Between the Lines by Ivan
THE SCHOOL BOARD COULD REALLY USE A WATCHDOG RIGHT NOW
The best song on the radio right now? It’s entitled Take Your Time and it’s a country tune by Sam Hunt.
I’ll plan on performing that one at the next Landmark karaoke night at Dirk’s.
Good seats are still available.
Speaking of concerts and music and seats and such, I’m giving away several tickets to the Little River Band performance set this Saturday night at Ameristar Casino in Kansas City. Hit me up if you’re interested, 816-858-2313, email@example.com.
After taking a couple years off from those types of opportunities, the Between the Lines traveling circus is getting primed to hit the road again. If your club or organization wants a hawt and cheeky speaker to kill some time talking about the news biz, local politics, current events and whatever else comes to mind, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Already looking forward to an event with the Platte County Federated Republican Women in October.
If a lesson was learned that lesson didn’t seem to stick in the minds of the district’s elected leaders for long. In this week’s focus on the ongoing situation at the upper levels of the food chain at the Park Hill School District, let’s review recent history. It’s time for a trip down Memory Lane in regard to Park Hill’s compensation of its top administrative position.
You may remember in January of 2013, The Landmark broke the story that the district had been routinely reporting the salary of previous superintendent Dennis Fisher to be $243,500. But that figure only included Fisher’s base salary of $239,500 plus a $4,000 doctoral stipend. As we went on to report in the pages of The Landmark at that time, Fisher’s actual compensation package was valued at an eyebrow- raising $454,000.
Fisher’s compensation included things like an additional $40,000 in bonus money for the district meeting certain requirements. And Park Hill taxpayers paid an additional $98,000 to Fisher’s pension in 2011-12 alone. Also, Park Hill taxpayers handed over $50,000 to Fisher in benefit maintenance, which was purported to be the equivalent of a 401K plan. In reality, it was cash that Fisher was given and he was free to use it in any manner of his choosing.
Add in benefits for such items as a health plan, dental, vision, life, disability, family health, family dental, family vision, Medicare, vehicle allowance and the grand total of Fisher’s compensation package in 2011-12 was $453,968. He became referred to in some circles as the Half a Million Dollar Man.
School officials were somewhat embarrassed when this came to light. Some board members at the time, including Fred Sanchez, admitted to us even they had no idea Fisher was making that kind of bank. “Over the years, I never knew for certain as it was most difficult to follow the pea under the shells,” Sanchez told me in 2013.
As The Landmark was breaking this news to the public, school leaders at the time implied a promise of improved transparency. Also implied was the intent to use better restraint when it came to compensation packages of Fisher’s replacement, the now somewhat infamous Dr. Scott Springston.
But did that really happen? You be the judge.
Springston’s first year of compensation was this: Base salary of $184,000. He received an additional $20,000 for “benefit maintenance” and earned $15,000 in bonus money for the district meeting certain standards. That brought cash payout to $219,000. On top of that, the district paid about $65,000 into Springston’s pension that year. Including health benefits, his total compensation package amounted to $303,617. Because this was $150,000 less than Park Hill had invested in Fisher the year before, many in the public deemed Springston’s deal reasonable.
But by looking at the numbers in Springston’s contract for this year, one can see that things quickly returned to the ways of old. Springston’s base salary this year was $213,725, about $30,000 higher than it was two years ago. But there’s more. The district will pay about $70,500 into his pension this year. His contract included an annual $20,000 payment for “benefit maintenance” to be used at his discretion. Other district paid benefits, including health and life insurance, long-term disability and contributions to Medicare are valued at $28,500. His contract called for a $4,000 rider annually for a doctorate degree. In addition, the district paid him a monthly automobile allowance for local use of a personal vehicle in the amount of $800 per month, $9,600 per year. This brings Springston’s total compensation package to more than $346,000.
So the man with a $303,000 compensation package in 2013 had already been bumped up to $346,000 in 2015. That’s a gain of $43,000 in what had been a couple of rocky years.
You’ve cat to be kitten me right meow.
Springston’s time at Park Hill featured multiple bumps in the road, so it’s not clear what school board members were seeing that made them feel justified in significantly increasing Springston’s compensation.
Maybe it was that ethics violation he committed in the failed technology tax increase campaign. Maybe it was the way voters verbally abused his FLiP tax levy idea. Or maybe someone has an addiction to raising administrators’ salaries.
Most evident in all of this is that the school board at Park Hill could benefit from a watchdog-type among its members. One who will dig into details, ask questions, keep a close eye on the superintendent and provide a transparent view to the public.
Is there a watchdog on the board? There doesn’t seem to be, at least not yet.
Time will tell.
(Be a Between the Lines watchdog early and often on Twitter @ivanfoley and find Foley on Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram)
WHEN DID THE
PARK HILL BOARD
KNOW IT HAD A PROBLEM?
Royals fans, enjoy these moments.
The regular season games the final couple of months of last season and through the first full month this season are more exciting than regular seasons of the 1980s.
Don’t let anybody fool you with talk of those Good Ol’ Days being better. They weren’t nearly as exciting. There were exciting moments, certainly. Some exciting performances, no doubt. And the of course the team had George Brett, a Hall of Famer with a flare for the dramatic. But other than some battles with the Yankees, regular season baseball was never this exciting in 1980 or 1985. In terms of day-in and day-out excitement, those days don’t compare to what the franchise is going through right now, on and off the field, inside and outside the stadium.
In those “glory days,” there were a lot of lazy afternoon or lazy evening games played by cool professionals who when they won made it look routine and when they lost looked like they were disinterested. Nothing close to the tension, suspense and never-say-die youthful enthusiasm this bunch displays. Opposing teams look at this Royals squad as a group will beat you and piss you off at the same time. I like that.
Sure, KC grabbed the ’85 World Series title, and all of us who remember it like it was yesterday are thankful for that and will long cherish that October run. But as far as regular season baseball? I’ll take these days over the former glory days anytime.
Now, if only this group can get to the World Series again--and close the deal.
Enjoy these times, Royals fans. This is a great ride.
Word is we’re going to be hearing some weird, not as rosy revenue reports when the May sales tax collections for Platte County come in. As we mentioned a few weeks ago while reporting the use tax collections in the month of April were up by 133% from the month of April 2014, the up-and-down weirdness in the collection/distribution patterns by the state department of revenue continue. One month the revenue comes in over-the-top strong fashion and the next month you might see a surprising drop compared to the same time a year ago.
A month ago the combined sales/use tax collections for the county--money that goes into general revenue--was up by 14% from this time a year ago. The buzz is that the May receipts will drop that 14% number considerably.
The inconsistency is funky. And comes without a plausible explanation from the powers-that-be.
Some follow-up thoughts in bullet point style on our exclusive story in last week’s issue of the personnel investigation and police report that preceded the resignation of Dr. Scott Springston as superintendent of the Park Hill School District. By the way, the articles detailing the above can now be found on our website at plattecountylandmark.com.
•Praise to the school district central office staff (Opal Hibbs, school board secretary, is custodian of records) and its legal staff for its assistance in dealing with multiple requests for public records from The Landmark. Their response was always professional and almost always immediate, or as immediate as possible. Same goes for our dealings with the Weatherby Lake Police Department. Very prompt and professional.
•Did the school board know about the police report before last week’s Landmark and if so when did it know? The fact the school unanimously renewed Springston’s contract in March--just a few weeks after his wife had filed a detailed police report alleging what certainly should have sparked some red flags for the school board--indicates either the board didn’t know or did know and simply chose to view things through rose colored glasses. The police report says: “Mrs. Springston indicated that when Mr. Springston got home from work he was intoxicated.” His wife’s remarks in the police report hint that Springston may have been drinking on the job.
I would ask Boon Lee, school board president, the question of “when” the school board learned of the police being called to Springston’s home but my faith in getting a straight answer out of Lee isn’t at a high level. Remember as of last Tuesday night he was still telling me there really wasn’t a “personnel investigation” and that term was simply verbiage the school attorney recommended be used in the closed session minutes. I feel safe in calling BS on Boon Lee’s explanation.
•Interestingly, I’ve heard from multiple sources that Springston had applied for the job of superintendent at Fort Osage in Independence earlier this year. One source says some board members eventually got wind of it and Springston initially denied it to them. Hard feelings reportedly ensued between Springston and at least some board members. I would ask the school board president the question of “if” the school board knew of Springston’s alleged pursuit of the Fort Osage job but my faith in getting a straight answer out of the board president isn’t at a high level. Remember as of last Tuesday night he was still telling me there really wasn’t a “personnel investigation” and that was simply verbiage the school attorney recommended be used in the closed session minutes. I feel safe in calling BS on Boon Lee’s explanation.
•There are a couple of theories surrounding the timing of the “personnel investigation” that preceded the resignation of Springston. As you noticed, the domestic disturbance police report in which Springston’s wife told police that Springston “has issues with alcohol” and “the littlest amount of alcohol will make him violent, which has been increasing lately” was made at 4:09 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 24. The “personnel investigation” isn’t publicly noted until April 7, which just happened to be election day for school board incumbent Matt Pepper.
One theory is conspiratorial. The conspiracy theory is that the school board intentionally kept things quiet until election day so as to not hurt the reelection campaign of Pepper, who had been a devoted Springston supporter.
The other theory--I tend to subscribe to this one more than the other, unless we are able to uncover more info--is that some kind of happening(s) at the workplace triggered a “personnel investigation.” You’ll notice in the closed session minutes that Opal Hibbs, who is not only the board’s secretary but also Springston’s secretary, leaves the room instead of remaining to take minutes, as would normally be her role. That could be an indication she was a witness to something connected to this “personnel investigation.”
•Public educators with a history of being bad at their jobs or having personal problems that affect their job performance are often allowed to “resign” without those problems becoming public knowledge. Those educators then simply move on to another school district where officials have no knowledge of those previous situations, and that educator then becomes some other school district’s problem.
School boards everywhere have shown they simply want their problem child administrators to go away without matters embarrassing to the district getting exposed, and school boards commit taxpayers to pick up the tab to help the problem administrators go away quietly.
For the betterment of the public educational system, stop that madness.
(Email your publisher at email@example.com and find him on Twitter @ivanfoley and on Facebook)
THERE WERE TOO MANY
AT PARK HILL
Who knows what will happen when the fingers start hitting the keyboard, but my inclination at this moment is to keep the column a bit shorter than normal this week.
As you can see on our front page, we’ve been a little busy getting our journalism on.
We smelled something fishy. We know some of you did, too.
I touched on this in last week’s column. The manner in which the “health-related resignation” of Dr. Scott Springston as superintendent at Park Hill came down was fueling speculation. Let’s be honest, the explanation and information put out by the school board wasn’t making a whole lot of sense. This week we can tell you with certainty that the Park Hill School Board was not being entirely forthcoming with the public.
Longtime readers of The Landmark have seen this movie before. When we get the impression a public official or a public entity is being less than forthcoming or less than truthful with the people being served, it tends to agitate your Landmark staff members and inspire us to get to the truth. That’s what a journalist is supposed to do. And that’s what the public deserves.
You might remember our work in uncovering the reason a Platte County High School principal suddenly resigned a few years back. Our digging uncovered a police report of his arrest on a charge of soliciting prostitution.
We’ve been busy the past two weeks chasing the truth in this Springston story. In the past few days, through chasing public records via Missouri’s Sunshine Law, we’ve pieced together much of the story for you, and it’s found on our front page.
There is likely more to come.
Something tells me if both parties--the school board and Springston--had this to do over again they would be more forthcoming with information. Leaving many unanswered questions to a situation involving so many public dollars and such a high level public figure motivated us to do some digging. In our office, we call it “checking our traps” which simply means we’re checking in with all of our old sources, anyone who might be in a position to be a new source, and checking every public record that might lead us to a clue to help our readers--who have a right to know--get the information they deserve from the public entity they mightily fund with their tax dollars.
Our initial suspicions of “there’s more to this story” were confirmed when we acquired minutes from closed school board sessions. There was mention of a “personnel investigation” prior to Springston’s resignation. Somewhat amazingly, Boon Lee, board president, in a phone conversation I had with him at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, was still downplaying the term “personnel investigation” as nothing more than “verbiage” suggested by the school board attorney. Lee insisted there really was no “investigation,” which if true (it wasn't), begs the question as to why the board would use that term in their official minutes. Apparently they were assuming no media outlet would ever put in a Sunshine request for those documents. They assumed incorrectly.
When I continued to press for an explanation of the term “personnel investigation,” Lee said he would have Nicole Kirby, the school’s director of communications, or Linda Salfrank, the board’s attorney, contact me first thing Wednesday morning with more of an explanation as to why the term was used. About 9 a.m. on Wednesday, my cell phone rang with Kirby on the other end. I assumed she was calling to follow up on my discussion with Lee. Instead, she said she was calling on a different topic and was unaware of my conversation with Lee. When I relayed to her what Lee had told me about there not really being an “investigation,” she seemed surprised that the board president had taken that stance. That, of course, was another red flag.
Thirty minutes later The Landmark acquired a police report for which we had put in an open records request earlier this week. In reviewing public records in recent days, we had noticed a reference to the address of the Springston home on a police call log from the month of February. The police report from that trip to the Springston home by the Weatherby Lake Police Department, detailed in this story, may go a long way to filling in some blanks for you on the Springston resignation.
(Got a news tip? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 816-858-0363. Follow Foley on Twitter @ivanfoley and find him on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube. He’s coming soon to Periscope, so brace yourself)
THERE'S IRONY IN THE AIR SURROUNDING SPRINGSTON'S DEPARTURE
While there seems to be a pattern of businesses, including some large employers, leaving the KCI corridor for greener tax pastures offered by the state of Kansas in Wyandotte County, there is some good news on the local economic front. The good news comes in the form of sales tax collections in Platte County, where general sales tax collections are up nearly 11% in the first four months of 2015 when compared to the first four months of 2014.
Use tax collections are up 20% over the same timeframe, though I would advise some caution in analyzing that total. Use tax collections are a strange animal that no one seems to understand--not the folks at the county and even some folks at the state. For instance, the collection for the month of April was up 133% over the month of April a year ago. Sounds like some bookkeeping weirdness/freakish timing of collections more than a sustainable trend.
Nonetheless, the county’s combined total of sales and use tax collections, which is used as general revenue, is up 13.9% over this time last year. That can only be interpreted as a good thing.
Which direction will Park Hill head in its search for a new superintendent after the unexpected resignation of Dr. Scott Springston last week?
Time will tell. Based on a conversation this week with Boon Lee, president of the Park Hill School Board, it seems the board is leaning toward naming an interim superintendent to serve through the 2015-2016 school year. A permanent leader would then be hired to take over for the 2016-17 school year.
“Two months is too short a time” to find a permanent replacement, Lee told me in a phone conversation Tuesday night.
That comment would explain why there has been no real sense of urgency coming from school board members in the past week. There seemed to be no rush to get a replacement search process rolling immediately by holding another special meeting, instead waiting for the topic to come up at this week’s regular board meeting set for Thursday night. Now we know why. The consensus of the board, according to Lee, is to go the interim route through June 30 of 2016.
The “acting” superintendent who will serve from now through June 30 of this year is Dr. Jeanette Cowherd who was already on staff as an assistant superintendent. In our conversation, Lee clearly referred to Cowherd as “acting” superintendent rather than “interim” superintendent.
It will be interesting to see how widespread Park Hill gets in its search for a new superintendent this time around. Will the district do a nationwide search or will it hire from within? Or will it do a nationwide search and then decide to hire from within?
Springston’s hiring, you’ll recall, ruffled some feathers of a group of patrons loyal to previous superintendent Dennis Fisher. That group wanted one of Fisher’s assistants, Mark Miles, to get the job. Miles is now the superintendent of the Indian Hill Exempted Village School District in the state of Ohio.
And if you follow Platte County R-3, I’m sure it has crossed your mind whether Dr. Mike Reik will apply at Park Hill. Never say never. Granted, that would be a major step up in size of school district being served, so it’s questionable whether Park Hill leaders would want to go that direction. It would mean an improved pay scale for Reik. R-3 lists Reik’s salary at $144,910 for 2015-16. His contract states he is guaranteed at least a three percent raise and as much as an eight percent raise for the 2016-17 school year. Park Hill listed Springston’s salary at $213,725.
Think Reik is at home and happy at Platte County R-3? He might be. But folks thought that last year, too, and many observers--including some members of the R-3 school board--were caught off guard when we exclusively reported in this column last year that Reik had applied for the Liberty superintendent’s job. At the time the most notable thing on his resume was a defeated levy question. Now he has a successful levy question on his resume.
There is plenty of irony in the fashion that Springston left his position at Park Hill. The superintendent who came in pledging transparency is leaving under a cloud of secrecy, with no public comment to the community he served and avoiding any questions from the media on his way out the door.
As we reported and discussed last week, the reason for his resignation is being given as “health-related.” Those words can tug at all the human emotions, understandably. As I said last week, The Landmark wishes nothing but the best for Springston health-wise and professionally.
Keep in the back of your mind that “health-related” is a very general term that can mean or not mean a number of things. There seems to be no indication from anyone close to the situation that Springston is facing any kind of life-threatening health situation. Many folks facing a health situation would take a leave of absence and keep the health benefits coming rather than quit a job.
Not necessarily saying it is happening in this situation, but keep in mind “health-related” is a term that can be used to provide convenient cover for officials who don't want to answer questions. If he wanted to talk to try to end any public speculation on his reasons for leaving Springston has certainly had that opportunity. We don’t have a private phone number for him, so last Tuesday I drove to his Weatherby Lake residence to see if he wished to make a comment, because every newsmaker in these types of situations deserves the opportunity to be heard if he or she so chooses. As I neared the home I spotted him standing at a doorway on the lower level drive. He and a young man, who I presume was his nearly 19-year-old son, then entered the residence right before I pulled into the upper driveway. But my subsequent knock and ringing of the doorbell went unanswered, obviously by choice. Neighbors have seen him quite actively doing yard work at his residence within the past few days.
There is no requirement that he comment, of course. At the same time he is a smart man who has to realize that silence is only going to fuel speculation that there is something more than a “health-related” situation at play. For what it’s worth, the chatter coming from some sources in the field of education is that a major reason for his departure isn’t health-related. Lips typically get looser on these types of situations with the passage of time.
In the meantime, one thing we can tell you with certainty is the man who pledged transparency is employing his right not to talk about this one.
(Get Between the Lines transparently on Twitter @ivanfoley)
LUDACRIS CONCERT; AND
TRANSPARENCY AT PARK HILL
How about those Royals?
Running with the success of last year’s post-season, Kansas City’s baseball team is off to the best start of any team in Major League Baseball, sitting at 7-0 as of this writing on Wednesday morning.
This group is fun to watch. They are hitting with power and sit at or near the top of MLB in runs scored. Good times. At least so far. Every baseball fan knows the season is a long one and there are going to be tough stretches for every team, but right now this team is as entertaining as those Kamler-Foley Rambling Moron podcasts back in the day.
Get out to the ball park and take in a game while the team is hot and the weather is cool. The Royals have a home series vs. the Oakland A’s Friday through Sunday and it’s my goal to get out there.
I’ve come to the conclusion every neighborhood in the Midwest has a guy with a loud exhaust system on his pickup who leaves for work at 4 o’clock every morning. And he wants the whole neighborhood to know he’s leaving for work at 4 in the morning.
Am I right or am I right?
I think this is mandated in certain areas of America. Check the fine print in the rules of your homeowners association.
If you follow my social media accounts, you know that I hit the Ludacris concert in St. Joseph on Saturday night.
Yes, your 50-ish Landmark publisher, who enjoys most every style of music you can throw at him, hit a concert put on by Ludacris. Or as Landmark assistant editor Valerie Verkamp so aptly put it: “Ludacris. What’s that?”
Ludacris is a rapper. He’s no Eminem, but he is a rapper. His best rap years are behind him, I grant you that. He’s probably better known now for his role in the Fast and Furious movies. But a ticket to the event was only $15 and as a show of support for the group selling tickets and trying to support the idea of a concert at St. Joseph’s often-deserted Civic Arena, I was in.
Regular readers know that I’m an avid people-watcher. I can confirm for you the crowd at Ludacris was small but interesting.
One highlight of the night: The entry gate featured the most aggressive pat-down I’ve ever received. This came via a female who wasn’t a bit shy in going about her business. This gal should work for the TSA. She insisted that “everything” come out of my pockets and asked me twice to unbutton the windbreaker-type jacket I was wearing. Only somewhat taking this seriously, I pulled keys and change out of my front pockets and unsnapped my jacket down to the bottom button, after which she grabbed hold and tried to unsnap it herself. When she couldn’t immediately get it, she reached her hands inside my jacket and did an aggressive reach-around of my chest and back, then pulled her arms out of my jacket and performed a reach-around on my jeans, where she could feel that I hadn’t pulled something out of my left back pocket. By this time a crowd of young people standing in line behind me had started watching what must have looked like the opening act at Bazooka’s, and I could hear one young female exclaim: “Look at her grabbing that guy’s @$$!”
“Is that a wallet?” the security lady asked me with both of her hands on my backside. “Yes, that’s a wallet,” I smirked, never offering to pull it out because you know how protective I am of my wallet.
Just when I was starting to think I might need a victim’s advocate she waved me on through.
We wish nothing but the best health-wise and professionally for Scott Springston, who resigned as superintendent of Park Hill this week just a month after having his contract extended through the year 2018.
District officials tell us there is no buyout or “payoff” of Springston’s contract, which indicates this is indeed a voluntary resignation.
It is the duty of the press to gather what is the public’s right to know, and along with that comes the duty to ask the questions that members of the public would want to ask the newsmakers if they had the chance to do so. The obvious question in the Springston situation, which is being presented as a “health-related” resignation, is this: Why would a person facing a health situation leave a good job and give up the paid health benefit instead of taking a leave of absence and keeping a health benefit in place during that time? Springston, obviously, could answer that question directly, but he isn’t talking.
That part of this situation does not make sense, at least not yet. Maybe it will become clearer with time and as more information comes out. These types of things typically become clearer with time as lips eventually get looser.
“Health-related” can mean a variety of things, from the very serious to the middle level of serious to the not-so-serious. Take this for what it’s worth, but at no point in any conversation The Landmark had with district elected officials this week--and we reached out to every single one of them--were we given the impression that the “health-related matter” is life threatening.
Again, our sincere best wishes for better health and happier days to Springston.
So how did the board members perform with the media in this time of “breaking news” happening at their district?
Overall, not too shabby. Boon Lee, new board president, was readily accessible when I buzzed his cell phone about 9 p.m. Monday night. Bart Klein was conversational and as open with as he could be under the circumstances. Matt Pepper seemed to be avoiding us most of the day Tuesday, but to his credit did finally call us back late Tuesday night after a couple of emails and two voicemails, the latter in which I politely chastised him for initially directing questions to the district’s hired PR person. Janice Bolin returned our call, as did new board member Karen Holland. Even Allison Wurst, who served on the board until last week’s reorganization, returned The Landmark’s call requesting comment.
So which names are missing? The names of veteran board members Todd Fane and Susan Newburger. Both went into hiding, apparently, which is not a good look in a district that in recent years has been pushing the idea of improved transparency.
(Get Between the Lines as often as you like on Twitter @ivanfoley and follow the antics on Facebook, Snapchat, and YouTube. Coming soon on Periscope)
ROE'S WORK GUIDES R-3 VICTORY; THE SEVEN BRIDGES PRECINCT
For the win:
Without nationally known Jeff Roe’s Axiom Strategies working for the “vote yes” campaign, the Platte County R-3 tax levy increase was defeated 55% to 45% in 2012.
Three years later with Jeff Roe’s Axiom Strategies and its subsidiaries working for the vote yes side, a Platte County R-3 tax increase question was passed 55% to 45%.
Not a coincidence.
Quality Platte County R-3 Schools, the campaign committee promoting passage of the tax, on its last report with the Missouri Ethics Commission showed a total of $36,000 on hand to promote the tax increase. Updated calculations as of earlier this week show $32,000 had been spent with Roe’s companies.
That qualifies as a big-money election.
In 2012 when its tax was defeated, R-3 leaders sharply criticized what it called “political consultants” and “outsiders” for influencing the outcome. I’m guessing we won’t hear that message again anytime soon.
Remember the Jan. 28 Between the Lines column? The gist of it was this: The Quality Platte County R-3 Schools campaign has identified 2,000 as the number of yes votes that will be needed to pass the tax levy increase question. Here’s a quote from that column:
“The Quality Platte County R-3 Schools committee, the campaign organization promoting passage of the 43-cent tax levy question on the April ballot, is already at work. Based on some questions they’ve posed in an online survey, it looks like the Vote Yes side has determined its magic number is 2,000, as in they believe it will take 2,000 yes votes for the issue to pass.”
Did you notice how many yes votes the levy question received on Tuesday? 2,037 in Platte County.
Two weeks after reporting that the magic number had been identified, in a Feb. 11 Between the Lines column we broke the news that nationally known political consultant Jeff Roe and his Axiom Strategies/Candidate Command/ Remington Research operation had been hired by the Quality Platte County R-3 Schools campaign. Putting two and two together it quickly became clear where the vote yes side had come up with the 2,000 number--from the operation of a well-respected political consultant.
Roe, who is in Texas working on the presidential campaign of Ted Cruz, in a telephone interview I had with him on Feb. 11 compared the R-3 election campaign to “O-rings under a toilet” on his level of priorities.
Agree with him or not, there’s no denying Roe is very accomplished at a couple of things. 1. Winning elections. 2. Making money.
Not always in that order.
If you were watching The Landmark’s Twitter feed Tuesday night as we were reporting the election results instantaneously--if not sooner--you know the R-3 levy question was only separated by two votes with one precinct remaining to report. That precinct was Seven Bridges at the south part of Platte City. That precinct has a history of being a little more “relaxed” than some other local precincts when it comes to its outlook on tax-and-spend issues.
At least that’s how I would politely describe the Seven Bridges precinct. Another election observer put it more bluntly:
“Seven Bridges is our California,” he said.
What a bracket. One of the finest performances in our 19 or so years of this big-time contest known as The Landmark Bracket Battle.
Who had the impressive bracket? Daniel Bunge, a sharp-minded third grader at Siegrist Elementary School and the son of Brad and Kerri Bunge of Platte City. Daniel told me this is the first year he has entered The Landmark’s contest. He said he filled out his Landmark bracket at the home of a friend and that he also filled out a bracket at home. “I took the one at home more seriously,” he said. “He won the contest at home, too,” said his father.
As you’ll see in the final standings published elsewhere in this issue, Daniel finished with a total of 232 points. For his performance, Daniel earns $100 in cold hard Landmark cash. His dad drove him to The Landmark office Tuesday night to collect his winnings and pose for a picture. The tournament wrapped up Monday night when Duke defeated Wisconsin in the championship game.
Daniel correctly picked all of the teams that would make the Elite Eight, correctly picked all that would make the Final Four, and had Duke over Wisconsin in the championship game.
Around 110 of our total 170 entries incorrectly predicted a Kentucky championship. There were about 22 entries picking Wisconsin and around 11 who correctly predicted a national title for Duke. No other schools were in double digits.
Finishing second in the Bracket Battle is Brenda Sinclair with 194 points. Coming in third is Nic Blaha with 191. Brenda and Nic, if you’re reading this and I haven’t yet made contact with you, come get your prize. Both Sinclair and Blaha get a free copy of Landmark columnist Chris Kamler’s new book The Silence, The Series & The Season of Sungwoo.”
But guess what? Everybody who entered this year is getting the opportunity to claim a free one-year subscription to The Landmark. That’s because the entry of your Landmark publisher sucked. Correct picks on my bracket were harder to find than a fiscal conservative in Seven Bridges.
I finished near the bottom this year, so close to the bottom in fact that I’m extending the offer of a free one-year subscription to every single person who submitted an entry. If you entered, claim your subscription by calling the newspaper at 816-858-0363 or emailing email@example.com. You must contact us with your name and give us your mailing address for your one-year subscription by June 1, 2015.
Daniel was a fun interview and a gracious winner. Thanks to all who played. We’ll do it again next year.
(Don’t wait till next week. Get Between the Lines 24/7 on Twitter @ivanfoley and find Foley on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube, or strolling pantsless along the beaches of Seven Bridges)
LOADED WITH CASH
AND A CONSULTANT,
VOTE YES SIDE FIRES SHOTS
Wow, has the campaign involving the proposed 43 cent tax levy increase at Platte County R-3 become active. And it has actually become a little nasty in the past few days. Somewhat surprisingly, the nastiness has come from the pro-tax crowd. Quality Platte County R-3 Schools paid for a massive mailer campaign that referred to “lies” of the opponents. “Lie,” much like “hate,” is a very strong word that many level-headed folks try to avoid using.
But there it was in big, bold, all caps letters on an 8.5” x 12” flyer on expensive card stock. “Opponents of Platte County R-3 will use misleading rhetoric and out-of-context statistics to try to convince you your kids don’t need this proposal to pass. Don’t believe the lies.”
Goodness. That seems like a silly, overly personal overreaction, especially in light of the fact the flyer doesn’t list any specifics about what information from opponents has been a “lie.”
If you have to scream “lies” without getting specific, then it could be your proposal has some holes and wasn’t carefully crafted to prevent “rhetoric and out-of-context statistics” shaking the fiber of your mental well-being.
No matter the outcome, it’s not exactly a positive campaign road that proponents have chosen. In addition, the Quality Platte County R-3 Schools Committee has made this a big-money race, using donations from R-3’s vendors, most from outside the school district boundaries, to raise around $36,000 to spend to promote the tax. Most of that is being spent with Axiom Strategies, Candidate Command, and Remington Research, all three of which are companies belonging to noted political consultant Jeff Roe.
As of last Friday, the Quality Platte County R-3 Schools Committee had already spent $24,000 with Axiom and its subsidiaries. This from the side that has been critical of the use of “political consultants” in local races.
What will be the voter turnout on Tuesday? Wendy Flanigan, director for the Platte County Board of Elections, told me on Tuesday that 400 absentee ballots have been cast to this point. That’s the number that were cast in the 2014 spring election when voter turnout was 13 percent. In the 2013 spring election at which the county road tax renewal was on the ballot, turnout was about 15.5 percent.
Letters to the editor, by the way, can be found on this page, page A-3, and page A-8.
You’ll want to read assistant editor Valerie Verkamp’s front page story for details, but let me say the dynamics inside the Park Hill Board of Education meeting room became unusually interesting last week when two board members opposed the direction of the district’s long-term facilities plan proposed by Dr. Scott Springston, superintendent, and other administrators.
The split vote ended at four board members in favor to two opposed, with board president Susan Newburger conspicuously absent from the rare meeting in which there was conflict in the room.
The two no votes came from Janice Bolin and Allison Wurst, both of whom expressed concern about doing away with the sixth grade center concept. Wurst is on her way out of office, not seeking re-election in next week’s school board election, so perhaps that fueled her willingness to speak out openly and aggressively.
Either way, it was a welcome thing to see some open debate at a school board meeting, with open questioning of a proposal being put forth by administrators.
Hopefully that’s a sign of things to come.
Baseball fans, it’s almost Royals season. Your team is defending American League champions. Are you pumped?
We’re getting excited about it here at your ol’ Landmark. It started with plenty of Royals talk on the sidewalk last Friday when we hosted a book signing event for noted author Chris Kamler, known as @TheFakeNed on Twitter and that columnist you read each week on the top right of page A-3. Thanks to all of you who dropped by that day and chatted with Chris, especially to those who purchased his book “The Silence, The Series & The Season of Sungwoo” for the bargain price of $20.
We have copies of his book for sale now within the cozy confines of your Landmark office at 252 Main Street in historic downtown Platte City. Cash or checks made out to Chris Kamler are accepted methods of payment.
The return of Major League Baseball means the return of Kamler’s The K Replay, a weekly feature that catches you up on Royals highlights each week throughout the season. This week’s piece, which you can find on page B-4, offers Kamler’s prediction for the team’s 2015 record.
On another Royals note, you may have heard that team oficials are asking fans to help select the sixth inning song to be played inside The K at each home game. Sixteen popular songs that received the highest vote totals in last season’s contest have been selected for the bracket style battle that will begin on Opening Day April 6 and run through May 6. Here are the 16 songs in the contest:
April 6: Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey vs. Minnie the Moocher by Cab Calloway; April 8: I Gotta Feeling by Black Eyed Peas vs. I Want You to Want Me by Cheap Trick; April 9: Small Town by John Mellencamp vs. Livin’ on a Prayer by Bon Jovi; April 17: Summer of ‘69 by Bryan Adams vs. Friends in Low Places by Garth Brooks; April 18: I Won’t Back Down by Tom Petty vs. Get Down Tonight by KC & The Sunshine Band; April 19: Old Time Rock and Roll by Bob Seger vs. I Want to Rock and Roll All Night by Kiss; April 20: Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash vs. Louie Louis by The Kingsmen; April 21: Twist and Shout by The Beatles vs. Centerfield by John Fogerty.
Don’t Stop Believin’ is the defending champ. My favorites out of the other possibilities would be I Won’t Back Down, I Want to Rock and Roll All Night, or I Want You to Want Me.
What would be your choice? Voting takes place by text from fans within the stadium on each of the above dates. Let’s see how this plays out. Winning song will be revealed May 6.
Hey, I’m making a late push in the Bracket Battle standings. Well, kind of. I think I’m like fifth or sixth from the bottom now. But look out, there are around 60 of you who did not pick Kentucky to win it all, so if the Wildcats do claim the title I will likely be sailing past several more of you. Final Four round wins are worth 15 points and the championship game is worth 30.
Final standings will appear in next week’s issue.
(Get your election results Tuesday night on Twitter @ivanfoley and find your publisher on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube. Email Foley at firstname.lastname@example.org)
MARY IS STILL AROUND
AND STILL SPEAKING
FROM AN IVORY TOWER
Anybody else think springtime rains and cool temps make for good sleeping conditions? This weather has had a relaxing effect on me. I’ve been sleeping like a baby.
This despite the fact that after two rounds my basketball bracket is the stuff of nightmares.
Feeling so inspired by the spring weather that I may take up exercise. I think I’ll get the treadmill out of storage. And then hang clothes on it.
Wichita State hammered Kansas in a round of 32 game on Sunday. For the rest of the tournament KU fans will have to rock out with their Hawks out.
You have noticed we’re getting many letters to the editor lately, with several of them dedicated to the upcoming tax levy increase election at Platte County R-3. Among those chiming in on the discussion this week is Mary Temperelli, former longtime member of the Platte County R-3 School Board. Temperelli lectures what she feels must be an intellectually-challenged voting public by saying that only your school administrators and your school board members are smart enough to figure out what is best for Platte County R-3.
That’s an ivory tower viewpoint that shows a dangerous disconnect with the real bosses of the district, that being the patrons/taxpayers.
It’s elitist. It’s condescending. It’s rude. On top of that, it’s simply false.
There are plenty of voters who can and do interpret the data and the financial condition of the district and come to intelligent conclusions. Of course those conclusions are different than the conclusions Mary and highly paid administrators come to, so in the minds of the elitists, the public “just doesn’t understand.”
Many voters were turned off by an elitist attitude by R-3 in the 2012 failed levy election. If you thought the attitude of the leadership had changed since then, Temperelli’s letter is an indication that things just might be the same this time around.
To take Temperelli’s letter a little further into the woodshed, I enjoyed the part where she says: “We will not be swayed by political activists who make it their job to create dissent to achieve their alarmist, extremist agenda.”
As reported here many weeks ago, Quality Platte County R-3 Schools hired Jeff Roe’s Axiom Strategies, one of most successfully aggressive, in-your-face political consultant groups in the USA, to help run its pro-tax campaign. If there was ever a time a for the pro-tax crowd to avoid talking about the influence of political activists on a local election, this should be that time.
Things are happening in and near the tiny burg of Platte Woods in central Platte County, ladies and gentlemen. It’s the place to be. Dirk’s Bar and Grill has reopened under new ownership. One of the new owners is Landmark pal Mike McCartney, whose voice you hear when you attend Royals games. The Royals PA announcer and partners have spruced up Dirk’s a bit, including installing many brand spanking new televisions to create an enhanced sports bar atmosphere.
Dirk’s was recently host to an event honoring The Landmark’s very own Chris Kamler, a celebrated author of baseball books and accomplished wearer of sweater vests.
In another noteworthy Platte Woods nugget, as you see on our front page L.C.’s Hamburgers is getting ready to reopen. The extremely popular “grilled onions in your burger” joint has been closed since a fire last summer.
And also at Platte Woods, that Landmark newspaper vending machine in front of the Dollar General store sells copies of weekly journalistic excellent at a rapid fire pace.
Lots of folks going there early and often.
Speaking of noted author and man-about-town Chris Kamler, the somewhat lovable @TheFakeNed on Twitter, he’ll be at The Landmark office this Friday for a book selling/signing/giving away party with yours truly. A good time will start at 4 p.m. If the weather is nice we’ll be set up on the sidewalk, harassing foot traffic headed to Taco Night at the Pool Hall. If weather is not cooperating we’ll be inside the luxurious Landmark office.
We’ll have The Landmark Plinko board ready for action. Take a spin to see if you can win a book, a free subscription to The Landmark, or a Landmark 150th anniversary coffee mug. Of course Chris will have copies of his book “The Silence, The Series and The Season of Sung Woo,” based on last year’s magical season for your Kansas City Royals, available for purchase at a cost of $18.99. If you smile he may sign it at no extra charge.
Come see us on Friday. We’ll be having fun. You might as well, too.
Last week Kamler’s book opened at No. 28 on Amazon’s list of “baseball books.” This week it’s No. 1 on Amazon’s list of “baseball books with the word SungWoo in the title.”
What’s in a name?
The 13-ton anchor from the Navy vessel the USS Platte is now on the grass at the small park at the bottom of Main Street in Platte City. This means less mowing but more weed eating for the parks department.
Remember when I said nobody knows the name of the small park at the bottom of Main Street? Somebody from the city then reminded me the name of the place is Settler’s Crossing Park. But last week in announcing the arrival of the anchor, the city sent out a press release in which the park was referred to as Settler’s Landing Park.
So which is it? Is it Settler’s Crossing or Settler’s Landing? Either way, I win the debate. Nobody knows the name. City Hall isn’t even sure, apparently. So The Landmark will just continue to refer to it as “that small park at the bottom of Main Street.”
(Get your book signing swag on for Friday and feel free to talk trash on Foley for his bracket. Follow Twitter @ivanfoley and find him on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube)
PUTTING THE EYE TEST
TO WORK ON
SOME LOCAL ISSUES
The eye test. You hear that term quite often this time of year when the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee is making choices for at-large berths into the men’s college basketball championship tournament. Certain teams are said to pass--or fail--the “eye test” of their season-long performance.
More on the NCAA tournament a bit later in this column. (Yes, if you don’t yet have your bracket entry in The Landmark’s contest, hurry. You have until 11 a.m. Thursday).
In the meantime, here are some observations using the Between the Lines eye test on items of local interest:
•The Between the Lines eye test says the dockets in the courtrooms at the Sixth Judicial Circuit at the Platte County Courthouse apparently are not all that crowded these days. Why would I say that? Check out the ample parking space available on Platte City’s Main Street at most hours of the day. Many more open spaces than a year or two ago. What gives? Are there fewer criminals? Are the new judges more efficient? Whatever the reason, if we can effectively judge the caseload of the courts by the number of cars parked out front, the caseload has decreased noticeably.
That's something to stick in the back of your mind for more in-depth studying if talk of “we need more facilities and another judge” starts back up again.
•The eye test of the jail population also indicates things have slowed down. As of this writing early Wednesday, there are 123 inmates in the Platte County Jail. Capacity is listed at around 151.
•The eye test says Mayor Nan Johnston isn’t going to win the public whizzing match she continues to engage against Tom Hutsler and others on the board of Parkville’s downtown taxing district, known as the Parkville Old Towne Market Community Improvement District. Unless the city has evidence of wrongdoing--which it apparently does not have at this point, despite some occasionally unsavory accusations--Nan should let this one go.
•The eye test says Alderman David Jones might be interested in running for Parkville mayor next year. The eye test also says the current mayor squirms a bit in her chair when Jones speaks up at meetings.
•The eye test says Platte County’s Parks and Recreation Department has enough money to finance many toy departments. Collections for the half cent sales tax for parks are up 14.6% over this time last year. Do you know how much money the park tax will generate this year if it ends 14.6% ahead of 2014? It will bring in $9.5 million for the toy department. It is unbelievable that there are still folks who want to fight when it is suggested the rate be cut slightly to allow a portion of that half cent sales tax to fund more basic services, such as law enforcement.
This is evidence that once you’ve experienced a sugar high it’s tough to willingly give it up. It’s also evidence that some folks want government to be all things to all people.
It’s Bracket Battle time. Don’t be the only cool kid who isn’t taking part. You can feel the peer pressure, can’t you?
If you’re reading this before 11 a.m. Thursday, there’s still time to make your picks and be somebody. It’s your chance to win $100 of Ivan Foley’s money, which as regular readers know is a well-protected asset. Fax your bracket to 816-858-2313, email it to email@example.com or drop it by The Landmark at 252 Main Street in the heart of Platte City’s downtown. There’s room to park in front of the courthouse, if you so desire.
Here’s the deal. Top bracket score gets $100. Second place gets an autographed copy of Landmark columnist Chris Kamler’s new book The Silence, The Series and The Season of Sungwoo. Third place gets a copy of the same book.
And here’s the best part: everyone who finishes with a better bracket score than yours truly earns a free one-year subscription to The Landmark. That’s a $25.92 value.
I may or may not have a prize lined up for the person with the worst score. I’m not giving any details on this--or even guaranteeing that a prize for lowest score will be available--because I don’t want someone intentionally tanking. If you’re going to be a winner for being awful I want you to be legitimately awful. If past performance is any indication, Landmark office manager Cindy Rinehart is considered among the front runners to come in last, but if that happens any potential prize will go to someone else.
Here, my friends, is the bracket you’re up against in your effort to win a free Landmark subscription. For the scoring system we use and other contest details, see the front page article. Basically, our contest is won or lost in the later rounds because later round victories are rewarded with more points than the early rounds.
Without further delay, read ’em and weep:
FIRST ROUND WINNERS: Kentucky, Purdue, Buffalo, Valparaiso, Texas, Notre Dame, Wichita State, Kansas, Wisconsin, Oregon, Wofford, North Carolina, Mississippi, Baylor, VCU, Arizona, Villanova, North Carolina State, Northern Iowa, Louisville, Providence, Oklahoma, Michigan State, Virginia, Duke, St. John’s, Stephen F. Austin, Eastern Washington, SMU, Iowa State, Davidson, Gonzaga.
SWEET SIXTEEN: Kentucky, Buffalo, Texas, Wichita State, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Baylor, Arizona, Villanova, Northern Iowa, Providence, Virginia, Duke, Stephen F. Austin, Iowa State, Gonzaga.
ELITE EIGHT: Kentucky, Wichita State, Wisconsin, Baylor, Northern Iowa, Virginia, Duke, Gonzaga.
FINAL FOUR: Kentucky, Wisconsin, Virginia, Gonzaga.
CHAMPIONSHIP: Kentucky 72, Gonzaga 58.
You’ll be able to follow the standings as the contest progresses. We’ll print every entrant’s name and score each week here in your Landmark, and will provide updates and commentary throughout the tournament on Twitter @ivanfoley and on my Facebook page.
Grab a snack and your favorite beverage and settle in near a TV during some of the tournament games. And feel free to have some trash-talking fun.
(Get your Between the Lines fix on Twitter @ivanfoley and find Foley on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube. Email firstname.lastname@example.org)
HELP WANTED: INTERPRETER NEEDED, MUST SPEAK ROPER
Help Wanted: Between the Lines is currently taking applications for an interpreter. Must speak Roper.
If hired, your first assignment is to interpret this email sent out recently by Beverlee Roper, first district county commissioner in Platte County. Roper fired off the email to a circle of friends and alleged supporters, at least one of whom wanted to be sure that I saw it. It’s a note of support for Teresa Loar, candidate for city council in Kansas City, but that’s not the part that needs interpreting. The portion of the letter that needs explanation deals with some bizarre remarks Roper makes about development potential at KCI Airport.
Here in its entirety is the all-over-the-map email Roper sent. If you can interpret this into a common sense summary, you’re hired. All of it is a bit of a head-scratcher, but of specific need for interpretation is the part dealing with particulate and noise and gasses and stuff being “a unique and attractive” benefit:
“Over the last two years, I have worked with the superb Ed Ford, who has served KC as a councilman-at-large. He cannot run again and he must be replaced with a person who has a proven history devoted to Kansas City, particularly the Northland. I have come to know Teresa Loar, who years ago while she served on the KC Council brought crops and grazing to thousands of acres at the KCI airport that had laid idle. While the terminals need maintenance, they consistently rank at the top of airport satisfaction surveys. Let’s fix what’s broken, not what is not! The 10,400 acres represent ground that provides a great opportunity for industry--”real” jobs. Manufacturing “widgets” sold for more than their cost of production always creates prosperity in the geographic area where such plants are located. The airport presents two unique and attractive benefits for companies: 1) by law no real estate tax can ever be assessed (!) and 2) the federally-permitted next door neighbor pours particulate, gasses and incredible noise in the air every 5-10 minutes and floats on jet fuel and ethylene glycol (antifreeze). Teresa understands the prosperity-generator potential at the airport and will work with the county to pursue it. Please put Feb. 24 from 6-8 p.m. on your calendar and meet Teresa at Trezo Mare. Thanks! --Bev.”
By now you’ve probably seen the “informational video” being circulated by Platte County R-3 in regard to its upcoming 43-cent tax levy increase proposal on the April 7 ballot.
According to a list of paid expenses recently approved by the school board at Platte County R-3, taxpayers of the school district paid $2,050 to Swish Creative of Blue Springs to produce what is listed as an “informational video on the ballot issue.”
You can decide whether the video is informational or promotional. Either way, if you’re a taxpayer to the Platte County R-3 district you helped pay the tab.
Heard an interesting observation recently by someone in regard to the wild and crazy growth projections school districts like Park Hill and Platte County R-3 have been spouting recently. This observation came from the Line Creek Loud Mouth blog, a blog not known for conservatism, by the way. The Loud Mouth was referring specifically to Park Hill’s growth projections when he said: “All in all, I would be very skeptical of student growth projections. It has taken six years for the housing market to recover and the trend for the next generation is marrying later and not having more than one kid. Is the historical level of growth realistic given this demographic change underway or the amount of future buyers for our existing large single family housing stock within the district?”
When even those observers on the left side of the aisle are questioning projections of exploding enrollment, you know the school districts have a bit of a credibility problem on their hands.
Guy Speckman, publisher of the Savannah Reporter, has been on a roll with observations about public school spending, hitting home runs on a weekly basis. Here’s what Speckman wrote last week about administrator salaries in public schools. It is golden. Hang this on your refrigerator and read it before you vote on any school tax increase:
“Wowza! Did you see those administrator salaries at the St. Joseph School District? Anyone that thinks public education is not a train off the financial tracks is simply ignoring the facts that are in front of us every single day. Public education insiders were quick to totally destroy the last education reform issue on the ballot, and probably for good reason. Yet I don’t see these same insiders promoting any plans that will curtail the squandering of millions of dollars on public education waste that has been created nationally, regionally and locally.
“The systems have become a top-heavy hierarchical system that pays people as managers yet gives them little to no management responsibility. We pay people administrative salaries, yet give them menial job tasks that could be done by far less expensive employees.
“Everyone wants to stand behind ‘it’s for the kids’ philosophy, even while each and every school district in this country wastes millions of dollars annually. Personally, I don’t think it is ‘for the kids’ any longer and those St. Joseph salaries and stipends are a peek at a growing trend of what this is about.”
Fill out your college basketball tournament bracket after the field is announced this weekend and get it to me for your chance to win $100 and/or a free one-year subscription to The Landmark. Details in our front page article.
Good luck, you’re going to need it this year. I’m feeling hot, hot as in my picks are going to go nuclear kind of hot.
The book entitled The Silence, The Series and The Season of Sungwoo by our man Chris Kamler becomes available this week. We’ll have some available for purchase in The Landmark office, 252 Main Street, Platte City. And remember we’ll be hosting the author to an on-the-sidewalk book sales/signing event the afternoon of Friday, March 27 in downtown Platte City. Also, Chris is hosting a book launch party this Friday night, March 13 at Dirk’s bar and grill in Platte Woods. Danny Boi, morning co-host on 96.5 The Buzz, will be DJ’ing into the wee hours. Follow Chris on Twitter @TheFakeNed for updates and whatnot.
(For Between the Lines updates and whatnot follow Foley on Twitter @ivanfoley and find him on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube. Email him at email@example.com, call the hotline at 816-858-0363 or just come walking into his office)
SEEMS A GOOD TIME
FOR THE ELECTED TO DO
Supporters of a QuikTrip at Parkville? Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.
Yes, a QT proposal is back at the city of Parkville. This time, there is no McDonald’s included in the site plan for the intersection of Highway 45 and Highway 9.
So how will the new proposal be received? Who knows. Parkville--home of golf carts legalized as street vehicles, parks, nature areas, parks, nature areas and did I mention parks--can be a bit quirky when it comes to proposed development.
While many of us see an intersection of two state highways and think that would be a great place for a revenue-generating, respected public-serving entity like a QuikTrip, many folks at Parkville see an intersection of two major highways and think that would be a great place to plant a pawpaw tree or build a tribute to the hummingbird.
I hope you’ve been paying attention to the mess involving the St. Joseph School District. If you haven’t been following it, Google the topic and do some reading. Read the contents of a blistering state audit that was just conducted on that school district. Some things in there will anger you, frustrate you, amaze you, and most of all should put you on alert.
Oh, and there’s more than just a scathing state audit facing some folks within the St. Joseph School District. There is also reportedly a criminal investigation, being conducted by the FBI, underway.
As Guy Speckman, publisher of the Savannah Reporter, wisely says in his column in our Other Voices item on this page, it should be a wake-up call for all local governments and the elected officials who serve on governing bodies.
It’s time for those who serve on boards to stop nodding heads in agreement at every proposal placed in front of them and start asking some tough questions of those who serve underneath them. It’s called doing your job. You were elected to lead, not to be led by the paid professionals on staff at whatever public entity you’re serving. Realize that the paid professionals don’t have the same level of ownership in your entity that you do. Realize that those paid professionals you may have come to believe will always be there are often thinking of their next step on the career ladder, the next job that they may see as bigger and better. It’s your job as an elected official to look out for your local taxpayers and patrons because your paid professional is looking out for number one. To think otherwise is naive.
Take ownership in your elected position. Grasp the reason why you are there. Don’t just list the elected position on your resume and think warming a seat at meetings is all you need to do. You were elected to be an independent thinker. You were elected to be unafraid.
If you’re not any of these things, it’s time to re-evaluate. Because you’re doing it wrong.
Did you know the St. Joseph School District had been using the same auditing firm, Westbrook and Company, that Platte County R-3 has used for years? Why do I mention this?
Westbrook and Company, according to reports in the St. Joseph News-Press, had been giving the St. Joseph School District an A rating in its audits. Do you know what rating the state auditor gave the St. Joseph School District? A “poor” rating. In fact, it was the lowest rating in Tom Schweich’s tenure as state auditor.
How does that happen? How does the firm hired by the school district rank the district’s fiscal examination as an “A” while an independent state audit says “this thing is the biggest mess we’ve ever seen?”
Use your imagination.
So should Platte County R-3 patrons be concerned?
Based on what I’m about to remind you, there would seem to be reason to at least put this topic on your radar. Employees who work at management levels inside school districts and other units of government often develop friendly relationships with particular firms. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s not necessarily a good thing, either.
In a story we did last April, The Landmark reported that Platte County R-3 had re-hired Westbrook and Co. to perform the district’s audit each of the next three years. The Platte County R-3 School Board, at the urging of Superintendent Dr. Mike Reik, selected Westbrook even though Westbrook was the higher bidder for the job.
That’s right. The district chose an auditing firm with a price 26% higher than an equally qualified bidder.
The three year cost from Westbrook and Company will be $40,755. The three year cost from the other bidder, Marr and Company, would have been only $32,250. That’s considerable, in particular when Reik admitted “both were good quality firms.”
Reik explained he used a rubric to determine which company was the best firm to meet the needs of the district. I’m not sure what that rubric consists of, or even what a rubric is exactly, but according to Reik “experience” was considered to be the most important criteria when looking at which company to hire. At the time of the selection process, Reik said: “I think Marr is a quality firm, but they have two big districts they work with and that is pretty much it. Westbrook has a reputation as a leader in the school auditing business.”
Maybe that’s accurate. Or at least maybe it was accurate at the time. But Westbrook’s reputation is no doubt taking some hits after what has been revealed in St. Joseph.
In that same Landmark article from last April in discussing why he recommended taking Westbrook over the lower bidder, it was reported that Reik said Westbrook officials are very helpful. “He said the Westbrook firm is there working with school district officials even when they are not providing auditing services to help answer any question school officials have,” according to that article. “Dr. Reik said it is Westbrook’s thorough audit and helpful attitude that makes them the company many school districts turn to for their auditing needs. ‘They are very well known for being thorough in the auditing services,” Reik said.
Hmm. Based on the St. Joseph School District’s experience, it might be time to re-evaluate some things like longstanding relationships with particular firms, not only in the field of auditing but in other service categories. Change can be inconvenient for some staff members but overall change is a good avenue of protection for patrons and taxpayers. Particularly in a case like this one, where a change would also have meant saving significant taxpayer dollars.
(Catch more Between the Lines on Twitter @ivanfoley and follow Foley at Facebook.com/ivan.foley and on Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube. Email firstname.lastname@example.org)
A COMMON DENOMINATOR
IN LOFTY ENROLLMENT
FIFTY SHADES OF COLUMNISTS
Congressman Sam Graves came walking into The Landmark office Friday afternoon carrying his lunch, which was a bag of fast-food from Sonic. Platte County Sheriff Mark Owen dropped in our office Tuesday afternoon and commented he was on his way back to his office and had lunch sitting in his car. “What are you eating today?” I asked. “Sonic,” was the answer.
Sonic. The official restaurant of public officials headed to The Landmark.
(That was an unpaid Between the Lines mention of Sonic. By the way, Sonic, I endorse your drinks. Your food? I endorse your drinks).
Always question projections of explosive enrollment growth. Especially at a time when a school district has a potential ballot question/tax increase proposal on the horizon.
We saw this play out in 2011 and 2012 when projections of rapid and enormous growth in student enrollment at Platte County R-3 were making the rounds. Those projections have proven to be incorrect. So incorrect, in fact, that the district has trashed those earlier numbers and toned down its most recent predictions of growth to a level less likely to trip the crazy meter.
Now a similar disease has struck at the Park Hill School District. The Landmark was at a meeting of the Park Hill School Board in December when it was remarked the district has grown by about 150 students per year over the past 30 years.
That was December. This is February. The tone at Park Hill has changed in recent weeks, not surprisingly at a time when the district is now pushing the need for a major facility expansion (see last week’s front page). Park Hill has said it expects its enrollment will “plateau” at 13,000 students. But when? Based on the established growth trend of 150 students per year, that level would be reached about the year 2030.
But in a recent district newsletter, Park Hill is now saying the district “will increase by an additional 2,000 students over the next few years.”
Say what? I understand that “few” is a very vague term (and vague is likely the reason proponents chose to use it), but many reasonable people would define “few years” as three or four, at tops five, correct?
If that’s the case, Park Hill is now projecting a growth rate of as high as 666 students per year.
Are you kidding me? That seems the stuff of fairy tales, fantasies, and revenue projections at the county golf course.
We do know of a common denominator involved in those earlier wildly incorrect growth projections made at Platte County R-3 and the new ones being made at Park Hill. The common denominator is that there has been input in developing those projections by the architectural firm Hollis and Miller. That is not to say the Hollis and Miller firm is intentionally inflating numbers. . .but it is fair to report the connection and say “hmm.”
Architects make good money off of the construction of large, new, expensive buildings, am I right? Just checking.
When Dr. Mike Reik, superintendent at Platte County R-3, said at last week’s meeting of the Platte City Economic Development Subcommittee that he considers the amount of debt per student “irrelevant in determining the fiscal health of a school district,” you knew there was going to be some blowback. And deservedly so.
Even one of the biggest government bureaucrats around, first district Platte County Commissioner Beverlee Roper, has been known to preach repeatedly against public debt. “Debt equals slavery. Always remember that,” she said in a public meeting earlier this year.
Check out the letter to the editor on this page for the first return volley against Reik’s comment.
My guess is that if R-3 had a very low amount of debt per student, proponents of the proposed tax increase would be touting that as a very positive sign of the district’s fiscal health and past financial management practices. But since the district has a high load of debt on its books, the message is “debt per student is irrelevant.”
Flip it and reverse it.
Call it Fifty Shades of Landmark Columnists.
After many hours of thoughtful deliberation (in other words, in a 30-second conversation that consisted of yelling to each other while walking out separate doors of a building), Chris Kamler and I have decided upon a date, place and time for his book signing event in Platte County.
As you may have heard, Chris has authored a book that will be available Friday, March 13. You’re welcome, America.
His book is about the Kansas City Royals and that Korean dude who flew in during the Royals’ magical 2014 season. The book is entitled: The Silence, The Series and The Season of Sungwoo.
Geez, that title has a lot of words. I’m already tired. This thing better have some pictures in the early pages or I’m going to need a shock collar to get through it.
We’ll have more details about this mild-mannered freak show we’re calling a book signing in future Landmarks. For now, mark your calendar for Friday, March 27. The plan is to set up shop on the sidewalk in front of The Landmark office that Friday afternoon, maybe around 2-ish or 3-ish, and hang out through the early evening hours. We aspire to catch foot traffic from both the Owens Lee Hull Jr. Justice Center and the Pool Hall, with the hope being that borderline nut jobs and some slightly boozed-up folks will be more likely to buy a book. Privately, we also hold out hope that the Pool Hall will offer us some type of “refreshment” when we’re done “working.”
We’ll have the official Landmark Newspaper Plinko board set up for anyone willing to give it a whirl. If you don’t know what The Landmark Plinko board is, check out a recent picture posted on my Facebook page. It’s like a vertical maze. In short, you’ll drop a disc down a board filled with long-ass nails sticking out as obstacles, and if your disc lands in the winning slot at the bottom of the board you’ll get a free copy of Chris’ book. Chris is a highly-trained beauty pageant judge and a born-again virgin, so if you’re female and decently attractive--in other words, if you’re female--he’ll sign it for you. He’ll also sign the book.
(When he isn’t smoking crack with the creators of school enrollment projections, Ivan Foley can be found on Twitter @ivanfoley and at Facebook.com/ivan.foley. Email email@example.com)
KC POLICE OFFICIAL
SAYS HE IS ‘PISSED OFF’
ABOUT KCI CORRIDOR CRIME
You’ve read stories in this fine newspaper about crimes occurring at Platte County hotels in what is known as the KCI corridor along Interstate 29. Thugs are breaking into vehicles and stealing items in what the police call smash-and-grab crimes. It goes in spurts. But the major concern now? Things are getting more violent.
Last week’s event that you saw on our front page featured gunshots when perpetrators fired at a person who had spotted someone in his pickup in a hotel parking lot. The man ran toward his truck. Suspects--police say there were four black males involved--opened fire at the witness through the windshield of the suspects’ stolen Mercedes. A stray bullet traveled through a first floor hotel room window and struck a sleeping guest in the leg.
The silver Mercedes the suspects were traveling in had been stolen from Overland Park, Ks. It was recovered near 82nd and Troost in Kansas City, unoccupied, obviously with holes in the windshield.
The injury to the sleeping hotel guest was not life-threatening, but wow. This is getting nuts. A smash-grab-crime is one thing. A series of smash-and-grab crimes with multiple shots fired is quite another.
“I take this personally. It pisses me off,” said Major Roger Lewis, division commander of the North Patrol Division for the Kansas City Police Department, about the rising number of crimes in the KCI corridor. Lewis made the comment Friday morning while addressing a group of hoteliers in a meeting called for the purpose of talking about the recent criminal activity that has occurred on and around their properties. Your humble Between the Lines columnist sat in on the update.
Platte County Sheriff Mark Owen was also there. He tried to take some of the potential heat off of KC police by saying: “It’s a partnership. I own it, too.” It’s the aggressive nature that these crimes seem to be taking that is most concerning, not just in the corridor but all over the county. “I read your paper. It seems like the incidents are getting more violent each week,” the sheriff told me later.
Yes. And thanks for reading.
So what is prompting all the vehicle break-ins at hotel parking lots? The sheriff didn’t really want this part out there, but I think it’s important for the public to know how the criminals are thinking. The more public knows the better steps they can take to protect themselves and their property. Even Major Lewis admitted that sometimes police “get too possessive” of information. Confirmed. I wish I had a buck for every time this newspaper has had to put a verbal squeeze on law enforcement spokespeople to get basic public right-to-know information from them.
These smash-and-grab criminals are looking for guns. Sure, a laptop or some other electronic device might be a good “get” for them, but these guys are looking to steal firearms. That’s why the type of vehicles most often hit are pickups and SUVs--vehicles most often driven by folks who would have a weapon inside. Airport hotel lots are often the targets because of park-and-fly customers. Think about it. A guy parks his truck at a KCI-area hotel before catching a plane.
What’s one thing he knows he can’t take to the airport? His gun. It gets left in his vehicle parked in the hotel lot.
There are 30 hotels in the North Patrol Division of the Kansas City Police Department. Last week’s incident is evidence that crime in the KCI corridor “has risen to a new level,” Major Lewis told the hotel managers. “Stress to your staff that they call 9-1-1, that they do not confront suspects.”
Wiser words may never have been spoken. No sense taking a chance on needing to dodge gunfire. There’s not always a positive outcome.
If hotel staff members are debating whether a situation warrants a call to 9-1-1, that’s when they need to call 9-1-1, Lewis said.
And it’s not just hotel crimes hitting the KCI corridor. Zona Rosa has seen a tremendous rise in shoplifting incidents. One night last week, Lewis said, a clothing store in Zona Rosa was hit with a $10,000 loss in one shoplifting incident. I’m not sure how somebody gets away with $10,000 in one night of shoplifting, but police say it happened.
Sheriff Owen backed up the KC police official’s concerns about shoplifting in the corridor. Owen says since the public transportation bus stop was put in near Wal-Mart on Barry Road shoplifting in that area has seen a marked increase.
So public transportation, the lack of which is cursed by economic development officials who blame it in part for a perceived shortage in available workforce, has its downside in the law enforcement arena.
What happens now? Kansas City police and the Platte County Sheriff’s Department have formed a task force to study the issue of crime in the KCI corridor and what steps can be taken by law enforcement to prevent incidents and to solve the ones that do occur. The task force held its first meeting last week. We’ll keep you posted.
FYI, Lewis mentioned the Kansas City Police Department’s North Patrol division leads the Kansas City metro area in the number of vehicles stolen while the engine is running with the doors unlocked.
Consider stopping that habit.
Does the Quality Platte County R-3 Schools committee realize the owner of the consulting firm they hired has compared their election campaign to O-rings under a toilet? That can’t be a good analogy for their cause, can it?
A reader sent me this question: If the Platte County R-3 proposal is so great why do they need a nationally-known political consultant to make their case?
That’s a legitimate thought to ponder.
As an update, the R-3 campaign committee’s hiring of Jeff Roe’s Axiom Strategies consulting business has now been confirmed by multiple sources in a position to know. The only sources declining the opportunity to confirm it are the official spokespeople for Axiom and the campaign committee.
By the way, I’m still waiting on that return phone call from Jeff. . .
If anyone from the campaign committee denies they’ve hired Axiom by telling you they’re using a consulting firm by the name of Candidate Command, be aware that Candidate Command is simply the name of the mailing arm of Axiom Strategies. Axiom and Candidate Command are the same company.
(Stay Between the Lines 24/7 on Twitter @ivanfoley and follow Landmark escapades at Facebook.com/ivan.foley. Email firstname.lastname@example.org)
DO YOU KNOW WHAT BRAND OF O-RINGS ARE UNDER YOUR TOILET?
It has been proven many times that politics can make for strange bedfellows.
Word on the street is that the Quality Platte County R-3 Schools committee will be using a political consulting firm in an effort to help it pass the proposed 43-cent tax levy increase in the April 7 election.
The political consulting firm that has been contacted by Quality Platte County R-3 Schools? None other than Axiom Strategies. As in Jeff Roe’s Axiom Strategies/Candidate Command.
At first blush, this seems like an odd marriage. Axiom Strategies has built a name for itself by fighting against things like tax increases, not in favor of them. Roe is known as a ruthless, no-holds-barred campaign guru.
Laura Hulett, deputy treasurer for the Quality Platte County R-3 Schools committee, would not verify whether the committee has hired a consulting firm. But sources tell me that Dr. Mike Reik, superintendent, was in contact with Axiom officials back in December.
Two weeks ago I reached Roe on his cell phone to ask him whether his company has struck a deal to assist the R-3 pro-tax group. Roe was in Texas that day, a state where he is spending much time in helping to guide the likely presidential campaign of Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
Roe told me he didn’t know if his company has a deal in place with the R-3 pro-tax committee. Frankly, he probably didn’t know at the time. Axiom is a very successful multimillion dollar company now with a national presence and a lot of irons in the fire. A local school tax levy campaign is small potatoes in Roe’s world, as he let me know in our phone conversation.
“What makes you think I would know that?” Roe asked me.
“I thought you were the man who would know everything about Axiom Strategies,” I said.
“Would you know what brand of O-rings are under your toilet?” he asked rhetorically, some might say arrogantly.
“No, but my toilet isn’t bringing in millions of dollars,” I said.
These are the types of conversations that two guys who generally don’t give a crap have with one another. There is no such thing as a dull conversation with Jeff Roe. I’ve known him for years, like him, don’t always agree with him but enjoy watching him work and respect the tremendous amount of success he has enjoyed doing the job he loves. We both were on the speaking panel that roasted then-U.S. Attorney Todd Graves. We both were on the speaking panel that roasted radio hot shot Chris Stigall. That could be an indication that we have some similar personality traits.
We ended our conversation with Roe saying he would check with his people to see if indeed Axiom/Candidate Command is working in conjunction with the R-3 pro-tax committee. He said he would check it out and get back to me. That was two weeks ago. I’m still awaiting that return contact.
Interpret that however you’d like. I know how I interpret it.
If you take some time to digest the situation in its entirety, let’s not be totally shocked by the alleged partnership of R-3 pro-taxers with the normally anti-tax firm of Axiom. Not only did it have an ill-advised, poorly-timed proposal it was trying to sell, but to make matters worse R-3’s pro-tax increase campaign was outfoxed and unprepared in 2012 when its levy question was hammered by voters 55-45%. It makes sense for supporters to want to be better prepared this time around. The question is, will the campaign have enough contributed money available to throw to Axiom for the firm to do the campaign any good? Axiom can work wonders but it takes significant dollars, not chump change, to put its recommendations into action.
Meanwhile from Axiom’s point of view, 2015 is not a major year for elections. Axiom has a staff to keep busy. It is a business operation, after all. If a firm better known for anti-tax increase stances suddenly is helping to promote a 43-cent tax hike, that’s more than likely strictly a business decision than it is a “we believe this proposal is a good one” decision. Money talks, in most cases.
Axiom did work for a Kansas City zoo tax proposal not too many years ago, so this wouldn’t be the first time it has consulted on the pro-tax side of an issue.
Some changes are coming to the county clerk’s office, apparently.
Sources inside the administration building say Nancy Armstrong, new county clerk, has disposed of at least one of the employees she had inherited from previous clerk Joan Harms. The firing happened late in the day last Thursday, I’m told.
And the bad news, sources say, was not delivered by Armstrong. Apparently Mary Robinson, the county’s work hard-play harder human resources director, drove the elevator from her basement office up to the clerk’s office on the first floor to do the hit. Armstrong had walked out of the office, apparently so she wouldn’t have to see the carnage she had ordered.
“I think she (Mary Robinson) likes firing people,” one person inside the building told me.
Check out the coverage of a couple of important local business stories on our front page this week by assistant editor Valerie Verkamp. Dairy Farmers of America announces it is moving out of Platte County the same week that Valerie was already doing a feature story on efforts the Platte County Economic Development Council makes to retain existing businesses in the county. Great inside info in both stories.
And what about the gunfire outside a Platte County hotel after a witness approached three black males who were allegedly performing smash-and-grabs upon vehicles in the parking lot?
Be safe. If you’re going to approach suspects in a parking lot at 3 a.m. be sure you have the ability to run zigzag.
(Zigzag with Foley throughout the week on Twitter @ivanfoley and on Facebook. Occasionally you’ll catch him on Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube. Email email@example.com, phone 816-858-0363)
DING DING DING,
WE MAY HAVE A WINNER
No matter how hectic a day I might be having, when I see someone about to walk in the front door of the local license bureau office I realize my day isn’t so bad after all.
I’ve been doing a lot of people watching lately. Gotta say I think a reality show or video podcast based on the adventures of the attorneys and defendants who enter the hallowed halls of the Owens Lee Hull Jr. Justice Center--more commonly known as the Platte County Courthouse--would be a riot.
There are some interesting-looking dudes and dudettes doing business at that location every day. Each one has a story. Actually, I’m certain each one has many stories. And each one could be a story, if you get my drift.
This sounds like the subject of a future Kamler/Foley Rambling Morons videocast, filmed pantsless in the snow.
Kansas City-area community centers are throwing out vending machines and switching to healthy food snack options, so from now on you’ll have to sneak in your own Twinkies and Ho Hos.
Some of the early reaction by county commissioners to the four proposals for Shiloh Springs Golf Course that came in from potential management firms is fascinating. See our front page story for more details, but I’ll summarize some of the highlights that hit me while sitting in on their discussion Monday.
Beverlee Roper, first district county commissioner, must have had a good night’s sleep the night before because she actually seemed focused and on point for most of the Shiloh discussion. A couple of times she actually sounded like the promising 2012 candidate Roper instead of the hugely disappointing officeholder Roper. Well, except the part where she announced for no apparent reason that she went to college with the daughter of the mayor of Punxsutawney, Pa.
Other than that Groundhog Day reference which thankfully was ignored by the other two commissioners, Roper made some common sense comments and observations, which means by next meeting she’ll be ready to run from the stances she took this week.
Roper pointed out it looks to her that Shiloh was designed postage stamp style on a piece of property, rather than flowing in a more unlimited manner that a golf course designer probably would have liked. Like many of us with no emotional investment in the sport of golf, Roper doubts Shiloh will ever make money. “Is it possible for that course to ever make money? I don’t think anybody is going to take a chance on it, with all the other courses around and with the way it was laid out to begin with,” Roper said. Roper also was strong in expressing her desire to have the county explore the idea of selling the Shiloh property to a developer rather than mandating it be kept as a golf course.
Duane Soper, second district commissioner who is a golfer and user of the Shiloh course, countered that he thinks Shiloh can one day make money. He also said he does not want the county to sell Shiloh, using the defense that taxpayers have already spent $10 million over the years at the golf course. I’m not sure the idea of continuing to throw good money after bad is a thought that will be applauded by many taxpayers, but Soper has some emotional feelings for Shiloh and today isn’t the day to beat him up for that since he could be on the verge of losing a friend.
Now is the time to start focusing on ways to cut losses, move on and get rid of the annual financial drain. Maybe Gary Martin’s proposal is the way to do that. Martin wants to run Shiloh by aligning a group of investors to operate the course as a non-profit for a few years, then mentions he would make a $1.2 million offer after three years to buy the course from the county.
There’s a lot of studying that will need to be done to sift through the gory details of Martin’s proposal, but my first reaction? Ding-ding-ding. We may have a winner.
If in three years Martin holds true to that offer I say sell it to him. But remember, a lot can change in three years--saying you’ll buy it in three years for $1.2 million and actually cutting a check for $1.2 million three years from now are two entirely different things.
Martin pledges to keep Shiloh open to the public. That fits the wishes of Soper and others like him who don’t want the course to go away. It allows the county to get out of the golf course business.
And here’s another benefit, especially for supporters of the parks department who may not be avid golfers. Getting rid of Shiloh frees up many $$$ that can be used on other park projects, projects that wouldn’t be developed by private industry. The private sector has done a fine job of handling golf courses in Platte County in recent years. Getting Shiloh off the county parks department books would free up tax dollars for other amenities and services not offered by the private sector. That’s what government is supposed to be doing, anyway.
Just a thought.
The larger cities in Platte County have some well-funded police departments. If you’re unhappy with police services in your local municipality, any shortcomings shouldn’t be because of lack of funds being designated to the department.
As you’ll see in our story inside this issue, Parkville and Platte City have police budgets that amount to an expenditure of $229 per resident.
That’s pretty solid. But nothing compared to the city of Riverside, home of Argosy Casino.
According to information gathered by DJ Gehrt, city administrator for Platte City, Riverside’s police budget equates to $1,006 per resident of Riverside.
Maybe that’s what former Platte City Mayor Dave Brooks meant when he used to say: “Riverside has more money than God.”
(Come see us again next week right here in The Landmark, where a week’s worth of news and fun is still just 50 cents. In the meantime, get information and shenanigans on Twitter @ivanfoley and Facebook.com/ivan.foley)
LOOKS LIKE 2,000 IS CONSIDERED
THE MAGIC NUMBER
As your Landmark heads to press Wednesday, we’re being told the thermometer will hit 70 degrees later this afternoon. Love it.
That being said, I wouldn’t mind having to kick my pickup into four-wheel drive at least once this winter. Just for fun.
The falling price of gasoline is hovering around $1.75. Finally the price of gas is lower than my high school grade point average.
I’m not wearing a belt today. Feeling all gangsta.
The Quality Platte County R-3 Schools committee, the campaign organization promoting passage of the 43-cent tax levy question on the April ballot, is already at work. Based on some questions they’ve posed in an online survey, it looks like the Vote Yes side has determined its magic number is 2,000, as in they believe it will take 2,000 yes votes for the issue to pass.
In 2012, Platte County R-3’s levy increase proposal was soundly defeated 55% opposed to 45% in favor. The vote tally was 1,835 against and 1,486 in favor.
Here is one of the questions the committee lists on its survey. “The Fail Safe ‘Yes’ Advocates Committee will need 400 members to get 5 yes votes each for a total of 2,000 ‘yes’ votes. Would you be willing to recruit additional members to the Fail Safe ‘Yes’ Advocates Committee?”
It’s interesting to note that an original filing of “statement of committee organization” with the Missouri Ethics Commission in November by the Quality Platte County R-3 Schools organization listed the school’s street address as the election committee’s address. That November filing listed the committee’s address as being the same as the school’s offices, 998 Platte Falls Road in Platte City.
Maybe that was not seen as a good idea. An “amended” statement of committee organization filed on Tuesday of this week lists the address for Quality Platte County R-3 Schools election committee as 16120 NW 126th Terrace.
We will assume that’s a Platte City address, though the paperwork does not list the city, state or zip. That same address on NW 126th is listed as the address for the organization’s treasurer, Vic Perrin.
Deputy treasurer is listed as Laura Hulett, who is employed as a public relations person by the school district.
Missouri Ethics Commission finally posted a copy of the agreement it reached with the Park Hill School District after Park Hill was found to have committed an ethics violation (see Landmark front page in Jan. 14 issue) in last year’s laptop levy campaign that was hammered by voters 61% opposed to only 39% in favor.
Some of the highlights we noticed in the details include:
1. Park Hill was actually fined $1,000 but most of that fine was “stayed” under the agreement. Park Hill pays a fine of only $100 “subject to the provisions” of the agreement. If the district commits any further violations within a two year period , then Park Hill will be required to pay the remainder of the fee. It should be noted this is not a lot of $$, but it sends a message that leadership at the district is not living up to ethical standards in elections. This is never good for an administrator’s job security nor for the district as a whole in trying to win over the hearts and minds of the taxpaying patrons it serves.
2. Under the deal, Park Hill must adopt a procedure that, in the future, the superintendent or his designee will review all publicly-funded informational items related to ballot issues prior to distribution.
As we reported a couple of weeks ago, the ethics commission says Park Hill crossed the line into advocacy by using the phrase “In order to prepare our students for 21st century college and careers” in front of the words “the Park Hill School District is asking voters to approve a levy increase on April 8.”
The ethics commission says Dr. Scott Springston, superintendent, “had access to these materials prior to their distribution to the public but did not review the portion of the materials now at issue.”
Conditions were a little weird covering President Obama’s trip to the region Thursday. As you know by now and can see on our front page, the president came to Lawrence for a speech at Kansas University.
I don’t know who was in charge of deciding in what setting this speech would be held, but it turned into a barn-like event inside what they called the Anschutz Sports Pavilion. Yes that sounds indoors, I understand, but there were doors open on the backside of the audience next to the media tables. Not just any doors. Double garage-sized industrial doors--which allowed a pretty damn crisp wind to blow through on a cold day. And keep in mind because of the security factors involved in presidential visits, the media must be set up and in place for a couple of hours in advance of the speech. So, yes, assistant editor Valerie Verkamp and I were basically locked in a deep freeze for hours that day.
I heard one media member whining that “I left my gloves in the car.” He said this while wrapped up in his winter coat while wearing a hat and scarf. Yes, I said the guy was wearing a scarf. Remember, we were at KU. Mr. Yuppy was actually lucky. Your Landmark editor, crazily thinking, you know, that the president would be speaking in normal indoor conditions--in other words, not with an Alaskan wind blowing on the media tables--didn’t even wear a coat into the place.
And that’s not the end of it. The restrooms that day? Porta potties. A set of porta potties for the public, one designated porta potty for the media. Set up outdoors. In the freezing-ass cold. At least someone had taped a letterhead with the presidential seal on it on the door of the media’s porta potty (a unisex porta potty, pity the poor ladies, this thing had been abused if you know what I mean) to add a touch of class. Or something.
This was my fourth time covering an Obama appearance in the KC area, Valerie’s third. “I think this is the last time,” Valerie said in a shivering tone through tense and partially frozen lips.
Yeah, she said it. But I’m not sure she meant it. My guess is we’ll be back again the next time a president, Obama or otherwise, comes to the area. Just not to the aforementioned KU sports pavilion.
(No matter your weather or restroom conditions, you can always reach out in a Between the Lines kind of way to Foley on Twitter @ivanfoley and on Facebook and Instagram. Email firstname.lastname@example.org)
HAPPENS, SOME NIGHTS
ARE LIKE THIS ONE
Tuesday night I headed to City Hall in downtown Platte City for a meeting of the economic development subcommittee.
These various Platte City subcommittee meetings, while often newsworthy, are also often very short. This is a reporter’s dream. Give me a meeting that is not time-consuming yet has some news value in it and all is right with the world. It’s a reporter’s version of “tastes great, less filling.”
Tuesday nights are crunch time at weekly newspapers. That’s not a newsman complaining, that’s a newsman giving you some inside skinny into a typical workweek schedule. Despite the 87 other things I needed to be doing at the time, I headed down there anticipating--hoping for is probably a more accurate description--a 30-minute meeting, tops. No such luck. On this night we could forget the less filling part.
We did get to hear a presentation from Bo Woodruff about AMVETS’ fundraising efforts to acquire a tankchair, which is a heavy duty off-road wheelchair. Of course since we featured Bo and this topic on the front page a couple of weeks ago, Landmark readers are well aware of this topic. It sounds like a cool and worthy community project and we certainly hope it is successful.
If you’re wondering how acquiring a tricked out wheelchair for community use winds up being tagged as an economic development discussion, join the club. It did seem like an odd setting for Bo’s fine presentation, but apparently the city leadership believes every potential topic for the full board of aldermen needs to be vetted by some subcommittee. Apparently the economic development committee was the most convenient victim.
The feds are worse but even local government has layers and layers of bureaucracy. I think somewhere this is mandated in the constitution.
While I strongly support the acquisition of the contraption, hope the fundraising effort is successful, and agree the wheelchair would be beneficial to local disabled persons, I would not anticipate a flood of new economic activity being generated because of it.
Next on the agenda for the economic development subcommittee was an item dealing with shredding of older city documents. I don’t want to bore you with details on this, and can’t because I don’t have any. The discussion went something like this: “Blah blah blah, old records, old documents, a lot of old liquor licenses, blah blah blah. Yeah, let’s destroy them.” The end.
Probably a worthy project. I would even help with this. I like to shred stuff. I also like to pop bubble wrap, but that’s another story.
This seemed like another strange item for an economic development focus group. Maybe I’m the silly one here, but I’m not anticipating a flood of economic activity being generated by the committee’s decision to shred old documents.
All was not lost. On Tuesday night there was at least one piece of newsworthiness to come out of that hour of our lives that we’ll never get back.
Platte City Mayor Frank Offutt let it be known that the city turns 175 years old in 2015 and there will be some kind of celebration--or at least an observance of some sort--tentatively set for Saturday, July 4. Duly noted.
The mayor also informed the economic development subcommittee that an anchor from the USS Platte, a former fleet oiler vessel, is available to the city. The USS Platte was a Navy vessel that carried cargo and bulk fuel to battle groups. After the mayor’s presentation about the 13-ton anchor from the aptly named USS Platte--which has been out of commission since 1999--being available, the committee recommended the city spend the $3,000 to have the big-ass anchor shipped here from New Orleans. It will require a crane to unload and place the massive object, and Absolute Crane of Platte City can do that for $800, the committee heard.
The mayor indicated the anchor will be placed in the city’s small park next to the Platte River at the foot of Main Street, which has a name but most of us only know it as the small park next to the Platte River at the foot of Main Street.
“And Platte City will be anchored for the next 175 years,” Offutt predicted.
More on this as the big day--and the big anchor--draws near.
A reader called with a great question. “Dear Handsome and Charming Editor, what is the cost of this book by Chris Kamler that you keep pimping? I want to buy a couple of autographed copies at his book signing.”
Okay that might not have been exactly how the question was worded, but you get the drift. It hit me that I didn’t have the answer at the time. Now I do.
Chris Kamler’s book when it comes out in March will cost $18.99. He is selling autographed versions online for $28.99, but maybe he’ll offer them cheaper at the book signing we’re planning to host somewhere in Platte County.
Memo to Chris: I know we haven’t yet set a date for your March book signing in Platte County. Please duly note the dates of the Big 12 Tournament and let’s not schedule your book signing to conflict with those days. I’m planning on having a nasty cold that weekend and will be unavailable.
It has been great to have the skills of assistant editor Valerie Verkamp back on The Landmark news beat the past couple of weeks. If you missed her byline there for a bit, it’s because Valerie was enjoying a winter-time tropical vacation to an undisclosed location.
While at the beach, Val was stung by a jellyfish not once but twice. There is absolutely no truth to the rumor that her boss back at The Landmark ordered the attack by the squishy fish assassin as some sort of payback for leaving him temporarily overworked.
(Get your Between the Lines fix 24/7 on Twitter @ivanfoley and catch Foley when you can on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube. Email email@example.com or if you still believe in telephones, call him at 816-858-2313)
TAXING ENTITIES SHOULD
TAKE NOTE OF ETHICS RULING; COUNTY AUDITOR IN A
BUTT HURT KIND OF MOOD
Occasionally it becomes time to clean out my news notebooks, review those sticky notes attached to my desk and place any news nuggets into this column space before I forget to get them distributed to the fine readers of this newspaper.
This feels like one of those weeks, so we’ll do some of that right now.
It will be very interesting to see the “agreement” that the Park Hill School District is signing with the Missouri Ethics Commission after the ethics agency has ruled the school district crossed the line from informational to advocacy during its tax levy increase campaign last spring.
I did get a kick out of the way a Park Hill newsletter distributed last week tried to spin the news that the district had been found in violation. The newsletter worded it this way:
“The Missouri Ethics Commission found that most of the communications the district produced about the levy were informational and did not cross the line into advocacy.”
That’s what you call putting a positive spin on a negative situation. That’s what PR people are paid to do, I suppose.
The school’s newsletter continued:
“When we communicated with the community about the levy, we believed we were carefully following the law about elections, which says we can only use public funds for information, not advocacy.”
And then I found this next sentence very interesting:
“We are grateful that our agreement with the commission provides more guidance for us and for other districts so we can be sure not to make any mistakes.”
The last sentence seems to indicate Park Hill believes other school districts do similar things and haven’t yet been called on the carpet for it by the ethics commission. That may be true but of course that’s not an excuse for crossing the line.
Remember at Platte County R-3 in 2012 when volunteers for the Vote Yes campaign were handing out Vote Yes cards on school grounds in the parking lots at the schools on election day in support of a tax levy increase question? And the Vote Yes committee at that time was also using the Platte County R-3 central office as a collection/drop-off point for their contact lists, etc. R-3 officials at the time told me they didn’t see this as a violation. Something tells me the folks at the ethics commission may have advised them to handle that a little bit differently.
We’ll know more once we’ve seen the “agreement” being penned between the ethics commission and Park Hill, but early indications are school districts should take the Park Hill ruling as a message that they need to be more careful about staying on the “informational” side and not crossing over to “advocacy” side. It’s flat wrong to use taxpayer funds and taxpayer property to campaign for something that not all taxpayers are in favor of, quite obviously. Both the Park Hill levy question and the R-3 levy question were soundly defeated despite the alleged crossing of the line into advocacy.
Let’s see if the lines of separation are a little clearer during the R-3 campaign this spring.
Dining options in downtown Platte City have been sliced considerably with the unfortunate closing of Chaz 325 the first of this month. The restaurant, located across from the courthouse, has received decent reviews in community conversation. A sign on the door says that “due to a death in the family” the business is closed until further notice. The sign was posted two weeks ago, which is fueling speculation that the closing might be more than a temporary thing.
Kevin Robinson, the county auditor who many sources have confirmed likes to refer to himself as the county’s chief financial officer while he is slurping wine at political events, couldn’t answer my question directly but through some Between the Lines deciphering of Robinson’s code it appears the 1.5% employee pay increase across the board and additional $87,000 to go toward sheriff’s department officers will cost taxpayers about $306,000 in the 2015 budget.
Based on our email exchanges during which he went to great lengths to avoid directly answering any question I asked him, Robinson is in a butt hurt kind of mood. Robinson seems bothered that the county commission’s proposed budget had significant changes from his recommended budget. That must have been a blow to the auditor’s wine-friendly ego. It’s almost as if he’s not really the county’s chief financial officer.
In addition to lowering some of his revenue projections, commissioners went with a 1.5% employee pay hike instead of Robinson’s recommended 3%. This resulted in the auditor’s feelings being hurt and, with his wife still on the county payroll thanks to some friendly DWI prosecutors, also resulted in a 1.5% lowering of Robinson’s potential household income.
For the record, someone might want to give the auditor a memo that, by statute, commissioners are the chief budget officers for the county.
Platte City’s water system is pretty leak-free, comparatively speaking. It was reported at a public works subcommittee meeting last week that the city’s system loses 9% of water. By “water loss” they mean unaccounted for water that leaks out of the system before making its way to customers.
Leaks develop in lines underground in every system known to man.
“Below 10% loss is considered a well-operating system,” DJ Gehrt, city administrator, tells me.
The city will continue to perform a leak check program to reduce the rate of water loss even further, Gehrt indicated.
Lt. Al DeValkenaere is observing his sixth year with the Platte City Police Department. The experienced and multi-talented DeValkenaere has had a positive impact on the local police department.
From a media point of view, I can tell you he is easily accessible and transparent with public information, in stark contrast to some previous local police officials who treated public information like it was CIA-classified.
(If you get Between the Lines separation anxiety before next week’s issue hits the streets, head to Twitter.com @ivanfoley or Facebook.com/ivan.foley)
SOME BELLY LAUGHS
How was your New Year’s holiday?
I’m easily entertained, so one of my highlights was a game introduced to me by Kurt Foley, former Landmark facilities manager now Washburn student/Topeka banking magnate. The game is known as Cards Against Humanity. It’s a multiplayer game using cards. It is available as a free download that players can print off to create their own cards and also available to purchase in published hard copy. Being the high rolling banking tycoon that he is, Kurt has the published hard copy. This game is very politically incorrect, so if you are faint of heart or are easily offended this game isn’t for you. If you like to turn a phrase and realize that the game cards are just words on cards not meant to be taken seriously, this game might have you laughing until your sides hurt. It did me.
To start the game, each player draws 10 white "answer" cards. One randomly chosen player begins as the Card Czar, and plays a black "question" card. The Card Czar reads the question out to the group. Each player answers the question by passing one white "answer" card, face down, to the Card Czar. The Card Czar shuffles all of the answers, reads them out loud in a humorous fashion, and picks his favorite. Whoever played that answer gets to keep the Black Card as one Awesome Point. After each round, a new player becomes the Card Czar, and every player draws back up to 10 cards. Hearing the often politically incorrect answers being read aloud is a hoot.
The development of Cards Against Humanity originated from a successful Kickstarter campaign, the same type of campaign our man Chris Kamler used to fund his upcoming book. Cards Against Humanity has received acclaim for its simple concept backed up by its satirical, mature content. Its title references the phrase "crimes against humanity” to reflect the nature of its content.
Again, if you’re easily offended, don’t play this game. If you’re not, you’ll get many laughs. Good times.
Our Rambling Moron columnist Chris Kamler has a book coming out, with a tentative release date of early March. His book is titled The Silence, The Series and The Season of Sungwoo. As you likely know, the book is centered upon the most recent Royals season--with the incredible post-season that it was--and the adventures of Sungwoo, a resident of Korea and a Royals superfan who made the trip to America to see his beloved team in action. Chris has been kind enough to share a draft of his book with me. Let me confirm a most important bit of news: my name gets mentioned. Which of course means the book is worth purchasing.
Once the book arrives, watch this newspaper for a book signing event The Landmark will help host somewhere in Platte County, with Chris available to put his autograph on books, babies and body parts.
For more information about his book, I stole this update Chris Kamler posted on his Facebook page. If you want to stay up to date, follow him on Twitter @TheFakeNed or befriend him on Facebook. Here’s the update from the mouth of your favorite Royals book author:
“Hey everybody, I owe you a book update! Well, I just now sent the draft manuscript (even I'm talking like an author now) to the final editor for his final edits. That should be back early next week. Then I give it one final once over and "lock" the book.
“We're also working on the cover art, which should be done in the next couple of days, hopefully.
“Behind the scenes, I'm getting some things like accounts created at Amazon so I can sell the book and some accounting things set up.
“All of this is leading up to a March 1 drop date for the book. I still have to get confirmation for that from the printers - but we are ON TARGET at this point.
“I've had a number of folks read through the mostly finished book. The reviews have been pretty positive so far. There may even be a few laughs and a few tears. (Kind of like the Royals season.)
“I cannot thank everyone enough for their help. From the Kickstarter backers to those of you who have expressed interest in the book when it comes out in March to those of you helping with pictures and artwork and editing. It has taken a village to make this thing and I'm just so blessed to have all of you helping.
“Stay tuned. I'll let you know what the book cover looks like here FIRST.”
Parkville hasn’t yet filled its open alderman spot. The board will continue to operate in player down mode for another week or two.
Las Vegas oddsmakers have established Doug Wylie as the favorite to get the appointment. We’ll keep you posted.
Giving across-the-board COLAS to government employees is like handing out participation ribbons.
Hope you’ve noticed our new columnist, the distinguished Paul Wilson, on page A-3. Paul’s often light-hearted angle is to give you a glimpse of the Weak in Review. Yes, that’s spelled weak. It’s an off the wall look at some of the recent news highlights and lowlights. I think you’ll enjoy it.
Paul is a former Sprint refugee who is now a freelance writer, artist, bon vivant, man about town, consultant to world leaders and, like all Landmark staffers, a friend to the common man. Paul lives in the Kansas City metro area. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.
(You can find Foley at 252 Main in Platte City or on Twitter @ivanfoley, on Facebook at facebook.com/ivan.foley, and if he’s getting in touch with his feminine side, on Instagram and Snapchat. Email firstname.lastname@example.org)
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