot language for the North Platte $6 million bond issue election. The wording was so vague this thing looked like a county park tax proposal (you know, just vote yes and trust us to spend your millions on this, then some of this, and then maybe that, or however we see fit) kind of deal.

But, my fears were calmed somewhat after a conversation with Superintendent Dr. Jeff Suma, who says the ballot language is vague because the district needed to get the verbiage to the board of elections by Tuesday. After the September school board meeting, Sumy says the district will have a specific plan for the $6 million that it will be able to share with the public.

The proposal, which among other things calls for either remodeling the current intermediate school or constructing a new one (details in our story in this issue), would raise the district’s tax levy by nearly $1. Could be an interesting campaign. Watch for more coverage.

******

Kathy Dusenbery, first district county commissioner, continues a pattern of bizarre behavior. Her latest inappropriate outburst came via Twitter over the weekend when she was trying to talk smack very publicly toward county auditor Siobhann Williams.

Williams, to her credit, took the high road and resisted a child-like remark or two aimed her direction by Dusenbery. Williams was simply doing what auditors are supposed to do--working on revenue projections for the next budget year for the county, when Dusenbery couldn’t contain herself. Dusenbery later went on, through the media, to chastise Williams for not being “a team player,” apparently because Williams issued a press release about her revenue projections without the permission of Dusenbery or Petty Knight.

Hello? The county auditor is an elected official who answers to her constituents. She doesn’t need the permission of Dusenbery or any other elected official before she puts out a press release dealing with the activities of her elected office.

Dusenbery’s attempted public slap fight with the auditor comes just a few weeks after Dusenbery started shouting toward a neighbor over the park tax proposal, a scene in which the county commissioner could be overheard yelling the word “liar.”

These incidents are happening so often a new catch phrase has been born in the county. Anytime someone loses their cool inappropriately, it is now known as “pulling a Dusenbery.”

There are three more years left on Dusenbery’s term. Is she going to emotionally make it through this?

******

Tell me you can’t see it coming. With revenue projections down, there will be a public budget battle this fall and winter between your $82 million horse-trail-loving county commissioners and Sheriff Dick Anderson. And the political life of Betty Knight, presiding commissioner whose term expires next year, could hang in the balance.

You’ll have a front row seat right here.

******

Congressman Sam Graves is in Platte County today (Wednesday) for a town hall on issues ranging from the stimulus to cap-and-trade to the disastrous health care proposal. Graves will be at Park Hill High School at 5 p.m. for his town hall session that will be emceed by Landmark columnist/KCMO Talk Radio 710 morning host Chris Stigall.

(Get local breaking news and commentary on Twitter at twitter.com/ivanfoley)


GRILL STAYING MUM; CHAMBER PROBLEM SEEMS SELF-INFLICTED

From 8/19/09 issue

All those Northwest Missouri State University Bearcat football fans in this neck of the woods--and are there that many of you or are you just so darn persistent it seems like there are thousands--want me to mention the Bearcats will open their season with a nationally televised game next Thursday night. Northwest will take on Abilene Christian at 7 p.m. that night on CBS College Sports Television (CSTV).

The Bearcats were national title runner-ups last season.

******

There continues to be a buzz in political circles about State Rep. Jason Grill’s curious change in the structure of his campaign finance committee on file with the Missouri Ethics Commission. Grill’s paperwork now indicates he will be seeking statewide office in August of 2010.

Wait a minute, the only potential statewide primary in August of 2010 would be for the office of state auditor, currently held by Democrat Susan Montee. Surely Grill can’t be serious about taking on a statewide incumbent from his own party, can he?

No, he’s not serious about that, according to sources who say Grill has assured them he will not be challenging Montee. As I reported last week, other sources are saying Grill has indicated to the closest members of his social posse that he won’t be running for reelection as District 32 State Representative in 2010.

Since he has been denied by the major players of his own party the chance to run for State Senate (the Dems prefer to have State Rep. Martin Rucker of St. Joseph be their senate candidate over Grill), it seems to leave Grill as an important-feeling professional politician without an office to fill, at least for now.

So what’s the deal? The political web site The Source had an intriguing speculative report about Grill’s future. The Source speculates that Grill will sit out the election cycle in 2010, further speculating that Grill will be tying the knot with his Wizards PR department girlfriend who likes to send me angry emails when I opine in less than flattering fashion about her man. After sitting out 2010 and perhaps settling down his well-documented social life, The Source speculates Grill may then seek a statewide office in 2012. For the entire piece by The Source, go to http://thesource.typepad.com/thesource/2009/08/farewell-jason-grill-we-hardly-knew-thee.html

The Source’s speculation may be dead on. Their scenario now seems more likely than Grill seeking the spot of Platte County Presiding Commissioner in 2010. Democrat Grill, after all, politically aligns himself with a lot of the same people as does Republican Presiding Commissioner Betty Knight, who in recent polling was more popular among Democrats than she was Republicans. Knight gets support from a lot of folks who are often politically classified as RINOS (Republicans In Name Only). Knight herself is referred to in many circles as a Republican In Name Only, and she is now more than ever reaching out to the more liberal populace after fiscal conservatives in both parties separated from her over the bloated park tax issue.

Bottom line is that due to the fact many of the folks who stand with Knight are the same folks who march in step with Grill, it seems more and more unlikely that we will see Grill challenge Knight.

Grill, by the way, has yet to return a phone call I made to him seeking comment on this very topic.

******

Word on the street is that the Platte City Chamber of Commerce’s expectations of a 10% drop in memberships this year may turn out to be accurate, but if so it won’t entirely be due to a slower-than-normal economy. Multiple business folks have told me they are letting their memberships expire because they are unhappy with what they perceive to be less-than-friendly dealings from the paid staff at the chamber. It seems some of the disgruntled business representatives have been talking among themselves and apparently made a joint decision to let their memberships expire.

The chamber’s board of directors can moan about the end, at least temporarily, of $10,000 worth of annual funding from the city. But if the directors look within, they may find there are other problems that might be more easily solved and could in fact help lead to a better organization.

Just a thought. After all, let’s not forget the paid staffers work for the board. Not the other way around.

******

Time to share a few notable quotes from my recent exclusive telephone interview with Congressman Sam Graves. We’re hoping to get some sit-down time with the congressman later this month, but in the meantime here are a couple of the more memorable remarks from the telephone chat.

On the Obama administration and the Democratic House leadership, Graves said: “They think we save money by spending trillions. Their answer to everything is to spend.”
On the proposed cap-and-trade legislation, which passed the House but has not yet been taken up by the Senate: “ It’s another tax. If I had to point to one bill as the worst piece of legislation in my time here, this is it. It could be a big disaster to this country. It’s the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard.”

Graves said there are estimates that if the cap and trade legislation passes, the effect could be a 60% increase in electric rates in this part of the country. The rate hikes “could be pretty immediate because the taxes are immediate.” He added that “countries like China and India are laughing at us over this. It will make them so much more competitive.”

One final solid quote from Graves: “Regulation, litigation and taxation are running jobs out of this country.”

******

My heartfelt thanks to the many Landmark readers who have mailed cards, called, sent emails, dropped in for a visit, and other acts of kindness since the passing of my mother last week. Your kind words and your thoughtfulness are very appreciated.

(Get breaking news and commentary from Ivan Foley on Twitter at twitter.com/ivanfoley )


 

WHAT'S COOKING ON GRILL? OTHER POLITICAL NUGGETS

From 8/12/09 issue

Take a minute to check out our new feature at the top right hand corner of this page. It’s called ‘Hey, Big Spender!’

It’s time to consistently identify public servants who get carefree with other people’s money. Please read it and feel free to become a contributing source. Hang the feature on your fridge or carry it in your wallet and pull it out every election day.

******

Word is out that Jason Grill, state representative for District 32 in southern Platte County, has changed the structure of his campaign committee on file with the Missouri Ethics Commission. The change seems to indicate that Grill will not be seeking reelection as state representative. It could be an indication that he will seek statewide office, or, more likely in my opinion, an indication he is considering a run for presiding county commissioner in 2010.

Of course, I suppose it’s still possible Grill could change his committee back to the way it was and run for state rep again. For what it’s worth, some folks allegedly close to him are insisting the one thing he will not be running for is reelection to his current office.

******

More signs that The Landmark has become a statewide attraction.

This newspaper’s web site is getting hit on more often than a Bill Clinton intern. Our site received 91,858 page views in July, a record number in a month’s time, surpassing the previous record of 87,365, which had been set in June. If you’ll allow me to boast for a minute, this is an amazing number for a weekly newspaper.

In addition to our consistent award-winning news coverage, our site is often linked by statewide political bloggers who check out the hard-hitting opinion pieces. Also, Greg Hall’s popular Off the Couch sports media sound bite column is a frequent destination point for web surfers.

Thanks for reading.

******

Is it mini-class warfare of sorts?

Well, warfare is an overstatement. But there does seem to be an interesting correlation between perceived areas of affluence and the level of support for the county’s recent half cent sales tax for parks.

Some of the precincts populated with some of the higher dollar homes in the county gave overwhelming support to the tax. For instance, Parkville precinct (home to Riss Lake, etc) liked it to the tune of 75% to 25%. The Seven Bridges precinct just south of Platte City, also a spot for some eye-catching places of residence, liked it 67% to 33%. As an area car dealer told me earlier this year, there are some folks in certain parts of Platte County who aren’t the least bit worried about or affected by something called a recession.

The Lake Waukomis area, and draw your own conclusion here, favored the tax 82% to 18%.

In contrast, look northward to some of the more rural areas of the county, which is typically where in tough times folks tighten their belts and want their government to do the same. The Platte City precinct opposed the tax by 10%, 55-45. Hoover, a precinct east of Platte City generally in the Hwy. 92 corridor, kicked the tax to the curb 72-28%.

Dearborn/New Market opposed it 56-44%. Camden Point opposed it 61-39%.

Ferrelview voted “nay” 63-37%. The Shiloh Springs precinct east of Platte City opposed it 68-32%.

Wow. A pretty clear pattern.

In general, voters in the first district (Kathy Dusenbery’s district) liked it by about a 57-43% count. Voters in the second district (Jim Plunkett’s district) weren’t as excited, and in fact a majority appear to have opposed it. My unofficial calculations done by totaling up the precincts in the second district show 1,305 votes against to 1,288 in favor of the park tax.

This is noteworthy, primarily because in the county commission meeting in which Plunkett voted in favor of putting the tax on the ballot at the half cent level, he cited polling that showed overwhelming support for the tax in his district. Obviously, the more folks learned about the pork and bloat in this $82 million boondoggle the less they liked the idea of approving the half cent amount.

Remember, county polls earlier this year showed 76% in favor. It passed with only 54% of the vote.

******

Too late? Yes.

Last week I mentioned I thought the anti-tax organization may have started its barrage a little too late. Information reported to me this week seems to back up that stance.

Multiple residents in the Seven Bridges precinct in particular have told me they received a total of three anti-park tax mailings. The problem is that two of them arrived on Election Day and one arrived the day after the election. Day of and day after arrival of mail pieces certainly hinders the intended effect of the effort.

Direct mailers may want to take note: The post office ain’t what it used to be.

*****

Chip Sherman, former highly successful football coach for the Platte County Pirates where he won multiple state titles, recently accepted the position of head football coach at Shawnee Mission East High School on the Kansas side. The program has been down for, well, almost since its inception. But don’t be surprised if Sherman starts pulling some of the magic that he has used in previous coaching stops.

An interesting sidenote to Sherman’s club at Shawnee Mission East? There are some famous names around the program. George Brett, Royals’ Hall of Famer, has two sons on Sherman’s team this year, and another Brett boy is an eighth grader. Sherman said George comes around the program fairly often.

******

As you’ll note on our front page, my mother and former Landmark publisher Ethel Mae Foley passed away early this morning (Wednesday) with many of us at her side. She had bravely fought the effects of Alzheimers disease the past few years. More on her life and her courageous battle against an awful foe in a future column.

(Speculate on political power plays with the publisher via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)

 

TALK YOUR LIBERAL FRIENDS DOWN FROM THE BRIDGE

Posted 8/7/09

I can honestly say I’ve never had this much fun covering summertime politics in Platte County. We’ve almost had to talk the liberals down from the bridge in recent days. On Saturday, county commissioner Kathy Dusenbery could be heard screaming “liar” at a neighbor who opposed the park tax. Two days after he had made phone calls to some park tax opponents threatening a “financial bloodbath” at the county if the pork tax failed, commissioner Jim Plunkett went into meltdown mode in open session on Thursday when he criticized tax opposition for being “out of county,” totally ignoring the fact the Yes for Parks group received almost exclusive financial backing from out-of-county firms. Meanwhile, commissioner Betty Knight still apparently wants to claim the county auditor is lying when the auditor presents numbers showing the county spends more on parks than it does on the sheriff’s department.

And finally, even the county’s irrelevant media puppet, trying desperately to weigh in with meaningful thought on any topic that doesn’t involve a jock strap, attempted to provide some liberal insight. Embarrassment ensued. See James Thomas’ column on page A-3 for more. The best part is all this entertainment comes at no cost to the taxpayers.

******

It’s time to congratulate the Yes for Parks group in passing the half cent park tax by a roughly 54% to 46% margin. Their battle for horse trails, kayak trails and cultural heritage sites has been won and now you can’t take their $82 million away from them. Therein lies the problem, as you’ll see over the course of the next 10 years.

Of course, there’s plenty of room for optimism among the more fiscally sane among us. The county shoved this question onto a special election ballot at a cost of $60,000 for one reason--they didn’t want a high turnout of anti-tax voters. And hey, when you’re spending $82 million of taxpayer cash, $60,000 is a mere drop in the bucket, right?
They got their wish. The summertime pork special election garnered just 8.1% voter turnout. Sure, lots of money was spent by Citizens Against Forever Tax. One of the problems with their effort, in my humble opinion, is they were late with their barrage. Some strategists will disagree, but I’m not a big believer in waiting until just a few days before the vote to start pounding the message. It takes a while to get Average Joe fully engaged on an issue. Making a push four days before an election, especially a summertime special vote, just isn’t enough time for folks to absorb the information.

Clearly, the more that people learned about this financial monstrosity the less they liked it. Remember, the county commission said this thing had 76% support in their polling, which they insisted was a statistically valid number. By election day, obviously that statistically valid number had shrunk to 54%.

And let’s not naively allow the Yes for Parks organization to be painted as victims as some kind of out-of-county “sneak attack.” The Yes for Parks group ended up spending about $10,000 on the election, nearly all of that coming from donors with out-of-county addresses. Many pro-tax donors, in fact, were firms who have made hundreds of thousands of dollars off the taxpayers in the past and now are positioned to make hundreds of thousands more. Do you think that may have influenced their inclination to donate?

******

One of the biggest winners in the passage of the pork tax will turn out to be Sheriff Dick Anderson. Can you imagine the political capital the sheriff has gained out of this? Think about it. Two commissioners who have been critical about the sheriff’s spending requests in recent years--that would be Betty Knight and Jim Plunkett--just spent weeks on the record promoting spending anywhere from $82 to $91 million on things like horse trails, kayak trails, and ice rinks. Can you imagine the public outcry the sheriff could generate if Knight and Plunkett again come back wanting to take a knife to his public safety budget?
If the sheriff wants some extras--oh, you know those minor things that might actually protect the citizenry--there is no better time than the present to start budgeting for them. Knight and Plunkett would look politically foolish to oppose him.

This is what some folks don’t realize when they vote yes on bloated tax proposals. The result is that increased government spending in one area leads to increased government spending in another. Government spending begets government spending. Smile, we’re all going to be paying for Tuesday’s result in a variety of ways for years to come.

******

The relatively tight result can’t be good news for one commissioner in particular. Presiding commissioner Betty Knight has an election to run in 2010. In her last campaign in 2006, Republican hierarchy called off the dogs when there was talk that Knight would face a challenge from within her own party. My guess is Betty probably should not expect the dogs to be called off in 2010.

Parks have been one of the hooks on which she likes to hang her political hat. The $82 million spending spree didn’t exactly win a crushing mandate. Knight’s fast with the cash approach has burned some bridges with fiscal conservatives in the party. Her penchant to carry political grudges against folks who have expressed an opinion opposite of hers has earned her the nickname of Petty Betty in many circles.

On top of it all, all three Republican county commissioners appear to be polling higher among Democrats than among Republicans. Could spell bad news if Knight does in fact draw an opponent in the Republican primary a year from now.

(Kayak with the publisher via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


 

TEN REASONS WHY THIS PARK TAX PROPOSAL IS A BAD PLAN

Posted 8/3/09

Election Day to decide the fate of a proposed $82 million tax for parks is Tuesday, Aug. 4. It’s time for some last minute analysis, bullet point style, to discuss why this is a bad proposal.

From the start this debate has been over proposing a tax for luxuries in a down economy. It’s been about principles, not about people. As is most often the case in any political debate, some good people reside on both sides of the issue. At issue is a disagreement over public policy and how spending priorities should be crafted. There’s really no need for either side to try to make it a personal issue. The issue isn’t over who likes parks and who doesn’t. Parks are as American as apple pie. Also just as American as parks and apple pie is the opportunity to have healthy debate over political issues. And for the adult-minded, that’s what this is.

Some folks enjoy having the general public pay for their personal recreation opportunities. Others take what can be viewed as a bigger picture approach, and understand that a lower sales tax rate would actually be good for the economic engine of the county (less would equal more in that it would stop many folks from driving to neighboring counties to make larger ticket purchases).

The county built a successful park program. The community centers have been a hit. But this is about what is necessary to maintain and fine tune the park system. An additional $82 million over the next 10 years would bloat the park system to the level of being out of proportion compared to the basic needs of government at a time when many Platte County families and small businesses are feeling the pinch from a tight economy (think about the high unemployment rate in general, and the recent elimination of more than 400 jobs at the Platte County Harley Davidson plant specifically).

Now is the time to prioritize government spending. It’s not about adding on in the department of luxuries.

Reasons this tax proposal is a bad idea:

*The plan contains way too much pork. Have you thought about some of the things the county intends to do with $82 million? Some of the items in their plan include: horse trails, mountain bike trails, canoe trails, kayak trails, and ice rinks.

That would be funny if it weren’t true. It’s all in the goals and objectives of their master plan for the $82 million. View it for yourself on the county's web site:


*Platte County already has the highest sales tax rate (7.975%) in the Kansas City metro area and one of the highest in the state. You may have to go to St. Louis to find a higher sales tax rate.

*According to figures compiled by Platte County Auditor Siobhann Williams, the county already spends more local tax revenue on parks than on the sheriff’s department. The county’s annual parks budget is $7.7 million in 2009. According to the county auditor, the county spends $6.3 million on sheriff’s department expenses. This is ridiculous and tells you two things. 1. The half cent sales tax for parks is too high. 2. Spending priorities are whacked.

*Both political parties say vote no. In a rare instance of agreement, the proposal has been rejected by both political parties in the county. Both the Platte County Republican Central Committee and the Platte County Democratic Central Committee believe the requested tax rate is too high and not enough study into lower financing options was done.

*The county taxes more (half cent sales tax) for parks than it does for roads (3/8th cent) for roads.

*It took only $60 million to build a successful park program. Why should it take $82 million to fine tune and maintain it?

*The community center buildings are paid off next year. This frees up more than $4 million annually (read that again, that’s per year, OR OVER HALF THE CURRENT ANNUAL PARK SPENDING) that can be spent on other park department needs.

*If you’re in Platte City, do you realize a full 1% of sales tax on every purchase already goes to parks? A half cent already goes to the county, and a half cent to the city. This is a disproportionate amount of money going to fun stuff during a challenging economy.

*Proponents of the tax have taken on a mantra of saying the tax is being opposed by an “out of county” organization. What they fail to mention is that nearly every listed contributor to the Yes for Parks organization lists an out-of-county address (see column pasted directly below this one). In addition, many of the pro tax financial contributors are businesses who have made significant dollars off the county, including from the county’s parks department.

*A defeat at the polls on Tuesday would allow the county commission to come back with a more fiscally responsible park tax proposal a year from now. The current tax doesn’t expire until the end of 2010. There would be no reason to panic, no need for a financial blood bath at the county. A more responsible plan at an eighth cent or quarter cent would likely face little opposition a year from now.

Even first district commissioner Kathy Dusenbery at one time appeared to have her own doubts about whether a half cent park sales tax would be needed this time around. In a news story following the July 3, 2008 meeting of the Platte County Pachyderm Club at which she spoke as a candidate for commissioner, The Landmark reported Dusenbery's comments on the topic of parks: '“I commend the commission for what they have done for parks already,” said Dusenbery. Dusenbery said she would support putting the tax before voters again, but perhaps less than the half cent level.'

Vote no and tell the commissioners to come back with a more fiscally-responsible plan.

(Contact the publisher at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


 

PRO-PARK TAX GROUP FACING ETHICS ALLEGATIONS; COMMISSION GETTING SCARY

Posted 7/31/09

The Yes for Parks organization, a group promoting the $82 million half cent sales tax for parks on the ballot Tuesday in Platte County, will have at least two alleged campaign ethics violations lodged its direction by election officials soon.

That’s the word confirmed Friday by Wendy Flanigan of the Platte County Board of Elections. Flanigan said Yes for Parks has been deemed late with its quarterly campaign list of finances and also with what is known as the 8-day in advance of election report. Flanigan said both reports are deemed as late by election authorities because postmarks on the envelopes in which the reports eventually arrived could not be verified.

Platte County election authorities will make a report to the Missouri Ethics Commission on the apparent violations after the election. What happens from there will be up to the MEC, Flanigan said.

******

Oddly, Yes for Parks has yet to list any expenditures on its reports, in spite of the fact many yard signs have popped up in the county and the group has sent out at least one glossy direct mail piece. Flanigan explained that if an expense has been incurred, not necessarily paid, it needs to have been reported. She said “incurred” would mean the organization has been invoiced for an expense. A Twitter account by the Yes for Parks group announced signs were available as of July 17. Many signs appeared in yards the weekend of July 18-19, several days ahead of when the 8-day out report was filed.

******

Yes for Parks campaign treasurer is Karlton Nash, husband of Platte County tax collector Donna Nash. A call from The Landmark to Karlton Nash for comment has not yet been returned.

Deputy treasurer for Yes for Parks is Scott McRuer, an accountant from southern Platte County.

******

As reported in this week’s print edition, Yes for Parks listed only $1750 in its account on Tuesday. Of that amount, $1,450 had come from engineering firms who have done business with the county.

On Wednesday, Yes for Parks had to report it was receiving additional donations, listing an additional $6,500 that had come in. Those donations came from Oppenheimer & Company of New York who donated $1,000; Hunt Midwest $1,000; White, Goss, Bowers, etc. law firm $1,000; Lutjen $500; North Star $1,000; Zona Rosa Development $1,000; and Patti Banks Associates $1,000.

Patti Banks Associates has made more than $250,000 from services provided to the county parks department since 2002, according to county records.

A $500 donation came into Yes for Parks on Thursday from Citizens Bank and Trust of Chillicothe, Mo.

Of the listed contributors to Yes for Parks, only one has a Platte County address. Only $500 of their more than $8,700 in donations can be verified to have come from within the county.

This is of particular note, since county commissioner Jim Plunkett, while working on the taxpayers’ dime in open session, went into mini meltdown mode against the opponents of the tax at the county commission’s weekly infomercial Thursday afternoon. Plunkett said a “Buchanan County” group now was working to oppose the $82 million bloated behemoth. Plunkett, in open session while drawing a paycheck from the taxpayers, also railed against a person he referred to as a “Clay County political consultant” for working against the tax.

Plunkett failed to mention that the pro tax effort was receiving almost exclusive financial support from out of county firms.

******

Plunkett also has been busy in recent days making tersely-worded phone calls to some folks who oppose the tax, telling at least one person he would lead a financial “blood bath” at the county if the tax fails.

That kind of talk from Plunkett--the same elected official who had earlier declared all he wanted to do is give voters a choice on the park tax issue--is outlandish and irresponsible. After all, the ballot question facing voters is "Do you want to spend $82 million on parks, horse trails, canoe trails, interactive playgrounds, cultural heritage sites and ice rinks?"

There is no other question from the county on the ballot. For instance, there is no question about whether you would prefer to see an enraged Jim Plunkett engage in a financial blood bath at the county administation building. If Plunkett wanted that question on the ballot he could have put that in the form of a motion at a county commission infomercial session back in May. Too late now, no matter how irritated and enraged he is, and he seems to be bordering on the at-risk-of-bursting-a-blood-vessel kind of irritated.

Plunkett and the two other commissioners don’t like to acknowledge the fact they could bring back a lower sales tax rate to put before voters in a year’s time if the current pork-filled proposal fails. The current tax doesn’t expire until the end of 2010. If they wanted to act as responsible stewards, the county commissioners could bring back a more reasonable tax proposal in August of 2010, prior to the current tax expiring.

But the commissioners would rather use political rhetoric and scare tactics to try to force the current excessive tax-and-spend proposal, which features things like horse trails, mountain bike trails, canoe trails, kayak trails, and ice rinks, down the throat of voters.

No matter how this particular battle turns out, voters need to be making mental notes of this ridiculousness for use in future elections.

 


 

PROPOSED PARK SLUSH:
CANOE TRAILS, ICE RINKS;
KNIGHT'S STUNT BACKFIRES

Posted 7/30/09

Check the Between the Lines page at plattecountylandmark.com often between now and next Tuesday’s park tax election for updated columns and information. Among other things, I’ll have a bullet points listing as to why this bloated pork tax is a bad idea. Other potential topics for Between the Lines updates include an exclusive conversation I had this week with Congressman Sam Graves, and some more commentary on the city of Platte City/chamber of commerce apparent separation.

To be notified of web updates and to get breaking local news sent to your cell phone or computer, follow The Landmark on Twitter at twitter.com/ivanfoley

******

If you’re as of yet undecided of your stance on Platte County’s proposed half cent sales tax for parks--which would generate $82 million for parks over the next 10 years--spend just a moment of time between now and election day doing some reading. Surf to the county’s web page and read their park master plan. In the goals and objectives section, you’ll see part of the reason they’re asking for the obscene amount of $82 million. The county wants to “fine tune” and “maintain” the county’s park system by adding, among other things, the following list of luxuries: Horse trails. Canoe trails. Kayak trails. Cultural heritage sites. Ice rinks.

It’s no joke. All those things are referenced as goals in their plan.

At a time when major local employers such as the Harley Davidson plant at KCI are laying off workers by the hundreds, the county wants $82 million on an extravagant proposal for fun and games. Asking a half cent sales tax during an economic crisis for this kind of misplaced fiscal prioritization is ludicrous.

Ever wonder why things are so out of control in Washington, D.C.? It’s because fiscally sane folks haven’t been vocal enough. The battle needs to start close to home by defeating runaway, unnecessary government spending like $82 million dollars on canoe trails, horse trails and ice rinks. Vote no and tell the county to come back with a more fiscally reasonable proposal, like a quarter cent sales tax.

******

She was so sure of herself. She was certain she had me in a “gotcha” moment. So much so that instead of a private conversation, she tried a grandstanding stunt.

The “she” I’m referring to is Betty Knight, presiding commissioner, when she tried a “look at me” move at the end of last week’s county commission infomercial. First, Knight went into a spiel at the end of the session to try to dispute reports in this column that the county spends more money on parks than it does general tax revenue on law enforcement. I approached her after the session to see the basis for her dispute. After all, the information printed here had come directly from the county auditor’s office, and if the media can’t trust the county auditor, who can be trusted for accurate financial numbers for the county?

By the time she was done with a mini temper tantrum, Knight, using her alleged home economics degree, had inflated county general tax revenue expenses for the sheriff’s department to $8.3 million. But when auditor Siobhann Williams agreed with Knight and I that a more detailed analysis needed to be done on what some folks might call “hidden” line items, a final report came back this way: Total identifiable costs of law enforcement paid by general revenue: $6,324,954.

Hey, you know what this year’s county parks budget is? The figure straight from park director is $7.7 million. Betty can grandstand all she wants, but $7.7 is more than $6.3 million.

Williams went into further detail to get to a bottom line figure on total sales tax dollars used for parks in the current budget. She came up with $6,430,711. You know what? Betty can grandstand all she wants, but $6,430,711 for parks is still more than $6,324,954 for law enforcement.

Bottom line is even if you break the argument down as small as the auditor says she can realistically get it, the parks department still spends more tax dollars this year than the sheriff. That comparison tells two things: The half cent tax for parks is too high, and the county’s priorities are whacked.

*****

It’s time for voters to develop a long memory. Catalog which current officeholders--and potential future candidates for any public office at any level of government--have gone on record in support of this bloated behemoth that is an $82 million luxuries tax. Remember it when those folks place their names on the ballot for elected office. The Landmark will be here to help jog your memory.

*****

In a year when the county powers-that-be have said no raises were given, it is known that at least one parks department employee received a 5% raise. The salary of Rhonda Smith, a clerical worker for the parks department, climbed from $27,978 in ‘08 to $29,376 in ‘09. A change in job description is cited as the reason for the raise, but reports indicate a fellow parks department worker also had her job description changed this year and did not receive a raise. It’s just interesting.

******

Wanna have some fun? Head out to the monthly meeting of the Platte County Pachyderm Club next week. The club will hold a gathering Thursday, Aug. 6 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at O’Dowd’s in Zona Rosa. The good folks at the Pachyderms, in an apparent moment of weakness, have asked me to be the speaker for the evening. We’ll talk about politics, the media, then I’ll do a chain saw art demonstration and finally I’ll have Buddy The Landmark News Dog jump through a ring of fire.

Come have a good time and network with some folks. You don’t have to be a Republican to attend, which means all three Platte County commissioners are welcome.
As a special incentive, or maybe as a thank you for enduring the speaker, I will be giving away one-year Landmark subscriptions to everybody--that’s right, everybody--who is in attendance. At the meting, just list your name and mailing information on a provided sheet and we’ll do the rest. Consider it Christmas in August.

And remember the more you imbibe, the better the speech will be.

******

Finally, some dissatisfaction with Platte City Chamber of Commerce personnel is becoming public. Private buzz about an overall unfriendly atmosphere that exudes from the Chamber office has been on the streets for years, quite frankly. At Tuesday night’s meeting of the aldermen, some of those complaints were acknowledged in a public setting by aldermen.

The city is right in wanting to step away from its $10,000 annual “contract for services” (and I use the phrase loosely) with the chamber. Nearly every town the size of Platte City has a chamber. Very few towns the size of Platte City--including no others in this immediate area-- provide a contract for services (taxpayer assistance) to help fund it.


 

SPECIAL UPDATE:

FISCAL PRIORITIES, EPISODE III: Knight is the one with bad 'facts' on parks vs. law enforcement spending

Posted 7/28/09 5:30 p.m.

She was so sure of herself. She was sure she had me in a “gotcha” moment. So much so that instead of a private conversation, she tried a grandstanding stunt.

The “she” I’m referring to is Betty Knight, presiding commissioner, when she tried a grandstanding maneuver at the end of last week’s county commission “look at how great we are” infomercial. First, Knight went into a spiel at the end of the session to try to dispute reports in this column that the county spends more money on parks than it does general tax revenue on law enforcement. I approached her after the session to see the basis for her dispute. After all, my information had come directly from the county auditor’s office, and if the media can’t trust the county auditor, who can the public trust for accurate financial numbers?

When she was done with a mini temper tantrum/grandstanding stunt at the end of Thursday's county commission session, Presiding Commissioner Betty Knight had inflated county general tax revenue expenses for the sheriff’s department up to $8.3 million.

But when the county auditor Siobhann Williams agreed with Knight and I that a more detailed analysis needed done on what some folks might call “hidden” line items, the final report came back this week in the form of an email from the auditor that both Knight and I have in our possession: Total identifiable costs of law enforcement paid by general tax revenue: $6,324,954.

Hey, you know what this year’s county parks budget is? The figure straight from park director Brian Nowotny is $7.7 million. Pretty sure $7.7 is more than $6.3 million.

Williams went into further detail to get to a bottom line figure on total sales tax dollars used for parks in the current budget. She came up with $6,430,711. You know what? $6,430,711 for parks is still more than $6,324,954 for law enforcement.

So even if you want to break the argument down as small as the auditor says she can realistically get it, the parks department still spends more tax dollars this year than the sheriff.

More on the continued debate over the park tax proposal in this week's print edition of The Landmark.

 


 

FISCAL PRIORITIES, EPISODE II: Knight disputes auditor's digits

Posted 7/24/09

Several readers report being thirsty for an update on this topic, so here goes. Landmark news dog Buddy, fun-loving 18 lb. Westie, reports thoroughly enjoying his recent week-long stay at the Main Street Pet Resort in historic downtown Platte City. His staycation got off to just a bit of a rough start when a fellow resort attendee named Jack Russell tried to make Buddy the victim of a reach-around.

Buddy quickly informed Mr. Jack Russell in no uncertain terms that he simply does not like other guys in that way. Simply put, Buddy is nobody’s love slave.

The Bud Man then took up a friendship with a Yorkshire Terrier and a Golden Retriever. From that point on his trip was a retreat of above-board fun and games.

I’m still expecting a column from Buddy, complete with his mug shot sporting a pet resort-supplied bandanna, real soon.

******

As is nearly always the case, I trekked over to the Platte County Administration Building Thursday for the weekly self-promotional session of the county commission. In her comments at the end of this week’s infomercial, Betty Knight took exception to public reports (uh, that would be in The Landmark, as this is the only media outlet that has reported in-depth on the bloated behemoth that is the park tax proposal) that the county budgets more general tax revenue on parks than for the sheriff’s department. After the session was adjourned, I approached Knight to get further comment from her.

Information obtained by The Landmark upon request from the official numbers person for the county--that would be the county auditor--indicates the county budgets $5.4 million in annual general tax revenue for the sheriff’s department. This information has been in the public domain for at least six weeks. I asked the presiding commissioner why, if she disagreed with the number that had been furnished to this newspaper, had she not drawn the alleged discrepancy to my attention earlier? After all, as the only county editor who typically attends county commission sessions each week, it’s not like she never sees me. Knight explained her wait by saying she thought the auditor would “correct” the info.

Had we known Knight feels there is a discrepancy, we wouldn’t hesitate to point that out to readers, as we are doing right now. After all, a spat between officeholders is often entertaining reading.

As another aside, Knight said she didn’t really want to draw attention to the topic because she didn’t want to get into a “spitting match” with the sheriff over his budget. I found this point entertaining, because it was only a couple of years ago that Knight and second district commissioner Jim Plunkett both went public in criticizing some of the sheriff’s budget requests. I do find it interesting, on the other hand, that I have never heard Knight--or Plunkett--criticize the parks department's $7.7 million budget in any fashion. Misplaced priorities?

Our request for the amount of general tax revenue budgeted for the sheriff’s department was answered by the auditor to be $5.4 million. Knight says that changes in the way the county budget document is drawn up--changes that she says were put in place by county auditor Siobhann Williams--make some line item expenses less transparent. When contacted for comment, Williams admitted Knight “has some good points,” but disputes the claim that a change in the placement of costs for each department’s personnel costs was her idea.

“The county commission wanted those paid out of a personnel budget. It used to be budgeted into each department. Shortly after I took office, Betty requested salaries all be moved to the human resources department. I remember it specifically. I think I had only been here two weeks,” Williams said Friday afternoon.

Williams said she would work on getting a total of sheriff’s department general tax expenditures from 2008 to this newspaper on Monday to use for comparative purposes.
Under the current budget protocol, there is not a particular “bottom line” number visible for each department’s budget. Knight says the $5.4 million figure submitted to us by the auditor represents that portion of the law enforcement budget “controlled by the sheriff.” Knight then went on to verbally list items such as fringe benefits, vehicles, some law enforcement center expenses, a transfer to help pay for 911 costs etc. as coming from the general fund. Knight claims that the $5.4 would actually rise to about $8.3 million if other transfers from general fund are included.

“When I gave you that figure, I was looking only at the (page listing the sheriff’s) department’s total,” Williams told The Landmark Friday.

So, for the sake of being fair, let’s give any benefit of the doubt to Knight (and by the way, if I wanted to be a jerk I could have simply avoided the topic by telling Knight “This is a dispute between you and the auditor, I’m out.” But as is my humble custom and out of the respect I have for the office that Knight holds, I opted for the gentlemanly approach and Betty and I as calmly as possible went over the numbers she wanted to discuss. All the while Kathy Dusenbery, first district commissioner, jumped from one side of Betty to the other and offered, imagine this, occasional mind-boggling commentary. Kathy jumped in on this discussion between Knight and myself like it was a posted commission meeting--it wasn’t. And I’m certain out of the corner of my eye I saw a person who appeared to be a female parks department employee snapping a photo or two of me. I’m not sure what that was all about but I will be glad to autograph those for her later.)

Sorry for the long interlude there in parentheses, now back to this special episode of Priorities Gone Wild. For the sake of being fair, let’s allow Betty’s number of $8.3 million going to the sheriff’s department. The county parks budget is $7.7 million. Betty is right in saying $8.3 million is more than $7.7 million. But more to the bottom line of doing such a comparison in the first place: Assuming Knight’s numbers are accurate, is it an appropriate scenario for a county the size of Platte to be budgeting only $600,000 more on law enforcement than it budgets for parks? A lot of folks will say no to that question.

So did the discussion really solve anything in the grand scheme? The grand scheme, you’ll recall, is that budget priorities are out of whack.

For fun, let’s plan to research a comparison on other counties’ expenditures for parks compared to their expenditures for law enforcement. Something tells me it won’t show Platte’s priorities in a favorable light.

There you have it. Betty’s stance on the numbers is now public, reported first right here. Despite a claim by Dusenbery--a stance refuted by the more level-headed Knight--that the media should be coming to the county commission for budgeted expense numbers, the correct source to approach for such info is the auditor. The budget document is officially prepared by the auditor.

******

Anybody who has been around the block realizes that in any “discussion” numbers can be viewed from a variety of angles. For instance, this newspaper asked parks director Brian Nowotny for the parks department’s annual maintenance costs. He provided us a written line item budget figure of $450,000. But if you ask commissioner Jim Plunkett for the parks department’s annual maintenance costs, he’ll give you a higher number by including items that a lot of folks wouldn’t consider to be “maintenance” but rather “overhead.”

Such is the game of numbers. Enjoy.

Or not.

******

And really, we can hammer out all the details department vs. department in the coming days. What it comes down to is this: What is an appropriate park tax rate for the next 10 years? Keeping it at the current half cent will net $82 million according to a projection by the auditor, $76 million according to a projection by the parks department.

On top of the $60 million that will have been devoted to parks in the first 10 years of the tax, you’re up to $136 to $142 million over 20 years. For parks and other luxuries such as horse trails. Canoe trails. Kayak trails. Mountain bike paths. Cultural heritage sites. Ice rinks.

Yes, all those things are listed in the goals and strategies of the park plan. These are some of the reasons the county wants $82 million from you this time around.

This isn’t about whether you like parks. If you don't like this proposal, it's not that you dislike parks, apple pie, and puppies. Frankly, I like all those things.

Nobody hates parks. It’s about priorities and being fiscally responsible with public money. It’s about finding a reasonable level of taxation.

Vote no and tell your commissioners to come back with a more fiscally sane sales tax rate.

******

More coming next week, including Platte City Chamber chatter, perhaps a look at helping an official grasp that the county park tax collections are actually up this year by almost 2% while general sales tax is down, and exclusive talk time with Congressman Sam Graves.

Enjoy the Platte County Fair. . . or your other weekend plans!

(Email the publisher at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


 

FISCAL PRIORITIES ARE OUT OF ORDER AT COUNTY

Posted 7/24/09

Well, I thought this would be the week to debut a column written by Landmark news dog, Buddy, an 18 lb. Westie. But Buddy got a little confused with his first submission. He sent me a scathing editorial ripping the county commission for its proposal of a bark tax. While he is dead on in opposition to such a tax, I had to explain to him the proposal is for a park tax, not a bark tax. The county has not yet figured out a way to tax barks. Maybe next week.

*******

Before we get into a review of the fiscal ridiculousness of the county’s half cent proposal for parks, it’s time to start looking to the future for a field of more fiscally-conservative candidates. Sitting in on a meeting of the Platte County Republican Central Committee last week, I may have scouted a potential candidate. Her name is Abby Olson, a relative newcomer to Platte County. She is a former professional speaker who now works in real estate. Her performance at the central committee meeting was outstanding. She was the first committee member to speak up against the bloated behemoth that is the $82 million park tax proposal.

“I am leaning towards ‘Let’s oppose it.’ How can we point at Washington, D.C. and let this one go by? By saying nothing we would be surreptitiously supporting it. I’m sure our county commissioners are wonderful 99% of the time, but I think they missed it this time. I wouldn’t say anything but it’s a whole lot of money. Unless we say no, I think there are going to be more and more Republicans out there saying ‘Where is our party?” Olson said.

Bingo. Olson was well-spoken, made perfect sense, and carried herself in a distinguished manner. A future candidate? She appears to have the stuff.

******

Another potential candidate? Platte County Democratic Central Committee chairman Russ Purvis. Purvis grew up in northern Platte County and is now an attorney with an office in Parkville. If you read Purvis’ weekly column in this newspaper, you know the man believes in being conservative with tax dollars, as he often blasts his own party for out-of-control spending at the national level. Purvis did a masterful job running the Dems’ meeting the other night, by the way, and in fact carried a proxy vote for one member but did not cast it. Around four proxy votes were cast by other committee members on behalf of fellow members who were absent. Some of the proxies were in favor of the resolution to oppose, others were against the resolution.

“I may have to run for presiding commissioner just to bring some fiscal conservatism to the office,” Purvis told me last week just after the Dems’ committee meeting, a salvo obviously aimed Betty Knight’s direction. The name of Jason Grill, another Dem, is now being touted in some circles as a potential candidate for presiding commissioner in 2010. Grill is currently state rep for southern Platte County.

******

Ponder this thought for the week: If it took $60 million to build the current park program from scratch in 10 years, why should it take $82 million to maintain and fine tune that park system over the next 10 years?

The answer, of course, is that it shouldn’t take $82 million. Your county commissioners are asking voters to approve plenty of pork for unnecessary items like horse trails, mountain bike trails, and something called interactive playgrounds. A quarter cent tax proposal that would bring in $41 million would be more than sufficient.

More on that "wish list" of toys being proposed by the county in a future column. It will make you laugh. Or cry.

******

Earlier this year, the buzz at the county administration building dealt with matters of higher priority than horse trails and playgrounds. The buzz was about the fact the county has been on the wrong side of courtroom decisions in some recent planning and zoning lawsuits. The buzz was that the county would be looking to upgrade its team in the legal counsel department, as additional planning and zoning related lawsuits have already been filed and are yet to be heard, including a suit involving the highly controversial Tomahawke high density proposal east of Platte City. I can confirm, in fact, that county commissioners had discussions with at least one legal firm about coming on board to replace the county’s current legal counselor. The county’s movement in this direction slowed down--no, it came to a screeching halt--when the price tag for doing so struck at least two county commissioners as being too high.

So the message being sent by county commissioners is that the county cannot afford the legal counsel it apparently needs to have a better shot at winning lawsuits vitally important to protecting and defending its planning and zoning ordinances, but the county can afford to spend $82 million on walking paths, horse trails and playgrounds (and a longer wish list we'll talk about in a future column. It will make you laugh. Or cry).

Just another example of the county commission having its spending priorities out of whack. This would be funny if it weren’t sad.

******

Facts--all verifiable publicly, many through information on file in the county auditor’s office--that voters should consider when they step into the booth to decide on an $82 million sales tax for parks and luxuries on Aug. 4.

•Platte County already has the highest sales tax rate (7.975%) in the KC metro area and one of the highest in the state. You may have to go to St. Louis to find a higher rate.

•If you’re in Platte City, do you realize a full 1% of sales tax on every purchase already goes to parks? Half cent to the county, half cent to Platte City. That’s a disproportionate amount going to fun stuff.

•The county spends more local tax money on parks than on law enforcement. The parks department annual budget is $7.7 million. According to information supplied to this newspaper by the county auditor, the county spends only $5.4 million annually in local general tax revenue on law enforcement. Parks over cops. This is ridiculous.

•The county taxes you more for parks each year than it does roads and bridges. Parks over roads. Ridiculous.

•It took only $60 million to build a successful park program. Why should it take $82 million to fine tune and maintain it?

•County parks director Brian Nowotny’s annual salary is $77,635. He even makes more than the highly paid county commissioners: Betty Knight at $65,755, Jim Plunkett at $63,755 and Kathy Dusenbery $63,755.

•The successful community centers are paid off next year. This frees up more than $4 million annually in park tax revenue that can now be spent on other park needs.

•For more on this topic and others, you’ll want to check out a special Between the Lines column I will be posting later this week.

(Parks are nice but should never be placed above cops or roads. Ask the publisher why via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


SUPPORTING A TAX ISSUE IN THIS ECONOMIC CLIMATE IS A RECIPE FOR DISASTER

Posted 7/17/09

Official Landmark news dog Buddy, an 18-lb. Westie, is on staycation this week at the Main Street Pet Resort in downtown Platte City. I imagine he is sitting poolside at this moment, perhaps taking a gander at the female Westies strolling by in their summer’s best.

I’m anticipating a column penned by Buddy upon his return.

******

Kathy Dusenbery, first district Platte County commissioner, failed to respond to a debate challenge from a concerned taxpayer over the proposed parks and luxuries tax. The challenge had been issued by Gordon Cook, an accountant and business consultant from Parkville.

Shocking. Absolutely shocking.

******

Landmark news dog Buddy, 18 lb. Westie, has announced he will challenge Dusenbery to a park tax debate. This could get ruff.

Vegas oddsmakers are listing Buddy as a 2-1 favorite.

******

The Platte County Republican Central Committee sent a message to county voters Monday night. That message is this half cent park tax proposal put forth by three, get this, Republican county commissioners is a bad idea. The overwhelming consensus (11-3) is that the proposal simply asks for too much money from taxpayers.

And don’t look now but the trend of non-support of this pork-laden proposal has a chance of continuing. A few weeks ago I was told by a member of the Platte County Democrat Central Committee that the over-the-top park tax idea would be cussed and discussed at the next Dems’ meeting, which takes place later this week. Will the Democrats pass a similar resolution? They should if they want their party to be a relevant player in county politics again. Supporting a tax issue to be imposed upon its people during a time of high unemployment and negative economic “growth” is a recipe for political disaster.

******

The Landmark had Monday night’s meeting double covered. Reporter Alan McArthur, to cover the news angle, and your humble publisher both attended, anticipating the biggest political story of the summer to unfold. It did. It’s not often a political party will hold the feet of its own big spenders to the fire. These folks had the tummy to do it. There is still hope, America, at least here in Platte County.

•First, congratulations to the local central committee for upholding the party’s statewide platform of lower taxes and lower government spending. The committee did it despite a call to weakness by chairman Jim Rooney, who wanted to pass on the opportunity to oppose the tax. Rooney said it would “split the party,” though when questioned on multiple occasions by committee members how a vote to oppose a tax could “split the party,” Rooney couldn’t definitively answer the question other than to say some feelings might be hurt. $82 million at stake and he’s worried about hurt feelings on the part of highly-compensated county commissioners? What about the hurt feelings--and hurt wallets-- of taxpayers?

Now, Rooney will get a little sympathy from me here. He was in a tough spot and was having a rough night. He’s a friend of commissioner Betty Knight. He holds a chairmanship position obviously nobody else wants. He was trying to avoid a public controversy, and it was clear by a few off the wall remarks he was making that he had his feelings hurt by my criticism of his decision to postpone the meeting from July 6 to July 13. But the truth is the three Republican county commissioners who put forth a proposal that would raise another $82 million for parks on top of the $60 million already brought in are the ones wildly deviating from the party platform. There really is no way to “split” with a group that is already that far out of touch with what its political party stands for.

And by the way, the county commissioners didn’t bother to attend the central committee meeting to try to defend their local porkulus plan, even though one commissioner and his top advisor both attended last month’s meeting, and all public indications were the topic was coming up again this month. They knew more discussion was coming and all three commissioners chose to avoid it.

The arrogance of incumbency.

******

The bottom line on this half cent sales tax for parks and luxuries is this. The county is not immune to the economic downturn that is hitting families across the country. Now is not the time for government to be focusing on “wants” instead of “needs.” While it’s nice to “want” another $82 million for parks and luxuries, does the county really need it? It’s time for government to do what families across the country are starting to do and that’s to focus on the basic staples. In government’s case, the basic staples are things like roads and law enforcement. It’s not the time for more taxes in the toy department for luxuries such as horse trails and interactive playgrounds. Vote no on Aug. 4 and tell the out-of-touch county commissioners to come back with a more financially responsible approach.

******

Quotes of interest from county commissioners recently and my Between the Lines (BTL) response to each.

•“I believe there are some political agendas going on.”

Betty Knight, in response to the central committee passing a resolution to oppose the park tax.

BTL: Agreed, Betty. Your tax-and-spend agenda is out of control and it’s about time your fellow Republicans started holding you accountable.

•“It’s up to the people to decide whether they want to continue with the quality of life promoted through the parks and recreation tax.”

Kathy Dusenbery, first district commissioner.

BTL: No, Kathy, it’s up to the people to decide if they want to pay $82 million or a more fiscally sane dollar amount to maintain a solid parks program.


•“There are a lot of people on the (central) committee who would not have a parks program at all.

Kathy Dusenbery.

BTL: This is typical Dusenbery. The committee went out of its way to avoid turning its resolution into something personal against the commissioners. So who fires an unfounded personal shot? Dusenbery. She just doesn’t get it.


COMMITTEE SHOULD BE ARMED WITH TOUGH PARK TAX QUESTIONS

Posted 7/10/09

Have I mentioned this lately? Real men--and women--aren’t afraid to tweet. Locally, only The Landmark offers you the chance to get breaking Platte County news and commentary sent to your cell phone or your computer through Twitter. Head to http://twitter.com/ivanfoley to always be one step ahead in the know-it-all business.

******

We’re thrilled to have Chris Stigall, the popular voice of fiscal conservatism in the Kansas City radio market on station KCMO 710 AM, come on board as a Landmark columnist. He will pen a weekly submission entitled “Straight from Stigall” to go on page A-3. Landmark readers who are familiar with Stigall’s show from 5-9 a.m. already know what he brings to the table. I’m confident readers who haven’t yet heard his show are going to want to start tuning in after they learn of some of the common sense political approach he offers in entertaining fashion. He’s a perfect fit for this newspaper. Tell any friends and family who aren’t yet Landmark subscribers that there’s never been a better time to jump on board this runaway freight train.

******

Members of the Platte County Republican Central Committee are a smart bunch of folks. Sure, they like to take four-day holiday weekends when the rest of the country settles for three days, but still most of the folks on the committee, I believe, have some business and financial sense about them. That’s why I believe they’ll have an open and frank discussion about the county’s proposed half cent sales tax for parks and luxuries at their meeting next week. Committee members, providing they’ve been paying attention, should have a long list of pointed questions to ask any county commissioners or county directors of administration who show up to try to justify this bloated behemoth.

First, two things need to be squared away before the fun begins. No. 1, this debate is about principle, not people. Secondly, everyone recognizes the parks program was needed and the community centers have been successful. The debate is over the amount of tax to ask for this second time around.

The logic against this tax has been spelled out here the past several weeks. All those columns are available for review online at http://www.plattecountylandmark.com/ifoley.htm. There really is no financially-justifiable explanation for the county to seek a full half cent this time around. They want $82 million net over the next 10 years to go with the $60 million they already have access to, when it’s clear the county would still have a top notch park program for less than half that.

Review the financial information printed here last week. The community centers raise enough money to more than cover maintenance at the centers, and most importantly, the community center buildings will be paid off with money from the existing tax that expires in 2010. In other words, the $4 million to $4.2 million annually used to make those bond payments will suddenly be available for other park expenses. That’s a major strike against the desire to ask for another half cent.

And while the golf course bonds won’t be paid off until 2018, the golf course takes in enough revenue to cover maintenance and operational costs of the course, according to park director Brian Nowotny.

So tell me again why the county needs $82 million?

******

It’s getting near D-Day for the Platte City Board of Aldermen. The board must come to a decision on the amount of funding it will or won’t offer to the Platte City Chamber of Commerce this year. As The Landmark has reported, the city in the past has handed over $10,000 each year to the Chamber, which says it uses the money, at least in part, to fund some office staff. Some city officials, however, have become increasingly--and understandably--concerned about what exactly they are or are not getting for their 10 grand.

It has been pointed out in these pages--and even recognized publicly by the current Chamber board president Randy Knox--that many towns the size of Platte City do not provide any direct taxpayer financial assistance to their local Chambers of Commerce. Some Platte City Chamber cheerleaders, without having facts at hand, like to scream “Why can’t we be more like Parkville?” when it comes to promoting local businesses and activities. Well, you know how many tax dollars the city of Parkville gives to that town’s Chamber of Commerce each year? Zero.

The Platte City Chamber has admitted it is budgeting for a 10% drop in membership renewals this year due to the slow economy. It’s amazing that some Chamber folks seem surprised the city is wanting to watch its dollars just as closely. With general sales tax revenues throughout the county already down--and with the county parks fanatics proposing to keep the local sales tax rate the highest in the KC metro area and one of the highest in the state, which won’t exactly entice a lot of new shoppers to flock here--the city should be commended for watching its dollars more closely than ever.

******

So what is it that every Platte County R-3 School District patron should know but probably hasn’t taken the time to ponder? Hey, don’t beat yourself up over it. We ponder it for you here in Between the Lines. It’s what we do.

As you know, the school district the past decade or more has had a habit of promoting what school officials like to call “no tax increase” bond issues. Let’s stop for a moment to concentrate on this. Bonded debt doesn’t magically disappear, correct? So how can any school district or any other public entity run multimillion dollar bond issues without needing a tax increase to pay off the bonded indebtedness?

Pretty simple, really. They’ve been overtaxing property owners with a levy that’s higher than it has needed to be, likely for years, and pocketing the excess. Pretty basic financial stuff, but many of us simply get excited about hearing the words “no tax increase” and don’t stop to realize what it really means from a big picture standpoint. Next time you hear “we can do a bond issue without a tax increase,” it’s time to ask some tough questions. Like, how in the heck are you able to do that if you’ve been taxing us within your needs?

(Always living within his means is your Landmark publisher, who can be reached at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


REPUBLICANS WANT FOUR DAY WEEKEND; AVOID THESE EXPLOSIVES; AND A BY-THE-NUMBERS LOOK AT PARKS

Posted 7/2/09

Again, it’s a two-for-one week here in Between the Lines. Pasted right below this column, you'll find another new piece, right here where Northlanders come for a weekly town forum. The added column this week is the bullet point text from my speech to the successful Kansas City Tax Day Tea Party at Liberty Memorial.

Where else can you get this kind of journalistic goodness for just 50 cents?

******

It’s just a couple of days until July 4 which means any minute now Landmark facilities manager Kurt Foley and I will be off on our annual shopping extravaganza for colorful displays, several large packs of small caliber explosives to be ignited all at once, some higher level explosives, and a couple of black market artificial limbs.

******

Speaking of July 4, most of the business/government folks who insist on observing weekend holidays during the week to ensure themselves of a day off, will be doing so by closing on Friday, July 3, including the Platte County office complex. (And by the way, I don’t remember the nation doing this when I was a kid, am I nuts or does anyone else remember it the way I do?)

Strangely, however, the local Republican Central Committee will note the holiday on Monday, July 6, and as a result has postponed its monthly meeting from July 6 to July 13. Apparently a three-day weekend wouldn’t be enough for the GOP. Maybe some Platte County Republicans have a desire for a four-day wine and cheese party.

So the political party that features three county commissioners promoting an $82 million sales tax for parks and luxuries during an economic crisis, the party already fighting the impression that it has become a group of big-spending country clubbers wants a four-day weekend while the rest of the nation settles for three days off.

If Democrats are ever going to become relevant again in Platte County, now is the time for that party to make a move. If the Dems can’t make inroads in the middle of this fiscal and public relations mess, let’s go ahead and put up a gravestone for the Dems in this neck of the woods.

******

Time for my annual public service listing of fireworks you should absolutely avoid on the Fourth of July. This year, stay away from these dangerous devils:

The Plunkett Punk: Formerly a money-saving investment, this painted green, environmentally-friendly device burns like a bat out of hell when ignited in a public park. Light one of these on park grounds or near a walking trail and it will zone in on your wallet and burn every dollar inside. It will also quickly waste its way through hard-earned cash--a half cent at a time--when ignited near a horse trail or, God forbid, an interactive playground.

The Babcock Blaster: Light one of these near a Plunkett Punk and everyone nearby loses control of their fiscal senses. The Babcock Blaster emits a full cloud of smoke that seems to be speaking in controlling fashion directly to the Plunkett Punk, spewing a huge puff of smoke that forms the following sentence: “We need at least another $82 million for parks so I can enjoy freshly-paved bicycle paths and horse trails.”

The Knight Navigator: This friendly firework has been around a while yet still seems to be searching for its identify. Depending upon the more dominant fireworks around it, this rudderless ship will sometimes drift wildly to the left, then back toward the right, then back to the left. While it loves trails, it rarely blazes its own. Careful, you never know where this one will end up. It often seems to hypnotize its consumers, convincing them life is a beach and everything will continue to be good and nice if they just pony up more cash.

******

I’ve been talking for weeks about revealing the full list of line items in the Platte County Parks Department annual budget. Let’s get to it.

In late May, I asked park director Brian Nowotny for a copy of his department’s budget. Take note of this: The numbers and line items listed here are everything--yes, that would be everything, as in all--he sent to me in regard to line items under revenues and line items under expenditures. Starting with revenues, here we go:

Estimated park sales tax (net): $6,456,273. Programs and interest income: $71,500. Grant income: $9,900. Miscellaneous income: $39,500. Cash carryover: $1,195,209. Total of these lines: $7,772,382 in budgeted revenues. And what I’m about to point out next is extremely important to note: Other revenues, which Nowotny had broken out separately, are $819,979 in revenues from the two community centers, which more than covers the budgeted $610,000 in community center capital maintenance. He also reports $877,000 in golf membership and program revenues, which more than covers the Shiloh Springs Golf Course maintenance costs of $867,775 that his information shows.

Read that again. It should put to rest some of the creatively fuzzy math that has been floating about, including some that was said to have been spoken by promoters of the park tax at a recent meeting of the Republican Central Committee

On the expense side, Nowotny provides these numbers: Administration and planning: $487,165; operations and maintenance: $410,190; outreach grant program: $281,318; park and trail development: $731,963; transfer to community center bond fund $4 million (these bonds will be paid off when the original park tax expires, no renewal funds would be needed to pay these whoppers); transfer to Shiloh Springs bond fund: $453,885; transfer to Shiloh Springs operating capital (cash flow) $150,000; transfer to stormwater program: $350,000; and reserve account: $868,361. Total: $7,732,882.

Study these digits--particularly if you fancy yourself a numbers guy or numbers gal--and then try to explain to voters why the county needs another $82 million or more in net sales tax (that’s a conservative estimate--it will likely get more than that from taxpayers) for parks over the next 10 years, as the county commission is proposing.

(Here’s hoping you’re back here next week with all your digits in place. In the meantime, follow the daily adventures of the publisher via Twitter at https://twitter.com/ivanfoley)


TEXT FROM THE TAX DAY TEA PARTY TALK

Posted 7/2/09

Following are many of the bullet points from the text of my talk to the crowd at the Kansas City Tax Day Tea Party, the rally against big government and runaway government spending held April 15 at the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City. There were some ad-libbed smart remarks along the way not included here, and hey, there’s no way for me to insert the energizing sound of the thunder sticks the crowd of 5,000 was rattling when it liked what it heard.

The talk centered on the theme: Why are you here? We’ll pick it up after a glowing introduction, which sounded a lot like it was written by me. Because it was.

TAX DAY TEA PARTY--WHY ARE YOU HERE?

Yes, I am a member of the print media, but don’t panic. I’m not here to spin to the left. My best moves are to the right.

I hope my purple shirt isn’t a threat to Homeland Security.

They told us not to get up here and promote our own gigs, so I can’t tell you that my newspaper, the Platte County Landmark, is the voice of fiscal conservatism and the voice of political reason in the Northland. I can’t tell you that I invite you to check us out at each week at plattecountylandmark.com

I did notice a few big government types scattered throughout the crowd today. Ignore them, they’re just here for the free stuff.

To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, it’s likely that the world won’t long remember what we say here today, but hopefully Washington will note and long remember why we are here today.

So why are you here? What has prompted you to gather on April 15, our annual Rendezvous with Debt?

Maybe you’re here because you think that Ronald Reagan nailed it when he said: “Government doesn’t solve problems, it subsidizes them.”

And boy don’t we have a lot of subsidizing going on right now.

You’re here because in today’s America, if you don’t drink or you don’t smoke, Nancy Pelosi considers you a tax dodger.

You’re here because you realize government can’t be all things to all people.

You’re here because you don’t want government to even try to be all things to all people.

Maybe you’re here because you’re tired of the liberal slant of so many in the media.

Maybe you’re here looking for a conservative media outlet. If you are, it’s your lucky day, remember plattecountylandmark.com

You’re here because you don’t mind paying your own mortgage. But you don’t want to have to pay your neighbor’s mortgage.

You’re here because you know the difference between what government needs and what big government wants.

You’re here because you want government to fund only what we need, not what the big spenders want.

You’re here because you’re tired of seeing public money used to bail out private businesses.

You’re here because you want members of Congress to understand that IT’S NOT THEIR MONEY. . . IT’S OUR MONEY!

You’re here because you’re proud to pay your taxes, but you want Washington to know you could be just as proud for half that amount of money.

You’re here because you believed Margaret Thatcher when she said: “The problem with socialism is you eventually run out of other people’s money”

You’re here because we need lawmakers who know there’s value in a pork-free diet.

You’re here because you’re worried big government is in the process of creating new and expensive government programs that will affect your pocketbook for a long time to come.

You’re here because you know the answer is to stimulate business, not to stimulate government.

You’re here because you know it’s not how much they take, it’s how much they spend. Wait a minute, sometimes it is how much they take!

IT’S NOT THEIR MONEY, IT’S OUR MONEY!

You’re here because you know the more we give the more they’ll spend.

You’re here because you know the more they get, the more they’ll want.

You’re here because you know the more we give them, the more they’ll waste.

You’re here because you realize it’s time to demand fiscal responsibility from elected officials at all levels.

You’re here because you know you can do more to help the economy with your money than the government could ever do to help using your money.

You’re here because you know the answer is a smaller, less intrusive government.

You’re here at this nonpartisan event because you know it’s time to get away from partisan politics. It’s time to stop supporting a Republican just because he’s a Republican, or a Democrat just because he’s a Democrat--it’s time to support, regardless of party, those candidates who believe in fiscal responsibility and smaller government.

Yes, we need leaders who realize IT’S NOT THEIR MONEY--IT’S OUR MONEY!

So enjoy your time here today. Heck even be kind to any socialists who are here, because if it weren’t for socialists, the rest of us would not have had the need to socialize in this large, productive and peaceful way here today.

The challenge for all of us when we leave here will be to encourage our friends, our relatives and our neighbors to become involved.

We must show that we have the tenacity, the capacity, and the audacity to end this runaway government spending.

Together we can make a difference.

(Start making a difference by emailing your Landmark publisher at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com or follow local Platte County news and commentary on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ivanfoley )


PARK TAX TAKING
HITS FROM BOTH SIDES;
TEA PARTY SEQUEL SET

Posted 6/26/09

Temperatures ranging anywhere from 97 to 107 with a heat index in the range of 110 to 115 or more. Summer is here.

These times of extreme temperatures make me yearn for the good ol’ days when Wells Bank had that time/temperature display attached to its building in downtown Platte City. Remember that? On Tuesday when a Kansas City TV station was reporting the temperature at 107 and an internet site was telling me the temperature at KCI was 97, I wanted to step out on the sidewalk and look to Wells Bank to get the local reading. Can’t do it anymore.

Maybe if that ridiculously excessive parks tax proposal passes the county will blow, err, spend some of that slush money on a big-ass time and temperature display and attach it to the courthouse.

That’s a suggestion made in jest but it would serve more public good than a horse trail.

******

My summertime fetish this year is a large dipped cone from the local Dairy Queen. I’m addicted. About one day a week I’ll skip my normal lunch and just get one of those things and try to eat it before it melts in my car or down my shirt or onto my pants. Doesn’t sound like a great diet plan but I’ll have you know I’m down three pounds since I started this routine.

******

This hit me as I was sitting in on Tuesday night’s board of aldermen meeting and looking other local media members in the eye. It’s time for a quick word of praise for the upgrade the city of Platte City has found in its city administrator’s office. I know we’re still less than a full year into his tenure, but to this point Jason Metten’s public relations skills have proven to be outstanding, a vast improvement over the PR ability of his predecessor. If you’ll allow me to use a comparison of a different gender, it’s been like going from the Wicked Witch to Miss Manners. Nice job Metten, nice job aldermen on the hire. So far so good.

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If you’re following our daily news and commentary updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ivanfoley (and if you are, you were first to learn about the voluntary annexation effort reported on the front page), you know there’s an announcement to be made concerning a Landmark columnist this week. That announcement is that after a grand finale next week, CK Rairden will be giving up his weekly commentary piece on page A-3. CK tells me he has simply taken on too many projects to continue to give his column the attention it needs to be effective in The Landmark’s high standards of journalistic excellence. I’m not sure what those other projects are, though I do know my buddy CK runs a web site and smokes a lot of cigars. Other than than, I’m not sure exactly what occupies his time out in the desert of Arizona.

CK is a Platte County High School grad who has written commentary for The Landmark for 10 years. He and I became acquainted in 1999 when we both were occasional contributors to Greg Hall’s wildy popular web site at the time, sportswaves.com. For years CK and I engaged in daily phone calls to solve the world’s problems, but as each of us has had more demands placed on our time our frequency of communication has diminished in recent years. I’m grateful for the work he has given and hope he will continue to do occasional pieces, perhaps as a media critic on our web site, where some of his best work was done a few years ago.

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The sequel to the Tax Day Tea Party is scheduled for July 4 and will be held right here in Platte County, according to organizer Andrea Plunkett. Ms. Plunkett tells me this one will be more of a demonstration in that no speakers are planned. Billed as the “Rally for Responsibility,” the event will promote fiscal responsibility and protest big government spending. It will take place in Parkville along Hwy. 45 starting at Lucerne and going to Hwy. 9 on Saturday, July 4 from 9-11 a.m. (I’ve read other reports the rally is from 10-noon, but Andrea emailed me 9-11 a.m. so I’m running with that). Signs should be focused on liberty and responsibility: taxes, bailouts, and fiscal responsibility. For more info go to http://kansascity.reteaparty.com/2009/05/24/independence-tea-party/
And due to popular demand (OK, so several people have asked), next week I will print the bullet points I used in my speech to the large Tax Day Tea Party crowd at Liberty Memorial in April.

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Check out Russ Purvis’ column on page A-3 and you’ll see the county’s half cent sales tax proposal is now drawing fire from both sides of the political aisle. The county commission’s proposal just makes no fiscal sense, particularly in today’s economy.

One member of the Democratic Central Committee approached me this week indicating the topic may come up again at the Dems’ July meeting and a resolution formally opposing the tax may be pushed. The liberal proposal is also expected to be discussed when the GOP Central Committee meets on July 6.

I promise more commentary on the parks tax next week. Believe me, there is still more to be critiqued on this thing. I’ll also soon have some analysis of the often-changing political leanings of presiding commissioner Betty Knight during the course of her 14 or 15 year tenure and how that relates to the fiscally-liberal approach on display today.

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Congressman Roy Blunt, now a candidate for the US Senate seat being vacated by Kit Bond, made an impromptu visit to the historic Landmark office Tuesday afternoon.

Kudos to him for dropping in (his front man called ahead to make sure we were cool with it), as he is well aware of my past critical commentary on his candidacy. I’ve written that the GOP could and should find a better candidate than Blunt, and I still believe that. The GOP needs a new approach in Washington, and electing someone who has already spent years in the capital isn’t the answer. That being said, Blunt did say all the right fiscally conservative things during our visit, so he knew the audience to which he was speaking. But will a better candidate step forward?

(Become one of Ivan Foley’s tweeps and get local news and commentary in real time at https://twitter.com/ivanfoley)


COMMISSIONERS TRYING OUT SLOGANS FOR PARK
TAX CAMPAIGN

Posted 6/19/09

Thanks to those readers who are now following The Landmark and specifically, this Between the Lines columnist, on the popular social media network Twitter. You’ll get several updates--some in fun, some serious--each and every day. Sign up to receive and/or follow the update by going to http://twitter.com/ivanfoley

The updates can be sent to your computer or your cell phone. It’s what we call getting local news and commentary in real time. Don’t miss out.

For a sampling of just a few of the tweets that have been sent over the past week, check out the second Between the Lines column on the right hand side of this page.

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Stop the rumors. Word had been circulating on the street that Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd will be running for the State Senate seat that is being vacated due to term limits by Charlie Shields. I called Zahnd this week and he says absolutely not. “I am very happy that I ran for State Senate in 1998, and even happier that I lost (to Sidney Johnson),” he told me. Zahnd says he will be seeking his third term as prosecutor in the 2010 county election.

Jason Brown, 30th District Republican state representative of Platte City, it appears will be running on the Republican ticket for Shields’ open senate seat. At least we can confirm he is holding a campaign fundraiser in St. Joseph, a telltale sign. Among the Democrats considering a run for the senate spot are Ed Wildberger and Martin Rucker, both currently state reps from St. Joseph.

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A half cent sales tax for parks is on the ballot in Platte County, where the county commissioners are promoting a tax that will net $82 million, an increase of $22 million, over the next 10 years. They say the county needs more parks, more walking trails, some horse trails, and some interactive playgrounds.

To review previous facts presented here, Platte County spends considerably more money each year on parks than it does law enforcement. And now the county commissioners want more for parks.

Platte County also spends considerably more money each year on parks than it does roads. And now the county commissioners want more for parks.

Does this make sense in today’s economy? Maybe I’m the crazy one for thinking the people might actually want their tax money prioritized a little differently. I guess the people will speak at the election on Aug. 4.

In the meantime, your county commissioners are busy coming up with slogans they can use in their campaign to get more park tax money from you.

Here are some slogans the county commissioners are said to be considering:

•Fewer cops, more parks!

•We pave parks, not roads!

•Here’s the poop-- we all know this county needs horse trails!

•Vote yes because don’t you want to be able to walk to a park from anywhere?

•Sure, we lose a lot of lawsuits, but we know how to build parks!

•Vote yes because we want to keep the title of county with the highest sales tax rate in the metro!

•Vote yes because even though you might be out of a job, that extra time on your hands can be spent in one of our many parks!

•More park ground means less room for roads you’ll have to complain about!

•More parks will mean less money for that big-spending sheriff to waste!

•Vote yes! Remember, unnecessary spending is spending that’s done by somebody else!

•Spreading the love. . More parks will mean more trees to hug!

•Platte County--a great place to pay to park!

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It’s true, Platte County does have the highest sales tax rate in the Kansas City, Missouri metro area.

Folks residing in the city limits of Kansas City in Platte County pay 7.975%. The rate for KC in Clay County is 7.475%, in Jackson County it’s 7.725%, and in Cass it’s 7.85%.
Even those of us doing business in Platte City pay 7.975% in sales tax.

Ouch.

So when is enough taxing enough taxing? Probably when you already have a $7.7 million annual parks department budget and you’re still asking for more.

More on the county parks budget in future issues.

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Political fallout? Maybe, maybe not. Platte County’s Democratic Central Committee will be discussing the liberal park tax proposal at its meeting Thursday night. If the Dems are a politically astute group they will use this as a beautiful opportunity to make some hay. Of course if the Dems were that politically astute they would already hold one of the commission seats. They had the better, more fiscally-conservative first district candidate in November and couldn’t get him elected.

The Republicans have discussed the park tax proposal once already--in quite animated fashion, I understand--and are expected to take it up again at their July meeting. Unless, of course, that July meeting mysteriously disappears from the calendar. Hmm, surely that won’t happen. Will it?

(Always working to keep you in the loop, Between the Lines can be reached at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


NOW GET YOUR FILL OF BETWEEN THE LINES 24/7 ON TWITTER

Posted 6/10/09

This just in from Kurt Foley, official Landmark facilities manager/movie reviewer: The hilarious hit of the summer is the flick “The Hangover.”

The facilities manager/movie reviewer took in the show with buddies over the weekend and indicates if I head to the theater this weekend he would like to tag along for his second viewing. It must be good.

Warning, however, from the facilities manger is that some of the material is probably not suitable for audiences under 17, so parents of young ones be warned.

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This headline just in from The Onion, satirical news outlet: Elderly Man Skipping Work Uses ‘Dead Grandson’ Excuse Again.

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This just in from Ivan Foley: Wait, that’s me, there I go referring to myself in the third person again. Next thing you know I’ll be running for mayor of Platte City.

Let’s try this again. This just in from your Landmark publisher/Between the Lines columnist: I am now on Twitter. Yes, you can follow me 24/7 if you’d like. Trust me, some moments will be more exciting than others. I’ll give updates (using no more than 140 characters per post, mind you) on what’s going on in the Between the Lines world. I’ll tease upcoming stories in The Landmark, give you hints at what might be in the next column, and even update you live from some of the many public events I hit each week. This could be seriously fun. Or ridiculously serious.

For instance, I will Twitter (or tweet) an update every time first district county commissioner Kathy Dusenbery says something really loudly. Or every time presiding commissioner Betty Knight takes off on a junket. Or when second district commissioner Jim Plunkett tries to defend his liberal stance on the park tax proposal. Or every time the county loses a court decision to Robert Bateman.

Geez, I’m going to be busy.

I will post these and other updates from my cell phone and you can get the updates on your cell or on your computer.

Had I been tweeting from the Platte City Board of Aldermen meeting Tuesday night, I would have described to you how Shani Porter of the Platte County Economic Development Council was so nervous during her presentation to the board that her voice was cracking and her legs were shaking badly. I felt the urge to stop the meeting and get her a blanket.

Heck, every now and then I may even post a special offer on Landmark subscriptions.
To sign up to follow the escapades Between the Lines style, surf to http://twitter.com/ivanfoley

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Take a good read of our front page story on county sales tax collections. You’ll see the county is doing just fine, really. Yes, general sales tax collections are down by about $84,000 from this time last year. But before panic sets in, please note the county’s use tax collections are up by more than $625,000 over this time last year.

Use tax collections can be used as general fund money. So, some serious math from this self-proclaimed numbers guy indicates the county is up by around $540,000 over this time last year in sales taxes that can go into the general fund.

That’s a nice gain.

No need to panic. No need to be promoting a park tax proposal that will bring in at least another $82 million over the next 10 years. That would be an increase of $22 million over the past 10 years for a parks program that is already established and for a parks program that already admits it has 800 acres of ground for which it has no park plan as of yet.

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What has happened to Aaron Jung on the Platte City Board of Aldermen? A former lead fighter on the board has gone soft of late, to the point I’m sensing some friction between Jung and freedom fighter/protector of life, liberty and fiscal conservatism Andy Stanton.

Jung is being soft as Charmin in particular on the current controversy over what has been the city’s annual $10,000 gift to the Platte City Chamber of Commerce. City fathers--and mothers--are now debating whether that amount needs to come down or, perhaps, be eliminated.

Jung, who as I recall in his early years on the board of aldermen had many questions about the Chamber funding, in recent times served as a city liaison to the Chamber. Since then, Jung has gone soft on this topic and he and fellow alderman Ron Stoneless even claimed at a recent aldermen meeting that it’s not prudent right now to be questioning the Chamber funding because “it sends the wrong message.”

Huh? The message I’m getting is that perhaps somebody at the Chamber has neutered Jung. The other message I’m getting is that aldermen who are rightfully questioning the amount of this expenditure are being protectors of taxpayer dollars. They want to see what the city is getting for its annual $10,000.

Questioning the investment is not sending the wrong message. In tough economic times, it’s sending the right message to those who elected them to spend public money wisely.

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The public perception of the Platte City Chamber of Commerce is that it often serves as a primary cheerleading vehicle for the Platte County R-3 School District. Rightly or wrongly, that’s a widely-held public perception.

So if the city does decide to cut its level of gift-giving to the Chamber, perhaps the school district could step forward to provide some financial assistance to its public relations tool. One must admit that a lack of money never seems to be an issue with those in charge at R-3.

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Platte City Chamber of Commerce officials say they are budgeting for a 10% drop in renewals due to the struggling economy. That being the case, why is it a shock to Chamber folks that the city wants to watch its pennies just as closely? The financial vehicle of the city, after all, is driven by sales tax collections within the city, which will be affected by the same struggling economy that is negatively affecting anticipated Chamber membership renewals. It makes sense for the city to be dropping its level of financial commitment to the Chamber.

(It also makes sense to email the publisher at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


COUNTY SPENDS MORE ON PLAY STUFF THAN ON ROADS, LAW ENFORCEMENT

Posted 6/5/09

Hungry for more Between the Lines commentary? You get it this week with another two-for-one special. When you’re done with this main course, check out another new Between the Lines column pasted directly below this one.

Consider it dessert.

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Can we all agree these are challenging economic times for many families and businesses? Unemployment rates are up. Home foreclosures are up. Home resale values are down. The federal government is getting into the car business--and likely to be even less successful at it than some of the dealers who are being axed. Heck, even the Platte City Chamber of Commerce says it is budgeting for a 10% drop in membership renewals because of the economy.

And yet, the Platte County Commission wants you to spend at least $82 million more on parks over the next 10 years. Yes, I said parks. That’s fun stuff. That’s the toy department. Not roads or law enforcement or other basic needs that government has a duty to provide.

The county’s current half cent sales tax for parks currently nets $6.5 million per year. That’s net, not gross. Under projections done by the county auditor, a renewal of this tax will net $82 million over the next 10 years. A tax that has netted $60 million over the past 10 years is now projected to net an additional $82 million over the next 10 years. While they like to promote this as a renewal of an existing tax, let’s call it what it really is: A tax increase. Anytime you’re going from $60 million in the first 10 years to $82 million the second ten years, that’s an increase. Pretty simple math.

Is another half cent for things such as 15-30 more miles of walking trails, development of such questionable amenities as horse trails, mountain bike trails, interactive playgrounds and something called paddle trails really necessary?

Couldn’t the amount of this half cent sales tax be cut, especially now that a solid county park system is already in place? It absolutely could. But the big government, special interest types want more of your money. The current Platte County Commission is showing that it has its spending priorities out of whack by promoting this tax proposal.

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Parks were virtually non-existent in Platte County for many years. No argument. But the county has corrected that deficiency in the past 10 years. In fact, the county has already overcorrected the problem. Here’s proof:

Do you know the size of the parks department budget in Platte County? It is $7.7 million. The county park sales tax alone is expected to net $6.5 million in 2009. Do you know how much the county spends out of general county revenue for law enforcement? Only $5.4 million.

Read those numbers again. Platte County now spends more tax money on parks than it does on law enforcement.

Wait, isn’t law enforcement a basic public necessity? Is spending $7.7 million on parks a basic public necessity? Absolutely not. It shows you how out of control this fetish with parks has become. Instead of allowing the absurdity to continue at this pace, it’s time for the folks paying the bills to stand up and force their county officials to be accountable.
Wanting to spend a total of $142 to $150 million on parks over 20 years is ridiculous for a county Platte’s size. And in these tough economic times, it’s irresponsible government to even be proposing such a thing.

Over the past few years county commissioners have been critical of the spending habits of our sheriff. And frankly, so have I. But how can the county commissioners criticize the sheriff for his $5.4 million budget of general tax revenue when their parks department has a budget of $7.7 million this year? It’s hypocritical behavior by commissioners.

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So the county already spends more tax money on parks than it does on law enforcement. But that’s not all. The county also spends more money on parks than it does on another basic staple of everyday life: roads and bridges. The county roads tax brings in a net of $4.7 million each year. Again, the county park tax will net $6.5 million this year. The county directs almost $2 million more per year toward parks than it does roads and bridges. Ridiculous.

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Here’s the bottom line: When you step into the voting booth on Aug. 4 to consider renewing a half cent for tax for parks, ask yourself whether you believe it is responsible for your county government to be spending more in the toy department than it is spending on roads and law enforcement. Vote no. Then tell the county commissioners to come back with a more detailed and reasonable spending plan featuring a tax proposal of one-eighth or one-fourth cent.

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Paddle trails. Interactive playgrounds. Horse trails. Really? Who is pushing this fiasco? Horses are kind of an expensive hobby. Do taxpayers really need to be funding a play area for this? Can’t most folks who own horses already afford their own place to ride? Should taxpayers really be expected to fund this “let’s be all things to all people” style of government?

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The polling method used for the surveys county officials are quoting that indicate 76% of the people are in favor of renewing a half cent park sales tax continues to get laughed at by experienced political pollsters. I don’t know whether to put forth the effort to show the county commissioners why those numbers are statistically invalid or continue to just let them believe their own propaganda.

And the effort by county commissioners to put this issue on the backs of voters without having done due diligence in comparing what a half cent tax would bring in compared to an eighth-cent tax or quarter cent tax is, frankly, spineless. Whatever happened to leadership? The commissioners will try to take the focus off themselves by saying “the people chose this.” If they want to take the easy road and govern by polling, which by the way is NOT what they were elected to do, then why not poll the people on a quarter cent tax vs. half cent tax? Be honest with the numbers. Instead, there has been no guidance from county commissioners on this, only a desire to promote a bigger parks department. Spending two years asking focus groups to write pipe dreams on the blackboard without guiding them to a fiscally-responsible level of taxation is not leadership on the part of county commissioners.

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SPECIAL BONUS COLUMN: PLUNKETT'S STANCE DOESN'T JIVE WITH TEA PARTY

Posted 6/5/09

Welcome back for more Between the Lines commentary in another two-for-one week. I’m considering it my own Stimulus Package. If there were such a thing as an editorial writers union I would be kicked out for cranking out two columns while only getting paid for one.

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Jim Plunkett, second district county commissioner, is a former fiscal conservative. I say former because at this point in time an elected official can’t be promoting the idea of spending more in the toy department than on roads or law enforcement and still call himself a fiscal conservative. It won’t fly.

Plunkett attended the wildly successful Kansas City Tax Day Tea Party. In fact, his daughter, the talented Andrea Plunkett, helped organize it. As you know, the Tea Party was a movement against bigger government, higher taxes and runaway government spending. A month after being active in the Tea Party movement, Plunkett is helping to promote and defend a tax that will line the county parks department with a net of $82 million over the next 10 years, an increase of $22 million over what the tax raised its first 10 years.

So are we to interpret his Tea Party attendance to mean that Jim Plunkett only opposes taxes proposed by Democrats? Or does Jim Plunkett only oppose federal taxes? Or does he only oppose runaway government spending if someone other than he and his fellow county commissioners are doing the spending? I don’t get it.

I like Plunkett and in fact consider him a friend, but he is alienating his base with his stance on this one. He is at risk of becoming the big-government type he was elected to replace in 2004.

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I’m hearing there was quite the spirited meeting of the Platte County Republican Central Committee Monday night involving this park tax proposal. It will be interesting to see what comes of all the “spirited” conversation I’m hearing took place.

Will the central committee be issuing a free pass to elected officials from its own party or will the central committee make itself a relevant organization and hold its own party’s elected officials accountable for their decisions?

I guess we will find out soon whether this whole Republican-led Tea Party movement against higher taxes and higher government spending was legit or whether it was just a facade. It will be fascinating to see if the local Republicans believe they should only rally to oppose Democrat taxes while issuing their own spenders a get-out-of-jail free card.

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Check out the updated Parks Master Plan on the county’s web site. Flip through it--be prepared to spend some time doing it, as they have filled it with much fluff and puff in an effort to make you think it’s full of details. It’s really not.

Flip through it and see if you can find a specific timeline on which projects will be done when. Then see if you can find specific projected budgets on each of the projects. What I think you’ll find are vague references to things like “cost percentages” and certain things like “cost per mile of trail,” etc. Anyway, I invite you to check it out and report back to me.

It looks to me like the committee went about this whole process backwards. Most of us would start with a projected budget and then decide what projects should be done. It looks to me like the committee came up with a list of dreams with little regard to how those dreams might fit into a particular budget. I can find no evidence where the committee started with a budget of “okay, here’s how much money will be available if the tax is half cent, here’s how much if the tax is a quarter cent, here’s how much if the tax is an eighth cent, etc.” and then worked from there. It was more like “Here’s our list of pipe dreams, can we do all this with the existing half cent tax?”

Government at its worst.

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I have nailed down how the incorrect claim that the parks department spends one-third of its revenue on maintenance got started. It seems one of the survey questions done by the parks department was: “How should the county spend $100 in park tax money?” The survey results came back with respondents indicating the county should spend 33% percent of it on maintenance. That survey result was incorrectly reported in at least one media outlet as a statement of fact that the county does spend one third on maintenance. The urban legend grew from there. County officials started claiming it to be true. But the facts don’t back it up.

According to the 2009 budget info obtained from the park director, the department currently spends only $410,190 of its $7.7 million budget on maintenance. That’s a little over 5%.

(Ivan Foley prioritizes public safety above the toy department. Email him your stance at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


HOMEWORK NOT GETTING DONE ON PARK TAX PROPOSAL

Posted 5/28/09

The calendar says it’s late May, but the weather over the past few days feels more like fall. And you know what? I love it.

I spent a relaxing several hours in The Landmark office on Memorial Day with the front door open, the back door open and a fan as the only background noise. Didn’t turn on the radio, didn’t turn on the television. It was a holiday so the phone didn’t ring very often. The cool breeze coming through the building on the 60-something degree day was relaxing as I was cranking out some journalistic goodness for the second issue of The Landmark’s 145th year of uninterrupted publication.

Monday holidays are not a convenient thing in the weekly newspaper biz, but that was about as relaxing a work environment as a guy can ask for. I’ll take 60-something degree days year-round, please.

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Have you been out to the newly-renovated Kauffman Stadium for a Royals game yet this season? If you haven’t, get there soon. It is awesome. The new outfield seating, the so-called party decks and other areas from where you can stand beyond the outfield fence to take in the game are impressive. Too much new stuff to list here but bottom line is that even if you’re just a casual baseball fan this thing is worth a look.

And the team is playing about .500 baseball at this writing, so that helps make the trip worthwhile as well. I haven’t been this excited about the Royals since Darryl Motley smacked a two-run homer in the bottom of the second inning in Game 7 of the 1985 World Series.

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Hey, have you heard the county will be asking for renewal of a half cent sales tax for parks? Yes, you have. You read it in The Landmark last week. The rest of the media has been trying to play catchup.

The best way to begin the study of the real need for a renewal of this tax at a level of a half cent is to first acknowledge the good that has been accomplished in the first 10 years of the tax. After all, proponents will try to paint anyone who opposes the half cent tax as anti-parks, heartless, anti-environment, uncaring, anti-community, blah, blah, blah. You know the drill. You’ve heard it before. The same softies try to paint the same picture anytime someone starts questioning a school spending matter. So let’s do the early housecleaning.

No. 1. Parks were needed in this county when the tax was originally passed nearly ten years ago. No argument there. 2. The community centers serve a great purpose and have been very popular. No argument there. 3. The money has been, for the most part, well managed. No argument there. 4. The people should have the right to vote on renewing a park tax. No argument there.

The argument comes in the amount of the tax. Parks in the county have advanced to the point it’s not necessary to ask for another half cent this time around. A quarter cent would be more realistic and responsible, an eighth of a cent would even be manageable. Examine the numbers (and we’ll be helping you do that here over the course of the next several weeks). The first 10 years of the tax will have generated a net of at least $60 million. The second 10 years of the half cent tax, if approved by voters in August, will net around $76 to $82 million. So after 20 years Platte County will have had around $140 million to spend on parks. Are you kidding me? With this kind of runaway spending at the local level, is it any wonder we have the financial train wreck going on at the federal level? Good grief.

But even $140 million doesn’t sound like enough to the bureaucrats and big government types. Kathy Dusenbery, first district commissioner known for hyperbole and spewing comments first and worrying about their accuracy second, still declares Platte County doesn’t spend as much on parks as comparable “regional communities.” Really? There are counties the size of Platte spending more than $140 million on parks in the span of 20 years? If Dusenbery is going to make statements like that I would hope she will soon be backing up the claim with a little more detailed explanation. This is how folks who hold journalism degrees get a bad name. We interrupt this award-winning newspaper column for the following warning from the emergency broadcast system: Just because a first district county commissioner says something really loudly, that doesn’t mean it’s true.

A solid parks program is in place in Platte County now. The fiscally sane among the populace want to know why a quarter cent tax wouldn’t do. Cut that second 10-year park revenue from $82 million to $41 million. Wouldn’t $101 million over 20 years be enough for parks?

Not to the tax-and-spend types.

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Already some incorrect information is floating around about the park tax proposal. Unlike Dusenbery--remember, she has a journalism degree--I will actually back up that statement with something called a fact. An incorrect report floating around is that the Platte County parks department spends one-third of its revenue on maintenance of its facilities. I saw this report in at least one media outlet. Even my favorite county commissioner ever, Jim Plunkett, made the claim to me on the phone Tuesday. And by the way, how unusual is it that the normally fiscally conservative, self-professed “numbers guy” Plunkett would be wrong about such a thing? It tells me Jim has simply put his fiscally conservative mindset into neutral and is letting the bureaucrats and liberals guide him on this matter without doing his own homework. It is very un-Plunkett like. And as a sidenote, let me say this is the first time I can remember disagreeing with Plunkett on a major fiscal question facing the county since he was elected in 2004. Sidenote, part two: He’s still my favorite county commissioner ever.

The problem with the claim that the county parks department spends one third of its revenue on maintenance is that it’s not accurate. In fact, it’s not even close to being accurate. The parks department in 2009 has budgeted expenditures of more than $7.7 million. Want to know what the amount is in their budget line for operations and maintenance? It’s $410,190. If $410,190 is one third of $7.7 million, we have some fuzzy math going on, my friends.

Heck, the parks department spends more on “administration and planning” ($487,165) than it does on “operations and maintenance” ($410,190).

So where is all the money going? That’s a future column topic.

(The grass is always greener here in Park County, err, Platte County. Email the publisher at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


TEN MORE YEARS OF HALF CENT PARK TAX WOULD BE OVERKILL

Posted 5/21/09

Well, it’s official. This is going to be a fun summer.

Erase any thoughts you may have had that the political scene in Platte County was going to be a designated quiet zone. It won’t be quiet here in the editorial pages of your fiscally conservative Landmark. Platte County commissioners are seeing to that.

Check out James Thomas’ column on page three to get your summer fun started. Thomas effectively broke an exclusive story with his column this week. I’m trying to bite my tongue here and let James’ excellent piece of work stand for itself. But you don’t read The Landmark to watch me bite my tongue.

All I can say is most of us knew it was only a matter of time before new first district commissioner Kathy Dusenbery’s active jaws would put her in a pickle. It took about five months but D-Day has arrived. Credit to Dusenbery for holding her tongue this long. I thought her loose lips would sink a ship by February or March.

Basically, Dusenbery--as Dusenbery does--on Saturday started spouting off to James Thomas about how the county commission has decided it will be asking voters to renew the county’s half cent park tax slush fund. This pronouncement by Dusenbery seemed odd for several reasons (for instance, like, uh, you know, when was this discussed in open session at a commission meeting?), especially when you consider that on Tuesday of this week Dusenbery told our reporter she was just at that moment getting into the written recommendation by parks director Brian Nowotny. So on Saturday with James Thomas, Dusenbery already knew the commission will be putting renewal of the current half cent tax on the ballot, but on Tuesday she claimed she had just received a copy of a proposal from the parks director and was hinting she had no idea what the county’s course of action would be? Hmm.

Apparently Dusenbery didn’t believe James Thomas would share his Dusenbery moment with other Landmarkers and with readers of his column.

So there’s the early background on this developing saga. That’s not the most important angle. Just a notable one.

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As the summer develops, we’ll get into the financial meat and potatoes of this topic. Basically, unless you’re a tax-and-spend bureaucratic type, what you’ll see when we dive into the numbers for you is that there really is no need to support renewal of the park tax at its current level. It is overkill. Another example of tax-and-spend types not recognizing when enough is enough.

Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I’m not saying voters shouldn’t have the right to vote on a park tax, and I’m not saying a small level tax isn’t needed (as James Thomas suggests, a one-eighth cent tax would be plenty with the park system already well established).

What I am saying is that in these tough economic times it’s not fiscally responsible to promote continuation of a tax that will have netted $60 million--that’s not gross, that’s net after TIF deductions, etc.--in its first 10 years. It is absolutely ridiculous to believe this county needs at least another $60 million over the next 10 years to support what has become a layer of bloated bureaucracy at the county. Did you realize the county parks department has grown to seven full time and five part-time employees? Unbelievable.

So is this half cent sales tax proposal about a need for more parks or a need to protect some government jobs? Commissioners didn’t have any problem whacking some jobs from other officeholders a few years back, if needed shouldn’t the commission be open to the idea of eliminating some jobs from a department that is operated directly under the commission’s wing?

There has been so much revenue generated from this tax it has become laughable. Don’t forget, county officials had to go looking for ways to get rid some of this park pork. Remember when former county commissioner Steve Wegner used to run around to every municipality in northern Platte County begging the cities to take some of the park pork? He was trying to hand out gifts of park cash so often I nicknamed him Santa Claus. Even Wegner himself saw the humor in the situation.

Then the county realized it was rolling in so much slush that commissioners decided to do what this columnist predicted would happen when the park tax was originally passed in 2000--and what county commissioners at the time insisted was not in the future plan--they decided to route some of that park pork to support a money-losing golf course. Again, voters were misled about this in 2000. The public was directly told the park tax wouldn’t go to Shiloh Springs Golf Course. I can dig up the old quotes for you if you’d like.

******

Two things county commissioners will be proving if they indeed put this half cent park tax on the ballot in August and promote its passage through their public comments: 1. They aren’t acting as true fiscal conservatives. 2. They aren’t politically stupid. I say this knowing that the park tax proposal would be the only thing on any county ballot this summer. So why is that smart? In a one-issue election, the folks who are most likely to get out to vote are those who are truly passionate about the topic at hand. Those who support every park issue that comes along are truly passionate. They will get out to vote. The more passive observers--those most likely to study the true fiscal impact and ask questions about the true level of need--aren’t as likely to be in tune with a one-issue summer ballot initiative. County commissioners know how to play that game.

******

County park director Brian Nowotny last Thursday gave a report on the park system’s master plan to the county commission. While doing so, Nowotny twice made a comment that the park department currently owns 800 acres “that does not have a park plan for it yet.”

While there was no discussion that day about any upcoming half cent sales tax renewal proposal, I believe Nowotny emphasized this 800 acre factoid as a way to promote the cause for renewal of the existing tax. But many of us can view that 800 acre factoid as another reason the county doesn’t need to ask for a half cent this time around.

There are so many angles this issue can be scrutinized. Stay tuned. It is indeed going to be an active summer.

(Though sometimes he may be bloated, the publisher is never bureaucratic. Email him at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


SCHOOL DISTRICTS SHOULD EMBRACE FISCAL TRANSPARENCY

Posted 5/15/09

A recent headline in the Washington Times caught my eye. “Schools pushed for fiscal transparency.”

Schools typically are your largest taxing entities, yet somehow they often end up being less scrutinized than other jurisdictions. This is puzzling because it goes against common sense. Any experienced watchdog will tell you if you want to find the greatest amount of waste, go to where there is the highest amount of spending. That would be your local school districts, my friends.

As the above article--which ran in the April 19 issue of The Washington Times--points out, the ‘let’s leave the schools alone’ attitude is changing. It’s a thought process that is long overdue.

The article points out that schools across the nation are posting district checkbooks and other financial documents online “as part of a national transparency trend for communities seeking a little taxpayer sunshine on public spending in the midst of the country’s fiscal crisis,” the D.C. paper reports. In Texas 309 school districts are now online, including such large school systems as Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. In Illinois, more than 40 districts already post their checkbooks online. A group known as “Show Michigan the Money” has asked all of that state’s 551 school districts to make a move toward more accountability by putting their check registers on their school websites. That center for public policy says it has been contacted by other states who’d like to participate. Proponents say one of the biggest benefits is that trends of favoritism among school district vendors are being exposed, making the process more fair and creating competition among vendors that allows the school districts to end up saving money.

Even the left wing liberals should love this. You know why? Because it dovetails President Obama’s promise to use the internet to make government more open, for example, putting online a detailed accounting of his economic porkulus bill.

But in reality you know the liberals will fight this trend with every ounce of energy in them. I can already hear the libs at organizations such as the Missouri School Boards Association groaning. Opponents argue that posting checkbooks on the web is time-consuming and a burden on existing staff. What they really mean is that they don’t want anybody with a computer being able to get all up in their business.

Can you imagine how beneficial this would be to the taxpaying public? Wouldn’t it be nice to easily spot if certain vendors’ wheels are getting greased excessively with your tax dollars? And wouldn’t it be nice to see if those vendors are then in turn helping finance parties for retiring school executives or furnishing food for school board members to devour at board meetings? Those are just some examples of how this information could be beneficial to taxpayers.

If school districts have nothing to hide, they won’t fight the trend. Guess that means we’ll see a lot of school districts fighting the trend.

More on this fascinating topic in the future.

******

I want to take a moment to praise our editorial cartoon guy, the talented Matthew Silber. The man has been on a roll of late, ever since the March cartoon that ruffled the feathers of now-famous R-3 board member Mary Temperamental. Silber--a North Platte grad who now lives in Kansas City--has cranked out some winners of late. He is happy to take suggestions and ideas from readers, so send those to me and I will forward them on.

His piece last week, in fact, came off an email conversation I had with an avid reader over the recent At Home in the Northland magazine feature on 32nd District State Rep. Jason Grill. That fluff article, unintentionally I’m sure, painted Grill as being long on GQ style and short on substance. For instance, Grill was quoted extensively in the piece and must have used the word “cool” about a dozen times as he was lobbed softball questions from a reporter who had obviously stepped out of her comfort zone. Check out Silber’s cartoons each week on our opinion pages. They’re always worth a look.

******

As has become tradition each time one of the publisher’s kids reaches high school graduation day, we close the column with a little tribute.

This weekend, our youngest child, better known as your Landmark intern/facilities manager/Looking Back columnist Kurt Foley, takes his first step into the real world. This is the guy who in his lower elementary school years would walk home from school with his older sisters and often hurriedly grab the phone to call his dad at work with this question: “Hey Dad, whatchu doin’?” What was said from that point wasn’t much--like a lot of guys, he’s not big on a lot of talk time--but just the fact he made the call, and the signature way he started every conversation, was all I needed to hear.

This is the little guy--though we can’t call him little any longer, as he now towers above the rest of the family at 6’1” tall--who always felt compassion for others. It broke my heart to watch him try to fight back tears at the funeral of a female classmate who was killed in a car wreck in junior high. I think back to watching him as a toddler run into his Grandma Foley’s house and jump into her arms with such force it often knocked her off balance. Then he would give her a quick kiss and ask for some microwave popcorn, while his grandma ate up all the attention.

I think back to my cancer diagnosis in the summer of 1998 and the weekend of my first chemotherapy. Most of my chemotherapy sessions didn’t hit me hard at all, but that first one did. I was zapped of energy. The rest of the family was scheduled to spend the weekend out of town seeing the in-laws. I encouraged them not to cancel the trip. Kurt, age 7 at the time, refused to go. He insisted on staying home while the others traveled “so I can take care of Dad,” he pronounced. With endless trips out to the yard to play catch with the football, to wrestling in the living room while Chuck Norris was kicking some bad guy’s butt on TV, to taking Grandma Foley out to eat, he kept me jumping that entire weekend. If he saw me lying on the couch with my eyes closed, he was quickly over poking his little face in mine with these words: “Dad, whatchu doin’?” It later hit me--he was worried I was about to drift off into the deepest of sleeps.

He has been a class leader, had much success on the basketball court, taken three summer mission trips to help the needy with his Fellowship of Christian Athletes group, been selected to the National Honor Society, and is the winner of his high school’s “Pride” award. His parents couldn’t be prouder of the way he has conducted himself during his school years.

After toying with the idea of journalism, he is now targeting a career in physical therapy.

Best of luck, son. And as you know, luck is when preparation meets opportunity.

(Email the transparently proud publisher at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


COLORING BETWEEN THE LINES; WATCHDOG UPDATE

Posted 5/8/09

Welcome back to Between the Lines, proud to have been blacklisted more often than Michael Savage.

******

Color me nostalgic.

When former Landmark editor--the late Clay McGinnis--and I way back in May of 1982 decided to begin what we hoped would be a long-running and notable community service effort, we settled on The Landmark Award for English. The idea was to foster an interest in the English language among Platte County R-3 High School students. We liked the idea because it involved young people and was academic in nature. It just seemed much more meaningful than, say, hosting a little kids’ coloring contest or playing in a small time golf tournament. Anyway, school leadership at the time quickly embraced the idea, and I remember how excited Clay was when he saw the school had listed the award on the graduation ceremony program in 1982. To him, that mention in the award’s first year made it legit.

Here we are many years later and it’s a big week at The Landmark. Why? We get to announce the winner of this year’s Landmark English Award, given annually to a top senior English student at Platte County R-3 High School. The winner is chosen by a faculty panel at the high school. Winner gets a $250 cash prize from this newspaper and a certificate with the autographs of top high school officials and your Landmark publisher.
As you’ll see in a story elsewhere on the front page, the winner this year is Hannah Rickman.

This is the 28th year The Landmark has given the scholarship award. The first few years the prize was $100 but was soon raised to $250. Many notable students over the years have captured the award--some of whom later became Landmark employees--as you’ll see if you peruse the list of all previous winners in the article in this issue.

Congratulations to Hannah.

******

Color it a week for congratulations.

A tip of the hat to Jack Coots, one of the guys on the local business scene who I respect the most, for surviving and prospering 50 years in the banking business. Jack was being honored by his friends and co-workers from Wells Bank at a reception Wednesday evening as this edition of your Landmark was hitting the streets.

I’ve always thought of Jack as a classy gentleman, the kind of guy you could tell a personal secret and trust that it would be safe, or the kind of guy to whom you could hand a million one dollar bills and ask him to haul them across town, knowing that when he got there every one of those bills would be accounted for.

At our most recent Christmas party, I told the now-retired Wells Hull, who like Jack is well known for his many years with Wells Bank, that I always considered him among the men I admired most in the Platte County community. Until now I hadn’t taken the chance to extend the same thoughts to Jack in a public setting. Consider it done.

And speaking of The Landmark Christmas party, Jack was among the original cast of six or seven people who formed the gathering when that thing was just a private and very casual occasion to give a toast while standing around the old printing equipment in the back of the office. At that time we had no idea the party would turn into the public monster it is today. You’ve heard me say in those days it was only John Elliott, Todd Graves, myself and three wise men from Wells Bank. Jack was one of the wise men.

******

Color me anything but shocked.

Remember last week when I talked about a planned catered “retirement” event for Superintendent Mark Harpst set to be held at the beautiful and not inexpensive Seven Bridges clubhouse? I mentioned watchdogs are keeping an eye on expenses the Platte County R-3 School District would incur in connection with said event. In last week’s piece, I then predicted that “with watchdog notice now served, look for school officials to either quietly downsize the scope of the event or ask for private donations to cover the cost.”

The ink was barely dry on last week’s issue when I got a phone call I was expecting. Tina Zubeck, school board secretary and the paid official public relations person for the school district, called to say that the Seven Bridges event is being planned by herself, Harpst’s family, friends, and some R-3 “business associates.”

“No tax dollars will be spent on it,” Zubeck claimed.

With recent history fresh in mind, was it the plan all along for this to be a completely privately-funded affair or is this another patented after-the-whistle-has-been-blown public relations recovery act? With locked door meetings and the hiding from the public--and even its own staff--the hiring of Harpst as a consultant with some bonus transitional money thrown in for good measure, top level school leaders have painted themselves into a credibility corner the past several months. After all, if they’ll try to hide a major decision involving the man who has served as the public face of the district for 13 or 14 years, what else are they trying to hide from the public?

******

It is worth noting that on Friday, just one day after Zubeck emphasized “call me anytime you have questions,” I left her a voicemail asking her specifically who were the school district “business associates” helping fund the Seven Bridges retirement event for Harpst. Zubeck has yet to return my call or provide an answer.

I guess I am only to call if I have comfortable questions.

******

Next week, our Democratic columnist Russ Purvis will be unavailable but a strong replacement will again be furnished. Susan Montee, Missouri state auditor, will pen an exclusive column for your Landmark in our next issue.

(Color the publisher anything you’d like via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS FOR PROPERTY OWNERS

Posted 5/1/09

Good news for 96% of real estate property owners in Platte County: The county’s assessed value on your real estate is not--I repeat, not--going up this year. The bad news is you likely won’t be seeing an assessed value decrease, which is a bit surprising considering the recent downturn in the real estate climate.

That’s the word from Lisa Pope, county assessor, who says only about four percent of properties are seeing an increase--and most of the four percent are commercial buildings. “We tried to leave the homeowners alone,” Pope told me about her reassessment method of operation this year.

A few properties are seeing a decrease in assessed value. But here’s the catch on that--you had to protest your assessed value to get it. It wasn’t issued automatically. Don’t you wish the times your assessed value shoots upward the county had to ask you for your opinion first?

“If they have come in and talked to us, and if they showed a decrease is warranted, then it went down,” Pope said. The best way to argue for a decrease is to show a sales comparison of other properties that are similar to your own.

If your value is staying the same, you didn’t get a notice in the mail. So if you thought your value was too high last year, you need to contact Pope’s office at 858-3316 to file a protest in an effort to get it lowered. It’s not too late to seek a lower assessment, Pope said.

Not sure of your property’s assessed value? Check the county’s web site by clicking on the GIS mapping link on the home page at www.co.platte.mo.us

******

Pope says in her opinion, Platte County is one of the few counties in the state that is holding its own in property values. I’ve heard from many folks who would disagree. Some reports indicate many homeowners in some of the higher priced neighborhoods have either sold their property for less than they originally paid for it and/or have had to significantly reduce their asking price during this economic downturn.

“The law states I just have to be within 5% of the market value of that property,” Pope remarked.

******

While lapdogs might be getting misty-eyed with emotion reminiscing over the big spending days of the not-too-distant past, watchdogs are already keeping an eye on expenses the Platte County R-3 School District will be incurring for the “retirement” party for its unretiring superintendent in June.

Reliable sources say the beautiful and not inexpensive clubhouse at the Seven Bridges Development south of Platte City has been tabbed to host a catered retirement party for unretiring superintendent Mark Harpst, who in reality will still be on the R-3 payroll for the next couple of years as a “financial consultant.” Harpst will earn a total of $75,000 in “transition” duties and “consultant” pay. That’s not a bad “retirement” gift from taxpayers.

Something tells me now that the word is out, the school board will once again go into CYA mode (Many of you have admitted to me how much fun you’re having watching them scramble every time they get called out on an issue, and chuckle as they try to pretend they didn’t get caught).

With watchdog notice now served, look for the school officials to either quietly downsize the scope of the event or ask for private donations to cover the cost. Personally, watchdogs are good with that, right? Consider it another public service performed. Harpst has put in a lot of time and effort for the district. While Harpst never met a tax dollar he wouldn’t grab out of your pocket and spend, and then grab another and spend again, he is a nice guy and a good fellow on a personal level. Watchdogs have no problem at all with a reasonable little unretirement reception, and would not have a problem with private funds picking up the tab to appease the “let’s party with somebody else’s money” crowd.

******

Here’s what the thousands of folks who attended the Tax Day Tea Party rally at the Liberty Memorial did to help folks in need of a hand: They donated $1,700 in cash and--get this--enough toilet paper and paper towels to serve 65-75 needy families throughout the Kansas City metro area for 4-6 months.

“It was absolutely phenomenal,” said Mindy Davis, case manager in Platte County for Hillcrest Ministries. Hillcrest--which was also the beneficiary of a drive hosted by The Landmark and the two Platte County political parties during this newspaper’s non-taxpayer-funded annual open to the public, come eat all you want on us Christmas party--helps families who are homeless get back on their feet. The Hillcrest program helps needy families move to self-sufficiency through a 90-day program that stresses learning the tools of financial management while providing them temporary housing. “We help them save up enough to get back into a place of their own,” Davis explains.

The Kansas City Tax Day Tea Party, which was promoted by media outlets KCMO 710 AM and The Landmark and sponsored by KCMO 710 AM and Axiom Strategies, was “huge for us,” said Katie Cramer-Eck, director of the Clay County affiliate of Hillcrest Transitional Housing. “We’re thrilled,” she said, adding that a 26-ft. long moving truck was filled with the donated goods that the estimated 5,000 Tax Day Tea Party attendees brought to the event at the Liberty Memorial.

There’s your proof that folks can believe in a fiscally conservative government and be passionate about issues while still being compassionate and community-minded at the same time. Most often, these types of folks are some of the biggest givers to charitable causes.

******

The Platte County R-3 School Board may be asked to share its “practices and methodology” with its peers at the Missouri School Boards Association leadership summit in June. It appears the board could be hosting seminars on how to build a monument to school administrators, how to hold a public meeting in a locked building, how to hide from the public the hiring of your retiring superintendent as a consultant, and how to gorge yourself while meeting in front of a hungry audience at the dinner hour.

Board member Mary Temperamental could be holding a special seminar on how to maintain a calm disposition.

(Always on alert yet always calm unless the Pirates are playing in a really big game on the field turf, Ivan Foley can be reached at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


THIS WASN'T YOUR NORMAL TAX DAY IN KANSAS CITY

Posted 4/24/09

Wow.

That’s the word that kept going through my head as I looked around at the crowd spilling onto the lawn at last Wednesday’s Kansas City Tax Day Tea ( Taxed Enough Already) Party. I was proud to be included as one of the featured speakers, which included a couple others with Platte County connections, including Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd and former assistant prosecutor Rob Willard. The emotional high of speaking in front of a crowd of thousands and having them react in a positive way is a feeling that will stay with me forever.

As for the crowd count, 710 KCMO radio talk show host Chris Stigall, who was keynote speaker, reported on his show that Kansas City police told him they estimated the crowd at around 5,000 people, which is really amazing considering there were smaller Tea Parties going on in Lee’s Summit and Johnson County at the same time. How big would the crowd have been if those events had been combined into one?

I can never put my finger on exact crowd counts, but I can tell you if that Liberty Memorial tea party had been a Platte City HOG Rally, former Mayor Dave Brooks would have estimated the crowd at 75,000.

******

Young Andrea Plunkett of Platte County was the chief organizer of the Tax Day Tea Party at the Liberty Memorial and did a fantastic job putting this together. Andrea joked with me that she may have a future as a community organizer--and we all know what kind of a resume builder that can be.

Ms. Plunkett has a bright future in the world of politics, in whatever aspect of the field she chooses to pursue.

******

It was good to see many Platte County faces in the crowd at the rally. Surprisingly, I saw several county residents--including a couple of former elected officials–who I wouldn’t normally think of as being the fiscally conservative type. Come on, you know who you are. Thanks for coming.

Were you there because you have seen the light or were you there strictly on a reconnaissance mission?

******

With momentum now established, the next version of a Taxed Enough Already party is being planned for July 4. As soon as we know more so will you.

******

Another of my favorite moments from the Tea Party was a behind-the-scenes deadpanned line from Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd, and by the way don’t let his straight-laced personality fool you--Zahnd is a much more entertaining public speaker than some folks expect him to be. This is the second time Zahnd and I have been handed a microphone at the same event (the first time being a roast of then U.S. Attorney Todd Graves in 2003) and he has done a fine job delivering the goods both times.

Anyway, Zahnd, fellow speaker Rob Willard of Club for Growth and I were sitting on a concrete wall many yards behind the podium where keynote speaker Chris Stigall of KCMO 710 AM had just wrapped up his address. As thousands of people scurried about on the lawn, some starting to head to their cars while others were headed toward the main stage to take photos of the crowd from the elevated spot, Zahnd looked over and quipped:

“Well, our work here is done.”

******

One practice I have is that shortly after an important event occurs--and the Tea Party experience was one, thanks to the large and enthusiastic crowd--I like to grab a few moments alone. The quick quiet time allows me to fully soak up the experience as a way to mentally record the moment. More importantly, it allows me to clear my head, give thanks where it needs to be given, and wonder what my parents would say or think if they were here and/or able.

So I decided to exit down the south lawn of the memorial away from the crowd, then chose what looked like the quietest path back to my car, which was parked about a day away in the Crown Center parking garage. With the sun setting in the distance, there were polite greetings with a couple of passers-by on the sidewalk, and soon a man walking from the opposite direction made eye contact and struck up a conversation.

“I really enjoyed your speech,” he said.

“Thank you and thanks for coming,” I responded to the gentleman as we shook hands.
“Oh, I had to,” he said. “Chris is my son.”

Chris, of course, is Chris Stigall, the 30-something conservative morning radio talk show host on KCMO 710 AM who had just given the keynote address. I’ve written in this spot before how I have been a fan of Stigall since first hearing him on the Randy Miller radio show when he was in his teen years.

“You’ve done a fine job with your son,” I told the elder Stigall, who told me he works at Hallmark.

“I didn’t do it. He has done it on his own,” the proud father responded.

Kind of a surreal experience that in my “get away from it all” moment, in what was perhaps the quietest spot that could have been found in the area at that time, I ran into the father of the keynote speaker. I couldn’t help but wonder if he was using his walking time as one of those quiet moments of his own.

******

With the Tea Party experience behind us at least until the next one rolls around, next week it’s on to other pressing matters. Such as?

How about a discussion over whether the county assessor will recognize market conditions have changed and the assessed value on your property should be dropping accordingly, which could mean a lower tax bill for you this year? Will assessors be willing to react to the reality of the market now that values are headed down? Or will bureaucratic pressure from the tax-and-spend types force them to keep property values at a higher level? Should be fascinating to watch.

(Assess the publisher’s value via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


KANSAS CITY'S TAX DAY TEA PARTY A HUGE SUCCESS; PICTURES FROM THE SCENE

Posted 4/16/09 4 p.m.

Organizers say Kansas City police officials estimated the turnout at nearly 5,000 for the Kansas City Tax Day Tea Party event at the Liberty Memorial on Wednesday afternoon, April 15.

Among the speakers? Your Landmark publisher. Pictures from the event, taken by Greg Hall, can be viewed by clicking the links below. The top link is about my part of the day, the lower link focuses on the more important aspect--the crowd. More on the event later and in next week's print edition of The Landmark.

http://picasaweb.google.com/greghall24/IvanAtTeaParty#

http://picasaweb.google.com/greghall24/TaxDayTeaParty2009#

 


REVIEWING SOME OF THE PAST QUOTES FROM FOLKS AT PLATTE COUNTY R-3

Written 4/15/09

It’s been a busy time for your Landmark staff. We have been--and are in the process of being--all over the Kansas City metropolitan area. Here’s a rundown on just a few of the things your Landmarkers are up to:

•Greg Hall, our sports media sound bite columnist who has been posting multiple pieces at plattecountylandmark.com each week, now has a permanent daily appearance on Kansas City radio. Catch GH every morning at 6:35 a.m. on the Chris Stigall show on KCMO 710 AM. He appears live--or as close to live as a hard-working guy can be at 6:35 a.m.--and then they run a replay of his spot later in the Stigall show.

That in itself is exciting stuff, but that’s not all Hall has had on his plate. In addition to the columns he has been posting at plattecountylandmark.com and at kcconfidential.com, GH appeared on Metro Sports television Tuesday night. Metro Sports’ Dave Stewart invited Hall on to discuss with host Leif Lisec a new uprising in the sports talk radio “war” in Kansas City, as 610 Sports this week announced it is revamping its lineup to try to cut into the market share currently enjoyed by WHB Sports Radio 810.

The Landmark has been front and center this week as far as involvement in the Kansas City Tax Day Tea Party, held today (Wednesday) at the Liberty Memorial. Columnist Hearne Christopher and yours truly were happy to be asked to be among the speakers at this event. Similar Tea Parties were scheduled across the country to send a message to Washington, urging our elected representatives to do a better job exercising responsible spending habits with your tax money.

I’m headed out the door to the Tea Party just as soon as I’m done with this memorable column. Expect a full report in next week’s issue. Check our website later this week in case we have an update that just can’t wait till our next print edition.

Bottom line is it’s an exciting time around The Landmark. If you have a friend or neighbor who is not yet a Landmark reader, give them a verbal spanking and then tell them it’s time to get a subscription. Tell them to ask for the Between the Lines Stimulus Package when they call or email. Between now and April 30, I’ll cover half the cost of anyone coming on board as a new subscriber. That means new (and sorry, this is limited to only new readers--there has to be a limit to my kindness, you know) subscribers can get a year’s worth of journalistic goodness for only $12.50.

Call 816-858-2313 or email ivan@plattecountylandmark.com to ask for the special half price deal.

******

Speaking of Greg Hall and his Off the Couch columns, it’s time to imitate his format for a bit. The topic? All the quotes that hit the local media as the Platte County R-3 School Board announced it had completed a very diligent “nationwide” search, leaving no stone unturned before it hired the guy sitting across the room--assistant superintendent Mike Reik to replace the “retiring” Mark Harpst. These quotes, which are from December, have become very interesting to review. Keep in mind the school board is now spending $75,000 over the next two years to give Harpst a $26,600 payment for “transitional duties” and a $2,000 per month check over the next 24 months to serve as a “financial consultant” for Reik and the school district.

Here we go, with quotes and information from various local media accounts as reported in December. Any editorial comments I add will be preceded with the initials BTL (that’s short for Between the Lines, by the way).

•“I’m really proud of all the board members. Collectively, we put in hundreds of hours in this process.”
Bob Shaw, R-3 board president, in December.
BTL: Hundreds of hours and their later actions indicate they feel they still didn’t get a person who could handle all the duties the previous superintendent has been handling. Time well spent?

•“Many school districts in this position would have hired a consultant, which would have cost the district a minimum of $20,000. The board saved a considerable amount of money in shouldering the process itself.”
Bob Shaw, school board president, in December.
BTL: I guess the board’s definition of ‘saving money’ is to save $20,000 with one act, then spend an extra $75,000 with its next act. I guess this is some kind of New Age Math.

•“The more I think about it, the happier I am in the choice the board made.”
Bob Shaw, school board president, in December.
BTL: I guess this means Shaw is happy spending an extra $75,000. Liberalism exposed. Before he became board president, Shaw used to try to convince us he was a conservative. Those of us who know Bob know he isn’t this free spending with his own money, only with your money.

•“I look forward the next six months to sponging up as much of Dr. Harpst’s knowledge and expertise as I can.”
Mike Reik, after being announced as the next superintendent in December.
BTL: The school board didn’t give Reik six months to sponge up knowledge from Harpst. On Feb. 26, they hired Harpst to hold Reik’s hand over the next two years at a cost that will total $75,000. The board can’t explain why Reik couldn’t have learned all the tricks of the financial trade from Harpst from December through July.

•“I think Mike will do an outstanding job. I’m very confident he has the skill set, vision and work ethic to ensure the school district and its students are successful.”
Mark Harpst in December.
BTL: Apparently by February Harpst had changed his mind. Harpst took a job consulting Reik over the next two years, and will pocket $75,000 in the process. He either wasn’t really all that confident in Reik or he simply fooled the board into giving him $75,000 of R-3 taxpayer cash for no reason. You decide.

(When he isn’t busy compiling past quotes or expressing frustration with runaway government spending at a Tax Day Tea Party, you can reach the publisher via email at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


 

COMPLETE LIST OF SPEAKERS FOR KANSAS CITY TAX DAY TEA PARTY EVENT

Posted 4/13/09 10:25 p.m.

Speakers for the Kansas City Tax Day Tea Party are set as follows. Times are approximate and will probably be later than listed because a band will be providing entertainment after every three to four speakers to break up the talks. Two of the speakers have ties to The Landmark.

The Kansas City Tax Day Tea Party will run from 4-7 p.m. on the north lawn of the Liberty Memorial.

4:35-Dr. Darrel Drumright

4:40-Paul Hamby, Campaign for Liberty, “Audit the Fed”

4:45-Rob Willard, Club for Growth

4:35-Joseph Bridgman, TeenPact, “Leadership”

4:50-Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd, “Internet Crimes”

4:55-Mike Ferguson, Libertarian Party, “Yes We Can”

5:00-Michelle Davis, American Family Association

5:05- Hearne Christopher, media columnist, The Landmark and kcconfidential.com

5:10-Ivan Foley, Publisher, Platte County Landmark

5:15-Dee Vantuyl--blogger

5:20-Becky Cordero, Americans For Prosperity

5:25-Chris Stigall--KCMO 710 AM

For more info on the event, surf to http://kcmogop.blogspot.com


GREG HALL TO GET TV TIME TUESDAY ON METRO SPORTS

Posted 4/13/09 10:15 p.m.

Landmark personalities are popping up everywhere. In another cool development for The Landmark, our sports guy Greg Hall, whose Off the Couch columns you can read at http://www.plattecountylandmark.com/ghall.htm will be a guest on Metro Sports Television on Tuesday night during a live show. Hall will be talking about the changes being made by 610 Sports and how that will affect the sports talk radio wars between 610 Sports and WHB 810 AM.

And check out the print edition of Between the Lines this week for new information on Hall's morning radio appearances on KCMO 710 AM.


TEA PARTY UPDATE: PUBLISHER'S TALK TIME NOW SET FOR 5:15

Posted 4/13/09

This just in: The speech time assigned to yours truly at Wednesday’s Tax Day Tea Party has been moved. I’m now pegged to get the microphone at around 5:15 p.m., which sounds like a quality slot since keynote speaker Chris Stigall of KCMO 710 AM will take the stage at around 5:30.

The Kansas City Tax Day Tea Party will run from 4-7 p.m. Wednesday, April 15 at the Liberty Memorial. It’s a non-partisan event intended to attract and rally folks who are in opposition to government bailouts, runaway government spending and in favor of fiscal responsibility and accountability and a smaller, less intrusive government. Based on reaction, this sounds like the typical Landmark reader, don’t you think?

Be there if you can.


 

THIS WILL BE A TEA PARTY YOU WON'T WANT TO MISS; HARPST BONUS MONEY; ELECTION STUFF

Posted 4/9/09

You're getting two Between the Lines columns for the price of one this week. Scroll down to read the one I posted on Monday, the day before the spring elections. I draw it to your attention just in case you didn't get around to checking this site on Monday or Tuesday prior to the vote.

******

Tea parties not normally your thing? I know what you mean. But this tea party will be different.

Kansas City’s version of the nationwide mania known as Tax Day Tea Parties will take place next Wednesday, April 15. It’s an effort to rally folks who are in opposition to government bailouts, pork barrel politics, runaway government spending and in favor of lower taxes. Thousands are expected to show their civil disobedience in a peaceful but determined way (and heck, let’s plan on having a little fun along the way). Organizers are estimating a crowd of 5,000 to 10,000 people for this gathering at the Liberty Memorial, 100 W. 26th St. in Kansas City.

Here’s hoping you’ll be there. I’m humbled to report I’ve been asked to be one of the speakers at the Kansas City event. This means I’ll be locking myself in a room this weekend, listening only to those “stop the taxing and spending madness” voices in my head while compiling thoughts for what should be a good and meaningful time.

Many of you met Chris Stigall, morning radio host for KCMO 710 AM, at The Landmark’s Christmas party this past year. Stigall will be the headlining speaker at the Kansas City Tax Day Tea Party. Various times for the event have been reported, as this thing has taken on a life of its own. Most recent information sent to me indicates the event at Liberty Memorial will run from 4-7 p.m. They currently have me slotted to speak around 4:20 p.m. though I’m told that may change as final preparations are made. Check The Landmark’s web site for special Between the Lines postings between now and Tax Day for this and other announcements related to this shindig. In the meantime, surf to this site for more info: http://wesurroundthemkc.ning.com/events/tax-day-tea-party

These tea parties are going on in more than 500 cities throughout the nation on April 15. In Atlanta, Sean Hannity from Fox News will be the headlining speaker. Neal Cavuto of Fox News will host his show from the Sacramento tea party, Glenn Beck of Fox News will broadcast from the San Antonio event, and former Congressman Newt Gingrich will be the featured speaker at the New York City gathering.

******

Before some analysis of Tuesday’s school board and city elections, let’s revisit one of the primary topics from last week: The top-secret hiring of “retiring” Platte County R-3 Superintendent Mark Harpst as a $2,000 per month financial consultant for R-3, and the $26,600 the school board has voted to also give to Harpst for “transitional duties.”

His two year deal as a consultant--with no minimum number of hours specified in his contract--will give him $48,000 plus benefits. Add in the $26,600 for those curious “transitional duties” and you have what amounts to, as columnist CK Rairden aptly points out in his column this week, a nearly $75,000 bonus to Harpst funded by the taxpayers.

Apparently that’s the way the school board members view it too, because if this were a deal they were proud of they never would have tried to hide it. The move was made on Feb. 26 and never announced by the school district, until board members became aware The Landmark had acquired the information via a Sunshine Law request and was ready to run with the story. At that time school leadership decided they better try to soften the blow and sent out an email to staff last Monday.

******

By the way, our columnist CK Rairden is a Platte County High School graduate and is living proof that just because you’re a graduate of a particular school, there’s no need to unprofessionally throw away your journalistic principles when commenting on news of the district.

******

Here’s an analogy for you. Remember all those years when Platte City aldermen quietly would admit they knew they had some public relations problems with former city administrator Keith Moody? There would always be talk of a movement to fire Moody, but then a majority of aldermen would back down--they were convinced that Moody was such a financial specialist the city could not survive without him. Well, Moody was finally canned more than a year ago and the city seems to be operating better than ever, thank you very much. While Harpst has none of the bad PR baggage that Moody carried, the one thing he does have in common with the ex-administrator is that he has convinced his bosses that he works financial wonders no one else would be able to do.

It’s simply not reality. Superintendents--just like city administrators--come and go. School districts--just like cities--survive and advance under new staff leadership. Harpst is retiring and there is no need for this school board to be flipping out with separation anxiety. No person is irreplaceable, no matter what we’re being led to believe. What would happen if for any reason in the future Mark Harpst is not available? The way some of these board members talk, we could surmise R-3 would have to close the doors to its “business.”

Give the guy a bonus if you want but be prepared to take some heat for it and don’t try to hide it from taxpayers who are footing the bill. And keep in mind if in fact you’re confident you just hired the right guy as the next superintendent after a thorough nationwide search you bragged about, you shouldn’t need to hire a financial consultant for him.

******

Tuesday’s election of a new Platte County R-3 School Board member sent a message: Voters want more independent thinkers on the board. They’ll get it in newcomer Jeana Houlahan, who carried the top spot by a wide margin. Incumbent go-with-the-flow type Karen Wagoner was a distant second but will retain her seat, as two positions were open. Alan Williams and Bill Kephart were unsuccessful. Houlahan should provide much needed help to Trish Stinnett, the current board member with the most backbone.

Another message? Current board member Mary Temperamental, who suddenly has become a household name with Landmark readers whether she wanted to or not, reportedly worked diligently in support of Williams--who was a very distant third in the voting. Based on the convincing results, Mary’s influence didn’t carry much positive weight. Houlahan even beat Williams in Mary’s home precinct.

(Send your tea party etiquette tips--you know he’ll need them--to the publisher at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


BRACKET BATTLE RESULTS: THERE'S A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE

Posted 4/10/09

Dr. Ann Riggs of the Heartland Clinic in Platte City is this year's winner of The Landmark's annual Bracket Battle. There more than 100 entires in this year's contest, and the good doctor's point total was 214. Close behind were Brian Atkinson and Stan Pomeroy with 209 each. For her NCAA basketball expertise, Dr. Riggs wins the $100 cash prize. And by the way, she is no stranger to the world of college basketball--she played college hoops for BYU from 1995-98.

Every entrant who scored more than yours truly gets two years worth of Landmark subscriptions for free. There were almost 30 of you who somehow scored more than your favorite columnist. My total was 175. If you see your name listed with a better score than mine, you must claim your prize by calling The Landmark office at 816-858-2313 or emailing me at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com

Here are the final standings:

Dr. Ann Riggs 214
Stan Pomeroy 209
Brian Atkinson 209
Bobby Hensley 207
Daryl Grame 207
Dorothy Anderson 205
Kathy McKay 204
Stan Palmer 201
Derek Shultz 196
Jeremy White 193
Anna Nutt 193
Steve Stampsell 193
Taylor Sampsell 193
James Thomas 191
Lawrence Anderson 191
Melissa Hill 191
Randy Meers 185
Deana Anderson 185
Cacy Williams 185
Sue Shultz 185
Tom Sellmeyer 185
Brianne Steffel 183
Andy Hyland 183
Kenneth Miller 183
Steve Manville 183
Robert Schultz 181
Earl Shultz 181
Duane Eckhart 179
Kenna Sampsell 179
Jerry Grame 179

All those listed above this mark win 2 yrs. worth of Landmarks
Ivan Foley 175
Lew Meyer 175
Judy Williams 175
Steve Heuton 175
Johnny Shultz 175
Craig Fisher 173
Eddie Highlander 167
Adam McGinness 165
Shannon Thomas 165
Russ Purvis 164
Michael Kincaid 162
Cory Kincaid 161
Brett Anderson 161
Bill Williams 161
CK Rairden 161
Tom Taulbee 159
Kevin Lockhart 157
Kurt Foley 157
Lori Meyer 153
Brian Kubicki 153
Aaron Black 152
Randy West 151
Helen Steffel 150
Ron Nelson 148
Greg Hall 148
Anne Thomas 145
Clayton Freeman 145
David Richey 144
Jenny Steffel 143
Bill Hankins 142
Linda Foley 142
Corbin Smith 140
Mark Harpst 140
Sherry King 140
Whiteny Meers 139
Brad Taulbee 138
Steve Kincaid 138
Irvin Reineke 138
John L. Steffel 136
Brad Babcock 136
Sue Palm 136
Melvin Grame 134
Rick Porter 134
Matt Demarco 134
Mark Jackson 132
David Lowry 132
Alyssa Foley 130
Sally Jackson 130
Georgie Anderson 130
Larry Van Fosson 130
Joy Pepper 130
John Steffel 130
Nick Palmer 128
Laura Petty 128
Judy Eckhart 126
Judy Grame 126
Linda Whitmore 126
Andy Kules 126
Beth Taulbee 124
Heather Ryan 122
Kinsey Barton 122
Randy Knox 120
Cameron Kincaid 120
Travis Steffel 120
Mitch Lindstrom 116
Sydney Meers 113
David Pypes 110
Blaire Sampsell 104
Donna Van Fosson 100
Connie Knox 100
Frank Thurman 100
Graham Sampsell 88

The Landmark thanks you all for playing. Let's do it again next year!

If you have questions or to claim your prize, email ivan@plattecountylandmark.com or call the office at 816-858-2313.

 


 

JEANA HOULAHAN, ANDY STANTON DESERVING OF SUPPORT

Posted 4/6/09, 5:05 p.m.

It's Election Eve.

Time for some last minute, quick-hitting analysis on some of the contested races facing voters at the city/school ballot boxes tomorrow (that’s Tuesday, April 7).

PLATTE COUNTY R-3 SCHOOL BOARD: Finally, an interesting and somewhat unpredictable school board race at R-3. There are four candidates seeking the two open seats. On the ballot are Karen Wagoner (incumbent), Bill Kephart, Jeana Houlahan, and Alan Williams.

The school board has had an interesting and newsworthy year that can be reviewed by reading past Between the Lines columns. If you care enough to be reading this analysis, you already know some of the stuff that has gone down involving the school board over the past 12 months. There have been some ups and downs and strange behaviors--with much unnecessary and suspicious secrecy--which is never acceptable when it is your money being spent and your children’s education involved.

That will make it interesting to see how the lone incumbent on the ballot fares tomorrow. Incumbent Karen Wagoner--who I have criticized in the past for being too much of a softie in her ‘let’s take the easy way’ role as a school board member while often being overly combative with those of us who have questioned her in her role as local Chamber of Commerce executive director--has traditionally run fairly strong, but some of the school board’s drama over the past several months may take off a bit of the shine. In 2006, Wagoner pulled 886 votes to be the top vote-getter among a field that included Dick Modin (734), Greg Henson (538), David Edwards (464), and Bob Williams (209).

The 886 sounds like a lot of votes but is it really? In 2007, Mary Temperamental was top vote-catcher with 976, followed by Bob Shaw (788) and David Edwards (503).

Last year, Trish Stinnett--the lone fighter on what often is a bureaucratic board operating under a hypnotic trance placed upon it by the current administration--was the leading recipient of votes with a whopping 1,470 followed by Sharon Sherwood with 1050, Dave Holland (1021), Deana Hon (906) and Bill Kephart 582. Stinnett’s strong showing should have sent a message to other board members that the public likes independent thinkers--other board members haven’t grasped that reality to this point.

Speaking of independent thinkers, that leads this columnist to his only endorsement for school board: Jeana Houlahan, a hard-working, intelligent person with an attention to detail and willingness to do research that will absolutely drive the “don’t rock the boat” crowd crazy if she gets elected. Houlahan is by far the best potential board member on this ballot. She is a PC R-3 graduate and a mother of three kids currently attending various schools in the district. She has management level experience in budgeting, strategic planning and human resources and has been a school volunteer and substitute teacher.

“I understand you need accountability for your tax dollars,” Houlahan has told R-3 patrons. Amen, Jeana.

Though voters are free to vote for two of the four candidates, cast your ballot for Houlahan and only Houlahan. It is vitally important that she finish in the top two, so no sense throwing a vote to someone less deserving.

Alan Williams, who is recognized as an involved parent, has placed many wordy yard signs around the district. Memo to Alan: You can’t stuff an elephant in a thimble, you can’t take a shower in a parakeet cage and you don’t want to try to print the Declaration of Independence on a yard sign. Despite his practically illegible yard signs, some of Foley’s Feelers in the Field (well-placed sources who report in) like Williams’ chances of finishing in the top two. While I hope their projection is accurate, I’m going against those feelers in the field and predict the two winners will be Houlahan and Wagoner, with Williams and Kephart on the outside looking in. If I’m wrong and Foley’s Feelers are right, I will likely never go against the feelers again.

Houlahan has run the most well-organized and aggressive campaign. Wagoner knows too many people to lose, doesn’t she? Though admittedly it would be nice to see voters send a message to the free-spending bureaucratic types.

CITY OF PLATTE CITY: For Ward 1 alderman, Ron Stone, incumbent, is being challenged by Lee Roy Van Lew. Van Lew is trying to revive a political career derailed when Mayor Dave and the Sunshine Boys were starting to wear thin on many people. Two years ago, Stone thumped Van Lew 91-28 for this position. I would expect Stone to win easily again. Stone’s biggest contribution in his first term has been to vote the right way on the firing of former city administrator Keith Moody last year. A lot of us didn’t think Ron would have the Stones to join Andy Stanton, Aaron Jung, and Kenneth Brown in ousting Moody. He did. For that he will always be popular with a solid portion of the general public.

For Ward 2 alderman, incumbent Andy Stanton faces a challenge from Ron Porter, another former member of the former Mayor Dave Brooks’ regime. Mike Walsh, a nice man who has unsuccessfully run for office previously, is also on the ballot here. Porter actually was the sharpest of the Sunshine Boys. He used to occasionally question Mayor Dave’s madness before Brooks eventually won him over. But Stanton is the preferred choice here. He has proven to be the outspoken leader among the six member board, serving as board president. He questions every decision, gives thoughtful consideration, and is a diligent watchdog over tax dollars. He’s the kind of leader you don’t want to let get away in trying economic times. Stanton deserves reelection.

NORTH PLATTE SCHOOL BOARD: Three candidates are seeking two open spots here. The guy not afraid to ask questions is our favorite candidate, Jon McLaughlin. McLaughlin, a detail-oriented financial analyst, has run previously without success because he makes some of the old guard at R-1 uncomfortable with his ‘let’s not just blindly follow the superintendent on everything’ attitude. Which of course is why we love him here in Between the Lines. He does face a tough task in trying to unseat Tim Nash (good guy from a well-respected family) or Mike Fisher.

PARK HILL SCHOOL BOARD: Two full term seats open here (held by Denise Schnell and John Thomas), as well as one unexpired term (held by Janice Bolin). Incumbents Schnell and Thomas face a challenge from Lathem Scott. We’ll be surprised if Schnell and Thomas are not both reelected. We haven’t forgotten, however, that they were two board members present at that special Breakfast Club school board meeting Landmark reporter Alan McArthur crashed at the Corner Café at 7 a.m. one morning last year.

Bolin faces a challenge from Dan Coronado and Mark Roy. Neither Coronado nor Roy appeared at a recent candidate forum, which may make some folks question their sincerity in seeking the post.

CITY OF PARKVILLE: Four aldermen up for election, zero have opposition on the ballot. Charlie Poole has said he is running as a write-in against Deborah Butcher, but, my friends, that’s a tough way to try to win an election. I guess no contested races means the people at Parkville are extremely satisfied--though traffic on my phone line and in my email inbox say differently. Until some of the concerned folks step up to find candidates, Parkville incumbents will continue to believe they are doing a fantastic job.

BOTTOM LINE: Regardless of your preferences, go vote Tuesday. And check this week’s print edition of The Landmark for results and the only meaningful local analysis.

(Have an election prediction or thought? Want to become one of Foley's Feelers in the Field? Send an email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


MANY WAYS TO SPECULATE ON THIS HARPST SITUATION

Posted 4/3/09

For those of you who thought the world as we know it had ended when Mexican restaurant Rancho Grande sold out and split town to make room for Walgreen’s--and you know who you are, don't make me name names--relax. Rancho Grande may soon be headed back to Platte City. Word is Rancho is in serious negotiations with developer Bill Mann to buy an existing structure in the Platte Valley Plaza.

******

There are so many angles the hiring of “retiring” superintendent Mark Harpst as a financial consultant for Platte County R-3 can be scrutinized and analyzed, I’m not sure I can get to all of them in this column. We may have to make this a miniseries.

Most importantly, why all the cloak-and-dagger, clandestine activity? Whether you believe the move is a good one or you feel it is unnecessary is immaterial. What should concern you the most is that such a decision was made in total darkness and would still be unknown to all had The Landmark not done some investigating.

The school board made the move to hire Harpst as a financial consultant in a closed session on Feb. 26. In that same closed session, the board hired Tammy DiPonio as a new assistant superintendent. A press release was immediately sent out announcing DiPonio’s hire, though not a word was uttered about the “retiring” superintendent being given a $24,000 per year newly-created position.

Why not? Are they embarrassed by the move? Concerned that it sends a message of a lack of confidence in next year’s superintendent? Or are board members concerned that it could appear they simply created a job and an annual salary for a friend of the district? After all, most folks who have spent 14 years of their lives putting their heart and soul into a position before leaving on good terms would gladly at no charge answer a phone call from a former underling seeking advice, wouldn’t they? Or is the board concerned patrons will view the move as a duplication of services? Or is the board concerned patrons will ask why the time from January till August couldn’t be spent having Harpst train Reik on all he needs to know about the finances?

Or was it simply the fact the vote was not unanimous, and you know how school boards love to put up this facade of “one voice?” Could be, after all the school board attorney did put a muzzle on the dissenting board member by incorrectly telling her she couldn’t comment (she could, in fact, have legally commented on the creation of the position of financial consultant without commenting on the employee involved, but was incorrectly told she couldn’t comment at all).

The Harpst situation didn’t come to light until The Landmark put in a Sunshine Law request for closed session minutes. Heck, school officials hadn’t even told R-3 staff members about it. It wasn’t until the school board realized The Landmark had acquired the story and was ready to run with it this week that the central office--no doubt instructed to do so by school board leadership--sent out an email to R-3 staff letting them know Harpst would be staying on in a role as paid consultant. This allowed a couple of things--it served as a way to break the news to any staff members who might be asking why the district is paying an additional $24,000 annually for someone to hold the hand of a new superintendent who the board said was the right choice after conducting a nationwide search--and it allowed them to leak the news to their shill, a school cheerleader who gets used and abused as the school board’s spin doctor so often he can no longer even try to pass himself off as a real journalist. He is for the school board what Bob Gretz was for Carl Peterson. It’s an embarrassment to the journalism profession.

No other news outlet had put in a Sunshine request for the closed session documents (and trust me, there is factual information in our story you won’t find anywhere else--cheerleaders provide the rah rah, The Landmark provides the real news and unafraid commentary) so the story had to be fed to the school board’s media puppet by one of the subjects involved in the decision. And tell me again who they say has a personal vendetta? These folks get caught up in their own web of spin so often they contradict themselves without even realizing they are doing it.

Thanks for joining me here each week so we can laugh at the irony of it all.

******

One conclusion that can be drawn by his anxiousness to seek a $24,000 per year consulting job with health benefits is that Mark Harpst has put out feelers in the political world and doesn’t like what he hears. It has been no secret Harpst would like to run for office someday, perhaps presiding county commissioner or even state senator. It has also been no secret in political circles that conservatives are salivating at the thought of campaigning against Harpst, who could effectively be painted as a big government, taxing and spending specialist. The writing has been on the wall that Harpst will have a tough time winning locally if and when he puts his name on the ballot. To me, this move indicates he now realizes it.

******

I am man enough to admit when I’m wrong. And I was wrong about Mary Temperelli last week--remember I said I was under the impression Mary is an extremely intelligent person? I need to retract that impression, or at least point out that brains does not equal smarts. After her pathetically incorrect interpretation of a political satire cartoon and her repeated references to the school district as a “business” in her quotes in our front page story, Mary for two consecutive weeks has dressed herself in a clown suit. Next Christmas, I’m giving Mary a sense of humor wrapped in a package of common sense. And as a stocking stuffer I’m throwing in a gift card for anger management courses.

******

As I did last spring on Election Eve, check out a special Between the Lines column with comments on the school and city elections on Monday at plattecountylandmark.com

******

So who’s in the lead in our Bracket Battle with three games to go?

Leaders are Brian Atkinson with 168 points, Stan Pomeroy with 164, Daryl Grame, Bobby Hensley and Michael Kincaid with 162 each, and Dorothy Anderson with 160. Check our the column posted directly below this one for a complete list of standings.

(You’ll catch Ivan Foley shopping in stores all over Platte County and investing his money in real estate in downtown Platte City but you still won’t catch him wearing a cheerleading skirt. Email him at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


BREAKING BRACKET BATTLE NEWS: AN UPDATE

Posted 4/5/09

I won't take the time to update the complete list of standings because in 24 hours it will change again, but after Saturday's pair of Final Fourt contests, we have nailed down the two possible scenarios in The Landmark's Bracket Battle: If North Carolina wins Monday night's championship game, our Bracket Battle champion (who will claim the $100 cash prize) will be Dr. Ann Riggs. If Michigan State pulls the upset, our Bracket Battle champion will The Landmark's own columnist Russ Purvis.

There's the bottom line, but quickly here's a couple of housecleaning items. Number 1, the initial posting of the standings had an error in my own score--my correct score is now found in its right spot in the listing below. A double check of all brackets dropped my score by eight points. Bad news for me, but good news for more of you hoping to claim some free Landmark time. Remember, everyone scoring higher than yours truly wins two years worth of Landmark subscriptions.

The other housecleaning item is this: Later this week on this site we will post the final standings from top to bottom. If your score is higher than mine, you will then need to contact The Landmark at 816-858-2313 to claim your free two years of Landmark subscriptions, or claim your winnings via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com

Thanks for playing.


 

BRACKET BATTLE STANDINGS WITH ONE WEEKEND TO GO

Posted 4/3/09

After four rounds, here are your complete standings in The Landmark’s Bracket Battle.
Remember, correct picks in the Final Four round will be worth 15 points each and if you pick the national champion that will be worth another 30 points. Winner gets $100, anyone scoring a higher point total than Landmark publisher Ivan Foley gets two years worth of Landmark subscriptions.

Brian Atkinson 168
Stan Pomeroy 164
Daryl Grame 162
Bobby Hensley 162
Michael Kincaid 162
Dorothy Anderson 160
Kathy McKay 156
Stan Palmer 156
Dr. Ann Riggs 154
Eddie Highlander 152
Aaron Black 152
Shannon Thomas 150
Adam McGinness 150
Helen Steffel 150
Steve Sampsell 148
Anna Nutt 148
Greg Hall 148
Ron Nelson 148
Taylor Sampsell 148
Jeremy White 148
Bill Williams 148
CK Rairden 146
James Thomas 146
Lawrence Anderson 146
Melissa Hill 146
Brett Anderson 146
David Richey 144
Kurt Foley 142
Bill Hankins 142
Linda Foley 142
Corbin Smith 140
Mark Harpst 140
Tom Sellmeyer 140
Randy Meers 140
Deana Anderson 140
Cacy Williams 140
Sue Shultz 140
Sherry King 140
Brian Kubicki 138
Brad Taulbee 138
Steve Kincaid 138
Brianne Steffel 138
Jenny Steffel 138
Lori Meyer 138
Andy Hyland 138
Irvin Reineke 138
Kenneth Miller 138
Steve Manville 138
John L. Steffel 136
Derek Shultz 136
Robert Schultz 136
Randy West 136
Brad Babcock 136
Sue Palm 136
Earl Shultz 136
Rick Porter 134
Matt Demarco 134
Kenna Sampsell 134
Jerry Grame 134
Melvin Grame 134
Russ Purvis 134
Duane Eckhart 134
David Lowry 132
Mark Jackson 132

Ivan Foley 130
Anne Thomas 130
Clayton Freeman 130
Larry VanFosson 130
John Steffel 130
Lew Meyer 130
Georgie Anderson 130
Judy Williams 130
Sally Jackson 130
Joy Pepper 130
Steve Heuton 130
Johnny Shultz 130
Alyssa Foley 130
Nick Palmer 128
Craig Fisher 128
Laura Petty 128
Judy Grame 126
Judy Eckhart 126
Linda Whitmore 126
Andy Kules 126
Beth Taulbee 124
Whitney Meers 124
Kinsey Barton 122
Heather Ryan 122
Randy Knox 120
Travis Steffel 120
Cameron Kincaid 120
Mitch Lindstrom 116
Tom Taulbee 114
David Pypes 110
Connie Knox 106
Blaire Sampsell 104
Frank Thurman 100
Donna Van Fosson 100
Sydney Meers 98
Graham Sampsell 88


 

THIS WEEK, THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY

Posted 3/26/09

Welcome back to The Landmark, where you can rest assured we work for our readers, not our leaders.

******

How about the first weekend of March Madness, my annual spring fetish? Several close games, a couple upsets, and best of all three Big 12 teams advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. Not bad for a conference that was taking some shots from the national pundits most of the season. Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri (what a job coach Mike Anderson is doing there this season--I thought he showed a composed and steady hand during the late stages of a tight win over Marquette on Sunday) all stayed alive on the hardwood through the first weekend. All three will face considerable challenges in the next round.

If you’re tuning in here to view the early standings in our bigger than ever bracket contest (this can be verified by the red-eyed folks who take on the task of grading more than 100 entries), stay put. It’s coming.

******

Now I know how Dr. Phil stays so busy.

For the second time in the past several months, a public official has walked a psychological tight rope after reading something in The Landmark. First it was ex-Parkville mayor/then county commissioner candidate Kathy Dusenbery losing control of all her faculties in a phone conversation with me. It was a meltdown of epic proportions. I put out a call to Kathy’s friends to give her a hug. It seems to have worked. No charge for that service, it’s what we do here in Between the Lines.

A similar emotional outburst happened again last week, this time via email and this time with Platte County R-3 School Board member Mary Temperelli. Mary missed the point of last week’s editorial cartoon on this page. First thing Friday morning, she emailed to me the letter to the editor you can read by clicking here. In fact, take a moment right now to read her letter. Go ahead, I'll talk to myself till you get back.

OK, welcome back to Between the Lines. Anyway, I politely acknowledged receiving her letter, thanked her for reading, told her I would be glad to address her accusations, and encouraged her to attend an upcoming Sunshine Law forum this newspaper will be co-hosting later this year. This wasn’t good enough for Mary, who proceeded to email me an additional three or four times throughout that day. Yes, Mary was quite contrary. By her third email, I was considering calling Mary’s fellow board members and asking them to conduct an intervention in the now-famous Temperelli kitchen, where several students apparently gather every Thursday afternoon to read The Landmark.

Last week’s editorial cartoon, the work of our talented artist Matthew Silber, followed two weeks worth of commentary about the fact the Platte City Chamber of Commerce strangely awarded the school district as the “Business of the Year.” Matthew’s work rolled with the thought that if a school district is considered a business, is a “manufactured student” its business product? Mary--and she has been the Lone Ranger on this one, as no other Landmark reader has indicated this opinion to me--said the cartoon was an “attack upon our students.”

Actually, the “attack” was on the idea that the school district was considered a business by the Chamber.

Frankly, until she emailed, I hadn’t devoted much time to thinking about Mary. But I have always been under the impression she is an extremely intelligent person. Sometimes extremely intelligent people don’t have an open mind or a sense of humor. I’m not saying Mary lacks one or the other or both, but I am saying Mary completely missed the point of the cartoon. The question then becomes did she genuinely miss the point or is this a manufactured tirade? After all, her second paragraph sounds a bit contrived to me. And her letter seems to spend some time trying to convince us she is the Mother Teresa of Platte County R-3.

So was it real or was it fake? Who knows the answer to that and better yet, who cares? Either way it goes down as another memorable moment in local political lore. If you’re scoring at home, I’m giving Mary an “A” in drama but an “F” in cartoon interpretation.

What Mary will eventually realize when she regains her senses is that her temper tantrum and baseless accusations paint her in a bad light, including with the very students she claims she is out to serve and protect.

******

As for Mary’s accusation that I have a “personal vendetta” against the school district, please. She sounds like an elementary kid trying to start a pillow fight. This isn’t elementary school and here in Between the Lines we don’t use pillows. After reading her letter, one can come to the conclusion there may in fact be a personal vendetta at play here, but it’s pointed at me, not from me.

Perhaps in Mary’s world she calls reporting on illegal locked door meetings, improperly posted closed sessions, health violations in school cafeterias, tax increases, and plasma televisions in administrators’ offices a “personal vendetta.” In the real world, that’s called journalism. Not only does the public have a right to know these things, the public wants to know these things. Mary apparently would prefer your journalistic thirst be quenched by reading the R-3 student newspaper, the school district’s newsletter, or any lame cheerleader-type publication.

Of this much Mary can be certain: If I had a personal vendetta, her name would have been listed along with other board members as defendants in at least three Sunshine lawsuits by now. I can tell you there are other public bodies hoping The Landmark gives them as many get- out-of-jail free cards as we have given the R-3 school board.
Sincerely though, Mary, thanks for reading.

******

Check out our sports guy Greg Hall this week and next week at 7:54 a.m. every weekday morning on 710 AM during Chris Stigall’s show. And keep reading his entertaining Off the Couch columns at http://www.plattecountylandmark.com/ghall.htm

******

Now to that first Bracket Battle scoring update. Remember, winner gets $100, and everybody who beats my score (currently 98) wins two years worth of Landmark subscriptions. At the Top Ten (or so) of the leader board in the general public category right now are: Brad Taulbee, Ron Nelson and Adam McGinness all tied with 106, followed by several people close behind with 104 points, including Shannon Thomas, Clayton Freeman, Michael Kincaid, Stan Pomeroy, Mark Harpst, Nick Palmer, and Bobby Hensley. If you don’t see your name listed near the top, don’t fret just yet, these battles are always won in the later rounds. For the standings among Landmarkers, see the column posted further down this page.

(The feeling is always right to email your publisher. That address is ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


INTERNAL BRACKET BATTLE: RAIRDEN HAS EARLY LEAD

Posted 3/22/09, 8 p.m.

A 4-3-1 Sunday brought your publisher's Guaran-Dam-Teed against the spread record to 12-12-2, which is just short of, for any Deep South readers, kissing your sister. Sweet Sixteen picks posted later this week, with games firing up again on Thursday.

More importantly, standings in The Landmark's Bracket Battle among our staffers can be announced with the first two rounds of the tourney now complete. Here are the standings:

CK Rairden 108 points, Bill Hankins 106, Kurt Foley and Greg Hall 104 each, James Thomas 100, Ivan Foley 98, Brian Kubicki 92, Russ Purvis 88.

Check the printed version of your Landmark this week for the general public standings in our contest.


FORMER PC PIRATE IS A MEMBER OF NCAA TOURNEY TEAM

Posted 3/18/09

It’s March Madness and what could be more maddingly cool than a former Platte County Pirate involved in the Big Dance? It’s happening this season.

Remember Lorenzo Riley, the post player who helped lead the Pirates into the state quarterfinals in 2005? He’s now a senior for the North Dakota State Bison, who are set to do battle with none other than the defending national champion Kansas Jayhawks on Friday in the first round of this year’s championship tournament.

Riley, age 22, is a 6’6” forward who checks in at 230 pounds. He has appeared in 12 games for the Bison this season. He averages 3.8 minutes on a team loaded with seniors. Riley has a shooting percentage of 33%.

Riley, affectionately known as Zo in his Pirate days, is the son of Daryl and Rebecca Riley of Platte City. His family includes brothers Cody and Ben, and sisters Jasmine and Laney. Zo is majoring in public relations at North Dakota State. I remember him fondly from the day I was invited to speak to a journalism class at Platte County High School while he was a student there. He was the most polite gentleman in the room, listened attentively and asked good questions, taking the entire session seriously. That’s tough for some high school kids when they get a guest speaker, but it wasn’t for Riley.

North Dakota State, by the way, is competing in NCAA Division 1 for the first time this season.

So will it be a happy dance for the Bison, or will their first-ever trip to the ball be a short one? Will Riley get in the game? We’ll know the answers to these questions and more about 1:30 Friday afternoon.

(Email the local authority on North Dakota State Bison basketball at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


PRETENDERS COME OUT TO PLAY; BRACKET BATTLE BASICS

Posted 3/18/09

It was around 70 degrees on Monday, close to 80 on Tuesday. You wanna know why, I’ll tell you why (sorry, I just fell into full Dave Brooks parody mode for a second--old habits die hard).

Anyway, the reason it was 70 degrees on Monday and close to 80 on Tuesday? It’s Sunshine Week in Missouri.

******

Sunshine Week is an initiative to create awareness about the importance of open government and freedom of information. At The Landmark, we do this year-round. For one special week of the year at the urging of the Missouri Press Association, some other media outlets--who are most often clueless about the real role of their profession-- pretend to give a rat’s ass about protecting the public’s right to know.

It’s Amateur Week.

******

Local elected officials throughout Platte County--and the general public--will be invited to a special event in the coming months.

Later this year, the left-leaning Weston Chronicle and your right-leaning Landmark will be teaming up to host an educational evening about the Sunshine Law. Invited speakers will include the state attorney general’s “new guy” assigned to educate public officials on the topic and Jean Maneke, the Missouri Press Association’s legal expert on open government issues. Many of you have met Jean at Landmark Christmas parties. She knows her stuff on this topic.

We did this several years ago--I want to say it was 2000 or 2001--and a large crowd attended in the county commission meeting room at the Platte County Administration Building. It’s a friendly opportunity for elected officials to learn the ins and outs about the open meetings/records laws so you don’t have to read your name in the paper at a later date.

Watch this space for details as they get nailed down. There will be no need for a taxpayer-funded security guard and we promise not to lock you out of the meeting.

******

Less than five months now until my speaking engagement with the Platte County Pachyderm Club at O’Dowd’s in Zona Rosa. Good seats are still available.

******

I’m still formulating topics for that August talk with my favorite elephants. Some subjects that may get touched upon: Barack Obama, socialism, why Republicans have gotten their tails kicked lately at the national level, the Sunshine Law, journalism degrees, school boards, sales taxes and golf courses, and what’s left of the Falling Star.

I better narrow that down or we could be there awhile. Unlike Obama, I will not be using a teleprompter. I’m thinking the more you drink the better the speech will be.

******

Congrats to the Lady Pirates on their state championship. High school sports rarely get a mention in this column space for good reason, but a state title is worthy of an acknowledgment. Those girls and coaches will remember that moment for the rest of their lives.

******

Now what does merit a mention is The Landmark’s annual Bracket Battle, because it gives readers a chance to win cash--or better yet--two years of subscriptions to Platte County’s favorite newspaper.

Beat my bracket and you’re a winner. I’m following a lot of chalk this year. Here’s what you’re up against:

First round winners: Louisville, Ohio State, Arizona, Wake Forest, West Virginia, Kansas, Boston College, Michigan State, Connecticut, BYU, Purdue, Washington, Utah State, Missouri, Maryland, Memphis, Pitt, Oklahoma State, Florida State, Xavier, UCLA, Villanova, Minnesota, Duke, North Carolina Butler, Western Kentucky, Gonzaga, Temple, Syracuse, Clemson, Oklahoma.

Sweet 16: Louisville, Wake Forest, Kansas, Michigan State, Connecticut, Purdue, Utah State, Memphis, Pitt, Xavier, Villanova, Duke, North Carolina, Gonzaga, Syracuse, Oklahoma.

Elite Eight: Louisville, Kansas, Connecticut, Memphis, Pitt, Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse.

Final Four: Louisville, Memphis, Duke, North Carolina.

Championship game: North Carolina 73, Louisville 65

******

Here’s what other Landmarkers are predicting in the way of a Final Four:

Brian Kubicki: Michigan State, Memphis, Duke, UNC, with Memphis beating UNC for the title; James Thomas: Wake Forest, Missouri, Villanova, North Carolina, with Wake over UNC; Russ Purvis: Michigan State, Memphis, Pitt, North Carolina, with Michigan State over UNC; Greg Hall: Louisville, Connecticut, Duke, Oklahoma, with Oklahoma over Connecticut; Bill Hankins: Louisville, Memphis, Pitt, Oklahoma, with Louisville over Pitt; Kurt Foley: Louisville, Memphis, Pitt, UNC, with Louisville over UNC; CK Rairden: Louisville, Memphis, Pitt, UNC, with Louisville over UNC.

You’ve got till 11 a.m. Thursday to get your bracket to us. Fax it to 816-858-2313 or email it to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com

******

Check our web site at plattecountylandmark.com throughout the tournament, as I’ll have occasional updates in special Between the Lines postings. Landmark facilities manager Kurt Foley and I will be soaking up the first round NCAA action at the Sprint Center on Thursday, so expect a report on that, and I’ll tell you which former Platte County Pirate basketball player is on a tournament roster for a team in the Big Dance. And look for some potential Guaran-dam-teed against the spread picks if the feeling is right.

(The feeling is always right to email your publisher. That address is ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


 

GET YOUR ENTRY IN LANDMARK BRACKET CONTEST NOW!

It’s time for The Landmark’s annual college basketball bracket contest. It’s the original and longest-running public bracket contest in Platte County, and your chance to win $100 or two years worth of subscriptions to The Landmark.

Entry, as always, is free and open to everyone. Entries are limited to one per person. This year’s winner will receive a $100 prize, as well as bragging rights and much publicity in the pages of your Landmark and here at plattecountylandmark.com

Entries in The Landmark’s contest are due by 11 a.m. on Thursday, March 19.

To enter, fill out a copy of the 64-team bracket, which you can clip out of the daily papers or print one by clicking here. Pick a winner for every tournament game. Any games left blank are counted as a loss.

Entries can be faxed to 816-858-2313 or emailed to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com

Again this year, Landmark publisher Ivan Foley is offering rewards to those who finish with a higher score than he does. Anyone with a better score than Foley will receive two one-year subscriptions to The Landmark, the only countywide newspaper in Platte County. Both years can be applied to the entrant’s subscription or keep one for yourself and give the other year to a friend or family member.

As a potential tiebreaker, write in how many total points you think will be scored in the national championship game.

It’s your chance to go head-to-head against Foley and other Landmark personalities, including columnists Greg Hall,Russ Purvis, James Thomas, Brian Kubicki, CK Rairden, Hearne Christopher, intern Kurt Foley and Hall of Fame photographer Bill Hankins.

Be sure to write your name and phone number on your bracket, as well as how many total points you think will be scored in the championship game.

Scoring will be done as follows:

Two points for each correct first round pick; four points for second round winners; six points for third round winners; eight points in the fourth round; 15 points in the fifth round, and 30 points for picking the tourney champion.


 

STRANGE 'BUSINESS OF THE YEAR' IS TALK OF THE TOWN

Posted 3/13/09

As you know from time to time I like to bring you a flavor of some of the stuff that hits the Between the Lines email inbox. Here’s a taste of the incoming this week. The topic? My remarks last week poking at the Platte City Chamber of Commerce for selecting the tax-supported Platte County R-3 School District as the ‘Business of the Year.’ Here’s a sampling from the inbox:

“Thanks for calling out the Platte City Chamber of Commerce. You think a Chamber, for God’s sake, would know better. Talk about drinking the Kool-Aid! And I really liked your follow-up: ‘Is that the new American way?’ Someone should submit that Platte City Chamber of Commerce Award puzzler to Fox News. Or Rush. A city chamber giving an award for Business of the Year to a school? Man, we are in sad shape as a nation and as a people if the Platte City Chamber of Commerce is that confused. Government so big that even business owners are getting confused about the roles of private enterprises versus government. I’m tempted to ask for names of merchants who made that selection.”

******

The Platte City Chamber’s bizarre designation of the school district as the alleged Business of the Year even became a topic at the Platte City Board of Aldermen meeting Tuesday night. Alderman Tony Paolillo could be overheard questioning the puzzling selection in a conversation with city administrator Jason Metten before the meeting. And during the meeting, there were a couple of interesting exchanges on the topic, including this one:

“How is R-3 considered a business? I can’t seem to get an answer to that,” asked Andy Stanton, alderman.

Ron Stone, alderman, tried to defuse.

“I was told it’s because they have so many employees,” Stone said, repeating a weak argument that ignores the fact those “so many employees” are paid with public money.

“They are in the business of developing minds,” Mayor Frank Offutt said with a very noticeable smirk on his face, clearly wanting to get away from the discussion.

Stanton wasn’t done.

“They (R-3) can’t fail. With the amount of revenue they get, they can’t fail,” he added.

******

The paid executive director of the Platte City Chamber of Commerce is Karen Wagoner, who is also a Platte County R-3 School Board member. Just sayin’.

******

And another comment sent to my electronic mail inbox, with the topic this time the Obama-led trend toward socialism in our country:

“As painful as that stock market slide is, becoming a Socialist nation is only making the markets more jittery, and quite understandably. I am unimpressed by this Ivy League genius collection of advisers that Obama was supposed to bring into the top echelons of his cabinet. They don’t appear to have a clue. Too much schoolin’ and not enough sense.”

******

More on socialism. This quote is historically attributed to former Britain Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: “The trouble with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”

******

One more from the Internet world this week: The word Obama is an acronym for One Big Ass Mistake, America.

******

Hey, it’s Bracket Battle time. If you’ve never entered The Landmark’s college basketball bracket contest, this is the year to do it. You don’t need to be at the top of the class to come out a winner--anybody who scores more points than yours truly wins two years worth of free subscriptions to your Landmark, Platte County’s recognized news and opinion leader. That’s more than a $50 value, folks, which means everybody should be taking their best shot at this. Doesn’t matter how big of a basketball fan you are--or aren’t--you have nothing to lose when you fax that bracket to 816-858-2313 or email to me at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com

Or, if you’d like a personal visit and a chance to shoot the breeze, drop your entry by our office in historic downtown Platte City. Take a look at our building’s newly-renovated exterior in the process.

******

One of the enticing facets of our bracket contest is you’ll get to match prognosticating skills against those Landmark personalities who inform you, often entertain you, hopefully stimulate your mind, and often (tick) you off.

Republicans, think of it as your chance to get in a shot at our Democratic pundit Russ Purvis. Dems, think of it as your chance to launch an in-your-face jump shot at James Thomas, CK Rairden and Brian Kubicki. Sports junkies can use it as a sports IQ exam against our web site sports guy Greg Hall. Intellectuals can go head-to-head against smart guy Bill Hankins. Basketball players can judge their skills against our three-point specialist Kurt Foley. And all of you can view it as a chance to dish out a “take that” to the publisher who you know has gotten under your skin a time or two--or three, or more--in the past year.

This will be fun. Get your entry in. The bracket will be announced Sunday evening and you have until next Thursday at 11 a.m. to get your entry to us.

******

There’s a feud brewing in the KC sports media between Jason Whitlock and talking heads Kevin Kietzman and Jack Harry. Greg Hall has an excellent Off the Couch column about it now on our web site at http://www.plattecountylandmark.com/ghall.htm

******

Son Kurt tells me a rubber band pistol was once confiscated from his algebra class because it was a weapon of math disruption.

(He’s usually in Las Vegas this week, but after busting out of town for several days at Christmas your publisher is spending his normal spring break right here. Comfort him via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


Calling a spade a spade; And Grill's Wizards connection

Posted 3/6/09

Comedian David Spade will be appearing at the Ameristar Casino in Kansas City on April 18. Having caught his act in Las Vegas last March, I highly recommend it.

Promotional materials for the event say his show is for mature audiences only, which makes me wonder how I ever got in the first time.

******

The Platte County R-3 School District has been named the Business of the Year by the Platte City Chamber of Commerce.

Huh?

Memo to the Chamber: A school district, by definition, is not a business. A real business cannot mandate upon its “customers” its desired level of income, which is what R-3--or any tax supported entity--does when it sends all of us those tax bills.

How can anybody in private enterprise compete against that?

******

Who will win the Chamber’s Business of the Year Award next year, the City of Platte City or the County of Platte?

******

A tax supported institution does not--should not--exist for the purpose of making a profit and should not be taking tax money to compete against private enterprise, which in fact is what R-3 is doing by running its own preschool. And now we hear there’s some consideration at R-3 about the district beginning a day care service.

There’s something wrong with taking money from local businesses in the form of taxes and then using that money to compete for private dollars against some of those same local businesses.

Is that the new American way?

******

Memo to Parkville mayor and board of aldermen: In the name of Sir Walter Raleigh, enough of this ridiculous smoking ban discussion. How many years is this going to go on? Make a decision--or better yet, leave it alone--and move on. You’re starting to embarrass yourselves.

******

The Between the Lines bat phone rang this week with a reliable tipster on the other end. Seems that the Kansas City Wizards public relations employee who fired upon me from her Wizards email account recently after my analysis of the political future of State Rep. Jason Grill has a vested interest in the topic: She and Grill have been dating for the past several months, reports this tipster, who is known to frequent some of the same nightspots as southern Platte County’s state representative.

The Wizards PR gal? Erin Lawless. Erin told me in her email that my reference to Grill’s “slick GQ style and past questionable behavioral incidents” was “rude.” She wrote in her email: “Jason is an amazing person with a huge heart. He wants the best for his district and does everything he can to better the community, and I honestly can’t say that about a lot of politicians out there.”

And my favorite part is that Erin finished her love note to me on the Wizards email account this way: “Your article is transparent. Good thing for (Grill) that he is focused and doesn’t listen to little articles that make incorrect assumptions.” (Sidenote from this columnist: Hey Erin, what exactly are those ‘incorrect assumptions?’)

To be fair--and hey, that’s what we do here--though Erin wasn’t upfront about her vested interest in my analysis of Grill’s political future, the Between the Lines tipster comes to her defense: “She’s really sweet, really pretty. I think she’s a really good influence on him. She could be good for (Grill). I like him. I think he’s a nice kid who needs to grow up really fast and maybe now he is,” the tipster remarks.

******

Want another reason Roy Blunt wouldn’t be able to successfully carry the Republican flag into battle against Robin Carnahan for U.S. Senator in 2010? Blunt was one of only 24 Congressmen who voted to protect their own pay raises. More specifically, every member of the Missouri delegration rejected the pay raise--except Blunt.

Run, Republicans, run from Blunt. He won’t win in 2010. Find another candidate without the baggage. Leaders like ol’ Roy are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

******

The tell-it-like-it-is sports style of Greg Hall is back in The Landmark fold, on our web site at plattecountylandmark.com

Hall--one of the people I most admire in this business, which is a world full of too many fanny kissers and too short on writers willing to cut through the bull--has throngs of loyal readers who will be thrilled to learn they can once again check out his work online.

Some new stuff from GH is already online and look for more to come on a weekly basis. The link is http://www.plattecountylandmark.com/ghall.htm

******

New Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and new Attorney General Chris Koster both have expressed support for strengthening the Sunshine Law. Nixon recently told a gathering of media types at the state capitol that he backs proposed legislation allowing penalties against all government officials, and not just those who knowingly violate the open meetings law.

Nixon said he also wants to make it easier for people who successfully allege Sunshine Law violations to recoup their attorney fees. “If you put public officials and public bodies at risk for those fees, they’re much more likely to err on the side of openness,” Nixon told the media gathering.

Koster, meanwhile, said he has hired a staff person to focus solely on educating local government officials (any school board presidents listening?) about the Sunshine Law. Koster said he believed the attorney general’s office previously conducted about 15 to 25 presentations a year about the law. Koster said he wants to increase that to between 150 to 170 annually.

(Always willing to help raise awareness of the public’s right to know, this columnist can knowingly be reached at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com or on the bat phone at 816-858-0363)



BRACKET BATTLE RESULTS: THERE'S A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE

Posted 4/10/09

Dr. Ann Riggs of the Heartland Clinic in Platte City is this year's winner of The Landmark's annual Bracket Battle. There more than 100 entires in this year's contest, and the good doctor's point total was 214. Close behind were Brian Atkinson and Stan Pomeroy with 209 each. For her NCAA basketball expertise, Dr. Riggs wins the $100 cash prize. And by the way, she is no stranger to the world of college basketball--she played college hoops for BYU from 1995-98.

Every entrant who scored more than yours truly gets two years worth of Landmark subscriptions for free. There were almost 30 of you who somehow scored more than your favorite columnist. My total was 175. If you see your name listed with a better score than mine, you must claim your prize by calling The Landmark office at 816-858-2313 or emailing me at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com

Here are the final standings:

Dr. Ann Riggs 214
Stan Pomeroy 209
Brian Atkinson 209
Bobby Hensley 207
Daryl Grame 207
Dorothy Anderson 205
Kathy McKay 204
Stan Palmer 201
Derek Shultz 196
Jeremy White 193
Anna Nutt 193
Steve Stampsell 193
Taylor Sampsell 193
James Thomas 191
Lawrence Anderson 191
Melissa Hill 191
Randy Meers 185
Deana Anderson 185
Cacy Williams 185
Sue Shultz 185
Tom Sellmeyer 185
Brianne Steffel 183
Andy Hyland 183
Kenneth Miller 183
Steve Manville 183
Robert Schultz 181
Earl Shultz 181
Duane Eckhart 179
Kenna Sampsell 179
Jerry Grame 179

All those listed above this mark win 2 yrs. worth of Landmarks
Ivan Foley 175
Lew Meyer 175
Judy Williams 175
Steve Heuton 175
Johnny Shultz 175
Craig Fisher 173
Eddie Highlander 167
Adam McGinness 165
Shannon Thomas 165
Russ Purvis 164
Michael Kincaid 162
Cory Kincaid 161
Brett Anderson 161
Bill Williams 161
CK Rairden 161
Tom Taulbee 159
Kevin Lockhart 157
Kurt Foley 157
Lori Meyer 153
Brian Kubicki 153
Aaron Black 152
Randy West 151
Helen Steffel 150
Ron Nelson 148
Greg Hall 148
Anne Thomas 145
Clayton Freeman 145
David Richey 144
Jenny Steffel 143
Bill Hankins 142
Linda Foley 142
Corbin Smith 140
Mark Harpst 140
Sherry King 140
Whiteny Meers 139
Brad Taulbee 138
Steve Kincaid 138
Irvin Reineke 138
John L. Steffel 136
Brad Babcock 136
Sue Palm 136
Melvin Grame 134
Rick Porter 134
Matt Demarco 134
Mark Jackson 132
David Lowry 132
Alyssa Foley 130
Sally Jackson 130
Georgie Anderson 130
Larry Van Fosson 130
Joy Pepper 130
John Steffel 130
Nick Palmer 128
Laura Petty 128
Judy Eckhart 126
Judy Grame 126
Linda Whitmore 126
Andy Kules 126
Beth Taulbee 124
Heather Ryan 122
Kinsey Barton 122
Randy Knox 120
Cameron Kincaid 120
Travis Steffel 120
Mitch Lindstrom 116
Sydney Meers 113
David Pypes 110
Blaire Sampsell 104
Donna Van Fosson 100
Connie Knox 100
Frank Thurman 100
Graham Sampsell 88

The Landmark thanks you all for playing. Let's do it again next year!

If you have questions or to claim your prize, email ivan@plattecountylandmark.com or call the office at 816-858-2313.

 


 

JEANA HOULAHAN, ANDY STANTON DESERVING OF SUPPORT

Posted 4/6/09, 5:05 p.m.

It's Election Eve.

Time for some last minute, quick-hitting analysis on some of the contested races facing voters at the city/school ballot boxes tomorrow (that’s Tuesday, April 7).

PLATTE COUNTY R-3 SCHOOL BOARD: Finally, an interesting and somewhat unpredictable school board race at R-3. There are four candidates seeking the two open seats. On the ballot are Karen Wagoner (incumbent), Bill Kephart, Jeana Houlahan, and Alan Williams.

The school board has had an interesting and newsworthy year that can be reviewed by reading past Between the Lines columns. If you care enough to be reading this analysis, you already know some of the stuff that has gone down involving the school board over the past 12 months. There have been some ups and downs and strange behaviors--with much unnecessary and suspicious secrecy--which is never acceptable when it is your money being spent and your children’s education involved.

That will make it interesting to see how the lone incumbent on the ballot fares tomorrow. Incumbent Karen Wagoner--who I have criticized in the past for being too much of a softie in her ‘let’s take the easy way’ role as a school board member while often being overly combative with those of us who have questioned her in her role as local Chamber of Commerce executive director--has traditionally run fairly strong, but some of the school board’s drama over the past several months may take off a bit of the shine. In 2006, Wagoner pulled 886 votes to be the top vote-getter among a field that included Dick Modin (734), Greg Henson (538), David Edwards (464), and Bob Williams (209).

The 886 sounds like a lot of votes but is it really? In 2007, Mary Temperamental was top vote-catcher with 976, followed by Bob Shaw (788) and David Edwards (503).

Last year, Trish Stinnett--the lone fighter on what often is a bureaucratic board operating under a hypnotic trance placed upon it by the current administration--was the leading recipient of votes with a whopping 1,470 followed by Sharon Sherwood with 1050, Dave Holland (1021), Deana Hon (906) and Bill Kephart 582. Stinnett’s strong showing should have sent a message to other board members that the public likes independent thinkers--other board members haven’t grasped that reality to this point.

Speaking of independent thinkers, that leads this columnist to his only endorsement for school board: Jeana Houlahan, a hard-working, intelligent person with an attention to detail and willingness to do research that will absolutely drive the “don’t rock the boat” crowd crazy if she gets elected. Houlahan is by far the best potential board member on this ballot. She is a PC R-3 graduate and a mother of three kids currently attending various schools in the district. She has management level experience in budgeting, strategic planning and human resources and has been a school volunteer and substitute teacher.

“I understand you need accountability for your tax dollars,” Houlahan has told R-3 patrons. Amen, Jeana.

Though voters are free to vote for two of the four candidates, cast your ballot for Houlahan and only Houlahan. It is vitally important that she finish in the top two, so no sense throwing a vote to someone less deserving.

Alan Williams, who is recognized as an involved parent, has placed many wordy yard signs around the district. Memo to Alan: You can’t stuff an elephant in a thimble, you can’t take a shower in a parakeet cage and you don’t want to try to print the Declaration of Independence on a yard sign. Despite his practically illegible yard signs, some of Foley’s Feelers in the Field (well-placed sources who report in) like Williams’ chances of finishing in the top two. While I hope their projection is accurate, I’m going against those feelers in the field and predict the two winners will be Houlahan and Wagoner, with Williams and Kephart on the outside looking in. If I’m wrong and Foley’s Feelers are right, I will likely never go against the feelers again.

Houlahan has run the most well-organized and aggressive campaign. Wagoner knows too many people to lose, doesn’t she? Though admittedly it would be nice to see voters send a message to the free-spending bureaucratic types.

CITY OF PLATTE CITY: For Ward 1 alderman, Ron Stone, incumbent, is being challenged by Lee Roy Van Lew. Van Lew is trying to revive a political career derailed when Mayor Dave and the Sunshine Boys were starting to wear thin on many people. Two years ago, Stone thumped Van Lew 91-28 for this position. I would expect Stone to win easily again. Stone’s biggest contribution in his first term has been to vote the right way on the firing of former city administrator Keith Moody last year. A lot of us didn’t think Ron would have the Stones to join Andy Stanton, Aaron Jung, and Kenneth Brown in ousting Moody. He did. For that he will always be popular with a solid portion of the general public.

For Ward 2 alderman, incumbent Andy Stanton faces a challenge from Ron Porter, another former member of the former Mayor Dave Brooks’ regime. Mike Walsh, a nice man who has unsuccessfully run for office previously, is also on the ballot here. Porter actually was the sharpest of the Sunshine Boys. He used to occasionally question Mayor Dave’s madness before Brooks eventually won him over. But Stanton is the preferred choice here. He has proven to be the outspoken leader among the six member board, serving as board president. He questions every decision, gives thoughtful consideration, and is a diligent watchdog over tax dollars. He’s the kind of leader you don’t want to let get away in trying economic times. Stanton deserves reelection.

NORTH PLATTE SCHOOL BOARD: Three candidates are seeking two open spots here. The guy not afraid to ask questions is our favorite candidate, Jon McLaughlin. McLaughlin, a detail-oriented financial analyst, has run previously without success because he makes some of the old guard at R-1 uncomfortable with his ‘let’s not just blindly follow the superintendent on everything’ attitude. Which of course is why we love him here in Between the Lines. He does face a tough task in trying to unseat Tim Nash (good guy from a well-respected family) or Mike Fisher.

PARK HILL SCHOOL BOARD: Two full term seats open here (held by Denise Schnell and John Thomas), as well as one unexpired term (held by Janice Bolin). Incumbents Schnell and Thomas face a challenge from Lathem Scott. We’ll be surprised if Schnell and Thomas are not both reelected. We haven’t forgotten, however, that they were two board members present at that special Breakfast Club school board meeting Landmark reporter Alan McArthur crashed at the Corner Café at 7 a.m. one morning last year.

Bolin faces a challenge from Dan Coronado and Mark Roy. Neither Coronado nor Roy appeared at a recent candidate forum, which may make some folks question their sincerity in seeking the post.

CITY OF PARKVILLE: Four aldermen up for election, zero have opposition on the ballot. Charlie Poole has said he is running as a write-in against Deborah Butcher, but, my friends, that’s a tough way to try to win an election. I guess no contested races means the people at Parkville are extremely satisfied--though traffic on my phone line and in my email inbox say differently. Until some of the concerned folks step up to find candidates, Parkville incumbents will continue to believe they are doing a fantastic job.

BOTTOM LINE: Regardless of your preferences, go vote Tuesday. And check this week’s print edition of The Landmark for results and the only meaningful local analysis.

(Have an election prediction or thought? Want to become one of Foley's Feelers in the Field? Send an email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


MANY WAYS TO SPECULATE ON THIS HARPST SITUATION

Posted 4/3/09

For those of you who thought the world as we know it had ended when Mexican restaurant Rancho Grande sold out and split town to make room for Walgreen’s--and you know who you are, don't make me name names--relax. Rancho Grande may soon be headed back to Platte City. Word is Rancho is in serious negotiations with developer Bill Mann to buy an existing structure in the Platte Valley Plaza.

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There are so many angles the hiring of “retiring” superintendent Mark Harpst as a financial consultant for Platte County R-3 can be scrutinized and analyzed, I’m not sure I can get to all of them in this column. We may have to make this a miniseries.

Most importantly, why all the cloak-and-dagger, clandestine activity? Whether you believe the move is a good one or you feel it is unnecessary is immaterial. What should concern you the most is that such a decision was made in total darkness and would still be unknown to all had The Landmark not done some investigating.

The school board made the move to hire Harpst as a financial consultant in a closed session on Feb. 26. In that same closed session, the board hired Tammy DiPonio as a new assistant superintendent. A press release was immediately sent out announcing DiPonio’s hire, though not a word was uttered about the “retiring” superintendent being given a $24,000 per year newly-created position.

Why not? Are they embarrassed by the move? Concerned that it sends a message of a lack of confidence in next year’s superintendent? Or are board members concerned that it could appear they simply created a job and an annual salary for a friend of the district? After all, most folks who have spent 14 years of their lives putting their heart and soul into a position before leaving on good terms would gladly at no charge answer a phone call from a former underling seeking advice, wouldn’t they? Or is the board concerned patrons will view the move as a duplication of services? Or is the board concerned patrons will ask why the time from January till August couldn’t be spent having Harpst train Reik on all he needs to know about the finances?

Or was it simply the fact the vote was not unanimous, and you know how school boards love to put up this facade of “one voice?” Could be, after all the school board attorney did put a muzzle on the dissenting board member by incorrectly telling her she couldn’t comment (she could, in fact, have legally commented on the creation of the position of financial consultant without commenting on the employee involved, but was incorrectly told she couldn’t comment at all).

The Harpst situation didn’t come to light until The Landmark put in a Sunshine Law request for closed session minutes. Heck, school officials hadn’t even told R-3 staff members about it. It wasn’t until the school board realized The Landmark had acquired the story and was ready to run with it this week that the central office--no doubt instructed to do so by school board leadership--sent out an email to R-3 staff letting them know Harpst would be staying on in a role as paid consultant. This allowed a couple of things--it served as a way to break the news to any staff members who might be asking why the district is paying an additional $24,000 annually for someone to hold the hand of a new superintendent who the board said was the right choice after conducting a nationwide search--and it allowed them to leak the news to their shill, a school cheerleader who gets used and abused as the school board’s spin doctor so often he can no longer even try to pass himself off as a real journalist. He is for the school board what Bob Gretz was for Carl Peterson. It’s an embarrassment to the journalism profession.

No other news outlet had put in a Sunshine request for the closed session documents (and trust me, there is factual information in our story you won’t find anywhere else--cheerleaders provide the rah rah, The Landmark provides the real news and unafraid commentary) so the story had to be fed to the school board’s media puppet by one of the subjects involved in the decision. And tell me again who they say has a personal vendetta? These folks get caught up in their own web of spin so often they contradict themselves without even realizing they are doing it.

Thanks for joining me here each week so we can laugh at the irony of it all.

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One conclusion that can be drawn by his anxiousness to seek a $24,000 per year consulting job with health benefits is that Mark Harpst has put out feelers in the political world and doesn’t like what he hears. It has been no secret Harpst would like to run for office someday, perhaps presiding county commissioner or even state senator. It has also been no secret in political circles that conservatives are salivating at the thought of campaigning against Harpst, who could effectively be painted as a big government, taxing and spending specialist. The writing has been on the wall that Harpst will have a tough time winning locally if and when he puts his name on the ballot. To me, this move indicates he now realizes it.

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I am man enough to admit when I’m wrong. And I was wrong about Mary Temperelli last week--remember I said I was under the impression Mary is an extremely intelligent person? I need to retract that impression, or at least point out that brains does not equal smarts. After her pathetically incorrect interpretation of a political satire cartoon and her repeated references to the school district as a “business” in her quotes in our front page story, Mary for two consecutive weeks has dressed herself in a clown suit. Next Christmas, I’m giving Mary a sense of humor wrapped in a package of common sense. And as a stocking stuffer I’m throwing in a gift card for anger management courses.

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As I did last spring on Election Eve, check out a special Between the Lines column with comments on the school and city elections on Monday at plattecountylandmark.com

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So who’s in the lead in our Bracket Battle with three games to go?

Leaders are Brian Atkinson with 168 points, Stan Pomeroy with 164, Daryl Grame, Bobby Hensley and Michael Kincaid with 162 each, and Dorothy Anderson with 160. Check our the column posted directly below this one for a complete list of standings.

(You’ll catch Ivan Foley shopping in stores all over Platte County and investing his money in real estate in downtown Platte City but you still won’t catch him wearing a cheerleading skirt. Email him at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


BREAKING BRACKET BATTLE NEWS: AN UPDATE

Posted 4/5/09

I won't take the time to update the complete list of standings because in 24 hours it will change again, but after Saturday's pair of Final Fourt contests, we have nailed down the two possible scenarios in The Landmark's Bracket Battle: If North Carolina wins Monday night's championship game, our Bracket Battle champion (who will claim the $100 cash prize) will be Dr. Ann Riggs. If Michigan State pulls the upset, our Bracket Battle champion will The Landmark's own columnist Russ Purvis.

There's the bottom line, but quickly here's a couple of housecleaning items. Number 1, the initial posting of the standings had an error in my own score--my correct score is now found in its right spot in the listing below. A double check of all brackets dropped my score by eight points. Bad news for me, but good news for more of you hoping to claim some free Landmark time. Remember, everyone scoring higher than yours truly wins two years worth of Landmark subscriptions.

The other housecleaning item is this: Later this week on this site we will post the final standings from top to bottom. If your score is higher than mine, you will then need to contact The Landmark at 816-858-2313 to claim your free two years of Landmark subscriptions, or claim your winnings via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com

Thanks for playing.


 

BRACKET BATTLE STANDINGS WITH ONE WEEKEND TO GO

Posted 4/3/09

After four rounds, here are your complete standings in The Landmark’s Bracket Battle.
Remember, correct picks in the Final Four round will be worth 15 points each and if you pick the national champion that will be worth another 30 points. Winner gets $100, anyone scoring a higher point total than Landmark publisher Ivan Foley gets two years worth of Landmark subscriptions.

Brian Atkinson 168
Stan Pomeroy 164
Daryl Grame 162
Bobby Hensley 162
Michael Kincaid 162
Dorothy Anderson 160
Kathy McKay 156
Stan Palmer 156
Dr. Ann Riggs 154
Eddie Highlander 152
Aaron Black 152
Shannon Thomas 150
Adam McGinness 150
Helen Steffel 150
Steve Sampsell 148
Anna Nutt 148
Greg Hall 148
Ron Nelson 148
Taylor Sampsell 148
Jeremy White 148
Bill Williams 148
CK Rairden 146
James Thomas 146
Lawrence Anderson 146
Melissa Hill 146
Brett Anderson 146
David Richey 144
Kurt Foley 142
Bill Hankins 142
Linda Foley 142
Corbin Smith 140
Mark Harpst 140
Tom Sellmeyer 140
Randy Meers 140
Deana Anderson 140
Cacy Williams 140
Sue Shultz 140
Sherry King 140
Brian Kubicki 138
Brad Taulbee 138
Steve Kincaid 138
Brianne Steffel 138
Jenny Steffel 138
Lori Meyer 138
Andy Hyland 138
Irvin Reineke 138
Kenneth Miller 138
Steve Manville 138
John L. Steffel 136
Derek Shultz 136
Robert Schultz 136
Randy West 136
Brad Babcock 136
Sue Palm 136
Earl Shultz 136
Rick Porter 134
Matt Demarco 134
Kenna Sampsell 134
Jerry Grame 134
Melvin Grame 134
Russ Purvis 134
Duane Eckhart 134
David Lowry 132
Mark Jackson 132

Ivan Foley 130
Anne Thomas 130
Clayton Freeman 130
Larry VanFosson 130
John Steffel 130
Lew Meyer 130
Georgie Anderson 130
Judy Williams 130
Sally Jackson 130
Joy Pepper 130
Steve Heuton 130
Johnny Shultz 130
Alyssa Foley 130
Nick Palmer 128
Craig Fisher 128
Laura Petty 128
Judy Grame 126
Judy Eckhart 126
Linda Whitmore 126
Andy Kules 126
Beth Taulbee 124
Whitney Meers 124
Kinsey Barton 122
Heather Ryan 122
Randy Knox 120
Travis Steffel 120
Cameron Kincaid 120
Mitch Lindstrom 116
Tom Taulbee 114
David Pypes 110
Connie Knox 106
Blaire Sampsell 104
Frank Thurman 100
Donna Van Fosson 100
Sydney Meers 98
Graham Sampsell 88


 

THIS WEEK, THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY

Posted 3/26/09

Welcome back to The Landmark, where you can rest assured we work for our readers, not our leaders.

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How about the first weekend of March Madness, my annual spring fetish? Several close games, a couple upsets, and best of all three Big 12 teams advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. Not bad for a conference that was taking some shots from the national pundits most of the season. Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri (what a job coach Mike Anderson is doing there this season--I thought he showed a composed and steady hand during the late stages of a tight win over Marquette on Sunday) all stayed alive on the hardwood through the first weekend. All three will face considerable challenges in the next round.

If you’re tuning in here to view the early standings in our bigger than ever bracket contest (this can be verified by the red-eyed folks who take on the task of grading more than 100 entries), stay put. It’s coming.

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Now I know how Dr. Phil stays so busy.

For the second time in the past several months, a public official has walked a psychological tight rope after reading something in The Landmark. First it was ex-Parkville mayor/then county commissioner candidate Kathy Dusenbery losing control of all her faculties in a phone conversation with me. It was a meltdown of epic proportions. I put out a call to Kathy’s friends to give her a hug. It seems to have worked. No charge for that service, it’s what we do here in Between the Lines.

A similar emotional outburst happened again last week, this time via email and this time with Platte County R-3 School Board member Mary Temperelli. Mary missed the point of last week’s editorial cartoon on this page. First thing Friday morning, she emailed to me the letter to the editor you can read by clicking here. In fact, take a moment right now to read her letter. Go ahead, I'll talk to myself till you get back.

OK, welcome back to Between the Lines. Anyway, I politely acknowledged receiving her letter, thanked her for reading, told her I would be glad to address her accusations, and encouraged her to attend an upcoming Sunshine Law forum this newspaper will be co-hosting later this year. This wasn’t good enough for Mary, who proceeded to email me an additional three or four times throughout that day. Yes, Mary was quite contrary. By her third email, I was considering calling Mary’s fellow board members and asking them to conduct an intervention in the now-famous Temperelli kitchen, where several students apparently gather every Thursday afternoon to read The Landmark.

Last week’s editorial cartoon, the work of our talented artist Matthew Silber, followed two weeks worth of commentary about the fact the Platte City Chamber of Commerce strangely awarded the school district as the “Business of the Year.” Matthew’s work rolled with the thought that if a school district is considered a business, is a “manufactured student” its business product? Mary--and she has been the Lone Ranger on this one, as no other Landmark reader has indicated this opinion to me--said the cartoon was an “attack upon our students.”

Actually, the “attack” was on the idea that the school district was considered a business by the Chamber.

Frankly, until she emailed, I hadn’t devoted much time to thinking about Mary. But I have always been under the impression she is an extremely intelligent person. Sometimes extremely intelligent people don’t have an open mind or a sense of humor. I’m not saying Mary lacks one or the other or both, but I am saying Mary completely missed the point of the cartoon. The question then becomes did she genuinely miss the point or is this a manufactured tirade? After all, her second paragraph sounds a bit contrived to me. And her letter seems to spend some time trying to convince us she is the Mother Teresa of Platte County R-3.

So was it real or was it fake? Who knows the answer to that and better yet, who cares? Either way it goes down as another memorable moment in local political lore. If you’re scoring at home, I’m giving Mary an “A” in drama but an “F” in cartoon interpretation.

What Mary will eventually realize when she regains her senses is that her temper tantrum and baseless accusations paint her in a bad light, including with the very students she claims she is out to serve and protect.

******

As for Mary’s accusation that I have a “personal vendetta” against the school district, please. She sounds like an elementary kid trying to start a pillow fight. This isn’t elementary school and here in Between the Lines we don’t use pillows. After reading her letter, one can come to the conclusion there may in fact be a personal vendetta at play here, but it’s pointed at me, not from me.

Perhaps in Mary’s world she calls reporting on illegal locked door meetings, improperly posted closed sessions, health violations in school cafeterias, tax increases, and plasma televisions in administrators’ offices a “personal vendetta.” In the real world, that’s called journalism. Not only does the public have a right to know these things, the public wants to know these things. Mary apparently would prefer your journalistic thirst be quenched by reading the R-3 student newspaper, the school district’s newsletter, or any lame cheerleader-type publication.

Of this much Mary can be certain: If I had a personal vendetta, her name would have been listed along with other board members as defendants in at least three Sunshine lawsuits by now. I can tell you there are other public bodies hoping The Landmark gives them as many get- out-of-jail free cards as we have given the R-3 school board.
Sincerely though, Mary, thanks for reading.

******

Check out our sports guy Greg Hall this week and next week at 7:54 a.m. every weekday morning on 710 AM during Chris Stigall’s show. And keep reading his entertaining Off the Couch columns at http://www.plattecountylandmark.com/ghall.htm

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Now to that first Bracket Battle scoring update. Remember, winner gets $100, and everybody who beats my score (currently 98) wins two years worth of Landmark subscriptions. At the Top Ten (or so) of the leader board in the general public category right now are: Brad Taulbee, Ron Nelson and Adam McGinness all tied with 106, followed by several people close behind with 104 points, including Shannon Thomas, Clayton Freeman, Michael Kincaid, Stan Pomeroy, Mark Harpst, Nick Palmer, and Bobby Hensley. If you don’t see your name listed near the top, don’t fret just yet, these battles are always won in the later rounds. For the standings among Landmarkers, see the column posted further down this page.

(The feeling is always right to email your publisher. That address is ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


INTERNAL BRACKET BATTLE: RAIRDEN HAS EARLY LEAD

Posted 3/22/09, 8 p.m.

A 4-3-1 Sunday brought your publisher's Guaran-Dam-Teed against the spread record to 12-12-2, which is just short of, for any Deep South readers, kissing your sister. Sweet Sixteen picks posted later this week, with games firing up again on Thursday.

More importantly, standings in The Landmark's Bracket Battle among our staffers can be announced with the first two rounds of the tourney now complete. Here are the standings:

CK Rairden 108 points, Bill Hankins 106, Kurt Foley and Greg Hall 104 each, James Thomas 100, Ivan Foley 98, Brian Kubicki 92, Russ Purvis 88.

Check the printed version of your Landmark this week for the general public standings in our contest.


FORMER PC PIRATE IS A MEMBER OF NCAA TOURNEY TEAM

Posted 3/18/09

It’s March Madness and what could be more maddingly cool than a former Platte County Pirate involved in the Big Dance? It’s happening this season.

Remember Lorenzo Riley, the post player who helped lead the Pirates into the state quarterfinals in 2005? He’s now a senior for the North Dakota State Bison, who are set to do battle with none other than the defending national champion Kansas Jayhawks on Friday in the first round of this year’s championship tournament.

Riley, age 22, is a 6’6” forward who checks in at 230 pounds. He has appeared in 12 games for the Bison this season. He averages 3.8 minutes on a team loaded with seniors. Riley has a shooting percentage of 33%.

Riley, affectionately known as Zo in his Pirate days, is the son of Daryl and Rebecca Riley of Platte City. His family includes brothers Cody and Ben, and sisters Jasmine and Laney. Zo is majoring in public relations at North Dakota State. I remember him fondly from the day I was invited to speak to a journalism class at Platte County High School while he was a student there. He was the most polite gentleman in the room, listened attentively and asked good questions, taking the entire session seriously. That’s tough for some high school kids when they get a guest speaker, but it wasn’t for Riley.

North Dakota State, by the way, is competing in NCAA Division 1 for the first time this season.

So will it be a happy dance for the Bison, or will their first-ever trip to the ball be a short one? Will Riley get in the game? We’ll know the answers to these questions and more about 1:30 Friday afternoon.

(Email the local authority on North Dakota State Bison basketball at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


PRETENDERS COME OUT TO PLAY; BRACKET BATTLE BASICS

Posted 3/18/09

It was around 70 degrees on Monday, close to 80 on Tuesday. You wanna know why, I’ll tell you why (sorry, I just fell into full Dave Brooks parody mode for a second--old habits die hard).

Anyway, the reason it was 70 degrees on Monday and close to 80 on Tuesday? It’s Sunshine Week in Missouri.

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Sunshine Week is an initiative to create awareness about the importance of open government and freedom of information. At The Landmark, we do this year-round. For one special week of the year at the urging of the Missouri Press Association, some other media outlets--who are most often clueless about the real role of their profession-- pretend to give a rat’s ass about protecting the public’s right to know.

It’s Amateur Week.

******

Local elected officials throughout Platte County--and the general public--will be invited to a special event in the coming months.

Later this year, the left-leaning Weston Chronicle and your right-leaning Landmark will be teaming up to host an educational evening about the Sunshine Law. Invited speakers will include the state attorney general’s “new guy” assigned to educate public officials on the topic and Jean Maneke, the Missouri Press Association’s legal expert on open government issues. Many of you have met Jean at Landmark Christmas parties. She knows her stuff on this topic.

We did this several years ago--I want to say it was 2000 or 2001--and a large crowd attended in the county commission meeting room at the Platte County Administration Building. It’s a friendly opportunity for elected officials to learn the ins and outs about the open meetings/records laws so you don’t have to read your name in the paper at a later date.

Watch this space for details as they get nailed down. There will be no need for a taxpayer-funded security guard and we promise not to lock you out of the meeting.

******

Less than five months now until my speaking engagement with the Platte County Pachyderm Club at O’Dowd’s in Zona Rosa. Good seats are still available.

******

I’m still formulating topics for that August talk with my favorite elephants. Some subjects that may get touched upon: Barack Obama, socialism, why Republicans have gotten their tails kicked lately at the national level, the Sunshine Law, journalism degrees, school boards, sales taxes and golf courses, and what’s left of the Falling Star.

I better narrow that down or we could be there awhile. Unlike Obama, I will not be using a teleprompter. I’m thinking the more you drink the better the speech will be.

******

Congrats to the Lady Pirates on their state championship. High school sports rarely get a mention in this column space for good reason, but a state title is worthy of an acknowledgment. Those girls and coaches will remember that moment for the rest of their lives.

******

Now what does merit a mention is The Landmark’s annual Bracket Battle, because it gives readers a chance to win cash--or better yet--two years of subscriptions to Platte County’s favorite newspaper.

Beat my bracket and you’re a winner. I’m following a lot of chalk this year. Here’s what you’re up against:

First round winners: Louisville, Ohio State, Arizona, Wake Forest, West Virginia, Kansas, Boston College, Michigan State, Connecticut, BYU, Purdue, Washington, Utah State, Missouri, Maryland, Memphis, Pitt, Oklahoma State, Florida State, Xavier, UCLA, Villanova, Minnesota, Duke, North Carolina Butler, Western Kentucky, Gonzaga, Temple, Syracuse, Clemson, Oklahoma.

Sweet 16: Louisville, Wake Forest, Kansas, Michigan State, Connecticut, Purdue, Utah State, Memphis, Pitt, Xavier, Villanova, Duke, North Carolina, Gonzaga, Syracuse, Oklahoma.

Elite Eight: Louisville, Kansas, Connecticut, Memphis, Pitt, Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse.

Final Four: Louisville, Memphis, Duke, North Carolina.

Championship game: North Carolina 73, Louisville 65

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Here’s what other Landmarkers are predicting in the way of a Final Four:

Brian Kubicki: Michigan State, Memphis, Duke, UNC, with Memphis beating UNC for the title; James Thomas: Wake Forest, Missouri, Villanova, North Carolina, with Wake over UNC; Russ Purvis: Michigan State, Memphis, Pitt, North Carolina, with Michigan State over UNC; Greg Hall: Louisville, Connecticut, Duke, Oklahoma, with Oklahoma over Connecticut; Bill Hankins: Louisville, Memphis, Pitt, Oklahoma, with Louisville over Pitt; Kurt Foley: Louisville, Memphis, Pitt, UNC, with Louisville over UNC; CK Rairden: Louisville, Memphis, Pitt, UNC, with Louisville over UNC.

You’ve got till 11 a.m. Thursday to get your bracket to us. Fax it to 816-858-2313 or email it to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com

******

Check our web site at plattecountylandmark.com throughout the tournament, as I’ll have occasional updates in special Between the Lines postings. Landmark facilities manager Kurt Foley and I will be soaking up the first round NCAA action at the Sprint Center on Thursday, so expect a report on that, and I’ll tell you which former Platte County Pirate basketball player is on a tournament roster for a team in the Big Dance. And look for some potential Guaran-dam-teed against the spread picks if the feeling is right.

(The feeling is always right to email your publisher. That address is ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


 

GET YOUR ENTRY IN LANDMARK BRACKET CONTEST NOW!

It’s time for The Landmark’s annual college basketball bracket contest. It’s the original and longest-running public bracket contest in Platte County, and your chance to win $100 or two years worth of subscriptions to The Landmark.

Entry, as always, is free and open to everyone. Entries are limited to one per person. This year’s winner will receive a $100 prize, as well as bragging rights and much publicity in the pages of your Landmark and here at plattecountylandmark.com

Entries in The Landmark’s contest are due by 11 a.m. on Thursday, March 19.

To enter, fill out a copy of the 64-team bracket, which you can clip out of the daily papers or print one by clicking here. Pick a winner for every tournament game. Any games left blank are counted as a loss.

Entries can be faxed to 816-858-2313 or emailed to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com

Again this year, Landmark publisher Ivan Foley is offering rewards to those who finish with a higher score than he does. Anyone with a better score than Foley will receive two one-year subscriptions to The Landmark, the only countywide newspaper in Platte County. Both years can be applied to the entrant’s subscription or keep one for yourself and give the other year to a friend or family member.

As a potential tiebreaker, write in how many total points you think will be scored in the national championship game.

It’s your chance to go head-to-head against Foley and other Landmark personalities, including columnists Greg Hall,Russ Purvis, James Thomas, Brian Kubicki, CK Rairden, Hearne Christopher, intern Kurt Foley and Hall of Fame photographer Bill Hankins.

Be sure to write your name and phone number on your bracket, as well as how many total points you think will be scored in the championship game.

Scoring will be done as follows:

Two points for each correct first round pick; four points for second round winners; six points for third round winners; eight points in the fourth round; 15 points in the fifth round, and 30 points for picking the tourney champion.


 

STRANGE 'BUSINESS OF THE YEAR' IS TALK OF THE TOWN

Posted 3/13/09

As you know from time to time I like to bring you a flavor of some of the stuff that hits the Between the Lines email inbox. Here’s a taste of the incoming this week. The topic? My remarks last week poking at the Platte City Chamber of Commerce for selecting the tax-supported Platte County R-3 School District as the ‘Business of the Year.’ Here’s a sampling from the inbox:

“Thanks for calling out the Platte City Chamber of Commerce. You think a Chamber, for God’s sake, would know better. Talk about drinking the Kool-Aid! And I really liked your follow-up: ‘Is that the new American way?’ Someone should submit that Platte City Chamber of Commerce Award puzzler to Fox News. Or Rush. A city chamber giving an award for Business of the Year to a school? Man, we are in sad shape as a nation and as a people if the Platte City Chamber of Commerce is that confused. Government so big that even business owners are getting confused about the roles of private enterprises versus government. I’m tempted to ask for names of merchants who made that selection.”

******

The Platte City Chamber’s bizarre designation of the school district as the alleged Business of the Year even became a topic at the Platte City Board of Aldermen meeting Tuesday night. Alderman Tony Paolillo could be overheard questioning the puzzling selection in a conversation with city administrator Jason Metten before the meeting. And during the meeting, there were a couple of interesting exchanges on the topic, including this one:

“How is R-3 considered a business? I can’t seem to get an answer to that,” asked Andy Stanton, alderman.

Ron Stone, alderman, tried to defuse.

“I was told it’s because they have so many employees,” Stone said, repeating a weak argument that ignores the fact those “so many employees” are paid with public money.

“They are in the business of developing minds,” Mayor Frank Offutt said with a very noticeable smirk on his face, clearly wanting to get away from the discussion.

Stanton wasn’t done.

“They (R-3) can’t fail. With the amount of revenue they get, they can’t fail,” he added.

******

The paid executive director of the Platte City Chamber of Commerce is Karen Wagoner, who is also a Platte County R-3 School Board member. Just sayin’.

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And another comment sent to my electronic mail inbox, with the topic this time the Obama-led trend toward socialism in our country:

“As painful as that stock market slide is, becoming a Socialist nation is only making the markets more jittery, and quite understandably. I am unimpressed by this Ivy League genius collection of advisers that Obama was supposed to bring into the top echelons of his cabinet. They don’t appear to have a clue. Too much schoolin’ and not enough sense.”

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More on socialism. This quote is historically attributed to former Britain Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: “The trouble with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”

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One more from the Internet world this week: The word Obama is an acronym for One Big Ass Mistake, America.

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Hey, it’s Bracket Battle time. If you’ve never entered The Landmark’s college basketball bracket contest, this is the year to do it. You don’t need to be at the top of the class to come out a winner--anybody who scores more points than yours truly wins two years worth of free subscriptions to your Landmark, Platte County’s recognized news and opinion leader. That’s more than a $50 value, folks, which means everybody should be taking their best shot at this. Doesn’t matter how big of a basketball fan you are--or aren’t--you have nothing to lose when you fax that bracket to 816-858-2313 or email to me at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com

Or, if you’d like a personal visit and a chance to shoot the breeze, drop your entry by our office in historic downtown Platte City. Take a look at our building’s newly-renovated exterior in the process.

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One of the enticing facets of our bracket contest is you’ll get to match prognosticating skills against those Landmark personalities who inform you, often entertain you, hopefully stimulate your mind, and often (tick) you off.

Republicans, think of it as your chance to get in a shot at our Democratic pundit Russ Purvis. Dems, think of it as your chance to launch an in-your-face jump shot at James Thomas, CK Rairden and Brian Kubicki. Sports junkies can use it as a sports IQ exam against our web site sports guy Greg Hall. Intellectuals can go head-to-head against smart guy Bill Hankins. Basketball players can judge their skills against our three-point specialist Kurt Foley. And all of you can view it as a chance to dish out a “take that” to the publisher who you know has gotten under your skin a time or two--or three, or more--in the past year.

This will be fun. Get your entry in. The bracket will be announced Sunday evening and you have until next Thursday at 11 a.m. to get your entry to us.

******

There’s a feud brewing in the KC sports media between Jason Whitlock and talking heads Kevin Kietzman and Jack Harry. Greg Hall has an excellent Off the Couch column about it now on our web site at http://www.plattecountylandmark.com/ghall.htm

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Son Kurt tells me a rubber band pistol was once confiscated from his algebra class because it was a weapon of math disruption.

(He’s usually in Las Vegas this week, but after busting out of town for several days at Christmas your publisher is spending his normal spring break right here. Comfort him via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


Calling a spade a spade; And Grill's Wizards connection

Posted 3/6/09

Comedian David Spade will be appearing at the Ameristar Casino in Kansas City on April 18. Having caught his act in Las Vegas last March, I highly recommend it.

Promotional materials for the event say his show is for mature audiences only, which makes me wonder how I ever got in the first time.

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The Platte County R-3 School District has been named the Business of the Year by the Platte City Chamber of Commerce.

Huh?

Memo to the Chamber: A school district, by definition, is not a business. A real business cannot mandate upon its “customers” its desired level of income, which is what R-3--or any tax supported entity--does when it sends all of us those tax bills.

How can anybody in private enterprise compete against that?

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Who will win the Chamber’s Business of the Year Award next year, the City of Platte City or the County of Platte?

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A tax supported institution does not--should not--exist for the purpose of making a profit and should not be taking tax money to compete against private enterprise, which in fact is what R-3 is doing by running its own preschool. And now we hear there’s some consideration at R-3 about the district beginning a day care service.

There’s something wrong with taking money from local businesses in the form of taxes and then using that money to compete for private dollars against some of those same local businesses.

Is that the new American way?

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Memo to Parkville mayor and board of aldermen: In the name of Sir Walter Raleigh, enough of this ridiculous smoking ban discussion. How many years is this going to go on? Make a decision--or better yet, leave it alone--and move on. You’re starting to embarrass yourselves.

******

The Between the Lines bat phone rang this week with a reliable tipster on the other end. Seems that the Kansas City Wizards public relations employee who fired upon me from her Wizards email account recently after my analysis of the political future of State Rep. Jason Grill has a vested interest in the topic: She and Grill have been dating for the past several months, reports this tipster, who is known to frequent some of the same nightspots as southern Platte County’s state representative.

The Wizards PR gal? Erin Lawless. Erin told me in her email that my reference to Grill’s “slick GQ style and past questionable behavioral incidents” was “rude.” She wrote in her email: “Jason is an amazing person with a huge heart. He wants the best for his district and does everything he can to better the community, and I honestly can’t say that about a lot of politicians out there.”

And my favorite part is that Erin finished her love note to me on the Wizards email account this way: “Your article is transparent. Good thing for (Grill) that he is focused and doesn’t listen to little articles that make incorrect assumptions.” (Sidenote from this columnist: Hey Erin, what exactly are those ‘incorrect assumptions?’)

To be fair--and hey, that’s what we do here--though Erin wasn’t upfront about her vested interest in my analysis of Grill’s political future, the Between the Lines tipster comes to her defense: “She’s really sweet, really pretty. I think she’s a really good influence on him. She could be good for (Grill). I like him. I think he’s a nice kid who needs to grow up really fast and maybe now he is,” the tipster remarks.

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Want another reason Roy Blunt wouldn’t be able to successfully carry the Republican flag into battle against Robin Carnahan for U.S. Senator in 2010? Blunt was one of only 24 Congressmen who voted to protect their own pay raises. More specifically, every member of the Missouri delegration rejected the pay raise--except Blunt.

Run, Republicans, run from Blunt. He won’t win in 2010. Find another candidate without the baggage. Leaders like ol’ Roy are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

******

The tell-it-like-it-is sports style of Greg Hall is back in The Landmark fold, on our web site at plattecountylandmark.com

Hall--one of the people I most admire in this business, which is a world full of too many fanny kissers and too short on writers willing to cut through the bull--has throngs of loyal readers who will be thrilled to learn they can once again check out his work online.

Some new stuff from GH is already online and look for more to come on a weekly basis. The link is http://www.plattecountylandmark.com/ghall.htm

******

New Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and new Attorney General Chris Koster both have expressed support for strengthening the Sunshine Law. Nixon recently told a gathering of media types at the state capitol that he backs proposed legislation allowing penalties against all government officials, and not just those who knowingly violate the open meetings law.

Nixon said he also wants to make it easier for people who successfully allege Sunshine Law violations to recoup their attorney fees. “If you put public officials and public bodies at risk for those fees, they’re much more likely to err on the side of openness,” Nixon told the media gathering.

Koster, meanwhile, said he has hired a staff person to focus solely on educating local government officials (any school board presidents listening?) about the Sunshine Law. Koster said he believed the attorney general’s office previously conducted about 15 to 25 presentations a year about the law. Koster said he wants to increase that to between 150 to 170 annually.

(Always willing to help raise awareness of the public’s right to know, this columnist can knowingly be reached at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com or on the bat phone at 816-858-0363)



The strong get stronger; Political train wrecks coming

Posted 2/26/09

The negotiations were heavy-handed--a 15 minute conversation at The Landmark’s Christmas party and two phone conversations last Thursday--but the deal is done.

We’re pumped to have Hearne Christopher, Jr., longtime popular columnist for The Falling Star before it started its rapid descent, on board with us now at The Landmark. Check out his debut offering on page A-4.

Hearne penned the most popular column the Star had going (only Jason Whitlock could challenge him for the honor) until they cut him loose last fall. He’s back in the game now with The Landmark and the Johnson County Sun, and is firing up his own web site at kcconfidential.com, where he’ll be joined by former Landmark sports media columnist Greg Hall and others.

Hearne’s weekly column with us will focus on local people of note, entertainment, nightlife, business and politics with an edge. His addition further strengthens our already strong stable of columnists. It’s a team of pundits clearly unmatched by any other Platte County newspaper. We like to think it’s an approach that has vaulted The Landmark into its status as the paper of choice for the Northland.

Our columnists strive to give readers insightful views on the news while providing hard hitting opinions on a regular basis. This is a full service operation. Ask us nicely and we may even come out and change your oil or mow your lawn.

Thanks for reading.

******

Prior to his time at the Star, Hearne was executive editor of the Pitch. “I was the one who originally hired current Pitch editor C.J. Janovy,” he told me. I couldn’t tell if he was bragging or complaining.

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Popular sports media sound bite columnist Greg Hall is also back in The Landmark lineup. Check out his most recent work by clicking here http://plattecountylandmark.com/ghall.htm

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Time to blow a whistle of warning. It appears there are two political train wrecks on the horizon. Let’s take them one at a time.

1. Yes, I realize it’s very, very early in his administration and it’s way too soon for meaningful predictions. Or is it? What have the first five weeks of the Barack Obama administration shown to you? It has shown to me that the Republicans still have hope. This smells like a one-term deal. Signs are that Obama “The Messiah” will actually turn out to be the second coming of Jimmy Carter. The feeling here is that average Americans will be quick to sour on Obama’s socialistic “change” to government. It’s already happening. The mid-term elections in 2010 will be quite telling. In four years, Obama will be extremely vulnerable. The only reservation I have in making this prediction is that the Republicans’ field of potential challengers isn’t exactly overwhelming, though keep your eye on the next “rising star,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. In the end, we will be able to thank Obama for spurring the Republican base back to acting like fiscally-conservative Republicans, instead of becoming apologists for George Bush, which is what happened in W’s second term. By the time the conservative-leaning pundits stopped making excuses for him and started pounding on Bush for some of his crazy fiscal decisions and questionable policy-making ideas it was too late--the majority of voters had already decided they wanted a “change” no matter what that “change” brought them. Now the country is seeing that non-specific “change” it ordered. Unless you’re on the receiving end of a bailout or an entitlement, chances are you’re not going to like it.

2. Roy Blunt, Republican Congressman from southwest Missouri and father of the recent one-term governor, wants to be the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate to replace good ol’ boy Kit Bond. Not surprising. What is surprising is that some of the “establishment” Republicans are jumping for joy. I just don’t get it. For a Republican party that needs a shot in the arm, Blunt is part of the problem, not part of the solution. While I agree the Republicans need to present one candidate to avoid a primary, the problem is Roy Blunt should not be that candidate. Did the state GOP not learn anything from the Kenny Hulshof for governor fiasco? Good grief. Roy Blunt is Kenny Hulshof with better hair. Robin Carnahan will roll ol’ Roy.

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I chuckled at a radio interview I heard Tuesday morning. It was southern Platte County’s own State Rep. Jason Grill, Democrat, being interviewed on sports radio station WHB by his Facebook friend Steven St. John.

Grill was being coddled during a soft interview (is there ever one of these that isn’t soft when a sports talker gets out of his league by ‘interviewing’ a politician?) about a legislative proposal by Grill. Grill, who as regular readers of this column know is an avid sports fan, wants to increase penalties for anyone convicted of causing physical injury to umpires or referees at high school (or other levels, I presume) sporting events. During the radio lovemaking session, Grill at one point said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that behavior by some fans at sporting events is a problem that is “out of control.”

Now you know why there was chuckling in my presence during the interview: Grill knows a thing or two about questionable behavior at sporting events. His own alleged behavior at MU sporting events became a temporary feature in this column space that we like to call Grill Gone Wild. Read the Oct. 17 column for details. That link is www.plattecountylandmark.com/ifoley2008.htm

Or for other alleged Grill behavioral incidents, surf to www.plattecountylandmark.com/Article10434.htm

I’m guessing Grill’s Facebrook friend hadn’t done any research on his interviewee.

******

Jason Grill is apparently endorsed by the Kansas City Wizards soccer team--or at least their public relations department. After my recent column analyzing Grill’s political future, I received an email from a fired up “community relations specialist” with the Wizards, sent from her Wizards email account. She said my analysis was “rude” and that she was offended by my reference to Grill’s “slick GQ style and past questionable behavioral incidents.”

Interestingly, she quickly declined my offer to run her thoughts as a letter to the editor.
If Grill gets support from every Wizards fan in Platte County he can count on at least seven votes at his next election.

(Even Wizards PR people are encouraged to email the publisher. Lord knows they have the time. Kick that missive to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


THIS JUST IN: PARKVILLE'S LEADERS MAY NOT BE ROBOTS

Posted 2/20/09

Wow, all this discussion of a potential smoking ban in Parkville is getting a little testy. Let’s be honest, city hall at Parkville is normally a country club setting. My view of Parkville’s city hall is one where the attitude is “Wink-wink, let’s get this done quietly behind a closed door before we vote on it in open session, wink-wink, don't say much in front of the public and when anything bad happens let’s portray Tom Hutsler as the anti-Christ.”

It’s annoying to some of us who prefer the concept of open debate and open government but apparently it doesn’t bother many folks in Parkville because they keep electing leaders of the same mindset. Hutsler--never afraid to attempt to right what he sees as a wrong and a guy who gets blamed for more negative stuff than George Bush--can’t get elected. Others who feel like Hutsler are quick to mention their concerns to The Landmark but won’t put their names on the ballot.

Anyway, back to the smoking ban. Check out the letter to the editor to the right from the manager at the American Legion. Apparently campaigning to temporarily replace Hutsler as city hall’s “Most Hated,” Brown throws out what can be termed some justifiable criticism. He calls Mayor Gerry Richardson’s performance on this smoking ban issue “an embarrassment” and reminds the mayor that “dictatorships are easy, democracy is hard work.”

Meanwhile, during Tuesday night’s work session on the topic, aldermen for once weren’t kissing each other’s fannies and instead were throwing around words like “ridiculous” when discussing suggestions from fellow aldermen in regard to details of the proposed ban.

Hey, this is getting good. I love it. We may yet discover elected officials at Parkville are not robots.

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Landmark readers are the best. Last week we hit the streets with a story about an unconfirmed mountain lion sighting in Platte County and immediately we get emails, visits and phone calls from people with more stories. And these aren’t nutbags or Star Trek fans giving us the information. As you’ll see in our front page story this week information has been gathered from two highly respected Platte City businessmen and a respected Weston farmer.

Keep the information flowing. If you have an alleged mountain lion sighting--or any other unusual wildlife experience--give us a buzz and we’ll keep the mini-series going.

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Yes, Landmark readers are the best. As an example, readers of this column space keep me constantly informed and entertained all at the same time. Many of you email on a daily basis with your thoughts and opinions on happenings in the world, in particular with thoughts about what’s going on in our nation’s capital right now. I see that President Hope /Change/Socialism isn’t winning you over. Let me share some of the emails from a regular reader, who I won’t identify. This guy likes to shake up our elected leaders. He has been all over the case of Sen. Claire McCaskill for weeks and in recent days has aimed his anger at the White House. Following are excerpts from emails this reader has sent to me:

TUESDAY, FEB. 17, 9:35 a.m.: I called McCaskill’s DC office this a.m. and asked about this mouse ($30 million in the “stimulus” package will restore a wetland in Nancy Pelosi’s district to protect the salt marsh harvest mouse). They stated they were not aware of the provision. They asked that I provide the page and reference number. I asked why they wouldn’t know about this if they had read the bill. I then asked if they in fact read the bill. No response. I then stated that we have just identified the underlying problem. They then ask “May I take your name and zip code?” End of call. I have such fun.

TUESDAY, FEB. 17, 11:22 a.m.: Well, I then called the White House. Asked them if they knew (about the $30 million mouse). “We can only take comments.” So I asked them if Obama knew about this mouse. I also asked if he supported higher taxes on poor by raising tobacco taxes and smokers include low and middle incomes. Then asked if he was flying to Denver to sign the stimulus bill. They said “yes.” So I asked why, if he is telling everyone to sacrifice, is he flying to Denver to sign a bill? “I will gladly take your comments,” they told me. I added that the President is a hypocrite, liar and a fraud. End of call. The phone lines are busy these days.

TUESDAY, FEB. 17, 11:27 a.m. Your Between the Lines columnist emails this reader to the effect of: “You are now my official White House correspondent. ”

TUESDAY, FEB. 17, 11:37 a.m.: Reader emails back to columnist:
“Well, I am just confirming what you know--the country is being run by idiots.”

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I’m sorry, I laugh out loud every time I go back and read that exchange. Only Landmark readers are passionate enough to get the White House on the phone. Great job.

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Here’s another email, this one from a different loyal Between the Lines reader. It was sent on Tuesday, Feb. 10 to bang on President Socialism for “the sky is falling and we’re all going to die” attitude he was showing while pressing for the pork-laden stimulus package. The subject line from this loyal reader was: “Thanks for the speech, state senator,” a reference to our new president being just a few years removed from a seat in the Illinois state senate.

TUESDAY, FEB. 10, 11:13 a.m.: Have you checked the stock market today? Down 280 points at this moment. All O’s hyperbole about the “catastrophe.” Not helpful at all to those of us trying to help our 88-year-old parents live on their savings. And how many times does he have to remind us he inherited this mess? Just a wee bit defensive. You’d think the well-educated man would have studied some history and have a sense of the cyclical nature of the economy. Instead, I found him using the tactic of fear-mongering. I expected some quotes from Revelations at any time. Sen. Claire McCaskill used the word “Armageddon.” All this is so very unhelpful. Do us a favor, Obama, and give fewer press conferences. The nation is already a bit fearful about the economy and you and your lackeys are making things worse. Smartest man in the room, indeed.

(The Landmark has the smartest readers in the room. Email the publisher at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)

 


MEOW: FROM MOUNTAIN LIONS TO KITTY CATS

Posted 2/13/09

Hope you find our front page in-depth feature on mountain lions in Missouri and unconfirmed sightings in Platte County informative and educational. For the past several years we’ve heard second-hand reports of alleged mountain lion sightings in northern Platte County (and there was a confirmed sighting in Clay County, remember, in 2002 when a mountain lion was struck and killed by a vehicle). Reports that reached our ears often came from the New Market, Dearborn and Camden Point areas. Such sightings are tough to confirm without physical or photographic evidence of course, as the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) is quick to point out. In fact, the MDC often it seems goes out of its way to discount alleged sightings. However, here’s a tip: Don’t always listen to what they say but rather watch what they do. The conservation department in 1996 formed a special Mountain Lion Response Team after reports of sightings became more prevalent.

If the MDC really feels the vast majority of sightings are bogus, why did it form the special Mountain Lion Response Team? Makes you stop and think just a bit.

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The latest unconfirmed sighting in Platte County--or at least the latest of which we are aware--took place in mid-January near the home of our very own office manager. Between the hours of 3-4 a.m. on an extremely cold morning, a big cat with a long tail making a distinguishable high-pitched sound paced for a couple of minutes about six feet away from the wrap-around porch at the Mark and Cindy Rinehart home located about a mile west of the Camden Point exit off of Interstate 29. Cindy believes the animal was attracted by the smell of hamburger being fried in the kitchen at the time (unusual occasion, she says, as she claims the Rinehart kitchen isn’t normally open for business at 3 a.m.). The unconfirmed sighting was reported to the MDC.

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Political insiders are now confirming what was speculated in this column months ago. Insiders say Jason Grill, current 32nd District state representative serving southern Platte County, has realized he wouldn’t be able to win a Democratic primary in a run to fill Charlie Shields’ state senate seat when Shields is term-limited out in 2010. Two other Democrats, both of Buchanan County, have been quietly expressing an interest in the seat, which covers Buchanan and Platte Counties. State Reps. Martin Rucker and Ed Wildberger both have an interest, though speculation now is that Wildberger may end up being appointed to a post by Gov. Jay Nixon, possibly as state fire marshal. This would leave only Rucker and Grill as viable candidates, and the belief here is that lunch pail Democrats in Buchanan County would choose to vote heavily in favor of Rucker over Grill, whose slick GQ style and past questionable behavioral incidents likely wouldn’t play well with Platte’s neighbors to the north.

Remember, though he is a Democrat, Grill serves in a state representative district that is predominantly Republican, meaning many of his past supporters would have to cross party lines to register a vote for him in a Democratic primary. It would be a tough race for him to win and could derail what Grill has hoped would be a fast track to higher office.

At any rate, the popular belief now is that Grill--who already proclaims that he is a congressman when he is in a celebrating mood at college football games and has openly told at least one media outlet that he wants to be governor someday--will end up seeking reelection to his current state representative position in 2010. The fast track appears to contain a speed bump.

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So, who will Republicans have as a challenger to Rucker for Shields’ open state senate seat in 2010? Jason Brown of Platte City, current state representative in the 30th district, would seem a natural fit, though Brown has previously indicated a desire to work more closely to home and may have his eyes on a county office by 2010.

Another name being talked about as a potential candidate for the GOP is Merrill Eisenhower Atwater of Platte County, great-grandson of former president Dwight David Eisenhower. Atwater worked hard to help get Kathy Dusenbery elected Platte County commissioner last fall. But Atwater has run into some problems in the vetting process. A little research has shown Atwater was a contributor to the campaign of Democrat Kay Barnes in her extremely unsuccessful race for Congress against Sam Graves. As you can imagine, this revelation has put Atwater on the outs with many of the people within the Republican ranks who will be unwilling to throw their money and organizational support behind him with that political skeleton in his closet.

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That proposed Sunshine Law change we talked about here a few weeks ago just got a little tougher. A Missouri lawmaker is now proposing a $500 fine for officials who violate Missouri's open-government laws -- even if they do so unwittingly. According to the Associated Press, newly-revised legislation by Rep. Tim Jones would make it easier to assess penalties for breaking the Missouri Sunshine Law. Currently, anyone found by a judge to have "knowingly" violated Missouri's open meetings or records law can be fined up to $1,000, while those who "purposely" violate the law can face fines up to $5,000.

Jones says the "knowingly" standard is too vague and too hard to prove. He’s right. His revised bill, presented Tuesday to the House General Laws Committee, which he chairs, would allow fines up to $500 for Sunshine Law violations regardless of whether they are made "knowingly." Fines for purposeful violations would increase to $8,000.

Let’s keep an eye on this to see if the proposal gains passage. My money says lawmakers will act more like pussycats than mountain lions on this and won’t have the stones to make the significant changes. They will likely cave under pressure from bureaucrats at places like the Missouri Municipal League, Missouri Association of Counties and Missouri School Boards Association, groups that typically fight these types of Sunshine upgrades and prefer to teach their members ways to “get around” open meetings laws rather than insist that their members adhere to the true spirit and intent of the law.

(If he encountered a mountain lion in the wild would Ivan Foley simply put his head between his legs and kiss his butt goodbye? Ask him via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


Hey, this isn't exactly a match made in heaven

Posted 2/6/09

Unlike aging rocker Bruce Springsteen at halftime of the Super Bowl, let’s see if I can dish out a couple twists and turns while working my way through this performance without getting winded. It seemed Springsteen could have used a halftime of his own to catch his breath.

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Speaking of the Super Bowl, the victory by Pittsburgh resulted in a tie atop the standings in our featured Pigskin Picks season-long feature, with columnist CK Rairden and intern/facilities manager Kurt Foley both finishing with records of 177-89.

I’m declaring Kurt the winner via tiebreaker for several reasons. First and foremost, he picked the Super Bowl winner correctly, CK did not. Secondly, he predicted a Super Bowl final score of Pittsburgh 27-21. Almost perfect, as the final score was Pittsburgh 27-23. Other factors? It was the facilities manager’s first year of prognosticating, and he came way back after being 12 games down in the standings in October.

I’m also deducting points from Arizona resident CK for becoming the biggest bandwagon fan the Arizona Cardinals have ever known.

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Mark your calendars for six months from now.

My cell phone rang Monday night with Mike Maasen, president of the Platte County Pachyderm Club, on the other end. The fearless leader of the popular elephant group was filling out his list of guest speakers for the coming months and extended an invitation. After deciding we have a scheduling conflict for May, an offer to provide commentary at the August meeting was extended this direction. Pachyderms, I will see you on Thursday, Aug. 6, 5:30 p.m. at O’Dowd’s in Zona Rosa. The verbal jam session will be open to the public, though I suggest leaving children and the faint of heart at home.

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As you’ll see in an article in this issue, Platte County R-3 School Board President Bob “I’ll use taxpayer money to hire me a security guard ” Shaw declares this week he has thick skin.

In other news, Bryan Busby has declared himself skinny and Ivan Foley has declared he has the biceps of an Olympic-caliber weightlifter.

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Speaking of Shaw, has the county commission lost confidence in him as its county counselor after he lost the important Bateman vs. Platte County court case over whether a particular roadway was public or private? I guess we’ll see. If they have, could a concerned public blame them? The expensive loss (records obtained by The Landmark indicate the county paid Shaw as much as $30,000 to $35,000 to handle matters in regard to the three-year Bateman battle) in the Bateman case is the latest in what even the most passive observers have to admit has been a trend of confidence-shaking incidents.

Let’s be honest, Shaw and I don’t always see eye-to-eye on issues. After initially being excited once he earned the post, I’ve been disappointed in his performance and critical of his time as school board president. He has responded with behind-the-scenes attempts at retribution against this newspaper. That’s how life goes at a newspaper that works for its readers and protects the public’s right to know. He isn’t the first public official to travel that road.

But all things considered, Shaw is a nice guy, personable and likable. In fact, it could be argued that he’s too nice for his role as county counselor. Some folks in the administration building have been quietly critical of the county counselor for years for perceived soft stances on sticky legal issues. For example, a few years ago the county commission did everything but threaten Shaw with water torture to get him to provide an opinion on whether elected officials could accept a cost-of-living pay raise in the middle of their elected term.

A couple of months ago, some folks at the county were quietly cringing as they followed The Landmark’s coverage of the locked door Platte County R-3 School Board meeting, which was a picture of a Sunshine Law violation. The significance there is that Shaw is president of the school board and also the county counselor. In his role as county counselor, he advises the county commission on open meetings issues. It didn’t look real pretty for the county counselor in his “other public life” to be teetering on the brink of an open meetings violation. When questioned as to whether he believed having the building locked while a public meeting was taking place inside violated the Sunshine Law, Shaw responded to The Landmark: “We’ll check with our legal counsel on that.” Hmm. No matter which hat he is wearing at the time, the attorney for a major public entity like the county commission shouldn’t have to “check” with another attorney in regard to questions of open meetings. He should know. County officials were squirming when they read it.

Less important but still noteworthy, during Shaw’s time as board president R-3 has also had at least one improper posting of the reason for an executive session. Also, a board member had to be forewarned by The Landmark last winter that proper advance public notice of a meeting the board was about to hold had not been given. The notification from this newspaper allowed the board to go ahead with last year’s candidate orientation meeting by having less than a board quorum present in the room at any given time.

In and of itself, any of the above facts would only temporarily raise an eyebrow. Combine them all, and there’s cause to pause.

Frankly--and I only point this out because I know the county counselor has thick skin and will let the observation roll off his backside--the fit between Shaw and the current county commission doesn’t seem like a match made in heaven: In his elected role, Shaw can quite fairly be viewed as fiscally liberal. He’s working for a fiscally conservative county commission. Shaw is seen as having a soft stance on many issues. He’s working for a set of county commissioners who have a firm grasp of their roles and their beliefs. Shaw tries to win arguments and cases based on technicalities. County commissioners need to win battles in the court of public opinion.

Those are some of the differences. Whether the differences are a problem remains to be seen.

(Get a weekly cause to pause right here on page 2 of your Landmark. And email the publisher at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


'Wild' story coming soon; Sunshine Law could be toughened

Posted 1/29/09

Time to talk about the best part of Super Bowl week (oops, is it OK for me to say Super Bowl in an editorial? Or do I need to fork over some licensing fee?).

The best part is the chance to view highlights, and in some cases games from start to finish, of past Super Bowls on the NFL Network or ESPN Classic. This is a thrill for a lot of us who grew up die hard NFL fans. The Chiefs won a Super Bowl when I was a little less than seven years old and I can still see my dad jumping up off the couch when the Chiefs scored one of their touchdowns in that upset of the Vikings in Super Bowl IV. Shortly after that, the Chiefs went into a free fall and were terrible, so a lot of football nuts my age adopted other teams as our favorites. I adopted the Pittsburgh Steelers as my team after watching the Immaculate Reception by Franco Harris in the playoffs. That single play turned me into a Steelers fan (well, on top of that I dug their uniform colors and loved to watch Jack Lambert smack the snot out of opposing running backs).

My family and childhood buddies could tell you stories about how serious I was about those Steelers. I was addicted to anything Steelers. I had a Steelers stocking hat, Steelers jerseys, Steelers T-shirts, and yes, even Steelers pajamas. Arguments with rival Raiders fans--and even the occasional Chiefs fan--were commonplace at school. Ah, the good ol’ days.

As I moved into my adult years--wait, have I really moved into my adult years?--I outgrew that attachment to the Steelers and of course my NFL fanhood is with the Chiefs these days, though they have severely tested my patience in the post-Marty Schottenheimer years. Let’s hope they get things turned around under a new general manager and new head coach.

Anyway, where I was going with all this is that during Super Bowl Week you can often catch me watching the replays of those old Steelers Super Bowl victories. To me, it’s often the best part of the annual craziness.

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An encounter that Landmark office manager Cindy Rinehart recently had with a creature from the wild has prompted a feature story that will be coming soon to the front page of your Landmark. Reporter Alan McArthur has been busy compiling information from a variety of sources locally and through the Missouri Department of Conservation.
His creature feature will be interesting, to say the least.

Check it out in next week’s paper. It will be like an issue of National Geographic without the uncomfortable pictures. Or an episode of Wild Kingdom without the commentary from Marlin Perkins.

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Everybody under the age of 35 right now is asking themselves “Who the heck is Marlin Perkins?”

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This week I told County Collector Donna Nash that as a public service I would volunteer to help her tighten up the employee screening process for her office. She laughed.

At least she still has her sanity after what has been a rough past few months with a couple of staff issues making front page headlines.

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Suggested posting for the collector’s office: “Gambling problem? Don’t take our cash. Instead, take down this number: 1-888-BETS-OFF.”

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What is shocking to me about the alleged stolen tax payments situation is that so many people are paying their tax bills with cash. It’s not something I would even consider, but obviously many people are doing it. A confirmed $16,000 is missing and sources are telling me the actual dollar amount involved could end up being more than $35,000.

Never woulda thunk it.

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The Missouri Sunshine Law--my favorite piece of legislation, and as a taxpayer it should be yours as well--has the potential to be strengthened under a proposal in the legislature this year. All the ideas seem extremely reasonable. Rep. Tim Jones of Eureka has filed a bill that would, among other things:

1. Require most records and meetings of the Missouri Ethics Commission to be open.

2. Specify that an association is covered by the Sunshine Law if it receives public funding through dues paid by a public governmental body or its members.

3. Defines ‘public meeting’ to include any gathering of newly-elected members of a public governmental body who have not formally taken office, but are meeting to discuss public business, with or without current members of the body, when a quorum is present.

4. Require a notice to the public of a meeting to be extended from 24 hours advance notice to five days advance notice when the public governmental body would be considering or voting on a fee or tax increase, eminent domain, zoning, transportation development district or tax increment financing issue.

5. Define the term ‘cause of action’ in an exemption to the law as when “a lawsuit has been filed, regardless of whether service of process has been completed, or correspondence from a party to the body stating that litigation shall be filed unless certain demands are met.”

6. Limit persons attending closed meetings of a public governmental body to members, their attorneys, staff members and any necessary witnesses.

All reasonable proposals, don’t you think?

(The new prez got nothin’ on us. . . you’ve been able to get a weekly dose of love, hope and change right here in Between the Lines for years. Now fist bump the publisher. Or email him at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


Flubbing the oath; And why no debate on 'stimulus?'

Posted 1/22/09

Did you catch the reported fact that former KC mayor Kay Barnes was present at the recent Kansas City news conference of Sen. Kit Bond, right after Bond announced his “retirement?”

One has to wonder if Barnes was on hand to thank Bond for that implied endorsement in her recent battle against Sam Graves. And by the way, that sure paid huge dividends for her, didn’t it?

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When Kit Bond is finally out of public light--and here’s hoping the next couple of years go by quickly--who will assume his role of mispronouncing the name of this state?

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If you’re into reading sports-related books, I’ve got a recommendation for you: Bets, Drugs, and Rock & Roll by Steve Budin, with assistance from author Bob Schaller and a foreword by Brandon Lang (the man about whom the movie Two For The Money was made, starring Matthew McConaughey). The book is about the rise and fall of the world’s first offshore sports gambling empire. I have no idea why this topic intrigued me, but it did.

Budin, the son of a legendary New York bookie, learned the ins and outs of taking bets at an early age. By the time he was 16 he was taking action from his schoolmates, their parents, even his teachers. He then moved on to running high roller excursions to Las Vegas. Later he moved to Central America and began accepting bets over the telephone, wresting bettors from the clutches of the neighborhood bookmaker and laying the foundation for the internet gambling revolution that was to come.

Budin’s time in Central America--in Panama and then in Costa Rica-- was interesting and eventful. It featured corrupt government officials, shady businessmen and technological difficulties, but in the end he was able to emerge, he says, as the “father of modern offshore sports gambling.”

It is absorbing reading. I got into it on New Year’s Day and couldn’t put the book down. I would imagine the hard cover is available at all the major book stores, or simply give me a call and I’ll let you borrow my copy. Entertaining and informative stuff.

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The Iraqi journalist who has been jailed since throwing his shoes at President Bush got a visit from his brother Friday and a birthday party from his guards as he turned 30. Though he has been denied access to his lawyer, reports indicate the shoe-icide bomber is in good shape. Though let it be known he throws like a girl.

This guy may be sneaky enough to have fired off a couple of loafers at the president but I’d like to see him try to get into a locked door Platte County R-3 School Board meeting. Without being accused of causing a commotion, of course.

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During the Feb. 1 pro football championship game (there’s a more common name for it, but some ridiculous licensing deal is supposed to prevent us from referring to it by that more common name without potentially landing our journalistic backsides in a super-sized bowl of trouble), some lucky person will win ownership rights to a 26” LCD high definition television from Hooters. I like to think of it as winning a boob tube from Hooters.

Customers have had the chance to register during the playoff games, and the winning name will be drawn during the Feb. 1 title match. Every Hooters in the country, including the one (that’s weird, I thought they came in pairs) on Barry Road in Platte County, is giving away a TV to a lucky guest on that special Sunday.

I only know this because the people at Hooters sent me a press release on it. I have not obtained visual evidence.

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I like this observation--forwarded to me by a loyal reader--about the proposed ‘economic stimulus’ package going on in our nation’s capital. These words are from Robert Marcin, a contributor to RealMoney.com

“Why is there no public debate about the multi-trillion dollar stimulus and direct market intervention? Why should the implosion of the biggest bubble in all of history, the US debt bubble, require another bubble in government debt/intervention? Why should we buy the “any means necessary” attitude promoted by the free market hypocrites?

“Did any talking head, politician or regulator attempt to stop the debt bubble? If they never saw the problem in the first place, why should we buy their solution?

“I don’t have answers. But I am dismayed by the lack of legitimate public debate as the feds continue to propose flinging the biggest pile of crap at the wall in history.”

Excellent. Preach on.

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What did you make of the flubbed oath of office during the inauguration of President Obama on Tuesday?

I was not an Obama supporter and would love to tell you it was Obama's fault, but in truth I think Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts screwed it up from the start and Obama's pause was actually intentional, meant to give the justice a chance to repeat the beginning of the oath the correct way. The chief justice then screwed it up again and Obama simply repeated the judge’s confused version of the oath. At least that's the way I’m interpreting it, though I would imagine many members of the GOP will differ with me.

No matter whose fault, such a misstep with the eyes of the world upon them was a bit uncomfortable to watch.

(Dismayed by the lack of legitimate public debate about the way Kit Bond pronounces the word ‘Missouri,’ Ivan Foley can be reached via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


Hold the door open and let's load the moving van

Posted 1/16/09

Some of our area’s movers and shakers will be moving and shaking their way out the door fairly soon. And frankly, I’m not all that torn up about it.

The hiring of Scott Pioli and putting him in charge of all football operations ensures suffering Chiefs’ fans they will not have to suffer through days of Herm Edwards serving as head coach much longer (in fact he may be out the door by the time the ink is dry on this issue).

I’m sure Herm is a good guy, but this NFL head coaching gig is too much for him. What he and Carl Peterson did to this franchise over the past couple of years is inexcusable. In these days of free agency, it isn’t necessary to completely destroy the on-the-field product in order to “rebuild.” Edwards took the Chiefs to the lowest of lows. He made them one of the youngest teams in the NFL, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What is a bad thing is that their young talent isn’t any good, which made the Chiefs one of the youngest and least talented teams in the NFL. Combine this with Herm’s clueless gameday coaching strategies and terrible clock management and you know the result? Back-to-back embarrassing seasons, with this year’s record of 2-14 capping the disastrous reign of Edwards as head coach.

I predicted here months ago that if/when Edwards is relieved of his duties in KC, he will never serve as a head coach in the NFL again. That’s a pretty bold forecast, because he has some things working in his favor at getting another shot, but I’m sticking with the prediction. You can’t help run a franchise this far into the ground and realistically expect to get another shot at piloting the plane somewhere else. To reference a name from the Chiefs past, he has become a modern day version of Frank Gansz. Good luck to you, Herm, but it’s time to go.

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Another mover and shaker soon to be leaving the scene is longtime Sen. Kit Bond, who announced last week he will hang it up in 2010 rather than face another re-election effort. Thank you, Kit Bond, for your many years of public service. Thank you more, Kit Bond, for realizing it’s time for you to move on.

The Republican party needs an infusion of new blood and new ideas. Bond, an acknowledged leader in earmarks and good ol’ boy politics, certainly wouldn’t represent a brand new day for Republicans in the state.

Bond would have faced some dissension from within his own party in 2010. In his closet are items such as the controversy surrounding his staff’s political involvement in the ousting of Todd Graves as U.S. Attorney in 2006, which was first reported in detail in the Washington Post last fall. Bond’s staff was involved in a petty dispute with Congressman Sam Graves’ office staff, and Bond’s people (and are we to believe Bond didn’t know it was going on?) turned it into a childhood game. Bond’s people unsuccessfully tried to get Todd Graves to intervene in the dispute on Bond’s behalf, encouraging Todd Graves to get his brother to fire Jeff Roe, who was at the time Congressman Sam Graves’ chief of staff. Todd Graves told a Bond staffer “I’m not playing in your reindeer games” and the full court press that eventually resulted in Todd Graves’ removal was on.

The actions by Bond’s staff prompted this comment from Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington: “What adults act like this? Senators are not spoiled children who can lash out on the playground when they don’t get their way. U. S. Attorneys are not toadies for their Senate sponsors, they are federal law enforcement officials,” she told the Washington Post in October. Bond eventually issued a public apology to “the people of Missouri” and to Todd Graves.

In another move that would have cost him some support, Bond intervened in the GOP primary for governor last year. His endorsement of Kenny Hulshof in the gubernatorial race over Sarah Steelman was the wrong move for the state and for the party. In a year voters were clamoring for change and a fresh approach, Bond’s endorsement of Hulshof helped guide the GOP down a path of the same ol’ same ol’ that was overwhelmingly rejected by voters and created internal friction.

Not only are the above items in Bond’s closet, but he has also voted the wrong way on this rainstorm of bailouts going on in Washington. His position on bailouts would have come back to haunt him with a vast majority of voters.

And, often when an elected official announces he is hanging it up, an as-of-yet unknown point of controversy looms. We don’t know yet whether that is the case with Bond, but keep your eyes and ears peeled and don’t be shocked if something new comes to light.
In either case, Bond’s decision to opt out in 2010 is the right call. For all of us.

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This is why you read and trust The Landmark. While other outlets last week focused on the alleged “positive, unqualified, glowing” audit that had just been completed on the City of Parkville, The Landmark was busy exclusively reporting the city collector had been fired and quoted the assistant city administrator talking about the need for new “checks and balances.” This week, The Landmark backs it up with a detailed look at the audit--and you’ll notice it wasn’t quite as positive as some folks built it up to be. You may even come to the conclusion that the audit report is the reason the city collector is no longer on the job.

Proof there’s still only one watchdog in the Platte County media.

Thanks for reading.

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A few highlights from the talk given by Jason Klindt, Congressman Sam Graves’ campaign manager in the easy win over big city mayor Kay Barnes, to Platte County Pachyderms last week:

•Klindt said the implosion of the Kansas City Star came at a great time for the Graves campaign. What he means by that is the staff reductions in the Falling Star’s newsroom disrupted what would have been the liberal rag’s attempt to push Barnes’ agenda on a daily basis.

•Sixth District voters identify with Sam Graves’ values. “We didn’t run from our values, we ran to them. The Barnes campaign never figured out what to say about values,” Klindt commented.

•Barnes “didn’t invest time to go to meet voters. The reason she didn’t do that is because the people disagreed with her. She never actually met voters. She got caught in an echo chamber of liberals telling her she was going to win,” Klindt said.

(Get caught in the Between the Lines echo chamber by emailing the publisher at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


Some quiet time with the elected; Propaganda exposed

Posted 1/9/09

OK, it’s well past deadline, I’ve had a crazier than normal Wednesday morning and I haven’t yet written a column. So I will fight off the urge to enjoy a hearty breakfast at the local Waffle House and get down to business by cranking out a column of the top-of-the-head variety.

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Why is it that’s the first time I can remember a recent reference to Waffle House in the newspaper without it being in the police blotter?

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of really nice folks work there and dine there. And I’ve heard their juke box rocks like nobody’s business. Maybe there are just semi-frequent disagreements over whether those waffles taste great or are less filling.

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As is usually the case, I enjoyed the heck out of the every-two-year-occurrence known as the county officeholder swearing-in ceremony, which went down on New Year’s Eve in the county commission meeting room at the administration building. It’s always nice to enjoy some relaxed conversation with newsmakers. For example, for the first time ever, Captain Frank Hunter of the sheriff’s department and I were able to have a face-to-face, low-key conversation about nothing in particular, which was enjoyable. Normally when we communicate it’s over the phone as a a new story is breaking and I’m pushing Frank for information he either doesn’t have yet or information he has and can’t release just yet.

And let me say I put a hurtin’ on the cookie table that was worked by one of my favorite Democrats, the sweet and charming 79-year-old Mary Anne Baier. Mary Anne said providing the cookie table was a topic that had been overlooked until the night before the swearing-in. I’m glad somebody remembered. Even though Mary Anne said the cookies were of the store-bought variety, they served as a pretty tasty breakfast treat for me that morning. And the punch, which Mary Anne said was not spiked in any way, hit the spot as well.

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For an array of photographs from last week’s county officeholder swearing-in ceremony, go to our web site at plattecountylandmark.com later this week and click on the Faces ‘n’ Places tab.

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Landmark office manager Cindy Rinehart had laryngitis last week, which means for the first time in 16 years I was able to get in the last word during one of our many “differences of opinion.”

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One of my favorite county organizations, the fun and productive Platte County Pachyderms, will play host to one of my favorite people in the political world Thursday night when it meets at the Hereford House in Zona Rosa. Special guest speaker will be the sharp-minded Jason Klindt, campaign manager for Congressman Sam Graves. Klindt directed a campaign that stitched Kay Barnes in an oversized clown suit in November.

He gets a lot of hate from the Democrats for the damage he has inflicted upon their candidates, but make no mistake--Klindt is one of the sharpest minds working behind the scenes in Missouri politics.

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Lee Roy Van Lew has filed against Ron Stone. Ron Porter is seeking the post currently held by Andy Stanton. The Sunshine Boys are attempting a Reunion Tour on the Platte City Board of Aldermen.

This has the potential to be an entertaining spring.

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Ignore the propaganda spewed recently about the closing days in the search for the Platte County R-3 superintendent. Please, enough of the school kid naivete, the public isn’t stupid. Just because an elected official tells us something, that doesn’t mean it’s true. All those meetings in the final days were not held because the school board was undecided between Mike Reik and another candidate. Reik was the choice from the start. Most of those late night, attempted CIA-level secret, security-guard present, locked door, allegedly commotion-filled meetings--some of which you’ll remember included a human resources representative sitting in--were to hammer out the finer details of Reik’s contract in regard to car allowance, certain benefits and other perks. The perk system in Reik’s contract, sources in the field of education are telling me, is significantly different in some areas than it was in current superintendent Mark Harpst’s pact.

There’s the true story behind the reason for all those meetings late in the “search” process. Anything else is just hogwash.

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This might come as a surprise to some, but truck drivers have voted Missouri roads as the fifth best in the nation. That ranking comes from a recent survey conducted by Overdrive magazine, a publication serving the commercial motor carrier industry. The truckers, according to the magazine, also voted Interstate 44 in Missouri as the fourth most improved highway segment.

Here are the rankings of states with the best roads from Overdrive magazine.

1. Texas
2. Florida
3. Georgia, Tennessee (tie)
4. Ohio
5. Missouri

On a personal note, I did notice while scurrying about in a rental car during my recent time in Florida the fine condition of that state’s highways. I also noticed many of them were toll roads. A connection between the two?

(You’ll never have to pay a toll to email this publisher. Fire your missive to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)