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by Ivan Foley

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Between the Lines

by Ivan Foley
Landmark editor

Previous columns


A good snow for shoveling; Christmas party news nuggets

12/27/07

All of us hoping for Bing Crosby’s version of Christmas were guaranteed a wish come true when Saturday brought several inches of snow. Less welcome was the strong wind that came with it, but beggars can’t be choosers, right? Those large-sized flakes falling at the start of Saturday’s storm were the stuff photographic memories are made of.

******

From the category of “just my luck:”

After Saturday’s deep snow, accompanied by my bad back I arrived at your Landmark office Sunday morning and aggressively attacked the task of shoveling the front sidewalk. Nearing completion, I was feeling a little proud that I was the only business owner on this side of the street with a virtually snow-free front area. About that time, a fellow came walking up the sidewalk as I was adding the finishing touches of some ice melt. I exchanged a quick but friendly greeting with the man, went back inside the office and didn’t think much about it. A few minutes later the same man came buzzing down the sidewalk on a lawn tractor equipped with a snow blade, clearing snow off everybody’s front walk in the process.

Ah, had I only waited a little longer I would have saved myself a backache. A lof of us on Main owe a thanks to this man, whomever he may be, for his good deed.

******

A couple leftover notes from The Landmark’s public Christmas party, which was a huge success again this year in attendance and in fun.

•A family addition: State Rep. Jason Brown and wife Rachelle appeared at the party with a surprise that Rachelle was “showing off.” She was showing a pregnancy--this will be the couple’s third child. I believe the proud papa said the pregnancy is in its fourth month.

•No food leftovers this year. The menu we purchased from Smokebox was a huge hit and more was consumed this year than last. I can verify that because when I finally had a minute to start to chill and went to fill my plate at 8 p.m., there were no burnt ends remaining and only a couple slices of the ham. No beans remaining, either, I might add. Confidential note to self: Next time, eat as soon as the food arrives prior to guests’’ arrival. This will guarantee the pick of the trough and guarantee you won’t be feeling hunger pains later.

•Victoria Lynn was simply awesome as the official Beverage Babe. We--and the guests--were fortunate to have her many skills at work. Hope she can work it in her schedule to do it again next year.

•It seemed to be a longer-staying crowd this year. More folks seemed to be making themselves comfortable at the tables and making a night out of it, which is awesome, that’s what we want in this community event. That’s also probably why more food was consumed this year than ever before.

*I need to publicly thank these folks, also, for an outstanding night of hard work that paid off with another--in my humble opinion--high quality event: Cindy Rinehart, the main party planner in charge of basically everything, who after years of my prompting her to do so is now better using the skill known as delegating; Bill Hankins, a prince of a fellow who furnished wine and as always was a tremendous help in cleaning up the aftermath, which is a huge chore at the end of the night when all of us are dead tired; Alan McArthur, the Boy Wonder of local journalism who was awesome in meeting and greeting, doing behind the scenes maneuvers, assisting me on those necessary pre-party trips for beverages and ice, and in the clean-up; Stacy Wiedmaier, the Bat Girl of local journalism, who was instrumental in introducing folks and cleaning up the carnage; and Brady Rodgers, owner of the Comfort Inn, who donated the use of his facility as his contribution to this event.

We hope you enjoyed it, and if you couldn’t join us, we hope you’ll check it out in the future. It’s our annual way of saying thanks to our readers, advertisers and newsmakers. See you next year, when we’ll announce our first-ever Landmark Civics Award Winner

******

Boy, this Christmas-on-Tuesday schedule has been a bit of an inconvenience around the office, causing some shuffling of schedules and in the timing of news stories you’ll see in your Landmark, but that’s the news biz. The show must go on.

We had penciled in our first installment of “2007, A Year in Review” for this issue but have now decided to postpone it until next week. Shouldn’t matter all that much, anyway. If you’ve been paying attention you already know what happened anyway, right?

******

I could go on and on about this topic and about what goes into my reasoning, but here’s the bottom line when it comes to the Chiefs. Unless we get a shake-up at the top, I’m turning in my season tickets. I think I’ll take those entertainment dollars and invest them in some form of Royals ticket package. At least they seem to be trying to make some improvements.

King Carl Peterson is now combining incompetence with his arrogance. I can live with arrogance if there is a solid basis for it. That’s not the case here.

******

Don’t you just love it on those very early Christmas mornings when family members grab a camera and want to get your picture after you have just arisen from a shorter-than-normal night’s sleep? I know I just love posing for a quick shot as I’m unwrapping a gift while dressed in boxer shorts, maybe a pair of those short cut-off socks and an old t-shirt, with my hair looking like Phyllis Diller on a bad day.

Oh, yeah. That’s some quality photography we can show off to family and friends for years to come.

(Like it or not, Between the Lines will be back next week. .. .and next year. Consider it a form of re-gifting. File your complaint with the publisher at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


 

Even local politicians have a wish list for Santa Claus

12/21/07

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

******

Strangest thing happened the other day. Due to a bizarre set of circumstances that involved things like osmosis, global warming, and perhaps incompetence at the North Pole post office, somehow a handful of letters to Santa ended up in my Between the Lines mailbox. Weird.

Even weirder is that the letters to the big guy were all written by local public officials. Check out the sampling of intercepted correspondence.

Dear Santa:
Dave Brooks has been good this year. I mean really good. God bless Dave Brooks, because he has been so good. For Christmas, Dave Brooks would like 5,000 acres of ground to annex. If he can’t have that, Dave Brooks would like lots of votes, though these wouldn’t need to be delivered until early April. No need to rush yourself, Santa, as Dave Brooks knows you have much traffic to deal with. How in the world do you maneuver your sleigh down Barry Road? God doesn’t even want to go to Barry Road. At some point in 2008, Dave Brooks may need a new job as a late Christmas gift. In addition to being the official mayor of Earth, Dave Brooks has many talents. Dave Brooks is a people person. Dave Brooks could sell ice at the North Pole. God bless both of us, Santa, as the world would be in a world of hurt without you and Dave Brooks.
--Love to both of us,
Dave Brooks
P.S. Please vote for Dave Brooks.
PS Part 2: I want to neuter your reindeer.

Dear Santa:
I’ve got just a short wish list, Santa, because taxpayers already provide me with lots of toys. But here you go: I’d like 47 new patrol cars, 18 additional captain-level administrators, seven armed guards for my highly-fortified bunker, a budget full of pork and a pay raise as large as your belly. Speaking of the bunker, I’m a little concerned you’ll be able to find me here so I’ll have Captain Hunter send up the Bat Signal. What the heck, I’m sure you’ll find a way, Santa, as you--just like the county taxpayers--have a way of fulfilling my many wants and desires. As a return treat, I’ll leave you some milk and cookies outside the sheriff’s department. We’re big on security here, so I’ll have Captain Hunter taste the cookies first to make sure they’re safe for consumption. By the way, we just got a grant to crack down on DUIs so no drinkin’ and sleddin’ on Christmas Eve.
--Your friend in need,
Sheriff Dick Anderson

Dear Santa:
We could use some long twigs with really big berries.
--Platte County Republican Central Committee

Dear Santa:
Can I have a COLA?
--Betty Knight
Platte County Commissioner
PS: Make it a 12-pack. Sure, I’ll have one, too, but it’s really not for me, Santa. It’s a selfless request I’m making on behalf of others.

Dear Santa:
Can I get one issue of The Landmark that does not mention the amount of my salary? Please, Santa, I feel like I’ve asked this question 162,500 times.
--Mark Harpst
Platte County R-3 Superintendent
P.S. Thanks again for the field turf a few years ago

Dear Santa:
We would like some really dark curtains we could install in our meeting room. Some light is starting to shine in.
--City of Tracy Board of Aldermen

******

Sports in shorts: This week, Landmark facilities manager Kurt Foley dumped in nine points in his Wathena team’s 39-26 junior varsity win over North Platte, then came off the bench to score five points in the Wathena varsity team’s 85-61 over the Panthers.

Our facilities manager sharpens his shooting touch by throwing paper wads into Landmark trash cans. It’s a fundamental technique that could catch on nationwide.

******

In a move strategically designed to distract attention from the beat-down put upon their boys basketball teams by The Landmark facilities manager and his friends, North Platte has announced it has hired a replacement for Dr. Francis Moran, who will retire at the end of the current school year. Details on our front page.

******

Rumors in education circles are rampant that the Platte County R-3 School District already knows who it will hire as its superintendent when Dr. Mark Harpst officially calls it quits. Harpst told The Landmark last summer that he won’t serve beyond his current contract, which expires in August of 2009. Reached by phone Wednesday morning, Harpst told me he will be back next year to fulfill that final year of his pact.

The rumored new hire? Dr. Mike Reik, a current assistant superintendent at R-3. A couple of R-3 officials I have spoken with adamantly deny that a verbal or handshake deal with Reik is already in place.

(Adamantly denying rumors that he is Santa Claus, Ivan Foley can be reached at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


 

One Landmark tradition to be renewed, another about to begin

12/13/07

Hope you've survived the ice. Branches dropped long and hard from a gigantic tree in my back yard, leaving my lawn looking like a battle zone. Cleanup will keep Landmark facilities manager Kurt Foley and his pickup quite busy over the next few days. I'm hoping he'll be done before his supervisor has time to come to his aid this weekend.

******

Can't wait to see you at The Landmark's annual open-to-the-public Christmas party, which will get down and get funky this Friday from 4-8 p.m. at the Comfort Inn in Platte City. Hope you'll join your favorite newspaper staff and a roster of special guests for good food, drink and friendly conversation. We think you'll be glad you did.

On the menu this year? Barbecue from Smokebox and an assortment of other goodies assembled by our own Miss Christmas, office manager Cindy Rinehart. This annual Friday evening in December gathering started out in the mid 1990s as about a five person contingent of myself, pals Todd Graves, John Elliott and three wise men from Wells Bank who gathered around the old printing equipment in The Landmark office and solved the world's problems while sipping a beverage. It has taken off from there to become what it is today. I'm not sure whether to brag or apologize.

The plethora of special guests will include (partial listing): Former U.S. Attorney/former Platte County Prosecutor Todd Graves; State Sen. Charlie Shields; Sprint/Embarq PR dude/local Chamber of Commmerce leader Randy Knox; West Platte School Board member/City of Weston attorney Quint Shafer; all three Platte County Commissioners--Jim Plunkett, Tom Pryor and Betty Knight; Mark Harpst, Platte County R-3 superintendent; Platte County Collector Donna Nash; Susan Brown, The Landmark's favorite tree hugging environmentalist; well-known political operative/consultant Jeff Roe; current Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd; JoAnn Lawson, one of my favorite local personalities who represents the telecommunications company known as Unite; Sandy Krohne, Platte County clerk; Dana Babcock, director of administration for Platte County; Trish Stinnett, Platte County R-3 School Board member; Kathy Dusenbery, mayor of Parkville and soon to be candidate for first district county commissioner; Lee Pedego, who just last week gave up the post of president of the Platte County Pachyderm Club after a very successful two and a half year stint at the helm; Lee Valentine, PR dude for the Pachyderms; Frank Offutt, former mayor of Platte City who is whispered to be considering a run for mayor again in '08.

Also, though Congressman Sam Graves won't be able to join us, there will be a full contingent from his office. The all-star cast of Graves Gang will include Tom Brown, chief of staff; Melissa Roe, deputy chief of staff; Buffy Smith, scheduler and Platte County field representative; Shawna Searcy, Clay County field representative; and one of my favorite people in the political world--the entertaining brainiac Jason Klindt, communications director for Graves and Platte County's favorite adopted son.

******

Your 143-year-old county newspaper is about to start a new tradition. Since the tradition will have a tie-in with our annual Christmas party, it seems the appropriate time to make the announcement.

Working off a brainstorm that first came to photojournalist Bill Hankins last summer, The Landmark will be establishing an award to honor a Platte County person who has provided residents with a civics lesson. This award won't be just a meaningless "let's honor this person because they've lived here a long time" type of recognition. It will be given only for meaningful accomplishment. To that end, don't expect this award to be given every year--it will only come into play when there is a deserving honoree in a calendar year.

It could go to someone who has championed an issue that has countywide importance. It could go to someone who has done massive volunteer work. It could go to someone who has led a fight against city hall, stood up for taxpayers, or worked for the betterment of the common man/woman, etc. You get my drift. A lot of what we do here in Between the Lines is done on the fly, and so shall be the judging criteria put to use in naming a winner for this award.

In the years we have a winner, a brief presentation of an inscripted plaque given to the recipient will be done at our annual public Christmas party. The Landmark will also give $200 to a worthy cause or charity of the winner's choosing.

The award will be called the Dwayne/Ethel Mae Foley Landmark Civics Award. Yeah, I know it's a mouthful but it's a way to honor my parents, former Landmark publishers. A self-made man in every sense, Dwayne Foley grew up in the tiny western Kansas town of Macksville. After losing his own father at an early age, he worked at weekly newspapers and print shops before a stint in the military. He purchased his first weekly newspaper operation in 1959. He would go on to acquire a total of three weekly papers in northeast Kansas and northwest Missouri, including The Landmark, before a heart attack on a blazing hot July day in the blazing hot summer of 1980 took his life at the young age 50. He was an energetic man with a strong work ethic, strong opinions and a contagious sense of humor. His intensity and passion for everything he found important in life--including the newspaper business and community level politics--to this day influences his youngest son. Always one who preferred leading rather than following, he was elected to serve on city councils, school boards and other civic groups. Ethel Mae found herself widowed at the age of 45, and after years of taking care of the home and raising seven children, was thrust into more of a decision-making role in the family business. While holding together the family during a time when it would have been easy for the unit to come apart, she was able to see that business went on as close-to-normal as possible at all three newspapers. She sold ownership in The Landmark to yours truly when she retired in 2002. Now age 72 and afflicted with Alzheimers disease, she resides in a long-term care facility in St. Joseph.

Of course I'll want community input in making award selections. If at anytime throughout the course of the coming year you feel you have a worthy nomination to make, please let me hear it via a phone call, email or visit to The Landmark office. You know how to reach me.

(Enjoy some barbecue. . .and then barbecue the publisher at the party on Friday. In the meantime, reach him by email at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


 

Christmas parties, Evel Knievel, and "cute" jeans

12/5/07

Gov. Matt Blunt has signed an executive order closing state offices on Christmas Eve. While other state workers are enjoying the extra day off, the governor will take advantage of the quiet time by spending at least half the day destroying public documents.

******

Hope you'll join us next Friday, Dec. 14 for The Landmark's annual Christmas party. Brady Rodgers and his fine staff at the Comfort Inn in Platte City have lined us up with the conference room and kitchen area.

We think you'll enjoy a fun evening full of good food, drinks and merriment. The menu for the second straight year will include Smokebox barbecue meats and sides. We'll also have some appetizers for those with smaller appetites, with all kinds of beverages available to wet your whistle. There will be special guests including many public figures you've been accustomed to seeing at this annual hootenanny.

Of course yours truly and your loyal Landmark staff members will be on hand. Come visit with all of us, including leading hostess Miss Christmas Cindy Rinehart. Also on tap will be the very able office assistant Kristine Pearson Pixler; journalistic Boy Wonder Alan McArthur; award-winning photojournalist/author Bill Hankins (who will have some of his Landmark People books on hand if you need a last-minute Christmas gift for a friend or relative) and our trusty free lancers, including the bubbly Stacy Wiedmaier and the determined and capable Kathy Crawford. New columnist James Thomas says he can make an appearance, while our other new columnist, Russ Purvis--whose early work has greatly excited the less conservative Landmark readers--will be unable to attend. Russ already had plans to be skiing down the left side of a mountain in Utah next weekend.
Also on hand will be Parallax Look columnist Brian Kubicki, whose weekly ponderings are becoming so popular his fan base is about to reach cult-like status; as well as Greg Hall, my friend and trusted journalistic hero who is the inventor of the sports media sound bite style now copied so weakly by Jeffrey Flanagan of the Kansas City Star.

A new twist this year is that Victoria Lynn, known in some parts as Queen V and the stylist who every five weeks or so cuts and shapes what is left of my formerly full head of hair, has volunteered to help serve beverages. She is professionally trained in the art.
Swing by and spend some time visiting with the newspaper staff, our special guests or other friends and acquaintances. Take the time to give us some feedback--tell us what you like about the paper, tell us what you don't like about the paper, or just drop by to say hi.

This event is just our way of saying thank you to readers, advertisers and newsmakers. Hope to see you there.

*****

Since this is a Christmas party, rest assured the guest list will include three wise men, a virgin and a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes.

******

Evel Knievel, the red-white-and-blue-spangled motorcycle daredevil whose stunts made him an international icon, died last week at the age of 69, two years after his appearance at the Platte City End of the Trail Rally. I'm a little surprised Mayor Dave hasn't ordered flags flown at half mast.

******

Some of Evel's most daring stunts included jumps over Greyhound buses, live sharks, and the Snake River Canyon in the 1970s, and safely stumbling his way in and out of the door of a Platte City pub in 2005.

******

Evel had a couple buds with him on his trip into Platte City. Some folks believe he had a whole bunch of Buds inside him by the time he left.

******

I jest now but as a kid back in the 70's I remember one of my brothers and I watching ABC's Wide World of Sports with great anticipation every time Evel was scheduled to perform one of his daredevilish maneuvers. It was exciting stuff back then. Good memories.

******'

See inside this issue for reporter Alan McArthur's update on da hump, da hump, da lovely Main Street hump.

******

Daughter Alyssa--high school senior and Landmark intern/Years Ago columnist--and I have been engaging in conversations recently about her college future. The most recent possibilities have centered around K-State (which I have told her is too long a drive for an overprotective father to make every weekend), KU (nixed by her dad because of the overly liberal nature of the professors), Park University (dad's personal favorite but nixed by Alyssa because they don't offer a major in her chosen field), and Northwest Missouri State University, a choice with which we both can live.

But are we going to have to rethink this? There have been two murders in Maryville over the past three weeks.

I'm starting to think she should be home-schooled.

******

Saying it was time for me to start wearing "cute" jeans, daughter Alyssa came home from a recent shopping excursion carrying a pair of boot-cut Levis with a button down fly for me.

It was a sweet gesture and I like them, but I feel like I need to clarify a couple of points. No. 1, big time professional media moguls don't strive to look "cute." No, "cute" is for high school boys. Self-proclaimed big-time media moguls want to look strikingly handsome.

Secondly, this is my first-ever pair of jeans with a button-down fly. My fingers aren't used to working so hard down below the equator. My struggles in getting these things buttoned has significantly increased my time in the bathroom. People are starting to get suspicious.

(Send the publisher your tips on quick fly-buttoning procedures via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


 

MU leaves no doubt; New way to compare R-3 with Park Hill

11/29/07

Wednesday dawned cloudy and overcast, no sunshine. Just what the South Platte Ambulance District ordered.

******

Speaking of sunshine, you've got to check out this fun new game on the Internet. It's called the Matt Blunt Document Destroyer Game. Surf to the following link for hours of fun and excitement, trying to stop the governor from destroying public records.
http://www.tigerboard.com/boards/missouri-tigers.php?message=5088472

******

I just opened the mail to see that my music club's Selection of the Month is "The Very Best of Tracy Lawrence."

Great. A CD with two songs on it.

******

It was pretty easy to analyze the MU-KU game from the warm and comfortable confines of my couch Saturday night, free from the cold, the threat of spilled beer being splashed upon my pretty head, and the idiotic screamings and actions from the overzealous types on each side.

MU was clearly the better team. It was quite apparent MU had the superior athletes, particularly at the skill positions. Mizzou's receivers left many a KU jock strap lying on the ugly Arrowhead turf, with quickness and moves the Jayhawk defensive backs simply could not handle. Mizzou also had the advantage at quarterback with Chase Daniel, who maintained his poise and was sharp. KU quarterback Todd Reesing had a deer-in-the-headlights look in his eye and was throwing everything high of his target. While some will blame his inaccuracy on the gloves he was wearing, a bigger obstacle it appeared to me was the height of the MU defensive lineman. Reesing, only 5'10" tall on a good day, was having to adjust his point of release to get his throws past the line of scrimmage, and as a result many of this tosses were sailing on him.

The important thing is nobody died and top-ranked MU now advances to face Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game this Saturday. The challenge for the Tigers--and it will be a big one--is to see if they can bring that same intensity two weeks in a row.

It won't be easy to do. That's why the oddsmakers have OU as a three-point favorite.

******

Hope you've been checking out our Mizzou-heavy weekly Big 12 feature we've run each week of the college football season right here, only in your Landmark. The feature comes to us through an alliance with the Missouri Press Association, who this week sent out an email offering the feature to any other publishers who wanted to jump on the Mizzou bandwagon after their No. 1 ranking. Better late than never coming to the party, I suppose.

Anyway, let us know if you've enjoyed the feature and whether you'd like to see it return next season.

This week's Big 12 Football Weekly appears on page B-1. It will continue next week for a Big 12 title game recap, then will be back for a bowl game preview and a bowl game wrap-up.

*******

I got to thinking on game day how much fun it would have been to sit in the same room to watch the passionate-about-his-MU-sports Judge Lee Hull watch the MU-KU game. Some of us would have paid admission for that experience.

******

I'm sure you've noticed that when it works to their advantage--such as a means of justification for higher administrator salaries, etc--some officials at Platte County R-3 like to compare the R-3 district to Park Hill.

So out of curiosity, I asked intrepid Landmark reporter Alan McArthur to compare the setting at a Park Hill School Board meeting to the usual ambience at an R-3 board meeting. The number one difference that jumped out at Alan dealt with the verbal involvement of the superintendent.

At Park Hill, the meetings are run by the board president with very little input by the superintendent. At the most recent session, it's estimated the Park Hill superintendent spoke a total of two or three minutes the entire meeting.

Contrast that to what typically takes place at R-3. Meetings, discussions, and defensive dissertations are primarily guided by the superintendent, normally with passive listening and occasional head nods by most board members, unless the feisty Trish Stinnett jumps into the much-needed role as devil's advocate.

Just giving you the differences. Draw your own conclusions.

******

The Carpenters District Council of Greater St. Louis has endorsed Sarah Steelman for reelection as state treasurer. In making the endorsement, the council said Steelman has been a strong proponent for working people and has consistently supported issues that are important to Missouri citizens.

Council secretary-treasurer Terry Nelson said: "We don't normally endorse candidates before the filing date closes, but we decided to make an exception in this race because Sarah Steelman has demonstrated the qualities we expect from our elected officials."

Amen to that.

(Details on The Landmark's Dec. 14 public Christmas party coming next week. Make plans to attend. In the meantime, email the publisher at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)

 


 

Judge's wall-hanging ignites a firestorm of controversy

11/21/07

See our front page article to get the gory details about Greg Hall's Off the Couch media sound bite column returning to do a series in regard to the MU-KU football Game of the Century. Hall--one of my favorite people in this world and the most entertaining writer I've run across--is firing up his journalistic excellence for the holiday weekend showdown.

Should be fun. Check out his columns by clicking here on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Monday.

******

Sunday's Kansas City Star contained an article about the KU-MU rivalry and how loyalties sometimes cross the line to extreme. Featured prominently in the article was Platte County Circuit Court Judge Owens Lee Hull. Extreme is the only way to interpret the image that was painted about Judge Hull's feelings. If portrayed accurately by the writer--the article was penned by a reporter named Bill Reiter--Hull's intensity showed him in a less-than-flattering light in the eyes of many. As a result, when we connected by phone Tuesday morning, Hull issued a public apology. More on that in a moment (that's what I like to call a journalistic tease).

In the Star article, Hull is described as chuckling about a framed print that he has hanging in his office of Confederate guerilla William Quantrill's sacking of Lawrence, Kan. "Fixed to the print is a small gold plaque Hull had installed, one that makes him chuckle. '1863, Missouri vs. Kansas, Missouri 183, Kansas 0.' The inscription refers to the fact that 183 people were killed by the Confederate guerilla's raid of Lawrence that year.

No matter how intense a college football rivalry, you had to know many readers were going to be bothered that a circuit court judge glorifies the act of murder with a plaque in his office--and that the inscription referencing the carnage would make him "chuckle."

Later in the article, Hull is said to lean back in his chair and look at the rendering on his wall of Lawrence burning. 'You know, some people celebrate the day,' he is quoted as saying. The judge then goes on to refer to what happens when attorneys who have graduated from KU see or hear about that painting and the plaque. "You'll see their faces just get this look like, 'There is no way we're getting a fair shake here.'"

There was no follow-up comment from Hull to guarantee the reader that an attorney from KU would in fact get a fair shake.

******

I've respected Hull's work immensely. I've sat in the audience in his courtroom several times and enjoyed watching him run a tight ship. And hey, he almost always attends The Landmark public Christmas party, and we have a good visit once a year. Maybe that feeling of a connection is why my body cringed when I read this article. I knew most folks weren't going to consider his comments or the glorification of a murderous act "judge like."

Comments like that from a guy running a gas station or a guy sitting in a pub might not raise more than an eyebrow or two. But comments like that coming from a circuit court judge are the ingredients for a controversy. And that's what we got (more on that in a moment--another journalistic tease).

Somebody swiped my Sunday Star from behind the office again (can we get an investigation, please, because this act has forced me to return to buying Charmin) so I was reading the article on the Star's web site. "This isn't going to be pretty. This isn't going to play well in the court of public opinion," I muttered to myself as I read the story. I could already hear the winds of a firestorm.

I clicked on the "comments" link and started reading thoughts that had been posted by readers of the article. Postings had begun immediately on Sunday and as of Monday afternoon I printed out 27 standard sized pages of comments. Not all--but many--were talking about Judge Hull. And the reaction wasn't kind. Here's a small sampling:

•"As an attorney licensed in both Kansas and Missouri, I am ashamed to be a member of the Bar with Judge Hull. Civil War is over pal, get over it. The murder of 180+ people is not funny."

•"This man is a judge and he thinks it's funny that 183 people, including women and children, were murdered?"

•"That Judge Hull is a perfect example of Misery intellect. Hillbilly renegade mentality. Someone should tell him the Civil War is over."

•"Bill Reiter must have graduated from KU. How else can you explain the underlying desire to expose MU and the Confederate ignorance that still exists in Judge Hull?"

•"A judge full of hate cannot be impartial. How can this be forwarded to the Bar?"

•"Is it possible for the Bar to discipline him for his comments? He was probably just trying to demonstrate his loyalty to his school. I found his comments extremely disturbing."

•"Celebrating cold-blooded murder in the name of slavery? Please."

•"It's pretty pathetic to honor the slaughter of innocent men, women and children with a framed print and plaque. If that's truly what this rivalry symbolizes to Judge Hull, then I think he is a very disturbed man."

•"In the sacking of Lawrence by Quantrill and his Bushwhackers in 1863, some 183 citizens were pulled from their homes and shot like animals in the street. It's like laughing at the holocaust. This man is a judge? My God!"

•"I can't believe there is a judge who mocks and celebrates an act of terrorism and mass murder, and I can't believe this newspaper story glorifies it as if it's legitimate when done in the name of college rivalry."

******

I placed two calls to Hull's office Monday to see if he had any follow-up comments to the Star article. Early Tuesday morning he returned my call, catching me on my cell phone as I made my way to work.

"For my tastelessness and classlessness, I am sorry. I truly am," Hull said.

He said the writer may have taken some editorial license in using the word "chuckle" and in regard to implying that Hull would just as soon never set foot in the state of Kansas. But he did acknowledge the presence of the plaque on his wall--the plaque that seems to glorify and celebrate the 1863 murders. "It has been removed since that article came out," Hull told me. Calmer, more objective folks encouraged it, he said, declining to be more specific.

"But I still want KU to lose in everything. Croquet. Ping pong. Synchronized swimming. Everything," he said.

That part, judge, is cool.

(Here's hoping nobody dies in this year's Border War. Enjoy the game while remembering it's only a game. And email the publisher at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


Hypocrisy afoot among local GOP; Schools now on taxpayers' radar

11/16/07

Hypocrisy is running amuck in the Platte County Republican Central Committee. Why is the committee publicly giving a free pass to Sheriff Dick Anderson for his recent coalition with free-spending Democrats Bonnie Brown and Sandy Krohne on their unsuccessful push for a pay raise for officeholders? (See accompanying commentary on this page entitled Salary Commission scorecard).

The central committee had a chance to publicly put the sheriff on the spot at a meeting last week but no one muttered a word about the Salary Commission topic. Maybe the room was full of a bunch of girlie men.

This is the same committee that earlier this year wanted to rake fellow Republican Lisa Pope, assessor, over the coals about the county's system of taxing houses under construction. Pope, undergoing treatments for cancer, was forced to endure an inquisition about this policy, yet the sheriff wants to line his own pockets with a pay raise and he gets a free pass. Absolutely amazing.

Remember, the sheriff who wants a pay raise is the same sheriff who basically says the county can't afford to design a security system that would call for county employees to pass through a metal detector when entering the courthouse.

Somebody with the central committee needs to grow some stones and have a sit-down with the sheriff in his highly-fortified bureaucratic bat cave.

******

Ten American flags adorned the main drag in the tiny Village of Farley in Platte County on Monday, the official day the government observed Veterans Day this year. A patriotic deed by the Village of Farley Board of Trustees? Not exactly. A patriotic deed by Farley resident Tim Moore.

Moore recently had approached the trustees to encourage them to purchase and display the flags. The board said no. Not to be denied, Moore and his wife purchased the flags with their personal funds--roughly $200--and Moore mounted them on light poles. He says he plans to post the flags in Farley on every national holiday as a way of honoring veterans.

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School districts--specifically those elected school leaders who set tax levies--may want to take note. Many taxpayers are on to you with a pledge to be more closely watching spending issues. You're in their crosshairs, figuratively speaking of course.

At least that's the word filling up my email inbox this week, as taxpayers open those lovely bills that arrived in the past few days. I'll give you a couple quotes from folks who felt compelled to send me comments about school spending:

"A total waste of tax dollars" going on at R-3 said one emailer, who pledges to make an effort to start attending some school board meetings. "I figure if people don't start showing some interest in the waste, it will not improve," wrote this man, a leader in the community.

Another emailer--this one lives in the Park Hill School District but by his words you can tell he's paying attention to other school districts-- had similar thoughts. This guy prefers anonymity but at some point I'm going to try to talk him into having his own column in The Landmark because he usually nails his points with a sense of humor. This week he writes:
"They have better carpet on the school football fields in Plate County than most people have in their houses. It's the school districts that get all the tax money. Why don't we watch them closer? No one goes to their board meetings, including the press."

Love the line about the carpet. He's right about schools getting all the money. More than 57% of my taxes on The Landmark building go to R-3. I'm thinking the percentage is probably higher for taxpayers in the Park Hill District. He's right about the general public not going to many school board meetings, though our reporter Alan McArthur tells me there was a room full of folks at the Park Hill board meeting last week (they weren't there to complain, maybe they hadn't yet received their tax bills).

The emailer referenced above takes a shot at the press, though let it be known The Landmark has quite closely covered R-3 meetings and editorially we have taken a stance against what we view as several extravagant spending decisions that have been made by the R-3 leadership, such as the recent throwing away of $1.9 million on a shell of a building with pretty windows that they will now spend another $2.5 million to renovate for primary use as administrative offices and a bus barn. The Landmark has editorialized on the excessive salary for the R-3 superintendent, exposed the misguided view of the school board president who tried to claim R-3 taxpayers were getting a tax cut this year when in fact the district is levying $2 million more in taxes than last year, and you'll recall our stance against R-3 buying that indoor/outdoor fake grass/carpeting for the football stadium a couple years back.

We gave the public a heads-up in advance of local entities setting their tax levies last August. We can expose the ridiculousness to the public but at some point the public has to take matters into its own hands. It's not productive to wait till you get your tax bill to complain. Until the public learns to be proactive about extravagant spending by out-of-touch leaders, taxpayers will continue to take it in the shorts more times than not.

******

The best line to hit my email box this week came from a guy responding to my recent comments about the bureaucratic ways of Platte County Sheriff Dick Anderson. I have described the sheriff as a man who never met a tax dollar he wouldn't spend.

"He spends money like a school superintendent," wrote one emailer.

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What strikes me at Platte County R-3 is the number of administrators the district is acquiring. How many layers of bureaucracy and management do we need? There are two assistant superintendents at the central office but even more ridiculous is that some of the lower level buildings in the district have two administrators in them--a principal and an assistant principal.

Soon we'll need more administrators just to oversee the administrators. Who do they think they are, the sheriff's department?

(Maybe your email will prompt next week's Between the Lines. Give it a try with a salvo to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


 

Mayor's medical team on standby; Analyzing the sheriff's timing

11/8/07

Time for some holiday housekeeping, Landmark style.

Mark your calendars now. We have nailed down a date for The Landmark's annual public Christmas party. It will be Friday, Dec. 14 in the conference room at the Comfort Inn in Platte City. We'll also be using the adjoining kitchen/dining area and will have a free meal, snacks and beverages for all who wish to attend. Should be a lot of fun. Come on down. Many more details to come.

Also, let it be known The Landmark will be open for business during Platte City's annual Holiday Lighting Ceremony from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 21 (Thanksgiving Eve). While Alan McArthur is busy photographing the lighting ceremony, yours truly and some willing cohorts will be manning The Landmark office at 252 Main Street bearing gifts for the kids and a great business deal--a deal so good it will only be offered that evening. During that three-hour time frame, you can get a two-year subscription for the price of one year. This offer will be good on new subscriptions and on renewals. Take advantage of our holiday hospitality.

We hope you'll make it downtown for the ceremony but if you can't, call our office at 858-2313 during that special time and we'll handle your subscription order over the phone.

******


The Landmark's company softball team picked up a couple new players this week. Russ Purvis will be inserted into our starting lineup in left field, while James Thomas will handle things in right. We expect both will be swinging for the fences.

Check out their initial public offerings by clicking here for Purvis and by clicking here for Thomas.


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Last week I promised you that I would have analysis of the Platte County Salary Commission's action regarding officeholder salaries. I do have it. It's pasted right here on the web site in a column directly below the one you are reading now. Check it out.

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This is a test of the Emergency Brooks-cast System.

Normally I just talk about them after the fact, so it's not often I get to warn you in advance of some potential classic quotes--I like to call them Brooksisms--coming from Dave Brooks, Platte City mayor.

It's possible that next Tuesday's aldermen meeting could feature Mayor Dave in fine form because one of his favorite topics might be on the agenda. Kitty Cat Connection, the group dedicated to trapping, neutering and returning stray cats, is asking for more money from the city. The cat patrol has been one of Mayor Dave's pet projects and he has been known to get visibly disturbed if others in the room don't share his passion for this topic.

Any time board discussion turns to the Harley Rally or neutering cats, I live in fear that Mayor Dave may actually suffer cardiac arrest at the meeting table. Here's hoping there's a defibrillator in place at city hall.

******

Sheriff Dick Anderson made a formal announcement of his intention to seek reelection at a meeting of the Platte County Republican Central Committee Monday night. A surprise? Not really. Anderson told The Landmark he wanted to make the announcement to the central committee "out of respect for that organization." Several months ago, Anderson had made a comment at a meeting of the Platte County Pachyderm Club to the effect of, and I'm paraphrasing here: "I'm not here to announce I'm running again, but I am running again."

So would you like some Between the Lines interpretation about Monday's action? Silly question. I know you do. That's why you're reading this column.

My take on it is that the sheriff smartly wanted to touch base with his base at this very moment because of his recent involvement in actions/discussion of the Platte County Salary Commission. Much to the chagrin of some folks within his own party, the sheriff has long been in favor of higher pay for county elected officials (and he also likes to see hefty annual increases in his department's budget and gets agitated if it doesn't happen).

The sheriff's recent action at the salary commission meetings--where he voted against keeping salaries the same--no doubt rubbed some Republicans the wrong way, so his decision to drop in at the central committee was a timing move. After all, while I'm sure the sheriff does respect the body of the central committee, he could have waited till next month or the month after to drop in for a quick lovefest. He did it now because he wants to take attention off the fact there is some quiet grumbling within his own party about his liberal bureaucratic mindset. He wants to get attention focused on the fact he is a successful Republican incumbent who will be seeking reelection. He would like the support of the central committee in the process.

Bottom line is that he was there to smoothly kiss some backside without the recipients realizing they were being smooched.

Frankly, I don't look for the sheriff to have much trouble winning reelection. While the local Democratic party has made strides in recent years in finding candidates, this is one office where the Dems have always struggled to find an electable representative.

Anderson will breeze to reelection. Meanwhile, those of us who recognize and appreciate the fact that he has brought professionalism to a department that greatly needed it will still grumble about his lack of attention to public communication/accessibility and his thirst to get his hands on as many tax dollars as he can.

(Landmark employees say they would like to form their own Salary Commission but are being met with resistance from the publisher. Email your position to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


 

Here's your scorecard for salary commission players

11/7/07

As promised, here's your Between the Lines rundown on the performances of officeholders at the Platte County Salary Commission meetings this year. Remember, the fun started with an Oct. 16 meeting where a motion to keep salaries at their current level was defeated 6-2. The six in the majority wanted to gather "legal options" from the county counselor. So on Oct. 31, they met again, heard the legal opinion on options. . .a legal opinion that said yes, you can give yourself raises, but you can't take them until the start of your next term.

Kind of confusing. Maybe. But I think it can be explained. What really happened is that public perception got to them. There was no media present at the Oct. 16 meeting. But after The Landmark acquired an audiotape of the meeting and reported on it, public awareness of the fact that at least six officeholders wanted to research pay raise options was built. By the time the meeting was reconvened two weeks later, many of the six had experienced an apparent change of heart--also known as cold feet.

Here's a quick synopsis of how the players performed:

BEST PERFORMANCES:

Jim Plunkett and Tom Pryor, associate county commissioners, were strong in their opposition to officeholder pay raises. As previously stated, Pryor's motion to keep salaries at their present level was defeated on Oct. 16. When the commission reconvened on Oct. 31, Pryor reintroduced the same motion. Commission chairman Dick Anderson, sheriff, said Pryor couldn't do it, citing a Roberts Rules of Order technicality. Pryor eventually then made a motion to adjourn the session, which in effect was doing the same thing as his original motion--no changes in salary. It passed with only Bonnie Brown and Anderson voting against. Sandy Krohne abstained. (I know. . . She did what?) More on that later.

Plunkett's best line of the day came during discussion of a proposal by treasurer Bonnie Brown to establish a pay scale based on the county's future grown in assessed valuation. During discussion, Sandy Krohne started a sentence this way: "So when we reach a certain benchmark. . ." Plunkett would have none of it. He cut off Krohne in mid-sentence by saying tersely: "It's called a raise."

MOST PREDICTABLE PERFORMANCES

Sheriff Dick Anderson: Chaired the meetings. Seemed to relish being the man in charge. On Oct. 16, he voted against keeping salaries the same and voted against adjourning last week's meeting without changing salaries. In other words, he wanted a raise. So why didn't he second treasurer Bonnie Brown's motion to establish a pay scale based on assessed valuation growth? Likely that when the sheriff noticed a room full of silence after Brown spoke her motion, he knew the motion had no chance of passing. He decided he'd rather leave Brown's motion hanging than have to cast a vote on a measure that from the silence he knew was doomed.

County Clerk Sandy Krohne: Much like the sheriff, she has been in favor of officeholder raises every time the topic has come up. Strangely, the meeting almost adjourned without Krohne casting a vote. . .and Krohne seemed content to let it happen. The sheriff was one sentence away from adjourning when presiding commissioner Betty Knight pointed out Krohne had not yet voted on the motion to adjourn. After a couple seconds of silence, Krohne then abstained. Abstaining is normally reserved for folks who have a conflict of interest. Obviously, if Krohne had a conflict then everybody in the room had a conflict. Later in an interview with The Landmark, she expressed frustration at officeholders not being able to accept cost of living allowances mid-term. Bottom line is Krohne wanted a pay hike. She likely didn't second Brown's motion for the same apparent reason that the sheriff didn't--the silence told her it was doomed.

Bonnie Brown, treasurer. Yes, Brown is a bureaucrat but she's not the only one. If you simply look at the minutes of the meeting, she ends up looking like the only money-seeker in this deal. Bonnie made a motion to establish a pay scale tied to future growth in assessed valuation. But her similar-thinking cohorts Anderson and Krohne left her hanging in the wind. If Bonnie is in tune with the times, she should be insulted by that. While both of them obviously wanted a raise, neither Anderson nor Krohne seconded Brown's motion nor developed a motion of their own after Brown's had died on the vine. Their lack of action basically threw Brown under the bus.

STRANGE PERFORMANCES:

Siobhann Williams, auditor; Lisa Pope, assessor; Gloria Boyer, recorder of deeds. These officeholders basically switched their leanings from the Oct. 16 meeting to the Oct. 31 meeting. On Oct. 16 they voted against the motion not to adjust salaries and approved of a desire for the county counselor to "research options" regarding salaries, then on Oct. 31 failed to move toward increasing salaries and voted in favor of adjourning the meeting with no action taken. Diagnosis: cold feet caused by a hot spotlight.

UP IN THE AIR PERFORMANCES:

Betty Knight, presiding commissioner, deserves praise for having some background knowledge on the entire process and for drawing attention to the fact the meeting was about to adjourn without Krohne voting. Knight has lost some 'street cred' with me on this topic, however, after voting in the final county commission meeting of the year last December to give the incoming new term officeholders---which at the time included herself--a cost of living salary increase. Pryor voted against that motion. Plunkett was disappointingly absent that day. In the 1-1 split vote, the presiding commissioner's vote trumped the one vote of an associate commissioner and with that Knight basically voted herself a raise. The fact the vote took place without a full commission present still irritates some folks.

Donna Nash, collector, asked questions, including the classic query to county counselor Bob Shaw to the effect of "How can officials in other counties take mid-term pay raises?" Shaw's effective answer was: "I have no idea. My goal is to try to keep our county out of the courts." When it came time to vote, Nash came down in favor of adjourning.

Terry Edwards, public administrator, arrived late and never said a word.

(Send your reaction on this scorecard to the publisher at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


Some new dining options emerging in Platte County

Posted 11/7/07

Time for a Platte County dining guide update as I grab a napkin and play the role of food critic for a minute. Cook's Corner Cafe has opened, appropriately enough, on the corner of Third and Main in downtown Dearborn. Mayor Frank Downing, Jr. invited me there for the cafe's opening day on Thursday and I was impressed with the quality and service. I'm also a sucker for old buildings and as a result spent a lot of time admiring the surroundings.

In downtown Platte City just two doors down from your Landmark, T-Bones Family Restaurant is now open and seems to be going strong. I've dined at T-Bones a couple times in the past week and am impressed. I haven't yet tried their Friday night rime rib special but have heard it is top notch.

At Parkville, Brodies Backyard BBQ is getting ready to open--and may have opened by the time you read this--in the Parkville Commons location formerly occupied by Ray's Crab and Shrimp Shack. Brodies already has a successful location in Smithville.

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


 

Democratic slant coming; Prosecutor a strong closer

11/1/07

Hey, it's Halloween.. This year I'm going as a sculpted, smoking hot newspaper publisher. I've convinced myself no costume is needed.

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A sports channel commercial just blared the NBA season starts this week. Didn't last season just end a week ago?

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I just got back from the Platte County Salary Commission meeting. What a circus. Come back here next week for some commentary. I promiste you won't be disappointed.

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Big news on the horizon here at your ol' Landmark. Our opinion pages will get a new lean beginning next week with a local Democratic voice joining our staff of contributors. A hearty Landmark welcome aboard to Russ Purvis, a Parkville-based attorney with the Montee Law Firm. Purvis currently serves as chair of the Platte County Democratic Central Committee.

Recently--yes, I've noticed--the local Democrats have become more active and organized, stepping up their approach to local politics and campaigns. Purvis is one of the key players helping re-energize the local Democratic party, helping to make it a player in Platte County politics once again after about a decade of getting sand kicked in its face.

Purvis' work in bringing the local Dems back to the surface is the major reason his name was the first one that popped into mind when I went hunting for someone to pen a piece for our opinion pages from a slightly different perspective than what Landmark readers might be accustomed to.

I think Purvis is pumped. Over lunch last week, he displayed genuine excitement at being given the opportunity to provide some weekly commentary.

*****

Also in a new opinion page feature slated to begin next week, we'll balance Purvis' commentary with weekly words from local conservative--remember, his critics would say 'arch conservative'--James C. Thomas III. Like Purvis, Thomas is an attorney. He has been active in Republican party politics for years. His wife, Sandra, was Platte County auditor for many years and last year won the Republican nomination for state auditor before being defeated by Susan Montee, who at the time was the wife of James Montee, who heads up the law firm that employs Purvis.

Small world, huh?

What I found out last week as I discussed this opportunity with Purvis and Thomas in separate conversations is that the two are actually casual friends. They share different political viewpoints--though both said it's not completely uncommon for them to agree on certain topics--but each has been able to remain in friendly standing with the other.

These guys won't be limited on topics. Whatever they individually want to tangle is fine. Occasionally we'll do a point/counterpoint type feature, in which a topic is assigned for a debate between the two.

This should be fun, informative and entertaining. Check them out next week--and every week thereafter--on page 3 of your Landmark. Let's get this party started.

******

I did a drop-in for closing arguments on Friday afternoon in the murder trial of Jacob McGinnis (don't miss the courtroom photo and story by Alan McArthur on our front page) and must tell you I was extremely impressed with the performance of prosecutor Eric Zahnd. Zahnd passionately presented a compelling closing in front of Judge Abe Shafer, using visual aids and turning of the suspect's own key words and phrases against him in the process. Nice work by the aggressive prosecutor, who was praised by the family of the victim after the favorable verdict.

The judge, in fact, praised attorneys from both sides for their work as he announced his verdict. McGinnis was represented by William Dick Fickle and Charlie Dickman, whose names have inspired me to refer to them as the legal team of Dick Squared. Or Dick to the Second Power.

******

What if every public official adopted Carey Rolofson's apparent mantra: "I'm gonna give a full 60% effort to my elected position this year."

******

For the first time ever, this year I broke down and bought a couple season tickets to the Chiefs. Wasn't sure how this was going to turn out, but Landmark facilities manager Kurt Foley and I have been having a blast as the no-offense, rock-solid defense Chiefs have surprised the NFL with a 4-3 record. This week, the Chiefs will beat Green Bay--at least that's the word here in the gospel according to Ivan Foley--and rise to 5-3, then next week it's Denver at home. Fun stuff and good for some ol' fashioned father-son bonding time.

Time for a few observations from this year's Chiefs Game Day Experience:

*Defensive end Jared Allen is a monster. A monster can be defined as a really motivated football player whose contract is up at the end of the season. He's hungry for a huge pay day.

*The formerly smoking hot Patti DiPardo, singer for the end zone based TD Pack Band, is starting to show some life experience. Hey, it happens to the best of us. Even Bill Grigsby is past the spring chicken days, and heck, I'm not as young as I used to be. I've got to be careful here because Landmark office manager Cindy Rinehart and Patti grew up in the same hood, attended the same high school and hung around the same folks back in the day.

*Why does Patti's voice sound like she just smoked a pack of Camels?

*Defensive tackle Alfonso Boone is having a great season. Quietly. You don't hear many folks talking about him, but the guy is plugging up the middle of the line in effective fashion and making some plays. It's easier to spot Boone's effectiveness inside the stadium than it is getting only the limited view from the TV cameras.

 

 

 

 


 

Global warming, spin doctors, and back door tax hikes

10/25/07

At 10:32 p.m. on Oct. 22, I cranked up my home furnace for the first time this season.

That's the latest in the year I can ever remember needing to take the chill off.

Uh oh, does this mean Al Gore is onto something with his global warming theory?

******

You've noticed I've been on Platte County R-3 for some spending choices. Now, the Kansas City Business Journal is reporting R-3 has the highest average annual dollars budgeted per student of any district in the metro area. R-3 has $16,435 per student.

Nice that they have a generous amount available to spend per student, but don't you wonder how much of that ends up going to administrator salaries, fake grass, and purchases of overpriced buildings?

******

I'm gonna shoot a big-time hole in the argument being spewed by the salary commission spin doctors who are saying the public shouldn't jump to conclusions in interpreting last week's 6-2 vote against keeping officeholders salaries the same. The spin doctors say their vote against keeping salaries at current levels shouldn't be interpreted as meaning they want a pay raise. They say it only means they wanted to do some research before making any decisions.

Hmm. If you don't want a raise, you don't need to order any research by the county counselor. Keeping salaries as they are would require no legal interpretation of other options. Supporting the idea of researching other "options" means you're very open to the idea of hitting up the taxpayers for a pay raise. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to read between the lines on that one.

But I suppose we can go ahead and politely give them the benefit of the doubt, at least until their next meeting. Let's see how the conversation develops and how the votes come down at that one. My guess is the usual suspects will vote the usual way.

******

A staff member from the office of State Sen. Michael Gibbons of St. Louis County called me last Wednesday. "Sen. Gibbons has been reading your editorials on the internet about reassessment and its effect on tax collections. He's going to be in Kansas City on Friday and wants to see if he could meet with you. He has some thoughts and ideas he'd like to share with you."

I welcomed the opportunity to visit with the senator, who by the way will be a candidate for Missouri attorney general in 2008. Gibbons currently serves as president pro-tem of the Missouri Senate. His schedule while in KC only gave him a one-hour window of opportunity, so we ended up having our conversation over the phone as opposed to in person. I found the discussion interesting and enlightening. Gibbons, like your columnist, is disturbed that reassessment often leads to many entities benefitting from what amounts to a back door tax increase upon taxpayers. "It's complicated and it's confusing and it upsets people," Gibbons said.

"My primary objective is to have something in place to make a rollback an effective rollback so at least we're not raising taxes through reassessment. To me it doesn't count as a rollback unless you cut back (tax collections on existing construction) to the same it was last year plus the rate of inflation (2.2% this most recent year)," Gibbons said.

Right on.

Why can't many bureaucrats involved in setting tax levies grasp this concept? Instead, what we often get is fuzzy-math-based propaganda about supposed "tax cuts" when in fact tax collections for some entities (Platte County R-3, for example) have increased by millions of dollars.

Gibbons says the same kind of comments were made by St. Louis County propagandists for years. That county held its tax rate at 58 cents from 1989 to 2005. Though holding the tax rate steady sounds like a positive, it doesn't turn out that way for taxpayers when values go up dramatically. He points out that entities not at their taxing ceiling do not have a constitutional responsibility to rollback their tax rates. "And consequently they don't. The system has got to change," Gibbons said.

One possible answer? If entities are below their tax rate ceiling and need to raise taxes, let the people vote on it. Don't give the public a back door tax increase through reassessment.

Gibbons also points out getting the public aware of the situation has been a challenge. St. Louis County has long been in tune with the issue, he said. Other areas of the state weren't being hit quite the same. Now more and more areas of the state are seeing the problem--it's getting media attention in outlets like The Landmark--and people are seeing reassessment's dramatic impact.

Timing is also a problem. Notices of a change in property value go out in March. At that time, taxpayers don't know how that value change will affect them tax-wise. And they don't know until they get their tax bill in November. "Why does the calendar have to be that way?" Gibbons asks.

He said the state GOP is having a caucus retreat at the end of November. "After that we'll have a better idea of what we're going to do policy-wise. The time to deal with this is now."

******

Missouri House Speaker Rod Jetton has appointed a task force on property tax reform. The 18-member group held its initial meeting in September, getting organized and hearing from state officials and experts on property taxation. The group had a another meeting on Oct. 10 and will meet again this Wednesday in Kansas City. A report to the speaker is due in late November. Interesting tidbit about this is that Betty Knight, presiding commissioner for Platte County, is a member of the task force.

Give 'em hell, Betty. Please.


(Fighting against back door entries of all kinds, Ivan Foley can be reached at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)

 


 

County officeholders may scare the heck out of us on Halloween

10/18/07

Why do so many possums sleep in the middle of the road with their legs in the air?

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Political rumor mill says State Rep. Jason Brown of Platte City is seriously considering a run for Platte County assessor in 2008.

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I'd rather see Jason Brown run against incumbent county treasurer Bonnie Brown. Then it would be Brown vs. Brown. And our news coverage could be sponsored by UPS.

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Who says the good stuff never gets talked about?

I love the idea put forth by the Platte City Main Street Association to host "A Spooky Night on Main Street" on Saturday, Oct. 27. You can read all about in this newspaper as The Landmark endeavors to spread the word about this family event.

The afternoon/evening will feature a dogs' costume contest at the Main Street Pet Resort and Day Spa, a children's costume parade up Main Street ending at the courthouse, and some skits and performances by high school drama and forensics students. A walking tour of Main Street businesses with Halloween-themed stops is also on tap.

Cool idea. Even if it doesn't draw a large crowd the first year, it's still a neat family-themed idea that with persistence could grow into an annual event.

I think it will take some promotional efforts by the association to get families interested in it, but the concept is good. Hopefully the association will make an effort to get word of their event into area classrooms to get kids and parents excited about it.

See our story or call 858-7387 for more info.

Nice job by the Main Street folks to get this thing kick-started. Keep up the good work


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I don't know who brainstormed the Spooky Night on Main Street idea, but something tells me if it turns out to be successful Mayor Dave will take credit for it.

*******

For Mayor Dave, a spooky night on Main Street would be if he encountered several black cats with really large testicles.

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I must correct an item from last week in regard to the salary for Platte County R-3 superintendent Dr. Mark Harpst. In last week's current events quiz, I printed his salary as $162,500. You're probably thinking, ah hah, I knew his salary couldn't be that high, right? Actually, Harpst's annual salary is $167,500, which is $5,000 higher than I reported last week.

Wow. The legend grows. But after the amount gets to a certain level, what's another $5,000 anyway, right?

*****

The Platte County Salary Commission--a group of county elected officeholders who gather every couple years with the option of voting themselves a pay raise--met Tuesday afternoon. I normally enjoy the heck out of covering these meetings, but got hog tied Tuesday afternoon and couldn't make it. Sandy Krohne, county clerk, took notes and is compiling minutes from the gathering.

No pay raises were approved--at least not yet, as the group adjourned with the intention of gathering again on Halloween. Let's hope they don't scare the hell out of taxpayers on that day. Something tells me they might. Let me explain.

At Tuesday's meeting, a motion to keep officeholder salaries at their current level was defeated. Voting to keep salaries at their current level were associate commissioners Tom Pryor and Jim Plunkett, but they were outvoted 6-2. Voting against that motion were Dick Anderson, sheriff (hey, a rare public appearance outside of the heavily fortified bureaucratic bat cave for the sheriff--sad that it took a chance for him to argue for a pay raise to make it happen); Bonnie Brown treasurer; Siobhann Williams, auditor; Lisa Pope, assessor; Gloria Boyer, recorder of deeds; and Sandy Krohne, county clerk. Absent were Betty Knight, presiding commissioner; Terry Edwards, public administrator; and Donna Nash, county collector.

Basically, the six who voted against keeping salaries as they are want to research a way to vote themselves a raise. Many of them would like to see the county establish its own officeholder pay scale that would grow as the county's assessed valuation grows. This in essence would mean an automatic raise for elected officials each time the assessed valuation reaches new heights. Can you picture officeholders pushing for perpetual reassessment if this happens?

Some officeholders would find such a setup very convenient for a lot of reasons. It would eliminate the need for a meeting of the salary commission--and the media and public scrutiny that comes with it--in order for them to get a hike in salary.

Apparently there is a question as to whether a county-established pay scale is perfectly legal, and on Tuesday the six officeholders asked county counselor Bob Shaw to do some research on this topic and report back to them at the Oct. 31 meeting. Shaw also is to research whether--if such a concept is adopted--officeholders could take the raises at the time of the assessed valuation jump (in the middle of an existing term of office) or whether they would have to wait till the start of a new term.

I know your obvious question and here is the answer to it. Current salaries for county elected positions affected by any action of the salary commission are as follows: the county clerk, auditor, collector, and presiding commissioner all make $65,755 per year. The assessor, treasurer, and public administrator. The sheriff is on a separate salary schedule and makes more than $69,000. The associate commissioners--the two officeholders who don't want a raise--make less than any of the others at $61,840.

Much more news and Between the Lines commentary coming on this in the weeks ahead. Something tells me this is going to be interesting and entertaining all at the same time.

(Will taxpayers be tricked or will they be treated by officeholders at the Oct. 31 salary commission meeting? Email your thoughts to the publisher at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)

 

 

 

 


 

Holland is no poker player; Take this current events quiz

10/11/07

In the course of covering and attending many public board meetings, every once in a while you come across a situation that makes you go: "Huh?"

One of those moments took place Friday evening during that "let's be anal and have a meeting on Homecoming night" gathering of the Platte County R-3 School Board. As detailed in Alan McArthur's front page story, an initial motion to buy the Stiles Building for $1.9 million out of reserve funds was defeated on a 3-3 split vote. Dave Holland was one of the no votes. At least he was initially, before he folded like a house of cards using reasoning that made little--no, I'm being kind, it made zero--sense.

After one of the supporters of the motion asked if a different financial mechanism would change anyone's opposition, Holland didn't just sway from his stance. He suffered a meltdown of embarrassing proportions.

Holland said he wasn't comfortable taking the entire $1.9 million from a reserve fund that has $4.6 million in it. When it was proposed to take $1.5 million from reserves and $400,000 to be financed through a lease purchase arrangement, Holland immediately switched his vote. Yes, that's all it took.

Huh? He's not comfortable taking $1.9 million from reserves but he is comfortable taking $1.5 million? A desire to keep an extra $400,000 in a reserve fund that already contains $4.6 million was the only thing it took to switch his vote?

I was expecting a speech from Holland to the tune of: "Let the people decide" or "Let's look for a less costly option" or "Let's put this in our next bond issue." Instead, we got Holland putting up what amounted to zero defense of his original vote. All it took was the other side saying they would take $400,000 less out of an already-bloated reserve fund.

That was a John Kerry-like performance. I guess now Holland can say: "You know I actually voted against the Stiles Building before I voted in favor of it."

******

At least the appropriate questioning by board member Trish Stinnett and perhaps some deserved scrutiny in this media outlet helped lower the district's price tag for the Stiles Building from $2.4 million down to $1.9 million, a savings of $500,000 to R-3 taxpayers.

Still overpriced.


******

Take out a pen and circle your best guesses. It's time for our occasional current events quiz. We like to do this every so often just to see if you've been paying attention.

1. Platte City mayor Dave Brooks likes to wear a certain ball cap on special occasions. What word or words can be found emblazoned across the front of Mayor Dave's favorite headdress?

A. Save a horse, ride a HOG.
B. Save a hog, ride a Harley.
C. Have you neutered a cat today?
D. Mayor

2. For Platte City to have a successful period of sustained growth, what did your Between the Lines columnist suggest is needed?

A. Less Moody, more Dave.
B. Jim Palmer and Lee Roy Van Lew.
C. Lawyers, guns and money.
D. More cowboys, less Moody.

3. Mayor Dave would salivate at the thought of neutering which of the following choices:

A. Ivan Foley
B. Andy Stanton
C. Aaron Jung
D. Kenneth Brown
E. An alley full of stray cats
F. All of the above.

4. When Mayor Dave has a nightmare, it is normally about:

A. Ivan Foley
B. Andy Stanton
C. Aaron Jung
D. Kenneth Brown
E. An alley full of stray cats
F. All of the above.

5. This Platte County R-3 School Board member voted against raising Dr. Mark Harpst's salary to $162,500?

A. Carey Rolofson
B. Dick Modin
C. Mary Temperelli
D. Karen Wagoner
E. No board members have ever voted against such a thing.

6. According to R-3 school board president Bob Shaw, an increase of $2 million in tax revenue for the district over last year is considered:

A. No harm, no foul.
B. Pocket change since it's somebody else's money.
C. Less than what district officials would have liked to grab.
D. A tax decrease.
E. All of the above.

7. This Kansas City Chief great was taken into custody recently after being caught with a handgun in his bag at KCI:

A. Bob Gretz.
B Bill Grigsby.
C. That young waitress Marty Schottenheimer and Greg Hill used to fight over.
D. Bill Maas.

(Send your best guesses to the publisher via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


 

Superhighway coming to Interurban; Setting of meeting times

10/5/07

I can hardly get excited about a sport that features cars driving endlessly in a circle, but what's up with the constant bickering among NASCAR drivers, even those who are supposedly on the same team?

Watching those guys is like being an innocent bystander at a redneck family reunion.

******

I just saw an un-neutered cat riding a motorcycle down Platte City's Main Street.

This certainly puts Mayor Dave in a dilemma. If he neuters the cat does that mean he is anti-motorcycle?

*******

After talking about some craterized streets in Tracy in last week's column, it seemed like it was time for another rough road alert. A reader buzzed the Between the Lines hotline to complain about the county public works department's patch job on the stretch of Interurban Road from the Basswood Resort north to Camden Point. "They may as well have put speed bumps out there," the caller said.

The explanation from the county? That patching was a precursor of greater things to come. This week that stretch of roadway is undergoing more permanent repairs. Greg Sager, county public works director, says Interurban Road from HH Highway to the Sharp's Station Bridge is getting a two-inch overlay of asphalt.

"It'll look like a superhighway compared to what it used to be," Sager says.

******

Who says the good news never gets talked about?

Hats off to the Platte City Special Road District, the efficient outfit that it is, for being able to open NW 136th Street west of Running Horse Road near Platte City 30 days ahead of schedule. The street widening, stormwater and traffic control improvements are done--well in advance of the projected completion date of Halloween.

Frank Offutt of the road district was quick to spread the praise this week. "The road district wishes to recognize the utilities, local agencies and most of all the landowners who supported the improvements of NW 136th Street during the last 60 days."

He also extended a "special appreciation" to the patrons and motorists who cooperated with the detours and "willingly offered their time to permit the contractors and construction crews to finish the job ahead of schedule."

******

On the local political calendar is a special meeting of the Platte County R-3 School Board, set for Friday evening at 5 p.m. Topic is the continued consideration of the purchase of that purty but overpriced Stiles Building next to the Platte City campus. R-3's board says it is still considering other options. But the open meeting agenda could be quite telling. It only lists "consider purchase of the Stiles Building," it doesn't list "consider purchase of other options."

In any event, it sounds like the board as early as Friday will have a decision on how they will overspend your money.

*******

A school board meeting at 5 p.m. on a Friday night? During homecoming week?

This is almost as goofy and irresponsible as R-3 holding its annual board reorganizational meeting at 7 a.m. It's just another case of a public board holding a meeting at a time when it is convenient for its members, to heck with convenience for any members of the general public who may have had an interest in going.

This is one of the areas of public accessibility where I thought we would have seen improvement at R-3 by now under new board leadership. Strong leadership takes a willingness to upset the apple cart when it needs to be upset. R-3's board leadership seems to be more concerned about keeping its own members happy than it is about doing the right thing for the general public.

It has been one of the biggest disappointments on the local political scene in 2007.

*******

While on the topic, I chuckle when I hear folks say a change of meeting times doesn't result in a larger crowd attending meetings. Talk about missing the point.

City council and school board meetings are not like sporting events. As a general rule, the gatherings are not going to draw a crowd. The idea behind setting a convenient meeting time is that on those rare occasions when members of the public have a need or desire to attend, they don't have to be inconvenienced to do so. They shouldn't have to take off work early to attend, they shouldn't have to reschedule their dinner time, they shouldn't be pulled away from Friday evening plans during homecoming, etc.

It has nothing to do with "drawing a crowd" to the routine meetings.

******

A firefighter is working on the engine outside the station when he notices a little girl next door in a little red wagon. The girl is wearing a firefighter's helmet. The wagon is being pulled by her dog and her tom cat.

The firefighter walks over to take a closer look. "That sure is a nice fire truck," he says.

"Thanks," the girl answers.

The firefighter looks a little more closely and notices the girl has tied the wagon to her dog's collar and to the tom cat's testicles.

"Little Partner," the firefighter says, "I don't want to tell you how to run your rig, but if you were to tie that rope around the cat's collar, I think you could go faster."

The little girl replies thoughtfully: "You're probably right, but then I wouldn't have a siren."

(The Between the Lines siren sounds each week on page 2 of your Landmark. File your complaint by email to the publisher at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)

 


 

County apparently feeling secure about courthouse security

9/28/07

What you are about to read is the work of a highly trained professional.

Ah, who am I kidding. What you are about to read is more like a rolling freight train of thoughts. In either case, kids, do not try this at home.

******

Amazing to me that Cap'n Crunch is still alive. That guy was old when I was a pup.

******

Curious that the county seems disinterested in pursuing any changes to security at the courthouse. I mean, I guess we really shouldn't be alarmed that an employee who had allegedly encountered some work-related problems (that aspect of the story has become fairly common knowledge around town) carried a .40 caliber handgun and 100 rounds of ammo in the building. To shoot only himself. Allegedly.

No big deal, I suppose. Maybe the county's research shows it happens all the time in public buildings.

I guess the public can learn to live with it. Or wear a flak jacket.

*******

Does the county understand that even good people--good employees--occasionally run into life problems that overwhelm them and can cause them to act irrationally?

It's my belief the threat of gunplay doesn't just erupt from the general population. I'll give you more on this wild and crazy notion a couple thoughts down the road.

******

Employees and prosecutors are allowed to enter the courthouse with no security check. The defense attorneys and general public must pass through metal detectors.

Yes, sir, that's the kind of double standard/elitist attitude that will be a hit with the common folk. It's a policy that will continue to win friends and influence people.

******

By the way, in my 25 years covering this beat, I know of only one gunshot fired within the walls of the courthouse. It was fired by a government employee.

******

Over those same 25 years, I know of only one gunshot fired across Platte City's Main Street. It was fired by a police officer cleaning his gun.

So is the general public the threat or the threatened?

Just asking.

******

Isn't it refreshing to know that the county can assure us the government would never hire a bad apple?

******

Can you recall any folks previously employed at the county complex who ended up on the shady side while still working there? No need to name names here, but I can.

But I guess that news is as ancient as Cap'n Crunch. Sleep well knowing these days the government only hires employees with angel wings.

******

Didn't someone once say those who fail to learn from history are destined to repeat it?

******

I can't even guarantee you the sheriff feels safe around the county complex. I would ask him but I never see him. And trying to get a phone call through to the man is like trying to find Osama. His line of telephone defense should be a model for Homeland Security.

There are times it seems we have a first class sheriff's department with a fourth class understanding of the importance of public communication.

******

Speaking of rough roads (what, we weren't?) I smiled when I read reporter Kathy Crawford's account of how some residents of Tracy are blaming a tow truck company for potholes on that town's streets.

Please. The problems--and the potholes--run a lot deeper than that.

For a quick lunch time sightseeing excursion that I combined with a needed trip to Tracy City Hall, I drove around nearly every street in that tiny but proud burg last Tuesday. I came back to the office telling co-workers about the impressive size of craters in the streets. I'm betting Baghdad has smoother roadways. The new tires and front end alignment I recently had done on the Grand Prix had never been molested quite like that and hopefully never will again.

You may have noticed The Landmark has stepped up its coverage of Tracy government recently. You'll also notice Tracy seems to be having some Sunshine issues. What we haven't yet had time to delve into too deeply is the town's financial situation, so I can't yet tell you what the city fathers are spending public funds on. But I can tell you what they're not spending money on. That would be street repairs.

******

What's on tap for next week? How about a couple of emailed funnies that have been sent my way, and a quick analysis of a potential candidate for local public office. Schedule subject to change, of course.

(Cap'n Crunch is the Breakfast of Champions. So says the publisher, who can be reached via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


More bad news for free circulation publications; Mayor Dave expanding?

9/21/07

 

Uh oh, there's breaking news in the advertising world, and it's not good for those folks distributing free circulation shoppers--or for those businesses who have been duped into advertising in one.

Pulse Advertising research, in a Missouri reader survey, has some powerful findings to share, as published in a recent Missouri Press Association Bulletin.

Missouri readers were asked: "What do you do with direct mail delivered to your home?"
Only 14% said they read it.

Wow. Digest that for a moment.

Only 14% of those surveyed said they actually read the free circulation direct mail shoppers that clutter their mailboxes.

There you have it. If you want your advertising message read by a whopping 14% of people getting it, spend your dollars with a free circulation shopper.

******

Another way to look at it: If you want your ad NOT read by 86% of the people receiving it, advertise in a direct mail shopper.

******

The above tidbit is also bad news for politicians--and the direct mailers who have shamelessly gigged your poor political souls for years.

After a decade of a widely-followed trend of politicians trying to get their message out via direct mail, the tide is turning toward newspapers. Last fall Nancy Boyda, like her or not, won a Congressional seat in northeast Kansas over incumbent Jim Ryun by getting her message out by using advertisements in weekly newspapers throughout her district. The strategy was so effective it garnered national attention in a recent Wall Street Journal article.

Here's why Boyda's plan worked. The Pulse Advertising research shows that while only 14% of people read direct mail, a whopping 74.8% of weekly newspaper readers voted in the last election.

For you political types, that makes it pretty clear where your ad dollars are going to be the most effective. Something candidates should keep in mind for 2008.

******

I missed the social event of the fall on Saturday. I had RSVP'ed to attend the marriage of noted political operative Jeff Roe to Melissa Goss in Kansas City and was honestly looking forward to it. But I never made it.

Since I have yet to communicate with the happy couple after-the-fact, I will publicly give my regrets and my excuse. The volleyball team of daughter Alyssa, high school senior and part-time Landmark intern, was involved in a 10-team tournament on Saturday. My intention was to stay for pool play and then head out around noon or so to get my sculpted-by-God physique ready to head to the nuptials. But Alyssa's team kept on winning to the point they advanced to the championship bracket, knocking off some larger schools in the process. What I thought would be about three hours of watching volleyball turned out to be a 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. marathon event, long but enjoyable.

Sorry I missed the wedding. But I would have been sorrier to bust out on my favorite volleyball player.

******

I can always count on some less-than-pleasant emails anytime I reference Jeff Roe. Just the mention of his name sparks a negative reaction in many folks, especially those who reside on the left. The guy is a lightning rod for interesting responses from readers, so I might as well mention him more than once this week.

Hey, by the way, Roe doesn't claim to be angel, and he sometimes gets an overly negative rap for simply doing the job he is hired to do. And oh by the way, he is damn good at his job. That doesn't mean I always agree with him or his tactics, but I will always acknowledge the fact he is good at what he is paid to do and respect him for it.

At any rate, I want to let loose with one of my favorite Jeff Roe quotes. It's pretty basic, but at the same time he hits the nail on the head. His quote:

"Government does a better job when someone is paying attention."

Bingo. We like to have some fun along the way, but that's exactly what The Landmark does: We help the public pay attention, with the goal being a better job by your government, which will result in a better way of life for all of us.

******

I passed this information along last week in a column posted on our web site at plattecountylandmark.com, and will give it another mention in the print version of your Landmark.

Tom Hutsler, Parkville businessman and developer, stopped in The Landmark office one day last week and the talk turned to community festivals. Hutsler for years has played a vital role in Parkville’s ability to put on many successful community events. He would be a wealth of information and ideas if Platte City decides to seek input from folks who have been successful in such ventures.

Something tells me Mayor Dave Brooks' ego may not allow him to accept input from such sources, but most of the aldermen seem open-minded for ideas on this topic and may be willing to listen to him. I’ve got Hutsler’s cell phone number of you want it.

******

Mayor Dave was spotted taking part in the parade held over the weekend at the successful festival at Riverside--a town Mayor Dave says has "more money than God"--proudly wearing his patented white ball cap with the word "Mayor" emblazoned in red letters across the front.

Mayor Dave plays cop occasionally for the city of Lake Waukomis and was riding in the Lake Waukomis fire truck entry in the parade. I assume his hat still means he is "Mayor" of Platte City and that he wasn't proclaiming to be "Mayor" of Lake Waukomis.

Not yet, anyway, though he has been known to have a desire to expand his kingdom.

(Not to be outdone, Ivan Foley pens every column wearing a hat with the word "Publisher" emblazoned across the front. Fire your thoughts his way via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


 

Motorcycle rally has fizzled; and R-3's flirtation with Stiles

9/14/07

Stick a fork in it.

Even some of city hall's best propagandists are admitting the turnout for Mayor Dave's End of the Trail motorcycle rally hit an all-time low over the weekend. If the recent surge to replace the festival with a more family-friendly event needed any more ammunition, it certainly got it.

The Landmark supports the recent suggestions by aldermen Andy Stanton, Aaron Jung, Kenneth Brown and Todd Sloan to research the idea of putting on a more family-oriented festival in the future. These city leaders have suggested a survey of residents to get some guidance. Good idea. It's time.

Mayor Dave caught lightning in a bottle in 2003 with his first bikefest. But remember, that festival benefitted from a couple of things, mostly that the state Harley Owners Group was holding its convention right here in Platte County that year, which was a tremendous boost to Platte City's turnout. The first festival also benefitted from what I like to call the train wreck factor: many people came down just to get a glimpse. Many of those "many" have never been back.

The obvious observations don't support Mayor Dave's recent claim that the rally is "gaining momentum." Interest in the End of the Trail has dwindled considerably since that first year. That's quite obvious to the naked eye.

I think it's fine to keep the idea of a mainstream band and street dance in a more family friendly event. But for real family attraction, it's probably wise to get away from the motorcycle tie-in. For whatever reason--fairly or unfairly--most people don't associate motorcycle rallies with a family friendly atmosphere and aren't as likely to pack up the kids and head downtown.

That's not meant to belittle somebody's idea of entertainment. To each his own--all of us are entertained in different ways. But it's just a fact of life.

******

Tom Hutsler, Parkville businessman and developer, stopped in The Landmark office one day last week and the talk turned to community festivals. Hutsler for years has played a vital role in Parkville's ability to put on many successful community events. He would be a wealth of information and ideas if Platte City decides to seek input from folks who have been successful in such ventures. Something tells me Mayor Dave's ego will not allow him to accept input from such sources but most of the aldermen seem open-minded for ideas on this topic and may be willing to listen to him. I've got Hutsler's cell phone number of you want it.

******

As reported in this issue, journalists from out of state awarded The Landmark with six honors over the weekend in the Missouri Press Association Better Newspaper Contest. That's three times more than any other local paper. Heck, even I'm starting to think we know what we're doing around here.

******

As this newspaper was one of the corporate sponsors, I was busy shaking hands and kissing babies at the Taste of Parkville event Thursday night, which prevented me from hitting the Platte County R-3 public hearing about the proposed purchase of the Stiles Building. Intrepid reporter Alan McArthur pulled himself away from the tasty treats at Parvkille just in time to get to Platte City for the R-3 hearing, and you'll want to read his front page story.

I must confess I'm finding myself entertained by this whole flirtation. As mentioned in previous columns, many R-3 officials have been salivating at the chance to purchase the two year-old, never-occupied structure with the pretty windows that sits next to the campus in Platte City. R-3 officials continued to salivate even when they heard the price was $2.4 million, further fueling growing speculation that R-3 officials don't generally get too excited about watching several hundred thousand dollars here and there. Sorry, but that's the kind of attitude that develops when board members get overly passive and don't publicly question the superintendent about financial matters. Sometimes I get the impression R-3 has a bottomless bank account. . .or at least some folks at R-3 feel like they do.

"Well, they were asking more than $3 million," one R-3 official shot back at me defensively about six weeks ago when I remarked in a private conversation that I thought the $2.4 million price tag was, shall we say, too high. And that's just the proposed cost to buy the building. The school district says its construction professionals are reporting it would cost the district $1.5 million to $2.5 million to retrofit the building for school use. (What? $1.5 million to $2.5 million? That's a million dollars difference in an estimate to do a remodel. It can't get narrowed down more closely than that? Geez, if R-3 leaders are fine in receiving an estimate that has $1 million worth of "play" in it, many members of the public should lose confidence in their desire to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars).

But I digress.

Last week, The Landmark reported the county's appraisal of the property is $1.6 million. R-3, in the meantime, set out to get its own appraisal of the building performed. Okay, we all know how this process works. Whoever pays for the appraisal generally gets the outcome of its liking, correct? So if you're willing to pay $2.4 million, more than likely your paid appraiser will coincidentally list the value at $2.4 million or above. But, the appraiser hired by R-3 apparently didn't play that game. R-3's appraisal came in $500,000 lower than the publicly stated asking price of $2.4 million. Yes, R-3's own appraisal came in at only $1.9 million.

Several folks at R-3 have said they view the chance to purchase the Stiles Building at $2.4 million an "excellent opportunity." Nobody has a crystal ball, but it's hard to envision any other potential buyers for this property emerging, due to the building's location and the fact it really doesn't fit in with nearby uses. Heck, the folks who built the place for their own use eventually decided they didn't want it and now are looking to dump it.

R-3 holds all the negotiating cards in this one. Do they care enough to try to play the right hand? It doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility that the place could be bought for whatever debt the owners incurred in getting it upright.

Demand drives market value. It certainly doesn't appear there is any other demand. Let's see how this plays out.

(Entertain yourself with an email to the publisher at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


 

An interesting holiday; a salute to budget cutters; and more on courthouse security

9/6/07

You'll have several chances to catch this Between the Lines traveling road show in the upcoming days. I'll be in Parkville Thursday afternoon/evening as The Landmark is once again one of the corporate sponsors for the Taste of Parkville. See you there in the Farmers Market area at the bottom of Main Street, as Parkville's finest restaurants will offer up samples of their menu to those who have purchased tickets to attend. See me before the event if you need tickets, I've got a few extra I'll give away on a first come-first served basis.

Then Friday evening I'll be trying my best to hit a meeting of the Platte Republican Association to catch the words of Chris Stigall, talk radio host on 710 AM. I've written about Stigall previously in this column and am a fan of his work.

Then, I may pop back by Mayor Dave's End of the Trail motorcycle rally to see how many tens of thousands folks and tattoos are downtown Friday evening. Then Saturday I'll be back in downtwon Platte City for the last day of what could be the last End of the Trail festival.

Whew.

Sunday I'll be making a special appearance in my recliner. Watching football. Guaran-dam-teed.

******

Speaking of football, our annual Pigskin Picks feature is back. A couple changes this year include the fact we have eliminated the "special guest" picker, simply because it got to be too time-consuming for your publisher to chase down a special guest, their picture and their predictions each week. Landmark columnist emeritus Greg Hall, one of my favorite people in the wide, wide, world of sports, will be an every week contestant.

Secondly, we're giving the public a chance to win a prize this year just by correctly predicting which of our contestants will finish with the best record at season's end. Will it be CK Rairden, Brian Kubicki, Greg Hall, the Farm Boys from Orrick Farm Service, or that damn handsome man named Ivan Foley.

Send your guess to me at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com by noon this Sunday, Sept. 9. If you correctly pick the winner, a free one-year subscription is coming your way.

******

While working in the office on Monday--which happened to be Labor Day--a call came over the police scanner that a four-year-old girl was missing from Ferrel Street in Platte City. The location is less than two blocks from the plush Landmark headquarters. One of the police officers radioed to dispatch that "I could use all the manpower I can get right now."

Knowing that we almost met the job description that the word "manpower" implies, into action leaped your loyal Landmarkers. I recruited reporter Alan McArthur and facilities manager Kurt Foley to join me in reporting to the scene. "What can we do to help you?" I asked one of the officers, who then showed us a photo of the young girl and told us her name, as well as the nickname to which she would answer.

So we were prepared to hop into a phone booth and emerge with a giant "S" on our chest. Actually, we decided to forget the phone booth and instead started walking the street looking for the girl. As we were passing the house next door to the missing girl's residence, a lady emerged from the house and started hollering across the yard to the mother of the girl that in fact the young one was in the neighbor's house safe and sound.
Case closed. Happy ending.

The moral of this true story is that anytime you have a child missing, feel free to call The Landmark staff. We're a full service newspaper.

*****

Gotta tell you, I offer a much-deserved salute to Trish Stinnett and Andy Stanton, two local elected officials who have stepped forward to become watchdogs on their respective boards, Stinnett on the Platte County R-3 School Board and Stanton on the Platte City Board of Aldermen. At a recent meeting, Stinnett sparked much in-depth discussion about the pros and cons of a bond issue proposal. Her thought-provoking style of questioning has been much-needed at R-3.

Stanton, in a meeting Tuesday night, personally led a budget-slashing session that resulted in much pork being cut from next year's city budget. Stanton's efforts on Tuesday night alone resulted in the savings of $28,500 for taxpayers. Tell him thank you when you get the chance. I already did. Look for details on his budget-slashing in next week's Landmark.

Also, the fine folks at the Platte City Special Road District deserve kudos. They are proposing a true tax cut. Yes, they are actually proposing to levy fewer tax dollars in the upcoming year than they did last year. That's a tax cut, my friends. Nice job. And a mini-salute--some points have been deducted because of the public outcry it took to get there--to the members of the South Platte Ambulance District board, who have taken steps to significantly reduce their budget surplus (see details elsewhere in this Landmark).

******

We reveal in this week's issue that the Stiles building, offered for sale to the Platte County R-3 School District at a cost of $2.4 million, is only appraised at $1.6 million on the county tax roll.

R-3's board of education is scheduled to discuss the possible purchase of the building, which would be used to house administrative offices and a bus barn, among other things, at a public hearing Thursday night. I don't look for the fact they may be overpaying for the property by $800,000 to deter a majority of the R-3 board. Some of the district leadership is infatuated with the Stiles building, a "new" structure that has sat empty for two years or so. After all, it's a pretty place, appears to have many windows convenient to assist administrators with visionary daydreaming, and has the potential to be renovated (at an additional cost of $1.2 million on top of the $2.4 million purchase price) for some mighty fine district offices. And it could be a comfy place for those buses to get some rest. I'm guessing to most folks in positions of leadership at R-3, $800,000 simply doesn't sound like much. It won't matter to them that no other potential buyers are on the horizon.

Just last month the R-3 board increased the tax burden on patrons by $2 million, a move the board president refers to as a tax cut. So tossing away an extra $800,000 to some folks who are desperate to move an empty building might be viewed as a charitable thing by some of the people spending your money. And really, an extra $800,000 isn't much if you say it fast. Is it?

******

The smart money now, after having reported the above nugget, is that some leaders at R-3 will suddenly want to pay for an appraisal to be done of the property. They'll want their own appraisal performed to help justify the $2.4 million price they have been salivating to pay.

As the world knows, such appraisals typically arrive at a figure friendly to whomever is paying for the appraisal.

******

As the question of whether or not to seriously discuss any changes to the security setup at the Platte County Courthouse is pondered, here is one additional tidbit about last week's suicide in a jury deliberation bathroom that the public has a right to know. The man who took his own life with a single gunshot wound had extra ammunition in his possession.

jAnd I don't mean a couple extra bullets. Multiple sources in a position to know tell The Landmark he had up to 100 rounds of ammo with him in the restroom. More than enough to take your own life.

Investigators say there's no evidence the man ever intended to fire his weapon at anyone other than himself. Fair enough, but can anyone truly know what thoughts were going through his mind? So he bought the weapon that day and with the purchase of the gun came 100 free bullets. Fair enough, but still some pertinent questions remain. Why take 100 rounds into the courthouse to commit suicide? Why not leave the extra ammo in your vehicle? Or, why not leave the extra ammo at your desk rather than transport it with you on your way to commit suicide? Was he contemplating doing damage other than upon himself? No one can say yes, no one can say no with any degree of certainty.

******

Curious quote of the week comes from Eric Zahnd, Platte County prosecuting attorney. From this quote, one can assume Zahnd doesn't want courthouse employees to have to pass through a metal detector. Here are Zahnd's remarks to Landmark reporter Alan McArthur: "There is very good reason to screen non-employees because the risk of harm is much greater. The risk is low for employees the same as how employees are not screened at other businesses like newspapers."

Wow. Zahnd is one of the smartest men I know. I have to believe he understands the differences between security measures needed at a public building like a courthouse as compared to a private business with limited public foot traffic like a newspaper. On top of that, keep in mind many people are required by the government to appear at courthouses. For many folks, it's not a voluntary trip. Many come in under orders from the government, whether it be to serve as a juror, defendant, or a witness, etc. Once the government orders people to appear at a certain place, the question becomes should the government take all steps necessary to ensure those members of the public are as physically safe as possible?

Can the government with a good conscience order folks to come to a public building without knowing it has done all it can to ensure public safety? Or do you just say: "Hey, your government orders you to show up at the courthouse. We may have a despondent employee in the building with a handgun and 100 bullets, but we still demand that you come on down."

What I read into Zahnd's stance is this: There are people on his staff who are packing heat.

Heck, maybe a lot of us would be--or are--doing the same thing.

(Heat is quite often packed in Between the Lines. Fire your missives to the publisher at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


 

Security measures; and why one local man wanted to be president

8/30/07

Tuesday evening's developments at the Platte County Courthouse, where a veteran court reporter took his own life with a gun in a restroom connected to the jury deliberation room, certainly call for a period of grieving and words of sympathy to the man's family and friends.

What will next be necessary will be a focus on whether security measures at the courthouse need to be studied. This employee not only entered the building with a loaded weapon but also authorities confirm he brought in extra ammo, which was found in the bathroom in which the suicide took place. Authorities say there is no indication harm was ever intended to be done upon anyone else, but how much ammo does a person need to kill himself?

If I were a courthouse employee, I'd be adamantly requesting some increased security measures.

Courthouse employees with security clearance typically are allowed to enter the building without passing through a metal detector. This process may need to change. As Tuesday's incident proves, in today's world we can't just assume that employees will not be armed, either with the intent of doing harm upon themselves or upon others.

******

Bob Shaw for years longed to become president of the Platte County R-3 School Board. Media pundits throughout the nation--well, throughout the neighborhood--had one simple question. Why?

Speculation ran amuck. Did he covet the widespread personal fame and glory it would bring? Would he just like the view of the meeting room better from the head of the table? Or was there some kind of change in board direction he wanted to put into action? Heck, Bob and I talk all the time and have for years. Regular readers know he is one of my favorite public figures. Despite that background, I wasn't sure myself just what drew him to yearn for the title of board honcho, a position to which he was finally elected in April.

So the question became worthy of a Between the Lines investigation. Months of exhaustive research came to an end Thursday. I attended the school board meeting that night with a primary goal of nailing down the reasons why the man who would be prez wanted to be prez in the first place.

For me, it all came into focus. Here's my take:

1. He wanted to destroy his previous reputation as a financial conservative. In just four short months on the job, Bob has been extremely successful at changing his previous conservative, tight-with-a-buck image. Under his watch, it has been exposed that the superintendent's salary has grown to $162,500, considerably more than similar sized districts in northwest Missouri, and Bob has supported every one of these pay increases along the way. Determined to deliver more dessert, Bob then fearlessly helped lead the district into contract negotiations resulting in a record 6.3% pay increase for teachers.

Further expanding on his goal, Bureaucrat Bob then grabbed a saddle, rounded up a posse and took taxpayers' wallets hostage, swiping a 14% increase in property tax revenue. Though he'll tell you he cut taxes, the impossible-to-argue numbers show that--buoyed by Bob's aggressive tax-and-spend leadership--the district is grabbing over $2 million more in real estate taxes this year than last year.

Bob's version of a "tax cut" actually hiked district tax revenue by two million bucks. A few more "cuts" like that one will allow Bob to push for a retractable roof over Pirates Stadium.

2. He wanted to contradict Superintendent Dr. Mark Harpst. This goal was accomplished with flying colors on Thursday night. Bob directly contradicted the superintendent as Doc Harpst was explaining the effect of reassessment on the district's budget/income. Harpst said the district gained around $330,000 in revenue as a result of reassessment. But my friend Bob disagreed. He launched into a semantics-laden dissertation about new construction revenue, existing construction revenue, the consumer price index, Dow Jones indicators, Standard and Poor's reports, and the square root of Pi. His conclusion was that the school district did not benefit from reassessment.

Bob's presentation was impressively impassioned, though at one point through the thick smoke and distracting glare from the mirrors I thought I saw his nose growing. And I know I detected an aroma similar to the one that kicked up the last time I mowed a cow pasture.

The room contained some teachers and administrators, but there were also some incredulous corporate partners on hand. Perhaps this is why there were no applause lines. I noted the crowd seemed amazingly underwhelmed.

But I do think Bob convinced himself that what he was saying actually had some merit. So let's give him credit for that because you know what they say: If you don't believe in you, nobody else will either.

3. He wants to see if the grass is greener on the other side of the Sunshine Law. Prior to the mandatory neutering that it now appears comes with being board president, Bob was a rebel governmental watchdog attorney, successfully suing entities for abusing the state's open meetings law. That was the old Bob.

The new Bob's timepiece may disagree, but according to Landmark wristwatches and reporters' notes, under his leadership school board meetings have started as late as 10 minutes after the publicly posted start time and as early as 30 minutes prior to the posted start time for open session action items. I guess Bob and I can argue whose timepiece is more accurate on this, but what can't be argued is that the former Bob was a Sunshine stickler. Maybe the new Bob seems to be less worried about meeting proper protocol because he realizes he won't be suing himself.

4. He wanted to win School Board of the Year. Last year the R-3 board was a finalist for Missouri School Boards Association School Board of the Year. This year, Bob helped develop the strategy that he thought would take the team all the way to the top. But alas, he couldn't build on the successes gained under previous board president Dick Modin. R-3 didn't make the cut to the final round.

Bob's strategy now might be to propose another one of his soon-to- be patented revenue-enhancing "tax cuts" to pay for additional school board training.

And maybe more smoke and mirrors.

(Seldom reluctant to make a cut--and never in need of smoke and mirrors--the publisher can be reached at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)

 


 

Couple aldermen apparently didn't get that memo from voters

8/26/07

Until Tuesday night, I would have classified this sentence under the category of Mayor Dave's wishful thinking. "Mark your calendars for 2008: Sept. 12th and 13th."

That declaration is proudly noted on the City of Platte City's web site. It indicates there will be another End of the Trail Rally in Platte City in 2008. But is that reality or merely a pipe dream? Hope still rings eternal in the mind of mayor Dave Brooks, based on his breaking of a split vote by the board of aldermen Tuesday night.

The annual Harley rally sponsored by the city came into being as the result of a slightly off-center fetish for such things by Mayor Dave and General George. That's Dave Brooks and George McClintock. And to a lesser extent we can add Bill Knighton's name to that list of early day driving forces. McClintock and Knighton are now former aldermen. By September of 2008, it's likely Brooks will be a former mayor.

So will the rally go on without any of those guys in a position to push for the city to organize and fund the thing? Brooks on Tuesday night held off an effort by half of the aldermen to kill the '08 rally in the next budget, with the mayor breaking a 3-3 tie. So for now, the '08 rally is penciled in. Still, that's not a guarantee it will take place.

Look for some aldermen to push for another vote on the issue, maybe soon, maybe as late as once the April election is over. My money is still on the End of the Trail rally hitting the end of the trail this year. Yes, that means the rally coming up in a couple weeks would be the last.

A sad day? It could be for Mayor Dave. One former city official told me that on the night of the initial Harley rally, Mayor Dave looked out at the crowd in the street and proudly proclaimed: "You know, I did all this."

Frankly, I'm not sure it went down quite like that. My bet is that Mayor Dave's comment in noting his shining moment went more like this: "You know, Dave Brooks did all this."

At any rate, by his own choosing the annual rally will go down as Mayor Dave's legacy. Whether it's something to cherish as a legacy can be a matter of debate if you'd like.

******

His vote to keep what some critics view as a taxpayer-funded bike and beer fest in the budget is the latest in a series of strange votes cast by one of the newest Platte City aldermen. There's a free Landmark subscription going to the first person who can give me a rational explanation for the voting pattern of Ron Stone. This guy is all over the place.

To paraphrase that eccentric singer/songwriter known as Elton John, it seems to me Ron lives his political life like a candle in the wind, never knowing who to cling to when the rain sets in.

Stone seems to be the current board's version of previous alderman Jim Palmer, who had a tendency to agree with whoever spoke to him last.

Whatever his reasoning, from here it appears Stone quite often goes against popular beliefs held by the largest segment of voters responsible for putting him in office. Alderman Todd Sloan has fallen into that category as well. The reason Stone and Sloan were awarded seats at the board table is that voters wanted a change in direction. Based on their voting records, so far the "S" Men don't seem to be understanding or appreciating the voting public's desire for change.

******

Facts can be stubborn things, so let's look at the hard numbers in regard to the mayor's annual motorcycle rally/street dance. The city budgets $15,000 in expenses for the event. But the city administrator admitted this week overtime pay for police officers and public workers is not covered in that amount. Amy Hubbard, city clerk, told me last year the police needed $3,000 in overtime pay and the public works department spent nearly $1,900 in overtime pay for the event. So adding the overtime of roughly $5,000 to the budgeted expenses of $15,000 brings the total estimated cost up to $20,000.

As far as receipts toward helping cover the expenses, Hubbard tells me the city has collected $6,150 in sponsorship donations for this year. In vendor fees, the city has collected $4,860. In pre-registration fees, $180 has been received. That's roughly $11,200. The city clerk said she anticipates around $700 more coming in from other vendors. If so, we're up to $11,900 in receipts.

At this point, Hubbard said, "projected expenses" (not including the $5,000 for overtime pay) are around $11,600, indicating she thinks it's possible costs not including overtime could come in below the $15,000 budgeted figure.

Let's see how it plays out. Based on numbers provided by Hubbard, it looks very possible the city will come up $5,000 to $8,000 short in covering costs when overtime compensation for police and other city staff is figured in the equation. Whether a person thinks spending that kind of money on a motorcycle rally/street dance is a good use of taxpayer funds is of course a personal decision.

******

Had a nice visit with Bobby Kincaid, chairman of the Southern Platte Ambulance District last week. He politely wanted to know how I could say the ambulance board is proposing to raise taxes when it is moving to reduce its levy. So again I went through the simple explanation of comparing the amount of tax dollars levied last year to tax dollars proposed to be levied under the new tax rate. The fact the levy is being reduced is meaningless because the assessed valuation has grown considerably. "Why does the board need to levy $80,000 in additional taxes when it has a large budget surplus ($200,000) from last year?" I asked Kincaid.

Using the proposed 11 cent levy for this year, the district's surplus could grow to 40% of its budget. I realize saving lives is an admirable thing, but carrying a 40% budget surplus isn't going to save any more lives than carrying a more reasonable 15% budget surplus.

Kincaid then said he will be supporting an effort to lower the tax levy, which currently sits at 14 cents, to a level even lower than the 11 cent proposal listed on the district's budget hearing notice. The hearing has been reset for Aug. 30. We'll let you know what happens.

(Lowering the tax burden on the public lowers the blood pressure of your publisher. Medicate him with an email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)

 


 

Future growth will require more cowboys, less Moody

8/16/07

Platte City has not issued a new residential building permit in 18 months. Platte City's assessed value increased by $12 million over the past year, but only $1.2 million of that is new construction--the rest is due to reassessment.

Those are the "staggering" facts floated to the news media recently by Keith Moody, city administrator. Taking things a step further, in a Kansas City Star article Moody once again promoted the idea of annexation--a three-time disaster event in Platte City's recent history--as a way of solving this "slowed investment in the community."

I can only imagine what at least four of the aldermen thought of their top level employee openly promoting a policy to which these four have expressed opposition in some form or another. The city administrator is either extremely confident in his job security or completely out of touch with the people for whom he works. Maybe he is both.

In any event, it's kind of ironic, isn't it, that the person most aggressively pushing for growth through annexation is the guy whose mere presence will prevent it from happening? Let me explain.

Platte City will continue to struggle for future residential growth without change at the top. Change in the mayor's chair appears to be on the horizon. Based on the resounding fate three of his cronies met in last April's election, the writing seems to be on the wall for mayor Dave Brooks. His tenure, it seems, will come to an end next April, much to the delight of any stray and still un-neutered cats in the city. The only thing that could save Mayor Dave's political life is if too many folks jump in the race to oppose him. If there are too many cooks in the kitchen, the many anti-Brooks votes will get split up among multiple candidates and Brooks could survive. Without that scenario, Brooks' fate seems to be sealed.

But Brooks' pending departure is not the only--nor necessarily the most important--change that needs to happen if Platte City wants to eventually expand its borders, either in friendly or involuntary fashion. I feel pretty comfortable in making this prediction: Platte City will never be successful in a major annexation effort as long as Keith Moody is city administrator.

Moody's upfront role in previous unfriendly efforts, his penchant for pushing what some claim is selective code enforcement upon certain businesses in the city, and his generally weak public relations skills have made him the least popular public official in Platte County. I'm sure in his private life he's a good guy and admittedly he's had a nice little 10 or 12-year run as city administrator. One day he can tell his grandkids all about it. But it's safe to wager that his public job approval rating is lower than that of Congress. Many folks will oppose any platform pushed by Moody for the simple fact it is being pushed by Moody.

The question then becomes will the current board of aldermen--blessed with an outstanding opportunity to change the face of not only city hall but the city as a whole--act upon a chance to make a difference? Are they biding their time, waiting to make a change until Moody has helped craft the budget for next year? Or have they already fallen under the same Moody spell as their voter-expelled predecessors?

If the new guys--unlike the voters who put them into office--are happy with the same ol' same ol', they'll sit tight. If they want to lead the city into a period of future growth and prosperity, they'll have to grab the reins and cowboy up.

******

Great Scott! Head for the hills, my four-legged friends!

We all know he likes to put bad guys away. But Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd is indicating his work won't stop there. In a press release this week, the hang-'em high prosecutor announced he is now targeting another public enemy. Stand clear, law abiding citizens, because the prosecutor has declared war on the county's population of ruminant mammals of the family Cervidae.

You're probably asking yourself: What the hell? Is Cervidae a mob family in Platte County?

Sorry. Occasionally, I just like to use big words and fancy descriptions. Makes my high school English teacher proud.

Hoofed ruminant mammals of the family Cervidae are better known as deer.

Yes, deer. You got it, the prosecutor is a goin' huntin'.

In a press release detailing the sentencing of a woman convicted of shooting toward men who were hunting on a neighbor's property, Zahnd throws some love to hunters while taking a shot at those lickers of salt block.

"Missouri statutes protect lawful hunting. While there have been only a handful of prosecutions under this statute, I intend to protect hunter's rights. In addition to being an enjoyable pastime for many, hunters provide a valuable service by decreasing the deer population and reducing the number of car crashes involving deer," Zahnd wrote in his press release. Zahnd went on to say: "During jury selection, a prospective juror told of how his best friend died when his car crashed into a deer which subsequently kicked him to death in front of his family."

That apparently gruesome testimony must have ignited an anti-deer fire under Zahnd, who now wants an eye-for-an-eye when it comes to dealing with Bambi and friends. We'll keep you posted on the carnage.

******

Want another example of a "this ain't what it appears to be" tax levy setting?

Let's look at the much-maligned--and rightfully so--South Platte Ambulance District. The district has been criticized in its one-year history for alleged "kingdom building" in reference to its--some would say-- excessive tax levy.

If you still believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, the ambulance board has good news for you. They're proposing to roll back their tax levy this year from 14 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to 11 cents. Good news, right? Like last week's example, this tax "decrease" is not a decrease at all. Because of a growth of $58 million in assessed value in the district, the new proposed tax levy for South Platte Ambulance will actually acquire for the district $80,000 more in taxes than last year. It's a tax increase of 19%. South Platte Ambulance levied $426,010 in taxes last year. This year, despite the levy decrease, the district is hitting taxpayers for more than $506,000.

Ouch.

(Saddle up and ride shotgun with the publisher each week. Join his posse with an email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)

 


With some entities, a lower levy still brings a tax increase

8/9/07

I'm gearing up for football season. Spent an hour on the treadmill last night. I would have sat there longer but my rear was getting sore.

******

At this writing, it's just a matter of hours until the first episode of HBO Hard Knocks special series being filmed at Chiefs training camp is aired. I'll be watching with particular care to notice whether my mug gets any camera time. I think my best chance came when I was the only media member standing near Brodie Croyle while HBO filmed him signing autographs for a few youngsters on the far sideline after practice.

If you notice a strikingly handsome photographer wearing a red ball cap in the background, that's me. I picked up that Wisconsin Badgers hat on the way to practice that day to keep the sun off my sweet and tender head.

******

If Big 12 football is on the horizon, that means it's time for some annual hype about how good the MU football team is going to be, how they'll cruise through the Big 12 North in juggernaut fashion. Then by mid to late season, they'll be fading and Tiger fans will once again be disappointed in coach Gary Pinkel. It has become a fall tradition.

******

The invitations have hit the mail for noted political operative Jeff Roe's September wedding to Melissa Goss, the tall blonde who works for Congressman Sam Graves.
Word is the seemingly gold-plated, unquestionably heavy stock invites required considerable extra postage. A "celebration of dinner and dancing" at Union Station will follow the exchange of vows.

In addition to dinner and dancing, I'm guessing the Union Station gathering will also feature much political conversation.

No word yet on whether any alleged activist judges have been invited.

******

It's August and its tax levy setting time, so back to our weekly look at local taxing issues.
I mentioned a few weeks ago how disappointing it is to see elected officials claim they do not raise taxes when their entity's tax levy stays the same. Some make the claim to throw taxpayers off balance, but most honestly think they haven't raised your taxes if the levy remains the same. As pointed out in previous columns, the amount of the tax levy for each entity is only half of the equation necessary to determine whether a jurisdiction is raising taxes. Without knowing how many dollars of assessed valuation are being taxed, just quoting the tax levy to people is meaningless and often deceiving.

Using round numbers as an example, let's say a district's tax levy is $4 and the amount of valuation being taxed is $350 million. Let's say the next year the district keeps its levy the same at $4 but assessed valuation has grown to $400 million. More value being taxed means more tax dollars levied. They've raised more tax dollars even though the levy is the same. Pretty simple, really, once you're familiar with how the taxing system works.

******

So what is the most important question elected city board members and school board members--some of whom may not be sure how to properly read their entity's proposed budgets--need to be asking their administrators?

It is this: How many property tax dollars did we levy last year and how does that compare with the number of property tax dollars we are proposing to levy this year?
That's it. Don't let your administrators throw you seven different kinds of smoke when they give you the answer. They will try, but don't let them get away with it. There can be no smoke and mirrors. It is simple math. There is one bottom line number when it comes to property taxes levied. Ask for it and compare it to last year.

As I occasionally like to repeat myself for fun, here it is again: How many property tax dollars did we levy last year? How many are we levying this year? If the number has increased, then you are raising taxes, my friend. Nothing complicated about it.

Anytime you as an elected official set a tax rate that levies more property tax dollars than your entity levied the year before, you have increased total taxes levied upon your patrons.

******

Not only can a taxing jurisdiction raise taxes even though it keeps its levy the same, a jurisdiction can also raise taxes even though it is rolling back its levy considerably. In fact, it is proposed to be done by the Platte County R-3 School District this year.

School districts, as we all know, are the largest taxing entities, so in preparation for this article I decided to use one as an example. What I found is really quite eye opening.
The Platte County R-3 School District is proposing to roll back its tax levy this year by about 18 cents from $4.37 to $4.19. Sounds like they're doing taxpayers a huge favor, right? Not really. In fact, the R-3 school district is proposing to raise property taxes by more than 14%.

Here are the important numbers I gathered from the current and previous year's R-3 budget hearing public notices. This year, the district's assessed valuation has grown by about $70 million (19%) due in large part to reassessment. Some district officials have been overheard boasting about how the school this year is rolling back its tax levy. True, it is rolling back the levy from $4.37 to $4.19. But that tells the public nothing of substance.

The devil is in the details. Last year R-3 levied roughly $15.4 million in property taxes. This year with such a large increase in assessed valuation, the district is proposing to levy $17.6 million in property taxes, even with the levy rollback of 18 cents.

Wow. That's a 14.2% increase in the amount of property tax dollars going to R-3.
Anybody still think R-3 lowered taxes?

(Assess Ivan Foley's value with an email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)

 


 

Where is an elected watchdog when you need one?

8/2/07

It's nice to be back in The Landmark saddle after a few days at Chiefs training camp in River Falls, Wisc. Big time thanks to our exclusive advertising sponsor, the good guys at Randy Reed Pontiac-Buick-GMC, for providing us with a candy apple red 2007 Pontiac Grand Prix as our mode of transportation.

Landmark facilities manager Kurt Foley, yours truly and our ace incognito reporter with the code name of Springsteen spent Thursday night through Sunday afternoon where the river falls, the players sweat, and the KC sports media basically stands around shooting the breeze (it's easy to see why these laid back guys and gals get scooped on Chiefs stories by out-of-towners and the national media--not a whole lot of interest in breaking stories but a lot of interest in kissing up to one another. It used to be WHB radio was the exception but even those guys have gotten lazy.)

Hope you'll check out our pictures from training camp. You'll find them on pages A-12 and B-1. And if you haven't already, check out my blog detailing our training camp activities on our website. Below is the link to my training camp "diary:"

http://www.plattecountylandmark.com/Foley'sblog.htm

******

The Between the Lines BS meter is jumping off the charts when I hear coach Herm Edwards talk about rookie running back Kolby Smith, the Chiefs fifth round draft pick. Edwards is busy promoting this guy as the second coming of Barry Sanders. Frankly, I didn't see it. In our days at camp, Smith had trouble hanging on to the ball, both while running with it and while trying to catch it. To me, he also looked a bit smallish for the style of play Edwards likes to employ.

I could be proven wrong by the time the season is over, but as of now I'm of the opinion Edwards' glowing praise of this rookie is just another desperate attempt at putting negotiating pressure on star running back Larry Johnson, who is holding out for a better contract. It's his way of saying, "Hey LJ, better get in here, this rookie wants to take your job."

Something tells me LJ isn't overly concerned. He'll get his payday one way or another.

******

Sorry, you won't convince me this was coincidental.

Teachers are a special breed of people. I salute them, and whether it was deserved or not isn't the point of discussion here. But I had to grin when I saw Platte County R-3 teachers get a record 6.3% salary increase just about a month after it was revealed that the district superintendent is paid considerably more than just about any other superintendent in the region.

Hmm.

It's a perfect example of trickle down economics at work. You won't hear R-3 teachers publicly complain about the superintendent being overpaid. Why? Because they want to enjoy the trickle down benefits of spilled gravy.

Superintendent Dr. Mark Harpst helped push for the record salary increase for teachers--which was approved by the school board with practically zero public discussion. From a public relations standpoint, the superintendent almost had to do that. A good chief knows he better keep his Indians happy. That's what Harpst did. School board members went along for a willing ride with no public questions. Of course these are the same school board members who for years have unanimously voted to increase the superintendent's salary to the point it now gets regional media attention.

Occasionally, wouldn't it be nice to see a taxpayer-watchdog attitude from school board members when it comes to spending issues? Thanks to Andy Stanton and a couple others, it's happening at city hall in Platte City. But let's be honest, it rarely happens at R-3. The last really public questioning of a spending issue I can recall was the battle over whether to install artificial turf on the football field a few years back.

Are school board members intimidated by administrators to the point they won't publicly question them? Can't somebody at least fake a concerned financial question once in a while?

******

Can't wait till I get my first email from an irate reader who points out I just used the word Indians instead of Native Americans.

******

Some folks will try to tell you school board positions are not political. That's crazy talk.

Another reason you see school board members so often go with the flow on salary issues is that those board members want an endorsement from the teachers' union when said board members are up for reelection.

If that's not political behavior, what is?

******

Michael Gibbons, president pro-tem of the Missouri State Senate, must be an avid Between the Lines reader. In Tuesday's edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Gibbons hammered on a theme presented here last week. Gibbons is urging cities, school districts and other taxing entities to roll back tax rates to help homeowners facing increases in property assessments this year.

"Reassessments are never supposed to be about raising taxes," Gibbons said. "They're supposed to be about keeping property values current." Gibbons went on to urge property owners to contact local taxing jurisdictions before tax rates are set for the coming year, which happens in August. In other words, contact your local city council person, your local school board member, etc. and tell them you are concerned about your tax bill and urge them to hold the line on spending--and roll back the tax levy.

Remember, districts with tax rates set below their maximum ceiling--which is just about all of them--are not required to roll back their rate to avoid a windfall. That windfall already has exceptions for a consumer price index adjustment and for new construction revenue. Districts below their levy ceiling may have a moral obligation to do a rollback, but they are not legally obligated. So don't expect the Hancock Amendment to automatically protect you.

Concerns about your tax bill need to be addressed to your local levy setters (school board members, city council folks, etc.) before they start gettin' jiggy with your money.

(Next week, he'll mention the most important question city council members and school board members should be asking their administrators. In the meantime, get verbally jiggy with the publisher with an email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


 

Post office will feel Graves' heat; and the truth about a budget surplus

7/26/07

By the time many of you read this, The Landmark's male-dominated traveling sports team will be on the road to River Falls, Wis. for Chiefs Training Camp coverage. We're calling it the Tour de Testosterone.

Check plattecountylandmark.com for my daily blog from River Falls Thursday through Sunday. It'll be real-time blogging, and I'll even have the technological ability to post web updates from the car, so you'll get a detailed account of our trip as well as an off-beat analysis of every Chiefs practice through Sunday, an update on what the other media is up to, and of course some thoughts on life in River Falls and the surrounding area, as well as a few surprises. Check out the blog by clicking here.

All weekend long, you'll find a tab on the right hand side of our home page taking you to the blog. Email me if you have Chiefs' thoughts or questions you'd like to see our crack team get answered for you from River Falls.

The blog and all training camp coverage in The Landmark is sponsored by the good folks with the good deals at Randy Reed Pontiac-Buick-GMC.

******

Give 'em hell, Sam.

"Postal investigation sought" screamed the headline in the St. Joseph News-Press Wednesday morning. Praise the powers that be.

Congressman Sam Graves has received complaints about mail being destroyed and delayed in St. Joseph post offices and will call for a full investigation into postal operations in St. Joseph.

Don't stop there, Sam.

I placed a phone call to Graves' office Wednesday morning and followed it up with an email, urging his people to be aware of postal problems going on here in Platte County that need to be probed at the same time as the fiasco in St. Joseph. In recent days, postal delivery problems in the Platte County zip codes of 64151, 64152 and 64153 have been brought to the attention of The Landmark. I forwarded those concerns on to very able and eloquent Jason Klindt of the congressman's staff.

If you're having mail delivery problems, let me know and I will add your concerns to my list. I will periodically update Graves' people and let's see if we can't get something done about this travesty. Postal customers are telling me of slow delivery of all their mail, customers being delivered their neighbors' mail, and not getting mail delivered to their box as late as 6:30 at night.

Periodical class mailings like weekly newspapers about 10 days ago were hit with a substantial rate increase. That's about the same time we started hearing complaints of slower delivery. Slower service and higher rates are a deadly combination for the post office to be placing upon its customers.

Constituent services has always been Graves' strength. I'm confident we'll get some positive results.

*****

While on the subject of Graves, let me broadcast my prediction on next year's election.

Graves will beat Kay Waldo Cronkite Barnes by seven percentage points in November of '08. Taking it a step further, I predict he'll beat Kansas City's Queen LaTIFah by an even larger margin if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee for president.

Kay and Hillary even look a bit alike, so you just know the aggressive Graves' campaigners will have a good time with the Kay-Hillary comparisons.

******

Joe Vanover, assistant prosecutor for Platte County, wants to be the next member of Missouri's Supreme Court.

Jeff Roe's web site, The Source, reported it has acquired the complete list of applicants. I noticed Vanover's name among the 30 folks who have applied to be your next Supreme Court justice. When I reached him by phone, Vanover said it would be inappropriate for an applicant to comment. Vanover, 34, has been an assistant to Eric Zahnd for four and a half years.

Vanover's boss and the governor are tight but it's likely Vanover is still considered a longshot in this field.

******

I've got to give props this week to Platte County's own John Elliott, president of the newly-formed Adam Smith Foundation, a group billing itself as an advocacy organization committed to promoting conservative principles.

While I'm not in tune with everything about the Foundation, I am riding the train Elliott promoted in an opinion piece that appeared in the Southeast Missourian on Saturday. A section of Elliott's comments touched on a topic that I'll be hammering away on real soon here in this column space as I start going after taxing entities who are building/have built, in my opinion, what is an excess budget surplus. Frankly, I'm fed up with some taxing entities bragging "we didn't increase taxes" every year that they keep their tax levy the same.

Fact is, even when the tax levy is kept the same there is a tax increase every year that a taxing entity's assessed valuation grows. Anytime you are levying more tax dollars than you did the year before, that's a tax increase, folks. Doesn't matter that your levy is the same. When your entity's assessed valuation grows, you're taxing more value and as a result you have increased the amount of tax money you're receiving. Tax increase, plain and simple.

If you want to brag about not raising taxes, be truthful about it. Roll back your tax levy every year to the point your entity levies the same amount of tax dollars as it did the previous year. Then you can tell me you didn't raise taxes.

Back to the point at hand. Elliott did a masterful job of driving home a good point. As he noted, the term "budget surplus" is a misnomer. What "budget surplus" really means is that an overcollection of tax dollars has occurred. Those dollars belong to the people. Dear bureaucrats, please give them back.

Here's my favorite paragraph from Elliott's piece: "When it comes to money, the default position of liberals is to trust the judgment of government bureaucrats over the common sense of citizens. The Adam Smith Foundation encourages lawmakers to realize the current budget surplus is a misnomer. Rather, the government collected too much in taxes, and as such, these funds belong to the people. To fairly address this excess, the (state) government should either refund the $320 million to taxpayers or pass comprehensive tax cuts for all Missourians."

Someone yell bingo.

(Bureaucrats and big spenders beware, Ivan Foley is predicting you'll notice a hot month of August. Cool yourself quickly with an email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)

 


 

Graves talks about immigration; and Platte County assessor faces her toughest test yet

7/19/07

Tele-Town Hall is a relatively new term in our society. That's a town hall meeting held via telephone conferencing. On Tuesday night, Congressman Sam Graves held a Tele-Town Hall meeting on immigration.

I think he did it over the phone just to keep the illegals out.

******

Graves used new technology that randomly selected 30,000 Sixth District residents representing every county to be a part of the town hall. One of those randomly selected was Landmark office manager Cindy Rinehart, who listened in. It was anticipated that 1,000 residents would participate, though it was announced during the conference that 3,500 joined in.

One of the questions posed by a town hall participant to Graves was this one: "Is a North American Union being discussed secretly?"

As background, I should point out some folks say President Bush is pursuing a globalist agenda to create a North American Union, effectively erasing our borders with both Mexico and Canada. This was the hidden agenda behind the Bush administration’s true open borders policy, some conspiracy theory supporters say. Some people believe the Bush administration is pursuing a policy to expand NAFTA politically, setting the stage for a North American Union designed to encompass the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. What the Bush administration truly wants is the free, unimpeded movement of people across open borders with Mexico and Canada, they say.

Graves' answer was this:

"I have not or never would support a North American Union. Adding Mexico and Canada is a stupid idea."

******

I have a new favorite TV show. It's the animated comedy known as Li'l Bush, which lampoons the Bush administration. It features cartoon characters purporting the childhood days of George W., Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld and of course the very lampoonable Dick Cheney.

I don't care what side of the political fence you fall, there are some good chuckles in this show. It airs Wednesday nights at 9:30 on Comedy Central.

******

The writing on Li'l Bush is excellent and whoever is doing the voice for George Bush deserves an Emmy. It is dead-on.

******

It hasn't been an easy year for Lisa Pope, Platte County assessor. The recent reassessment of property resulted in a lot of upset taxpayers voicing displeasure in her direction, even though of course she was only doing her statutorily mandated job of establishing fair market value on real estate. Remember, she doesn't set tax levies. She only sets the value of your property. It is up to each individual taxing entity to set its levy at a responsible rate to avoid molesting taxpayers.

But those battles are nothing compared to what Pope is going through right now. She has been diagnosed with lung cancer. Shocking news to anyone, even more shocking to a non-smoker.

"I have never been a smoker. The doctors told me part of my situation is genetics, and part might be secondhand smoke," she said, explaining there were smokers in her family and there is a family history of cancer. Her older sister died in 1986 from ovarian cancer.
I talked to Pope one day last week and found her amazingly upbeat.

"You have to do what you have to do and go on. I have a positive view about this," she told me, adding earlier that day she had been told by doctors her cancer is confined to her lungs. "I'm doing very well."

Chemotherapy affects everybody a little differently. "They said I could get really sick. But I don't plan on getting down," Pope says.

Good for her, and she has been true to her word thus far. She had her first chemotherapy session last Friday and was still able to report for work on Monday.

"I have a great staff here and they are trying to baby me. I tell them to quit it."

Doctors have told her she'll have four to six months of treatment. "They'll test me again after I've had four treatments," said Pope, a 51-year-old divorcee.

As fellow cancer patients are known to do to try to be helpful to those in a similar fate, I shared with her my experience with chemotherapy and radiation when I battled Hodgkin's disease in the fall of 1998. A lot of the battle, I always say, is fought inside your own head. Following the advice of doctors and nurses while getting encouragement from family and friends is critical, but keeping a positive mental outlook--and staying busy to keep your mind occupied--is just as important. Pope certainly sounds like she has an upbeat mental approach working in her favor.

"This is a tough age where you have to be strong. Look at you. You went through it and you're just as ornery as ever," she told me.

Touche.

*****

This just in: Chiefs training camp coverage in The Landmark has gone corporate, baby. Call us conglomo.

You know you've got it goin' on when you get a big-time car dealer stepping forward to want to be the exclusive advertising sponsor for one of your features. The good guys and gals at Randy Reed Pontiac Buick GMC are doing just that. Randy Reed will serve as the exclusive sponsor of the daily blog I'll provide on plattecountylandmark.com from Chiefs training camp in River Falls, Wisc. next Thursday through Sunday, and they'll also be the exclusive advertiser for our print coverage, including a picture page, that will be featured in The Landmark upon our return.

(You know your presidency has gone sour when your administration becomes parodied on a weekly basis in an animated TV show. But Ivan Foley wonders who is explaining the jokes to Bush. Email your thoughts to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


 

Hey, check out all my ocean energy with these energizing effects

7/13/07

Wow, for a variety of reasons I'm operating on considerably less sleep than normal. Good thing I opened that new package of soap in the shower this morning. It's made by Zest and the wrapper says it contains "ocean energy with ultra beads." It promises "energizing effects."

So obviously I'm going to be fine.

******

I'm short-staffed this week, which initially sounds painful and slightly humbling. But what it really means is that Landmark intern Alyssa Foley and Landmark facilities manager Kurt Foley are away on a Fellowship of Christian Athletes mission trip, working in the big-city confines of Philadelphia, Pa.

Alyssa is working with those in need of help at an urban-based Vacation Bible School in Philly, while our facilities manager is working in construction for some of Philadelphia's folks in need.

If Kurt decides he really wants to make a difference, he'll go ahead and fix that crack in the Liberty Bell while he's there.

******

Tanner's sports bar in Platte City has nixed its plan to hold a Bikini Night this weekend. Guess I won't need to shave my legs after all.

******

Though Saturday night's previously scheduled Bikini Night is off, what's on is that Susan Brown--Platte County's female version of Al Gore--and her band of global warming watchdogs and anti-power plant pontificators will be hosting a Trivia Challenge at the Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Weston.

Attendees are expected to ride their bikes, wear green and bring some candles because anything less is just going to contribute to this whole global warming thing.

******

Several paragraphs into this column. Still waiting to feel those energizing effects from that bar of soap.

******

What's the difference between Hillary Clinton, Democrat, and Fred Thompson, Republican, potential presidential nominees in 2008?

One fictional internet tale describes their differences this way:

Fred Thompson and Hillary were walking down the street when they came upon a homeless person. Thompson gave the homeless person his business card and told him to come to his office for a job. He then took $20 out of his pocket and gave it to the homeless man. Hillary was very impressed, so when they came to another homeless person, she decided to help. She walked over to the homeless man and gave him directions to the welfare office. She then reached into Thompson's pocket and got out $20. She kept $15 for her administrative fees and gave the homeless person $5.

There's your difference.

******

So I've made an executive decision. It's something I do every now and then in my role here as publisher of Platte County's only relevant media outlet. Of course I only decide to make big-time publisher decisions like this one after clearing it with my employees, my dog, my bookie, my hair stylist and my therapist.

The executive decision is that I'll be setting sail for River Falls, Wisconsin later this month for another trip to cover Chiefs training camp. I'm even extending the working vacation by a day this year, making it a Thursday through Sunday excursion.

Like last year, while at camp I'll be writing a twice-a-day blog for our web site--which coincidentally is plattecountylandmark.com, funny how that works--virtually straight from the Chiefs practice field. I'll give you observations about who's looking good, who's not, as well as injury updates, observations about other media schmoes, and an update on important stuff like the Wisconsin weather and hot spots for social activity.

When we get back expect a page of full color photos in your Landmark.

******

This will be at least a three-man assignment. Making the trip to River Falls with me will be Landmark facilities manager Kurt Foley and a dedicated free lancer who has asked me to keep his name out of the paper. This tells me he is either in the Witness Protection Program or hasn't yet broken the news to his wife.

******

Our mode of transportation to River Falls is yet to be determined. Options we're considering include renting a sports car, a luxury car, a long van or a short bus.

******

I've covered two previous Chiefs summer training camps. In 1997, the Chiefs followed up my summer trip by posting a 13-3 regular season and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs (they blew it by losing to Denver in their first playoff game when Marty Schottenheimer insisted on playing Elvis Grbac at QB instead of Rich Gannon) and last year when they followed it up with another playoff appearance (they were smoked by Indy in the first round when Herm Edwards insisted on playing a punch-drunk Trent Green at QB instead of Damon Huard).

This year my good luck charm type presence is going to be severely tested. I'm picking the Chiefs for a 7-9 record this season. And that may be way too optimistic.

(Ivan Foley occasionally works minor miracles but makes no promises if Brodie Croyle ends up quarterbacking the Chiefs. Send your training camp coverage requests to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


 

The Fourth is all about stories of fireworks and gunfire
7/3/07

It's Fourth of July Eve as I write this. That's July 3 for those of you who rode the short bus to school.

In celebration, I'm penning this column with my face painted red, white and blue and a full-sized American flag waving from a pole tucked inside my pants.

It's not all that comfortable but I'm doing it for my country.

******

My plan for the Fourth is to sleep in a little bit. Next I'll grab a funnel cake, have some frozen lemonade, take a spinning ride, shoot darts at some balloon animals, and jump around in an inflatable bouncy house.

After that I think I'll head to a carnival.

******

As soon as we get the paper out today, Landmark facilities manager Kurt Foley and I will be heading out to do our annual Fourth of July shopping. We'll be picking up some kick-butt bottle rockets, high-powered Roman candles, exploding missiles, artillery shells, a dozen M-80s, six sticks of dynamite, some ice, sterile gauze and a couple black market artificial limbs.

******

Just in case you thought The Landmark had forgotten, we haven't.
Even though you haven't read anything about it for weeks now, there is still an independent audit being done of two sales tax funds at Platte County. The road sales tax and park sales tax accounts both are being examined by outside auditor Mike Groszek.

Is it just me or is this thing taking longer than a Catholic wedding? Father Mike said he would need to spend 40 hours on each fund. The contract for him to do so was approved on May 24. I guess it wasn't made clear when exactly Father Mike would be kicking his exam into high gear and/or giving the books his final blessing.

It's a good thing county officials expect the audit to find only innocent bookkeeping discrepancies and no criminal wrongdoing. A criminal would have had time to rape and pillage the entire county by now.

******

This is one of those stories that might tug at your heartstrings just a bit.
In 1986, a guy named Mike Hogan was on holiday in Kenya after graduating from Northwestern University. On a hike through the brush, he came across a young bull elephant standing with one leg raised in the air. The elephant seemed distressed, so Mike approached it very carefully. He got down on one knee and inspected the elephant's foot. He found a large piece of wood deeply embedded in it.

As carefully and gently as he could, Mike worked the wood out with his hunting knife, after which the elephant gingerly put down his foot. The elephant turned to face the man, and with a rather curious look on its face, stared at him for several tense moments. Mike stood frozen, thinking of nothing else but being trampled. Eventually the elephant trumpeted loudly, turned and walked away.

Mike never forgot that elephant or the events of that day.

Twenty-one years later, Mike was walking through the Chicago Zoo with his teenaged son. As they approached the elephant enclosure, one of the creatures turned and walked over to near where Mike and his son were standing. The large bull elephant stared at Mike, lifted its front foot off the ground, then put it down. The elephant did that several times then trumpeted loudly, all the while staring at the man.

Remembering the encounter in 1986, Mike couldn't help wondering if this was the same elephant. Mike summoned up his courage, climbed over the railing and made his way into the enclosure. He walked right up to the elephant and stared back in wonder. The elephant trumpeted again, wrapped its trunk around one of Mike's legs and slammed him against the railing, killing him instantly.

Probably wasn't the same elephant.

******

It just hit me that I never told the story I teased a couple of weeks ago after I did the ride-along with Missouri Highway Patrol Sgt. DJ Hedrick. I said I would give you Hedrick's response when I asked him if he had ever fired his weapon in the line of duty.

His answer is no, he has never fired his gun. But he has drawn his weapon. . . and more unnerving, he has been fired upon. It happened in the middle of a bitterly cold day on Feb. 2, 1996 in the little town of Rockville, population 162, in Bates County. Hedrick had been a Missouri state trooper for three years at the time.

A man, apparently despondent for a variety of reasons, was intent on shooting up the small town that day. Authorities believe the man was trying to commit "suicide by police." Hedrick and another trooper were requested to help the Bates County sheriff's office on the call of a "subject firing a weapon in the city limits." Hedrick and partner set up a perimeter to keep people from getting inside the city.

"When we set up, we were hearing gunshots. We moved to a different location to get better set up on him and saw him shooting at a truck. We went to where he was and he ran back into his house. He would periodically come out and start shooting in our direction," says Hedrick, who was armed with a shotgun. "From where I was, I couldn't see him. My partner could and was returning fire. The suspect eventually tried to get closer to my partner. When he started running out I asked him to drop his weapon and he ducked under his truck."

Hedrick said the suspect then fired three times at Hedrick, who took cover around the corner of the man's house. The shots hit the house and traveled into the home. Had the bullets come out the other side of the structure, Hedrick likely would have been struck.

The guy was intentionally trying to shoot through the house to get to Hedrick. Hedrick's partner was able to disarm the suspect by bouncing bullets off the ground and into his body while the man was under the truck. The suspect eventually dropped his weapon due to his injuries from the ricocheted bullets. The man ended up serving seven years in jail.

Hedrick's partner that day is now the sheriff of Bates County.


(Though he often votes Republican, you'll never see Ivan Foley in a cage with a bunch of elephants. Ask him about his trunk via an email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)

 


Watch for this special firework; and more on school salaries
6/29/07

Hi, I'm Ivan Foley and thanks for inviting me into your home. Now put down the pepper spray.

******

If you like your fireworks big and you like 'em loud--and isn't that the purpose?--then check out one of many public shows next Wednesday evening. There's a listing of many Platte County bang-em up displays in this issue of your Landmark.

******

Rumor has it the grand finale at the Platte City fireworks show will illuminate to form the face of Mayor Dave Brooks.

That's per orders from Mayor Dave Brooks.

******

My favorite night-time firework last year was one called the Big Bang. I think it was named after CK Rairden's high school girlfriend.

******

It's time for the second Between the Lines episode of The $162,000 Man.

In part one last week, The Landmark exclusively broke the story of the impending departure of Dr. Mark Harpst, the highly successful superintendent at the Platte County R-3 School District for the past 11 years.

We also last week brought you up to speed on a salary comparison of area superintendents. The comparison of many area school leaders was done by the St. Joseph News Press. It showed that R-3 pays its superintendent considerably more than most other school districts in the area. The only district in the comparison with a higher superintendent salary than R-3 was North Kansas City. (You'll have to see last week's column for a complete comparison . . . space in The Landmark is getting so hard to come by that I don't want to waste it by repeating myself. Just remember other schools with enrollments similar to R-3 had superintendent salaries listed at $40,000 to $60,000 less per year).

Harpst makes $162,500 at a school with an enrollment of around 2,700. North Kansas City's school leader is paid $177,632 at a district with an enrollment of 17,369.

As I reported last week (here I go repeating myself), school board prez Bob Shaw said R-3 is a district in transition and is more comparable to districts like North Kansas City, Liberty and Park Hill than schools like Cameron, St. Joseph, Chillicothe, Maryville, Savannah and Smithville.

Inspired by the words of Bob Shaw--and who isn't these days?--I asked R-3's neighbors to the south for their pertinent information. They quickly and graciously replied.

Park Hill pays its superintendent $161,750 per year. That's $750 less than R-3 pays its leader.

To continue the comparison, Park Hill has an enrollment of 9,765 students. That's more than 3.5 times the number of students at R-3.

"We're a $30 million business," Shaw stated last week, though to his honest credit he called me back this week to let me know the R-3 operating budget is actually $28 million, not $30 million.

Park Hill's annual operating budget last year was more than $97 million. I guess that means Park Hill is a $97 million business.

I then called Jethro Bodine, official Landmark mathematician, and he told me $97 million is almost 3.5 times more than $28 million.

Now granted, Harpst has been on the job at R-3 for 11 years. Park Hill's superintendent, Dr. Dennis Fisher, is getting ready to start his third year at his school. Obviously there's something to be said for a reasonable financial reward for longevity.

As I said last week (another repeat), a man makes what a man can make. Don't blame Harpst if you think his pay is too high. Unlike our elected county officials, he doesn't set his own salary.

When it comes to financial packages for its superintendent, it appears the R-3 school board is taking this "we're a district in transition" concept pretty seriously.

Some folks will even say they're way ahead of the curve on that one.

******

A Southern country preacher had a teenage son and it was getting time the boy should give some thought to choosing a profession. Like many young men, the boy didn't really know what he wanted to do, and he didn't seem too concerned about it.

One day while the boy was away at school, his father decided to try an experiment. He went into the boy's room and placed on his study table these four objects: a Bible, a silver dollar, a bottle of whiskey and a Playboy magazine.

"I'll just hide behind the door," the old preacher said to himself. "When he comes home from school, I'll see which object he picks up. If it's the Bible, he's going to be a preacher like me and what a blessing that would be. If he picks up the dollar, he's going to be a businessman, and that would be OK too. But if he picks up the bottle, he's going to be a no-good drunkard and Lord, what a shame that would be. And worst of all, if he picks up that magazine he's gonna be a skirt-chasin' bum."

The old man waited anxiously and soon heard his son's footsteps as he entered the house whistling and headed for his room. The boy tossed his books on the bed, and as he turned to leave the room he spotted the objects on the table. With curiosity in his eye, he walked over to inspect them. Finally, he picked up the Bible and placed it under his arm. He picked up the silver dollar and dropped it into his pocket. He uncorked the bottle and took a big drink while he admired this month's centerfold.

"Lord have mercy," the old preacher disgustedly whispered. "He's gonna be a Congressman."

(Ivan Foley is a believer in Bibles and silver dollars but not so much in whiskey and Playboy magazine. In other words, he's only half qualified to be a Congressman. Console him via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)

 


 

R-3 prepping for life without Harpst; Are politics in his future?
6/21/07

They aren't excited about publicly acknowledging it, but it's obvious to any alert news-gathering eyes that Platte County R-3 officials are beginning preparations for life after Dr. Mark Harpst.

The fact hit home with me when I noticed on the agenda for an R-3 school board "retreat" on Saturday was an item listed as "superintendent/personnel search." An item like that isn't thrown out for consumption on a publicly-distributed document unless winds of change are beginning to blow. With a phone call to Harpst on Tuesday I was able to confirm several things.

Harpst--who has been a highly successful superintendent for the school district for the past 11 years--doesn't like talking about it but confessed to me he has indicated to the school board that it's possible he will be hanging it up after "another year or two." His current contract will expire at the end of the 2008-09 school year. While he emphasized there is nothing at this moment to announce, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out it's possible something could be announced sooner rather than later. "I have told them it's something they need to start having conversations about," Harpst said.

School board president Bob Shaw said the item was on the agenda simply to pick the brains of the only two current school board members--Dick Modin and Carey Rolofson--who have previously gone through a search for a superintendent. Shaw said he wanted the item placed on the agenda because he wanted input from those two men about the process they went through, things they would do the same, what they might do differently the next time a superintendent search is needed. "I'm just trying to be prudent to protect the school district," he said, adding it is part of long-range planning.

But as Harpst's comments indicate, it's possible that long range plan could be kicking in fairly soon. Harpst is only 51 years old, but an attractive teacher/administrator retirement plan no doubt is an incentive to step away from the daily grind at an early age. "He has far outstayed the average for a superintendent," Shaw said. "I think the state average is five years."

Harpst is aware of his longevity at R-3. He said one more year and he will be in a tie with Gerald Hart for longest tenure as a superintendent at the district. If he fulfills the remaining two years of his contract, then obviously he would retire as the longest-tenured leader in district history.

******

When he does decide to step away from R-3, what will the future hold for Mark Harpst? I told him that a year or more ago I had already heard his name being rumored as a candidate for political office. He acknowledged he has some thoughts in that direction.

"There's nothing I'd really want to share at this point. But I have given consideration to those kinds of things," he said in a follow-up phone conversation with me Wednesday morning.

The rumor being bandied about last year was that Harpst--who has excellent people skills--would run for county commissioner in 2008. That won't happen, he told me. "I have no intention of running this next year. I'm really pleased with the people we have there now," he said, but added: "At some point I would consider a state level or county level political position. I want to run where there is a community need. But I've got too much going on at Platte County R-3 to give it serious thought."

******

He wants to run where there is a community need? Any chance he could be convinced to move into the city limits of Platte City and run for mayor? "I'm not commenting on that," Harpst answered quickly.

******

In a related situation, a front page report in Wednesday's St. Joseph News-Press may have been an eye-opener for some readers and taxpayers. The article noted the St. Joseph School Board has approved a 3.3% pay raise for its superintendent, upping her salary to $118,800. As a sidebar to the story was a graph showing the superintendent salaries and enrollments of eight area school districts. It shows Harpst's salary at R-3 to be $162,500, higher than all schools in the comparison with the exception of North Kansas City's superintendent salary at $177,632. North Kansas City's enrollment is 17,369 students to 2,721 for R-3.

Superintendent salaries and enrollments of other schools used in the comparison: Cameron, $98,300 and 1,715; Chillicothe, $115,000 and 1,874; Maryville $102,000 and 1,337; St. Joseph, $118,800 and 11,363; Savannah $108,718 and 2,351; and Smithville, $118,411 and 2,071.

Since many of those schools are members of the same conference--the MEC--that R-3 has been a member of (R-3 is now leaving the MEC), it would not be out of line to expect some taxpayers to have a comment about the level of the superintendent's salary at R-3. From my own viewpoint, I confess I had no idea his salary had risen to that level--my guess would have been in the range of $120,000-$130,000. He was hired at around $75,000 when he started 11 years ago.

And I'm not saying Harpst doesn't deserve it--obviously he has the track record to pull that kind of salary somewhere or he wouldn't be getting it at R-3. This is America and workers earn what the market is willing to pay.

R-3's response? "The reason he gets the salary he gets is that he has been here 11 years and has presided over a period of great advancement for this school district. We're a district in transition that is more comparable to Liberty, North Kansas City and Park Hill than the other schools in that comparison," said Shaw, the school board president. "He has been previously honored as superintendent of the year. He is great at staff retention, staff development, bond issues. .. the ship has run pretty smoothly during his time here. We rely on him to do so many things. Public relations, he's a school finance expert, he's the best we have at handling personnel, handling parents. We rely on him a lot," Shaw told me, adding he recalls Harpst being given raises of about $7,500 per year over the last few years.


(A man makes what a man can make. Ivan Foley makes journalistic goodness at a cost of only 50 cents per week. Email him at
ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)

 


Sopranos whack the viewing public; And 'the chase'
6/14/07

I can't believe I fell for it. It's true, I fell victim to Tony Soprano. I was his final casualty. The head of the HBO mob family left me swimmin' with the fishes. The series finale for the Sopranos was such a dud it made me remember why I quit watching the show a few years ago. Lots of build up, lots of dialogue that makes you think something exciting is going to happen, but more times than not, very little action. It was always a letdown. . . that's why I didn't give it a second thought when I canceled my HBO subscription a couple years back. But as earlier confessed, I got caught up in all the hype of the Soprano series finale. I plopped my tired butt down on the couch Sunday night a few minutes before the final show would get rolling and dialed DirecTV. A few punches of buttons through their automated phone system and shazam, I had HBO again. An hour later, I was sorry I did. What a dud. What a sham. I want my money back.

******

Where are all those Soprano junkies, including newspaper columnists and men on the street who last week bragged about the upcoming Sopranos finale and how great it was going to be? Huh? Where are ya? You're all awfully quiet this week. Haven't heard any of you bragging about how great it was. Where are ya now? It's like trying to find somebody who voted for Jimmy Carter. Can't believe you guys talked me into believing the Sopranos had changed. The Sopranos ended the same way I remember it a few years ago when I tried to become a fan: Lots of pomp, little action. I'm sure it pulled some good ratings thanks to gullible viewers like me, but that final episode should be mounted on a meat hook and riddled with bullets.

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I still can't get over it. Instead of mob boss Tony Soprano filling somebody with lead, the final episode had mob boss Tony Soprano lecturing his son about how hot a catalytic converter gets on an SUV. Whew, riveting television. And Tony, how often should we be changing our oil?

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I guess I can complain all I want but I'm still the fool who ordered HBO, huh?

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Landmark facilities manager Kurt Foley, 16-year-old son of the publisher, likes to show up at the office in a tuxedo T-shirt. I think it's his way of saying 'I wanna be formal, but I'm here to work up a sweat.'

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Ah, the dangers of copy and paste. Hey, did anybody notice last week that we let the paper get out with a headline--the one about the Platte City Park Board wanting clarity and board member Bill Burnett resigning--with a story about mold at the courthouse pasted below it? Of course I ask in jest. Trust me, I know you noticed. I think 95% of you called me. But that's music to my ears. The only thing worse than having a mix-up get noticed would be having a mix-up go unnoticed. At least this way I know people are paying attention. Had none of you called or written, I would have been extremely concerned. Nobody in this business ever likes to make mistakes. It's been known to cause cursing. For me, it prevents a good night's sleep as I toss and turn kicking myself for not catching the blunder or kicking myself for not having put someone else in a position to catch the mistake before it made it to print. But as one of my mentors used to say, it's not mistakes such as typos or paste-up blunders like the one last week that get to you the most. We're all human and the public will generally be forgiving of those things. Factual errors are what really eat a whole in your stomach. As a result, paste-up blunders and typos can be mentally put behind us fairly quickly. But errors in the reporting of facts are what cost journalists jobs and have been known to cause career changes.

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The second episode of 'On Patrol with the Highway Patrol' is on our front page this week. When I tell friends and family about the pursuit of a suspect that occurred during my ride-along with the Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. D.J. Hedrick, the first question I get is: How fast were you going? The honest answer is I don't know. It wasn't an unsafe speed, I can tell you that. As the trooper and I got back in the car (I was already close to the passenger side door as I saw the suspect leaving the scene so was able to jump in and be buckled up by the time Sgt. Hedrick got in the patrol car--the last thing I wanted to do was to slow down an officer doing his job), the suspect's vehicle had already rounded a bend out of sight. At that point, my natural instinct was to try to help gain a visual of the ridin' dirty suspect. As a result, I never once thought to glance at the speedometer so I could notate the speed for my story. It actually made me feel good when during the pursuit as we took the 72nd St. exit ramp and looked far ahead, Sgt. Hedrick asked: "Is that him?" Hey, maybe he was just talking aloud to himself. But at that point I felt I was being asked to be part of the solution and was not just along for the ride.

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During our night shift ride-along, I would have been remiss not to ask Sgt. Hedrick if he has ever fired his weapon in the course of duty. Next week, I'll tell you his answer.

(Ivan Foley fires his journalistic weapon on a weekly basis. Shoot back via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


Gotta love those Food Network employment contracts
6/8/07


The new Kevin Costner movie debuted at No. 4 at the box office this past weekend. The film, entitled Mr. Brooks, is about an ego-driven small town mayor who refers to himself in the third person, attempts to build an empire through a land grab, has a staff that antagonizes the public, holds illegally closed meetings and does all this while trapping and neutering stray cats in his spare time. It's rated R for ridiculous.

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I probably won't see the film. I've lived through it the past five years.

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After battling nasty symptoms of a sinus infection for three or four days, I woke up Sunday morning with what I thought was a good idea. My brilliant plan was to run to an urgent care center in St. Joseph as soon as it opened at 10 a.m. The idea being to get in fairly quickly, get seen by whatever doc was on duty for my good friends at Heartland and get prescriptions that would make me healthy enough to get back to producing journalistic excellence, or at least journalistic ho-humness, by the time I returned to the office on Monday. But upon arrival at the urgent care location, it was clear that a boatload of other people woke up Sunday morning with that same "good idea." The waiting room was pretty well packed by the time I walked in about 10:05. Some of those people must have spent the night in a tent outside the door. No wonder they're sick. As I started to fill out some paperwork, a receptionist with a familiar look called me by name. I must have had one of those 'Do I know you?' gazes momentarily, because she then identified herself by saying she normally worked at the Heartland Clinic in Platte City. "I knew your face was familiar," I said, feeling a little sheepish for not recognizing her more quickly. Not to start rumors, but at one point she also could be overheard saying aloud to her co-workers: "I love Ivan." But again, let's not start rumors. I just wanted to brag that somebody out there loves me. I settled in for what would be a long wait. One of those large-sized plasma screen TV's filled a good portion of a wall and I plopped down in a seat with a straight-on look at the screen. The TV was tuned to the Food Network. For the next three hours, I had a front row seat for cooking show after cooking show. As each of the half hour shows rolled on, I noticed a pattern. All the cooks were female. All of them were attractive, bordering on hot. And they all were dressed to kill, with fresh makeup, painted lips, not a hair out of place. And most wearing low-cut tops exposing plenty of cleavage. Somehow I don't recall Mom looking like that when she fried two chickens for a family of nine every Sunday. On the Food Network, breasts in the kitchen are not confined to the chickens. The first two shows were by blondes whose names I did not previously know and now cannot remember. Then came a little perky gal by the name of Rachel Ray. We had met once before--well, I had seen her on the tube once before, isn't that the same thing? Rachel had me at hello. She had a little more personality than the previous two. She also had the low-cut top thing going on. That must be required in a Food Network employment contract. The fourth show featured a smoking hot (of course) brunette with a foreign accent. Again, well-endowed. Not a low-cut top but instead a tight-fitting blouse or sweater (I'm a guy, don't smack me around for lacking the fashion details) that showed she was extremely healthy. That healthiness must be required in a Food Network employment contract. What made this cook different from the previous three was that she was spewing plenty of double entendre and sexual innuendo as she described the process of preparing the meal. I'd love for somebody at the Food Network to dispute that, because while there are few things in this world at which I am adept, I consider myself extremely adept at double entendre and innuendo. While many of the references were well-disguised, this lady did it so often it was making me uncomfortable. . . and that takes some doing. Kids were in the waiting room. Was I watching a cooking show or soft porn? I've been to bachelor parties with fewer sexual references. I almost expected her to look into the camera and ask in her sultry tone: "Hello. Is that a spatula in your pocket or are you just happy to be watching my show?" Just as the well-known phrase "Never trust a skinny cook" started running through my head, the fifth show featured a heavy-set, down-home looking lady. She fit the profile of what most of us probably conjure up when we think of good cooks--the Aunt Martha types. In other words, she wasn't painted up like a Las Vegas showgirl. "She's probably the best cook of them all," I remember thinking to myself. I'd like to wrap this up intelligently but right now I can't even remember why I started telling this story. It was my first long-term exposure to the Food Network. And it was interesting, I'll give 'em that.

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Hope you'll take a few minutes to read the front page report on The Landmark's ride-along with the Missouri Highway Patrol. This week's episode should whet your appetite for the finale next week when I'll provide the detailed account of a suspect fleeing from Sgt. DJ Hedrick. More pictures to come next week as well. And plenty of commentary about it right here in Between the Lines. My public thanks to Sgt. Hedrick for extending the opportunity to ride shotgun Memorial Day weekend on what turned out to be an exciting Saturday night/Sunday morning.

(Take part in a weekly ride-along with Ivan Foley right here on The Landmark's jet plane. Put in your request to sit in the co-pilot's chair via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


A quick glance at the past 25 years at the ol' Landmark
6/1/07

Spent part of my Memorial Day weekend in a unique journalistic experience. Can't wait to share some of the gory details--complete with pictures---- with you in next week's edition. How's that for a shameless tease?

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It's been a "rock the house" kind of week around the ol' Landmark office. A non-stop party. The typesetters are getting italic. Not really. But it sounds good, anyway. Last week's issue marked the beginning of this newspaper's 143rd year of continuous publication. Fifty-two weeks a year for a full 142 years. Let's see, 142 years at 52 weeks per year equals (I think) 7,384 straight weeks of Landmark journalistic goodness being delivered to loyal readers across Platte County. And to think the baseball gods make such a big deal out of Cal Ripken, Jr. playing a few consecutive games.

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And the incognito party rolls on. This week marks my 25th anniversary at The Landmark. I showed up here during the last week of May in 1982 after a freshman year at Missouri Western State College. Been here ever since. I came to Platte County not knowing a soul. Now sometimes I feel like I know everyone's soul. I'm sure some folks think I have overstayed my welcome. Learn to deal with it.

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Twenty five years. Doris Gerner hadn't even been elected county clerk yet. At the time I started walking the halls of the Platte County Courthouse--long before the Platte County Administration Building was constructed--Doris was working as an assistant to county treasurer Fran Durham. I used to pop in and visit the two nicest ladies at the courthouse nearly every time I set foot in the place. Next week Doris gets installed as a member of the Platte County Democrats' Hall of Fame.

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In 1982, one of the first news sources I developed was Frank Downing, Jr., who at the time was the county's planning and zoning director. He helped me gain a geographic knowledge of the county, among other things, and we often lunched together to shoot the breeze about a variety of topics. Junior, as he is called by those who know him, is a fellow cancer survivor who is now the 80-something-year-old mayor of Dearborn and remains a Between the Lines friend. Several years ago Junior said he has me listed to serve as one of his pallbearers. While I'd be honored to do it, who's to say I'll outlive the young mayor?

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Twenty five years. That was a long time ago. Platte County politics was dominated by the Democratic party. The Landmark's editorial page leaned way to the left. Boy, that was a long time ago.

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Twenty five years. That was a long time ago. Democrat Sue Dance was a loud "look at me" type county commissioner who occasionally liked to try to intimidate the media, especially 19-year-old reporters. Over the years as I have developed the art form of rearranging mental furniture and tap dancing on last nerves, I have longed for Sue Dance to make a political comeback.

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Sometimes I'm glad I have a memory like an elephant. Other times, not so much.

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I loved covering county commission meetings when Ralph Wittmeyer and Max Hunt were in office together.

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Twenty five years ago. The legendary, cigar-chomping, poker-playing Truman Glenn was mayor of Platte City. I enjoyed casual chats with him at his place of business, Truman's Clothing Mart, which was located across the street from city hall, which at the time was in the tiny building in the 200 block of Main Street now occupied by Steve Wegner's realty operation. Truman always told you what was on his mind.

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A George state trooper pulled a car over on I-95 about two miles south of the Georgia/South Carolina state line. When the trooper asked the driver why he was speeding, the driver answered that he was a juggler on his way to do a show and didn't want to be late. The trooper told the driver he was fascinated by juggling and if the drier would do a little juggling for him then he wouldn't give him a ticket. But the driver told the trooper that he had sent all of his equipment on ahead and didn't have anything to juggle.
The trooper told him that he had some flares in the trunk of his patrol car and asked if he could juggle them. The trooper got three flares, lit them and handed them to the juggler. While all this was going on, a drunk from Souther Carolina pulled his car in behind the trooper and watched the performance. He then went over to the patrol car, opened the rear door and got in. Puzzled, the trooper walked to the patrol car and asked the drunk what he was doing. The drunk replied: "You may as well take my ass to jail. I can't pass that test."

(Give the publisher a breathalyzer test via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)

 


New auditor, same problems; And isn't it ironic?
5/25/07

New auditor. Same problems. In a nutshell, that sums up the situation at the Platte County Administration Building this week, as the county commission for the second time in less than a year has been put in a position to hire an independent auditor to clean up a county bookkeeping mess that elected officials have been unable to solve. Whether incompetence is the reason can be debated, but what can't be argued is that the appearance of incompetence is present. An auditor whose campaign pledge when she defeated Sandra Thomas' top assistant for the office last fall was basically "Vote for me because if I'm elected the county won't have to pay for special independent audits" now must swallow some pride and sit tight while the county pays for a special independent audit. Oops. Presiding commissioner Betty Knight put it succinctly this week when she said: "It makes people think that various offices are not doing their jobs in the county and I think we ought to be better than that." Classic quote. Now excuse me for a moment while I write a memo to myself. Dear Ivan: Over the past two years Betty Knight has gone from saying nothing of substance in media interviews to suddenly showing a knack for summing up a complicated situation in one sentence. At this pace she may have a future as a Landmark columnist once her political career is over. P.S.: On the way home, stop at Cash Saver to buy bananas. OK, I'm back. The real topic at hand is the new county auditor, Siobhann Williams, and her seeming inability or reluctance to timely tackle a task her colleagues need completed in order for the wheels of county government to continue to turn--and her quick temper with her colleagues when her inability or unwillingness to do so was brought to public attention in what most readers I'm sure felt was a harmless article in The Landmark last week. For quick review, the article said hey, the county director of public works doesn't know how much money is in the road sales tax fund because spreadsheets using information given to him don't match what's on the books in the treasurer's office, and hey, the public works director has asked the county auditor for help in determining how much money is in the fund, and hey, the auditor has told county folks and The Landmark that she is too busy to figure it out just yet but will do so just as soon as she can. What wasn't mentioned in our article--and well could have been--is that not only are there questions about road tax money, but county officials again have concerns about the park sales tax accounting, one year after hiring an outside auditor to clean up a $195,000 discrepancy. And we also could have mentioned last week that the county was already talking about bringing in the outside auditor to try to clean up its second bookkeeping train wreck in less than 12 months. But we didn't. The Landmark intentionally went soft on the topic, hoping to give the people light so they could find their own way. Showing political naivete and a short fuse that might someday be her political downfall if she doesn't take a deep breath, Williams' reaction to last week's story was to go after the public works director, Greg Sager. Just hours after reading last week's Landmark, Williams fired off an email to Sager. I'm not a doctor, but in layman's terms here's what she said: "I will be subjecting your department in general and the road sales tax fund specifically to a digital rectal exam, a full anal probing, if you will." And I think she even expressed a desire to bend Sager over the desk and initiate a prostate exam. Suddenly the auditor who earlier said she didn't have time to provide colleagues with a bottom line balance was sending notice she was going to crawl through people's body cavities with a microscope. An ugly and time-consuming chore. She said she will review receipts, expenditures, TIF disbursements, and compliance with contracts the county has with various municipalities for the distribution of road tax funds. She even mentioned this newspaper, specifically asking Sager for a copy of the spreadsheet referenced in last week's Landmark article. Again, I'm not a doctor or a CPA, but doing that kind of review could take months, couldn't it? And this from an auditor who said she is already snowed under. But Sager's response to Williams was perfect. He basically outfitted the new auditor in a clown suit. Much of the information the auditor was demanding from Sager--such as receipts and disbursements--is actually handled by other offices. .. specifically the office of treasurer Bonnie Brown, a good friend of Williams who in fact managed the new auditor's election campaign last fall. So if she follows through with her promise to probe, Williams will spend very little time desperately seeking Sager and instead will have to disembowel Brown. Isn't it ironic?

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If it mattered whose backside occupies the sixth chair on the Platte City Board of Aldermen, right now I would be penning a hard-hitting editorial on the mayor's choice--approved by the aldermen--to replace previous seat-warmer Bill Knighton. But it really doesn't matter. If she shows up for meetings, the mayor's lone confidant on the board--the newly-appointed Marsha Clark--will be outnumbered anytime the mayor tries to bully through one of his patented ridiculous proposals. Besides, it has been my experience in covering government that on a six member board you'll find at least one person simply along for the ride. We have found our passenger.

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Platte City lost a good government watchdog---and I lost one of my favorite readers--with the passing of Don Christal last week. Don died at his home on Mill Street in Platte City last Thursday at the age of 74. I loved talking to the guy. I could always count on Don for a "pep talk" when he thought I was going too soft on the folks at city hall (has that ever really happened?) If he thought I was letting elected officials slide by without being critiqued, Don Christal would be on the phone. "You need to get on (insert any public official's name here) about this" or "You need to get on their (butts) about that. . . " Had I always followed Don's suggestions, this column would have turned into the printed version of the Jerry Springer Show.But I enjoyed his phone calls and visits immensely. He will be missed.

(Probe the publisher electronically, but please not rectally, via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)

 


Congressional race is Cronkite-Barnes vs. Reagan-Graves; Homework needed on mayor's nomination
5/18/07

The U.S. Postal Service increased the price of a first class stamp from 39 cents to 41 cents on Monday. If the higher rate means quicker service, the post office will be able to lose your mail faster than ever before.

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With his name being dragged into the major national story about whether he was on a "hit list" of U.S. Attorneys who were targeted for replacement by the Bush Administration/Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, I figured it was time last Friday to make a phone call to longtime Between the Lines pal Todd Graves, former Platte County prosecutor who served as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri until March of last year. If nothing else I just wanted to converse with a guy whose name was being plastered on the front pages and in the editorials of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and heaven forbid, the Kansas City Star. Nah, in reality, I just wanted to be sure the guy still had his mental bearings after being dragged into a national media circus. Trust me, he does. So I had Graves on the cell phone as I drove around Platte City during the noon hour. He even had the displeasure of listening in as I ordered my lunch at the Arby's drive-through window. His ears were pierced by my loud exchange with the fast food employee on the other end. Anything he says on the record right now has the potential to become a national headline. So our conversation on Friday was simply a friendly chat for background purposes. But as soon as the national onslaught dies down, watch for an exclusive Todd Graves interview with The Landmark that will cover a variety of topics, including the national "hit list" story. It will be worth the wait.

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From one Graves to another. Former Kansas City mayor Kay Waldo Barnes announced she will challenge veteran Congressman Sam Graves in '08. She made the announcement in St. Joseph, and her press staff is referring to her now as Kay Waldo Cronkite Barnes, working in her relationship to the former liberal-slanted CBS newsman Walter Cronkite, who is a St. Joseph native. Her new name change has quickly become fodder for newspaper columnists (check out The Landmark's Brian Kubicki by clicking here) and for the Graves' people. "On the first day of the campaign she changed her name. I can't wait to see what she does in the first month of the campaign," said Jeff Roe, the notorious campaign staffer expected to once again lead Graves' reelection effort. "She will do anything to get elected, including changing her name," Roe said when I buzzed him for comment on Tuesday. I wondered aloud whether Sam Graves had any ties to famous conservative lineage that the he could drop into his name in response to Barnes suddenly invoking a Cronkite connection. "Maybe we'll call him Sam Reagan Graves," Roe joked.

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Will Graves be hurt by his perceived loyalty to the ever-slumping in the approval ratings George W. Bush?"On issues of importance to the Sixth District, such as immigration and school vouchers, Sam disagrees with the president vehemently. He agrees with the president on protecting our country and cutting taxes," Roe said. In addition, since Bush won't be on the ballot in '08, the focus will be more on the Republican presidential nominee and less on the outgoing incumbent, Roe believes. The war in Iraq is getting less popular nationwide but the perception here is that it is still a supported effort in the Sixth District. "The war is taking longer than folks had hoped and obviously some mistakes have been made, but I don't know a single person who thinks if we pull out of Iraq that terrorism is reduced or the conflict with Islamic militants is over," Roe told me. "The Sixth District wants our nation to be safe and free. Most voters are willing to make that sacrifice." And of course there were more shots to be fired across the bow of Barnes. "She claims to be from St. Joseph but she has not lived in St. Joe since the Korean War. Just because she goes up there to see her mom doesn't mean she knows the values and priorities of the area."

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Roe, by the way, will be getting hitched this fall. He will be tying the knot with Graves' staffer Melissa Goss, the tall blonde you see quite often representing the congressman around the Sixth District. Their wedding reception will be held at Union Station and will feature a menu ranging from pigs-in-a-blanket to sushi. "It will be two worlds colliding," Roe says.

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Platte City's current board of aldermen is worthy of much praise for the way they have handled themselves in response to the voters' overwhelming request for change at city hall. Excellent job by five folks who are still relative newcomers to the political realm. This group has the potential to be great.

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I encourage the aldermen to do their homework on Mayor Dave "I'm just lookin' for a friend" Brooks' nomination of park board member Marsha Clark to replace Bill Knighton on the board of aldermen. Three summers ago during a parks and rec controversy, The Landmark researched attendance records of park board members and discovered Clark had missed more than 50% of meetings in the preceding year. It's also notable she couldn't bring herself to be present at the aldermen meeting where her nomination was touted by the mayor. It's also public knowledge to those of us who follow the trail that Clark has been a longtime ally of Brooks on park matters. Whether aldermen feel the need to fight Brooks on this remains to be seen. They may choose to simply let Brooks have his way, knowing full well the pro-Brooks contingent on the board will still be outnumbered.

(Like Kay Waldo Cronkite Barnes, Ivan Foley is known by many names. We just can't print most of them. Email him at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)

 


Despite heck and/or high water, Between the Lines marches on
5/10/07

Though it's graduation time--and flood waters are the talk of the county--there's no crying in this column space. Amid all the pomp and circumstance, and come heck or high water, the Between the Lines show must go on.

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I must be catching a glimpse of too much Sunday night baseball on ESPN. Last night I had a dream I was pitching to Joe Morgan. No kidding. I struck him out with a curveball low and inside.

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The really weird part is Johnny Bench was my catcher.

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Monday night I saw a group of guys load a pickup with coolers full of beer, drive to the river and sit there sipping cold ones while watching the water rise. I'm figuring that's the redneck interpretation of the technical meteorological term known as a flood watch.

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That's part of the downhome attraction of country folk. Easily entertained. And they can turn a potential disaster into a reason to party.

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The peeps in charge of naming thoroughfares at Bean Lake were certainly forward-thinkers. A notification came out Tuesday afternoon announcing the only streets under water at Bean Lake were Swamp Road and River Road.

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Time to say goodbye for a bit to Landmark reporter Stacy Wiedmaier, a Park University student who leaves this Saturday to begin a summer internship with the Desert Sun in Palm Springs, Cal. Her full time, unpaid internship will include covering local government, schools, etc. for the daily paper and working as a reporter for one of the five weekly publications the Desert Sun operates. Let's try to follow her progress on the web at thedesertsun.com. She'll be back to Platte County in August for her final year at Park.

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You know we take pride in our role as a consumer watchdog here in Between the Lines. With that in mind, it's time for a consumer-alert for regular bait and tackle customers to keep from getting taken advantage of. Over the last month my buddy has become the victim of a clever scam while out shopping. He was simply going out to get fishing supplies and experienced something quite traumatic. Don't be naive by thinking it couldn't happen to you. Here is how the scam works: Two seriously good-looking young ladies come over to your car as you are packing your goods in the trunk. They both start wiping your windshield with a rag and glass cleaner, with plenty of cleavage flowing out of their skimpy T-shirts. When you thank them and offer a tip, they decline and instead ask for a ride to another fishing store. You agree and they get into the back seat. On the way, they start getting frisky with one another. Then one climbs over the front seat and starts putting her hands all over you while the other one steals your wallet. My buddy had his wallet stolen April 4th, 9th, 10th, twice on the 15th, again yesterday and very likely again this coming weekend, providing he can buy some more wallets.

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This week we're proud to announce the presentation of the annual Landmark English Award, given to a top writing student at Platte County R-3 High School. The winner is selected by a faculty panel at the school. It's the 26th year we have given the award, which includes a $250 cash prize from the newspaper and an award certificate with my valuable autograph upon it. This larger-than-large program was created to help foster an interest in the English language.
Here's your complete list of winners from first to the most recent: 1982: Natalie Parrett; 1983: Tamera Jones; 1984: Shane Lee Zembles; 1985: Amy Deterding; 1986: Chaundra Crawford. 1987: Sherry Stanton; 1988: Rebecca Ann Brown; 1989: Lisa Pancake; 1990: Jennifer Fowler; 1991: Jennifer Donnelli; 1992: Tyra Miller. 1993: James Davis; 1994: Megan Boddicker (later became a Landmark employee, now a teacher at R-3); 1995: Kerry Durrill; 1996: Jamie Knodel; 1997: Laura Donald; 1998: Christa Fuller; 1999: Alison Miller (later became a Landmark employee); 2000: Alison Coons; 2001: Valerie French; 2002: Devon Paul; 2003: Tara Gutshall; 2004: Elizabeth Anderson; 2005: Anne Mullins; 2006: Branson Billings; and 2007: Kelsie Blakley.

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Congratulations to Katie (Swaney) Smith for being nominated as the next director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture by Gov. Matt Blunt. If approved by the state senate, she will become the first woman to hold this job since it was established in 1933.
Smith, the daughter of Hal and Peggy Swaney, grew up on the Swaney farm near Platte City. She holds a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from MU. She previously worked as the deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs. She came to that job after holding several positions in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She also worked four years as the chief policy adviser on agriculture issues for former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent. If approved, she will replace Fred Ferrell, who you'll recall was the target of a sexual harassment investigation and who may now be patronizing many bait and tackle shops.

(Bait and tackle Ivan Foley via email at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


It's all about ethics complaints, emails and bananas
5/2/07

Wow, it's been a hectic spring political season locally. What do you say we catch our breath and head elsewhere for material this week--at least for the most part.First up, though, comes word that an ethics complaint was filed in the campaign for Ward 2 alderman in Platte City. That's the race where Andy Stanton easily won a three-person competition with 135 votes to only 39 for incumbent George McClintock and 10 for Tony Paolillo, who dropped out of the race after ballots were printed.McClintock filed a complaint with the Missouri Ethics Commission, pointing out that yard signs for Stanton did not contain "paid for by" identification as required by law. Exactly when the complaint was filed seems unclear. The form McClintock completed lists the date of complaint as March 22. But a letter the ethics commission sent to Stanton indicates the ethics office received the complaint on April 6, three days after the April 3 election.At any rate, an interesting aspect of the situation is a typed note Stanton sent to McClintock after he was notified of McClintock's allegation. Here is the letter from Stanton to McClintock:"Mr. McClintock: It seems you are worried about who paid for my political signs used for the election on April 3. Being my first-ever election, I overlooked that seemingly small detail of having that on the signs. After I was made aware of this, the signs were corrected the next day. I myself paid for all of my signs and any other advertising. You will find enclosed documents to prove this. I hope you find something more productive to do with your time, now that you will have more of it.--Andy Stanton, Alderman, Ward 2." Ouch.


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It does seem a bit ironic that McClintock was quick to point out this breech of campaign protocol yet served on an elected board that for years sent thousands of dollars of taxpayer money to a business owned and operated by a fellow board member, Bill Knighton, without first taking competitive bids. Knighton and the city were eventually ordered by the ethics commission to stop the shady practice.


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There's no closing time, no cover charge for the publisher's electronic mailbox. And boy, do you guys know it. You fill 'er up on a weekly basis. Silly or serious, never a day goes by that I won't sock an email or two away for future reference. The future is now, so here we go with some words of wisdom sent my way by loyal readers:


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Good health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die.


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Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in hospitals dying of nothing.


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In the 1960's people took acid to make the world weird. Now the world is weird and people take Prozac to make it normal.


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In the U.S., we know exactly where one cow with Mad Cow disease is located among millions and millions of animals, but we don't have a clue as to where thousands of illegal immigrants are located.
Maybe we should put the Department of Agriculture in charge of immigration.


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The following email message was submitted, quite obviously, by a female reader. It was entitled: "The Shortest Fairy Tale Ever."Once upon a time a girl asked a guy: "Will you marry me?"The guy answered "No." And the girl lived happily ever after and went shopping, drank martinis with friends, always had a clean house and never had to cook, had a closet full of shoes and handbags, stayed skinny, and was never a victim of assault by flatulence (I cleaned that up just a bit to meet the Between the Lines high standard of excellence).


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After a recent column in which I mentioned my addiction to bananas, a reader passed along all kinds of alleged benefits that can be obtained from the yellow fruit. Here we go (these claims may not be officially recognized globally--maybe I should insert some legal mumbo jumbo disclaimer here to prevent bananas and yours truly from being sued by a competing fruit):*A banana gives an instant, sustained and substantial boost of energy. Research has shown that just two bananas provide enough energy for a strenuous 90-minute workout. *According to one recent survey involving people suffering from depression, many felt much better after eating a banana. This is allegedly because bananas contain tryptophan, a type of protein that the body converts into serotonin, known to make you relax, improve your mood and generally make you feel better.*High in iron, bananas can stimulate the production of hemoglobin in the blood and can help in cases of anemia.*Bananas are extremely high in potassium yet low in salt, making it perfect to beat high blood pressure.*High in fiber, including bananas in the diet can help restore normal bowel action, helping to overcome the problem without resorting to laxatives. If this is true then apparently I should no longer be referred to as a constipated white male.*Bananas are high in B vitamins that help calm the nervous system.*Some home remedy "experts" say one of the quickest ways of curing a hangover is to make a banana milk shake, sweetened with honey. The banana calms the stomach, and with the help of the honey, builds up depleted blood sugar levels while the milk soothes and re-hydrates your system. Sounds logical but I don't encourage you to get plastered just so you can try this remedy.

(Throw bananas at the publisher anytime. Or simply email him at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


It's time for a eulogy; and will these guys be the Fab Five?
4/26/07

Before gently placing it in its final editorial resting place, I'd like to say a quick eulogy in honor of the recently departed Platte Ridge Park operations agreement between the owners--the county--and the former operators of the park--Platte City.The dearly departed was doomed from birth. Think about it. The first thing that grabs most people on their initial trip to Platte Ridge is this: it's a geographically huge park. That being the case, it was way too much land mass to be developed and maintained by a Platte City Parks Department that is extremely small in staff. You're talking 215 acres of real estate--too much for a park department that basically consists of two and a half men and a tractor.Should we have expected this to work out? I mean really?Of course now it's all in hindsight, but it's safe to say mistakes were made on both sides. The previous county commission should have recognized the limitations of Platte City's parks and rec budget before entering into a contract with the city to maintain what the county wanted to become one of the crowning jewels of its parks department. And the city should have realized it was biting off way more than it could chew.Let's try to recognize the good and move on. Platte City's limited parks department--and let's not forget to pay homage to some high school age volunteers who put in many hours out there--did what they thought was in the best interest of a noisy segment of the population. They were getting pressured by people who wanted ball fields built before the less glamorous but vitally important items like storm drainage and soil erosion, internal roadways, security fencing, etc. were addressed.The physical improvements conducted by the city--the baseball fields, stadium lighting and a (partially completed) baseball concession stand---will be there long after this failed partnership has moved from public consciousness.Amen.

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Good move by the new Platte City Board of Aldermen in electing Aaron Jung board president. Jung is smart, firm yet polite, and people-savvy. I really believe he has the potential to be one of the best elected officials Platte City has seen in the past 20 years.I'm not sure this new board yet realizes they have been handed the power to make a lot of positive changes for Platte City. First on that list should be an effort to improve the combative atmosphere at city hall. City hall needs to be more customer-friendly, needs to be more open, and needs to regain trust of a populace that based on April 3 election results has obviously lost any faith in the direction things are going.This new board--and I say new because only Bill Knighton remains from a regime that was puppeteered by the mayor--needs to make a statement by its actions. The mayor needs to get the message from the board that he has zero power and basically zero influence right now. Aldermen need to ignore and/or override every ridiculous suggestion and bullying attempt the mayor makes. And trust me, those things will come by the dozens from Mayor Dave.More importantly, a message needs to be sent to the city administrator that he is in the same position. The five aldermen in power--Knighton is a powerless sixth member just warming a chair at this point so I'm disregarding his presence--need to make it clear to the city administrator that they are willing and able to make any changes necessary to restore confidence in city hall.The five 'new blood' aldermen have the support of the people. They don't need--nor should they necessarily want--the support of the mayor and city administrator at this point.There you have it. Five guys with a chance to make a real difference. It's time for them to dictate or they will soon become intimidated and dictated to by the city administrator, a fate that has been met by many who have served before them.

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As a public service, it's time to offer up for public consumption the reminder that the unpopular city administrator is an at-will employee who works without a contract. At-will employees can be replaced at any time.Many Platte City candidates have talked about taking this step for years. But once elected, many previous city officials have gone through a magical castration process and have ended up receiving direction instead of giving direction.Let's see if the Fab Five do anything with this tremendous opportunity. Will they be five who make a difference or just another five who jumped on board for a frustrating ride?Cheer them on when you get the chance--help them realize the power that has been bestowed upon them by voters.

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How do I know the city administrator is an at-will employee for Platte City who works without a contract? Because I asked him."I have an agreement with the board concerning my employment. It doesn't spell out a term, it just explains the terms under which I am employed. It states that I will have an evaluation consistent with the process and subject to the same benefits as the rest of the city employees. I am still an at-will employee," Moody told me the day after the most recent city election when I called him to question him about the matter.

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This question was posed to me recently: If Platte City voters were given the chance to vote yes or no on the continued employment of the current city administrator, what do you think the results would be?Based on the April 3 election when new aldermen were elected by gaining from 71% to 73% of the vote, my guess would be the electorate would choose to replace Moody by an overwhelming margin. My best guess would be at least 85% of voters would be in favor of a change in the city administrator position.What's your guess?

(Check for signs of castration of the publisher via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


R-3 has a new sheriff; Mayor Dave talks with God; Casino chatter
4/19/07

Platte County and Platte City are going through a divorce at Platte Ridge Park and it looks like the settlement will be equal in value. The county gets custody of a bunch of soil erosion while the city maintains custody of Keith Moody's advice.

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There's a new sheriff in town.A bloodless coup has taken place in the primary leadership post with the Platte County R-3 School Board.One year after a split vote ended with Dick Modin as board president, the majority was swayed. Board member Karen Wagoner had a change of heart from a year ago and her swing dance to the sunny side leaves Bob Shaw as the new board president. On Tuesday morning, Shaw defeated Modin for the honor by a 4-3 vote, with Wagoner, Trish Stinnett and Dave Holland supporting Shaw for prez. Modin had Carey Rolofson and Mary Temperelli in his corner.Shaw, a fighter for open government beginning his fourth term on the board, takes the reins as president for the first time in his long tenure of service to R-3. So much for the recent propaganda that Shaw's fellow school board members had become disenchanted with him, allegedly "disturbed" by his highly publicized open meetings lawsuits against the group formerly known as Mayor Dave and the Sunshine Boys.Quite the contrary. Shaw now has more support from his fellow board members than he did a year ago.What will the move from Modin to Shaw in the president's chair mean for the board? I'm guessing stronger leadership, more structure, more openness, more detailed study of the important issues, and a constant focus on academics first and foremost.Good move. Kudos to Wagoner for finally seeing the light. Learning slowly is better than never learning.

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I'm glad I attended Tuesday night's meeting between the Platte Valley Estates homeowners and the proposed Price Chopper developer because one of my leading subscription salesmen, Mayor Dave Brooks, let fly with a couple of classics on topics like gasoline prices, property taxes, and traffic jams in southern Platte County."We're trying to bring in a larger store," Brooks began in a rant that included a couple twists and turns, including hammering on the county for recent reassessment notices that shocked some of the residents of his kingdom and the emperor himself. Eventually, he got back on topic. Sort of."People say to me they like the idea (of bringing in a larger grocery store) because gasoline is $2.50 or $2.60 per gallon. Do you wanna go to Barry Road? God doesn't even wanna go to Barry Road."

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That one goes in my collection of classic Brooksisms. In the interest of journalistic fairness, I would like to clarify that the God many of us know doesn't need to worry about groceries or gas prices.

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"You need a helicopter to get in down there," Brooks added in regard to Barry Road traffic.Maybe. At certain times of day, anyway. But I've also noticed you need a helicopter to maneuver your way on and off the fast food expressway known as Prairie View Road in Platte City during the noon hour.

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A reader called me Wednesday morning with his thoughts on the proposed 5/8 sales tax to fund private improvements for the proposed Price Chopper development. It went something like this: "The old saying of 'If you build it, they will come' has turned into 'If you pay for it, we will build it.'"

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Personally I like the new GM, but the decision by general manager Dayton Moore to retain Buddy Bell as Royals manager instead of going with new blood has turned out to be a disastrous one. Bell has lost everywhere he has managed, and unfortunately has kept that record of consistency in his time in KC. The Royals are on a fast track to another 100 loss season. It's time to ask Bell to catch a ride on somebody else's train. There's way too much dead weight on this one.

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Citing a bout with the flu as the reason for not being able to do so earlier, Parkville Mayor Kathy Dusenbery finally returned Landmark calls seeking comment on talk of a potential casino development in her fair city after the paper hit the streets last week. The mayor initially tried to play semantics with me, saying the story of a potential casino didn't have legs because there is no casino "operator" in the picture. Nice try, but I called BS on a technicality. What our story said was that a meeting had taken place among city officials and a party showing a marked interested in constructing a casino and restaurants at the I-435 and River Road location. The mayor then confirmed the city has had talks with a developer in which a casino has been mentioned as a possibility.What I've been able to track down since then from a source familiar with the company who has met with the city is that the firm has a history of being a deal maker or broker, not really a developer. Their role historically has been to get control of property in advance of putting a deal together as to how that piece of property will be developed. "They get the property under control by contract and then they solicit other developers to do the project," a source told me this week. "They make their money by being the middleman." Their specialty has been "new urban" projects similar to Zona Rosa.I put in a phone call to the regional point man for the Colorado deal-making firm this week but have yet to hear back. Maybe he has the flu.

(Reach the publisher anytime, including during cold and flu season, via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


Parkville leaders ready to gamble? And say no to cronyism
4/12/07

Parkville's Chamber of Commerce has planned a Casino Night for April 19. A sign of things to come in Parkville?

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How serious are the talks between a potential casino developer and the city of Parkville?The Parkville mayor is suddenly avoiding phone calls from The Landmark.Bingo.

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While Kathy Dusenbery, the Parkville mayor who has announced she will be a candidate for district one county commissioner in 2008, isn't talking, we've confirmed bits and pieces of the story through a variety of other sources.As is the case with all stories that "leak" before the involved parties are ready to speak, some aspects of the potential Parkville casino remain speculation. For instance, the name of the casino developer involved has not been confirmed. One source says the developer is from Colorado.Did Dusenbery and two aldermen--the names we're hearing are Deborah Butcher and Jim Brooks--meet recently at The National Golf Club with reps from the potential casino developer? We've been told yes, indeed. Our information is that an architect representing the potential casino outfit has even been involved in meetings with city officials, which makes me anxious to see his early vision of the potential casino.Another source claims that Dusenbery has said privately that she--assuming the casino proposal grows legs and starts running through the stages necessary for construction--will ask the casino folks for a commitment of $8 million that would be directed to building an overpass above the railroad tracks in historic downtown Parkville.I made a phone call to Tom Hutsler, the downtown developer/business owner, and asked him if such an overpass would be the answer to the railroad track problem for his English Landing development in particular and for downtown Parkville in general."We don't want an overpass. It doesn't solve our problems. We want our tracks relocated," Hutsler told me.

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Hustler, however, emphasizes he is pro-casino in Parkville. "The ideal place for a casino in Parkville is at I-435 and River Road," Hutsler said.Hutsler and others point out this location would be further away from downtown Parkville than is the Argosy Casino of Riverside. Less chance of it having an adverse effect on Parkville's downtown business climate that way. Plus, Parkville would benefit from receiving gaming revenues--possibly even grab some gambling biz that has been going to the nearby Argosy.The onramps and offramps that would need to be constructed on I-435 to accommodate a casino at I-435 and River Road (FF Hwy) would create easier access to downtown Parkville as well. Another plus.Exciting stuff, at least in the eyes of the pro-casino crowd. At first blush, while still awaiting all the gory details of a proposal that may or may not be coming down the pike, count me among those who think Parkville should take a strong look at this in a positive light. There are financial benefits to be gained by the city and, if developed the right way, for existing business owners as well.But brace yourself for the opposition that likely will begin to rally itself once this issue of The Landmark has hit the streets. Potential casinos were a cause of major discourse within Parkville in the early to mid-1990s. Some tension still lies beneath the surface. That's quite likely why Dusenbery and friends are trying to keep the new casino talk on the downlow until they get their ducks in a row.But the public has a right to know the process from beginning to end. The mayor would be doing herself and her potential political career a favor by keeping the discussion in the eyes and ears of the public as much as possible.

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Speaking of behind-the-scenes meetings, Hutsler says Dusenbery has done the same thing in negotiations with the Burlington Northern Sante Fe railroad in regard to the discussions about the second railroad track on its way to downtown Parkville. Hutsler says Dusenbery too often has had private talks with the railroad instead of an open public discussion. He says she is "disrespecting" the people of Parkville with her private meetings. Hutsler makes a good point. Taking two aldermen to meet with a potential casino developer keeps the city from violating the Sunshine Law in a legal sense, but it certainly chips away at the spirit of open government."She wants to run for county commissioner? She's got a long road ahead of her," Hutsler said.I would give you Dusenbery's response to that but she's too busy trying to keep this casino story under wraps to return my calls.

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Kudos to aldermen Aaron Jung and Kenneth Brown for excellent points made at Tuesday night's meeting of the Platte City Board of Aldermen. Mayor Dave Brooks and city administrator Keith Moody are proposing to hire former alderman Lee Roy Van Lew as an inspector for the city's street improvement projects. At a salary of $1,400 per week. Yes, I said per week.Jung pointed out the city could save some bucks by having public works director Leonard Hendricks perform the inspections. Brown pushed Moody to post the open position and advertise it, rather than the city just handing the job to Van Lew.It would be a mistake for the city to give Van Lew this position. It would smell of cronyism and pork barrel politics. Voters spoke their minds last week by overwhelmingly voting him out of office. There's no obligation for taxpayers to provide him further employment.

(Deal your best hand to the publisher via email at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com


Sun sets on the Sunshine Boys; Be on the lookout for chameleonsha
4/6/07

After Tuesday's election results, only two questions remain unanswered:1. Does defeated alderman George McClintock still believe in that unofficial city "poll" that said 73% of residents supported annexation?2. Will Mayor Dave be driven to drink?

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The people have spoken. And in Platte City, voters spoke with great clarity. They didn't stutter or speak a foreign language.Make no mistake, the results are a negative reflection on involuntary annexation, a negative reflection on Mayor Dave, a negative reflection on closed government, a negative reflection on propaganda machines. Meanwhile, it's a great day for the people of Platte City. A great day for open government. A great day for Bob Shaw. A great day for Harold Coons.

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Tuesday's results should change the attitude in the meeting room at city hall immediately. I'm guessing it will make Mayor Dave Brooks a little uncomfortable. Let's face it, he threw himself into this election, making it a referendum on his administration by taking out endorsement ads in support of the three incumbents, all of whom were convincingly kicked to the curb by the Platte City electorate.The sun has set on the Sunshine Boys. Mayor Dave has only one cohort left on the board, that being alderman Bill Knighton.Mayor Dave's kingdom is collapsing around him. Will Brooks run for reelection a year from now or quietly step away? My gut says a man that ego-driven won't step aside gracefully. He'll have to be "asked" to leave by voters.

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Some folks have repeatedly said they wanted the involuntary annexation controversy settled at the ballot box. On Tuesday, it was.

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What in the world is the City of Platte City--specifically administrator Keith Moody--doing making suggestions about a possible legal challenge by the city if the county attempts to declare the city in default of the Platte Ridge Park agreement?The last thing the City of Platte City needs to be doing is trying to get back in the courtroom. Their record in that arena to this point has been an expensive disaster. And I'm trying to be kind here. If the city wants to get back into court, the boys would be wise to ask for a change of venue. Their ill-advised very public criticism of Judge Lee Hull after his recent Sunshine Law decision has no doubt alienated every judge at the Platte County Courthouse.I don't like the city's chances of winning any legal battles in Platte County in the near future. Do you?

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If the city chooses to tangle with the county, they will go head-to-head with their courtroom nemesis Bob Shaw, who has already de-pantsed (new word) the city twice, and who from this chair would have a decided advantage over Keith Hicklin, the city's attorney. Let's be honest, Hicklin has been on watch while the city through the years has thumbed its nose at the open meetings law (their Sunshine problems didn't begin with annexation, folks, they were having issues long before that). It was also under Hicklin's watch that board member/body shop owner Bill Knighton inappropriately conducted business with the city while sitting on the board, resulting in an ethics violation.Whether he has given them bad advice, no advice, or whether good advice has been ignored, there is no denying Hicklin has not been effective in his post. It would be wise for the new board of aldermen to consider hiring a new city attorney and start with a clean slate.

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Two other things to keep an eye on:Moody will change his colors once again. The man is a chameleon. Every time there are city leaders elected who have not been Keith Moody fans, Moody somehow works behind the scenes to convince these folks that the city would go to pieces without him. Somehow, he convinces his adversaries that he is a financial mastermind who can work accounting and business magic that no other city manager in the world could do. He pulls job security out of his. . . hat.Here's an educated observation: City administrators--in most towns the size of Platte City--come and go. It's not a lifetime appointment. There are many, many others out there who can do everything Moody can do, and do it with better public relations skills with no involuntary annexation skeletons in their closet. Change scares people--changing city administrators would briefly upset the normal working routine and for a short period would put more mental responsibility on the mayor and aldermen, and as a result most shy away from even thinking about upsetting the apple cart. Also, based on history, we can now expect the local propaganda machine to take on chameleon-like traits to try to win over the newcomers. Though the propaganda outlet for years was happy to receive its marching orders from the former city hall regime, watch it try to change its stripes now. It has happened before.This will be entertaining to watch. Will the new aldermen be fooled?

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Are you one of the nine people who finished ahead of me in the bracket contest and as such have won two years worth of free subscriptions to The Landmark? Check the front page article for all the details.

(Admittedly, we will miss the ousted aldermen and the good times their sometimes incoherent thought processes provided us. May their political careers rest in peace. Console the publisher at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


Alderman election coming soon; Van Lew stars in this episode
3/30/07

Can't tell you why but for the past few weeks I've been on a banana binge, eating two or three a day. It hasn't affected my weight but you ought to see me climb trees.

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Here's your obligatory public service announcement for the week.Next Tuesday, April 3 will be an important day in the preservation as life as we know it.
OK, so maybe I'm exaggerating for effect. But it will be an important day in the continued pursuit of open government with liberty and justice for all. So sayeth The Landmark.In case you're unaware, Tuesday is election day for municipalities and school districts in the area. Of particular interest this time are contested races for Platte City aldermen positions. It's not often we get to see challenged races for these spots. Regardless of your candidate preference, here's hoping voters take advantage of this newly-discovered thing called competition.Get out to vote.

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One of my favorite candidates on the spring ballot this year is Andy Stanton, owner/operator of Andy's Foreign Cars in historic downtown Platte City.One thing I can tell you about Andy, after having numerous conversations with him, is that the man knows the value of a dollar. He will particularly know the appropriate value of a taxpayer dollar. A needed voice for fiscal conservatism will be heard if Stanton is successful in unseating George McClintock in Ward 2. Stanton's is a voice that would resonate with common sense, joining Aaron Jung and Kenneth Brown as aldermen who put egos aside and operate with a taxpayer first attitude.

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I'm close to wrapping up the hit melodrama that has played out in this column space in regard to the quotes from the Sunshine Lawsuit depositions given by Mayor Dave and the Sunshine Boys. I reserve the right to change my mind, but for the time being what follows is the final episode.The following exchange took place when Bob Shaw, attorney for plaintiff Harold Coons, was deposing alderman Lee Roy Van Lew. The line of questioning is dealing with Van Lew's work history, and the alderman is explaining his construction background. As we start, Van Lew has just mentioned that he formerly worked in construction for Damon Pursell.Q: What did you do for Damon Pursell?
A: For Damon Pursell?Q: Yes.
A: I run several different - I was head honcho, you might call it, on several different projects, anywhere from - the biggest project that I done was the new Park Hill South High School. I done all of the dirt work on that and there was a big landfill that we built up at Sugar Creek. I was -- that was my responsibility, two Wal-Mart sites that I built that was responsibility to do, had anywhere from 15 to 20 to 25 people working under me, anywhere from six to ten scrapers and all the support equipment.Q: So are you retired now?
A: What?Q: Are you retired now?
A: Am I tired?Q: Retired.
A: Retired? Yeah. I'm retired.

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Ah, I can feel the love.Later in the same deposition, Shaw is asking Van Lew about media coverage of the annexation issue, and is questioning him about which newspapers he reads.Q: How about The Landmark?
A: Yes. I've got to have the pipsqueak's paper.

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Add another chore to the list of Patricia Stinnett, community activist and Platte County R-3 School Board member. Trish--featured here recently for her efforts to lobby for an increase in the dollar amount school districts are allowed for bonding capacity--husband Bob and family are opening Stinnett Stone & Supply this weekend on Elm Grove Road, to the east of I-29 off of Exit 20. The family will be selling decorative rock, gravel, topsoil, mulch, sand, etc.A grand opening, complete with free hot dogs, kicks off the store's debut this Saturday. Apparently Trish will be firing up the grill.

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One more weekend to go in The Landmark's NCAA Bracket Contest. The suspense is ripping many of you a new one.This is where it gets fun. Only three games remain in the tournament--two semifinal games on Saturday and the championship game Monday night. Around 20% of the triple digit entries have scored their final point--meaning the teams you predicted as semifinal and final round winners are no longer in the tournament. Catch ya later.Here are your leaders in the clubhouse heading into the Final Four. Remember, top point-getter wins $100 in cool Landmark cash.Lori Meyer 174 (had a little trouble reading the name on this entry and last week identified her as 'Lon' Meyer); Dr. David Lowry 170, John Steffel 168, Brett Anderson and Ron Nelson 164 each; Mary Conrad, Johnny Shultz and CK Rairden 162 apiece; Rick Nelson and Linda Foley 158 each.Around 35 of you are ahead of your humble host, who has 140 points. But don't get too excited just yet. Your host predicted Florida to meet and beat Georgetown in the final. Could still happen. . .and if it does I will blow by many of you in the standings.One of our own has wrapped up last place. Landmark reporter Stacy Wiedmaier forecasted many upsets in her crystal ball. Didn't happen. Stacy finishes with 78 points and seems a little irritated that I insisted she partake in the madness.

(When he isn't crawling around inside the open space in the minds of Platte City aldermen, reach The Landmark pipsqueak via email at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


Will the madness never end? And host getting kicked in bracket contest
3/22/07

Joked about it last week, but now I wish I really had done by NCAA bracket in pencil. After two rounds, I'm getting shellacked by most of the field. While holding out hope for a late-round comeback (still have all my Final Four alive), I'm preparing for the possibility I'll be covering the cost of many Landmark subscriptions. More on that a bit later.

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Will the madness never end?I'm not talking about the madness of March basketball. I'm referring to the expenses being accumulated by the City of Platte City in its unsuccessful and bumbling attempt to do a massive involuntary annexation.A check of public records shows the total expenses to date of the city's most recent involuntary annexation effort at $145,986. Wow. But I guess maybe the aldermen are thinking that's not a lot of money if you say it fast.And the expenses will continue to grow. Platte City has to pay the nearly $12,000 the court ordered that it submit to attorney Bob Shaw, who represented local resident Harold Coons in a successful suit against the city for violating the state's open meetings law by discussing the annexation effort and annexation boundaries in executive session. Even those of us who may find a challenge in calculating numbers can add nearly $146,000 to nearly $12,000 and come up with a sum of nearly $158,000.That's what the city has wasted thus far on Mayor Dave and the Sunshine Boys' infatuation with annexation. And they still can't even get the issue to the ballot.How much of this craziness will voters tolerate? It's possible we'll get an indication when three incumbent aldermen appear on the April ballot.

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Some of the highlights of the involuntary annexation spending thus far include nearly $61,000 to the city's special annexation law firm of Williams and Campo for their less than stellar effort thus far. In addition, the city has paid more than $32,000 to the law firm of Stinson, Morrison, Hecker to help Williams and Campo when the latter discovered they were in over their heads in defending lawsuits.If and when the city gives him the owed $12,000, Platte City will have paid more than $15,000 to Shaw for whipping them in the courtroom last fall and again in January. In addition, the city has paid more than $8,500 to the law firm of Murphy, Taylor and Siemens, who served as Shaw's co-counsel in the lawsuit last fall.And the list goes on.Platte City has paid more than $7,800 for engineering and mapping services. Interestingly, the city has spent $2,976 with the Platte County Board of Elections for expenses related to elections that have never happened, as the vote has been pulled off the ballot twice.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must say two local newspapers have also benefited from the city's misguided annexation spending. The Platte County Citizen has been paid $6,277 in legal notice fees since the annexation effort began. The Landmark, the least favorite newspaper for the boys at city hall, has been paid $2,289 over the same time for legal notices. And the post office has received $1,057 for certified mailings.

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Time for the next episode of Deposition Diatribe, the running saga of quotes from Platte City officials' depositions in the most recent Sunshine Lawsuit. As we begin this week, alderman Jim Palmer is being deposed by Bob Shaw. Here is the question and answer exchange.Q: During the time you've been an alderman for the city of Platte City, have you taken any training or classes designed to help you in that job?
A: I went to a few seminars, conventions, stuff like that in Kansas City and that was it. One or two and that was it.
Q: At those seminars, did you receive any training or information about the Missouri Sunshine Law?
A: They explained it to us. Everybody's got a different prediction of what it means, you know, and all, but that's it.
Q: Have you had the opportunity to review any books, or pamphlets, or booklets about the Missouri Sunshine Law?
A: Oh, I've got a book at home. I read it a little bit, but not much.Later, Shaw asked Palmer about the previous Sunshine case against the city--the one that was brought last fall and resulted in the city settling the case by pulling the annexation off the ballot and paying Shaw's legal fees.Q: After you received that Sunshine Lawsuit, what was your reaction when you heard it with the city?
A: You don't want to know.
Q: Sure I want it. That's why I asked the question.
A: I thought it was a bunch of sh!+., myself.
Q: Why did you think that?
A: Well, I think we tried to do the best that we know how at city hall.
Q: And you think that you all never violate the law in city hall?
A: Well, very little, if any. Let's put it that way.

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After much ado, here's your first update on The Landmark's NCAA bracket contest. Remember, winner gets $100. Anybody finishing with a better score than your humble host will get two years' worth of Landmark subscriptions at no cost, and at the rate I'm going there will be a lot of you feeling like a kid at Christmas. Though keep in mind, these contests are won or lost in the later rounds when correct picks count for many more points.At the top of the leader board: Lon Meyer 108 points, Ron Nelson 104, Alyssa Foley (daughter of your host who compiles the 'Looking Back' column for you each week) 102, Colin Greaser 102, Ken Pearson and Rob Harken 100 apiece, and a bunch of folks with 98 including Matt Koelliker, Pat Pearson, Katie Anderson, Brett Anderson, Rick Nelson and Sherry King. Many, many more folks are still in the hunt, as entries hit the triple digit mark once again.A humble Between the Lines columnist has just 76 points thus far. Fellow columnists CK Rairden and Brian Kubicki each have 96.

(Give him static for a pathetic showing thus far . .. or encourage him to hang in there despite the odds against him. Either way, you can email the publisher at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


Let the battle begin; Park situation still slightly muddled
3/15/07

I think I'll do my NCAA bracket in pencil this year. Should help my score.

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The only bad part of the NCAA tournament? Enduring CBS talking head Clark Kellogg.
Kellogg's next insightful observation will be his first insightful observation. I've patiently given the guy a chance to make me a fan. Every NCAA tournament, I sit in front of the TV cheering him on. "Come on, Clark, you can do it. Say something important. Say something the average fan wouldn't know. Get mad about something. Show some emotion, some passion for the sport. Give us an opinion. . . even if it's ridiculously stupid. Just say something meaningful."He never does. Not only is his content vanilla but his monotone delivery compounds his dull material. He sounds like he's reading a book to a class of first graders. I'll give him credit for mastering the art of saying nothing in an extremely boring way.I often wonder how he keeps his job.

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I'll be getting some bracket grading help again this year from son Kurt. We do have one request: It would be helpful if a couple folks who typically struggle with this contest--and you know who you are, don't make me name names--would go ahead and attach a red pen to your entry.

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Here's what you're up against in The Landmark's bracket contest. Remember, your entry is due by 11 a.m. Thursday and can be faxed to 816-858-2313 or emailed to ivan@plattecountylandmark.comThe following is Foley's Forecast:FIRST ROUND WINNERS: Florida, Arizona, Old Dominion, Maryland, Notre Dame, Oregon, Georgia Tech, Wisconsin, Kansas, Villanova, Virginia Tech, Southern Illinois, Duke, Pittsburgh, Gonzaga, UCLA, North Carolina, Marquette, USC, Texas, George Washington, Washington State, Texas Tech, Georgetown, Ohio State, BYU, Tennessee, Virginia, Louisville, Texas A&M, Creighton, Memphis.SWEET SIXTEEN: Florida, Maryland, Oregon, Georgia Tech, Kansas, Virginia Tech, Duke, UCLA, North Carolina, Texas, George Washington, Georgetown, Ohio State, Tennessee, Louisville, Memphis.ELITE EIGHT: Florida, Oregon, Kansas, UCLA, North Carolina, Georgetown, Ohio State, Memphis.FINAL FOUR: Florida, Kansas, Georgetown, Memphis.CHAMPIONSHIP: Florida over Georgetown. Tiebreaker if needed: 138 total points in title game.

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Some pretty boys just can't stand being out of the spotlight.Have you noticed former Platte County Prosecutor/U.S. Attorney Todd Graves in those TV commercials for an eye center promoting lasik surgery? If you haven't yet, you probably will soon.

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Here's an update on the parks situation involving Platte City's alleged lack of caretaking at Platte Ridge. The city has finally put in a formal request seeking an extension of the late March deadline that had been set for maintenance issues to be addressed at the county-owned, city-leased park property. The county has not yet acted on the request for more time, having only received the formal question this week. The city's request for an extension only came after Brian Nowotny, county parks director, basically asked the city: "Hey, are you going to request an extension?" The county had noticed there was no evidence of meaningful work having been done by the city parks department. "Keith Moody (city administrator) said they definitely need more time," Nowotny said. Platte County commissioners will need more information from the city before they vote whether to extend the deadline, Nowotny said, specifically more budget information from the city.The city has received a bid from Jason Hill for the grading work at the park. The bid encompasses about 90% of the work that needs to be done, according to city officials.
If and when the county extends the deadline, don't be surprised if the county attaches some unique stipulations. County folks still aren't real pleased over several issues at the park, including the city's apparent inability to secure the concession stand and storage shed. Vandalism and thievery has struck the location. Up to $40,000 of copper wiring and equipment was stolen from the site. City officials were unaware of the theft until the county brought the matter to their attention, the county says. Apparently materials were missing and the concession stand had been broken into and the city didn't realize it. That's why security is a top concern for the county as it wants Platte City to meet conditions of the lease. "Securing the property is very important. You've got to be able to take care of what you've got," Nowotny said.

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City officials are blaming the burning of construction materials that took place at the park on vandals. Could happen, I suppose. Imagine some bad dudes coming into a park area to pile up wiring, paint cans, plastics, etc. and burn them all in one pretty neat pile. Pretty polite vandals. A lot of farmers would love to have these guys come "vandalize" their barns."They were adamant that it was not city staff," Steve Feeler, chief of the compliance and enforcement division of the DNR told me this week.I won't put words in the DNR's mouth, but I'm not sure they were completely convinced. "We're in the business of trying to work with people to get them into compliance. There (have been) incidents of vandalism that they said they didn't have any control over. We've made assertions that they need to better control their areas," Feeler added. The DNR will not withdraw or suspend the notice of violation, contrary to what the city administrator told the aldermen in a memo this week. But the DNR is now saying it will not fine the city for the latest burn "in return for them to better secure the area," Feeler told me Tuesday.Previously, the DNR had indicated it would impose a $2,000 penalty on the city.

(Send email to the president of the Clark Kellogg fan club at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


City officials still don't
get it; Williams and
Campo defeated again
r
3/7/07

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. It's time to get your butt to the doctor.

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By the time you read this, a longtime pal and I will have landed in Las Vegas. This is strictly a business trip, as I'm here to do an investigative journalistic piece. I'm checking into persistent rumors that sports betting runs amuck in this peaceful desert city.

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Challenge me in The Landmark's NCAA bracket contest. There's a new twist in it this year that gives everyone the chance to win a prize. Check out the gory details in our front page story. Entries are due next Thursday, March 15 by 11 a.m. Fax them to 816-858-2313.

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Monday night's meeting of the Platte City Board of Aldermen was beyond words. Frankly, some folks may have felt uncomfortable watching four grown men make fools of themselves with comments that were so far out there they pushed the limits of space exploration. From a newsman's point of view, I won't deny their ridiculousness was entertaining. "I saw you sitting back there gloating," one of the mayor's four aldermen said to me after the meeting had concluded, a meeting in which it was debated whether Mayor Dave and the Sunshine Boys should appeal the recent decision that went against them in a lawsuit that nailed them on an obvious violation of the state's open meetings law.Gloating? No. These aldermen shoot themselves in the foot with such frequency there's no way I have time to gloat each time it happens.Watching these guys is like watching Gilligan trying to get off the island. No matter how grand the plan, you know before it's over Gilligan is going to screw it up. No, there was no gloating on my part. But was I smiling at the incompetence on display? Absolutely. Instead of chastising me for apparently showing a smirk, give me credit for holding in the laughter. It was the gentlemanly thing to do.I won't mislead you. Anytime elected officials publicly go ballistic, I am humored. It's low cost entertainment, cheaper than a movie and more meaningful because I personally know the stars of the show.I'm gonna miss these boys when voters send them to the political graveyard.
******On a more serious note, the only way to describe the comments of four of the aldermen is simply to say they don't get it. They just don't get it. I used to think they simply didn't want to get it. Now I believe they're not capable of getting it.
******Perhaps the most insane comment of all at Monday's meeting came from Alderman Lee Roy Van Lew, as he and a couple others were going off on an unwarranted tangent against Bob Shaw, the attorney who kicked their tails in the courtroom. Seems some of the aldermen now compare Shaw to the devil, E coli, salmonella, and a nasty hangover for his legal efforts and say they just can't understand why Shaw fights against annexation. (Yes, the terror. Someone actually has a differing opinion than Mayor Dave and the Sunshine Boys. How dare they)."I hope to God it affects his business," Van Lew said loudly.I've got some breaking news for you, Lee Roy. Bob Shaw won this case. You lost. It will affect his business--in a positive way. That's what happens when an attorney wins a high profile case. And Shaw was doing alright for himself prior to spanking the collective rears of the mayor and four aldermen, thank you very muchWhy would Bob Shaw's business be hurt because he exposed the aldermen for running roughshod over a state statute? Quite the contrary. It elevated him to rock star status in the minds of most observers.There are a series of steps that need to be followed before the annexation issue can reach the ballot. In their incompetent effort to this point, city officials have not been able to follow the law to even get the question to the ballot. That's their fault, not Shaw's.Good grief. This is an example of what I mean when I say the aldermen just don't get it.
******Oops, they did it again. The latest attorney with local ties to take Williams and Campo--Platte City's special annexation attorneys--to the wood shed is none other Todd Graves, former county prosecutor/former U.S. attorney. Graves, now running his own show with the law firm of Graves, Bartle and Marcus in Kansas City, had a hand in a lawsuit that will allow a recall vote against a Lee's Summit city councilwoman. Williams and Campo unsuccessfully represented Lee's Summit in the case.
Maybe Platte City needs to come to the realization it has hired a law firm with a questionable track record.

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Trish Stinnett, Platte County R-3 School Board member, is a woman on a mission in regard to getting some statewide attention to the need for school districts like R-3 to be able to increase their bonding capacity. On Friday she got the attention of Missouri Speaker of the House Rod Jetton and bent his ear on the topic. "Even though we have a no-tax increase bond issue on the April ballot, I explained to him that our need is greater than one K-2 and an addition to Siegrist Elementary. We actually need two K-5 elementary schools to keep up with the growth. He shared his concerns of the possibility of rural districts that may not have a substantial tax base overextending themselves. I reminded him that the majority of voters of local districts would be trusted to pass or fail a school bond issue," Stinnett told me this week. "He listened, understood and empathized with our district. He acknowledged the growth we are experiencing and felt it was a legitimate concern," she added. "I appreciated his willingness to listen to an issue unique to our school district, but also understand that we will not agree on every issue (the two also discussed tuition tax credits). I hope another door has been opened and R-3 has established a vital contact where we can stop by his office, pick up the phone or email him when we have an issue impacting our district," Stinnett said.


Conservative media failed us all; Ghost busting; more Sunshine talk 3/1/07

Between the Lines' first daughter Lindsey turned 21 on Monday. Look out world, here she comes.

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I have yet to figure out how, at the sweet and tender age of, uh, 30, your humble publisher has a 21-year-old daughter.

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Chiefs defensive end Jared Allen has demanded the team trade him to a city that conducts fewer DWI checkpoints.

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With a Vegas vacation on the horizon, this week my staff handed me a copy of news release that declares March 5-11 as National Problem Gambling Awareness Week. They said I should read it. Odds of that happening are 6-1 against.

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I'm not normally a person who pays a lot of attention to polls, but I did find this one extremely interesting. In an online survey on the website conservativesbetrayed.com, readers were asked: "Who was responsible for the Republican's disastrous defeats, including the loss of control of the House and Senate, in the 2006 elections?" They were given 31 choices of various individuals, factors, and groups, and were asked to select 10.
Read the following top ten responses and see if you can guess which one I found the most intriguing.1. Conservative leaders who kept silent when the GOP became the party of Big Government.2. Illegal corruption, such as Mark Foley (no relation, I'm proud to say) Robert Ney and Jack Abramoff.3. Legal corruption, such as spending on special interest groups to "buy" their votes, including earmarks.4. Mainstream media that may have influenced the voters to throw out the Republicans.5. President George W. Bush.6. Conservative media that kept silent while the GOP became the party of Big Government.7. Sen. Ted Stevens, (R-Alaska), former president pro tem of the Senate and promoter of the $223 million Bridge to Nowhere.8. Blunders and misstatements by Republican candidates.9. Former Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN.)10. Congressman Dennis Hastert (R-IL) former Speaker of the House.All of those responses are interesting, but the one I find the most intriguing from a journalist's point of view is "Conservative media that kept silent while the GOP became the party of Big Government."Amen, brother. Preach on.I touched on this in a column last February. There are way too many conservative talking heads and columnists who became apologists for the Bush administration in particular and Republican leadership in general. The cable network Fox News became such an apologetic, excuse-making outfit I couldn't bear to watch it. And as you know, this commentary is coming from a guy who tends to lean to the GOP viewpoint.Left unchecked by conservative media who could have been putting on the heat, Bush and cronies let the federal budget deficit grow out of control. When he made numerous boneheaded decisions in his first six years in office, most of the conservative media followed a pattern of apologetic reporting and commentary. Similarly, not enough Republican members of Congress had the stones to stand up to the president on issues of note.It's one thing to show some loyalty. It's another thing to turn your head to the point of not fulfilling the role of your profession.

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Remember a few months back when I wrote about a former reporter who claimed she saw a ghost in The Landmark building while working late here one night several years ago?That quick reference in my column apparently caused a stir in the ghost-busting community. I've been contacted by at least two paranormal investigative firms since that time, the latest contact being made last week. Seems they're interested in coming to do an on-site investigation.I'll attempt to contact the former reporter, who at last knowledge was living in Oklahoma, to see if she'd be willing to share her experience with the ghost busters. This could be fun.

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Time for this week's highlight from depositions in the Harold Coons vs. City of Platte City Sunshine violation trial held last month. This week's episode comes from the deposition of alderman Jim Palmer. Coons' lawyer, Bob Shaw, is asking the questions.Q: What year did you graduate (high school)?
A. '49.Q: Would you please describe your work experience following your high school education?
A. Farm for probably 12, 15 years. And then after that, I went to work at General Motors. I worked there five years and I'm glad I got laid off because they'll kill you, I guarantee you.Later came this exchange:Q: So do you recall the board approving this particular map to proceed with the first annexation?A: Well, I would say probably yes, if that's the original map, because I say them maps confuse the hell out of me.

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I could not make this stuff up.

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It's amazing the attention our web site at plattecountylandmark.com continues to draw. When I checked the site meter Tuesday around noon, of the last 100 visitors on that morning there were five from foreign countries. One each from Lithuania, Denmark, France, Japan and Australia. I don't know what means. I just thought it was kinda cool.

(The web site is worldly but Ivan Foley is still a man of the people available 24/7 at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com


Hit jobs, five day work weeks, and a jaw-dropper from Mayor Dave

2/22/07

This week's warmer weather has me so excited I'm going to sprint into a salon, grab a pair of shears and shave my head completely bald.

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Our front page story about the man who tried to hire someone to hurt his wife and burn down his in-laws' house made me chuckle. First of all, the guy offers to pay only $1,000 for the beating of his estranged wife and another $1,000 for the burning of the home. Talk about a fiscal conservative.So the guy wants to hire a thug. He gets a call from a potential hire--of course now he knows it was an undercover officer--and the criminal suggests a clandestine meeting at the Taco Bell at I-29 and Barry Road. Taco Bell? More evidence of fiscal conservatism. Is Taco Bell normally the place one would think of to arrange such a dastardly deed? "Yes, I'll take a burrito supreme, an order of nachos and a low-cost hit man please.""And I need that to go."

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Who can cram three days worth of work into five days? Congress.That's the feeling of some folks in Washington, D.C. after Nancy Pelosi, new speaker of the house, promised to open a can of whoop-ass on what she thought was a lackadaisical political body, promising a full five day work week under her iron-fisted leadership.Come on, Nancy, be real. Nobody at a government agency puts in a full five days. Get off your high horse. Quit trying to think outside the botox. Leave the five, six and seven day work weeks in the hands of the private sector where they belong.Anyway, Congress might be in session five days, but the amount of work could be done in a whole lot less time. That's the word from Sam Graves, Missouri's Sixth District Congressman, who dropped by The Landmark office Monday afternoon for a visit with your Between the Lines columnist."Pelosi did a disservice by saying we're not working when we're not in Washington. I believe the most important thing we do is constituent services," Graves said, explaining why he'd much rather put in three or four long days of session in Washington so he can then head back to Missouri to serve his district and deal with constituents in a productive manner. We've pointed out in this column space on several occasions that Graves' primary strength is the way he and his staff members are able to communicate with his district, whether it be helping people with problems in dealing with a particular government agency or in hosting town hall type meetings or visiting businesses and manufacturers to assess their concerns about issues with the federal government."Pelosi lives in Washington," he said, explaining why Ms. Speaker doesn't mind more short days instead of fewer longer days. "She has us quitting early in the afternoon instead of working full days. Sometimes she'll keep us in on a Friday for just an hour and a half worth of work. It's all a farce," Graves told me.

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What is Graves' opinion on the recent House passage of a non-binding resolution opposing the presidents' troop surge in Iraq?"It was a political stunt. The fact it is non-binding absolutely means it was a political stunt. We shouldn't be micromanaging the military. We shouldn't be debating (military) strategy on the House floor," he said.Graves said he recently received an email from a soldier in Iraq who advised that Congress should "shut up and quit telling enemies what we're doing."Also bogus, according to Graves, are claims that a decision to "redirect" funds away from troops is different than "withholding" funds. Some Democrat leaders like to use the word "redirect" when they discuss a possible future vote on military funding of the war in Iraq."It's the same thing. Either way, we're taking money from the troops if we do that," the Republican from Tarkio told me.How long does he see the war in Iraq dragging on?"We're down to three provinces now that are real problem areas. We want to get out of there as soon as possible, but we can't leave until the job is finished. Personally, I don't think it's going to go on much terribly longer, given the political pressure," he said, declining to put a specific estimate on it.

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Using a tool known as the Missouri Sunshine Law, I put in a public records request for copies of the depositions given by city officials in the recent Sunshine lawsuit brought against Platte City by local civil rights leader Harold Coons. I've been perusing the depositions at my leisure and will soon share many of the highlights with readers in the very near future ( I can't wait. .. which means you can't either).Among the early attention-grabbers I've noticed in my quick research is this exchange that occurred at the very beginning of the deposition of mayor Dave Brooks. Attorneys often begin depositions by asking witnesses if there are any medical/physical reasons why he or she will not be able to understand any of the questioning. That's your lead-in to this question and answer exchange between Coons' attorney Bob Shaw and Brooks. Keep in mind the mayor is under oath during this questioning:Q: If, for any reason, you need a break for some water or coffee, go to the restroom or you want to confer with counsel, again please let me know and we will take a break for you, okay?A: Alright.Q: Are you under the influence of any medication today?A: Blood pressure medication.Q: Is there anything about that medication that would make it difficult for you to understand my questions and to respond appropriately today?A: No.Q: Have you had any alcohol to drink today?A: I don't drink alcohol.

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Tune in next week to see whether lightning struck the deposition room.

(Ivan Foley learned a long time ago it's good to never say never. Try to trick him into it via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


Mizzou Arena, municipal courts, and who's the real boss?2/15/07

The snowstorm that hit the area Monday night/Tuesday morning reminded me of the style of storm I remember as a kid--lots of wind and blowing snow that drifted across the country roads outside the little northeast Kansas town where I grew up and often closed schools for at least a couple of days. Doesn't seem like we get as many of those wind-blown snow attacks as we did back in the days before Al Gore invented the internet and global warming.

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My son and I enjoyed our trip to Mizzou Arena for the Kansas-Missouri border war on Saturday afternoon. Nice arena. Not a bad seat in the house. I can personally testify to that because we sat in the back row of the upper deck, about even with the free throw line (way) behind the Kansas bench. The design of the arena still made us feel like we were close enough to enjoy the action without a struggle. The KU basketball players also seemed to enjoy the day without much of a struggle.Acoustics are sound in the Mizzou Arena. Despite being perched as high as we were, there were times I could actually hear the ball bouncing on the floor as a player drove to the hole. This was especially noticeable in the second half when the game was about a 20-point spread.

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My only complaint about the day would be the traffic bottleneck around the arena. What a nightmare, both before the game and after. I don't know if this is a problem caused by bad roadway design or whether the problem is administrative in nature, but there's no denying there are some issues that need addressed. If traffic is that snarled for an event attracting 15,000 people to a basketball game, I don't want to see how nasty it is for a game at the nearby football stadium that might attract four times as many people and vehicles.

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News tidbit worth mentioning:

Platte County Health Department has a contract to purchase the current Parkville City Hall building for $1.25 million, with a closing date of June 1. As you've previously read in The Landmark, Parkville is building a new city hall in the Parkville Commons near the Southern Platte County Community Center. The health department currently has clinics in Platte City and in Riverside. Officials with the health department are being noncommittal for their long range plans, but I'm speculating the goal is for the mighty scrubs to close their clinic at the Riverside location--where there have been alleged issues with the building--and move their south Platte operations to the Parkville location at 1201 East Street. Some renovations will need to be made to the current city hall building to make it user-friendly for the health department, of course.

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Here's an update on the running joke that is known as Kansas City Municipal Court.
Finally got a return phone call Tuesday from Beth Murano, lead prosecutor for the kangaroo court in KC. She says there is no way her office will be able to refile any charges against Michael Gunn, the former Platte County counselor who had his assault and resisting police charges dropped by a very cordial municipal judge after a witness failed to show at a hearing in late December.Murano said she has discovered that on the day after the charges were dropped, the judge in the case changed the action from "without prejudice" to "with prejudice," which she said prevents prosecutors from refiling the case. Conveniently, the judge in the case, identified as James Reed, retired from the bench just one day after Gunn's hearing.Hmmm. You gotta love municipal courts. They often plant seeds of doubt in the minds of people who wouldn't otherwise question the system of justice in this country.

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Platte City isn't a small town anymore.That's evident in the fact that it has recently come to the attention of the Platte City Parks Department that one of its volunteer coaches has a criminal background that has at least one parent questioning why the coach is allowed to have an influential role among local young people. After the matter was brought to the attention of the parks department by concerned parent Michael Walsh, the parks board has now decided it will do background checks on all of its coaches. Richard Sayles, police chief, has said his department will conduct the checks at no charge.

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You'll notice in our story about the Platte City Parks Department maintenance issues at Platte Ridge Park that Dannie Stamper, Platte City parks director, is saying the work on improvements won't even begin until early spring. Not sure that attitude is going to tickle the county parks department. The county clearly holds the upper hand in this deal, and the county parks director has told The Landmark the county is standing by its 90-day deadline for maintenance to be completed. That 90-day countdown started in late December, meaning the clock would strike midnight in late March unless a compromise is reached.This above-described situation is further evidence of the whole "we'll do what we want when we want" attitude that often permeates many corners of city hall--and apparently the parks department.

(In contrast to the city parks department, as a privately funded operation your Between the Lines columnist really is free to opine about what he wants when he wants. But you can still complain to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


Judge's ruling nails it; Annexation expenses still growing 2/8/07

Now that a judge's ruling has convicted them, no longer can they display innocence with a straight face.Check that, I momentarily forgot with whom we are dealing.Well, they can still plead innocence, I suppose--in fact, they are--but they are looking mighty ridiculous in the process.Several Platte City aldermen are compounding their mistake in violating the state's open meetings law by now openly criticizing the judge's ruling and screaming terms such as "vendetta" when speaking of anyone who opposes their involuntary annexation effort.Taking subtle and not-so-subtle verbal shots at a judge who has just swatted your rear and handed you back your pants in a highly-visible trial is never a good idea. Particularly when your target is the experienced Lee Hull, who has a reputation for being as fair and impartial as they come.Considering the fact that this newspaper has exposed the board of aldermen in at least five Sunshine Law violations since 2002--and they kept ignoring the law until finally an agitated resident took them to court, not once but twice--I guess we shouldn't be surprised at anything these boys do. Or say.Check out some of the quotes fired off by the aldermen in our front page story. Of course a professional judge like Lee Hull will always be fair and impartial so I'm in no way speaking for him, but if I were in the judge's shoes I'd be salivating at the thought of getting those fellows back in my courtroom. I'd mentally file those quotes away for future reference. It's human nature to do so.Instead of admitting guilt and promising to better follow state statutes after what was an obvious violation of the Sunshine Law, the aldermen are bad-mouthing the court, the opposing attorney, the plaintiff, sunshine, fresh air and anybody or anything else standing in the way of their land grab. "We wuz jobbed" seems to be their new motto.At some point the mayor's four aldermen need to swallow a bit of that unwarranted pride they like to display and start pointing a finger at themselves. Until then, they'll never get off a path of self-destruction.

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As I opined here last week, there really was only one right ruling for the judge to make in this case. Allowing any governmental body to run into closed session at any time for any reason under the guise of "attorney-client privilege" would have established a dangerous precedent. It would be the first step to the demise of open government in Missouri.No one should have been shocked at the court's ruling in the Sunshine case. But based on comments, it appears Mayor Dave and the Sunshine Boys, the city administrator and their official propaganda pontificator were stunned by it all. Apparently, the ruling in the landowner notification lawsuit that went in favor of the city gave the naive boys false bravado. They obviously believed the court was going to side with them on the Sunshine case.

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With the latest developments, the cost of Platte City's failed effort to involuntarily annex about 4,900 acres in areas south and northeast of the current city limits is now up to a whopping $89,000.That's a lot of cash. Even if you say it fast.And all the bills are still not in. Keith Moody, city administrator, confirmed for me on Tuesday that the bills have mounted to $89,444 and there are still some legal debts outstanding. The city has yet to receive statements on legal fees from special annexation attorneys Williams and Campo for the months of December and January. That would include trial time. In addition, the city has yet to receive billing from special counselor Neil Shortlidge for the month of January. Shortlidge assisted in both trials in January and took the lead in presenting the city's case in its failed defense of the Sunshine violation.

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So will Platte City be getting some financial credit from Williams and Campo since the city was embarrassed in its Sunshine defense? Remember, back in the fall after the city was forced to settle a previous Sunshine case, the guilty-feeling law firm credited the city financially."I haven't had a conversation to that effect," Moody said of a possible credit coming again this time from Williams and Campo.Hmmm.
Sounds like annexation expenses, then, could be in the range of $100,000 or more. And the matter hasn't even reached the ballot.Is any more proof needed that it's time to stop the charade? A friendly annexation approach would be much less costly and certainly better for the city's public relations. Under this out-of-control, questionably coherent administration, I wouldn't ever anticipate a friendly approach being implemented, however.Just another reason why the April reelection efforts of Jim Palmer, Lee Roy Van Lew and George McClintock are going to be so much fun to watch. Turn here each week and you'll have a front row seat for it all.

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What a great accomplishment for local attorney Bob Shaw, who proceeded to make the city's attorneys look like overmatched schoolboys in the Sunshine lawsuit. I sat in on the testimony and the defining moment may have come when the city strangely called its own annexation attorney to the stand. It was a bizarre move. . .and a move Shaw no doubt was glad to see. Shaw proceeded to dress Chris Williams in a clownsuit with a line of questioning that revealed Williams felt it was OK for a governmental body to discuss policy matters in closed session as long as no vote was taken.Remember, Williams on more than one occasion has boasted of being a Sunshine Law expert. He may not be quite so boastful in the future.

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Instead of considering an appeal of the judge's ruling, the aldermen should be considering a malpractice suit against Williams and Campo.

(Send email to Between the Lines, where the sun always shines-- even on a cloudy day--to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


Human kindness alive and well; Right ruling needed for open governmentPosted 1/31/07

Let's start off this week with a note that might just warm the cockles of your heart. It nearly brought a tear to my eye, I can tell you that.Legend has it this letter was sent to the principal’s office after an elementary school had sponsored a Christmas luncheon for the elderly. An old lady had received a new radio at the lunch as a door prize, and was writing to say thank you. Here's what she sent:Dear Faculty and Students, God bless you for the beautiful radio I won at your recent senior citizens’ luncheon.I am 84 years old and live at an Assisted Home for the Aged. All of my family has passed away. I am all alone now and it’s nice to know someone is thinking of me.God bless you for your kindness to an old forgotten lady.My roommate is 95 and always had her own radio. Before I received this one, she would never let me listen to hers, even when she was napping.The other day, her radio fell off the nightstand and broke into a lot of little pieces. It was awful and she was in tears. She asked if she could listen to mine, and I said screw you.Thank you for that opportunity. Sincerely, Agnes

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The Jan. 19 issue of the Kansas City Business Journal has an excellent article on the past and future of longtime Landmark pal/former U.S. Attorney/former Platte County prosecutor/prolific father Todd Graves.The story even includes a photo of Graves standing in his office, hands on hips with his suit jacket open in a "Yeah, I'm bad, I'm beautiful and I know it" kind of pose.One of the most interesting facts revealed in the piece is that in his early days as a 29-year-old newly elected prosecutor in Platte County, Graves learned the ins and outs of the biz from his top assistant Roseann Ketchmark (Roseann Smith back in those days). Ketchmark was a prosecutor for Jackson County when Graves' wife met her while working on Todd's first campaign. Graves convinced Ketchmark to come on board as his top assistant in Platte County and the rest is history. Ketchmark became responsible for training and mentoring the young staff, including the top dog. Together, Graves and Ketchmark started hammering the bad guys and gained a reputation as some of the most aggressive prosecutors in the state.Ketchmark told the magazine Graves was a fast study, a quick learner who, when the occasional Platte County homicide popped up, wanted to personally handle the case.Later when Graves accepted an appointment as U.S. Attorney, he took Ketchmark with him. She still works in the U.S. Attorney's office today. Graves, as you know, has now gone into private practice, forming Graves Bartle & Marcus LLP in downtown Kansas City.

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One important point the article failed to mention is now that Graves is in private practice, he has been free to join a stable of lawyers who form the official Landmark legal counsel team, a lowly paid/highly challenging position.Only the best for the only countywide newspaper.

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It's late Wednesday morning and the world--well, at least this little corner of it--is awaiting Judge Lee Hull's ruling on the alleged Sunshine Law violation against the City of Platte City. The suit brought by Platte City resident Harold Coons asks, among other things, that the judge pull next week's involuntary annexation issues off the ballot, alleging the aldermen sucker-punched the state's open meetings law by discussing annexation and annexation boundaries in closed session on Sept. 26.This decision is of utmost importance and will be watched with great interest statewide. Supporters of open government--and if you're not one, what are you doing in America?--can only hope the judge dismisses the city's defense that it discussed the annexation boundaries in closed session to protect the attorney/client privilege when it's clear they closed the session to discuss policy issues, not legal issuesThe city's defense is weak. If this is allowed, look for governmental entities everywhere to start closing meetings under the guise of "we've got to close this session because we may discuss a topic that could bring legal action against us."Here's some breaking news for you. Every decision reached, every topic discussed by any governmental body has the potential to bring legal action from somebody. Does that mean all meetings should now be closed with the exception of coming out to take a vote on passing ordinances?It's ridiculous. And very scary.A finding that the city did not violate the Sunshine Law in this case would be a kick in the face of open government. It basically would send a message that governmental bodies can lock out the public and talk about anything they wish as long as their attorneys are present in closed session, hiding behind the attorney/client privilege argument.Stop to think about that for a moment. Ponder the thought deeply.That should scare the bejeezus out of all of us.

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Snow is falling late Wednesday morning and already City of Platte City road crews are out spreading salt and sand on the main drags around town. I've said it before and I'll say it again. The city's snow removal process is so much more efficient now than it was several years ago. Platte City has come a long way in that department from the days when one swath would be made by a snow plow going down Main Street, one swath was made going up Main Street, all the while inexplicably leaving a tall pile of snow in the middle of the street that served as a spider web of sorts for cars who got too close to it.

(Email Between the Lines, where the sun always shines, at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


A lesson in logic; and the Sunshine lawsuit to have statewide impact

Posted 1/24/07

Two Kentucky farmers, Jim and Bob, are sitting at their favorite bar, drinking bourbon. Jim turns to Bob and says: "You know, I'm tired of going through life without an education. Tomorrow I think I'll go to the community college and sign up for some classes."Bob thinks it's a good idea and the two leave the bar.The next day, Jim goes down to the college and meets the dean of admissions, who signs him up for the four basic classes: math, English, history and logic."Logic?" Jim says. "What's that?"The dean says: "I'll show you. Do you own a weed-eater?""Yeah.""Then logically speaking, because you own a weed-eater, I think that you would have a yard.""That's true, I do have a yard," Jim says."I'm not done," the dean says. "Because you have a yard, I think, logically, that you would have a house.""Yes, I do have a house," Jim says."And because you have a house, I think that you might logically have a family." "Yes, I do have a family.""I'm not done yet. Because you have a family, then logically you must have a wife.""Yes, I do have a wife," Jim answers."And because you have a wife, then logic tells me you must be a heterosexual.""I am a heterosexual. That's amazing. You were able to find out all of that because I have a weed-eater," Jim says.Excited to take the class now, Jim shakes the dean's hand and leaves to go meet Bob at the bar. He tells Bob about his classes, how he is signed up for math, English, history and logic."Logic? Bob says. "What's that?"Jim says: "I'll show you. Do you have a weed-eater?""No.""Then you're a homosexual."

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Platte County's proposed 2007 budget includes a 3% cost of living adjustment (in plain English, that's a salary increase) for county employees.And remember, as discussed in a column a few weeks ago, the elected officials who were chosen at the November ballot get to piggyback in on this COLA, thanks to the one-vote majority decision dictated by presiding commissioner Betty Knight. What this all means is that Knight and four other officeholders will be reaping the benefits of the salary increase granted to county employees.If the proposed budget is approved Thursday--and there's no reason to believe it won't be--here is how salaries of your elected county officials will look in 2007, with these figures having been verified for us by the county human resources department.Betty Knight, presiding commissioner: $65,755.
Sandy Krohne, county clerk: $65,755.
Donna Nash, county collector: $65,755.
Gloria Boyer, recorder of deeds: $65,755.
Siobhann Williams, auditor: $65,755.
Lisa Pope, assessor: $63,840.
Terry Edwards, public administrator: $63,840.
Jim Plunkett, second district commissioner: $61,840.
Tom Pryor, first district commissioner: $61,840.
Eric Zahnd, prosecutor (salary per state statute is the same as circuit court judges): $96,000.
Richard Anderson, sheriff, (salary determined by state statutory formula based on county's assessed valuation): $70,450, with includes a $1,200 uniform allowance.

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This is the week both annexation lawsuits against the city of Platte City are being heard in Platte County Circuit Court. The suit dealing with the notification issue was heard Monday and Tuesday by Judge Abe Shafer, with testimony wrapping up Tuesday afternoon and all parties now awaiting a ruling by Judge Shafer, who said we can anticipate his decision by the end of the week.Testimony began Wednesday morning as The Landmark was wrapping up this week's issue. Judge Owens Lee Hull will decide on the lawsuit that alleges Platte City violated the Sunshine Law by discussing proposed annexation boundaries in closed session.Media types and staunch supporters of open government have a particular interest in the Sunshine lawsuit. Judge Hull's ruling will be examined statewide as the question of whether cities can discuss such things as annexation behind closed doors has long been pondered privately. It's a ruling many of us are greatly anticipating as it could guide future behavior by governmental entities across the state.

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With longtime city clerk Tanya Bates having completed her final day in Platte City on Tuesday, interviews will soon be underway as the city begins the search for her replacement. Keith Moody, city administrator suffering from islands in his stream (kidney stones) this week that prevented him from giving in-person testimony in the notification lawsuit, says he will be interviewing candidates on Jan. 31. In a memo, Moody invited aldermen to sit in on interviews. "I welcome any board members who wish to participate in the process, but ask that you commit time from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in order to interview all the candidates," Moody wrote.

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Annexation no doubt helped spur some interest in candidate filings for the city of Platte City's aldermen seats up for grabs in April. In Ward 1, incumbent Lee Roy Van Lew will be challenged by Tom Marquis and Ron Stone. In Ward 2, incumbent George McClintock faces challenges from Andy Stanton and Tony Paolillo. In Ward 3, incumbent Jim Palmer will have opposition from Todd Sloan.Should be fun to watch.

(Send your best piece of logic to professor Foley at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


Court time near on annexation; City park problems

Posted 1/18/07

I'm still hoping for that return phone call from the jester of the Kansas City Municipal Court of Corruption to see if she'll be refiling those charges of assault and resisting police against a former Platte County counselor that were curiously dismissed.I'm now waiting in the place where someone suggested I go in anticipation of a return call from Ms. Incompetence. There's no threat of freezing down here just yet.

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That MU-KU battle on Monday night was one of the most entertaining college basketball games I've watched in quite some time. The underdog Tigers put up a valiant fight before succumbing to a brilliant performance by Sherron Collins, a KU freshman, who came off the bench to score 23 points in the 80-77 Kansas win.My son and I will be on hand for the rematch in Columbia on Feb. 10. Something tells me the outcome could be different in that one. Should be fun to watch either way.

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Staying in the toy department for this segment, how about the excitement level of the NFL playoff games held this past weekend? Three of the four games went down to the wire.
It's time to swallow some pride and formally announce a winner in The Landmark's annual dog and pony show we like to call Pigskin Picks. Those wily ol' Orrick Farm Service veterans of football watching have claimed this year's top prize, having opened an insurmountable lead in the season standings with just conference championship games and the Super Bowl left to play, leaving one strikingly handsome newspaper publisher in second place and everybody else in the category of also-ran.L.C. George and Steve Buckler of Orrick Farm Service had a consistently hot season forecasting winners of NFL games. Those boys watch a lot of football when the weather turns too cold for farming.I need to go back and do an official tabulation, but off the top of my head I believe now everybody in the competition has finished on top of the season standings at least once in our annual bragging rights battle, which has gone on since the 1999 or 2000 season. Well, except for the guests. At first blush I don't recall the guests ever finishing on top in the season standings, though again I'll do an official tabulation soon.

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Two court trials are scheduled next week in regard to Platte City's latest annexation proposal.The first trial is set for Monday in front of Judge Abe Shafer. That case deals with an allegation the city failed to properly notify property owners Douglas J. Yeager and Linda J. Cuquet of the impending annexation effort of their property. Yeager and Cuquet are listed as the owners of record of property at 13710 Running Horse Road in what the city refers to as Annexation Area A. "The city didn't notify these people. They weren't even on the city's list of property owners in the annexation area," attorney Bob Shaw, representing the landowners, told The Landmark recently.A second lawsuit dealing with Platte City's annexation is scheduled to be heard next Wednesday, Jan. 24 in front of Judge Lee Hull. That suit alleges the city board of aldermen violated the state's Sunshine Law by discussing proposed annexation boundaries in closed session.Both cases seek to have the proposed annexation issue removed from the Feb 6 special election ballot.This will make for fascinating courtroom drama. If there were such a thing, it would be prime material for Platte County's version of Court TV.

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Since we're speaking of Platte City's annexation effort--a land grab that if successful would triple the geographic size of the city limits--what makes the city think it can take on more services when it is already struggling with what it has? That's no more apparent than following the story dealing with the city's inability to stay on top of parks maintenance.An argument can be made that the city has more than it can handle now. Why it wants to bite off another large chunk of area to be serviced I have no earthly idea.

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After doing further study into the state of upkeep on Platte City's new and previously existing parks, I now believe I made an overestimation of the city's parks department in last week's column when I wrote: "The city parks department is led by good, hard-working folks who are strong on labor but may be lacking just a bit in management ability an budgeting skills."Upon further review of evidence of alleged lack of upkeep at Riverview in addition to Platte Ridge, I now believe I bragged too strongly on the city's parks and rec labor efforts. Whether the park staff is overworked or unable to do the job for whatever reason, there's no denying there are some problems there. Burning of construction materials on park property is not the least of those problems. Park director Dannie Stamper identified the contents of the fire as construction materials, and we can only assume they were leftovers from park construction projects. But Stamper told The Landmark his department didn't start that fire nor did they put it out. Maybe none of us should point fingers at anyone from the city for the fire. Let's think outside the box and consider the possibility those construction materials were simply the victims of spontaneous combustion. Even park board president Bill Burnett agrees there are some issues."I don't want to slam anybody. We've got some issues and I'm trying to take care of them," he told me last week. "You've got to have communication. Maybe if our parks board talks more to Brian Nowotny (county parks director) and their park board we can take care of these issues."

(Send email to park lover/environmental protector Ivan Foley at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


Sheriff says no special treatment for fellow cops; I have a dream

Posted 1/11/07

Personally, I was shocked to not find my name on the list of folks appointed by Dave Brooks to serve on his mayor's advisory council.Hold me until the storm passes.

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I am impressed.Thirty minutes into the new year--that would be 12:30 a.m. on Jan. 1--a Platte County Sheriff's Department deputy stopped a speeding vehicle southbound on Interstate 29 at 64th St. The county officer approached the vehicle, detected an odor of alcoholic beverage, and attempted to perform a field sobriety test upon the driver. The driver was transported to the county detention center where his blood alcohol contest was recorded at .243, roughly three times over the legal limit.Nothing really all that newsworthy in this, right? Wrong. The big news in this story is that the driver was an off-duty sergeant with the Kansas City Police Department. He was issued a citation for driving under the influence.So much for that law enforcement professional courtesy we've all heard so much about through the years. I commend the sheriff's department for resisting the chance to show preferential treatment."We have zero tolerance on driving while intoxicated and arrests, including with our own officers. It's something we just do not work with," Captain Frank Hunter of the sheriff's department told me this week.The Kansas City police sergeant charged in the case is identified as Jack Henry, age 39, who lives in Kansas City. His charge, a misdemeanor, is scheduled to be heard in Platte County Circuit Court.

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You've got to wonder if the KC cop will somehow try to pull a fast one and get his case heard in the Kansas City Municipal Court of Corruption.

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I'm attempting to follow-up on last week's column topic regarding attorney Michael Gunn's assault and resisting arrest case being dismissed in the Kansas City Municipal Court of Corruption. Remember, the city prosecutor failed to ensure that the police officer who worked the case would be able to make it to the court hearing. On Wednesday morning I placed a call to the office of the official court jester for the court of corruption, but the court jester--who distinguishes herself as the head of incompetency for the court of corruption--had not returned my call as of presstime.In an unrelated but not necessarily different situation last year, the court jester allowed another Platte County attorney to appear in municipal court on a DUI charge that was supposed to be heard in state court. The court jester last week said she is considering refiling the charges against Gunn, which would give her another chance to creatively screw up a case.

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I wonder if I would get a more prompt return call from the court of corruption if I left my credit card number or sent a money order.

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Maybe I've just got to start being more criminal-friendly.

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A couple more screw-ups and the KC municipal prosecutor will be qualified to serve as an annexation attorney for the city of Platte City.

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In honor of Martin Luther King Day, let me simply say that I have a dream. In fact, I have three dreams.•I have a dream that one day Kansas City will have a major daily newspaper.•I have a dream--and if you have a weak stomach proceed cautiously on this one--that one day Carl Peterson and Dave Brooks will meet and become good friends. It seems likely they would spend much of their time together at a day spa, talking of their many imagined accomplishments while sitting in a sauna wearing nothing but a kilt and a ball cap. They would conclude their daily routine by massaging one another's egos. •I have a dream that Buck O'Neil isn't really dead. He still can't play baseball worth a damn but he'll sell you a reverse home mortgage like it's nobody's business.

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Expect Platte City and Platte County to get their differences worked out over the apparently ugly state of disrepair the city has allowed the Platte Ridge Park to deteriorate into. Frankly, I can't imagine the county wanting to inherit full responsibility for a park that has become a mess in some folks eyes.The city has invested about $1 million at Platte Ridge, though the county says the city has invested it in strange ways that have contributed to the deterioration of what was supposed to be one of the jewels of the county parks system. The city parks department is led by good, hard-working folks who are strong on labor but may be lacking just a bit in management ability and budgeting skills. What might be best is if the county can provide more help in leading, guiding, budgeting and managing while letting the city parks department focus only on the labor aspect. Of course in order for that to happen the city parks department would have to swallow some pride and be willing to accept some guidance--and that may be the biggest obstacle of all.

(Got a dream you'd like to share? Send it to the dreamcatcher at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


It's one of those weeks when things just smell funny

Posted 1/4/07

Sometimes in the news biz--especially covering government issues-- things just don't smell right. Sometimes the appearance of a conflict or an impropriety is just as powerful as overwhelming evidence of such.That's about the most polite way I can describe what went down in the Platte County Commission meeting room Friday morning on the final business day of 2006. On that day, Platte County Presiding Commissioner Betty Knight basically voted herself a pay raise. All by herself.Ah, the power of one.But wait, you might say, can public officials vote themselves a pay raise? Sure, Congress has done it quite often. Other governmental bodies have done it also. The major difference, however, is those folks took the vote as a full body, as a group. It's not a situation of one elected official casting one vote that in essence gives that particular elected official a pay increase.But that's what Betty Knight did on Friday.Here's how it went down (and you can get more details in Dave Kinnamon's front page story):County officials say if cost of living increases are to be granted to elected officials in 2007, the county commission must by the end of 2006 pass a "commission order" authorizing such COLA adjustment. Calendar year 2006 apparently flew by so fast the county commission couldn't get this item on the agenda until Dec. 29, last business day of the year."We forgot to put it on the agenda last week," Knight told The Landmark on Friday. Hmm. Had it been on the agenda the previous week, a full supply of county commissioners would have been on hand to cast a vote on the topic. As it so happens, county commissioner Jim Plunkett was out of town Friday on a previously planned family vacation. That left only Knight and first district county commissioner Tom Pryor at the meeting.Pryor voted no on the officeholder COLA idea. Knight voted yes. Plunkett, as stated, was absent. A 1-1 vote. In those situations, the vote of the presiding commissioner trumps (counts as two) so the motion passes in effect by a 2-1 vote, though Knight is the only one of the commissioners supporting the idea. Sounds a lot like Betty outfoxed somebody. Had the measure been on the previous week's agenda, Plunkett and Pryor would have had the chance to kill it 2-1. But at the last meeting of the year with Plunkett gone, Betty was able to play her trump card. Worst case scenario there was a convenient conspiracy in place (hey let's vote on this while Plunkett is out of town. Pryor will be on hand to vote no, Betty will trump him and still get her way, Plunkett doesn't have to cast a vote. . .he doesn't have to be the bad guy. If we do it this way, Tom keeps the conservatives happy, Betty and her band of bureaucrats are happy, and Jim can simply explain it all took place while he was away on a previously planned family vacation.)Convenient indeed.Another scenario is that Plunkett and Pryor were simply outfoxed by Betty's ploy to wait until she knew Plunkett would be out of town. In either situation, the elected official getting cast in the darkest light of all this is Knight. With her two-for-one yes vote, she in essence has given herself a raise in pay for 2007. If county commissioners approve a cost of living pay increase for employees in 2007--which seems very likely based on the buzz around the administration building--now Knight automatically gets a pay increase herself. The order passed by Friday's vote says the eligible officials "shall receive a COLA increase equal to the percentage increase given to all other county employees for the year 2007." Since mid-term pay increases are not allowed per a little thing called the state constitution, the only eligible officials are officeholders starting new terms in 2007. Knight is the only commissioner in that category.Interestingly, you'll notice the county's order says "shall." It doesn't say "may." You'll notice it says "equal to." It doesn't say "equal to or less than."Keep in mind this had to be passed in 2006, so no chance to reconvene once Plunkett was back in town to overturn Friday's travesty. Sure looks a lot like Betty is a sly fox in this one.

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And the argument here isn't whether you believe the eligible elected officials--Betty Knight, Donna Nash, Sandy Krohne and Siobhann Williams--deserve a raise from their positions' current salary in the low $60,000s.The argument here is whether you believe one elected official should be able to in effect grant herself a pay increase. In budget discussions now, anytime Knight makes the argument that "our employees deserve more money" she is actually arguing for her own pay increase. There's something wrong with that picture.I find it hard to believe too many folks will think Betty did the right thing by employing her trump card to potentially line her own pockets.In politics, appearance is everything. This one appears a little cloudy.

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As if any of us needed further proof that Kansas City Municipal Court is a joke, check out the Michael Gunn case (see related story on this page). City prosecutors didn't ensure that the police officer involved in the case was actually going to show up for court last Thursday to testify against Gunn, a lawyer. The police officer turns out to be a no-show, a judge who is hearing one of his final cases before retirement denies the prosecution's request for a continuance (even though Gunn himself had been allowed continuances four times prior to Thursday) and the now-retired judge dismisses the charges of assault on a female process server and resisting police.Talk about a kangaroo court. I'm told by some folks who have seen the in-car video in this case that Gunn's chances of winning in a real courtroom would have been slim. Kansas City prosecutor Beth Murano, who in 2006 allowed a case against another Platte County lawyer to be heard in KC court when in fact the case should have been heard in state court, sounded a little sheepish on the phone with me when I questioned her about the latest circus. "We're evaluating our options," she said, indicating her office will consider refiling charges against Gunn.At this point, Beth, why bother? You and the KC court have been exposed for incompetence twice in recent months. You've got bigger problems.

(Between the Lines advice: If you're ever charged with a crime, your chances of beating the system are strongest if the case is set to be heard in Kansas City Municipal Court. Send your best lifeskills tips to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)

 

 

 

ivan@plattecountylandmark.com