heading


Covering Platte County, Missouri Weekly Since 1865

Legal Notices
The official Platte County Legal Newspaper! Platte
County Foreclosures

Between the Lines
by Ivan Foley

The Rambling Moron
by Chris Kamler

The Right Stuff
by James Thomas

Straight from Stigall
by Chris Stigall

Parallax Look
by Brian Kubickis

KC Confidential
by Hearne Christopher

Off the Couch
by Greg Hall

Classifieds

Advertising

Subscriptions


Weekly publication dates are Wednesdays

252 Main Street0
P
P.O. Box 410
Platte City, Missouri 64079
816-858-0363

Fax :816-858-2313

TO CONTACT US
by email
Click Here!
or
by phone
816.858.0363


Contact Lawmakers
by Congress
Click here to:
Find Federal Officials &
Find State Officials


 
Ivan's picture
Between the Lines

by Ivan Foley
Landmark editor

I'LL BE THE KID WITH THE PUMPED UP KICKS

Written 12/26/12

How was your holiday?

Everybody at The Landmark, no doubt already feeling blessed to be employed at such a remarkable workplace, is reporting to have had a great Christmas. We hope our readers did as well.

All the little elves at The Landmark’s workshop cranked out the news at an even faster-than-normal pace so our readers could enjoy the county’s best news, information and commentary at their normal time.

Thanks for reading.

*******

So you say you don’t have plans for Saturday night? Well, you do now. Let’s kick it.
Your Landmark publisher has been invited to play in the Comets second annual Media Game this Saturday, Dec. 29.

The Missouri Comets, Kansas City’s professional indoor soccer team, will be playing the Syracuse Silver Knights on Saturday at 7:35 p.m. at the Independence Events Center. Special halftime entertainment will be an exhibition match featuring some invited members of the Kansas City media, including your fearless Between the Lines columnist.

Sporting a pair of pumped up kicks that Santa left for me, I’ll be there with the intention of dominating this match. Or at least surviving it.

I’m almost 50, so soccer wasn’t really a thing during my athletic prime. But hey, I did score a goal in a soccer game once. In fifth grade. At recess. I think the ball ricocheted off my head.

This is the second year for the Media Game. I wasn’t there for last year’s battle, but I’m told this will be a highly “spirited” match. Your favorite Kansas City television, radio and newspaper personalities will go to war in a game split into two four-minute halves. There will be a three minute break in between. Praise Jesus.

Give me a shout if you’re interested in going to the game, as the Comets were gracious enough to provide a handful of tickets I can give to Landmark readers. This will be a good time.

******

Landmark facilities manager Kurt Foley has a couple of suggestions for Saturday’s event. First, he suggests we dine at Joe’s Crab Shack, not far from the Events Center. Secondly, he suggests that if I score a goal during the game that I rip off my shirt while doing a celebration dance, like Brandi Chastain did after her game-winning kick in the 1999 Women’s World Cup final. See the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZxHzLF2qqnE

I’m all in. Scoring a goal will be difficult. Ripping off my jersey will be easy.

FYI, unlike Chastain, I will not be wearing a sports bra underneath.

******

.
If you’re into this sort of thing, one of the most interesting and almost fun (I said almost) times on the local political scene is the day newly-elected officeholders and their families and friends swarm to the second floor county commission meeting room in the Platte County Administration Building for a swearing-in ceremony. That day is almost here. The swearing-in will take place Friday, Dec. 28 at 3 p.m. A reception filled with refreshments and conversation will follow.

As you know, all of the new officeholders to take the oath that day are Republicans: Toni Clemens, public administrator; David Cox, assessor; Mark Owen, sheriff; Beverlee Roper, first district county commissioner; Duane Soper, second district county commissioner; and Rob Willard, treasurer. Don’t forget, even though the assessor takes the oath that day, he doesn’t officially begin his new duties in that position until September, per state law. So from now until September, David Christian will be the only Democrat officeholder in the building. Once September arrives, no Democrats at all.

Kind of sad, really, to see how far the local Democrat party has fallen. It has fallen to the point that we now have people who are Democrats at heart actually filing as Republicans because they’re smart enough to realize it’s next to impossible for a Democrat to get elected in Platte County.

Anyway, the public is invited to Friday’s shindig. If you want to get a seat, better get there early.

******

Proud to say The Landmark office was graced with a visit Wednesday morning by Aaron Rinehart, a local boy who has gone on to a noteworthy career. It’s cool to note when a local “kid” you’ve watched grow up now has an impressive professional life.
Aaron, who is the son of longtime Landmark office manager Cindy Rinehart and her husband Mark, is a 2001 graduate of North Platte High School. Aaron lives just outside of Washington, D.C. with his wife and newborn son. He works in our nation’s capital for the Department of Homeland Security in one of those “I could tell ya but I’d have to kill ya” positions.

******

Sadly and with regret, I’m letting you know that Bill Hankins, The Landmark’s award-winning photojournalist the past 12 years, has decided to call it quits.

Bill, who was inducted into the Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Fame a few years ago, will spend more time tending to the 35 acres that he and his wife own north of Platte City. In his time with The Landmark, the amazingly-talented Hankins has won 47 awards in the annual Missouri Better Newspaper Contest, including 18 first place finishes. His contributions to The Landmark go well beyond the obvious, and his advice and friendship have always been--and will continue to be--cherished.

More on Bill’s decision and career highlights in a future issue. For now, we thank him for all he has done and hope he’ll offer an occasional photographic contribution.
Doug Baldwin, whose outstanding work you’ve seen in The Landmark periodically over the past 12 months, will take full control of photographing high school sports for us.

(Get Between the Lines 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley or email ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)

 


THOUGHTS ON GOVERNMENT RAISES; AND THE IRONY IN PLUNKETT VS. SHAW

Written 12/19/12

Welcome back to Between the Lines, where we’re determined to bring you tidings of comfort and joy. Comfort and joy. Getcha some.

******

It’s Christmas and soon time for the calendar to turn the page from December to January. You know what that means. Yes, government entities think it automatically means it’s time to increase the pay for government workers. At your expense.

No merit evaluations necessary. The calendar is turning. Time for raises. Right?
Some public boards feel that way. With little thought other than recognizing we’re ripping off the December calendar page and soon viewing January, it’s time for a pay increase. The start of a new year doesn’t automatically mean a pay raise for folks in the private sector, so why does it so often feel like an automatic thing in the world of government?

Parkville did it Tuesday night by passing a budget with a salary hike across the board of 2.7%. Not a terribly high jump, but don’t forget last year at this time Parkville gave ridiculous pay increases to some of its employees, including a 10% pay raise for its police chief, a 15% increase for a police captain, 13% increase for its park director, a 7% increase for its city administrator, and a whopping 21% hike for a community development secretary.

At any rate, the county of Platte will soon be knee-deep in budget discussions and there is already a not-so-behind the scenes push by some officeholders and employees for county workers to be given a 5% salary increase. They point out it has been five years or so since employees were given raises.

I’m not completely opposed to county employees getting a small bump. Let me rephrase that. I’m not opposed to deputies in the sheriff’s department getting a pay increase. That’s the one area where it’s safe for even fiscal conservatives like me to admit the county is underpaying its employees. As for the desk jobs inside the county administration building? No, I don’t believe the county is underpaying. If you’d like to make a test run of that, advertise an opening for a government desk job. My guess is you’ll find a lot of available qualified applicants willing to work for the current wage the county is paying.

So a five percent raise? No way. Not in this economy and with the knowledge that a hike of that magnitude would undo what has been accomplished by holding salaries flat the past few years.

Most importantly when it comes to the county, it’s imperative to recall what the county commission generously did for its employees at this time last year. Do you remember? Last December county commissioners Jason Brown, Kathy Dusenbery and Jim Plunkett made the decision for the county to absorb a 10% increase in health insurance premiums for its employees.

When judging how fairly they’re being treated in a financial sense, employees sometimes don’t factor in the costs their bosses incur in offering health plans. They should.

******

Decisions on governmental salaries need to be based on more than just the passage of time. Matters such as economic conditions, value of the position to the overall function of the operation (each and every position has a maximum value, to pay beyond that level is not fiscally responsible), and job performance evaluations must be factored in.

Nothing in life is guaranteed. Raises for government workers should be earned, not assumed.

******

Jim Plunkett’s effort to fire county counselor Bob Shaw failed on a 2-1 vote. That vote took place on Monday during the final meeting for Plunkett as a county commissioner. Plunkett was not able to convince fellow commissioners Jason Brown and Kathy Dusenbery that a change is warranted in the county counselor position.

The irony of this, and I’m sure this is not lost on Plunkett himself, is that three years ago the Platte County Regional Sewer District board was engaged in serious discussions over whether to fire Shaw as its legal counsel. Plunkett at that time served on the PCRSD board of directors.

I recall one particular sewer board meeting where Shaw was on the verge of being fired. But you know whose voice on the PCRSD board was the deciding one in the eventual decision to NOT fire Shaw at that time? Jim Plunkett.

More proof that in politics there are so many twists and turns over time that anything can, and probably will, happen.

It’s also a sign that if a change in county counselor was going to be made, the public momentum to do so was three years ago. Now? Not so much.

******

Unlike some elected officials on their way out the door, Plunkett has decided to go out with a bang. He has been busy drawing attention to what he feels are bad decisions made by his cohorts. He especially seems to enjoy drawing differences between himself and Brown, which is extremely intriguing.

So let’s speculate for a moment. Brown’s position is up for reelection in two years. Plunkett realistically could step away from politics for two years to concentrate on his successful business. By 2014 he might be ready to jump back in the fray.

Plunkett graciously approached me prior to the start of Monday’s meeting. We shook hands, exchanged pleasantries, briefly reflected on his time in office over the past eight years. Then I made this comment:

“Who knows, you might be back someday.”

His response? A non-verbal poker face. He didn’t say yes. Perhaps more telling, he didn’t say no.

At any rate, my best wishes to both Plunkett and Dusenbery as they exit the sometimes comfy, sometimes hot seats they have occupied in the county commission meeting room.

(While local politicians come and go, The Landmark always remains. Get it 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


TAKE MY HAND, WE'RE GONNA GET THROUGH THIS

Written 12/12/12

Aaron Post, Missouri Conservation Department agent based in Platte County, tells me deer hunters in the county weren’t as successful as normal this year. During the 11 day firearms season, Platte County hunters took 8% fewer deer than last year and 20% fewer than two years ago. A dreaded sickness known as blue tongue disease seems to have played a factor in reducing the number of deer seen by hunters, Post indicated, but then he quickly added that officials “aren’t really sure what’s going on.”

I am. It’s the mountain lions. Boom. Mystery solved.

You’re welcome.

*****

And so this is Christmas.

Take my hand. We’re gonna get through this.

You deserve a break from the hustle and bustle of the season. Come join us for The Landmark’s annual public Christmas party. It’s this Friday (that’s Dec. 14) at the Comfort Inn, 1201 Hwy. 92 in Platte City. We’ll be there from 4-8 p.m. (maybe longer). The Landmark will be serving complimentary food and beverages. The outdoor forecast for Friday is a toasty 55 degrees. The indoor forecast is for freaky fun fellowship.

Come meet and greet your Landmark staff, columnists and contributors, including a guy named Foley, always happy to serve as your journalistic Santa; office manager Cindy Rinehart, ace reporter Valerie Verkamp; cartoonist Matthew Silber; columnists including Rambling Moron Chris Kamler (the notorious @TheFakened on Twitter); Brian Kubicki; James Thomas and Hearne Christopher; contributing photographers Bill Hankins, Doug Baldwin and Mylissa Russell; our contributing private investigator Ron Rugen, who I’m guessing will be the only 6’8” person in the room; contributing reporters Tim Kubicki, Andrea Plunkett and Deb Hammond; distribution diva Jennifer Shanks-Hernandez; our Garden Guy columnist George Weigel; our facilities manager/Pigskin Picks leader/college boy Kurt Foley; and other members of The Landmark's cast of characters, including Victoria Lynn-Crook, our official Beverage Babe and Hairstylist to the Journalistic Stars.

In addition, we have what I feel is the most impressive list of special guests ever compiled: Kris Ketz, news anchor on KMBC-TV Channel 9; Ryan Kath, investigative reporter for KSHB-TV Channel 41, currently probing whether Santa is real or fake; Jay Binkley, co-host of the Big Show each weekday on 610 Sports; DeAnn Smith of KCTV-5; our longtime pal Greg Hall, noted sports media critic in Kansas City who has a daily column on our web site; Brad (Wild) Westmar, radio host/podcaster; Kansas City Royals stadium public address announcer Mike McCartney (maybe we’ll have him announce the name of every person walking in the door); Todd Graves, former U.S. Attorney; Eric Zahnd, Platte County prosecutor; Jason Klindt, communications director for Congressman Sam Graves; Jean Maneke, a Kansas City-based attorney who is also a Sunshine Law specialist for the Missouri Press Association; Platte City Mayor Frank Offutt; Andy Stanton of the Central Platte Fire Board; and Rob Willard, Platte County's treasurer-elect.

This thing is getting bigger than the Beatles. Well, at least bigger than that group that pretends to be the Beatles.

******

I’m not sure a few folks who want to keep the Platte City police chief in his current position despite the recent trampling of civil rights are grasping how expen$ive that could turn out to be. You know that tax increase city officials recently approved? Chances are it will end up going to the line item known as “legal expenses.”

Despite the city attorney’s position (and really, what else is he gonna say--he’s not going to publicly admit legal wrongdoing on the part of the police department) it seems clear that a couple of families hold some trump cards against the city and the police department right now. One family has clearly expressed an intention of playing it. Another has been non-committal thus far, waiting to see how things develop.

It might be wise for the city to be approaching those families with the intent of doing what it takes to make this thing go away as inexpensively as possible. My guess is that would involve a personnel move. Bosses don’t like to admit they’ve made a mistake with a hire, but sometimes circumstances mandate a move.

And of course it’s not about the chief on a personal level. It doesn’t matter whether the chief seems like a non-evil person. It’s nice that it seems like on many days he does a halfway decent job. It’s great if you’ve seen him arrest a bad guy or two without losing his cool. It’s great that he may patronize your place of business. All that stuff is nice but it pales in comparison to constitutional questions. When it comes to heading a law enforcement agency, there are few mistakes bigger than stepping on the rights of those you have been hired to serve and protect.

As the city of Tracy’s mayor learned via a judge in a nepotism case that went to trial, local agencies cannot pick and choose which constitutional matters they choose to obey.

******

Platte County Sheriff’s Department communications center has made the switch to the new digital narrowbanding communications network. The switch was made last Wednesday, and Platte County Sheriff’s Department Cpt. Erik Holland tells me there have been only “minor hiccups” and “no major operational concerns.”

Of course the major operational concern it created for those of us who monitor police scanners is that we could no longer hear Platte County dispatches with the old scanners. A digital trunking scanner purchase was mandated upon us. Cost is about $400 if you catch one on sale, plus you may need to hire someone to program if for you, cost is anywhere from $30 to $50 for that service. The Landmark finished our switchover Tuesday of this week, so we’re now back in the business of monitoring dispatches of local emergency agencies.

For what it’s worth, the sound is crystal clear. It’s almost like the police are in the same room with you. You know, instead of just watching via hidden video.

(Get your Between the Lines fix 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley and Facebook.com/ivan.foley)

 


'NO BIG DEAL' MEANS IT WASN'T YOUR PRIVACY THAT WAS VIOLATED

Written 12/5/12

Be sure to check out this story about The Landmark’s Christmas party set for Friday, Dec. 14, 4-8 p.m. at the Comfort Inn in Platte City. We’re already getting an impressive list of special guests lined up.

Follow me at Twitter.com/ivanfoley and Facebook.com/ivan.foley to stay up to date with party information. Come join us next Friday for food, beverages, lively conversation and fun.

******

Uh oh, Platte County R-3 taxpayers, a North Platte patron winning the Powerball could mean bad things.

Don’t know that it will, but what if the Powerball winner being a North Platte grad eventually means an influx of cash into the North Platte athletic department? Seems very possible, right? North Platte could end up with a football complex that will put the luxuriously equipped, field-turf landscaped Platte County Pirate Stadium to shame.

Can you imagine the jealousy this would create? Platte County High School doesn’t like to be outdone in the sports department. The world knows this.

I fear a North Platte Panther winning the Powerball will soon lead to a push for Platte County High School’s Pirates Stadium to be equipped with a retractable dome or something.

Hold on to your wallets.

******

Some items that need to be noted from Monday night’s public hearing surrounding the Platte City Police Department’s placement of a surveillance camera on private property. . .by now you know the story that has made the city and its police department a regional laughingstock (did you catch the disbelief in the voice tone of the Channel 41 news anchor as she introduced the story on the 10 p.m. news Monday night? It was priceless).

*It’s interesting to note that most of the folks who spoke to downplay the matter and who said that the city and police department should just “move on” from the incident have a direct connection to the police chief, including the employer of the chief’s wife and the daughter of the employer of the chief’s wife. In other words, these aren’t unbiased folks detached from the situation taking to the podium. The chief/and or the department made a concerted effort to organize a cheering section that night. Certainly they have the right to do that. But the nature of that support needs to be understood.

*I found some of the comments made by defenders of the department’s action to be quite hypocritical and in some cases quite comical. For instance, one woman commented that criticism of the action “has gone way overboard,” and that the situation was “unfounded, petty crap.”

These comments are unintentionally hilarious. What is “ unfounded” are any details that have yet to come out. What is “way overboard” is placing a camera on private property, aiming it into someone’s back yard for at least four days and having that camera shoot a photo every 10 seconds. What is “petty” is doing all this in the effort, supposedly, to enforce an ordinance on the feeding of feral cats.

*The city administrator’s report says police who put the camera on private property next to the resident’s back yard thought the new camera would only be activated by movement within 30 feet. You’ve got to be kidding me. Try reading the instructions that came with the new toy. At least read the outside of the packaging. Remember the details of the camera’s capabilities I shared in this column last week? I gained that simply by Googling the model number. It’s hard to believe police who had this camera in their possession were not aware of its capabilities and settings. If so, they are admitting to a level of incompetence that in itself is a fireable offense on top of the fireable offense of trampling on the civil rights of the people the department is hired to serve and protect.

*Finally and most importantly, do you think anyone who is saying this is no big deal would be saying the same thing if police had aimed a camera at the back of their house for several days? It’s easy--in fact it’s cowardice--to downplay the incident when you and your privacy weren’t directly affected.

******

Had the police department not been caught in the act, it’s fair to assume the practice of unwarranted hidden video surveillance would have continued at residences around town.

The next time someone tries to tell you this is “no big deal,” think strongly about that and personalize it a bit more. That thought--and this incident--should scare the heck out of you.

*******

If the city wanted its findings and its next steps to be taken seriously it would be seeking the services of an outside agency to come in to investigate the situation. Instead, we’re getting an “investigation” of the illegally-placed camera done by the city administrator. We’re getting other complaints against the police chief “investigated” by the city attorney.

That’s not exactly the picture of impartiality. Remember, the city administrator, the city attorney, and the police chief earlier this fall all pushed for the passage of administrative search warrant ordinance that would have allowed the police to enter your residence with a codes officer for any suspected codes violation--including a violation of an ordinance monitoring how many pets you have.

Also, remember that the law firm serving as city attorney for Platte City is the same law firm that claimed the mayor of Tracy did not violate the state constitution on nepotism. A Platte County judge said otherwise. In other words, I’m not sure constitutional matters should be considered a specialty for this city attorney.

Obviously I’m not an attorney but I can say this with confidence: Neither the U.S. Constitution nor the Missouri Constitution are designed to be locally adaptable documents.

(What is locally adaptable is the news and commentary you get 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


MAYBE WE SHOULD EMBRACE THE TERM 'GAME CAMERA'

Written 11/28/12

From the moment I set eyes on it this morning, that pumpkin pie on the kitchen counter had no chance. That thing died a hero.

******

I’m getting in the holiday spirit by using some of that Christmas tree-scented aerosol spray as cologne.

I may be overdoing it. Birds are nesting in my hair and Platte City police are trying to mount hidden cameras on me.

******

Sentencing for Kevin Rawlings, the former Northland Regional Ambulance District board president who made a heck of a profitable financial investment in some NRAD sought-after real estate only to violate the law while doing so, is set for Friday at 9 a.m. in front of Platte County Associate Circuit Court Judge Dennis Eckold. Rawlings eventually pled guilty to misusing official information. Prosecutors are seeking jail time and restitution. Check my Twitter account at Twitter.com/ivanfoley on Friday morning and I’ll bring you the details of his sentencing as soon as it’s announced.

******

A much-anticipated meeting of the Platte City Public Safety Subcommittee will take place Monday evening, 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.

This session became the focus point once the improperly hidden surveillance camera that was aimed into the back yard of a residence came to light early this month. City Administrator DJ Gehrt says he’ll have his full report on the incident ready for the subcommittee that evening.

You know the details of the story by now and if you don’t, check out our front page.
The ACLU has become involved, understandably so. There have been calls from some community members--and a call in this column--for a change at the top of the police department as a result not only of this incident but of the earlier proposal to develop a policy for allowing police officers to go into homes and businesses with the city inspector for the purpose of codes enforcement under something called an “administrative search warrant.” Thankfully, public outcry from residents and business owners who saw the proposal as overly intrusive and excessive killed that ridiculous idea in September.

Two months later, police are back in the news with more intrusiveness. Enough is enough, it’s time for change. A former police chief fears we could up with worse. Really? Worse than intruding on the privacy and civil rights of the people? What would the next chief do--shoot up the town?

The issue is this: Does Platte City want to become a community where basic notions of decency and privacy are violated by authorities? The answer to that, of course, is no. Even the city administrator, despite his overly bureaucratic ways, has admitted that. In an interview with me a couple of weeks ago, Gehrt admitted most citizens “would not view the Platte City Police Department’s disregard for their privacy” as appropriate.

To say there is a level of distrust with the police department right now is putting it mildly. Some community members have been letting city officials know of other incidents that have concerned them. We’ll see how it plays out. The next step in the process is Monday night at 5:30.

******

Also of interest in Platte City: On Tuesday night shortly before 6 p.m., I noticed Aldermen Brad Fryrear and Tony Paolillo entering the back door of City Hall. The starting time for the regular meeting of the aldermen was still an hour away. So I walked to the front of City Hall and tried to enter, only to find the front door locked.
Fryrear and Paolillo serve as the “personnel committee” for the board of aldermen.

Later in the evening, I overheard one of them say to a fellow alderman that they had been meeting with the city administrator in his office for a “personnel issue.”

Food for thought.

******

Tuesday night was also the “annual performance review” of DJ Gehrt, Platte City’s city administrator. The review by aldermen was held in closed session for nearly an hour Tuesday night. No votes were taken. Gehrt did not get a pay increase. “No raises,” Mayor Frank Offutt answered when I questioned him immediately afterward.

Gehrt was hired a year ago at an annual salary of $85,000.

******

I did some research on the surveillance camera used in the controversial incident. It is one of two cameras purchased by Platte City on Oct. 8 of this year. Price tag was $199 each. You may have noticed the city doesn’t like to refer to them as “surveillance” cameras, instead they like to use the term “game cameras.”

The city can play word games all it wants but a camera hidden by police in a tree on private property trained on someone’s back yard is a surveillance camera. But hey, it’s fair to say games were being played with these cameras, so maybe we should embrace their terminology after all.

The cameras are what is known as Primos Truth Ultra BLACKOUT 7.0 MP Undetectable Game Cameras. Each camera features a time lapse mode that records photos all day at 10-second to 30-minute intervals and combines the photos into an AVI video, so you can watch a movie of an entire day's activity. Time lapse + night mode allows time lapse during the day and normal PIR sensor photos during the night.
Do you want to know what setting police had the time lapse mode placed at while the camera was aimed at Stephanie Santos’ back yard?

It was shooting a picture every ten seconds.

Wow. Excessive much? This story gets crazier every time we dig a little deeper.

(Anything crazy can be found 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


THERE'S NO EMERGENCY IN EMERGENCY RADIO FUNDING

Written 11/20/12

It’s Thanksgiving in Platte City. Tie up your wallaby.

******

As if it’s not obvious, I’m writing Gangnam Style this week.
It’s too legit to quit. Check out the accompanying video I’m watching repeatedly while composing this week’s column by surfing to http://tinyurl.com/ceqt5da

******

Does anybody still say “surfing” when talking about the internet? Cuz I just did and it felt weird, not gonna lie.

******

Felonious. Erroneous.

These are my two new favorite words. They have leaped my former favorite word, pants.

*******

Using them in a sentence: Thinking the feeding of feral cats is felonious would be erroneous.

******

Platte City’s community green waste site closes for the season on Nov. 30. Get there soon to dump your disposable greens. Maybe do a dance for the surveillance camera hidden in the trees.

******

Sadly, the problems with the Platte City Police Department are deeper than one or two incidents.

The chief advocating the idea of an administrative search warrant, where a police officer would accompany the city’s codes enforcement officer into homes for “codes” enforcement, was bad enough. The improper and inappropriate placement of a surveillance camera on private property without permission or a warrant and aiming it into the back yard of a resident was even worse.

But there are other concerns. As the newspaper that the community views as the watchdog, I will let you know that even before any of the recent controversies began there was rarely a week go by in which we didn’t get at least one person walking into the office with a complaint about the police department in general or specific leadership in particular. Some were general observations, others were very specific with documentation of concerns.

This is a situation with potentially negative impacts on the community and taxpayers. The board of aldermen will need to take appropriate action or the trust problem the city has with many of its residents is going to get worse before it gets better.

******

Check out our front page story for some of the details in the county budget for 2013 as recommended by Platte County Auditor Kevin Robinson. Some of the highlights, with my personal observations on each:

1. In what could be termed an attempt to float a lead balloon, Robinson recommends a five percent pay raise for county employees. County employees haven’t had a raise in the last five budgets. Robinson recommends taking the $425,000 needed to fund his proposed five percent pay raise from cash carry-over monies (reserves).

In the current economic climate, I don’t envision this going over well with the taxpaying public. I can understand the feeling that employees need to be given a bump after five years. But five percent is a bit excessive. A five percent raise now would defeat the purpose of holding salaries steady in previous years. Two percent seems reasonable.
Let’s not forget that Robinson’s wife, the county’s human resources director, is a county employee, so Robinson is in effect promoting a five percent increase in income for his own household.

That may or may not be influencing his decision, but it is a factual connection that needs to be drawn and points out the perceived conflict that can arise when officeholders have a spouse who is also drawing a taxpayer-funded paycheck.

2. Robinson apparently has been pushing for the county commission to fund the $11.2 million emergency radio mandate by raising the property tax levy. The county commission has not only declined to raise the levy, but in fact has sliced it from two cents to one cent. Is that bad business sense? Bad governing? Not as I see it, and here’s why: A sales tax, not a property tax, is the way to fund these radios. A sales tax is paid by all folks, not just property owners. This makes it a fairer way for the debt to be paid.

So, am I promoting the idea of a new sales tax? Not at all. Remember, the current 3/8 cent county sales tax for roads expires in September of 2013. Have you noticed there has been virtually zero public discussion about renewing the current tax? I think there’s a reason for that. The reason might be that county officials will be examining a way to rework that 3/8 cent to designate a portion of it for law enforcement. Since the emergency radios are for law enforcement, there’s your radio funding. Boom.

This addresses several situations in one fell swoop:

1. It provides dedicated funding to make the annual radio payments. 2. Excess slush can be funneled to other law enforcement needs in the sheriff’s and prosecutor’s departments, thereby taking a load off of the general fund. This is a major benefit. 3. It leaves a portion of the 3/8 cent tax in place for continued road improvement projects within the county. 4. It shows the county is being responsible by doing its part to keep real estate taxes low.

This is the best fix. Everybody wins.

Reworking a portion of the excessive half cent sales tax for parks should have been done for law enforcement in 2009. It wasn’t. That’s where the bad business acumen and lack of foresight occurred. The bad business acumen was not in lowering the real estate tax levy.

Happy Thanksgiving. And as always, thanks for reading.

(Get your Between the Lines fix 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


THIS ISN'T GOOD, YOU GUYS; FRESHEN UP THE RESUMES

Written 11/14/12

To put it as simply as can be stated, this isn’t good, you guys.

For the second time in less than three months, the City of Platte City is embroiled in a full-blown controversy due to heavy-handed and over-the-top enforcement issues. As did the last one, this newest three-ring circus is getting media attention not only locally but also in Kansas City and beyond.

This is embarrassing, you guys.

All levels of city government, from the top on down, are taking another credibility hit

To publicly embarrass your city and your bosses once, well that’s one thing. To publicly embarrass your city and your bosses twice in three months is quite another. In the real world, most employees wouldn’t get a chance for a third screw-up.

This isn’t good, you guys.

This seems an appropriate time to make a friendly suggestion: Freshen up the resumes, you guys.

As I said in last week’s column, this kind of activity is enough to land somebody in the unemployment line. And to repeat what was also written in this space last week, aldermen, you have a problem on your hands. Let’s not pretend otherwise. Under city policy, the mayor can’t fire anyone. A vote of the aldermen can.

******

Who is going to want to locate a business in a city that wants to use administrative search warrants for codes enforcement? Who is going to want to become a resident of a town where the police are improperly hiding surveillance cameras in trees near people’s back yards?

This is serious stuff, you guys.

******

If you live, work or own a business in Platte City, mark the evening of Monday, Dec. 3 on your calendars. You’ll want to be at City Hall.

That’s the next meeting of the city’s public safety subcommittee. The subcommittee will be presented with the final report compiled by DJ Gehrt, city administrator, on the police department’s crazy placement of a surveillance camera on private property without permission. As you know by now, the camera placed was aimed into the back yard of a duplex occupied by Stephanie Santos and Steve Nash.

This is creepy stuff. This borders on being unbelievable.

So Gehrt, the city administrator, after initially saying his investigation would take several weeks, a stance we blasted here last week, on Tuesday morning released his initial report. If his intent was to calm the storm, he has failed. The wording in portions of his report has incensed the woman whose backyard privacy was violated for three days and has once again enraged the American Civil Liberties Union. This isn’t surprising. As soon as I read item No. 5 in Gehrt’s report--the one where the city claims no violation of anyone’s Fourth Amendment rights occurred because of the “plain view” doctrine--I knew there was going to be some backlash. Some legal sources The Landmark has spoken with openly scoffed at the city’s attempt to use the “plain view” angle in a situation where police improperly, some will say illegally, mounted a hidden surveillance camera in a tree on private property without permission. For three days. To monitor wildlife and the feeding of feral carts, of all things.

How could they not have known it was private property? That would take just a few minutes of research. Last week while city officials were putting out the message that they were still trying to track down the owner of the property in question, The Landmark had already not only tracked down the owner in Jackson County but had interviewed her to confirm that she had not given permission to the city to be on her land or to mount the camera there.

There’s no denying the city was in the wrong. The act of city officials trying to justify it with attempted positioning using terms like “plain view doctrine” is only further angering residents. Stop it. You’re embarrassing yourselves and making people get the itch to see you to court.

“As to whether or not my Fourth Amendment rights were violated, I believe they were, and I would point anyone who says otherwise to the cases Mr. Bonney (legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union) cited in his letter,” Stephanie Santos told The Landmark after she read Gehrt’s report. And she didn’t stop there, adding: “I stand by my belief that Chief Mitchell should resign. When you make a mistake so bold as to violate the Constitution of the United States of America, whether intentional or not, when it is his sworn duty to uphold those very tenets, then it becomes his duty as a public servant to step down and give over those responsibilities to someone who will execute them with more foresight.”

Doug Bonney, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, also sounded disgusted by the city’s preliminary report. Bonney called the report issued by the city administrator a “bizarre, bureaucratic bunch of garbage.”

Ouch.

“Rather than trying to argue how this is not a violation of someone’s Fourth Amendment rights, they need to spend more time worrying about whether this just violates the basic notions of decency and privacy in the 21st century, and I think the answer to that is it absolutely does. And they don’t seem to have learned that yet,” Bonney said.

You know what? Bonney nailed it right there.

A judge can decide the technical legal issues involved in this, if it gets that far. What can’t be argued is that in the big picture the city comes off looking wrong, petty, ridiculous, and like a bunch of strong-armed privacy-invading bullies.

******

As first reported on Twitter.com/ivanfoley over the weekend, a group of a dozen or more Platte City residents met last week to discuss the two most recent controversies and other concerns they have with the police department. More meetings are planned. Bill Knighton, a former alderman who spoke out against the administrative search warrant proposal in September, is one of those involved in the group.

Meanwhile, a former local police chief wrote a letter to the editor defending the current chief and says the city should not fire him because, and please try to digest the lameness in this remark, the city might get somebody worse. Here’s a news flash: If the city is being held hostage by the fear it should not change employees because it might get a worse “devil,” then this administration has fallen and it’s not getting up.

(For updates on local news and opinions 24/7, go to Twitter.com/ivanfoley and Facebook.com/ivan/foley)

 

 


TRAMPLING ON CIVIL RIGHTS LEADS TO PUBLIC DISTRUST

Written 11/7/12

We've all heard the phrase “Big Brother is watching you.” Normally it's something said in jest. In Platte City, it's no longer a joke.

Late in the day last Thursday, I got a strange phone call from a Platte City resident by the name of Steve Nash. While walking around the perimeter of his property, he had discovered a surveillance camera in a tree on neighboring property. He was convinced of two things: 1. The camera was pointed to the back yard of his property (a duplex, with one unit occupied by his daughter) and 2. Local police had put the camera there.
My initial thought was that this caller was wrong. My first guess was that some hunter or wildlife enthusiast had placed a game camera in a tree on his own property. In retrospect, I should have taken the caller more seriously from the start. Recently, a business owner had expressed to me a weird feeling that a Platte City police car was parked and sat unoccupied in front of his/her business for such a long period of time the merchant got an unsettling feeling that an in-car camera was aimed at and through the windows of the business front.

Now that more facts are known, all the “wrong” in the situation of the camera in the tree belongs to the Platte City Police Department. The facts point to reasons for a growing distrust toward police. Read on.

******

We've moved beyond one isolated incident. What we have now is a pattern. A pattern that has created a lack of trust among the public when it comes to City Hall and local police. Aldermen, you have a problem on your hands. Let’s not pretend otherwise.

At the city of Platte City, there is a pattern of a desire for intrusiveness by city officials in general and, in the most recent incident, the police department specifically. Less than two months after public outcry--let's face it, it was an outcry that bordered on becoming a revolt--over a proposed administrative search warrant law to be used for codes enforcement, the city of Platte City and its enforcers are in hot water with the public again.

As you'll see in our front page story, Platte City police department improperly placed a surveillance camera in a tree on private property. The camera was apparently aimed in the direction of the back yard of a neighboring property, which understandably “creeped out” the residents when they discovered the camera one day last week.

“It was very scary and very creepy,” said resident Stephanie Santos, Nash's daughter, who resides in one side of the duplex. “Finding out it was the police department didn't make that creepy feeling go away,” she added.

The owner of the property on which the camera was improperly placed summed it up this way in a conversation with The Landmark. After confirming for us that police had not asked her permission to place the camera in the tree on her property, Cheremie Kratzer said:

“They should not be doing that to their citizens. That's bizarre. They are the police department and they are doing things that are illegal.”

Jean Maneke, an attorney who specializes in public right-to-know issues for the Missouri Press Association, summed it up this way: “Law enforcement doesn't have a right to put a camera on someone's property without some kind of court permission.”

There are several problems here to be addressed. There was no search warrant of any kind. The tree where the camera was placed was not on city property, it was on private property. Police did not have permission of the property owner to place the camera in their tree. That means police had to trespass on the property in order to install the camera. Additionally, the camera was reportedly aimed on the yard of a neighbor. That's weird, that's creepy, and based on the circumstances described above, every citizen in Platte City should be outraged.

“Hidden video surveillance is one of the most intrusive investigative mechanisms available to law enforcement,” an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union pointed out in a letter to the police chief in which he ripped the department and said the city should compensate the family for the invasion of privacy. (To read the entire letter from the ACLU to the police chief, click here)

Police aren’t getting their story straight as to why they wanted the camera there in the first place. The first story was it was placed to monitor people walking through the woods near the Riverview Park. Their next story, which sounds equally as ridiculous and petty, is that the camera was placed “to help the city determine the number of species of wildlife that were drawn to an area where feral cats had been regularly fed over the past year.”

Now that the ACLU has become involved and there is a threat of legal action, the police chief has stopped talking. The city administrator says city officials have apologized to Santos “for the unease and uncertainty caused by the camera placement.”

Couple this situation with what we just went through with City Hall over the administrative search warrant mess--a procedure that was endorsed by both police chief Carl Mitchell and city administrator DJ Gehrt--and what we get are uncomfortable and irate residents who feel local government is getting way too up in their business. It's intrusive. It's overreach. This latest incident tramples civil rights. Normally, that’s enough to land somebody in the unemployment line.

Gehrt said aldermen on the public safety subcommittee have asked him to investigate the entire situation. Gehrt said “it will be several weeks" before his full report is ready. Really? If Gehrt’s investigation takes that long then his job should be on the line as well. Based on the known facts, Gehrt’s investigation should be ready in a few days, not several weeks. “Several weeks” seems like a delay tactic in hopes the anticipated public outcry will die down.

Mitchell already has a group of residents upset with him over the administrative search warrant fiasco and the ongoing controversy over his approach to some issues, including what some believe is a heavy-handed approach to the feeding of feral cats. Now that this incident has come to light, the disapproval rating for the chief is going to rise.

Mitchell may not have been the one to place the camera in the tree, but it occurred on his watch, pardon the pun. It's hard to imagine the camera would have been placed without his knowledge and approval. And even it was, as chief that still falls back on him.

The public's trust in the police department has taken a significant hit. Right now the public perception is that constitutional rights of its citizens don't mean much to officials in Platte City. There is a feeling of paranoia. The sad part is the paranoia now appears to be justified.

A police department’s job is to “protect and serve.” In Platte City, the perception is that we’re getting “spy and intimidate.”

To get that perception changed, elected officials at City Hall will need to send a message that enough is enough. Anything less is only going to increase the level of distrust among the citizenry.

(You never need a warrant to go to Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


PLATTE COUNTY BORDERING ON BECOMING THE JERRY SPRINGER SHOW

Written 10/31/12

Don’t forget Scott Campbell’s downtown street party in Platte City Friday evening from 5:15 to 9 p.m. on Main between Third and Fourth Streets. Live music from Outlaw Jim and the Whiskey Benders. Hay bales for seating. Fire barrels for warmth (though look at the weather forecast for Friday--69 degrees!). Food and drink specials inside the Pool Hall. See you downtown Friday night

******

On the election scene, be sure to check our final preview stories on the local contested races. Reporter Valerie Verkamp a few weeks ago interviewed assessor candidates David Christian and David Cox for a preview that appeared in our pages. This week, she previews the races between Sharon Aring and Duane Soper for second district county commissioner and Toni Clemens and Chris Hershey for public administrator.
Time to state the obvious: It’s very tough for anyone to win as a Democrat in Platte County these days. The political makeup of the county has changed drastically in the past 20 years or so, as we’ve talked about in this column space many times. If all other things are equal, a Republican in Platte County is going to defeat a Democrat almost every time.

So will any local Democrat win this year? Foley’s Feelers in the Field are indicating to me Chris Hershey, the Democrat candidate for public administrator, has likely been the hardest working candidate of any on the ballot thus far and therefore has a shot despite the fact he has a “D” behind his name. Hershey has been everywhere. His opponent, Republican Toni Clemens, is trying to win with a stealth campaign. Clemens has avoided every public forum. Word is that she has a fear of public speaking, which is not an unusual fear but it is unusual that a candidate for public office can’t buck it up for short periods at a time and make it through a public speaking engagement rather than simply not show. It will be interesting to see how Hershey’s visibility and Clemens’ invisibility play with voters.

All candidates on the local ballot are good people and justification can be made for supporting any of them. Special kudos to Aring for hanging in her race despite the fact she suffered what she termed a mild stroke not long after filing for the office. You won’t meet a better person, in my opinion, than Sharon Aring. For years I’ve told her she is my favorite Democrat in the county. She genuinely cares about people and genuinely wants to do the right thing. Her opponent, Soper, also comes from a respected family and has life experiences that would benefit him in the position as well. To their credit, Soper and Aring have run an extremely clean and issues-based campaign.

Christian, the Democrat assessor, stepped into an office that for a variety of reasons was behind in some areas and frankly I’m not hearing a lot of negativity headed his direction from property owners. He did have the incident in which he paid improper bonuses to employees in his office and later paid the money back from his personal funds. Cox, the Republican candidate for assessor, is a quality candidate with political experience who will have a very effective and organized political machine backing him.
Regardless of your political leaning, get out to vote on Tuesday.

******

The Platte County Board of Elections is predicting voter turnout in the county will be around 68% on Tuesday. That would be down from nearly 75% for the 2008 presidential election.

Wendy Flanigan, director with the board of elections, told me Monday that 3,500 absentee ballots had been cast thus far. In 2008, a total of 6,000 absentee ballots were cast. That’s the primary reason she is forecasting a drop in voter turnout as compared to 2008.

******

As you’ll see on our front page, there is some drama going on at the Platte County Administration Building. Unless adults intervene, this thing could become the Jerry Springer Show. I guess I could try to be an adult and play the role of peacemaker, but that would ruin my reputation while killing future episodes of front page dramatics.

You can read the front page stories for the facts, but to really know the inside skinny you must understand the political relationships and dynamics involved. Now let’s be clear, I’m not saying that the connections reported below are the reason anyone is doing what they’re doing. I’m simply providing behind the scenes knowledge of who is friendly with whom. Here is the insider report on the friendships and politics of the roster of players.

Jim Plunkett: He and Jason Brown tolerate one another but, frankly, do not like one another. Plunkett and Kathy Dusenbery, first district commissioner, used to be tight back in the Betty Knight days but no longer are. It’s politics. Stuff happens. It’s no secret Plunkett has a longtime friendship/working relationship with Dana Babcock, county director of administration, and is also a friend of the Robinson family, human resources director Mary and her husband, Kevin, who Plunkett helped recruit to run for auditor in 2010. Mary is the subject of the current personnel situation that Plunkett has deemed a “witch hunt.” Babcock, Mary Robinson, and Dusenbery used to be very tight. Something apparently happened because Dusenbery is no longer a member of that playgroup.

Bob Shaw: The county counselor for more than 20 years. Nice guy, normally a stickler for legal details. Sometimes his clients complain that he’s too nice. Plunkett says Brown is bullying Shaw. Plunkett says Shaw needs to grow a pair. Brown says that’s one commissioner’s opinion. Shaw is saying nothing. It’s politics. Stuff happens.

Jason Brown: Likes for every commission vote to be 3-0, which would be fine if this were a fairy tale or an episode of Glee. It ain’t. This is the Springer show, dammit. Dusenbery was not a fan of Brown until several months after he replaced Knight on the commission. Now Brown and Dusenbery are very politically tight. It’s politics. Stuff happens.

Brown and Dusenbery are apparently ticked that Mary Robinson allegedly talked about them in a negative light. Who cares? I don’t know whether that happened, but even if it did why let it bother you? You can never go wrong by taking the high road in a situation like that. If an employee is running around publicly bad-mouthing the boss it says more about the employee than it does the boss. The same could be said if a boss were running around publicly trashing an employee. It’s not cool, people don’t respect them because of it, don’t find it attractive and tend to distance themselves from a workplace trash talker. Let the trash talker dig his or her own professional grave.

(Until next week’s episode, get updates at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


IS A 'VOLUNTEER' STILL A 'VOLUNTEER' IF HE'S GETTING PAID?

Written 10/24/12

If you’re planning to hit a World Series game in St. Louis, good seats are still available.

******

Where is it written that “Blow Me One Last Kiss” by Pink must be on the radio every time we get in our cars?

******

The passing of Woodford Grutzmacher on Tuesday saddened a good deal of the Platte City community. The talkative and colorful Woody, was a frequent visitor to The Landmark office and was a frequent visitor to many other businesses in town. His personality and outgoing way made him widely known. Nearly everyone in the area has a story or two about an encounter with Woody. His quirky way left some folks with the impression he was not the sharpest knife in the drawer. But nothing could be further from the truth. He had a big heart and was a KU grad with intelligence beyond measure, especially in the areas of politics and economics. He just had a bizarre way of showing it.

Woody recently made a solo trip by car to Florida, where one of his sons is an air traffic controller. It was something he wanted to do. In a phone conversation Tuesday, Woody’s son Charles told me it was almost like Woody knew it was his “swan song.” But the trip seemed to take its toll on the Woodster, who had battled health problems--some real, some imagined--for years.

On that trip, he made a stop in Woodford (notice the name connection) County, Ky. Out of the blue, he stopped at a newspaper there and basically demanded in his fast talking way that they take his picture and email it to The Landmark for our “On the Road” feature. Sure, the newspaper staff was confused, but they did it. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall during that conversation.

Also while in Woodford, Kentucky, Woody picked up a bottle of Woodford Reserve Whiskey. He delivered it to our office upon his return. “I want you to have this for your Christmas party,” he said.

It shall be done. If you were a friend of Woody, come take part in a Woodford Whiskey toast in his honor during this year’s Landmark public Christmas party on Dec. 14.

******

Don’t forget the ScottStock, ScottFest, or Scottiepalooza celebration--take your pick of which name you prefer--set for downtown Platte City on Friday, Nov. 2, 5:15 to 9 p.m. Main Street from Third to Fourth Streets will be shut down for the extravaganza sponsored by Scott Campbell Law Office.

Live music will be provided by Outlaw Jim and the Whiskey Benders. Food and drink specials inside the Pool Hall that night.

Promotional considerations and emotional support provided for the event by your Landmark newspaper.

******

The dictionary defines the word volunteer this way: a person who performs a service willingly and without pay. So if someone is paid for a service--no matter if the pay might be below what that work might be valued by the person performing the service--is a person still a volunteer? I asked that question to several members of the community in recent days. 100% of the people surveyed have answered the question with one word: “No.”

When it comes to the good-hearted men and women who serve the community by responding to fires and other emergency calls for the Central Platte Fire District, the word volunteer is actually a misnomer. Are they heroes for their service? Yes. Can they accurately be described as volunteers? No.

When it comes to the fire district, describing it as a volunteer department simply means the district does not employ full time firefighters. It does not mean the district doesn’t pay its firefighters. This will come as a shock to most in the community, as it has never been reported previously: Central Platte Fire Department ‘volunteers’ are actually paid. They are paid per response, or per “run.”

In the time period from Dec. 1, 2010 to Nov. 30, 2011, one Central Platte firefighter “volunteer” was paid $11,030 in taxpayer funds for “runs.” Another was paid $9,701. Another made $9,430. Another $7,558. Another $7,030. You get the picture. Central Platte’s firefighters are paid on a scale that starts at $13 per run and slides upward to $16 per run and then includes a $300 bonus if 425 or more “runs” are made.

Highly paid? Nobody is saying that. But volunteer? No. Let’s be factually accurate.
Normally the checks are to be handed out once per year. But on many occasions--in fact, at every meeting I’ve attended recently--some firefighters have asked for an advance from the money due them for runs made so far this year. The board members, who by the way are compensated $110 per meeting, have agreed to the early payments. By definition, a “volunteer” doesn’t seek compensation. Certainly a “volunteer” doesn’t ask for an advance on his salary.

During the time frame examined by The Landmark, the “volunteer” fire department paid out more than $112,000 to firefighters for run calls.

Now comes the important paragraph that those connected to the fire department should highlight instead of pretending that it’s not included in this editorial: We bring this to light not to be critical and not to say that firefighters don’t deserve compensation, but we mention this to bring to light that considerable tax dollars go into every aspect of the operation of this “volunteer” department. That alone means the district--even the firefighters, many of whom are taxpayers themselves--should welcome an audit, not fight it. An audit is not done for the purpose of uncovering wrongdoing, though if some is found it certainly needs to come to light. An audit is done to make sure proper procedures are being followed--including an accountable tracking of “runs”--in hopes that the district can operate as efficiently as possible while doing its heroic work. This much is owed to the public and the taxpayer.

Voters obviously agree. Andy Stanton was elected as a fire district board member basically without running a campaign. The reason? Voters and taxpayers want a guarantee of accountability. They weren’t getting that under the previous leadership.
Central Platte has a tax levy. That tax is not “voluntarily” paid by property owners. Central Platte’s tax levy means the “volunteers” are working with public money, being paid with public money, using publicly owned facilities and using hundreds of thousands of dollars in publicly owned equipment. That opens the financials up to be scrutinized--even when everyone’s heart is in the right place.

(Twitter.com/ivanfoley is en fuego)

 


THIS IS A LOVE STORY WITHOUT THE LOVE

Written 10/17/12

I always unstrap that gun from my ankle before writing my column. Keeps me from shooting myself in the foot.

******

What you are about to read is kind of a love story without the love. But with at least a bit of respect.

“You and I have had kind of a Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan relationship,” Fred Sanchez said to me Tuesday. “In the spirit of respect I felt compelled to call you,” he added, while letting me know he was stepping down from the school board at Park Hill.

*******

The most shocking aspect of the Fred Sanchez resigns from Park Hill School Board story? That a left winger like Sanchez actually believed in carrying a weapon.

******

I hate to see Sanchez resign from the school board. If you’re a longtime reader of this column space, you know why. Fred made for some good copy over the years. Slow news week? Pull out some Fred Sanchez quotes and have some fun.

Thankfully, he’s still a member of the South Platte Ambulance District board of directors, so there’s still hope for future Freddie faux pas. That’s the only comfort I’m taking in his resignation from Park Hill. Without that, this had the potential to be a sad day here in Between the Lines.

******

Personally, I’m a supporter of gun rights and the concealed carry law. I’ve successfully taken a concealed carry course myself. But even those with a permit must be constantly aware of the locations that are inappropriate to be packing heat.

It’s an unfortunate situation. While some of his political viewpoints are unhinged, I don’t believe Fred Sanchez himself is unhinged. I think he is intentionally colorful, enjoys a spotlight, and at times presented his viewpoints in such theatrical style that it became obvious to me he was enjoying at least part of the razzing he knew he was going to incur from yours truly.

Sanchez is an outspoken fellow, firm in his political beliefs, not shy about letting people know how he feels. That can lead to a person being confronted, sometimes in a physically irrational manner, in a public setting. That’s why he felt the need to acquire a concealed weapon permit. He says he was under the weather, running late and out of his normal pre-school board meeting routine when he forgot he had a gun strapped to his ankle while attending last week’s meeting at the school.

It happened. He is resigning. He thinks it has ended his political career, even though he is still on the ambulance board.

“I’m probably finished,” he told me Tuesday night. “But I’m going to sleep very well this evening. I did the right thing. I love my country. I love the process.”

******

Not too many years ago I wrote in this space that Fred Sanchez was the most liberal public official in Platte County. But recently, that had seemed to change. After a few email conversations he and I had this past summer, I started to think Sanchez might be coming to grips with political reality. He was, for instance, starting to get better at handling the media. A few years ago after a column or two in which I had poked fun at some of his quotes that promoted a whacky liberal viewpoint, he told our reporter at the time that he would like to arrange a time to come visit with me. “I want to humanize myself to Mr. Foley,” Sanchez told our reporter.

A meeting between Sanchez and I was scheduled. The meeting time was set for 5 p.m. on a Friday at The Landmark office. Sanchez never showed. Maybe he forgot, though that doesn’t seem likely as there was never any follow-up contact or attempt to reschedule. My guess is he thought he was inconveniencing me by asking for a 5 p.m. Friday meeting and then not showing, not realizing that to me--and to many other business owners who don’t punch a timeclock--time of day means very little. There is always work to be done. There’s a reason I don’t wear a watch. Time is judged by how much work remains before deadline--not by the location of hands on a timepiece.

That was at least three or four years ago. Sanchez and I had little if any interaction from that point until March of this year. Reporter Valerie Verkamp and I walked into a forum being held for candidates for Park Hill School Board. Sanchez was one of those candidates taking part in the forum. With camera in hand, I inconspicuously made my way to the front of a crowded room to get some pictures as the candidates spoke. As he was making comments to the crowd, Sanchez paused briefly and said with a smile: “It’s good to see my friend Ivan Foley here tonight.”

Many folks in the room probably didn’t know how to take that comment. Was he being genuine? Was he being sarcastic? I believe he meant the “my friend” reference in the same way Joe Biden meant the words “my friend’ when referring to Paul Ryan in last week’s vice presidential debate. It was a subtle form of respect, with a wink, to try to disarm me to an extent. He knew I was there hoping he was going to say something totally whacked that I could drop in my column.

Another sign Sanchez isn’t quite as liberal as he used to be? He recently resigned from the Platte County Democratic Central Committee. “My party kind of left me. My open support of (Republican) Beverlee Roper for county commission had its consequences. Democrats in Platte County--we’re not even in the stadium, we’re not even suited up,” he said, referring to how dominant the Republican party is in local politics.

And this love story that’s not really a love story ends with this comment from Sanchez to me:

“Am I sad? Of course I am. You and I are alike in a lot of ways. I love the confrontation. I love the dialog. I love the debate. I love it all.”

(At Twitter.com/ivanfoley, we love love and love to love love)

 


A FALL FRIDAY FESTIVAL IN THE WORKS; R-3'S TOP-HEAVY CHALLENGE

Written 10/10/12

What Romney did to Obama in the debate was legitimate. The president was not able to shut that whole thing down.

******

Ever thought that Platte City could use a fall community event held in the crisp outdoors? How about a Main Street event that will not require one taxpayer dime? Looks like you could be in luck.

Local legal magnate Scott Campbell of the worldwide Scott L. Campbell Law Offices LLC is seeking a permit to close off a section of Main Street for a Friday night event that will celebrate the “open house” for his law office. Campbell recently purchased a building in the 300 block of Main in beautiful downtown Platte City and moved his law practice to that location (it’s the spot with the time and temperature marquee).

Campbell is seeking city approval of a permit for the event, which will be held Friday, Nov. 2 from 5:15 to 9 p.m. Other businesses, like the Pool Hall and The Landmark, are riding Campbell’s coattails on this one. The Pool Hall will be offering food and drink specials that evening. The Landmark will handle promoting this hootenanny far and wide.

The action be on Main Street between Third and Fourth Streets. Music will be provided by Outlaw Jim and Whiskey Benders, doing three 40-minute sets between 5:15 and 9 p.m. There will be hay bales. There will be fire barrels. There will be fun.

“This started out as a simple open house idea that just kind of evolved from there,” Campbell says, adding that the mayor and police chief have been supportive of the idea in the early stages of the permitting process.

No alcohol on the street, but if you’re interested the Pool Hall will have that available inside its doors.

Hope to see you on Main Street Friday evening, Nov. 2.

******

Posted at plattecountylandmark.com is The Landmark’s investigative piece from last week’s front page (which was epic in its news content) that exclusively broke the details of the reasons behind the sudden resignation of Platte County High School principal Dr. Patrick Martin. His arrest in a prostitution sting by Kansas City police sent shock waves through the local community.

Speculation has begun, and rightfully so, as to what effect, if any, the fiasco might have on the district’s ability to pass a tax increase at a levy election, speculated to occur in April. Likely more of a detriment to that effort will be the revelation The Landmark reported last week that Martin was earning $100,000, and the district had pushed up the salaries of its assistant superintendents proportionately once it had recruited and hired Martin at the eye-popping salary as principal.

The whole situation also brings to light a fact that many in the community didn’t realize. Unless you have a student at the high school--and maybe even if you do--a lot of folks in the community didn’t realize R-3 has two assistant high school principals. What all this adds up to is an impression to some patrons that the school district is spending a whole lot of money on a happy fraternity of administrators and administrative positions.

******

So I attended the Central Platte Fire District board of directors meeting Tuesday night. It’s the second time I’ve hit one of these in the past three months. It’s starting to become one of my favorite stops on the news beat.

The three member board consists of Paul Regan, chairman; Andy Stanton, a taxpayer’s best friend who in the past April election ousted longtime member Stanley George; and Mike Ashcraft (don’t call him AshCROFT), who was appointed to the board after the recent passing of Floyd Coons, Jr.

The meetings are held in a relatively small room in the downtown Platte City fire station. Interestingly, the room gets packed to overflow capacity due to the fact many of the firefighters attend. Some come with wish lists of pet projects, training sessions, new showers, etc., that they want the board to agree to spend money on. It’s my speculation some of the others are coming in hopes they can intimidate Stanton, who consistently questions the need for every pet project proposed.

Questioning spending is something that hasn’t happened very often (at all?) in the history of a fire department. If intimidation is the aim, good luck with that. If there is anything I’ve come to know about Stanton, it’s that he’s going to do what he feels is right for the taxpayers he represents. He strikes me as the kind of guy who is only going to feel energized by attempted intimidation, not influenced by it.

At any rate, here are some of the highlights of Tuesday’s session:

*Workers compensation costs for the department are going up. No surprise there, after the number of accidents--some of them notable-- department personnel has been involved in over the past few years. Regan told firefighters in the room to start buckling their seat belts while headed to calls. “They (workers compensation insurance) do not have to pay if you’re not wearing your seat belt. If you get thrown out of a truck and don’t have your seat belt on, you might be on your own,” Regan said.

*Stanton has suggested an audit be done of the fire district’s books. The district’s attorney says one is not required. To the best of everyone’s knowledge, one has never been done. There was talk that the county auditor would perform an audit at no charge, but the question was raised as to whether the county auditor could legally do that. A private audit might run anywhere from $5,000 on up, depending upon the scope of the audit ordered. Stanton asked Ashcraft to chew on the idea for now and discuss it at a future meeting.

*Remember a few years back when the district proposed building a burn tower on property it had purchased near Farmers’ Lane east of Platte City? Zoning problems and public opposition killed the idea. The district is now offering that land for sale at $7,000 per acre. It has turned down an offer of $4,000 per acre.

*Regan would like for the district to consider building another fire station along Running Horse Rd., south of Platte City, anywhere between 136th St. and Hwy. D. Regan said the district, this time, would be sure proper zoning was in place before purchasing the property.

(Proper zoning is always in place for a 24/7 news and information party at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


THERE ARE BIG AND SMALL LESSONS TO BE LEARNED

Written 10/3/12

Longtime readers know fall is my favorite time of year for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the array of colors you’ll see in and around Platte County. If you haven’t taken a drive along the Interstate 29 corridor between Platte County and St. Joseph lately, now would be a good time to do so. The colors will grab your eye. Also, the Beverly area between Platte City and Leavenworth always has some colorful tree-filled bluffs this time of year.

If you’re a photography fanatic, get out to snap some pictures. There is no better time.

******

Chasing down our top story this week about the high school principal’s resignation has kept your Landmark team hopping.

The lights have been on at The Landmark 24/7--that’s speaking figuratively, not literally, as I don’t like paying KCP&L for round-the- clock lights and much of our work can be done with smartphones and laptops outside the office anyway--since that first tip came in via text message at 5:41 p.m. Monday. That text message popped into my cell phone from a source, strangely enough, in a land far, far away. “U heard PC high school principal resigned?” is how the message was worded.

That started the process of running our journalistic traps. The first few hours we hit dead ends. About 9 p.m. Monday, a source inside of R-3 confirmed that new principal Pat Martin was out and Alan Bunch was in. But the reason for the move was unknown. The timing of a move like this was so odd and awkward that it was obvious there had to be more to the story than “unforeseen personal reasons” that were eventually listed as the prompt for Martin’s resignation.

We resisted the urge to bust the news on Twitter Monday night, hoping to gather more details before dispensing it to an audience that was going to be hungry for more information. Early Tuesday morning we posted at Twitter.com/ivanfoley that Martin had resigned and Bunch had been named interim principal. The Platte County R-3 central office about 30-45 minutes later sent out a media release saying the same thing, giving the “unforeseen personal reasons” explanation.

Medical? Not likely, we reasoned. Nobody would quit a job like this over a sickness. This position isn’t small potatoes. Martin was being paid a salary of $100,000. “That’s exactly the kind of job you want if you’ve got a personal problem,” a buddy of mine quipped as we were bouncing thoughts off of one another Tuesday. The conclusion we came to, of course, was that there had to be some kind of major screw-up to force an abrupt resignation. So the running of traps continued throughout Tuesday. I wish I had $100 for every voicemail I left that day.

The obvious and obligatory phone call was made to Mike Reik, superintendent, knowing of course he wasn’t going to say much. This is understandable. It’s not like the media can expect a superintendent to offer up the gory details in a fiasco like this. It’s not like Reik was going to hold a press conference to say: “Hey local media guys, just wanted to let you know that our principal got arrested for patronizing prostitution. Well, good night, don’t forget to tip your waitress!”

Reik actually gave more info than I expected, upon my repeated questions. When I asked if it was job-related, he said: “No, it’s not job-related. It’s a personal issue.” My next question was: Is the guy in trouble with the law? “It’s a personal issue. I can’t speak to any further detail. I want to be respectful to Dr. Martin’s right to privacy,” Reik said. Fair enough. That phone conversation was around 3 p.m. Tuesday. I hung up the phone and just as we were about to give up on getting to the bottom of the story in time for this week’s issue, The Landmark phone rang with a tipster offering enough info to set us off on a chase through a few different law enforcement agencies throughout the metro. Long story shortened, information was gathered and the story was fine-tuned throughout Tuesday night and even into mid-morning Wednesday, when I learned through innocent conversation with a local man--a man who obviously had no idea of Martin’s arrest--that Martin had been guest speaker at the Platte City Lions Club meeting last Wednesday night, only a matter of hours after he had been busted in the sting operation. Apparently Martin felt the show must go on.

******

Many lessons can be learned from the Martin story. Certainly not the most important lessons, but among them: 1. You probably should not be reading a web site called backpage.com. Especially the escorts section. 2. Some things you read on the internet are traps or red herrings.

******

Earlier this year R-3 must have wanted Martin on staff pretty badly. Insiders say when Martin was hired at his $100,000 annual salary, it forced the school district to increase the pay of its assistant superintendents to keep them in line with what the new high school principal was making, proportionately speaking.

Insiders also say Bunch, the longtime assistant principal, was a bit miffed when he was overlooked for the job in favor of Martin. As interim, Bunch now gets his chance to show what he can do.

******

Something a lot of readers probably didn’t realize until this week? R-3 has two assistant principals at the high school. It has been that way for about five years, I’m told. Seems like that might be a little top-heavy in the administration department. After the events of the past week, they’ll be operating on one less administrator at the high school the remainder of this year. My guess is they’ll survive just fine while saving some salary dollars.

******

If you enjoy following news about the news media, a web site for you to check out is bottomlinecom.com. One of its stories this week is on The Landmark and can be found by surfing to http://www.bottomlinecom.com/landmark-newspaper-wins-8-journo-awards/

(Get Between the Lines news, commentary, fun and red herrings 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


POCKET CONSTITUTIONS A NICE GIFT FROM CONCERNED TAXPAYER; ALDERMAN EXPLODES

Posted 9/28/12

The highlight of the local news week came Tuesday night at the Platte City Board of Aldermen meeting.

Andy Stanton, former alderman, put in his request for time at the podium. When he was called upon, Stanton displayed pocket Constitutions. He then distributed three of them.
“I want to give one to Debbie (Kirkpatrick), Ron (Stone), and Tony (Paolillo),” Stanton said as he walked to the meeting table and gave U.S. Constitutions to the three people he mentioned.

The point of his action, of course, revolves around the city’s recent Constitutionally-questionable proposal to adopt an administrative search warrant ordinance to be used for codes enforcement. The three aldermen given Constitutions serve on the city’s public safety committee and had initially passed the proposal on to the full board of aldermen for consideration.

“I’ve got one for Jennifer, too, if you think she’d like one,” Stanton announced to the board, referring to city attorney Jennifer Fain, who was not present Tuesday evening. Fain had drafted and supported the search warrant proposal.

At one point during his talk to aldermen Tuesday night, Stanton said he would guess it cost taxpayers at least $400 for Fain to “sit there and look pretty” during the search warrant hearing on Sept. 10.

I don't know if Stanton's cost estimate is close. But I can confirm the other part of his observation. As city attorneys go, Fain is about as easy as the eyes as you're gonna find. So Platte City has that going for it.

In advance of Tuesday's meeting, Stanton had quipped to me that he was getting the young city attorney a pocket constitution "since apparently they don't teach that in law school anymore."

Also Tuesday night, Stanton criticized the city’s meeting procedure at the recent search warrant public hearing that only allowed members of the public to submit questions in writing during their time at the microphone. City officials made no attempt to answer questions from the public during the hearing. That same format has been used in many other city committee and aldermen meetings under Mayor Frank Offutt.

Stanton also requested city officials answer a question of how much money it cost taxpayers to have the city attorney present at the search warrant hearing when it was clear there was no intent to have the attorney make any comments or answer any questions that night. No one on Tuesday night answered his question.

Stanton tells me on Wednesday morning he was in the local Casey’s store getting a breakfast doughnut and reminded Ron Stone, who manages Casey’s when he isn’t trying to play alderman, that he would be expecting an answer on the question about the city attorney’s costs. Stanton says Stone, whose unnecessarily quick temper was on display at the recent search warrant hearing that he chaired, answered with a three word phrase urging Stanton to embark on a journey to a very hot place.

(Yes, Stone told Stanton to “go to hell.” This, Stanton says, occurred in front of several customers at the Platte City Casey’s, which under Stone's management has become a somewhat infamous store whose pizzamaker last January was arrested on charges of murdering a co-worker and slicing open a female friend with a razor blade).

Have I mentioned Stone’s term of office expires in April? Filing for candidates opens in December.

(Twitter.com/ivanfoley never expires. Curse him all you want, you'll still get updates 24/7)

 


RIGHT MESSAGE, WRONG MESSENGER

Written 9/19/12

Man down!

We’re a columnist short this week on page 3, as Rambling Moron Chris Kamler is on the list of game day inactives after an accident in California.

So what’s the deal, you ask? It’s kind of a Shakespearean Tragedy. Here are the Between the Lines facts as I know them, or at least as I perceive them to be: One day last week, Chris let it be known he was headed to Southern California. So he got busy getting a spray tan and Botox while packing a banana hammock and naked pictures of Nancy Pelosi. Next thing I know I’m getting word that our popular Rambling Moron has been in an accident involving a surf board, the ocean floor, and paralysis concerns.

I’m guessing Chris will tell the full story once he is back in the columnists’ saddle. Right now he’s on so many pain meds that I’m still trying to interpret his last email. He was able to send in his football selections for our Pigskin Picks from a California hospital bed, but penning a decipherable column was out of the question.

Chris’ wife flew out to SoCal to help tend to his needs. They arrived back at KCI Tuesday night. He’ll be back on page 3 ASAP.

In the meantime, check him out at Twitter.com/thefakened for updates.

******

This just in: Parkville’s city leaders are fine tuning a 42-page ordinance that will outlaw sex, wistful looks, and bedrooms.

******

At this point it’s hard to tell whether Parkville is being governed by a board of aldermen or the Stepford Wives.

******

If DJ Gehrt, city administrator, had his way, Platte City’s economic development slogan would be:

“Come open a business in Platte City. We use search warrants for codes enforcement!”

******

So this is what it sounds like when doves cry.

At Monday’s meeting of the Platte County Commission, Kathy Dusenbery, first district commissioner, gave an impassioned plea for cutting the county’s tax levy from one cent per $100 of assessed valuation down to zero. She based her position on a desire to give homeowners a property tax break so they can have more money in their pockets to maintain their homes. Dusenbery said while campaigning in her unsuccessful reelection effort this past summer, she noticed that homeowners were not able to maintain their property as well as they had the last time she visited neighborhoods in her campaign of 2008. It was an eye-opening difference, she said. The tax cut would mean around $240,000 less in revenue for the county, but Dusenbery justifies it with the assumption that sales tax revenue--and use tax revenue--will continue to climb. She pointed to the fact Menards and Sam’s Club both are planning to open stores in Platte County, though clearly Menards will be open well before the proposed Sam’s Club is up and running.

When it was clear she wasn’t getting vocal support from her fellow commissioners on this one, Dusenbery’s comments took on a very interesting tone. She started talking about how government needs to get smaller, and said it’s hypocritical if county officials praise state officials for downsizing government while not downsizing at the county level as well.

Granted I’m easily entertained, but Dusenbery’s speech made me smile. Her message is a good one and in fact I agree with reducing the size and scope of county government. But based on her record in office, Dusenbery is absolutely the wrong person to be making the argument for it. Knowing her voting record over the past four years, her remarks about wanting to cut the size of government sounded less than genuine. That’s just not who Kathy Dusenbery is or what she’s about. Those were more than likely the words of a political advisor who has her ear.

The county commission had an excellent chance in 2009 to reduce the size of government when it was making plans to renew the half cent sales tax for parks, trails, rainbows and butterflies. By that time the county already had developed a sizable parks system that really just needed a reduced revenue stream for maintenance and smaller upgrades. Instead, the commission--with Dusenbery helping to lead the charge--pushed ahead for renewal at the half cent for parks while not making it clear to the voting public that law enforcement is underfunded. By doing so, it was making a statement about its priorities. Clearly, the county commission valued parks and trails over finding a dedicated revenue source for law enforcement in Platte County. It was a disaster of a decision. The parks department has continued to grow to an embarrassment of riches, while those in law enforcement are relegated to begging with the county commission at budget time each year for a workable share of the county’s general fund dollars. As I’ve said before, because of that 2009 love affair with parks, Platte County’s general fund budget will continue to be a challenge every year until the commission comes up with dedicated funding for law enforcement.

And her habit of prioritizing parks above core services isn’t the only example of big government votes by Dusenbery. Remember, earlier this year she turned down the chance to save the county hundreds of thousands of dollars in a construction management bidding process, siding with presiding commissioner Jason Brown to choose J.E. Dunn over a lower bidder, with the only justification being that J.E. Dunn handled the original construction management of the community centers and Dunn knew the south center was “built on piers.” This would be funny if it weren’t so sad. And in the same meeting in which she preached about smaller government this week, Dusenbery agreed to pay $7,500 in taxpayer money to a private business that will make a million bucks off something called a Warrior Dash in the county’s Platte Ridge Park.

That’s not reducing the scope of government, Kathy.

(To stay in the know, never reduce the scope of your involvement at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


SEARCH WARRANT FIASCO SHOULD BE A WAKE-UP CALL FOR ALDERMEN

Written 9/12/12

The only appropriate way to start this week’s column is with a tip of the hat to the 50 or more Platte City residents and property owners who filled City Hall Monday night for the public hearing on the city’s far-reaching proposal to use search warrants for codes enforcement. After nearly an hour of testimony, the same three member subcommittee that in August had inexplicably given approval to this proposal and wanted to pass it on to the full board of aldermen changed course and killed the idea.

Credit to the committee for seeing the light. But if City Hall weren’t so far out of touch with the community it serves, things never would have gotten this far.

Talk about not having your finger on the pulse. Hopefully this ordeal will serve as a wake-up call for every elected city official and for those drawing a public paycheck. It should certainly be an alert to aldermen to realize that not everything the staff places in front of you is a suggestion that is good for the people who hired (elected) you to work for them.

******

So will a new version of an administrative search warrant proposal come back? “No, this sucker is dead,” Mayor Frank Offutt told me after the meeting.

Wise move.

******

Platte City Alderman Ron Stone is in over his head. That’s as nicely as it can be stated. Former alderman Lee Roy Van Lew put it best when he said to Stone: “This is too big for you.”

In recent weeks, Stone, the manager at Casey’s General Store when he isn’t trying to play alderman, has voted in favor of a five percent tax increase and initially favored the administrative search warrant ordinance. But the tipping point for a lot of folks came with Stone’s embarrassing performance chairing the committee meeting. He cut off speakers for no reason. He needlessly pounded his fist on the table several times. Stone did all the wrong things. He claimed straightforward statements made by some speakers were “personal attacks” when the comments were simple statements of general fact or observations, not personal in the slightest way. If Stone is going to be that sensitive, he needs to get out of public office. There are many folks ready to help him find the exit.

His term expires in April.

******

Let’s start with the city attorney, Jennifer Fain. Fain isn’t specifically the problem, but since she’s drawing a public paycheck her role can be scrutinized. We’ve referenced her letter to city officials advocating the proposal numerous times in recent weeks. Her internal memo reads, in sections, word-for-word like an article I found on the topic in a Missouri Municipal League-distributed piece. It has been a few weeks now and Fain has yet to return a phone call from our reporter seeking answers to some questions. Maybe she lost our number, maybe she’s busy reading more Big Government publications, or maybe she’s afraid to do an interview with a newspaper that doesn’t naively accept every comment from a public official as gospel.

Fain was at the table for the committee meeting Monday night, but made no comments whatsoever. Which begs the question: How much did her muted presence at the meeting cost taxpayers? How many billable hours went into her work on this ridiculous proposal? And if she wasn’t going to make any comments or take questions, why did one of her higher-ups request she be present? The city attorney doesn’t normally attend these meetings. Maybe an ornery superior wanted her in the house so she could get a firsthand view of the uproar.

Fain has apparently now publicly made a comment that she doesn’t think the city would have any problem enforcing its existing ordinance. Really? Fain is either being disingenuous or the left hand at City Hall doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. Insiders confirm the city was at its wit’s end with a property owner on Myers Drive and was feeling the eventual need to enter the property, but wanted to have its legal ducks in a row before doing so. That’s what began the push to have the existing ordinance “cleaned up” to the point it could withstand a legal challenge. That’s when Fain was asked to draft an ordinance that, as she says, would be “in compliance with local, state and federal law.”

Again, let’s go back to common sense: If the city felt it already had an enforceable ordinance, why is it redrafting anything? The city’s administrative search warrant ordinance on the books has never been used. There’s a reason for that. Hint: the current ordinance does not even mention the words “probable cause.”

Fain’s own written words contradict her public comment. If she feels the current city ordinance is up to a legal challenge, why did she write this in an internal memo to City Hall: “The difficulty the city faces without a strong administrative search warrant ordinance stems from the privacy guarantees of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. If a situation arises in which the owner of a property refuses to consent to a search for code enforcement purposes, the city will be in need of an ordinance that allows for issuance of administrative search warrants.”

******

So some at City Hall claim the city’s current ordinance is enforceable? Then why did City Administrator DJ Gehrt (a man out of touch with his audience) make these comments about the proposed new ordinance to our reporter in early August, BEFORE the public outcry had begun (once the outcry began, Gehrt changed his tune from these initial remarks):

*“Essentially it’s to allow us to do the same kind of enforcement that we used to be able to do.”

Read that one again. Doesn’t take a genius to figure out Gehrt is saying he believes the current ordinance is no longer enforceable.

*Same article, Gehrt affirmed this report: “The current ordinance allows code officers to enter private property at any ‘reasonable time’ to carry out a investigation to determine whether the homeowner is in any sort of violation. Gehrt said Missouri courts no longer allow codes enforcement officers to gain entry without probable cause.” Hint: the current ordinance doesn’t mention “probable cause.”

*In that same Aug. 15 article, Gehrt said: “We want to make sure we have this ordinance on our books before we have a problem, rather than waiting until we do have a problem and then trying to come up with something on short notice.”

Do those sound like the words of a man who believes the current ordinance would stand up to a court challenge?

(Twitter.com/ivanfoley will stand up to a court challenge)

 


HERE'S HOW TO DRESS CITY OFFICIALS IN A CLOWN SUIT

Written 9/5/12

Will the folks leading the City of Platte City’s push for an administrative search warrant law soon put the same amount of effort into updating their resume?

******

Are you headed to Monday night’s public hearing on Platte City’s proposal to adopt an administrative search warrant ordinance?

Prepare yourself for the self-defense mechanisms that your city officials may try to use to justify proposing an ordinance that is over the top.

To help prepare you for Monday night, I’m offering up a couple of the ridiculous “arguments” that the big-government, naive types are going to throw out there to try to justify this overreach of government.

Here are a couple of comments you’re likely to hear from those carrying the banner of Big Government:

1. “We already have an administrative search warrant ordinance on the books. The city has had it on the books since 1996.”

If a city official makes this argument Monday night, get a big smile on your face. Thank them for drawing attention to an ordinance that they cannot use. If they really believe they can enforce it as written, then why are they proposing to rewrite the ordinance?

Bottom line is this: They are afraid to use the current ordinance to enforce codes or they already would have done that. Let’s be even more clear: They could TRY to enforce the ordinance--but the result would be a lawsuit that the city would lose. Heck, even the city attorney, Jennifer Fain, acknowledges that fact. She wrote this in her letter in which she advocates for the new proposed ordinance: “The difficulty the city faces without a strong administrative search warrant ordinance stems from the privacy guarantees of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. If a situation arises in which the owner of a property refuses to consent to a search for code enforcement purposes, the city will be in need of an ordinance that allows for the issuance of administrative search warrants.”

Boom. Read that again. It tells you all you need to know. By Fain’s own words, the city does not currently have an administrative search warrant ordinance that it can effectively use “for code enforcement purposes” without getting their asses handed to them in court.

So once again, time to call BS on city officials. While they do have an administrative search warrant ordinance on the books, the city does NOT currently have an administrative search warrant law on the books that it can confidently use to enforce building codes. The city attorney just admitted it.

It is extremely disappointing that City Administrator DJ Gehrt has been shamelessly engaging in doublespeak on this issue. Call him out on it. He has been intentionally misleading.

While it technically is true that the city does have an administrative search warrant ordinance, the city’s administrative search warrant ordinance is placed in the section of city code dealing with nuisances. It is not in the section of city code dealing with building codes enforcement, which Gehrt has admitted is the aim of the new ordinance (Landmark article, Aug. 15, 2012) .

Again this comes down to common sense. If there were no legal questions regarding the city’s current ordinance, why are they rewriting it? We all know the answer to that. The city just won’t admit it.

2. You are also likely to hear a city official make a statement to the effect of: “We’ve had an administrative search warrant ordinance on the books since 1996 and never used it. We have no intention of using this new ordinance.”

If someone at the city’s table says this--and they’re saying it privately--the meeting should be immediately adjourned for reasons of stupidity.

There is a valid reason the city hasn’t used its current administrative search warrant ordinance: Because it’s not enforceable without placing the city at risk of being sued. End of story.

The current ordinance clearly raises legal questions if the city attempts to use it for reasons being discussed. They’ve admitted that by proposing a new version.

And don’t stop there. Press them further on their ridiculous position. Fight them with common sense. Politicians and bureaucrats hate that, typically because they are outgunned in that department.

Ask them basic questions like: 1. So you’ve had an ordinance on the books since 1996 and never used it? That being the case, why do you need this law? 2. Why pass an ordinance that you’re saying you have no intentions of using? If you don’t intend to use it, that means you don’t need it. Now let’s all go home and watch Monday Night Football.

Seems a bit silly--and I’m being kind--for a small town government to be creating such havoc over an ordinance it has never needed and says it never intends to use.

******

Don’t be fooled. I’m sure City Administrator DJ Gehrt is a nice guy, but his time on the job at the city of Plattsburg wasn’t exactly a picture of excellence in governing.

According to media reports, there was a major utility under-billing fiasco that went undetected for at least three months that occurred during Gehrt’s time there, resulting in tens of thousands of dollars in under-billing to customers.

And we have at least one city official who sources say already has an eyebrow-raising history in connection to unwarranted search and seizure (Fourth Amendment) issues.

We’re all human. The point is that your public servants make mistakes, just like the rest of us do. Creating such an uproar in the community with this needless proposal is a mistake that can be corrected by killing the idea as soon as possible.

******

The city has requested anyone wanting to speak at Monday’s hearing call in advance. Don’t feel like you have to do that, because you don’t. Just show up. There is no need to RSVP--this is a public hearing not a wedding reception.

The “call ahead” idea is another attempt by the city to feel in control. Their request for you to call ahead is simply an attempt to gauge the amount of discontent headed their direction.

They’ve inconvenienced you by proposing this over-the-top governmental overreach. Inconvenience them by showing up--without calling ahead.

(Get warrantless updates 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


WHEN IT COMES TO SEARCH WARRANTS, SAFEGUARDS NEEDED

Written 8/29/12

Welcome back to The Landmark and Between the Lines, where we crank it out each week under the auspices of the Constitution, common sense and the grandfather clause.

******

If a city has a law on the books that it can’t constitutionally enforce, does it still have that law on the books? Asking for a friend.

******

Maybe someone in Platte City has been reading too many big government magazines. Found an article in a pro-Big Gov publication that in sections sounds word for word just like the city attorney’s recommendation letter for developing an administrative search warrant ordinance.

******

The City of Platte City. Pushing an administrative search warrant ordinance at the same time pushing a tax increase in a community whose recent voting record shows it is overwhelmingly not embracing the idea of big government and tax increases. Some folks at City Hall don’t exactly have their finger on the pulse of the community.

******

Not sure but I think I just noticed a house in town with more than two dogs. Codes guy better run to the judge and get one of them there administrative search warrants.

******

I bet Rita (’I’m the freaking mayor of Tracy’) Rhoads would never propose an administrative search warrant law.

******

We keep hearing whispers from city officials about a property on Myers Drive perhaps being the cause of City Hall’s sudden fetish with an administrative search warrant. Developing.

******

Yes, the city of Platte City has an administrative search warrant option in its current code book. I’ve seen it. But it’s placed in the section of city codes that talks about the enforcement officer declaring a nuisance. As Olin Miller, a businessman who is excellent at getting down to the details, points out in his letter on this page, the policy is NOT placed in the city’s section dealing with building codes, etc.

There are a couple of angles on this topic that the city isn’t being completely upfront about. The biggest point is as the ordinance is written now, there are questions about its constitutionality, in particular if the city attempts to use it in enforcing building codes.

Let’s cut through the governmental doublespeak that tends to come out of the mouths of city administrators and look at it in common sense terms: If the city already had an ordinance that was constitutional and allowed the city to rightfully enter your property to check for codes violations, why would it need to be redoing the ordinance? The answer of course, is that, if it already had a constitutional and proper ordinance in place they wouldn’t be discussing a new ordinance. For the city administrator--or anyone else at City Hall--to imply otherwise is disingenuous.

Cities don’t rewrite ordinances when the city realizes it has too much power. Cities rewrite ordinances when they realize they don't have the power to accomplish what it is hoping to get accomplished.

******

Look, many codes and guidelines are necessary and needed. No one is arguing that. Nobody wants to live, own property, or operate a business next to a property overcome with stench or rodents, or next to a property that is in danger of falling down or lowering the neighborhood property values. Reasonable people aren’t going to be completely opposed to the city using reasonable means to enforce codes and nuisance laws. But the point being made by these repeated editorials in The Landmark is this: If the city is going to head this direction, there will need to be safeguards in place to prevent the local grudge operations that have come from City Hall in the past.

There’s no need to reopen old wounds or get overly critical of folks who are no longer in power at City Hall. But there are businessmen who can tell you stories about local codes enforcement that became personal to the point of ridiculousness in recent years. You could even say there was a witch hunt or two. That’s why an administrative search warrant option in a small town like Platte City is a dangerous thing and one that needs some safeguards in place to prevent an administrator or codes officer from going on a half-cocked tangent.

So, how about some safeguards? How about requiring city officials to go to a Platte County Circuit Court judge instead of the city’s own municipal judge to get an administrative search warrants? There a few guarantees I can make to you. 1. If a local resident or businessman feels he or she is getting hassled unreasonably by City Hall, one of their first moves is to contact The Landmark, the local media outlet that is not afraid to fight bureaucracy and big government while fighting for the rights of the people. 2. Every judge at the Platte County Circuit Court level reads The Landmark. 3. Judges at the circuit level aren’t going to screw around and issue Platte City an administrative search warrant if they don’t feel it’s properly justified. Judges at the circuit court level have bigger issues to deal with than to get caught up in political games or personal vendettas by an agenda-driven city administrator or codes officer.

Another safeguard? How about backing off on the city attorney’s recommendation to send a police officer in anytime the codes officer enters via an administrative search warrant. Sure, if the property owner is being a threat to the codes officer it’s understandable, if not, why the need to send a cop in with the codes guy? Reasonable minds see that as unreasonable.

On the positive side, after a couple weeks of publicity in this newspaper at least city officials slowed their roll and have recognized they were moving way too fast on this issue. If you have concerns, show up at the public hearing Sept. 10 to let your comments be heard.

(Get reasonable commentary, news and occasional entertainment at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


ROUGH WATERS AHEAD, TIME TO BATTEN DOWN THE HATCHES

Written 8/22/12

This is indeed a crazy time in a crazy world.

We have a candidate for U.S. Senate spewing an ignorant message about rape and women. We have an ousted mayor of Tracy, who has since been placed back in city office at the alderman level, deciding to appeal a judge’s ruling that removed her as mayor for what seems to be a clear case of nepotism. And then we have a small city like Platte City wanting to water down the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment with some needless “administrative search warrant law.”

Take a stiff drink. Or read on. Or both.

******

If you live, work, or own property in Platte City, the most important thing in your news world for the next few days is to be aware Tuesday is the day the Platte City Board of Aldermen is expected to decide on a proposal for what is called an “administrative search warrant.” (Late update: After this week's issue had gone to press, the city announced it was delaying the vote. Read about it here: http://www.plattecountylandmark.com/Article11625.htm)

As we reported on our front page last week and also addressed in this column, the city wants to pass an ordinance that would allow the city codes inspector, accompanied by a police officer, to enter and search your property--without your permission--providing he is granted one of these vague administrative search warrants by the city’s municipal judge. This could apply to any code on the books, even something as simple as the number of dogs or cats you’re keeping in your home (in case you didn’t know, you’re allowed two cats and two dogs).

Batten down the hatches, liberty and the Constitution are under attack at the local level. In a town of 4700 people where we’ve seen personal grudges come into play in codes issues over the past 10-15 years (not necessarily under the current folks in place at City Hall, but previously), this is a dangerous law to be putting on the books.

There’s no way to deny this search warrant option would open the door for potential abuse and political gamesmanship. In the days after last week’s Landmark hit the streets, I talked to an attorney in the region, a man who serves as attorney for several cities in the metro. He was already familiar with Platte City’s proposal, and already had an opinion. “It’s not something I would ever propose for any of the cities I represent. The possibility for abuse is too great,” he said, indicating it’s possible the ordinance could create bigger problems than it solves.

Platte City officials point out the city of Columbia has such an ordinance that withstood a court challenge. A couple of points to make here. 1. Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s right. 2. Even if this dangerous policy fits in Columbia, this doesn’t fit in Platte City. Breaking news: Politics in Platte City, population 4700 people, isn’t politics in Columbia, population 110,000.

Is Platte City’s codes enforcement officer desperate for things to do? Take a drive around town. Do you see any potential codes violations? After this topic came to light, I took a quick drive and noticed several things (some involving weeds and overgrown brush) that could be occupying the codes inspector’s time. And I sure as heck didn’t need a search warrant to notice.

Administrators at government entities can go off on power-trips and half-cocked tangents. We’ve seen it. Some local businessmen have lived it. It’s why Platte City has been fighting to overcome a reputation for being less than business-friendly. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Mayor Frank Offutt in the last few years has made great strides in improving City Hall’s reputation for being people-friendly. This proposal would be a major step backward in that effort.

There’s no need to give any future half-baked city representatives more power than they already have, need or deserve under the Fourth Amendment.

Call or email your alderman--any or all alderman--between now and Tuesday night to voice your opinion. You likely know your alderman and can find his number in the local phone book. I’ll provide you with the aldermen’s email addresses below, but there’s no guarantee your leaders are actually checking these email addresses. City Hall’s phone number is 858-3046. If you’re having trouble reaching your alderman by phone, city staff should be able to guide you to them. If not, then we have another problem at City Hall.

Email addresses: Frank Offutt: mayoroffutt@plattecity.org Alderman Ron Stone: aldermanstone@plattecity.org Alderman Tony Paolillo: aldermanpaolillo@plattecity.org Alderman Ron Porter: aldermanporter@plattecity.org Alderman John Higgins: aldermanhiggins@plattecity.org Alderman Brad Fryrear: aldermanfryrear@plattecity.org Alderman Debbie Kirkpatrick: aldermankirkpatrick@plattecity.org

******

Platte County R-3 School District just mailed out its latest annual report, and some of the numbers in it are catching the eye of taxpayers. The district says its annual teacher salary is $51,235. The statewide average teacher salary is $45,148. That means the average R-3 teacher salary is 13.4% higher than the state average. And that number will grow-- don’t forget, R-3 board just recently approved a salary increase.

R-3’s annual report also boasts of “manageable class sizes” at 19 pupils per classroom. If the voices on the other end of my telephone are an indication--and they are--this is making a lot of folks go “hmmm” about the school district’s claims of overcrowding and the need for mobile classrooms already being brought in.

******

A few developments at the nuts and bolts level of local politics: if you follow my Twitter account, you know that longtime local kingmaker John Elliott resigned from the Platte County Republican Central Committee on Tuesday night. Elliott says he will still be active in fighting against proposals that are not in the best interests of taxpayers and will still be active fighting in favor of fiscally conservative candidates. He just won’t be a member of the central committee while doing it.

Also at Tuesday night’s Republican reorganizational meeting, Jacque Cox of southern Platte County was elected party chairman. By a vote of 12-5, Cox won a contested battle over longtime party chair Jim Rooney of Weston. Though no longer chairman, Rooney will remain an active member on the committee.

(Your favorite publisher is Twitter active 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley or email ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)

 


NEW SEARCH WARRANT LAW ANOTHER SIGN OF OVERREACH

Written 8/9/12

Two quick hitters to get rolling in what has been a typically crazy news week in Platte County.

1. Getting in a car? Buckle your seat belt. I don’t back my car out of the driveway without buckling up first, so it’s impossible for me to fathom motoring along a winding, hilly highway with terrible sight lines without the safety belt securely fastened. The thought of mentioning this comes on the heels of law enforcement folks quietly opining that both drivers in Monday’s double fatality--one a criminal on the fly and another, sadly, an innocent local motorist--likely would have survived had they been buckled up.

2. Have farm animals or exotic pets? Maybe chickens in Weston or a wallaby in Platte City? Great, but there’s a proper place. That place is not inside the city limits. It’s a pretty simple concept really. Folks who reside within a city do so for a lot of reasons, one of which is very likely that they don’t want farm animals for neighbors. Folks who reside in the country do so for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons is likely so they can have farm animals and maybe even an exotic pet without infringing upon the comfort and rights of their neighbors.

******

What’s that smell in the air?

If you’re in Platte City, that smell in the air might be the aroma of another example of governmental overreach and a threat to your Fourth Amendment rights. Let me explain.

I’m not in love with this “administrative search warrant” ordinance the City of Platte City seems on the verge of adopting. The ordinance will allow the city codes officer to search your property--even without your permission--providing he is granted an administrative search warrant by the city’s own municipal judge.

Hmm. Read that again. Simply put, it means that if the city suspects your property is in violation of some code, city officials can go to their own municipal judge--that’s right, not a circuit court judge, but the city’s own judge paid from city coffers--and get a search warrant to enter and search your property. And that’s not all. The city attorney recommends the codes officer be accompanied on his searches in these situations by a law enforcement officer. So guess what? If there’s something “in plain view” that catches the eye of the police officer, what is to prevent this codes enforcement trip from suddenly becoming a law enforcement situation?

The wording in a staff report from Carl Mitchell, police chief, is very telling not by what it says but more by what it doesn’t say. He writes: “Administrative searches are not directed toward uncovering criminal wrongdoing but more towards the furthering of health, safety, and welfare regulations of municipalities, the states, and the federal government. ”

Don’t read something into his words that isn’t there. The words “not directed toward” do not mean “can’t be used.”

And I’m calling BS on this quote from city attorney Jennifer Fain of the firm Witt, Hicklin and Snider, who advocates for adoption of the ordinance in a memo to city officials. “It would help protect property owners, property occupants, the general public, local officials and the city itself from adverse effects of private property entries and searches.”

Fain has it half right. The ordinance would protect local officials and the city, that’s for sure. But it does nothing to protect the property owner or the property occupant. Property owners and occupants right now are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures by the Fourth Amendment in the U.S. Constitution. This Platte City ordinance isn’t going to give property owners any more protection than they already have through the U.S. Constitution. If anything, property owners and occupants are going to have less protection, not more.

What is unsettling about all of this is that it opens the door for potential abuse of the system. This is city level stuff. Over the years we’ve all seen occasional grudges develop at the city level in codes enforcement issues and beyond. While we’re being assured the ordinance is being put on the books with good intentions, good intentions don’t always rule the day when people and circumstances change.

Putting this baby on the books will enhance the power and scope of your local government. There can be no disputing that.

If you live in Platte City, I encourage you to question your alderman about this proposal before the Aug. 28 meeting. Be sure he or she at least understands the proposed law in depth before casting a vote. It’s one of those ordinances that deserves much more than a passing thought prior to passage.

******

The Central Platte Fire District Board of Directors now has a full three-member board for the first time in months. Floyd Coons, Jr. passed away earlier this year and his spot has remained open since then as remaining board members Paul Regan and Andy Stanton tried to agree on whom to appoint to fill the post. Stanton made it clear he wanted someone not connected to the department in any way as he continues to change what he points out is a ‘good ol’ boy’ reputation at the department, while Regan seemed to be preferring someone with ties to the department.

After interviewing six candidates Tuesday night, Stanton listed his top two choices as being Rusty Townsend and Cory Hall. Regan listed his top two preferences as Karon Roberts and Joey Coons.

After Regan and Stanton could not agree on any of those four, they chose Mike Ashcraft, who described himself as basically a retired person (he drives a school bus for Platte County R-3) wanting to give back to the community. He said he was a fireman while in the Navy. After taking the oath of office (see page A-5), Ashcraft asked good questions on a variety of topics that came up for discussion.

Central Platte needs someone with good administrative and budgeting skills to help Stanton get a handle on what has been a solid department but a department without a lot of fiscal oversight in the past. Ashcraft showed some potential of being able to help Stanton get a handle on prioritizing fiscal matters while keeping the district’s solid reputation for fighting fires and responding to medical emergencies. Though he was neither’s first choice, the selection of Ashcraft could turn out to pay dividends.

(You’re at the first choice for news and commentary in Platte County. Get more online 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


TELEVISION ADS IN A RACE THAT WASN'T EVEN COUNTYWIDE?

Written 8/8/12

Tuesday night was so crazy I’m surprised Rita Rhoads didn’t get elected to something.

******

You’re getting two Between the Lines columns for the price of one this week. Check out page A-8 of this printed edition for a special column I wrote in advance of Tuesday’s Republican primary election. That column was posted at plattecountylandmark.com on Monday afternoon and went viral with links on other popular web sites such as tonyskansascity.com

We didn’t want any of our print-only readers to miss a chance to peruse it.

******

Yes, the margins of victory in two races were razor thin on Tuesday. Wondering what the procedure is for a potential recount? We explain all of that within our story on the front page.

******

Speaking of peruse, it will be interesting to eventually take the time to peruse the final campaign financial reports of winner Beverlee Roper and second place finisher Kathy Dusenbery in the first district county commission race that was decided by a mere 46 votes Tuesday (see front page for detailed report).

The campaign finances will be interesting for a couple of reasons. One, some of Dusenbery’s supporters were anxious to point out the fact Roper was giving large sums of her own money to her campaign (at last check roughly $33,000). Um, and the problem is? I’d much rather have a candidate who is in large part financing his or her own race than a candidate who is getting donations from developers or large professional firms who might be expecting something in return over the course of the next four years. Anybody with me on that?

Dusenbery put on a late advertising blitz on television, of all places. Has Platte County politics come to this? A county candidate--a candidate for a seat that is not even countywide, mind you--feels that television is the best way to reach voters? I found that choice just as bizarre as some of the mood swings in Dusenbery’s governing decisions the past four years.

Television in a county race seems like an odd choice that likely did not produce a good return on investment. All we need to know is that the return on investment was not enough to push her to victory.

And where was Dusenbery getting her late money? Not that taxpayers will have to worry about it now since Roper came out on top in what was a tight and contentious battle, but it will still be fascinating to see where the dollars were coming from to purchase that TV time.

******

One astute observer told me over the weekend that the key to Roper upending incumbent Dusenbery would be for Roper to pull at least 300 votes from her home port of Weatherby Lake. I’m looking at the precinct-by-precinct numbers now. Guess how many votes Roper received at Weatherby Lake? 301. Dusenbery received only 90 at Weatherby Lake. That’s a 211 vote gain in that precinct for Roper.

Now let’s look at Dusenbery’s home precinct of Parkville. Dusenbery received 519 votes there to 320 for Roper. That’s a 199 vote gain for Dusenbery, which means the two candidates in effect canceled out one another’s home court advantage.

Dusenbery performed well in what is known as the Houston Lake voting precinct on the outskirts of Parkville. She gained 84 votes on Roper at that location. Consistency was the key for Roper. Roper’s numbers and margin of victory in most precincts remained steady, though not overwhelming, thus the narrow margin of victory. Roper won the Park Hill North precinct 163-124. Roper won the Northern Heights precinct 183-157. Those were two key margins of victory.

Landmark reporter Valerie Verkamp and I in our newsroom discussions in advance of Tuesday had agreed it would be key for Roper to hold her own with Dusenbery in Riverside, and she did. Though Dusenbery seemed to easily win the war of sign placement in Riverside, Roper actually won where it counts. The ballot box totals show Roper captured 136 Riverside votes to 135 for Dusenbery.

******

So what lies ahead at the county? What will be the biggest issues for the new county commission of Beverlee Roper, Jason Brown, and either Duane Soper or Democrat Sharon Aring come Jan. 1? The budget, of course. In fact the mental prep work on the budget is going to have to start before Jan. 1.

Platte County must find a way to better fund core government services. Roper has pledged to refocus the county’s priorities. To do that, there needs to be a plan to take a load off the general revenue fund. The county missed its best chance for this back in 2009 when Dusenbery and friends unwisely pushed for renewal of the park tax at a half cent instead of breaking it down into a quarter cent for parks and a quarter cent for law enforcement. And already the county commission has obligated the park fund to so much debt there’s no way the park tax can be changed. So will the commission look to work something differently in regard to the 3/8 cent sales tax for roads when it comes up for renewal in the future? Municipalities in the county rely heavily on their share of the road tax, so any adjustments in that formula could be met with resistance from some city leaders. It will be an interesting situation.

Roper has also pledged greater transparency in county government. I think you’ll see more discussion taking place during county commission meetings, perhaps less in those “posted” staff meetings commissioners have on a regular basis.

Whatever develops, your eyes are glued to the best source for Platte County news and commentary. Thanks for reading.

(When the weekly print edition leaves you wanting more, check out Twitter.com/ivanfoley for 24/7 news, commentary and fun)

 


 

WRONG PRIORITIES, LACK OF A GUIDING PHILOSOPHY HAVE HURT THE COUNTY
Posted 8/6/12

In 2009, Kathy Dusenbery played a major role in a decision that has haunted--and will continue to haunt--Platte County at budget time every year. Her unabashed promotion of renewing the park tax at a half cent instead of redrafting the tax proposal to 1/4 cent for parks and 1/4 cent for law enforcement showed a misguided set of priorities and a preference for fluff over core government services.

While park tax revenues are in the neighborhood of $80 to $90 million over a 10-year period and in effect have created a slush fund for fluff and toys, those who provide core government functions at the county must beg for their cut of general revenue funds each budget year. Devoting a portion of that half cent to law enforcement would have taken a significant strain off the county’s general revenue budget. For whatever reason at the time--whether it was a political game aimed at those with whom they don’t see eye to eye (the sheriff and prosecutor come to mind) or whether it was just lack of vision and bad financial management--the county commission’s 2009 decision to promote the half cent park tax to the public was the wrong one.

No one is perfect--not even elected officials. But some governing mistakes are more harmful than others. A few months ago, Dusenbery was the swing vote in giving a construction management project bid to JE Dunn, the former employer of presiding commissioner Jason Brown. Dusenbery’s decision to side with Brown in that one cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars and has created all kinds of questions. Sorry, but “JE Dunn knew the centers were built on piers” is not enough to justify spending hundreds of thousands of dollars more than necessary for management services. It’s just not.

Both of the above-described scenarios are indefensible positions. Even apologists for Dusenbery, the former mayor at Parkville where she built a new city hall without voter approval, cannot effectively craft a common-sense defense against either of the above decisions.

When Dusenbery, first district (southern) commissioner in Platte County, was elected to her first term in 2008 she had the support of moderates within the local Republican party. Dusenbery referred to herself as a “progressive.” She talked of wanting to be a full time commissioner, which for taxpayers is a scary thought in itself. A full time county commissioner would spend hours staring out the plate-glass windows of the second story of the administration building, daydreaming about ways to spend your money. You know, in a “progressive” sort of way.

Using words like “progressive” and promoting renewal of an $82 million half cent sales tax for parks--when it was clear a much smaller amount would be sufficient to maintain and provide reasonable expansion of the county’s already large park system--turned the fiscally conservative branch of the local Republican party against her.

Then a funny thing happened. Dusenbery slowly aligned herself with Brown, who when he was elected in 2010 brought with him a reputation for fiscal conservatism. It seemed Dusenbery was trying to win over the fiscally conservative wing of the party, after spending the first two years of her term throwing stones toward and laughing in the faces of those same people. Somewhere, she grew apart from Betty Knight, a moderate and fellow parks and trails loving commissioner who retired in 2010. How it happened no one seems willing to say publicly, but Dusenbery is now so far apart from Knight that Knight openly endorses Beverlee Roper, Dusenbery’s opponent in Tuesday’s primary election.

Dusenbery has no guiding political principle, no guiding governing philosophy on which she hangs her hat. The result is her views shift with the political winds. When it comes to dealing with the public, most folks can put up with differences of opinion as long as they see logic in your thought process and approach. Dusenbery’s views shift with seemingly no explanation. This causes confusion and a lack of trust among the people she serves.

She has beneficial personal skills. Away from politics, she is fun, conversational, quick to laugh, very personable. If this election were about choosing which candidate you’d like to hang with during a social outing, Dusenbery would deserve the nod. But this election is about the future of the county’s leadership and the future of the county’s coffers.

Dusenbery is a follower, not a leader. She is frequently too emotional for her own good and the result is reactionary decisions made on the fly. As an example, look no further back than last winter when she became angry that a professional friend of hers was being overlooked for the job of new superintendent at the Park Hill School District. Dusenbery unsuccessfully tried to get the school board to overturn its own decision, going on her Facebook page to promote an “Occupy Park Hill” movement upon the Park Hill administrative offices.

She even showed up at the school office one day, physically taking part in the “Occupy Park Hill” effort. It was bizarre for one elected official to be trying to exert so much influence upon a decision made by a completely unrelated political entity. She made some enemies in the process. The majority of Park Hill School Board members are now soundly in the corner of Roper as a result of Dusenbery’s unnecessary and unsuccessful “Occupy Park Hill” effort.

Roper’s entry into the race has provided voters with an intelligent, grounded, professional option to the incumbent. She has captured endorsements from moderates like Knight and from the influential and respected retiring Platte County Sheriff Dick Anderson. Most sitting county officeholders--some quietly, some not so quietly--are in Roper’s corner. In fact, most folks in the know count Brown as the only current officeholder on Dusenbery’s team.

Frustrated by the lack of any public discussion prior to Dusenbery and Brown making their vote to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars more than the county would have needed to for the construction management bid to JE Dunn, Roper is pushing for more transparency in county government.

An attorney who serves as the municipal judge at Weatherby Lake, Roper’s professional credentials include experience as an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice (1985 to 1993). She was a Reagan appointee in the Office of Public Affairs and Special Assistant to the Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division, William Weld. From 1989 to 1993 she was a trial attorney in the Environmental Enforcement Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division. She says she became a seasoned litigator, working with investigators to ferret out wrongdoing and bring perpetrators to justice. She has been in private law practice since 1994.

Just as no officeholder is perfect, nor is there ever a perfect candidate. But Roper, in multiple extensive interviews with The Landmark, has come across as intelligent and focused. She provides calm, collected and reflective answers to questions.

With important fiscal decisions on the horizon for Platte County, Roper is a solid choice and the right choice. Based on in-depth discussions this newspaper has held with her, Roper seems to have two important attributes that Dusenbery has not consistently displayed over the past four years: fiscal discipline and proper fiscal priorities focused on core government services.

Roper deserves the chance at getting the county’s priorities back into proper order.

(Follow Twitter.com/ivanfoley, Facebook.com/ivan.foley and email ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)

 


ONE MAN'S VISION ON HOW TO SAVE TRACY; AND DON'T EXAGGERATE THOSE RAISES!
Written 8/1/12

So the Olympics are on. Is it just me or does Bob Costas get shorter with every appearance? By the end of the games he’ll be under the desk.

*******

Costas’ hair color is so fake it almost looks real. Which I guess is his goal. Give the keeper of his coiffe a gold medal.

******

A few folks wearing orange-colored blinders seem to be in denial, but as The Landmark exclusively reported a week ago, staff members at Platte County R-3 were awarded 2.7% pay increases. (By rules of math that we all learned years ago, 2.7% is rounded up to 3% for general conversational convenience, but do that in front of an R-3 school administrator and you are sure to be quickly ‘corrected’ that the pay raise was not 3%, it was 2.7%. I know this from personal experience. It made me laugh.)

As reporter PJ Rooks pointed out last week, the overall taxpayer cost for staff pay increases is $396,000.

 

Also as our front page story correctly pointed out last week--and again, the orange colored blinders need to come off here as this also is a factual report--the district will pay full cost of health insurance as long as employees participate in the district’s health awareness program, which is said to include a health risk assessment and biometric testing. Cost of that full health insurance, as our front page story correctly detailed last week, is $5,376 to $5,460 per person.

Word of 3% (excuse me, 2.7%) raises and the cost of the health benefit given at R-3 was not being met in a positive fashion by some folks on Twitter. But the school board and administrators surely know what they’re doing from a political standpoint. I mean, this group has proven to have its finger on the pulse of the public mood. Right? Right?

******

The immediate ‘reinstatement’ of Rita Rhoads to a position at City Hall would be funny if it weren’t such a sad commentary on the town’s leadership. Oh, what am I saying? It’s still funny. And sad. All at the same time. It has given me enough Twitter material to last a lifetime. Slow day on Twitter? Resort to ridiculing Tracy’s ridiculousness.

And let’s not be naive, Rhoads’ reappearance raises a red flag or two. Court documents filed in connection with the Rhoads’ nepotism case allege that after she was told she was the target of an investigation, she was witnessed in City Hall shredding documents. Let’s be careful not convict a person without a trial, but if Rhoads truly was shredding documents it doesn’t exactly paint a picture of innocence. Then after removal, the four officials who had been serving with Rhodes immediately turn to her instead of inviting in a fresh set of eyes to fill the vacancy when Alderman Julie Thomas stepped in as mayor. The process doesn’t exactly paint a picture of transparency and open government.

It’s obvious the Tracy elected don’t want any new cooks in the kitchen. Analysis based on public facts indicates there would be legitimate cause to investigate whether there’s some gravy being poured on whatever’s being cooked in the Tracy kitchen.

I would suggest an independent auditor crawling up some body cavities with a microscope. If there’s anything left to audit after the shredding party at City Hall.

******

At best, Tracy and its 212 residents, dogs, cats, jaywalking geese and illegally-driven golf carts are being led around by a tight group of good ol’ girls and boys who are doing things above board but just don’t want anybody to know how they’re doing it. In the process, to the outside world they come off dressed in clown suits for making the town’s government the butt of statewide jokes.

At worst, well, you know what the ‘at worst’ is.

******

The solution to Tracy’s self-induced embarrassment would be to disband the city. Can we get Platte City to do something along the lines of a bloodless coup? Maybe a friendly annexation? Anything to stop the ignorance.

I picture Mayor Frank Offutt riding horseback across the Platte River carrying copies of the state constitution, the Sunshine Law, and a guide on nepotism in his hand as he declares that Tracy from this day forward shall be known as Platte City West.

Film at 11.

******

The last two known cases of government corruption at entities in Platte County have a common tie, of sorts.

You’ll remember the corruption case at the Northland Regional Ambulance District, where then-board president Kevin Rawlings was charged with misuse of official information in a shady land deal with details uncovered by The Landmark and 41 Action News. Rawlings’ next court date, by the way, is set for Sept. 11.

And the other most recent corruption case was the nepotism suit brought against Rhoads at the City of Tracy. The county prosecutor’s office proved that Rhoads had violated the nepotism clause in some forgotten document called the state constitution.
A common tie between those two entities comes in the area of legal counsel. The attorney for NRAD is Mark Hubbard. The attorney for the city of Tracy is Lisa Rehard. Together they are the law firm of Hubbard and Rehard.

To be clear, that’s not necessarily an indication that bad legal advice is being handed out. But the common tie between NRAD and Tracy is a factually correct observation. Some observers will say that if an attorney gives good advice to a client but the client doesn’t take it, what can the attorney do? Here’s a thought: “fire” the client. In other words, walk away from that relationship. If you don’t, your firm’s name naturally gets drawn into the media coverage when corruption hits the fan. If a continued easy paycheck from the tax-funded entities is worth the bad pub, stay the course. There’s a choice to be made.

(Your choices include Twitter.com/ivanfoley, Facebook.com/ivan.foley, and ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)

 


SPENDING PRIORITIES,
QUESTIONABLE BID DECISION
SHOULD BE FOCUS
Written 7/25/12

It’s predicted to be a 106 degrees today. At The Landmark, it’s press day. Distribution day. So cover your eyes, I’m wearing shorts.

******

Less than two weeks now until the important Aug. 7 primary election in Platte County. The county race getting the most attention--and where the most amount of time, money and energy is being spent--is the race between incumbent first district county commissioner Kathy Dusenbery and her challenger, Beverlee Roper, the municipal judge at Weatherby Lake.

The Landmark has covered this race extensively, the latest occasion being a detailed report on the fascinating debate the two candidates engaged in on July 5 in front of a crowded room at the Platte County Pachyderm Club meeting. We recorded the event and reporter Valerie Verkamp’s extensive spot-on story in the next issue gave more than just the meat and potatoes.

As you’ve driven around southern Platte County, I’m sure you’ve noticed each candidate has invested heavily in signs. Each candidate has also been investing in some direct mail pieces. If you follow politics closely and are entertained, sometimes amused, sometimes frustrated by the wording of political mail pieces, this race has been your kind of summer entertainment.

I took a look at the most recent quarterly financial reports of each campaign. In a report dated July 5, Dusenbery’s campaign had $15,535 on hand. Roper’s campaign committee report, dated July 15, shows $4,322 on hand. You can bet both are still acquiring cash to spend as the campaign nears its climax.

In my mind, here are a couple of main issues in the campaign. If I were Roper, my points of emphasis in the closing weeks would be to hammer on Dusenbery’s record of financially prioritizing parks over basic government services like law enforcement, etc. I would also drive home the point and continue to raise valid questions over Dusenbery’s vote to accept the hundreds of thousand of dollars higher bid from JE Dunn for construction management services on the community center expansion projects. A lot of things can be called into question based on that vote alone.

Both those topics--the spending priorities and the construction management bid vote--really highlight what a number of voters will see as indefensible positions taken by Dusenbery. Roper might also find value in all of the financial research that Gordon Cook, an accountant by trade who is an active follower of Platte County’s finances, has done in regard to county debt. Cook’s information points out the amount of long-term debt the county has taken on in recent years. It’s a fascinating look at numbers that sometimes don’t get close enough study by the public in general--and by the people making the decisions to obligate county taxpayers to the debt.

Hang with us for more coverage, before and after Aug. 7.

******

As you know by now if you follow my Twitter account, Bill Hankins, a Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Famer who does photography and special Landmark People sections for The Landmark, was injured while shooting pictures at the Demo Derby at the Platte County Fair Thursday night. A car jumped the ditch, also known as the pit wall. Bill suffered a broken ankle in the scary mishap, which by all accounts could have been a much bigger disaster than it was based on the fact there were kids and others near the area where the car made its unanticipated trip off course.

“Only my tremendous speed prevented further injury,” Hankins joked with me late Thursday night after he had been released from treatment at the emergency room at Liberty Hospital. Later he pointed out it was a bit humbling that he was hit by, of all colors, a pink car.

I wasn’t at the fair when the accident occurred. My cell phone started lighting up with text messages about 8 p.m. “A derby car jumped the pit wall, hit a camera man and a fire truck,” was the first message. A pal who sent the message thought he was just giving me a news tip. In truth, he was doing that plus an even bigger favor. As soon as I read the words “camera man,” my first reaction of course was to check on our main man Hankins, who I knew was at the fair, and who I knew was quite likely near the Demo Derby. The Landmark helped sponsor a derby car this year and Bill was intending to get photos of driver Max Van Fosson in action. When Bill didn’t answer repeated calls to his cell phone, the worry set in. And then when my physical description of Bill started matching descriptions of the injured man that were being relayed back to me, the fears were confirmed. A broken ankle is about the best that a guy could hope for based on the way the scene has been described to me.

Kudos to Bill for his quick reactions. Bill--and by the way, you’ll never meet a nicer guy-- of course passes along a heartfelt thank you to the first responders who quickly jumped to his aid.

We wish him a quick recovery and hope to get him off the disabled list as soon as possible.

*******

Interested in putting in time at a public service position? The Central Platte Fire District board of directors is still looking for a third board member after the recent passing of Floyd Coons, Jr.

Remaining board members Paul Regan and Andy Stanton have yet to agree on an appointment to the third seat. Indications are Regan would like to see someone who is already connected to the fire department in some capacity. Stanton would prefer someone with no connection to the department, an unbiased set of eyes. Stanton’s approach, in my opinion, is the right one for a department that could benefit from an outside perspective to try to break away from its good ol’ boy reputation.

The topic will be discussed again at the Aug. 14 board meeting at 7 p.m. at the fire station, 201 Main St., Platte City. If interested, show up at that meeting, or better yet, call Regan at 816-446-5153 or Stanton at 816-810-0187 ahead of time.

If the two cannot agree on a third board member, an election will eventually decide the matter. Details on that process are being provided to Regan and Stanton soon by the fire district’s attorney.

(Coverage and commentary comes at you 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)


VICTIMS' FATHER IS MENTALLY TOUGH; JUDGE NAILS IT
Written 7/18/12

If you remember nothing else about this week’s column remember this: Paul Haarup, father of the two young women slain at Edgerton, is an emotionally strong man. How he held his public emotions and body language in check while going through every parent’s worst nightmare--and then some--is a testament to an incredible level of inner strength.
Sure, there were moments here or there where he very understandably had to take a few seconds to compose himself, but for the most part he spoke in a strong voice and stood tall. I don’t know Paul Haarup, had never met Paul Haarup until Saturday at the scene of the first search. But simply as one dad speaking about another, I will always be amazed by the composure and professionalism he showed through the entire weekend. For that, he’ll always have my utmost respect.

******

Headed to the Platte County Fair? Not surprisingly, the forecast is calling for extreme heat, temps into the triple digits. Lather on the sunscreen if you’re headed to Tracy.
Oh, and if you’re headed to the Demolition Derby, cheer on the car--proudly sponsored in part by your Landmark newspaper--driven by Max Van Fosson in the rookie class. In typical Landmark fashion, the car will be delivering the biggest hits.

******

It seems like a long time ago, but it was just last Friday that The Landmark was there for every word spoken in more than two hours of courtroom drama as an ouster petition against Tracy Mayor Rita Rhoads was heard by Judge Lee Hull in Platte County Circuit Court. The court ruled Rhoads had indeed committed an act of nepotism by hiring her son-in-law to perform work for the city. Per the state constitution, the penalty for nepotism is removal from office. Hull ordered such.
Basically Rhoads and her attorney’s only line of defense was to claim that contracted labor isn’t actually “employment.” It was an interesting angle, though one that clearly didn’t match the spirit or intent of the 1945 constitution. Hey, so you’re an elected official who wants to help feed a family member? Just hire them as “contracted labor” for whatever amount you think they need. That’s the Pandora’s Box this thing would have opened.

Judge Hull explained that the constitution can be “draconian” in its application but that the court “is not empowered to amend it or change it.”

Amen. Praises to the respected judge for not trying to reinvent the constitution.

Hey, it was a Friday afternoon in a case involving a town with a population of 212--and that might be counting dogs and cats. Some lesser judicial minds may have decided that would be a good time to legislate from the bench. Not Hull. He nailed it.

It made those of us who believe that a black and white clause in the constitution should be interpreted in black and white fashion very proud and delivered a strengthened faith in the judicial system. The nepotism clause in the constitution is not a “living and breathing document.”

While bleeding hearts might say the penalty for a $100 hiring of a relative is stiff, that’s what the constitution clearly calls for. There is no wiggle room in the constitution’s wording.

A different ruling, once word hit the internet, would have immediately made this a statewide--and perhaps beyond--story. It would have gone viral.

******

If you weren’t following the timeline at Twitter.com/ivanfoley from Friday through Sunday and have an interest in the Edgerton double murder case, you might find it worthwhile to scroll back to Friday and read forward.

It was a tragic story that caused sleepless and restless days and nights for everyone involved, obviously from the families, to the investigators and yes, even to some of us in the news media. The Twitter timeline gives a blow-by-blow account.

I say it all the time and I will keep saying it. If you’re a news junkie and you’re not following your favorite news people on Twitter, you have no idea how up to date and ahead of the game you can be. The advent of Twitter has changed the world for everyone with an interest in news and current events. Twitter is definitely not draconian in its application.

We’ll be loading an album of pictures from the weekend soon at Facebook.com/ivan.foley

******

We don't yet know whether KCI Airport will get a serious--and seriously expensive--revamping, but we can tell you this: the KCI Airport’s Police Division has freshly painted patrol cars.

The airport police cruisers have gone to the old school black and white look. The cars were previously mostly white and easy to overlook or mistake for other vehicles.
“A few times travelers even thought the older version was a taxi cab,” said Chuck Marks, chief of airport police. “So we went with a more traditional look.”

The new black and white color scheme is typically recognized as a police vehicle. Black and white cars tend to have higher visibility, which will help travelers more easily identify police officers, KCI officials tell us.

The initial roll out of the newly-painted cruisers began in June and will continue through the summer until the entire fleet is sporting the new look.

(The publisher isn’t sporting a new look but does have a haircut on the agenda soon. In the meantime, follow him 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley or email ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)

 


THE PROSECUTOR ISN'T THE VILLAIN IN THIS PLAY
Written 7/11/12

Let’s start this week with a couple of praises, because as is the nature of things, sometimes the good stuff in this crazy world doesn’t get enough attention.

Praise No. 1: Kudos to the Park Hill Board of Education for what I believe is a wise choice in selecting Chris Seufert to the school board spot vacated by the recent relocation of Rick Turley. Seufert, an assistant in the prosecutor’s office at Platte County, strikes me as being a common sense official who also has his fiscal priorities in order. Seufert had sought the post in the most recent election, so you know his desire to serve is real. He’ll be a very solid addition.

Praise No. 2: Frank Offutt is doing, and has done over the past few years, an outstanding job as mayor of Platte City. Solid leadership, the city’s infrastructure seems solid, there are no public personal battles, my phone doesn’t light up with folks complaining about any particular aspect of city government these days, and Offutt is out front being an ambassador for City Hall. Sometimes when things are running smoothly the public tends to take it all for granted. Things are never perfect, let’s understand that, but in his most recent go-round as mayor Offutt could not have done a better job at keeping city government flowing smoothly.

******

I’m hearing a few whispers of conversation criticizing the office of Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd for bringing the petition to oust Tracy Mayor Rita Rhoads for alleged nepotism. My thought is it is very easy to defend Zahnd’s action. It’s a black and white issue that’s being clouded because the dollar amount folks are quoting of the most recent alleged act of nepotism by Rhoads--$100 to her son-in-law--is so small. But this case isn’t about $100 (and by the way, authorities say there have been other instances that would raise that dollar amount). This case is about one hard core fact and a couple of other related circumstances of the situation.

What’s the hard core fact? The state constitution is clear on nepotism. It is not allowed, and for good reason. Doesn’t matter the dollar amount (and more on that in a bit). It’s the principle. In this country, we don’t elect folks so they can use their positions to enhance the financial standing of their relatives. Read our front page story. Rhoads, when told in advance by a city employee that what she was about to do was wrong, allegedly responded to the effect: “I don’t care. They (her son-in-law and daughter) need the money.”

As told to The Landmark by sources close to the investigation, some of the as of yet unreported other facts work against Rhoads and should quiet the criticism of Zahnd when these facts come to light. For instance, The Landmark can report with confidence that after she refused to speak with investigators on Monday, July 2 about the nepotism allegation, an agreement was reached between law enforcement and Rhoads’ attorney that she would stay away from City Hall and take no actions as mayor while the investigation was underway. Rhoads, we’re told, did not abide by this verbal agreement. A city employee reports witnessing Rhoads inside City Hall on Tuesday, July 3. And she wasn’t there to get out of the heat. The city employee told authorities she witnessed Rhoads shredding documents, according to documents filed with the court by prosecutors.

Assuming the witness is correct, shredding city documents a day after you’ve been made aware there’s an investigation into your alleged misconduct sends up a red flag. Add to that Rhoads wasn’t even supposed to be in City Hall or acting in any mayoral capacity in the first place, and what you have here is obvious disregard for the law.

Regular readers of this column space know in the past--as recently as last week, in fact--I have chided the Tracy mayor for doing “what she wants, when she wants.” This is the mayor who got sideways with our reporter who was recently asking about information that was contained in a city newsletter circulated by the mayor. The mayor’s comment, you’ll recall, was that the city newsletter “is for our citizens and not the newspapers. It’s just updated stuff for us, not the county or Platte City or anybody else.”

I still can’t type that sentence without chuckling. It’s an example of an elected official on a power trip out of control. The mayor’s alleged nepotism, and ignoring a deal made with law enforcement while the investigation is ongoing, seems to be consistent with a pattern of “doing what you want, when you want.” That’s not the way our system of government is designed to work.

No matter which way the judge rules, Zahnd’s office was right for bringing this case forward. It’s his elected duty to protect the constitution of the state. The constitution expressly prohibits nepotism. That’s the issue. Not the dollar amount. And it’s not like Rhoads is at risk of going to jail--remember, this isn’t a criminal charge. The punishment for the allegation is to be removed from office. That’s it.

Zahnd is doing what he was elected to do because the Tracy mayor (allegedly) did something the constitution expressly prohibits. Wouldn’t you much rather have a prosecutor working to defend the constitution than a prosecutor who would turn his back on government corruption?

The answer to that, for most of the population, is obvious.

******

If you’re interested in local politics--specifically the first district county commission race--there are two must-read articles in this issue of The Landmark. On an inside page you’ll find reporter Valerie Verkamp’s very detailed summary of Thursday night’s debate between Kathy Dusenbery and Beverlee Roper. On this page, you’ll read a well-researched article into the county’s spending habits by Gordon Cook, an accountant who resides in Parkville.

The momentum in this race right now clearly sides with Roper. But never say never, politics is a very unpredictable thing. Roper will get the votes of folks who are heavy into local current events and the types who follow local political news in this newspaper very closely. Dusenbery will get the votes of soccer moms, PTA-type folks, and the social clubbers who don’t pay close attention to local government details but know that their friend is on the ballot. Watch for more Between the Lines commentary on this race as the Aug. 7 election nears.

(Get commentary 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley or email the publisher at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


THERE ARE A FEW
LOCALLY-THEMED FIREWORKS
YOU SHOULD AVOID
Written 7/3/12

Here we are, The Landmark’s Fourth of July issue is exploding all over the streets of Platte County a day early this week in order to (kind of) prepare to celebrate the patriotic holiday, but in reality we’re just meeting an earlier-than-normal deadline created by the fact there will be no mail service on Wednesday, July 4.

Take a break on the 4th. Come back on the 5th with all appendages still in place.

*****

I fear my goal to sleep in on the morning of July 4th will be interrupted by something resembling a scene from “Good Morning, Vietnam.”

******

In a display of patriotism, this year I’m only shooting off fireworks that were made in America. In other words, my fireworks display just ended.

******

In keeping with the Hollywood theme of last week’s premiere of the hit movie Magic Mike, I wrote my June 27th column while shirtless. Apparently this was over the top in the eyes of the censors. So that column ended up going Internet-only, making our web site counter at plattecountylandmark.com spin like a top.

For those of you who didn’t catch the June 27 column about trailers and knee jerk reactions, it is reprinted today on this page under the “Other Voices” heading.

******

A ridiculous heat wave is engulfing this part of the country. Remember the Humane Society advises that in this tremendous heat you should treat your dog the same way you treat yourself.

This means over the next few days my dog will be sweating his ass off while weed eating, cleaning the patio and sweeping out the garage.

Chris Kamler’s dog will be drinking several adult beverages.

******

“I miss the good ol’ days when the Platte City Chamber of Commerce was run by a grumpy, bullying type personality.”--Nobody.

******

I hope the following Between the Lines reviews are helpful to you in any last minute firework shopping. A few of the local fireworks you may want to avoid this year are:

THE TRACY TORNADO: Light the fuse on this thing and take cover, as it darts about wherever the heck it wants whenever the heck it wants doing whatever the heck it wants. Fortunately it’s very secretive, only offered for sale to members of an exclusive country club at Tracy. It is not intended for the newspapers, Platte City or the county.

THE DUSENBERY DISASTER: At risk of being pulled from the shelves because you never know what you’re going to get. At times can be delightfully fun but drifts easily when the wind picks up. Starts out in liberally progressive fashion with an eye toward seeping into your wallet, then about halfway through takes an unconvincing conservative turn. It drops a massive cloud of cash over parks and trails, then unleashes a wet stream of what is believed to be rain upon law enforcement.

THE BROWN BOMB, WELL DUNN: This wink-wink, nudge-nudge contraption is not recommended for purchase. Performance is fine, but way overpriced. You’ll pay hundreds of thousands of dollars more for this than you would for an equally qualified firework.

******

After 20 years of running a fireworks stand for head man Rick Witt, the incomparable Woody Grutzmacher is telling folks this is his last year. Woody runs the tent located by the Bank of Weston and Christ Chapel along Hwy. 92 east of I-29 at Platte City.

As for this being Woody’s final year, Rick Witt doesn’t seem convinced. “Woody tells me that every year,” Witt said on a recent trip into The Landmark.

Woody has become something of a fireworks legend, in spite of stories of a fire or two at his tent in recent years. He even created his own t-shirt line with the slogan: “I got banged at Woody’s.” Those things took on a life of their own.

So what has been the key to the Wood man’s success?

“I legitimately take care of people. Why would I want to rip somebody off for 7-10 days a year when you’ve got to live with them year-round?”

If fireworks are your thing, spend a buck or two with Woody this year.

******

What are your thoughts on the proposed redesign of KCI Airport? If you’re like me, you’re asking why it’s even being considered. KCI is the most convenient airport in which I’ve ever set foot, though let’s point out I’m a newspaperman, not a world traveler. A Landmark reader with experience in the field of aviation sent me his observation: “No matter how the city council and the Airport Authority talk, KCI will never become a hub. It will always be an end stop. The powers-that-be want to make a name for themselves so they can proclaim ‘look what I did’ when a new terminal gets built by their contractor buddies.”

I can’t argue with the man’s logic. Well said.

(Get news, views and fun 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley or send email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


DEBATE COUNTDOWN; AND
SUDDENLY MODULAR
CLASSROOMS ARE ‘TRAILERS’
Posted
6/28/12

Have you been waiting for the primary election campaigns to kick into high gear? Hard core followers of local politics are primed and ready. The rest of the population hasn’t yet tuned in, with summer vacations, summer heat, and a variety of other activities occupying the time and the minds of folks throughout Platte County.

All of that is about to change next week. On Thursday, July 5 the Platte County Pachyderm Club will host what it is calling a debate between the two Republican candidates for first district county commissioner. Incumbent Kathy Dusenbery and challenger Beverlee Roper are scheduled to square off that evening at the Tiffany Springs Golf Club. Social time begins at 5:30, the debate is set to start at 6 p.m.
After some initial uncertainty, apparently Dusenbery has committed to showing for this event. At least the Pachyderms believe she’ll be there, as they have sent out media releases promoting the duel. The club seems to be expecting a large-sized crowd in attendance.

Here’s one way things have changed in recent years. It used to be that if a candidate looked unprepared or made a mis-statement of fact or some other gaffe at an event like this, really the only folks who would know would be the ones sitting in the room that night. And even then it didn’t matter much, as most people who choose to attend an event like this already have their minds made up as to which candidate they’re supporting. Their attendance is more a sign of support for their favored candidate.
In today’s local campaign world, a mistake or verbal gaffe, temper tantrum or mental meltdown is going to go viral immediately with the advance of social media outlets like the wildly popular Twitter.com/ivanfoley. What this means is that though the attendance in a debate room might be small, the audience is large.

No pressure, candidates. Just win, baby.

******

Some of you in the southern part of the county have been on edge recently with a string of burglaries in the Parkville area. Authorities are hinting the three men arrested last week (see front page story) may have had their hands in some unlawful entries other than at the location that got them captured. Authorities confirm that a cell phone belonging to one of the three arrested was found inside another Parkville area home that had been burglarized. There was a post on my Facebook page that one homeowner was actually taking a shower when her home was entered and televisions, computers and credit cards were stolen.

Lock up.

******

Hot enough for ya?

If you miss the old days when Wells Bank would flash the time and temperature from the upper corner of their building at Third and Main in downtown Platte City, fear no more. Local attorney Scott Campbell has installed digital time and temperature display outside his office in the 300 block of Main. Check it out during the present/upcoming heat wave.

******

Every time I hear a Platte County R-3 School District official use the word “trailers” it makes me smile for one simple reason alone: I love observing the games that come with politics.

Using the word “trailers” is part of the political positioning being done by the leadership at Platte County R-3 when they talk about temporary classrooms being brought in. Those of us who weren’t born yesterday know that “trailers” is not the politically correct term to use when referring to modular classrooms, also known as mobile classrooms or portable classrooms. In the news biz, I’ve never before heard an institution of learning, almost always places of political correctness, so openly refer to these type of classrooms as “trailers.” R-3 officials are not only using the term “trailers” in the spoken word, but it also has been used in literature mailed by the school district. Obviously this isn’t a slip of the tongue. A conscious decision has been made to use the word “trailers.”

Coming off a levy increase election result that surprised them with the outcome and stunned them with the margin of defeat, it’s clear the word “trailers” is being used to try to conjure up negative thoughts of trashy-looking add-ons that are necessary because in their minds some folks just didn’t understand how beneficial that 13-17% increase in the tax levy would have been. You know, that 60-cent increase in the tax levy on your home at a time when the economy is struggling, your home value is decreasing, and home foreclosures are omnipresent deserved your unquestioned support. . .

And hey, wordplay is to be expected in politics, it’s not a surprise. Just be aware of it. Despite what a naive few might believe, politics has always been a part of every election, even those involving school issues. Always will be.

******

It’s interesting that in our story (page A-4) on the topic this week, Superintendent Dr. Mike Reik said he wanted to dispel any thought that the move to acquire “trailers”--yes, the leader of the district is calling them trailers--is a “knee-jerk reaction” to the April election results.

My thought: If you feel the need to explain that what you’re about to do is not a knee-jerk reaction, then what you’re about to do is probably a knee-jerk reaction.
Quietly, some district insiders (this just in: not everyone connected with the district or employed by the district voted for the April tax proposal--that’s part of the reason it failed overwhelmingly) are questioning the need for the “trailers” in the upcoming school year, particularly at the Barry School location. Chances of those doubting district insiders putting their opinions on the record in a media interview? Somewhere in the neighborhood of zero.

(Political game notes and other observations are online 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley or by email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)

 


HEY, GET YOUR TAX BILL LOWERED; AND HOW KC IS EARNING COW TOWN LABEL
Posted
6/22/12

Ladies, I hate to break this news to you, but a man that this column formerly touted as one of the Northland’s Most Eligible Bachelors is getting removed from that list very soon. Like as of Saturday.

That’s when Jason Klindt, who is a sometimes staffer for Congressman Sam Graves and a sometimes political strategist extraordinaire, gets married to a lady by the name of Nichole, a charming and attractive young woman who deserves a better fate.

I’m not welcome at the ceremony because national radio star Chris Stigall is a member of Klindt’s wedding party and Stigall insists on no media. For the bride’s sake, I’m hoping Stigall has not issued a ban on cameras.

******

The wedding for Klindt comes at an already busy time in his life, as he is engaged in a hotly contested race for Clay County Republican Central Committeeman.

With his background and knowledge, Jason Klindt would make an excellent central committeeman and has earned this newspaper’s endorsement. He would not suck.

******

Home values are down. Granted, that’s a broad statement but most observers seem to agree that in general terms it’s accurate.

The problem is, the value of your home on the tax roll may not yet have been adjusted downward. A big reason for that? Real estate in Missouri is only reassessed in odd-numbered years.

But if you think the current market value of your home is listed too high by the county assessor, don’t be passive about it. The time to file an appeal for 2012 has now passed, but don’t let that stop you for next year. Pick up the phone, call the county assessor’s office at 858-3301 and put a bug in their ear to let them know you think they have your home’s value overstated. “If they call in now, we’ll make a note of it and look at it for next January,” David Christian, county assessor, told me this week. Of course all properties will be reassessed in 2013 anyway, but if you have good reason to believe your home’s value is being overstated, don’t automatically assume reassessment is going to handle it. My suggestion would be to call and bring your specific property to their attention.

Lending practices have really tightened up for banks and other home lending institutions over the past couple of years. The result is some private appraisals are coming in on the low side. Folks who are in the market for a refinance or taking out a home equity line of credit are discovering that when the appraisal ordered by the financial institution comes in, the value is considerably lower than what the homeowner expected. My advice? If the low appraisal has no negative impact on your ability to get the refinance or the loan, and you have no immediate plans to sell your home, use the low appraisal to your advantage. How do you do that? Appeal the assessed value that the county has listed on your home. Sure, your feelings might be hurt that an appraiser doesn’t think your home is worth as much as you believe it’s worth, but don’t let a little pride get in the way of your pocketbook on this deal. If you’re not selling your home soon, who cares? Appealing the assessed value to bring it down to the level private appraisers are labeling homes these days is a financially wise move that could knock hundreds of dollars off your tax bill.

I mentioned this topic to an appraiser friend of mine a month or so ago and his response was this: “What you’re talking about is the smart thing to do. Too many people instead get personally offended by what they think is a low appraisal and don’t want to use it as a means for lowering their taxes, thinking ‘hey, my home is worth more than that!’”

******

Can you smell what KCI is cookin’?

Hotel managers and government officials hope that in a couple of weeks when the Major League All-Star Game travelers step off the plane they won’t be asking that question.

I know some of you can smell what KCI is cookin, because you asked this newspaper if we knew what the stench is near Exit 13 along I-29. That’s the exit near KCI airport. I won’t sugarcoat it, most of you who contacted The Landmark worded the question this way: “What the hell is that smell?”

In an off-handed comment to ace reporter Valerie Verkamp Monday afternoon, I mentioned the odor complaints. Valerie was way ahead of me on this one and already had the cause of the smell pegged before she started making her calls.

As you’ll see in our front page story, the cause is related to an agricultural product. Some say it’s animal manure being used as a fertilizer on nearby farmground (KCI rents out some land to be farmed, there is also nearby privately-owned farmground).

The airport folks say it’s not animal manure but a different type of fertilizer on their property. Apparently some hotels near KCI also report an increase in pesky flies and are attributing that to the manure/fertilizer/whatever the source of the odor. This much we know: The hotel managers aren’t a bit happy about it and worry it’s going to cost them business, not only now but at the time of the big baseball game. Like the hotel folks, airport officials would like to have the odor dissipate as quickly as possible, too.
“As it gets closer to the All-Star Game we don't want to smell the place up,” Joe McBride, public information representative for the airport, told The Landmark, hinting that airport officials may encourage that no further such fertilizer be applied on the ground they rent to farmers.

I suppose at least until that aroma dies down, Kansas City is still justifying its nickname as Cow Town.

(Smell what the publisher is grilling 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley or email your thoughts to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)

 


SCHOOL TIGHTENING ITS RESIDENCY POLICY; BINKLEY BRINGS IT STRONG
Posted
6/15/12

My Twitter timeline was abuzz this week with folks talking about an apparent change in the enrollment process for students at Platte County R-3 Schools. A look at the R-3 web site confirmed what had been mentioned by folks on Twitter. On its site, R-3 explains that it has “new residency requirements for all students,” emphasizing that the policy will apply to not only new students but to current ones as well.

The web site states:

“Beginning with the 2012-2013 school year all students, current and new, will be required to provide proof of residency on an annual basis. This is part of a continued focus on maintaining fiscal accountability to our taxpayers and patrons, ensuring our tax dollars are spent on Platte County R-3 students.”

I placed a call to Superintendent Mike Reik Wednesday morning to see if he could shed some light. Reik says a residency policy has always been on the books, but this year it is being enforced with vigor.

In past years, only parents of new students were required to show a utility bill, mortgage receipt, insurance bill, court documents, etc. to prove residency within the district. This year, parents of ALL students will be forced to show proof of residency, Reik told me.

What happens if they don’t or can’t? “They’re not allowed to enroll,” Reik said.

“We’ve been looking into trying to establish consistent practices. It’s a good business move, getting documentation ensuring our tax dollars are spent on Platte County R-3 students,” Reik said. “This is a part of a continued focus on maintaining fiscal accountability to our taxpayers and patrons.”

Is the crackdown due to complaints that perhaps some students who attend R-3 do not actually reside within the district, or is this truly a case of the district simply tightening up its practice? “A little bit of both. I’ve heard some rumblings about people not establishing residency. But really it’s just part of us growing,” Reik answered. He pointed out the district has jagged geographic boundaries, implying the jagged edges might play a factor in some students being enrolled in R-3 who truly are not residing within district boundaries.

Does he expect a lot of students to be impacted by the crackdown? In other words, will this hurt enrollment numbers? “I don’t think it will impact enrollment one way or another. I’m still expecting north of two percent growth and our projections will call for a five percent growth in enrollment,” he stated. The last four years, Reik said, R-3’s enrollment growth has been anywhere from 3.5% to 7%.

******

In the world of politics, Platte Countians should know they’ll have some representation at the national conventions for both major parties. Sharon Aring, of rural Platte County east of Platte City and a candidate for second district county commissioner, will be a delegate to the Democrat National Convention in early September in Charlotte, North Carolina. I predict the Dems will nominate Barack Obama as their candidate at their convention. Sharon seemed to be in agreement with this when I mentioned my bold prediction to her recently. Three local Republicans will be delegates to their party’s national convention Aug. 27-30 in Tampa. They are Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd, Platte County Clerk Joan Harms, and Jim Rooney, chairman of the Platte County Republican Central Committee.

******

Don’t look now, Kansas City baseball fans, but it’s almost, uh, ‘Our Time.’ As you know, ‘Our Time’ is the unfortunate slogan selected by the Royals prior to the season for what team officials thought might be a breakout year for the club. But to this point, 2012 has been just another season of frustration for long-suffering Royals fans. The team hasn’t made the playoffs since winning the World Series in 1985. Hell, let’s be honest, they haven’t really even come close to making the playoffs since 1985. There’s a whole generation of young Royals fans who think the team has always been--and fear always will be--a doormat.

A bright spot this year is that Kansas City gets to host the Major League All-Star Game. There are several days of activities surrounding the game itself, which will be held on Tuesday, July 10. The Landmark won’t be at the game but we will be at the Home Run Derby held the night before. Landmark facilities manager Kurt Foley and I will be among the thousands of hopeless crazies standing beyond the outfield fences in what I’m anticipating will be a mass of sweaty and not-so-sweet-smelling humanity, watching baseballs fly to infinity and beyond.

******

Congrats to Jay Binkley, a Northlander who started small but has now hit with a big spot on 610 Sports in Kansas City. Get all the gory details in an excellent story on page A-9 by our man Chris Kamler. Binkley and his 3 Guys in a Garage radio show were featured in The Landmark last year by our intern, Jared Speckman, and Binkley has stayed in touch with Landmark staff since that time. He even graced us with his substantial presence at our annual Christmas party, where he particularly seemed to enjoy the free Bud Lights. Check out Binkley on 610 Sports each weekday from 2-6. I find his knowledge of football--particularly the college version of the sport--impressively overwhelming. The man is hard core when it comes to pigskin.

And speaking of our former intern Jared Speckman, he is a fun must-follow on Twitter at Twitter.com/Speck60. Jared has recently taken a position with the Kansas City Command arena league football team as an intern. He has run the Twitter feed for the Command during their games.

********

John Landsberg of Bottom Line Communications, who has been dubbed the Kansas City media’s referee by Tony’s Kansas City, featured The Landmark in a complimentary piece on his popular web site bottomlinecom.com this week. Give it a read by clicking here: http://tinyurl.com/6naenx2

(Catch the publisher kicking things around 24/7 on Twitter @ivanfoley or email ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


WHO KNOWS HOW THESE THINGS GET STARTED? AND ANNIVERSARAY YEARS
Posted
6/8/12

Even in this day and age of instant information and 24/7 news outlets like the world-renowned Twitter.com/ivanfoley, ridiculous rumors still get started and somehow pick up steam.

It happened right here in river city last week when it was mentioned to me by several folks on the street that murder suspect Quintin O’Dell was about to be released from custody. O’Dell, the most famous pizza maker a Casey’s General Store has ever had, is in custody in the Platte County jail, charged with last summer’s murder of his Casey’s co-worker Alissa Shippert, 22. Folks who were repeating this rumor to me explained that O’Dell was about to be set free due to “lack of evidence.”

I encourage and appreciate all news tips, even those that border on being silly and ridiculous, so each time this tip was spoken to me I responded politely with a five word answer: “I don’t think that’s true.”

This rumor lacked so much credibility I never bothered to pick up the phone to check with sources in a position of authority. They would have chuckled at the question. Anyone who believes a man who provided a detailed confession--no matter how full of BS a few of the details in that confession might be-- of a brutal murder is going to be released due to “lack of evidence” has been watching too many movies.

It’s not clear how this crazy talk got started and it’s a waste of time to try to figure it out. Last week, the local Casey’s store was holding a balloon release in memory of Alissa. Maybe that sparked some chatter that got out of hand. Who knows, and it really doesn’t matter. Just know it isn’t true. If someone repeats that rumor to you encourage them to read The Landmark.

******

This is a big time for anniversaries around the ol’ Landmark newspaper, which a few weeks ago started its 148th year of continuous publication. That’s 148 years of a copy of this fine newspaper circulating the streets of Platte County each and every week. When you pause a moment to digest the thought, you realize it’s a pretty amazing accomplishment for any business, in particular in a deadline-driven industry like the newspaper biz.

On a personal note, this week marks my 30-year anniversary at The Landmark. Thirty years ago I reported for work in the historic Landmark building not knowing a single soul in Platte County. Things have certainly changed in that regard.

My initial thought was I’d give this gig a summer and see where things go from there. That summer has turned into a 30-year career, and I’m sure much to the chagrin of many elected officials, there is no end in sight. The thickness of our paper this week--with a record five advertising inserts tucked inside--and an unprecedented amount of advertising support each week from businesses around the county are signs The Landmark is doing well in a climate that has not been kind to some media outlets, especially the daily newspapers. We humbly thank our advertisers. And our readers? We work for you. Thanks for coming along for what is never a boring ride.

******

For my first few months on the job in 1982 I rented a walkout basement-level apartment in the big house at the corner of Fourth and Ferrel Streets in Platte City, just a couple blocks from downtown. Kind of surprisingly, the apartment is still in use today--it has not been turned into some kind of “Ivan Foley Once Lived Here” spot on the National Register of Historic Places. The other day I snapped a photo of the entry to that apartment and I’ll post it at Facebook.com/ivan.foley and perhaps on my Twitter feed later this week, along with a note or two about my summer there.

My byline first appeared in the June 4, 1982 edition of The Landmark with a feature story on Rev. Kyle Hern, who was leaving the Platte City United Methodist Church for a pastorate in Raytown. A week later my top story was a squirm-by-squirm account of a worm race being held in a very cramped local library housed in a building in the 300 block of Main. With such an, uh, illustrious beginning, no one imagined 30 years later I’d still be squirming around on the local news beat.

******

There is another noteworthy anniversary this year. In September, Landmark office manager Cindy Rinehart will begin her 20th year on staff. In 1992, Cindy’s youngest daughter was about to enter kindergarten and Cindy, who lives just north of Platte City with her family, was pondering rejoining the work force. She came walking in The Landmark door unannounced one afternoon and asked to speak to a guy she at the time referred to as “Mr. Foley” but now refers to in much less flattering terms.

She started out as a part-timer in 1992. In ‘93 when our co-worker Clay McGinnis stepped out for what was supposed to be a two week vacation but instead died following emergency open-heart surgery during his time off, Cindy told me “I’ll help any way I can.” That’s all I needed to hear--she became full time and at one point or another has performed every chore imaginable in the newspaper production process. She was absolutely instrumental in this newspaper embracing and understanding the technological advances that were about to hit.

If you drop by the office or see her out and about in the community, have a kind word for Cindy on 20 years of being held hostage.

******

Interested in public service? The Central Platte Fire District Board of Directors has an opening after the recent death of Junior Coons.

The three-person board will operate as a two-person board for the time being with Paul Regan and Andy Stanton holding down the fort. If you’re interested in being appointed, contact Stanton at 858-4767, or call Central Platte at 858-2169.

(There are many ways you can harass the publisher, including by email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com, by phone at 858-2313, in person at 252 Main in Platte City, or use the more modern vehicles of Facebook.com/ivan.foley and Twitter.com/ivanfoley)


EVEN IN POLITICS, TRYING TO PLEASE EVERYONE IS A MISTAKE
Posted
6/1/12

After the recent angry meltdown by a high school government teacher who doesn’t have a grasp of the concepts he is supposed to be teaching, a comment shared here last week from the elected mayor of Tracy who clearly doesn’t grasp the concept of the public’s right-to-know, and a phone call this week from a civics-challenged reader whose concept of community doesn’t go beyond the city limits, I’m starting to believe we should do a brief weekly civics course right here in Between the Lines. Could be fun and a good refresher course for all of us at the same time.

Taking it under advisement.

******

Always remember, never forget: The power is with the people, not the elected. You are the boss of them. Not the other way around.

*******

Summer isn’t always thought of as a politically-active time, but be on alert. This summer is an exception. There is a Republican primary for first district Platte County Commissioner, a seat currently held by Kathy Dusenbery. The incumbent is being challenged by a woman with an impressive resume featured in a recent front page Landmark story, Beverlee Roper, municipal judge of Weatherby Lake.

One interesting insight into the campaign that has been brought to my attention by some folks close to Betty Knight, former presiding commissioner, is that the pro-Knight crowd is no longer considered a pro-Dusenbery crowd. Knight and Dusenbery were considered very friendly when they served together on the commission in 2009 and 2010. Somewhere along the line, feelings have changed. It’s not likely Dusenbery (if she even realizes it--you never know with Kathy) or Knight will confirm it publicly, but some of those folks close to Knight are confirming it with confidence.

In a recent conversation, I asked a close friend/ardent supporter of Knight if it’s true many loyal Knight followers will be jumping on the bandwagon for Dusenbery’s challenger. “Unless she’s a serial killer, yes,” the Knight backer said in a no-nonsense way.

After an extensive interview with Roper recently, I feel The Landmark can safely report she is not a serial killer. So there you have it.

This creates an interesting predicament for Dusenbery. When first elected, her self-described “progressive” approach to government didn’t win her fans with the more conservative members of the Platte County Republican party. In recent months, apparently in an effort to make herself a more attractive candidate to conservatives, Dusenbery has been in lock-step with Jason Brown, who in the past enjoyed broad support among the local conservative crowd. So with this, Dusenbery may have created a scenario where she is suddenly vulnerable. There are folks in the conservative crowd who don’t consider Dusenbery a true conservative (think of her unabashed support for an $80 million half cent park tax that many folks think should have been cut in half to allow for some of that $80 million to go to core government services like law enforcement) and there are folks in the ‘moderate’ GOP crowd who are mad as hell she has become so chummy with Brown.

These are the ingredients for what will be a lively summer campaign.

I’m told a Roper vs. Dusenbery ‘forum’ or ‘debate’ has been proposed by the Platte County Pachyderm Club for July. Roper excitedly accepted. At last check Dusenbery had not yet confirmed.

Forum or no forum, The Landmark will be covering the campaign as it unfolds. Stay tuned.

******

The Landmark in recent weeks has spent time with two of the three serious contenders for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. You noticed we had an article on former state treasurer Sarah Steelman a few weeks back, and this week Congressman Todd Akin came into our office for a pow-wow. Both Steelman and Akin are saying the right things. It would seem the most conservative candidate will have the best chance of coming out on top in the August primary, and both are trying to paint themselves as the most conservative. The Landmark will have a visit with the third serious GOP candidate, John Brunner, in the coming weeks. Winner gets to tangle with Claire McCaskill in the November general election.

******

A shout out to the Platte County Federated Republican Women’s Club for inviting me to speak with them at their meeting earlier this month at Platte Woods.

If you’re curious and wanting to gauge what is on the public’s mind, the first two topics to come up when I opened the floor to questions were: 1. The controversy surrounding the construction management bid of J.E. Dunn at the county. 2. Partisan politics in public schools.

There were other topics that came up, of course, but those were the first two subjects from the mouths of the ladies, who asked great questions and made for an enjoyable time of current events discussion.

******

Time for my periodic urging to get readers where they need to be to become the most informed as possible. If you’re still one of the reluctant folks who have not yet embraced the social media known as Twitter, you need to get off the mark and just do it. There’s a whole new world of timely news, information and fun waiting for you. Jump on board now at Twitter.com/ivanfoley.

One of the gripping highlights on Twitter this week has been the efforts by former Royals great George Brett to find his family’s lost dog, a Labradoodle named Charlie. Brett, a newbie to the social media, used the Twitter to plea for the public’s help in finding his beloved pet.

Charlie is black in color, swings from the left side, hits the fastball better than the curve, and is good in the clutch but has been known to use too much pine tar.

(Breaking news: George Brett’s dog has been found. The publisher can be found at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


ADD MAYOR OF TRACY TO LIST OF ELECTED WHO DON'T 'GET IT'
Posted
5/25/12

Conversation among city leaders about a potential golf cart being street legal ordinance being passed at Tracy suddenly quieted as quickly as it sprouted. Last month, I noticed some golf cart talk in a city newsletter, so I called Mayor Rita Rhoads just to get the ‘what fore?’ (see what I did there?).

As you know, we already have one crazy-ass golf cart ordinance in the county (at Parkville, where at last check a grand total of one--count ‘em one--person had applied for a permit to drive golf carts on the street), so I wondered if Tracy was about to make it two cities with a crazy-ass golf cart ordinance. My response from Rhoads in that conversation provided some dancing around the question. “We don’t have any ordinances saying they can’t be driven on the street,” Rhoads told me. While that might be true, when it comes to golf carts on the street, if a city does not have an ordinance allowing them it means the state law prohibiting them is in effect. So in other words, no, driving golf carts on city streets in Tracy is not legal per state law. But I’ve been told by several residents that it’s happening.

So with the talk on the street, I sent reporter PJ Rooks to last Wednesday night’s Tracy aldermen meeting. As is tradition at the city of Tracy, when the press shows up at one of their meetings city officials virtually stop talking (and when they do talk, they do so in a whisper at the meeting table in hopes that the media sitting in the audience will not be able to hear) .

Anyway, there was zero discussion of golf carts with The Landmark reporter present. So this week, reporter PJ followed up with a phone call to Rhoads to see what was percolating on the golf cart topic. The story is on our front page. During the course of that conversation with the mayor, our reporter referenced the recent city newsletter in which golf carts had been mentioned. The mayor got a little ruffled, then unleashed this doozy of a quote: “Our newsletter is for our citizens and not the newspapers. It’s just updated stuff for us, not the county or Platte City or anybody else.”

Give me a second to collect myself. Every time I read that quote I start snickering. For younger readers, I mean it’s like OMG LMAO.

Well, there you have it. I guess the city of Tracy and its taxpayer funded newsletter, which is printed on city letterhead and has every elected city official’s name at the bottom, is actually a private club kind of deal. It’s not for the eyes of anyone who isn’t qualified to reside at Tracy, which apparently is now some type of Country Club Village. Who knew?? Maybe you have to engage the mayor in some kind of secret handshake before she’ll let you have a newsletter.

Do we need any more examples of public officials who have a complete lack of self-awareness and lack an understanding of civics? It never ceases to amaze. Or entertain.

******

Even though it’s a simple policy that has always been this way--and as long as I’m here it will always be this way--it has occurred to me that I need to post a gentle reminder about our letters to the editor policy. All letters to the editor must be signed by the author. No anonymous letters to the editor will be printed. Landmark editorial writers aren’t bashful about attaching our names to our thoughts and opinions. Our letters to the editor writers must be willing to do the same.

Now, don’t confuse this with submitting news tips. News tips and story ideas can, and often are, submitted anonymously. Nothing wrong with that--if you want to submit news tips anonymously, that’s perfectly fine and in fact is encouraged. But don’t send in an unsigned letter to the editor and expect us to print it. Not gonna happen.

We’ve received several unsigned letters in recent weeks, most dealing with school topics where letter writers are offering what is actually quite insightful commentary. But the folks submitting the unsigned commentary say they don’t want their name attached, fearing retaliation upon their kids who are students in school. Maybe the recent flip-out by the tennis coach/government teacher is scaring them.

******

Speaking of school topics, kudos to Platte County R-3 officials for surveying the community about the defeat of the levy question. Research is certainly necessary. But the wording of the questions--and wording used in last week’s school newsletter under a section inappropriately entitled “Clearing the Air”--isn’t going to do school leaders any favors as they work to try to build a consensus.

If you hit the link to the online survey (see our story in this issue for details), you’ll notice that all of the reasons district leaders offer as possible explanations for the failure are other people’s fault. It’s a thin-skinned, immature reaction to the defeat of a levy question that went down by a wide margin. I’ve received several emails from R-3 patrons, and the consensus seems to be that it’s time for school leaders to stop blaming the levy’s defeat on “outside influences” and “selfish old people” and start taking the blame. Attacking, demonizing, and talking down to people who voted no is only going to make the next attempt to pass a levy question more difficult.

******

It’s with great pride The Landmark this week announces this year’s winner of The Landmark English Award. The $250 cash prize from the newspaper is given annually to the top English student at Platte County R-3 High School. Winner is chosen by a faculty panel at the school. This is the 31st consecutive year The Landmark has given the award. This year’s winner is Brian Geran. In addition to the $250, he has been presented with a certificate--suitable for framing--that includes my uh, valuable signature. Here is the complete list of winners, from first to 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; 1995: Kerry Durrill; 1996: Jamie Knodel; 1997: Laura Donald; 1998: Christa Fuller; 1999: Alison Miller; 2000: Alison Coons; 2001: Valerie French; 2002: Devon Paul; 2003: Tara Gutshall; 2004: Elizabeth Anderson; 2005: Anne Mullins; 2006: Branson Billings; 2007: Kelsie Blakley; 2008: Peter Rasmussen; 2009: Hannah Rickman; 2010: Kelsey Boeding; 2011: Sean Carder; 2012: Brian Geran.

(When a weekly dose isn’t enough, get Between the Lines with the publisher 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


WOODY GETS HIS DAY IN THE SUN; POLITICS IN SCHOOLS
Posted
5/18/12

As you’ll see on our front page, Woody Grutzmacher got a moment in the sun on Tuesday. He’ll never forget it. And I’m sure he’ll be glad to tell you about it when you bump into him in the community.

Grutzmacher, from the Platte City suburb of Tracy, is from a family of original Chiefs’ season ticket holders. The team is noting 50 years in Kansas City this season and honoring some longtime fans in the process. Grutzmacher was one of those honored at a special event held at Union Station on Tuesday.

Woody--and if you haven’t yet met Woody or have not heard about him something tells me someday you will--was rightfully thrilled about Tuesday’s event. He was hanging out with and getting recognition from Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt, former Chief big-wig Jack Steadman, and other Chiefs dignitaries. Woody’s parents were part of the team’s original season ticket holders when it moved to Kansas City in 1963. Woody can share with you many stories of his days roaming the stands--and on occasion interacting with players and coaches on the sideline--if and when you’re ready to hear him spin a yarn.

Rev. Paul Buschmann of Hoover Christian Church accompanied Woody on his trek to the ceremony with Chiefs officials on Tuesday. I’m told Woody even got some TV coverage from Channel 9.

In recognition of the club’s 50 years in Kansas City, all season ticket account holders will receive one personalized Chiefs Nike jersey. Chiefs Chairman and CEO Clark Hunt tells us: “In celebration of our 50th year in Kansas City, we want to say ‘thank you’ to the best fans in the NFL. Throughout the 2012 season, the Chiefs will host fan events, recognize special Kansas Citians, and thank season ticket holders to show our deep gratitude for this community and how proud we are to be Kansas City’s Chiefs.”

See our front page for more. And feel free to ask Woody for some commentary when you bump into him on the street.

******

In our letters to the editor section to the right, you’ll see some reaction by school officials to last week’s column about the email blast sent out by Platte County R-3 High School promoting involvement opportunities within the Democratic party. The thought here is that the taxpayer-funded distribution went too far for a public school by forwarding out the message that the Democratic party is "looking for bright, energetic individuals to help re-elect Claire McCaskill. . .” The email went on to refer to its search for assistance to “help our other Democratic candidates win statewide.”
The school counselor’s office employee whose name was signed to the pro-Democratic message told friends she took heat from some parents for forwarding the message unedited to school patrons. Local Republicans were made aware of the pro-Democratic message by some R-3 parents, and crafted a similar email it sent to R-3 last Tuesday. The Landmark hit the streets with our editorial last Wednesday. On Thursday, the day after The Landmark’s editorial and about 36 hours after the Republicans had sent the message to the school, the R-3 counselor’s office forwarded the Republican message that mocked the Democrats’ wording.

There’s the timeline of facts. As always, draw your own conclusions.

There are ways to use the school’s email lists for educational purposes--including opportunities available in the field of politics-- without promoting one political agenda or candidate over another. Based on the letter from high school officials on this page, it looks like R-3 is at least considering making some steps to be more careful in the wording of political messages the school sends to students and parents.

We’ll repeat the point of last week’s editorial for those who may have missed last week’s Landmark (inexcusable!): Taxpayer-funded schools need to be careful when distributing partisan political materials to students’ and parents’ private email addresses. Giving students information about summer opportunities might be acceptable, but sending emails that advocate for the election of a specific candidate or specific party is going too far. Let’s keep the public school’s email database out of partisan politics, no matter the party.

******

More follow-up: Last week’s Between the Lines column was linked by statewide johncombest.com on Monday. I received correspondence from school officials from a variety of districts across the state who told me that unlike R-3, these districts declined to forward the Democrat-leaning, pro-McCaskill email to their database. Just so you know.

******

Scott Campbell, noted attorney in Platte County and the surrounding area specializing in defense of the accused and wrongfully accused, is frustrated by the DWI checkpoints and the inconvenience the checkpoints apply to mostly innocent motorists.

“They’re taking somebody off the road who doesn’t need to be off the road,” Campbell expressed to me this week about the DWI checkpoints. And, Campbell maintains the checkpoint numbers for arrests aren’t exactly a knock your socks off success.

According to the Missouri Highway Patrol, a checkpoint held from Friday at 11 p.m. to Saturday at 4 a.m. at Hwy. 152 eastbound at North Green Hills Road in Clay County netted 12 DWI arrests. A total of 829 cars were checked over the five hour period. That equates to about 1.4% of drivers stopped being arrested for DWI. Campbell says eight of those 12 arrests were municipal-level DWI arrests.

At 1.4% arrest rate, Campbell is frustrated at the time stoppage and the inconvenience to innocent motorists. “Nearly 99% of the time they’re taking somebody off the road who doesn’t need to be off the road,” he commented this week. “I cannot remember which founding father said: ‘Those who give up liberty for security shall have neither.’ It is an NRA favorite that seems to fit.”

On the other side of the issue, Cpt. Robert L. Powell of the Highway Patrol in a release said: “Statistics indicate every two hours, someone is killed or injured in an alcohol-related crash. The goal of DWI enforcement projects is to deter impaired driving and to make citizens aware that drinking and driving will not be tolerated.”

(What will be tolerated--no matter your level of alleged intoxication--is following the publisher at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)


PUBLIC SCHOOLS NO PLACE FOR PUSHING PARTISAN POLITICS
Posted
5/10/12

Do you believe political preference agendas should be pushed in public schools? For instance, should one of the two main political parties be promoted by folks working in public schools on the time and dime of the taxpayers?

My guess is, no matter which political party is your personal preference, in the long run you would prefer our public schools not be trying to influence young students in one particular political direction over the other. Provide kids with information and learning tools that can help develop an interest in politics and give them something to discuss with their parents at home, but leave the party preferences out of the public schools. Agree or disagree?

In recent days from a variety of folks, The Landmark was made aware that an email blast was sent out to students and parents in the Platte County R-3 database that promotes involvement opportunities within the Democrat party in the state of Missouri. The email blast, which came from the address of Platte County High School counselor Katie Goeden, promotes the fact that internship and volunteer opportunities are available with the Missouri Democratic Coordinated campaign. Following is the verbatim text--including exclamation points and use of the word “our” when referring to Democratic candidates--of the message from Goeden that was sent to students and parents:

“The Missouri Democratic Coordinated campaign is currently looking for summer interns. Missouri Democratic Coordinated Campaign Internship and Volunteer Opportunities Available! Intern with the Missouri Democratic Coordinated campaign! The campaign is looking for bright, energetic individuals who want to help re-elect Senator Claire McCaskill and help our other Democratic candidates win statewide! Hours are completely flexible with a small requirement, and the Coordinated Campaign team is a lot of fun. No experience necessary. To apply for an internship with the Missouri Democratic Coordinated campaign or learn about volunteer opportunities, apply online at http://missourideminternships.notlong.com, call us at 314-669-4516, or email us at bytyson@missouridems.org.”

The message was signed: “Katie Goeden, Counselors/A+ Administrative Asst., Platte County High School, 816-858-2822 x1210.”

It’s not hard to understand how many R-3 patrons believe that this--to use my best high school lingo--is so not cool. School time and school resources should not be used to the direct benefit of one political party/candidate.

This isn’t the first time in recent months some political activity at R-3 has been called into question. Some at the school apparently don’t see it as a big deal. I can tell you that many members of the public do see it as a big deal. Certainly a can of worms was opened by Superintendent Mike Reik’s recent decision to allow “Vote Yes” campaigning to be done on school property on school levy election day and allowing the “Vote Yes” campaign to use a district employee’s school office as a drop-off point for strategic campaign materials. In this column space, after the fact, Reik said had the opposition approached him for permission he would have allowed them to also campaign on school property on election day and use the school’s central office as a drop-off point.

In my opinion, a better solution would be to not allow any political campaigning to be done on school property or using school resources in any way. Reik, who is early in his career as a school superintendent, apparently doesn’t feel that way. The result is that the school district once again is being drawn into a situation that ruffles some feathers with a substantial portion of the community it serves.

To be clear, the latest email blast is not just happening at Platte County High School. I’ve seen a very similar email on the same topic that was sent out to Thomas W. Kelly High School students by the Scott County R-4 school district in Benton, Mo.
Jonathan Prouty, communications director for the Missouri Republican Party, told me this week: “We are aware of similar messages (to the one distributed by the Platte County High School counselor) that have been sent in other school districts,” he said, providing a copy of the Scott County R-4 email I mention above. “I can only imagine there are other examples as well,” Prouty said.

It’s a practice that could potentially land a district with a legal question to answer and at minimum creates hard feelings among a significant portion of its base of patrons.

Lloyd Smith, executive director of the Missouri Republican Party, told The Landmark:
“Taxpayer-funded public school districts need to be especially careful when distributing partisan political materials to students’ private email addresses. While presenting students with information about summer opportunities may be acceptable, sending emails that specifically advocate for the election of a candidate crosses the line.”

Smith seemed especially concerned that the distributed email gives the appearance of a school endorsement of Democratic candidates. “We have heard from concerned parents in school districts around the state who have seen similar messages distributed to private student email lists. Like in the case at Platte County High School, the emails discuss ‘our’ Democratic candidates--implying an endorsement by the school,” Smith said.

Using the school’s email database to push particular candidates or a particular party should not be tolerated, the statewide Republican leader told The Landmark.

“We believe that student email lists should be used for educational purposes--not turned into tools for partisan political activists. We also believe that the personal political advocacy of school administrators has no place in the classroom,” Smith said.

Locally, the can of political worms has been opened at the Platte County school district in recent months. It’s a situation the district should try to deal with head-on in a healing manner as it prepares for a second shot at passing a significant tax levy increase at an election likely to be held next April.

(Get up to the minute news, commentary and fun at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


BLOWING HOLES IN SPIN-DOCTORING REGARDING COUNTY/JE DUNN FIASCO
Posted
5/6/12

Spin doctoring. It happens. Diving into factual details will usually blow it apart, however. So that’s what this column will do.

After our in-depth story and editorial on the topic last week, there is some attempted spin-doctoring going on this week. The spinning is in regard to the controversy over the county commission voting 2-1 to award a construction management job to JE Dunn over a total of 10 bidders. The low bid was from Universal Construction. Its bid was $350,000 lower than JE Dunn. Commissioners Jason Brown and Kathy Dusenbery voted to go with Dunn. In response to a deluge of phone calls from tipsters, The Landmark then followed up with a story detailing Brown’s past employment with JE Dunn. He acknowledged it.

But now the spinning being attempted is to claim that Universal was never seriously considered because the firm or its bid did not meet qualifications of the bid request. This goes against comments inferred from all three commissioners the day after the bid award was made. This also goes against what was said in open commission session the day the bid was awarded to Dunn. I know. I was there.

In order to clear up the spinning, I called Jim Plunkett, who makes his living in the construction industry. As you know he’s also the third county commissioner, the one who voted no to accepting Dunn’s higher bid. Plunkett says it has never been stated or even implied that Universal or its bid did not meet qualifications.

“That has never been discussed with me,” Plunkett told me.

Plunkett explained that when the request for proposals was distributed, the county asked the firms “what they would charge for their profit.”

This resulted in bids being submitted in somewhat varying forms. The Landmark’s reporter Valerie Verkamp acquired the spread sheet listing bid details from all 10 companies. We’ve seen it, we’ve studied it. Granted, it’s a document that takes more than a quick glance to correctly decipher. But it’s far from rocket science.

What appears to have happened--and the only reason why Universal didn’t get included when the commission narrowed the field to three choices--was an oversight. Universal gave a one-lump sum price. At first glance somebody at the county must have looked at the $902,500 number on the sheet and thought that’s what Universal was asking for in profit. No, that’s their final price--for the entire job.

“Universal gave us a turnkey price for the job,” Plunkett explains. That turnkey price included everything, including reimbursables. Upon further study when he realized Universal actually had submitted the lowest bid, Plunkett said he told Brown and Dusenbery of the discovery. “I informed the other commissioners of this oversight but couldn’t get anywhere,” Plunkett told The Landmark recently.

Universal’s bid--a fully qualified bid from a company that has done construction management projects for Park Hill Schools, the Olathe school district, and Shawnee Mission schools, just to name a few of its higher profile clients--was $902,500.
As I sit here in Between the Lines headquarters looking at the spread sheet with my very own set of eyes, JE Dunn’s bid was for $920,417 during the preconstruction phase for their direct personnel and reimbursable expenses. But in addition, Dunn’s bid asks for compensation at a fee of 1.75 percent of the actual construction cost, which will be determined once the county receives the bids for all the work and a contract is awarded. That figure is estimated to be $332,500. This means JE Dunn’s bid equates to $1,252,917.

If you’re scoring at home, that means JE Dunn’s bid is $350,417 higher than Universal, a qualified bidder whose bid was not--I repeat, not--tossed aside because “it did not meet all the qualifications of the request for bids.”

We’ll continue to work through the spin for you.

******

When I noticed this week the ALPS sign being lowered from the front of a local grocery store, I dialed the cell number of the store’s owner. There’s a change on the way for grocery shoppers in northern Platte County. Specifically, the ALPS (Always Low Price) store in Platte City owned by Doug Sharp will soon become an Apple Market store. Sharp will still be owner.

“It will give us more variety of selection. We’re going to go away from the limited assortment concept. It wasn’t working well for us,” Sharp told me this week.
Barbecue and rotisserie chicken are two of the specific products Sharp mentioned to me in our conversation that will be added with the switch to Apple Market. More details will be coming out when Sharp gets a press release distributed.

******

Can’t get enough of him here in The Landmark or on Twitter? No problem, our Rambling Moron Chris Kamler now has a radio gig.

Kamler, known as @TheFakeNed on Twitter, is teaming up with a few other baseball nuts to do a weekly show on ESPN 1510 AM radio beginning May 10. The show will air every Thursday night at 6 p.m.

Name of the show is The Kansas City Baseball Vault. Crazy man Kamler will serve as a host of the show.

If the show gets to take calls from listeners, Landmark readers and I could really have a good time throwing the Rambling Moron some curves. We know he can stroke a fastball, but can he hit the breaking stuff?

“We’re going to have a great weekly baseball show. This town has a rich baseball history and we’re going to tell as many of those stories as we can. And to work with the resources of Union Broadcasting is really a dream come true,” Kamler says, kissing up to the folks who also own/operate the giant-signaled SportsRadio 810-WHB.

Also on the show will be Jeff Logan, president of the Kansas City Baseball Historical Society; and Troy Olsen, Michael Engel, and Jeff Herr, who already team with Kamler on the popular podcast known as the Royalman Report.

(Though you might think you are, you’re not really up to date unless you’re following the Between the Lines feed at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)


TURNING DOWN CHANCE
TO SAVE $350,000
WAS THE WRONG CHOICE
Posted 4/2
8/12

I say it all the time on our social media outlets. The Landmark has the sharpest readers. More evidence of that struck the past several days.

The ink was barely dry on last week’s issue featuring Valerie Verkamp’s exclusively-detailed, above-the-fold report on how on a 2-1 vote the Platte County Commission had decided to accept a bid from JE Dunn for construction management services for the expansion projects at the two county community centers when our phones started ringing. Callers were taken aback by the action, and more interestingly, encouraged us to do some digging to find a personal connection between one of the commissioners and JE Dunn. The first call we received was a tipster talking in code. As we started to do research, other callers laid it out more plainly. We received calls or emails on the topic every day from Thursday through Monday, including the weekend. Presiding Commissioner Jason Brown is a former employee of JE Dunn.

A little full disclosure and some background: I’ve known Brown for years, from his time as public works director for the city of Platte City well over a decade ago. As you know, he then was elected state representative and served multiple terms. We have mutual friends--a couple of whom I consider close friends--and of course many mutual acquaintances. Further disclosure, in late 2009 and early 2010 after Brown had already announced his intention to run for state senate, I picked up the phone on multiple occasions and encouraged Brown to instead run for presiding commissioner. The job pays more, it’s closer to home, easier on his family--and the county needed his fiscal conservatism. I called his friends and his advisors with the same message of encouragement. I wrote editorials encouraging Brown to seek the county commission post. I vividly recall one of his closest political advisors telling me to give it up, that Brown had made the decision to run for state senate and that was that. As you know, in announcements made at the same time, former presiding commissioner Betty Knight said she would be stepping away and Brown said he would be running. Would Brown have challenged Knight in a primary if she hadn’t decided to retire? He won’t say. My gut says he would have. I say all this to get to this point: Despite these connections, until I called him Thursday to directly ask the question, I had no idea Brown had ever drawn a paycheck from JE Dunn.

The two things I admire most about Brown as a public servant are these: 1. I believe him to be a fiscal conservative. 2. He has thick skin, probably the thickest skin of any local politician, though I would say Eric Zahnd, county prosecutor, is right up there with him in that department. While others carry grudges, get hateful, or develop a permanent cold shoulder after being criticized even in the slightest of ways, Brown and Zahnd publicly let criticism roll off their backs. I respect that immensely. After all, in any public figure role--whether it be as an elected official, a school superintendent or an outspoken editorial writer--criticism is going to come. Those who can handle it flourish. Those who can’t become irrelevant.

To the topic at hand: The bid from Dunn was $350,000 higher than the low bid from Universal Construction, a firm with unquestioned qualifications that among other things has served as Park Hill School District’s construction manager in the past. As you see in our front page story, Brown says his connection to JE Dunn played no role in his vote. Kathy Dusenbery says the same thing.

Taking them at their word--though trust me, I’m far from naive and understand a lot of folks aren’t going to buy into that--the move can still be criticized as being the wrong decision. True, JE Dunn was the construction manager on the community centers originally. True, JE Dunn has an unquestioned positive reputation. But so do the other bidders, county officials have acknowledged as much.

We’re not talking a few hundred extra dollars of taxpayer money here. We’re talking a few hundred thousand extra dollars of taxpayer money. We’re talking the fact the county accepted a bid that was 40 percent higher than the low bid. There would have to be some significant screw-ups made in the construction management department--remember, this isn’t for the actual construction but for the assistance in preparation of cost documents, construction scheduling, cost estimating, bidding and evaluating contracts, etc.-- by the low bidder to cost the county $350,000.

The public recalls the county budget discussions of January and early February. Times are tough at the county as far as revenue, we were told. Staff positions were cut. The county doesn’t even have a human manning the telephone switchboard or sitting at the greeting desk inside the administration front door to assist the public. Law enforcement had to fight for its requested budget. Still, county commissioners aren’t taking advantage of a chance to save $350,000 for construction management services. Sure, the money to pay this bill is coming from the bloated park tax revenues (more evidence that the half cent park tax is too high if the county doesn’t think twice about spending it in this manner) and not general revenue, but remember the public’s money is the public’s money. The public wants elected officials to be good stewards of their hard-earned tax dollars, no matter from what fund the expenditure is coming.

What this action also risks is creating a culture of a good ol’ boys network of vendors. If commissioners are always going to choose the firm with which they’ve done business no matter the cost, is there any reason for the county to even seek bids on services? I mean, if a highly-qualified bidder can save the county $350,000 and he still can’t get the job, are he and others even going to bother to bid next time?

It’s a dangerous, potentially expensive habit to fall into. Just as important as the money is the negative impression this leaves upon much of the public--an impression that this just doesn’t look right, doesn’t smell right. Correctly or incorrectly, that’s the general feeling of a lot of folks on this topic. This decision has left a bad taste in the mouths of a lot of folks the commission represents and has created some trust issues. You can’t put a dollar amount on that.

(Free but worth every bit of $350,000 is the news, commentary and fun available to you 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley. No construction manager needed.)


IT'S TIME TO UNDERSTAND THE MOOD OF THE VOTERS; EXCITING TIME FOR PLATTE CITY CHAMBER

Posted 4/21/12

Warning: the content of this column has not been pre-approved by social studies teachers or tennis coaches.

******

After completing two terms as Parkville’s mayor, Gerry Richardson gave an effective farewell speech to the public Tuesday night. He can now jump on a golf cart and ride off into the Parkville sunset.

******

If simple “misinformation” is what caused the recent overwhelming defeat of the Platte County R-3 tax increase levy question then proponents should be ready in a heartbeat to put that exact same proposal back on the ballot, right? Simply correct that ‘misinformation,’ and that exact same proposal would then pass, right?

******

Once the shock of the defeat and the shock of the size of the defeat have healed for proponents and all the loser’s lament (that’s a fancy term for excuse-making that my dad used to throw at me back in the day--he didn’t want to hear “loser’s lament” after a poor performance but instead insisted on a pledge there would be a better effort the next time) ends, it will make sense for the next proposal to be streamlined and tweaked to make it more attractive to voters and taxpayers. Putting the same proposal back on the ballot would end with a similar result. In fact, I think the same proposal would be thumped by an even wider margin next time.

In case you haven’t noticed, local voters are in a conservative mood right now. There is a prevalent anti-big spending, anti-Obama mood in the air around these parts. Consider these facts: A hefty school tax that been promoted for months by supporters was waxed by opposition that organized itself only about six days in advance of the election. And a fiscal conservative who did virtually nothing to campaign--fiscal watchdog Andy Stanton--defeated a longtime good ol’ boy type director of the Central Platte Fire Department.

Yes, voters are in a ‘let’s watch the spending’ mood right now, and with the state of the current economy, it’s an attitude that not only should be expected but should be applauded, not criticized by those with large hats but no cattle.

Voters want sensible spending and they want accountability. Tossing the same plan back on the ballot would be a mistake. Misinformation didn’t kill the proposal. The proposal killed itself.

******

Speaking of Andy Stanton, he tells me he felt welcomed by fellow board member Paul Regan at his first meeting on the fire district’s board of directors last week. Some of the “we’ve always done it this way” or “we’ve always spent money on (insert expenditure here)” crowd are on edge, knowing the taxpayer watchdog reputation Stanton brings with him from his days as an alderman. He’ll also be pushing for an air of openness with district information and communication, something that has been nearly non-existent in recent history.

Taxpayers can feel comfortable their best interests are being fought for with Stanton on the board. I’m confident you’ll still see the same quality service from the department at the same time.

******

Members of the board of directors of the Platte City Chamber of Commerce--some of whom are quietly giddy at the thought--are busy taking steps to replace Karen Wagoner as executive director. Wagoner recently told the board she will be stepping away from her position. Board members said a “separation agreement”was being negotiated, which seemed a bit odd. Normally when someone resigns under their own power there is no need for a separation agreement. I was later informed that the “agreement” was needing some negotiation as the parties worked out a mutual understanding over how much Wagoner will be paid for unused sick leave she has accumulated. Wagoner’s last day with the Chamber is set to be May 4.

It’s time to thank Wagoner for her time served. Then it’s time to take the Chamber up a notch and recognize there is potentially an exciting time ahead for the Platte City Chamber and the local business community. Wagoner did some good things during her tenure. But there were also too many times she got caught up in personality conflicts with members, city officials, and the business community. Wagoner tended to have an inner circle of friends to whom she liked to cater. This is a no-no in such an organization, especially one that receives $10,000 annually in public money from the city of Platte City. Her personality, also, was not exactly captivating and not the type of demeanor one would expect from a person whose job it is to be a salesperson for the local business community. Many folks noticed that smiles and friendly greetings from her were few and far between.

While it can be correctly said membership grew in Wagoner’s time, what can also be said is that membership has dropped steadily over the past few years. Last year, in a move editorialized against in this column, the Chamber raised membership fees at a time membership was dropping. Also, at the same time membership was dropping and membership fees were being raised, the Chamber continued to increase expenditures in salaries and benefits. Not exactly a winning combination.

After peaking at 260 members two years ago, we’re now told membership is down to 230. That’s a membership decrease of about 12% in two years.

All of which means the timing is good for a makeover inside the Chamber office. Wagoner’s exit will make it easier for this to happen and it opens up some exciting possibilities if the board of directors can hit a home run. A home run would be hiring a friendly, positive, energetic salesperson with a cooperative spirit who is willing to promote the entire business community as a whole.

(Always available, always on. By phone 816-858-2313. Email: ivan@plattecountylandmark.com. In person: 252 Main St., Platte City. Twitter.com/ivanfoley and Facebook.com/ivan.foley)


TOO MUCH TIME ON THE TAXPAYERS' DIME CLOUDS HIS OUTLOOK

Posted 4/12/12

You knew it was coming. Wait, I can’t speak for you, so that sentence should be rephrased to: I knew it was coming. When rejected or told we can’t have everything we want, it’s human nature--especially for the immature types--to lash out at those who have done the rejecting. That’s why I wrote this in last week’s column--yes, I’m about to quote myself: “It’s clear there are some public relations fences to be mended before the next proposal reaches the ballot. R-3 leadership would be wise to swallow a piece of humble pie rather than to consider lashing out at those who opposed their proposal.”

So what has happened? Some members of the defeated haven’t been able to help themselves or their long-term goal. Cries of “misinformation” being tabbed as what led to the defeat of the proposal have filled the air, when in reality several more tangible things caused the ballot question’s defeat: Voters viewed the tax increase as too big. The tax increase had no sunset. The timing, considering current economic conditions, is poor. Voters want efficient use of all tax dollars. At the same time it was preparing for a campaign to ask for a 60 cent tax increase in its operating levy, the school board was approving building an Olympic-style swimming pool. That didn’t exactly win friends and influence people.

But instead of acknowledging the ballot proposal had its negatives, some in the support crowd are blaming “outside influences.” As you know, this columnist did not wave pom poms and did not tell you to vote for the proposal. In this column space we talked about the proposal’s flaws. We pointed out that even some Pirate Pride-type families were opposing the ballot issue. The days of throwing something on the ballot and expecting a majority of patrons to support it with a blind eye on the basis that “it’s for the kids” are over. After all, most parents teach their kids to live within their means and to be responsible with their dollars. They do that “for the kids.”

In any event, since I didn’t put on a cheerleading skirt--and that would not have been a pretty sight, anyway, folks--it wasn’t surprising that just a few days after the election some of the defeated went into “let’s get even” mode. (By the way, here’s a quick Between the Lines life lesson for young people: anytime someone allows a “let’s get even” attitude to guide their decision-making, it’s a sign that he or she has already lost the war.)

Last Friday, a taxpayer-subsidized Platte County High School tennis coach by the name of Zach Keith put his desire for retribution into written words sent to our sports photographer Bill Hankins. Bill takes pictures at many local high school sporting events, then contacts coaches for stats and other pertinent info to go with his photos that promote the kids’ activities. Tennis coach Zach Keith wrote this: “I’m literally sickened by a newspaper that on one hand wants to use our kids to sell newspapers by promoting student athletic accomplishments, but on the other hand wants to sell newspapers by ridiculing the school district that I love and disrespecting the profession that I take pride in. Hypocrisy permeates the relationship the Landmark attempts to maintain with the Platte County School District, and I know I’m not going to allow my players to be a part of it. They deserve better. I know you’ll understand that I’ve already begun speaking with other coaches about refusing to allow the Landmark to include stories about our kids. I think it’s time we address the hypocrisy of its coverage of the Platte County R-3 schools.”

Did you catch that? An educated person employed as a social studies teacher (he teaches American Government classes, of all things) at a public school believes that he has the power to “refuse to allow The Landmark to include stories about our kids.” It will be a shock to a lot of Americans to learn that tennis coaches/social studies teachers actually control what you get to read or not read.

Did you catch that a high school social studies (government) teacher doesn’t grasp the First Amendment? Did you catch the fact that a social studies teacher/tennis coach doesn’t grasp that the school district is owned by taxpayers and decisions by voters guide the district? Apparently Zach Keith believes the school district is owned and operated by coaches. He may want to start spending more time away from the campus.

Did you catch the fact that a man whose paycheck is funded by taxpayers thinks it’s ok to try to organize some lame attempt at retribution while on taxpayer time and the taxpayers’ dime? Come on, coach, if you feel the need to organize some act of retribution at least do it on your own time and your own dime. On second thought, coach, whichever way you wanna swing it is fine. I look forward to the challenge. The Landmark is a 147-year-old journalistic institution. We’ve been through a battle or two. Call me crazy but I’m confident this newspaper would survive a retribution effort organized by a taxpayer-funded social studies teacher wearing taxpayer-funded coaching shorts and swinging a taxpayer-funded tennis racquet.

The fact that a coach believes this newspaper generates revenue by giving space to the coverage of high school sports shows he has limited business knowledge and overstates the influence of his chosen profession on the purchasing choices of consumers. Running a photo package of any high school sporting event--and let’s be honest, tennis ain’t exactly the hottest high school sports event out there--will never generate close to enough additional paper sales to cover the newspaper’s costs involved in covering the event.

The teacher’s written message exposes many failures on his part to grasp the ways of the world--so many in fact I don’t have space to address them all. But the fact an educated person employed as a high school social studies teacher doesn’t understand the workings of the First Amendment is the scariest. I won’t use Zach Keith’s words against him by saying I’m “literally sickened” by it. But I did just spit up in my mouth a little.

Based on the anger in the tone of this coach’s message, there is something else for every R-3 patron to ponder. There are parents of R-3 athletes who did not support the ballot question. Should those parents now be worried that the “let’s get even” attitude Zach Keith is trying to spread to other coaches will be aimed at them or their kids?

By the way, for Landmark coverage of the Platte County tennis team-- the topic that Zach Keith said he was not going to allow us to cover--see page C-1.

(Watch the First Amendment in action 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)


R-3 HAS SOME THINGS TO GET CLEANED UP BEFORE THE NEXT ELECTION

Posted 4/6/12

After the voters spoke loudly and very clearly on Tuesday, this much is certain: The Platte County R-3 tax levy increase, in the opinion of 55% of voters in the district, was not good. Economic conditions being what they are, the timing was even worse.

As was pointed out in this column space last week, the proposal that was alley-slapped by voters Tuesday had some flaws. We won’t review them all, but some of those flaws include: 1. Calling for a significant tax increase. Never an easy thing to sell. 2. Calling for a significant tax increase in the current economic climate. That’s hard sell even if your proposal is sound. 3. The tax increase had no sunset clause, meaning the 60 cent (roughly 17 percent increase) could go on forever. 4. The levy increase mechanism instead of using a bond issue was an indication the district has already bonded itself to the max. Opponents pointed out that as of last June 30, R-3 has $79 million of debt, which equates to more than $21,000 of debt per student enrolled in the district.

There are also intangible factors that played into the outcome. It’s fresh in some patrons minds that the school board recently approved financing an Olympic style swimming pool. Some patrons also believe that not too many years ago the district overspent on a fancy administrative office. Spending actions like that don’t generate a whole lot of empathy when the district comes asking for more money.

“We’re generally disappointed with the result, as you might imagine. We thought the plan met the needs of the district and the community,” Dr. Mike Reik, superintendent, told me in a phone conversation Wednesday. “We will be researching and reevaluating to create a plan to address our growth concerns for the future. We have to analyze all the facts.”

Reik added: “We’re in a period of reflection, and I think that’s appropriate.”

It certainly is appropriate. And needed. In the business of public education, school superintendents have been known to lose their jobs when ballot questions get smacked. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not at all suggesting the R-3 school board has any thoughts of asking Reik to move along. Moves like that come from boards that contain strong personalities. But Tuesday’s decisive negative outcome can’t be comforting. This is R-3’s first defeat in many years, and it came in the first ballot proposal under Reik. It’s clear there are some public relations fences to be mended before the next proposal reaches the ballot. With that in mind, R-3 leadership would be wise to swallow a piece of humble pie rather than to consider lashing out at those who opposed their proposal.

Here’s one quick thought: I doubt R-3 will put a tax increase on the November ballot. The turnout for November’s presidential election will be high and it will be composed of a very anti-big spending crowd.

******

So were there Vote Yes signs placed on school property promoting the levy question at R-3? Sure looked like it to a lot of folks. Reik says no, that those signs were the exact same color and design as yard signs placed around the community on private property, but that the signs on school grounds only said Vote. Not Vote Yes.

However, volunteers for the Vote Yes campaign were handing out Vote Yes cards on school grounds, in the parking lots at schools on Election Day. I know this to be fact, as I was handed one. Many folks in the community contacted The Landmark to express concern that this was not appropriate. I asked Reik if the opposition had sought permission to hand out cards on school property, what would they have been told? “Had they called and sought permission we would have had to grant that permission,” Reik said.

Something tells me the opposition just got out a highlighter and marked the above paragraph.

As evidenced by some of their written communication that was circulated, the ‘Vote Yes’ committee also was using the Platte County R-3 central office as a collection/drop-off point for their contact lists, etc. Though state law prohibits public funds from being used directly to support or oppose a ballot question, Reik said he didn’t see this as a violation. It’s my opinion some legal minds would view that differently, but Reik’s response was: “It’s not a material use of any type of district funds. It just presents a district location to drop forms. If the opposition made a request to do the same, we would have to grant that,” Reik remarked.

The highlighters just came out again.

******

The best news to hit many folks in the Platte City business community in quite some time happened this week when Karen Wagoner announced she will be leaving as executive director of the Chamber of Commerce. No specific date has yet been set for her departure. Wagoner has done a couple good things for the Chamber through the years but her abrasive style and often less than pleasant personality has worn many people thin. In recent years the Chamber has developed as many enemies as friends. Some Chamber board members, I can tell you from personal conversations, are not at all disappointed to see a change coming and see this as a real opportunity for the Chamber to take a step forward in mending relationships and promoting the business community.

More on this--including some insight as to why a “separation agreement” is apparently being discussed instead of a simple “here’s my resignation, see ya later” situation--coming soon at Twitter.com/ivanfoley.

******

Congratulations to voters for making the right choice in the race for Central Platte Fire District director, where Andy Stanton and his pledge of fiscal responsibility won by 10 votes over incumbent Stanley George. Fire board meetings will soon be more interesting than ever.

(By the time you get to Twitter.com/ivanfoley it will be more interesting than ever.)

 


EVEN PIRATE PRIDE TYPES ARE QUESTIONING R-3'S TAX INCREASE PROPOSAL

Posted 3/28/12

Looking for standings in our Bracket Battle? Page A-5. Only about a dozen of you are ahead of me--and I have Kentucky winning it all. Feeling pretty good about that one.

******

Let your voice be heard in the voting booth on Tuesday. That’s when some important local ballot issues will be decided. We’ve previewed the most high profile races for you in The Landmark in recent weeks and the entire ballots for your local entities are printed in our legal notices section in this issue. It’s time to make your vote count.

******

Platte County R-3 School District is finding itself in an unusual position of having outspoken opposition in advance of a ballot issue. The amount of negative conversation surrounding the R-3 tax increase proposal is building as Tuesday’s vote nears. This is the most widely-spoken negative reaction any R-3 election proposal has generated in recent memory. The good news for the district is that this particular issue only needs a simple majority for passage, which no doubt is relieving some of the stress on supporters, though clearly by some very recent developments some scrambling is going on among supporters.

Check out the letters to the editor on this page. When you have notable folks like Brady Rodgers, owner of the Comfort Inn, chiming in with legitimate questions and concerns about an R-3 issue you know the proposal has some holes. Rodgers’ comes from what you could call a Pirate Pride family, longtime supporters of the school district. For him to courageously go public with his opposition should be taken as a sign that this proposal has some flaws--and let’s be honest, it does have some flaws.

As a general overview, the public sees a school district spending money on Olympic-sized swimming pools, new administration building with high definition televisions in each office and wonders why the district is now asking for a 17 percent tax hike in its operating levy. The “wants” vs. “needs” question about recent R-3 expenditures is being asked. If you think previous spending decisions don’t affect the public’s view of a proposed tax hike then you’re a bit naive.

The public is also aware that R-3’s decision to go the route of funding construction needs with an operating levy instead of bonds means one thing: the district has already obligated itself with such a significant debt load it can’t legally use bonds as a mechanism this time.

Opponents are pointing out that the tax hike has no sunset, no stated plan to reduce the levy in the future. Opponents are also making it known they find the district’s proposal on how it plans to use the funding as ambiguous.

The opposition is deflecting the immature, over-attempted stance that anyone not supporting the school district’s proposal is an enemy of the district, doesn’t support the district or doesn’t care about students. Please. The successes and good features of the R-3 district are recognized and appreciated, even by those who oppose the proposal. There’s no legitimacy in the attempt to try to paint this as an “evil people vs. people who support kids” issue.

The other approach the establishment often uses is that opponents are getting “misinformation” and that must be the only reason they are opposed to the plan. Talk about a condescending, elitist attitude. Some past and present R-3 leaders have used this approach for years. Talking down to people will eventually catch up with you. The fact that someone disagrees with the school board’s proposal doesn’t mean that person is misinformed. It means that person has a different opinion, a different outlook. It doesn’t make them “wrong” or indicate that they have “misinformation.” There’s no way to be misinformed about a proposed 17% increase in the operating levy--simple math proves that to be an accurate statement.. There’s no way to be misinformed about the school board voting to spend money on an Olympic style swimming pool. It happened. There’s no way to be misinformed about the district overspending on a fancy administrative building. It happened. There’s no way to be misinformed about the current economic climate, how homeowners and businesses could be facing a 17% increase in R-3’s operating levy at a time when unemployment is up, gas prices are soaring, home foreclosures are up, and home values are down.

No matter how the issue turns out, R-3’s leadership is being kept on its toes by some opposition this time. And that’s a good thing for the district in particular and for the community in general.

*******

Many recent thefts from vehicles in hotel parking lots in Platte County are prompting a scheduled meeting between hotel officials and police. KCMO Police and the Platte County Sheriff's Department will meet with management of hotels on Thursday to discuss the problem and possible solutions. We’ll keep you posted.

******

Andy Stanton, former effectively outspoken alderman in Platte City, is seeking a spot on the Central Platte Fire District board of directors at Tuesday’s election. Some fiscal responsibility and awareness of Missouri Sunshine Laws could certainly benefit Central Platte’s board. And Stanton could provide both. “I have nothing against the fire boys personally, they’re good guys. The biggest thing is that I want to be fiscally responsible with tax dollars,” Stanton says. He says it would be fiscally irresponsible for Central Platte to continue to propose building an expensive training tower when one is already available for use about 10 miles away through South Platte Fire District. “For some reason, South Platte and Central Platte don’t get along. I’m here to reconcile their differences. Whatever it takes to get along with them I’m going to do it because it’s ridiculous,” Stanton remarked.

Stanton said he also questions why there are “three fire district guys driving around in Central Platte vehicles full time.”

To ensure responsible actions with your money, the elected and their spending decisions need to be questioned consistently. There’s no doubt Stanton would be willing and able to do that.

(The publisher is willing and able 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)


FAKE NED'S MEDIA SPLASH; SOME THOUGHTS ON SPRING ELECTION BALLOT

Posted 3/24/12

The media ho train keeps on rolling for a Landmark contributor.

You may not be a regular reader of that style publication, but this would be a good week for you to pick a copy of Ink, the weekly pop culture “magazine” put out by the Kansas City Star. The Star began this Ink deal several years ago as kind of an alternative to the alternative publication known as The Pitch. Ink is Pitch-lite, if you will.
Anyway, our Rambling Moron columnist Chris Kamler, widely known as @thefakened on Twitter, graces the cover of Ink this week. The cover story is a feature on how Twitter has expanded the influence of sports fans. It’s a worthy read. Ink is available for free at many restaurants, bars and street corners where @thefakened is known to frequent.

*****

Speaking of Rambling Moron Chris Kamler, we’re still nailing down the details for our daredevilistic golf cart ride through Parkville. It’s interesting that an ordinance that was passed with zero public decision and obviously with practically zero forethought by most of the board of aldermen is being tightened quietly through the golf cart registration process. They apparently didn’t want to publicly admit a mistake by taking another look at the ordinance, so the tightening of the screws is taking place as city officials develop a registration checklist of requirements behind the scenes. More on this at a later time.

We’re working through the red tape and ridiculousness and this epic golf cart ride will still take place and will be shown live at ramblingmorons.com to highlight the ridiculousness of such an ordinance.

By the way, the golf cart ordinance took effect March 15. I think I know the answer to this but will ask it anyway: Anybody seen any golf carts operating on the streets of Parkville yet?

******

Time to take a first quick peek at the local election coming up on April 3. Some of the more interesting races to follow? Of course the two mayoral campaigns in Platte City and Parkville will be interesting. Platte City has Offutt vs. Brooks, Part IV. Offutt has won two of the three previous battles and enters this one as the favorite.

At Parkville, two current aldermen--Nan McManus and Jim Brooks--are in a race for the big chair. My sense of this race is that the downtown Parkville folks seem to favor Brooks, while the more affluent neighborhood crowd seems to favor McManus. If recent history is any indication, that means McManus will likely win. Those of us who prefer common sense elected officials have noticed neither of these two aldermen used good governing judgment in the recent passage of Parkville’s crazy-ass golf carts ordinance, which means I have no reason to prefer one over the other.

There are a couple of challenged spots on the board of aldermen at Parkville. It will be interesting to see if Chris Fisher, the alderman who, strangely, wrote and heavily backed the passage of the crazy-ass golf cart ordinance is facing a challenge from Brian Atkinson. Fisher still can’t believe the wisdom of his ordinance is being questioned. I have no idea how Atkinson feels about sending golf carts out on roads for near-death experiences, but can tell you Atkinson has experience on the board in recent years so would be an able replacement.

Also at Parkville, Kevin Heaton, downtown businessman of Stone Canyon Pizza fame, would bring a sharp mind to the board. (Though Heaton's name will appear on the ballot, he has told friends he is no longer campaigning and will not serve if elected). Terry Brown is on the ballot in ward one. Kari Lamer has emerged as a serious write-in candidate in ward one. Incumbent Marc Sportsman, the wise Lone Ranger against the crazy-ass golf cart ordinance, is unopposed in his bid for reelection in ward four.

*****

In northern Platte County, there are some interesting developments in some elections in entities where elections don’t normally get a lot of attention. For instance, in the troubled Northland Regional Ambulance District where alleged sweet and alleged crooked and alleged insider land deals for board members are allegedly part of the perks of the job, there are two spots open on the six-person board of directors.

One of the spots open is currently held by Kevin Rawlings, who is charged with a misdemeanor of misuse of official information after buying some land at a reasonable price and then quickly selling it to NRAD at an estimated $144,000 profit. Rawlings is not seeking reelection. Two men--Kent Pine and Joey Coons--are seeking Rawlings chair. I saw on Facebook a couple of months ago where Pine was thanking Rawlings for an endorsement. That was before Rawlings was charged with the crime. Now, that’s probably an endorsement Pine would rather not have--or at least not boast about.

Another spot on the NRAD board up for grabs is currently held by Barry Turner. Turner wants to keep his job, even though he is part of a board that overpaid by $144,000 for 1.5 acres of land owned by Rawlings. That’s reason enough for Turner to be voted out. Jamie Morey, mayor of Dearborn, and Ethan Ball are both running against Turner. I don’t know Ball but do know Morey and feel like he would be a common sense voice on the NRAD board.

******

Looking for early standings in our Bracket Battle? Go to page A-4. I’m kind of liking my position. All of my Final Four teams are still alive. It’s still early but maybe I won’t have to give away too many free subscriptions this year. . . .

******

A jury composed of people from Platte County--whose selection in a process overseen by an “interesting” judge was a topic in this column a couple of times in recent weeks--has been sequestered in Phelps County but an end is in sight. Tuesday, the jury found the defendant guilty of murder of a nine-year-old girl. Today, the penalty phase of the trial is beginning. Read more about it here: http://www.cassville-democrat.com/story/1827953.html

(Get local political updates and much more 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


FOLEY'S FINAL FOUR FORECAST

Posted 3/15/12

There will only be one $100 winner in The Landmark's Bracket Battle, but something tells me a lot of you are going to earn a mighty fine consolation prize. That consolation prize is a one-year free subscription to The Landmark if you finish ahead of me in the Bracket Battle final standings.

The good news for me is that I’ve watched a lot of college basketball this season. The bad news for me, which is good news for the rest of you, is that I haven’t spent more than 10 minutes studying the bracket since the time it was announced on Sunday night. There’s just something about the first three days of the work week that doesn’t allow me much idle time.

Here we go. Following are my picks, so this is the bracket that you’re up against in your hopes to win $100 or a year’s worth of Landmarks.

FIRST ROUND WINNERS: Kentucky, UConn, Wichita St, Indiana, UNLV, Baylor, Xavier, Duke, Michigan State, Memphis, New Mexico, Davidson, Murray St, Marquette, Florida, Missouri, Syracuse, K-State, Vandy, Wisconsin, Texas, Florida St., West Virginia, Ohio State, North Carolina, Alabama, Temple, Ohio, NC State, Belmont, Purdue, Kansas.

SWEET SIXTEEN: Kentucky, Indiana, Baylor, Duke, Mich St., New Mexico, Marquette, Florida, Syracuse, Vandy, Florida State, Ohio State, North Carolina, Temple, NC State, KU.

ELITE EIGHT: Kentucky, Baylor, Mich State, Marquette, Syracuse, Ohio State, North Carolina, KU.

FINAL FOUR: Kentucky, Mich St., Ohio State, North Carolina.

CHAMP: Kentucky 71, North Carolina 67.

(Follow the Between the Lines road show 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)


 

THE WORST LOCAL POLITICAL DECISION IN PAST 30 YEARS?

Posted 3/16/12

Isn’t it interesting how the sports media gives President Obama camera time so he can give America his bracket picks? Does anybody really give care which team Obama thinks will win? I mean, it’s not like he’s taking part in The Landmark’s Bracket Battle. Does Obama have time to watch enough college basketball throughout the season to make intelligent decisions about the top 64 college basketball teams? Don’t we want him concentrating on more important matters? So what’s next, a segment on the nightly news where Roy Williams and Bill Self give their thoughts on Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan?

******

I’m a little punch drunk on this Wednesday morning after a crazy-busy Tuesday running around the Northland. On top of the usual Tuesday madness that hits nearly every weekly newspaper, The Landmark was all over the appearance by Republican presidential front runner Mitt Romney at William Jewell in Liberty, then the minute that event was over we raced to the Park Hill School Board candidate forum. Glad we did. Both events turned out to be worthy of the time invested. Happy that we hit the Romney event because it’s always newsworthy when a serious presidential contender makes a visit to our area. And our time at the Park Hill forum was noteworthy as an unusual candidate for school board continued his pattern of going all white man gangsta with racially-angled answers to questions.

You will be able to check out a boatload of photos from those two events at Facebook.com/ivan.foley

******

Speaking of Facebook, while the best Landmark social media stuff goes on Twitter, occasionally you’ll catch a nugget on my Facebook page. For instance, last week a local Democrat posted on my page to ask this question:

“Any comments on latest story on commissioner's budget switching funds?”

Never shy about giving an opinion, I did have some comments. I posted my answer to her question in this fashion:

“I am in favor of any lawful action that uses the bloated park tax revenue stream to take a load off the county budget. We don't need $80-90 million going to parks over the next 10 years. The county commission's decision in the summer of 2009 to push a half cent sales tax for parks instead of breaking that half cent up to direct some funds to law enforcement is a decision that has haunted and will continue to haunt Platte County. It was the worst (governing) decision I've seen in the 30 years I've been at The Landmark.”

The commissioners right now are leaning toward proposing to voters cutting the road sales tax when it comes up for renewal and redesign that 3/8 tax with a portion to go toward law enforcement.

They protected parks over law enforcement in 09, and at the same time, were in effect protecting parks over roads.

Anytime elected leaders directing a limited revenue stream are prioritizing parks over basic governmental needs such as law enforcement and roads then those elected leaders are deserving of being replaced. It’s a pretty simple concept.

******

Speaking of roads, motorists should take note of this nugget hitting my email inbox at deadline. Get ready for a closure related to an incoming roundabout. MoDOT will close the intersection at Route N and 136th Street south of Platte City for safety enhancements beginning Monday, March 19. The department says it is committed to completing the project by the start of the fall 2012 school year. A signed detour will redirect traffic to Route D, I-435, I-29 and Route 92 to bypass the intersection.

MoDOT and its partners, Platte County and the Platte City Special Road District, will build a roundabout at this busy intersection to allow for safer traffic flow and to reduce driver delay. Awarded to Leavenworth Excavating & Equipment Company, Inc, MoDOT says this $974,000 project will move the more than 3,000 motorists through the area safer and more efficiently.


(Follow the Between the Lines road show 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 

 

GOOD BUSINESS SENSE OFTEN REQUIRES AN ADJUSTMENT ON THE FLY

Posted 3/9/12

A major convenience store’s billboard along I-29 this week was leaving the space normally used for its gasoline prices blank. Soon they’ll be replacing numbers with the words “bend over.”

******

You just never know who’s gonna come walking in the front door of the ol’ Landmark office. Just had a nice visit with Tom Pryor, former first district county commissioner. It sounds like his appraisal business/rental property gig is going well.

Pryor was a true fiscal conservative who served the taxpayers well before stepping away after one term as county commissioner.

******

Kudos to Marc Sportsman, Parkville’s lone sensible alderman on this looney ‘golf cart on public streets’ issue. Sportsman this week attempted to add some common sense regulations to an insane ordinance. He was rebuffed with silence from his fellow board members. It was like their voices are being controlled by some unknown force.
Read the front page story and come to your own conclusion as to which side comes off sounding more intelligent on this topic.

******

Ah, just sitting here reminiscing about the early days of the county’s controversial half cent sales tax for parks.

Thinking back to the year 2000 when the park tax was on the ballot for the first time. During that feel-good campaign about parks and trails and butterflies and unicorns, I straight-up questioned (some might say accused) county commissioners that their hard-line pushing of a half cent sales tax for parks was so that they could use a portion of that money to cover the financial hit the county was taking on a money-losing golf course named Shiloh Springs. “That is certainly not our intent,” was their response at the time.

Well, as we all know, once the park tax was passed in 2000 it didn’t take long before the commission was directing park tax revenues to bail out what was then and continues to this day to be a golf course that is a financial drain on the taxpayers. Was this a bad decision? I’ve certainly never been nor ever will be a fan of a taxpayer-funded golf course, but after the overblown park tax was passed I didn’t criticize the move to use the slush fund to take a load off the county budget in other areas.

That’s one way to point out that the best laid plans or stated intentions of politicians--and voters--sometimes need to be re-evaluated. It’s what we call using good business sense.

Now just seems to be a good time to reminisce on that topic.

******

Seemingly everywhere I’ve gone since last week’s column I’m approached by folks commenting on my piece about the jury selection process going on in Platte County for a murder trial that will take place in Rolla. The people wanting to talk about it have friends and or relatives who have been a part of a massive pool of 500 potential jurors. The jury selection process has taken over the county commission meeting room in the Platte County Administration Building and has dragged on much longer than initially planned. It was supposed to wrap up last week. As of Wednesday of this week, it is still going on. The process displaced the county commission meeting set for Monday of this week to the Resource Center. The commission indicated Monday it plans to be able to retake possession of its regular quarters in time for its next meeting. Commissioners sounded certain of that, though an analysis today might not show quite as much confidence.

We all know the wheels of justice can spin very slowly. Apparently the wheels of jury selection can spin just as slowly.

A common theme from the people who are engaging me in conversation on this topic is that many of them mention the judge involved is an interesting character. I still haven’t determined what they mean by the word “interesting.” Is that a compliment? Or is that intended as something less than a compliment? Or is it simply a harmless observation?
One person familiar with the process described the judge as a “stickler,” which isn’t a bad trait for a judge, in my opinion. Another used the phrase “hard worker.” Yet another said “Foley, the judge is kinda cute, borderline hot.” But when I mentioned the “kinda cute, borderline hot” description to the next person who brought up the topic, that description was met with hearty opposition.

So who knows. At Between the Lines headquarters, all we can tell you for certain is that the process being overseen by Judge Mary Sheffield has created quite a buzz around Platte County. And that folks familiar with the process are referring to the judge as “interesting.”

******

As you’ve known for weeks if you read my Twitter feed, I’ll be at the Big 12 Tournament championship game Saturday. Hoping that both MU and KU decide to join me and put on a show equal to their first games this season, each of which contained controversial officiating in the closing moments.

In the meantime, get fired up for your chance to win $100 or a free year’s worth of Landmarks in our annual bracket contest. Check out the front page for rules and details. Go head-to-head against such non-experts as our Rambling Moron Chris Kamler, sports media sound bite guy Greg Hall and yours truly. All you need to do in order to win a free subscription is get a better score than I do. That doesn’t sound so hard, does it?

Most importantly, don’t forget to include your name and phone number on your entry before you fax it (816-858-2313) or email it (ivan@plattecountylandmark.com).

(Get information and potential entertainment on the fly 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 

 


O'DELL DOESN'T WANT TO CHAT; BIZARRE JURY PROCESS UNDERWAY

Posted 3/2/12

One day last week I sent a letter to the Platte County Sheriff’s Department, asking them to pass along a question I had for Casey’s pizza maker/accused hatchet murderer/accused razor blade slicer Quintin O’Dell. My question was, Mr. O’Dell, would you like to sit down to do a jailhouse interview with The Landmark Newspaper?
Of course as we all know, this was a longshot. O’Dell, after all, is now represented by the public defender. Most defense attorneys (the defense attorney for accused child molester Jerry Sandusky aside) do not want their clients sitting down for interviews with an aggressive media. Had I been able to get a request to O’Dell before he was represented by counsel, who knows?

Last Thursday, two days after I had dropped the letter in the mail, I got a call from Captain Randy Pittman of the Platte County Detention Center. Pittman said O’Dell indicated he would not be taking me up on the offer.

I didn’t press Pittman for details of O’Dell’s answer because to most of us, no means no. But now curiosity is getting to me. You know, was he polite about it? Did he at least give it a moment’s thought or did he say ‘not no, but hell no’? Did he immediately say he better check with his attorney first? Or did O’Dell say he’s kinda busy and just couldn’t work it into his schedule right now?

Let’s just let our imaginations run wild with that one.

As a sidenote, a few days after I already knew he had turned down my request, I put out on Twitter that I was inviting O’Dell for a sit-down interview. But I teased the topic in that I didn’t reveal on Twitter what O’Dell’s answer was. At least one reactionary competitor who obviously is a loyal reader of my Twitter stuff couldn’t resist, and apparently thought my request was a novel idea. In catch-up mode, he hurriedly hand-carried a written request to the sheriff’s department. Based on that lameness, we can safely assume O’Dell said ‘not no, but hell no’ to that one.

******

In Platte County this week, there’s a jury being selected for a murder case. The jury will be from Platte County. The murder case is from Phelps County and the trial will be held there.

Platte County folks chosen to serve on this jury are being told they’ll need to set aside three weeks of their lives to hear this case in March. They’ll be sequestered during the trial scheduled for March 5-23.

That’s the basics. I received a behind-the-scenes report of the jury selection process from a Landmark reader this week. She says the first day of jury selection (Monday) went down like this:

“A group went in at 9:30 a.m. and were told at 11 a.m. it would be another 30 minutes. The group was virtually held hostage until 5 p.m. by the Phelps County judge doing jury selection. Nobody was allowed to leave for lunch. No lunch was brought in by either Platte or Phelps County. There were diabetics and pregnant women in the jury pool who asked to be dismissed for lunch and were denied.”

No food for the diabetics or the expectant mothers? Sounds like cruel and unusual punishment so far. The story continues:

“The judge asked the pregnant woman when she was due and upon her reply the judge asked her if she was sure. I am sure that date is etched on this woman’s brain and the judge had the nerve to ask her if she was sure? Please.”

The Landmark reader--who was not in the jury pool but whose husband was--says this came after the judge “had told everyone what a privilege it was to be on jury duty. They must think Platte County people are totally stupid.”

She continued:

“I cannot believe Platte County allows another county to come in and treat its citizens like this. The judicial systems wonder why people do not want to be on juries. What a fiasco.”

Her husband, she said, was set to go back for another session as jury selection continued on Wednesday.

Some background on the case, according to Ozarksfirst.com:

“Christopher Collings is one of two men charged in the rape and murder of 9-year-old Rowan Ford in Barry County in November 2007. Approximately 500 potential jurors have been called. Before they even learn the hard realities of this case, they are learning the hard realities of serving on this jury. Monday's questions to jurors have revolved largely around two themes: exposure to pre-trial publicity in any form and the hardship of potentially being away from their home, work and families for weeks. The judge likened this type of jury service to serving in the military, in terms of dedication.

“In emphasizing to jurors their duty as U.S. citizens, Judge Mary Sheffield said, "We are quick to invoke our rights for free speech or to bear arms. With those rights comes responsibility. One of those rights is to a fair trial and a jury."

The Ozarksfirst.com report went on to explain:

“Potential jurors are heavily guarded and have been repeatedly warned against seeking any additional information in the case through any means. When the jurors are selected, they will eventually learn the details of the case against Collings, 37. The man is accused of abducting Ford from her home and then raping and murdering her. Later this week, those who make preliminary cuts will learn Collings faces the death penalty and they'll be asked about their ability to weigh that as possibility if the case comes to it. Those who are claiming hardship are being kept to undergo additional questioning about the nature of that hardship. Other jurors have already been released and asked to return later this week.”

******

Start thinking March Madness. Start thinking Landmark Bracket Battle. See the story here to get your juices flowing. It’s your once-a-year chance to win a year’s worth of Landmarks by being better than me.

(Get Twitter Madness at Twitter.com/ivanfoley and Facebook Madness at Facebook.com/ivan.foley)


NRAD BOARD, ATTORNEY VERY DESERVING OF THIS FINE MESS

Posted 2/23/12

You hear me frequently mention the social media outlet Twitter in this column space. No, I’m not a paid commercial spokesperson for Twitter, my goal is to make Landmark readers who haven’t yet given it a try to do so. When you follow the right folks, Twitter will make you as well-informed as possible and give you entertainment at the same time.

It’s for news junkies. It’s for sports junkies. It’s for entertainment junkies. It’s for everyday folks like you.

So whom should you be following? Depends on your focus. You’ll want to start by following everybody associated with The Landmark. That would be Chris Kamler (@thefakened), Brian Kubicki (@bkparallax), Chris Stigall (@chrisstigall) and Greg Hall (@greghall24), for starters. Oh, and follow some Landmark guy named Foley (@ivanfoley).

Our contributing private investigator Ron Rugen is also on Twitter @KansasCityPI but for valid reasons Ron runs a private Twitter account and his tweets are protected, which means you’ll have to clear his approval process before reading his account.

I’m promoting Twitter this week looking ahead to Saturday’s big MU-KU basketball game. Being signed into Twitter while watching a game is like being in a giant sports bar with all your friends. You’ll love it. Again, the key is to be following the right folks--you’ll want to be following fellow sports fans, obviously. Some of my favorite college basketball fans on Twitter (in addition to the ones mentioned above) include @shakepepper, @wally389, @gspeck, @speck60, @ryankath, @DocSig and @krisketz, among others (go online to check the list of people I follow and pick out some you think will interest you).

For that sports bar atmosphere, log in to Twitter while watching a big game. And you don’t have to fight crowds, noise, or pay high prices for your food and beverages in the process. Take advantage.

******

Speaking of taking advantage--or being taken advantage of--many upset taxpayers appeared at the Northland Regional Ambulance District board of directors meeting Monday night. It was great theater.

Taxpayers, and rightfully so, are ticked over NRAD’s deal to pay $175,000 to buy 1.5 acres of land at Camden Point to Kevin Rawlings, NRAD’s board president. Last year, The Landmark first reported on the suspicious timeline of events that led to the purchase. That reporting got the attention of the local sheriff and local prosecutor, and on Feb. 1 a criminal charge of misuse of official information was filed against Rawlings.

It’s important to remember this much: Rawlings is charged with misusing official information that resulted in his personal gain. The bid process that was or was not used by NRAD is not being questioned in the criminal charge. So, when Rawlings, other NRAD board members, or the NRAD attorney insist on saying that “proper bid procedure was followed,” that’s really immaterial. The bidding process is not the basis of the criminal charge. The crime of which Rawlings is accused occurred before the shaky bidding process.

Other than Rawlings, no one else on the board is charged with a crime. At least not yet--investigators encourage anyone with information that they believe might be helpful to come forward.

What other board members can be fairly accused of is being less than intelligent on this land deal. Buying property from one of your fellow board members? Doesn’t look good. Buying property without an appraisal being done in advance? Stupid. Paying $175,000 for 1.5 acres at Camden Point? Clinically insane.

That’s why no one in the crowd felt sorry for the board when it faced an onslaught of questions and comments Monday night. This board has deserved every bit of criticism it has received to this point. And then some. As patron Kirby Holden calmly told the NRAD board Monday night: “You should be ashamed.”

******

NRAD board attorney Mark Hubbard was the recipient of much incoming fire Monday night. Again, rightfully so. In my opinion, Hubbard was visibly shaken by the recent events, the crowd and some of the comments. The lack of self-assurance could be heard in his voice. His body language and facial expressions (see front page photo) spoke volumes. A patron, whose opinions seemed to be backed by the room-filled crowd, asked for his resignation. Hubbard said he works for the board, not the taxpayers. Judging by the way this whole land deal has been handled, I’d say no truer words have ever been spoken.

I found it humorously interesting that board member Barry Turner made the announcement that the NRAD board would “seek professional legal counsel.” So does that mean Hubbard is not “professional legal counsel?” What Turner probably meant to say, but didn’t, is that the board would seek outside legal counsel to help them negotiate this mess.

NRAD isn’t the only public entity Hubbard represents. There are a string of them. I’m not impressed with NRAD’s behavior and I haven’t been impressed with the behavior of some of Hubbard’s other public clients. For instance, he has represented the Central Platte Fire District board of directors. That board clearly does not have a grasp of the Sunshine Law and in the past has tried to stonewall certain attempts for us to gain access to basic public information. You might say that’s the board’s fault, not the attorney’s fault. I will tell you that in other situations, a strong attorney will teach and preach upon its clients the importance of respecting the public’s right to know and building public trust. That has not been a strength for some of Hubbard’s clients.

Hubbard, while representing the board as a whole, should have urged Rawlings to seek an opinion from his personal attorney prior to entering into this criminal-looking land deal with the board. Hubbard also should have said to the board: “Hey, we’re following all the necessary bidding requirements but the man with whom we're entering this contract may in fact be committing a crime.

Maybe Hubbard did this. My educated guess is he didn’t. This is certain: If he did, obviously he did not make the message loud enough or clear enough to take hold. Combine this with the idiotic decision by board members who should have known better to pay $175,000 for a tract of land we now know is appraised at $30,000, and the result is a fine mess.

No, there is no sympathy coming from the public on this one. And there shouldn’t be.

(Get breaking news and breaking fun 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


THIS MIGHT BE A GOLF CART RIDE FOR THE AGES

Posted 2/16/12

Don't be jealous but I’m consuming a Wednesday morning breakfast of beef jerky and Cheez-Its while cranking out this column. It’s considered a Landmark Breakfast of Champions.

******

Don’t look now but Valentine’s Day is past and March Madness lies tantalizingly within reach.

As someone who is not all that crazy about winter weather, Valentine’s Day is normally a milestone on the calendar for me. In my mind, once we get past Valentine’s Day the worst of wicked winter weather is behind us. My thought is that even if we get significant snowfall after Cupid’s arrival, the snow doesn’t typically last long on the ground thanks to the number of days the temperature gets above freezing in late February. Yes, February normally isn’t pretty around these parts but it’s almost always prettier than our Januaries.

Having said that, go ahead and throw conventional talk out the window this year, as this area didn’t even receive its first measurable snowfall until Monday, Feb. 13, when 2-3 inches of the white stuff hit us. Of course this caused what has become the normal “panic” that grips much of our society’s population base these days, thanks to the continued wussification of America.

Relax, things are back to “normal” by the end of the week, at least according to the weather app on my iPhone, which says Thursday we’ll hit the upper 40’s and Friday we’ll be in the mid-50s.

*******

Speaking of March Madness--remember, I did speak of it in my first sentence, you thought I forgot didn’t you?--it will be an exciting month at work and at play for your Landmark. Once again we’ll be firing up Platte County’s original, largest and best public NCAA Tournament Bracket Battle, so stay tuned for that.

Also, keep in mind that Parkville’s golf-cart-on-the-streets ordinance takes effect March 15. Remember, the thinking-way-outside- the-box aldermen at Parkville recently decided it would be a good idea to make golf carts street legal on the narrow, hilly and winding roads of their city. This includes the stretch of Hwy. 9 that most of us do not feel safe upon while driving a 3,000 pound car.

Anyway, our method of operation here at Between the Lines headquarters has always been that if the world presents opportunities for ridiculousness, then ridiculousness we will gladly provide.

So, take note: Soon after it becomes legal, Chris Kamler (@thefakened on Twitter) our popular Rambling Moron columnist who has a weekly podcast you can watch live on your computer every Sunday afternoon or watch anytime afterward by finding the link at ramblingmorons.com, and I will be risking life and limb as we plop our bodies into a golf cart and maneuver our way around the mean streets of Parkville. The whole event will be livestreamed at ramblingmorons.com. It will be the closest thing to reality TV that Platte County has ever seen. In fact, it will be better than reality TV, as this ride and sideshow will be shown and distributed with no editing. Advance warning: Likely not to be rated G.

We’re picking up some support and a posse for this excursion from folks on Twitter. Brad Westmar (@bradwestmar), who I think has the radio voice of God, has indicated he wants to take part. An Emmy award winning cameraman from KMBC--known appropriately on Twitter as @heycameraman--has offered his video assistance. Others who have caught wind of this have indicated they’ll want the details on time and place so they can either take part in the ride or simply serve as a mobile audience.

I'm going to make an executive decision at this very moment and tell you that at the end of that day’s podcast, there will be a party. Unlike the annual Landmark Christmas party, I’m not gonna tell you that I’m picking up the tab, but I will tell you there will be a party. You’re gonna want to be there.

So for now, thank you, Parkville aldermen, for your crazy-ass, public-safety-be-damned ordinance. While you are borderline insane for putting the motoring public at risk on a daily basis, for one day we’ll be thankful that your, uh, creative way of thinking will allow a couple of daredevilistic Rambling Morons to have an afternoon of on-the-edge fun.

*****

The date, time and location of the street-legal golf cart ride through Parkville will be nailed down in the weeks ahead. The announcement will be broken first on Twitter at @thefakened and @ivanfoley.

******

If you have nothing else going on Monday, Feb. 20, around 7 p.m. it might be a good idea to show up at the Northland Regional Ambulance District board of directors meeting. Catching wind that there may be a patron or two there to speak about the controversial ridiculously overpriced land acquisition from the board president, who is now charged with the crime of misusing official information. Word on the street is that some patrons will be present to ask for a higher level of accountability--maybe suggest a resignation or two or three--to come out of the allegedly criminal land deal.

******

A Landmark reader offered this clever suggestion for dealing with NRAD board president Kevin Rawlings’ recent sale of 1.5 acres of land to NRAD at a price of $175,000. Will the county assessor please now appraise the value of the rest of Rawlings’ land at that same level? Make Rawlings pay taxes on the rest of his land in that area at an appraised value of $175,000 for every 1.5 acres.

That would only seem fair, wouldn’t it?

(Do a weekly Between the Lines heat check in the print edition but don’t wait to be informed and, uh, occasionally enlightened and lightly entertained at Twitter.com/ivanfoley and Facebook.com/ivan.foley)


OCCUPY PARK HILL POWER PLAY ATTEMPT COMES UP SHORT

Posted 2/9/12

It’s wild, it’s wacky, and if you’re a news junkie, it’s wonderful.

The bizarre news never seems to stop in Platte County. Keep it coming. We’re ready.

******

So the Northland Regional Ambulance District held a special meeting Tuesday morning. On the agenda were items such as retirement benefits for employees. A union representative gave about an hour long presentation. I nearly dozed off.

A few interesting points: Kevin Rawlings, board president who last week was charged with corruption for allegedly misusing official information in buying and then selling 1.5 acres of land to the district, was absent on Tuesday. Rawlings’ term is up in April and he did not file for reelection. There was no immediate explanation for his absence from Tuesday’s meeting.

The board entered into an executive session, which I found interesting based on last week’s news of the criminal charge reported in The Landmark. Reason given for the secret session was “personnel.” We trust that was the only thing discussed behind closed doors, though trusting the NRAD board at this point seems to be a stretch. After all, this is the group that paid $175,000 for 1.5 acres of land (that still blows your mind, doesn’t it?). I left a voice mail for Barry Turner, who chaired the meeting in the absence of Rawlings, Tuesday to see if any other matters happened to come up. Still waiting on that return call.

I’m not sure criminal charges against the elected chairman have much changed the method of operation at NRAD just yet.

******

A retirement plan for NRAD employees? Rawlings apparently had a pretty good board member retirement plan going until the prosecutor took action.

******

And by the way, kudos to Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd and Platte County Sheriff Dick Anderson for their roles in the NRAD corruption investigation and charges. In a lot of counties, that sort of thing would have been conveniently overlooked.

Platte County law enforcement sent a clear message that elected officials are not above the law and alleged corruption will be probed.

******

Following Facebook posts and judging by her appearance at the “protest” at the Park Hill School District office on Tuesday afternoon, Platte County Commissioner Kathy Dusenbery clearly became one of the ringleaders in the “Occupy Park Hill” movement.

A group of 25-30 protesters showed up as the school board was inside voting to offer a contract to Dr. Scott Springston of Valley Center School District in Kansas. After the fact, the “Occupy Park Hill” group tried to claim its protest had to do with opposition to the process the school board used in its search. I’m calling BS.

The search for a replacement for retiring superintendent Dr. Dennis Fisher had been going on for about six months. If there was a problem with the process, why didn’t the Occupy Park Hill group step forward long before now?

Their timing gives away their reasons for being upset. It wasn’t until after Park Hill on Friday announced its one finalist for the job was Springston that Dusenbery and friends became ruffled. The reason? Their preferred candidate, deputy superintendent Mark Miles, wasn’t getting the job.

Dusenbery seems obsessed with wanting to “be somebody.” She likes the social game, the rubbing of shoulders with folks she perceives to be movers and shakers in her corner of the world. She is tight with the retiring superintendent, who had recommended Miles for the job. When Miles didn’t get the nod, Dusenbery saw a little bit of her influence slipping away. Occupy Park Hill was born. Her Facebook page became kind of a mini-headquarters for what would turn out to be a failed movement to stop the offering of the job to Springston.

After the board late Tuesday gave Occupy Park Hill an “in your face” by going ahead and offering a contract to Springston, Dusenbery and the Occupiers revised history. They claimed they weren’t really upset by the choice so much as the process.

Really? The process isn’t a new thing. You just now noticed you have a problem with it? Hmm.

I don’t know anything about Springston other than what our newspaper learned through interviewing him over the phone and through what Park Hill has said in its press releases. I know even less about Miles. I have no reason to doubt that both are professionals. But for Springston’s apparent hiring to be met with an elitist reaction before he has even had a chance to present himself to the community is troubling. Look, we’re all mere mortals and we all can be picked apart and criticized if every aspect of our personal and professional lives is examined closely. Heck, give me a few minutes and in my next column I could stitch the pope in a clown suit if I so desired.

As for Miles, if the board felt he was right for the job, he would have been offered the position. He’s already here--it’s not like the board doesn’t know what he can or can’t do. Obviously there’s something that kept the board from offering him the job, whether it be lack of experience or a certain background emphasis for which they were looking. Point is, nobody knows your professional side better than your employer. The Park Hill board knows Miles’ professionally. They didn’t offer him the job. Enough said. A power play to try to get the board to reconsider was over the top.

Dusenbery--who is up for reelection this year--comes off looking like an ego-driven hypocritical type. How so? Remember when it was proposed the county’s voter-approved half cent sales tax for parks should be adjusted? Dusenbery eventually was adamant in that anyone in favor of a modification of the tax should forget it and “respect the voters.”

It was ok for her to hand out that advice. But when her favored candidate for the Park Hill job was snubbed, Dusenbery didn’t follow her own advice. Instead of “respecting the voters”--in this situation, the voters are the school board members who made the decision--Dusenbery was helping organize a protest.

Fortunately, it was a protest that was not successful.

(Trust us, there’s a lighthearted column coming soon, just as soon as all the craziness takes a hiatus. In the meantime, play along at Twitter.com/ivanfoley and Facebook.com/ivan.foley)

 


ABOUT THAT
HIGHLY QUESTIONABLE
LAND DEAL...

Posted 2/1/12

Welcome to another weekly episode of Between the Lines. There is no protocol for this.

******

Always gotta be ready to adjust on the fly in this business. . .

That’s the case again today, as news of the criminal charge against NRAD board president Kevin Rawlings came down at deadline. So this version of Between the Lines is nothing like the breezy and light-hearted piece that was originally composed and ready to rock and roll.

I’m not complaining. It’s part of the buzz that this biz brings.

******

If you haven’t yet read our front page story on the corruption charge, this column will mean more if you read the top story first then jump back here. Don’t worry, I’ll stop writing and will stare out the window until you get back. . .

Ok, welcome back. So the charge against Rawlings is a misdemeanor. Would a conviction on this charge prevent him from serving in an elected office in the future? No, says Eric Zahnd, Platte County prosecutor. And a $1,000 fine and/or a year in jail for a conviction on a public corruption charge? Sounds like a weak penalty, doesn’t it? Zahnd agrees.

“Not speaking specifically about this case, it’s my opinion we need to put some (bite) into our ethics laws in the state of Missouri,” Zahnd said Wednesday morning. “It’s my opinion the state should do a review of its ethics laws and their penalties for conviction,” Zahnd added.

******

So let’s talk more about the possibility of NRAD getting its money back if Rawlings is convicted of misusing official information in regard to the highly questionable land transaction. Let me be more specific and more correct. Let’s talk more about the possibility of taxpayers getting their money back on this shady land deal. Right now, that seems to be the ultimate hope for justice.

According to documents, Rawlings sold the district 1.5 acres of land for $175,000. An appraisal of the property done just a few months ago lists the value of that 1.5 acres at $30,000.

Ouch. You think Rawlings came out financially okay on this deal?

I asked Rawlings that now with the criminal charge against him, would he entertain the idea of restitution to NRAD. His reply? “No comment.”

The prosecutor would not talk specifically about Rawlings’ case but said in similar such matters that “it is not uncommon for us to seek restitution in certain criminal cases.” Restitution would have to be part of a plea or part of a sentence issued by a judge. A jury by itself cannot order restitution, Zahnd said.

Another possibility is civil action. The NRAD board of directors--if it wanted to do the right thing--could take civil action in an attempt to recoup the roughly $145,000 taxpayers deserve to have returned.

Kirby Holden, a Platte County taxpayer who filed a complaint with the Missouri Ethics Commission last year after reading about the land deal in The Landmark, told me this on Wednesday: “I am going to look into any kind of civil action that can be taken.”

This is going to be a fascinating aspect of the story.

******

Zahnd and Sheriff Dick Anderson both pointed out on Wednesday morning that in any criminal case, investigative work does not stop at the point initial charges are filed. There is always the possibility of additional charges in any criminal case, both emphasized.

Apparently no evidence has been brought forth as of yet to validate or justify any other criminal charges against Rawlings or any other party, but that doesn’t mean it’s over. “The investigation (in any criminal case) goes on until a court verdict has been reached,” Zahnd said.

Both the prosecutor and the sheriff on Wednesday said that, as they advise in any criminal case, they encourage anyone with information or awareness of alleged criminal wrongdoing to come forward.

******

Reading the court documents filed by the prosecutors in the case, which cite official minutes of NRAD board meetings as evidence, it appears the prosecution has laid out a convincing case.

In his sworn statement to the court, Detective Mark Stephens says that “In the Oct. 18, 2010 NRAD board meeting, the board voted to begin negotiation on the sale of two acres of property apparently owned by Rawlings. The NRAD board directed an appraisal of the property be completed, however, it appears no appraisal of Rawlings’ land was ever completed by NRAD.”

So, negotiations with Rawlings began in October, according to authorities who cite board meeting minutes. NRAD’s bid process, which Rawlings cites as his defense to the charge against him, didn’t begin until November.

Oops.

Det. Stephens writes: “In the November 15, 2010 closed board meeting, NRAD attorney Mark Hubbard suggested that bid specifications be drawn to solicit bids from the public for property in the Camden Point area. Bids were subsequently posted in local newspapers. Mr. Rawlings was the only person to make a formal bid. It should be noted that, according to the NRAD minutes from Oct. 18, 2010, negotiations had already begun with Mr. Rawlings for the sale of his property. Additionally, after Rawlings’ formal bid, Rawlings directed Tom Taylor (NRAD director) via email to reply to another potential bidder that NRAD already has “a contract on (the) ground” and that NRAD “won’t be needing any more” bids.

Hmm.

As we reported to you last year, the district’s legal notice seeking proposals curiously listed no deadline for proposals to be submitted. This statement by the investigator seems to indicate Rawlings made the decision on a deadline after his proposal was already in and communicated that deadline to Taylor.

It’s all extremely interesting. Public corruption cases are fairly rare at the local level of government. The Landmark, as we’ve been since the start of this story, will continue to follow it for you.

(Follow along 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley, Facebook.com/ivan.foley)


OUT OF TOUCH; AND VIEWS THAT SHIFT WITH THE POLITICAL WIND

Posted 1/21/12

Out of touch.

It’s a phrase often used. Let’s define it. And what better way to define a word or phrase than to give an example or two.

•Example number one came to me in the form of an anonymous email this week. By now, you’ve probably read the well-researched, well written article by Kent Babb on the front page of Sunday’s Kansas City Star. Entitled Arrowhead Anxiety, the article focused on allegations that the brass in the Chiefs’ organization routinely bug some of the offices in order to monitor activities and conversations of their employees. Recently fired head coach Todd Haley even told the newspaper that he believed his personal cell phone had been tampered with. I received an email this week from a reader who claimed the allegations of bugging were probably bogus and even if true, what’s the big deal. This guy then said he supported any type of monitoring over Haley, who this reader termed was too “politically correct” for his own good. Mr. PC, in fact, I recall is how this emailer referred to Haley.

Wait. Are you for real? Todd Haley politically correct? The coach who, with national TV cameras upon him, dressed like a homeless man on game day? The coach who routinely displayed public temper tantrums and dropped F-bombs like they were going out of style is politically correct? The coach who in the final couple weeks before his justified firing refused to pull a quarterback who was clearly in over his head? You can justifiably call Todd Haley a lot of things, including a bad head coach. But to call Todd Haley politically correct is a sure sign that you are out of touch, my friend.

•Second example of somebody being out of touch occurred closer to home. As you’ll see in this issue, Tom Taylor, executive director of the Northland Regional Ambulance District, has submitted his resignation, indicating he’ll retire in June. NRAD, you’ll recall, less than a year ago was all over the local and regional news--the Kansas City television news channels were all over it–after The Landmark reported the district had paid what appraisers told us was an extremely inflated price for land near Camden Point from the president of the NRAD board of directors. NRAD paid $175,000 for three acres of land owned by its board president, who had owned the property less than a year while it was common knowledge the district had been looking at property in that area for two years. The Missouri Ethics Commission was made aware of the situation and an investigation ensued. A patron appeared at an NRAD board meeting and referred to the board of directors as “a bunch of crooks.” So, during the course of my phone interview with Taylor, I asked him if the public controversy surrounding that transaction had anything to do with his decision to step away. My question sent Taylor, though relatively soft-spoken he was, into flip-out mode.

“It has absolutely nothing to do with that,” said Taylor, as he slowly grew irritated. “I can’t believe you asked me that question,” he said at the beginning of a rant, a remark he made more than once after his feathers had been ruffled.

My response to his reaction went like this: “Really? You can’t believe that question was asked? If you’re serious, that’s a sign you are out of touch with the community.”
Taylor then rambled on a bit longer, something about how he and I have a difference of opinion on the topic of that controversial land buy (note: the wording of my question did not include an opinion, it was a fact-based question that I knew was going to be on the minds of everyone reading the article). He then hinted that in his opinion the reporting about that land deal was overblown. His attitude seemed to be that, in his opinion, a majority of the public really doesn’t care.

“You’re out of touch with the public,” I said again as politely as possible, before moving on to my next question in the interview, which, shall we say, wrapped up soon thereafter.

******

Good grief, two Platte County commissioners need to take a stance and stick with it. All this back and forth about whether they will or won’t consider reducing the amount of the half cent sales tax for parks is getting ridiculous.

When Prosecutor Eric Zahnd first proposed the idea to them in a budget hearing earlier this month, Jim Plunkett, second district commissioner, and Kathy Dusenbery, first district commissioner, listened. They gave the impression they had an open mind about it. “It wouldn’t be my first choice,” Dusenbery told me after the meeting, but hinted all possibilities would be looked at. “I’d have to have more facts to draw a conclusion,” Plunkett told me after the meeting. Then a week later, both emphatically stated in an open meeting they have no intention of taking another look at the amount of the voter-approved half cent sales tax for parks. It’s important to note their new hard-line stance was stated in front of a meeting room that contained several avid parks supporters, many of whom had been recruited by the commissioners to attend. Strangely, those comments came after the commission had issued a stop-order on the park-tax-financed expansion of two community centers. As pointed out last week, it made no sense--other than to be a political game intended to get the avid parks folks to call the prosecutor to express their desire that the $82 million park tax not be reduced--for the commission to issue that stop order if Plunkett and Dusenbery were both so emphatic about not adjusting the park tax.

So this week, The Landmark asked if the stop order is still in place. There really is no common sense reason for the stop order to be in effect with Plunkett and Dusenbery being so emphatic about their positions to not adjust the park tax, right? Well, the question got yet another flip-flop of an answer, as you’ll see on our front page.

Apparently now Plunkett and Dusenbery have not ruled out taking action that would give voters the opportunity to lower the park tax and put in a portion of its place a tax for law enforcement. (Though really, behind the scenes the commission is considering lowering the current 3/8 cent sales tax for roads when it comes for renewal and combining that lower road tax with a tax for law enforcement. They think this would be legally cleaner, and besides, a commissioner or two is/are currently upset with the county public works department and therefore wouldn’t mind jacking with its roads funding).

The bottom line seems to be this: When an elected official is not guided by a foundation of at least one core political principle--such as fiscal conservatism, as an example--their views tend to shift like the wind. Their views become not based on what meets a core principle, but based on what is politically popular at any given moment. All this waffling seems to be due to a couple of commissioners, who are up for reelection this year, trying to figure out which course of action is going to be most politically beneficial to them.

(Follow along 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley or Facebook.com/ivan.foley, where there is no concern about what is politically beneficial)


SOME THOUGHTS ON THE MURDER INVESTIGATION IN PLATTE COUNTY

Posted 1/13/12

After months of unsettled emotions and feelings of frustration in the community, a sigh of relief could be heard around Platte County over the weekend as an arrest was made in the recent horrific murder of a young Platte City girl and the brutal slicing with a razor blade of a young Ferrelview woman. Two extremely violent crimes. One suspect.

The suspect, Quintin O’Dell, 22, of Platte City, was a co-worker of murder victim Alissa Shippert at the Casey’s General Store in Platte City. Shippert was a clerk there, O’Dell made pizzas there, sources tell me.

As a co-worker, it is safe to assume that O’Dell would have been talked to early on by investigators. As he remained free to roam streets and prepare your pizzas at Platte City's Business of the Year, we can only assume that nothing learned in that early interview led investigators to directly target O’Dell as a serious suspect.

From all information I’ve been able to ascertain, no heavy leaning upon O’Dell had taken place from the time Shippert’s body was found on June 1 through the day after Christmas. On Dec. 26, the boyfriend of the stabbing victim at Ferrelview told investigators that O’Dell had been alone with the victim as the boyfriend was communicating with her by phone and text. Investigators, naturally, talked with O’Dell on Dec. 26. He remained free. On Friday, Dec. 30, the stabbing victim regained consciousness and was able to tell what she remembered about that night to investigators, including the fact she remembers passing out with only O’Dell present at the time.

Last Thursday, Jan. 5, the sheriff’s department told O’Dell they’d like to speak with him again. They sent a car to pick him up for a drive to the sheriff’s department. O’Dell was not under arrest at that time. He did not resist the ride for the interview. He did not have an attorney, and apparently did not request one.

At this point, it’s not clear through public information whether investigators were able to then tie O’Dell to the Shippert case or whether O’Dell started singing after realizing the evidence in the stabbing case was stacked against him. Comments made by the sheriff on Saturday indicate it was great work on the part of detectives that connected the dots. “Through dogged police work, our detectives were able to connect these two cases. Alissa Shippert’s murder remained front and center in the minds of the community, and it remained and will continue to remain on the front burner for our department until we finally bring the killer justice.”

At any rate, my recanting of the public facts as we known them at this point is done because I’m fully aware a portion of the community (see our letters to the editor section for one example) has the perception that this investigation lacked a sense of urgency, a lack of a ‘beating the bushes’ approach. There is a perception on the part of some that more direct leaning on ‘persons of interest’ might have led to an arrest earlier.

In their defense, law enforcement folks at this point now are limited in what they can say to defend themselves against that perception. At some point, after justice has been served in the case, perhaps those on the inside will give their line of defense against the public perception described above.

******

To toot our own horn a bit, The Landmark broke the story of the arrest and charges against Quintin O’Dell on Friday night on our web site and in our social media outlets.

The Landmark’s ability to confirm the details and report the breaking news came more than 12 hours before any other media outlet. The Landmark even had the suspect’s mug shot posted on Twitter, Facebook and our web site Friday night between 9:30 and 10 p.m. By the way, the mug shot of O’Dell that we posted on Twitter Friday night has been viewed 4,775 times as of this morning.

This isn’t a story that just falls into a media outlet’s lap. The ability to break a story of this magnitude comes through having developed well-placed sources over the years who trust you and you in turn trust them. It takes being willing and able to shake the bushes in a tireless fashion. To copy a term used by the sheriff, it takes ‘dogged’ journalistic work.

Embrace technology. If you’re only reading our print edition and not following us 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley, you’re often going to be a step behind.

******

Any other news and commentary this week seems a bit trivial in nature compared to the brutal murder/assault story, but I’ll offer just a few quick comments on some topics:

•Any debate over whether the wallaby should or shouldn’t be allowed to be housed inside Platte City’s city limits is ridiculous. Kansas City TV stations have played this up like there’s some kind of social injustice going on. Here’s the reality: there’s a place for exotic animals. Inside the city limits is not that place. Where would it stop? One exotic animal would lead to another, and another, and another, etc. Then you don't have a city. You have a drive-through zoo.

•Platte County commissioners back-tracked and fixed their budget crisis, but only temporarily. A long-term solution to funding law enforcement needs to be found. And if county commissioners Kathy Dusenbery and Jim Plunkett--a majority of the three-member board-- have no intention of reducing the amount of the half cent park tax, why then did the commission issue a press release outlining a stop order on community center construction projects last week? That’s either the sign of a political game or evidence of another flip-flop.

•The commission’s decision to give the sheriff even more than he requested is good in my opinion, but in doing so the commissioners have painted themselves in a corner. Plunkett in particular in the past has appeared to take delight in slashing every requested budget the sheriff makes. This year Plunkett apparently has seen the light and has said, ‘Hey sheriff, you deserve even more than what you’ve asked for.’ Now, it’s gonna be extremely hard for the commission in future years with a straight face to ever say “Hey, sheriff, you’re asking for too much.”

•Landmark columnist James Thomas this week says the county commission “had” to put the park tax back on the ballot at the half cent level to avoid losing money through the use tax. To quote a phrase made popular by Herman Cain, the problem with that analysis is that it is incorrect.

In order to avoid a loss of use tax revenue, what the commission ‘had’ to do was put a half cent sales tax of any type on the ballot. That entire half cent did not ‘have’ to be for parks. It should have been, at most, 1/4 cent for parks and 1/4 cent for law enforcement.

More on these topics in the coming weeks.

(You’re invited to be informed and entertained at the same time 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley and Facebook.com/ivan.foley)


MISGUIDED PRIORITIES CONTINUE TO PLAGUE COUNTY COMMISSIONERS

Posted 1/5/12

Platte County Sheriff Dick Anderson points out that the golf carts at the county-owned Shiloh Springs Golf Course near Platte City are better maintained than the fleet of vehicles in his department.

That’s sad. That’s damn sad. And it tells you how misguided then-county commissioners Betty Knight, Jim Plunkett and Kathy Dusenbery were for promoting a half cent sales tax for parks in 2009 at a time the economy was tanking and it was obvious the county was going to need to find a consistent way to fund basic functions of government.

In 2009, those commissioners put the half cent park tax on the ballot and promoted it. Even though they were well aware of it at the time, those commissioners didn’t talk to the public about the challenges the county would face in the near future, such as an unfunded federal mandate for narrowbanding radio equipment. They didn’t talk about the often-behind-the scenes budget battles they have each year with the sheriff, slicing and dicing the amount the lawman feels he needs to keep residents safe. No, the rainbow and butterfly supporting commissioners were too busy telling you how much this county needed more walking trails. More parks. More Olympic-sized swimming pools. More additions to successful community centers (these are actually government-funded fitness centers--what’s wrong with letting the private sector operate fitness centers? Why are taxpayers funding a business that should be handled by the private sector? I digress, but that’s a topic for a future column. You’ll want to stay tuned for that one, because it gets me riled).

It took the real threat of some significant budget cuts to their offices, but finally some of this county’s elected officeholders are telling you how they really feel about the misguided priority this county commission--and the county commission of the not too distant past--placed on frills like walking trails, swimming pools and fitness centers over public safety and other most basic services of government.

It’s a rhythm this Between the Lines drum has been publicly beating for years. Welcome to the party. We knew you were on board, but you bit your tongues. Why, I’m not quite sure. Anyway, it’s great to have your private feelings coming to public light in a big way.

We can talk closing the Annex at Platte Woods. We can talk replacing the nice lady who answered the phones at the county with an automated phone system. We can talk cutting back on the in-house mail system. We can talk eliminating an employee in the county’s human resources department. We can talk eliminating a position in the information technology department. These are good fiscally-conservative moves. That’s the good news. The bad news is that unless a long term solution is found, similar budget challenges are going to continue to hit the county each and every year.

The good news? The answer is right in front of us, and actually will include a tax decrease. That’s right, a tax decrease. The answer was proposed to county commissioners as far back as 2007 by the sheriff and the prosecutor but commissioners didn’t listen. Maybe they’ll listen now. Of course Knight is now gone, but her beloved, wildly overfunded parks department and its $82 million to $90 million half cent sales tax over the next 10 years remains. Meanwhile, Plunkett and Dusenbery remain in office. This is crucial timing for each of them, as both are up for election in 2012. And filing for candidates starts soon. The popular train of thought is that if Plunkett and Dusenbery don’t react to this budget situation in a responsible way, there are challengers waiting in the wings. That definitely seems the case for Dusenbery. It’s no secret that a fiscally-conservative candidate is itching to get in the first district race, especially if the lack of funding for public safety continues to be an issue.

The answer to the funding challenge for basic government services is one that has been talked about in general terms in this column space. Now, a couple of widely respected county officeholders--Prosecutor Eric Zahnd and Sheriff Dick Anderson--are taking the bull by the horns and leading the public charge with a specific proposal.

The answer to the financial challenge facing Platte County is to find a long term answer to the annual dilemma of how to find adequate funding for law enforcement, prosecution, and other basic government functions in this county? The specific proposal by Zahnd answers the question.

Zahnd is encouraging the county commission to do this: Take to the voters a proposal to rescind that half cent sales tax for parks and instead replace it with a lower tax--that’s right, lower tax--that would include 1/8th cent for parks and quarter cent for law enforcement.

Let’s do the math. That’s 3/8th cent. That’s less than the half cent taxpayers are paying now JUST FOR PARKS. This proposal makes so much common sense it will likely be rejected by sitting politicians. Common sense doesn’t always accompany the acts of politicians.

It’s very obvious now--even by some of the staunchest supporters of that half cent park tax--that $82-$90 million is way, way more than is needed over the next 10 years to maintain the county’s attractive park system. Commissioners and the county’s park director stay up late at night--and then dream when they do go to sleep--trying to find creative ways to spend this money. Remember, horse trails and kayak trails are in their 10 year plan. At a time when the sheriff is needing to cut deputies and the prosecutor is needing to cut an attorney to meet the budget the commission has handed to them, it is laughable that the parks department is able to give better maintenance to golf carts than the sheriff can to his cop cars. And it’s ridiculous that things such as kayak trials, mountain bike trails and Olympic-sized pools are able to be funded by the county parks department. What a joke.

So will the county commission react positively to Zahnd’s proposal? Not likely. Why? The best answer I can give you is pride. We’re all human. None of us likes to admit when we’re wrong. It’s painfully obvious Plunkett has an ego. Dusenbery does, too, though I’m not sure why. Plunkett in particular doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who is going to publicly admit he made a mistake supporting an $82 million tax for rainbows and butterflies. I asked Dusenbery if she would support Zahnd’s proposal. “It wouldn’t be my first choice,” she said. I asked Jason Brown, presiding commissioner, for his reaction to Zahnd’s proposal. “I don’t have a personal reaction to it,” Brown said after the meeting. During a break at Tuesday’s meeting, I asked Plunkett if he would support Zahnd’s proposal: “I’d have to have more facts to draw a conclusion.”

Thanks to Zahnd and Anderson, the long-term answer to the county’s budget challenge is now on the table for public debate. Let’s see how this plays out.

(See how discussion on all kinds of topics plays out 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)


For earlier columns, click here

 


 

 


GET A TICKET THANKS TO A RED LIGHT CAMERA? TRY THIS APPROACH

Posted 1/28/12

Newt Gingrich makes following this race for the GOP presidential nomination so much fun. His bulldog mentality, intelligence and wit are a recipe for great sound bites.

Another one just happened this morning (Wednesday) as I had The Landmark TV tuned (as usual) to Fox News.

Newt was being asked about Nancy Pelosi’s comment in an interview with CNN in which Pelosi claimed the Republicans won’t nominate Newt and strongly hinted that if they do, that will be fine with her, because she “knows something” about Newt that would prevent him from being elected.

Asked about Pelosi’s comment, Newt smirked and said this: “If she knows something she should say it, if she doesn’t then she should keep quiet. I don’t think any Republican is going to feel threatened by Nancy Pelosi. I’d rather have her threaten me than endorse me.”

Classic response. Beautifully stated.

******

Hey, have you been issued a traffic ticket as a result of one of those red light cameras in Kansas City? Before you pay that ticket, listen to this story. A loyal Between the Lines reader has shared some fascinating information.

It seems one of our loyal readers was the recipient of a KC red light camera ticket. The problem with this is that he was not driving the vehicle at the time, though his name is on the title. (His daughter was driving). After numerous calls to the City of KC to get information, none of which produced any single person who claimed knowledge of how the system worked, he wrote a letter asking for proof of the driver. The response came two months later: “Request denied. No defense.”

In the meantime, since he did not pay the fine, he received a second notice with a court date. He decided to go to court and took evidence that he was elsewhere at the time of the incident. Upon arriving in the courtroom, he noticed people going up to the court clerk and subsequently leaving. He asked a gentleman sitting next to him about the process. The gentleman informed him that this was his 12th ticket and that all his prior tickets had been dismissed for lack of evidence: the cameras take video from the rear and don’t provide clear evidence of who was driving the car at the time the red light was (allegedly) run.

After speaking with the court clerk, our loyal Between the Lines reader was asked to complete a form, upon which he claimed that there was no evidence of who was driving (he was not about to turn in his daughter). Our man was then told he needed to see the judge. For a bit, it appeared he would be the only one required to see the judge. But just before court convened, another court official waived him up to his table. After a short discussion, our loyal reader’s ticket was dismissed.

The moral of this story? For the time being, “innocent until proven guilty” still applies. But the hero of our story learned an interesting tidbit on his trip to municipal court in Kansas City.

“There may be a change in the future to treat red light camera tickets the same as parking tickets so that the owner of the vehicle is liable regardless of who was driving. In the meantime, anyone who wants to avoid the fine will have to show up in court. The court official told me that after seeing thousands of these tickets issued, his view is that this is more about safety.”

Hmm. Sounds like if you get one of these tickets in the mail, it might be worth your time to show up in court to challenge.

“People can decide for themselves. For those who don’t want the hassle of a $100 ticket or a court appearance, either slow down and watch the lights or stay out of KC,” says this Platte County man who preferred his name not be used in the telling of his day in KC municipal court.

******

If you think the postal service is slow or not dependable now, brace yourself for a possible decline in the quality of service. The USPS has plans to close processing centers in such places as Cape Girardeau and Springfield, Mo, shifting these operations to Kansas City and St. Louis. While we might think this won’t affect delivery of mail sent to or from this area, that’s not necessarily true. There is a fear, justified or not, that the funneling of more volume to the Kansas City center as a result of closing other centers will have a negative impact on speed of service for those of us in this area.

The postal service is responding to criticism of these moves a couple of different ways. A district manager for the postal service in Kansas City, for instance, responded to a letter from the president of the Missouri Press Association by saying that the use of state-of-the-art automated mail processing equipment allows the post office to sort mail more efficiently than ever. “Factors have created excess processing capacity at many postal facilities where mail is sorted. The postal service is actively looking into opportunities to increase efficiency by consolidating mail processing operations, allowing us to make better use of our resources. Area mail processing is a key element of this important effort,” write Darrin R. Gadson, district manager for the post office in Kansas City.

Hmm. I would imagine must large mailers are planning to do the same thing your Landmark is doing. We’ll be monitoring this situation closely. We’re not anticipating any change in the timeliness of the delivery of our newspapers to addresses in Platte County, but will certainly be ready to respond if the opposite occurs.

In recent years, anytime we’ve had problems with slow delivery in this area, the willing and able staff of Congressman Sam Graves has been a great benefit in helping apply pressure to the postal service and enabled them to take steps to improve efficiency. Often the corrective steps, in my opinion, are as simple as a set of human eyes paying attention to details at the processing center in Kansas City.

******

Interesting tidbit: Did you know single piece first class mail volume handled by the United States Postal Service has declined by 42 percent since 2001?

(You’ve always got a green light to head to Twitter.com/ivanfoley, Facebook.com/ivan.foley or email ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


OUT OF TOUCH; AND VIEWS THAT SHIFT WITH THE POLITICAL WIND

Posted 1/21/12

Out of touch.

It’s a phrase often used. Let’s define it. And what better way to define a word or phrase than to give an example or two.

•Example number one came to me in the form of an anonymous email this week. By now, you’ve probably read the well-researched, well written article by Kent Babb on the front page of Sunday’s Kansas City Star. Entitled Arrowhead Anxiety, the article focused on allegations that the brass in the Chiefs’ organization routinely bug some of the offices in order to monitor activities and conversations of their employees. Recently fired head coach Todd Haley even told the newspaper that he believed his personal cell phone had been tampered with. I received an email this week from a reader who claimed the allegations of bugging were probably bogus and even if true, what’s the big deal. This guy then said he supported any type of monitoring over Haley, who this reader termed was too “politically correct” for his own good. Mr. PC, in fact, I recall is how this emailer referred to Haley.

Wait. Are you for real? Todd Haley politically correct? The coach who, with national TV cameras upon him, dressed like a homeless man on game day? The coach who routinely displayed public temper tantrums and dropped F-bombs like they were going out of style is politically correct? The coach who in the final couple weeks before his justified firing refused to pull a quarterback who was clearly in over his head? You can justifiably call Todd Haley a lot of things, including a bad head coach. But to call Todd Haley politically correct is a sure sign that you are out of touch, my friend.

•Second example of somebody being out of touch occurred closer to home. As you’ll see in this issue, Tom Taylor, executive director of the Northland Regional Ambulance District, has submitted his resignation, indicating he’ll retire in June. NRAD, you’ll recall, less than a year ago was all over the local and regional news--the Kansas City television news channels were all over it–after The Landmark reported the district had paid what appraisers told us was an extremely inflated price for land near Camden Point from the president of the NRAD board of directors. NRAD paid $175,000 for three acres of land owned by its board president, who had owned the property less than a year while it was common knowledge the district had been looking at property in that area for two years. The Missouri Ethics Commission was made aware of the situation and an investigation ensued. A patron appeared at an NRAD board meeting and referred to the board of directors as “a bunch of crooks.” So, during the course of my phone interview with Taylor, I asked him if the public controversy surrounding that transaction had anything to do with his decision to step away. My question sent Taylor, though relatively soft-spoken he was, into flip-out mode.

“It has absolutely nothing to do with that,” said Taylor, as he slowly grew irritated. “I can’t believe you asked me that question,” he said at the beginning of a rant, a remark he made more than once after his feathers had been ruffled.

My response to his reaction went like this: “Really? You can’t believe that question was asked? If you’re serious, that’s a sign you are out of touch with the community.”
Taylor then rambled on a bit longer, something about how he and I have a difference of opinion on the topic of that controversial land buy (note: the wording of my question did not include an opinion, it was a fact-based question that I knew was going to be on the minds of everyone reading the article). He then hinted that in his opinion the reporting about that land deal was overblown. His attitude seemed to be that, in his opinion, a majority of the public really doesn’t care.

“You’re out of touch with the public,” I said again as politely as possible, before moving on to my next question in the interview, which, shall we say, wrapped up soon thereafter.

******

Good grief, two Platte County commissioners need to take a stance and stick with it. All this back and forth about whether they will or won’t consider reducing the amount of the half cent sales tax for parks is getting ridiculous.

When Prosecutor Eric Zahnd first proposed the idea to them in a budget hearing earlier this month, Jim Plunkett, second district commissioner, and Kathy Dusenbery, first district commissioner, listened. They gave the impression they had an open mind about it. “It wouldn’t be my first choice,” Dusenbery told me after the meeting, but hinted all possibilities would be looked at. “I’d have to have more facts to draw a conclusion,” Plunkett told me after the meeting. Then a week later, both emphatically stated in an open meeting they have no intention of taking another look at the amount of the voter-approved half cent sales tax for parks. It’s important to note their new hard-line stance was stated in front of a meeting room that contained several avid parks supporters, many of whom had been recruited by the commissioners to attend. Strangely, those comments came after the commission had issued a stop-order on the park-tax-financed expansion of two community centers. As pointed out last week, it made no sense--other than to be a political game intended to get the avid parks folks to call the prosecutor to express their desire that the $82 million park tax not be reduced--for the commission to issue that stop order if Plunkett and Dusenbery were both so emphatic about not adjusting the park tax.

So this week, The Landmark asked if the stop order is still in place. There really is no common sense reason for the stop order to be in effect with Plunkett and Dusenbery being so emphatic about their positions to not adjust the park tax, right? Well, the question got yet another flip-flop of an answer, as you’ll see on our front page.

Apparently now Plunkett and Dusenbery have not ruled out taking action that would give voters the opportunity to lower the park tax and put in a portion of its place a tax for law enforcement. (Though really, behind the scenes the commission is considering lowering the current 3/8 cent sales tax for roads when it comes for renewal and combining that lower road tax with a tax for law enforcement. They think this would be legally cleaner, and besides, a commissioner or two is/are currently upset with the county public works department and therefore wouldn’t mind jacking with its roads funding).

The bottom line seems to be this: When an elected official is not guided by a foundation of at least one core political principle--such as fiscal conservatism, as an example--their views tend to shift like the wind. Their views become not based on what meets a core principle, but based on what is politically popular at any given moment. All this waffling seems to be due to a couple of commissioners, who are up for reelection this year, trying to figure out which course of action is going to be most politically beneficial to them.

(Follow along 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley or Facebook.com/ivan.foley, where there is no concern about what is politically beneficial)


SOME THOUGHTS ON THE MURDER INVESTIGATION IN PLATTE COUNTY

Posted 1/13/12

After months of unsettled emotions and feelings of frustration in the community, a sigh of relief could be heard around Platte County over the weekend as an arrest was made in the recent horrific murder of a young Platte City girl and the brutal slicing with a razor blade of a young Ferrelview woman. Two extremely violent crimes. One suspect.

The suspect, Quintin O’Dell, 22, of Platte City, was a co-worker of murder victim Alissa Shippert at the Casey’s General Store in Platte City. Shippert was a clerk there, O’Dell made pizzas there, sources tell me.

As a co-worker, it is safe to assume that O’Dell would have been talked to early on by investigators. As he remained free to roam streets and prepare your pizzas at Platte City's Business of the Year, we can only assume that nothing learned in that early interview led investigators to directly target O’Dell as a serious suspect.

From all information I’ve been able to ascertain, no heavy leaning upon O’Dell had taken place from the time Shippert’s body was found on June 1 through the day after Christmas. On Dec. 26, the boyfriend of the stabbing victim at Ferrelview told investigators that O’Dell had been alone with the victim as the boyfriend was communicating with her by phone and text. Investigators, naturally, talked with O’Dell on Dec. 26. He remained free. On Friday, Dec. 30, the stabbing victim regained consciousness and was able to tell what she remembered about that night to investigators, including the fact she remembers passing out with only O’Dell present at the time.

Last Thursday, Jan. 5, the sheriff’s department told O’Dell they’d like to speak with him again. They sent a car to pick him up for a drive to the sheriff’s department. O’Dell was not under arrest at that time. He did not resist the ride for the interview. He did not have an attorney, and apparently did not request one.

At this point, it’s not clear through public information whether investigators were able to then tie O’Dell to the Shippert case or whether O’Dell started singing after realizing the evidence in the stabbing case was stacked against him. Comments made by the sheriff on Saturday indicate it was great work on the part of detectives that connected the dots. “Through dogged police work, our detectives were able to connect these two cases. Alissa Shippert’s murder remained front and center in the minds of the community, and it remained and will continue to remain on the front burner for our department until we finally bring the killer justice.”

At any rate, my recanting of the public facts as we known them at this point is done because I’m fully aware a portion of the community (see our letters to the editor section for one example) has the perception that this investigation lacked a sense of urgency, a lack of a ‘beating the bushes’ approach. There is a perception on the part of some that more direct leaning on ‘persons of interest’ might have led to an arrest earlier.

In their defense, law enforcement folks at this point now are limited in what they can say to defend themselves against that perception. At some point, after justice has been served in the case, perhaps those on the inside will give their line of defense against the public perception described above.

******

To toot our own horn a bit, The Landmark broke the story of the arrest and charges against Quintin O’Dell on Friday night on our web site and in our social media outlets.

The Landmark’s ability to confirm the details and report the breaking news came more than 12 hours before any other media outlet. The Landmark even had the suspect’s mug shot posted on Twitter, Facebook and our web site Friday night between 9:30 and 10 p.m. By the way, the mug shot of O’Dell that we posted on Twitter Friday night has been viewed 4,775 times as of this morning.

This isn’t a story that just falls into a media outlet’s lap. The ability to break a story of this magnitude comes through having developed well-placed sources over the years who trust you and you in turn trust them. It takes being willing and able to shake the bushes in a tireless fashion. To copy a term used by the sheriff, it takes ‘dogged’ journalistic work.

Embrace technology. If you’re only reading our print edition and not following us 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley, you’re often going to be a step behind.

******

Any other news and commentary this week seems a bit trivial in nature compared to the brutal murder/assault story, but I’ll offer just a few quick comments on some topics:

•Any debate over whether the wallaby should or shouldn’t be allowed to be housed inside Platte City’s city limits is ridiculous. Kansas City TV stations have played this up like there’s some kind of social injustice going on. Here’s the reality: there’s a place for exotic animals. Inside the city limits is not that place. Where would it stop? One exotic animal would lead to another, and another, and another, etc. Then you don't have a city. You have a drive-through zoo.

•Platte County commissioners back-tracked and fixed their budget crisis, but only temporarily. A long-term solution to funding law enforcement needs to be found. And if county commissioners Kathy Dusenbery and Jim Plunkett--a majority of the three-member board-- have no intention of reducing the amount of the half cent park tax, why then did the commission issue a press release outlining a stop order on community center construction projects last week? That’s either the sign of a political game or evidence of another flip-flop.

•The commission’s decision to give the sheriff even more than he requested is good in my opinion, but in doing so the commissioners have painted themselves in a corner. Plunkett in particular in the past has appeared to take delight in slashing every requested budget the sheriff makes. This year Plunkett apparently has seen the light and has said, ‘Hey sheriff, you deserve even more than what you’ve asked for.’ Now, it’s gonna be extremely hard for the commission in future years with a straight face to ever say “Hey, sheriff, you’re asking for too much.”

•Landmark columnist James Thomas this week says the county commission “had” to put the park tax back on the ballot at the half cent level to avoid losing money through the use tax. To quote a phrase made popular by Herman Cain, the problem with that analysis is that it is incorrect.

In order to avoid a loss of use tax revenue, what the commission ‘had’ to do was put a half cent sales tax of any type on the ballot. That entire half cent did not ‘have’ to be for parks. It should have been, at most, 1/4 cent for parks and 1/4 cent for law enforcement.

More on these topics in the coming weeks.

(You’re invited to be informed and entertained at the same time 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley and Facebook.com/ivan.foley)


MISGUIDED PRIORITIES CONTINUE TO PLAGUE COUNTY COMMISSIONERS

Posted 1/5/12

Platte County Sheriff Dick Anderson points out that the golf carts at the county-owned Shiloh Springs Golf Course near Platte City are better maintained than the fleet of vehicles in his department.

That’s sad. That’s damn sad. And it tells you how misguided then-county commissioners Betty Knight, Jim Plunkett and Kathy Dusenbery were for promoting a half cent sales tax for parks in 2009 at a time the economy was tanking and it was obvious the county was going to need to find a consistent way to fund basic functions of government.

In 2009, those commissioners put the half cent park tax on the ballot and promoted it. Even though they were well aware of it at the time, those commissioners didn’t talk to the public about the challenges the county would face in the near future, such as an unfunded federal mandate for narrowbanding radio equipment. They didn’t talk about the often-behind-the scenes budget battles they have each year with the sheriff, slicing and dicing the amount the lawman feels he needs to keep residents safe. No, the rainbow and butterfly supporting commissioners were too busy telling you how much this county needed more walking trails. More parks. More Olympic-sized swimming pools. More additions to successful community centers (these are actually government-funded fitness centers--what’s wrong with letting the private sector operate fitness centers? Why are taxpayers funding a business that should be handled by the private sector? I digress, but that’s a topic for a future column. You’ll want to stay tuned for that one, because it gets me riled).

It took the real threat of some significant budget cuts to their offices, but finally some of this county’s elected officeholders are telling you how they really feel about the misguided priority this county commission--and the county commission of the not too distant past--placed on frills like walking trails, swimming pools and fitness centers over public safety and other most basic services of government.

It’s a rhythm this Between the Lines drum has been publicly beating for years. Welcome to the party. We knew you were on board, but you bit your tongues. Why, I’m not quite sure. Anyway, it’s great to have your private feelings coming to public light in a big way.

We can talk closing the Annex at Platte Woods. We can talk replacing the nice lady who answered the phones at the county with an automated phone system. We can talk cutting back on the in-house mail system. We can talk eliminating an employee in the county’s human resources department. We can talk eliminating a position in the information technology department. These are good fiscally-conservative moves. That’s the good news. The bad news is that unless a long term solution is found, similar budget challenges are going to continue to hit the county each and every year.

The good news? The answer is right in front of us, and actually will include a tax decrease. That’s right, a tax decrease. The answer was proposed to county commissioners as far back as 2007 by the sheriff and the prosecutor but commissioners didn’t listen. Maybe they’ll listen now. Of course Knight is now gone, but her beloved, wildly overfunded parks department and its $82 million to $90 million half cent sales tax over the next 10 years remains. Meanwhile, Plunkett and Dusenbery remain in office. This is crucial timing for each of them, as both are up for election in 2012. And filing for candidates starts soon. The popular train of thought is that if Plunkett and Dusenbery don’t react to this budget situation in a responsible way, there are challengers waiting in the wings. That definitely seems the case for Dusenbery. It’s no secret that a fiscally-conservative candidate is itching to get in the first district race, especially if the lack of funding for public safety continues to be an issue.

The answer to the funding challenge for basic government services is one that has been talked about in general terms in this column space. Now, a couple of widely respected county officeholders--Prosecutor Eric Zahnd and Sheriff Dick Anderson--are taking the bull by the horns and leading the public charge with a specific proposal.

The answer to the financial challenge facing Platte County is to find a long term answer to the annual dilemma of how to find adequate funding for law enforcement, prosecution, and other basic government functions in this county? The specific proposal by Zahnd answers the question.

Zahnd is encouraging the county commission to do this: Take to the voters a proposal to rescind that half cent sales tax for parks and instead replace it with a lower tax--that’s right, lower tax--that would include 1/8th cent for parks and quarter cent for law enforcement.

Let’s do the math. That’s 3/8th cent. That’s less than the half cent taxpayers are paying now JUST FOR PARKS. This proposal makes so much common sense it will likely be rejected by sitting politicians. Common sense doesn’t always accompany the acts of politicians.

It’s very obvious now--even by some of the staunchest supporters of that half cent park tax--that $82-$90 million is way, way more than is needed over the next 10 years to maintain the county’s attractive park system. Commissioners and the county’s park director stay up late at night--and then dream when they do go to sleep--trying to find creative ways to spend this money. Remember, horse trails and kayak trails are in their 10 year plan. At a time when the sheriff is needing to cut deputies and the prosecutor is needing to cut an attorney to meet the budget the commission has handed to them, it is laughable that the parks department is able to give better maintenance to golf carts than the sheriff can to his cop cars. And it’s ridiculous that things such as kayak trials, mountain bike trails and Olympic-sized pools are able to be funded by the county parks department. What a joke.

So will the county commission react positively to Zahnd’s proposal? Not likely. Why? The best answer I can give you is pride. We’re all human. None of us likes to admit when we’re wrong. It’s painfully obvious Plunkett has an ego. Dusenbery does, too, though I’m not sure why. Plunkett in particular doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who is going to publicly admit he made a mistake supporting an $82 million tax for rainbows and butterflies. I asked Dusenbery if she would support Zahnd’s proposal. “It wouldn’t be my first choice,” she said. I asked Jason Brown, presiding commissioner, for his reaction to Zahnd’s proposal. “I don’t have a personal reaction to it,” Brown said after the meeting. During a break at Tuesday’s meeting, I asked Plunkett if he would support Zahnd’s proposal: “I’d have to have more facts to draw a conclusion.”

Thanks to Zahnd and Anderson, the long-term answer to the county’s budget challenge is now on the table for public debate. Let’s see how this plays out.

(See how discussion on all kinds of topics plays out 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

For earlier columns, click here