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Ivan's picture
Between the Lines

by Ivan Foley
Landmark editor

INSIDE THE COUNTY: A SITUATION MANY FIND WAY TOO COZY

Written 12/30/13

It’s my guess the revelation that one county employee is getting a pay raise this year--while the public indication had been that no employees were getting increases--won’t be well-received by county workers when The Landmark’s front page story is consumed.

The county commission, in what is the right move in a time when county revenues are stagnant, declined the recommendation by Kevin Robinson, county auditor, to give county workers a two percent salary increase across the board.

Over the weekend, I began work on a news story on the commission’s proposed budget. As I perused the proposed budget, I noticed the salary line in the human resources department had increased by nearly $2,700. So my initial move after getting to the office on Monday morning was to call Jason Brown, presiding commissioner, in hopes of getting an explanation. Our front page story tells you what’s going on. The worker under Mary Robinson, county HR director, is getting what looks to be a $2,700 pay increase. Her salary will rise from approximately $25,550 to $28,250.

Brown, in our phone conversation, recalled the worker’s current salary being $25,750 rather than the $25,550 I mention above. But the budget document indicates a $2,700 increase in the salary line, which seems to indicate the current salary is $200 less than what Brown is recalling. Our conversation occurred while he was driving, so let’s cut some slack.

Whether her current salary is $25,550 and going to $28,250, or $25,750 going up to either $28,250 or $28,450, any way you cut there’s no denying her pay raise in the proposed budget is at 10%. And any way you cut it, the HR worker is the only person in the government complex getting a salary increase.

How is this going to fly with other county workers? My guess is that this is going to go over like a lead balloon.

No other offices get increases in the salary line in the proposed budget. In fact, Joan Harms, county clerk, sees her staff salary line cut by more than $12,000.

This is the stuff potential mutinies are made of.

Brown told me he argued against the raise, but majority ruled. Duane Soper and Beverlee Roper, the two associate county commissioners, supported the raise.

“I argued against singling out an individual employee because we didn’t have enough money in the budget to give raises to all employees,” Brown told me when I reached him by phone just as we were going to press Monday. “This is bad managerial policy.”

******

While the raise will be going to one of her underlings and not to her, we can’t let the above topic slide by without pointing out once again that Mary Robinson, the county’s human resources director, is the wife of county auditor Kevin Robinson. Mrs. Robinson is under the direct employment and supervision of the county commission. Her husband, the elected auditor, is the one who makes budgetary recommendations in regard to salary lines for offices--including his wife’s HR department.

Then add in the fact that Soper, Roper and the Robinsons are personal friends--along with the county commission’s director of administration Dana Babcock--and what you have is a situation that is all too cozy for some.

The county commission really should not have under its direct employment the spouse of another officeholder. It’s just not good public business.

*******

Remember, the HR director/department is supposed to be the trusted place where any county employee can go for confidential advice and assistance in regard to any employment matter.

Under the situation described above, do you think there are any county employees confident in doing that?

******

Don’t be surprised if soon--maybe even by the time you read this--the Platte County Courthouse has been named in honor of former Platte County Circuit Court Judge Lee Hull. That’s the intent of the Platte County Commission.

Hull recently was forced to retire after reaching age 70, the state-mandated retirement age for circuit court level judges in Missouri.

On a one-item agenda for a session to be held Tuesday, the county commission will take up “an order establishing the official designation of certain county buildings.” That agenda item is the naming of the courthouse in honor of Hull. It’s quite an honor for Hull.

******

It’s quite an honor for Hull and an interesting move by the county commission. Naming a public building for someone who is still alive is sometimes met with quiet unrest, as was the case in some circles in the late 1990’s when a previous county commission made the Tom Thomas Law Enforcement Center designation at the then-new jail and sheriff’s department, in honor of the retired long-time sheriff.

No one, of course, stood on a public pedestal and shouted their opposition out of respect to Thomas and his many years of public service, but there was plenty of background chatter heard in local political circles at the time.

******

On behalf of Team White, I’d like to apologize to the sport of soccer for some of the unspeakable things we did to it Saturday night.

*****

Yes, as you’ll see on our front page, Team Blue--with a clear advantage in that they had a player who was more than vaguely familiar with the sport--defeated Team White 2-0 in the Comets Media Soccer Game.

That won’t diminish the fact that I had a great time. Player introductions were fun, because at least at that time it looked like we knew what we were doing. Sort of.
And I’m proud of those red shoes I purchased just for the occasion.

******

Should have known we were in trouble when they gave us white uniforms. Everybody knows you’re not supposed to wear white after Labor Day. With a fashion faux pas like that, I guess we deserved to lose, am I right?

******

You can watch a professional video of the contest--which lasts about 12 minutes--by entering Comets Media Game 2013 in the search box on YouTube. The audio doesn’t start until about 45 seconds in--but it does start--so don’t think there’s something wrong with your computer.

If you’re into watching your favorite media personalities awkwardly try to play a sport, this video is right up your alley.

(Between the Lines is right up your alley on Twitter @ivanfoley)

 


LOCAL PEEPS KEEPING SANTA
BUSY WITH REQUESTS;
MEDIA SOCCER GETS WHACKY

Written 12/23/13

Wishes of Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all readers and advertisers of The Landmark. We appreciate your friendship and patronage and hope you and yours have a great holiday season.

2014 will be another big year, as The Landmark will be celebrating its 150th year of continuous publication. Stick around for the ride.

******

It’s Dec. 23 and I’m a glass case of anxiety.

Nah, it has nothing to do with Santa’s expected arrival tomorrow night. Platte County’s 2014 proposed budget will be posted online any moment now.

It’s the little things that entertain me.

******

Again this week while the jolly old elf was looking the other way, Between the Lines was able to reach into Santa’s mail bag and grab letters from some of your local public figures.

Dear Santa
Please bring me another position that will keep me from voting on controversial stuff. Got anything that would get me out of voting on the budget?
--Duane Soper
County Commissioner

Dear Santa
Stop jackin’ my style. I’m the one who dishes out the candy and nuts and toys around here. Take one of my free calendars and get the hell out of here.
--Brian Nowotny
County Parks Director

Dear Santa
In lieu of gifts, could we just have the money? Really gonna NID it.
--Parkville Board of Aldermen

Dear Santa
Water. Lots of water.
--Vikings Youth Football Club

Dear Santa
I do so much online shopping at work I don’t need you anymore.

--Dana Babcock
County director of administration

Dear Santa
If you park that sleigh in Platte County we’ll be right out to appraise it. Merry Christmas.
--David Cox
County assessor

Dear Santa
Hey big guy, drop some gifts by the county commission meeting room.
It’ll sauna some of that weight off of you.

--Pat Daly
County facilities manager

Dear Santa
Coo coo ca choo.
--Mrs. Robinson
County HR director

******

Do you have plans for Saturday night? If not, there’s a place you can head for a laugh or two. Some Landmarkers will be attempting to play soccer. Your Landmark publisher, as well as your page 3 Rambling Moron columnist Chris Kamler, have both been invited to take part in the Media Game during the Missouri Comets professional soccer match at the Independence Events Center. The pros start at 7:35. The ugly stuff takes place at halftime.

This will be my second year of taking part in this highly spirited soccer circus among Kansas City’s favorite TV, radio and newspaper personalities.

It was a blast last year--well, I can say that now. I gotta admit for the first 30 seconds of the match I was somewhat awesome, you see, getting credited for an assist on the first goal of the contest. But after sprinting from mid-field down to the net to start the game, I was done. From that point, the action was going to have to come to me--I was in non-pursuit mode.

After the first 30 seconds, my main concern was simply to get through it without a coronary. It must have looked that way, too, as a young guy from 610 Sports immediately tossed me his water bottle at the intermission. Finally, about 20 minutes after the game ended, I felt like air had re-entered my lungs. It wasn’t until then that I felt confident I wasn’t going to die.

Sounds like I’m complaining, but obviously it was a good time or I wouldn’t be going back. The shooting of bull in the locker room with other KC media guys before and after the game was quite entertaining. Most are there to simply have a good time with it, but a few take it very seriously, which makes for an entertaining atmosphere. Just as importantly, officials were loose at enforcing the rules during the game, which is good because who really knows the rules of soccer anyway? Does soccer even have rules? In sixth grade recess in the mid 1970s--which by the way is the last time I had played soccer until last year’s game--it was anything goes. Involved in a scrum for the ball? You were likely to get backhanded in the nuts. And if you complained about the nutcracker, you were kicked to the sideline. Kinda like Rudolph getting booted from the reindeer games.

******

Anyway, I’m trying to decide on my wardrobe for this year’s match. Last year I sported a headband and knee high socks. Not sure if I can top that, but throw me a suggestion and we’ll see what happens.

If you’d like to come watch this fiasco, contact The Landmark and we’ll get you in at a discounted ticket price of $10.

Also, be sure to watch the next episode of the Rambling Morons podcast for behind-the-scenes shenanigans from the game.

(You can kick Ivan Foley at your convenience on Twitter @ivanfoley)

 


WE'VE INTERCEPTED SOME LETTERS TO SANTA CLAUS

Written 12/18/13

Before we get into the normal Between the Lines mode, I want to take a minute to offer sincere best wishes to Tina Zubeck, Platte County R-3 community relations coordinator, on her upcoming stem cell transplant. The announcement of her health challenge and impending retirement was made by the district this week.

Tina is a cancer survivor whose earlier treatments are believed to have led to her current bone marrow disorder and the need for the stem cell transplant using a donor’s cells.

Not surprisingly, cancer survivors form an emotional bond of sorts. I specifically remember and will always be grateful for Tina reaching out to me with information and words of advice and encouragement as I entered chemotherapy and radiation treatments for Hodgkins disease in 1998.

Kick the bone marrow disorder’s butt, Tina Zubeck. We know you will.

******

Wondering what The Landmark’s print schedule will be next week since it’s an awkward calendar year with Christmas falling on our normal press day? Yeah, me too.
As of now our plan--which is always subject to change--is to print our Dec. 25 issue on Monday, Dec. 23. That way Santa will have copies of The Landmark available to use as stocking stuffers for all you naughty boys and girls on Christmas Eve.

While the staff has been granted the day off on Christmas Eve, there may be something special going on in regard to Landmark subscriptions for a few hours that day, with your publisher playing the role of Journalistic Santa. Watch Twitter.com/ivanfoley and my Facebook page for details.

******

Break some rules this Christmas.

******

Your Landmarkers are a worldly bunch. Some awkward scenes from the Nelson Mandela memorial service are inspiring us in so many ways.

For starters, let’s talk selfies. There were many taking place at The Landmark’s Christmas party Friday night. Our crowd was obviously encouraged by President Obama’s participation in a selfie at the Mandela funeral. Because nothing says ‘this is a funeral’ quite like the President of the United States taking a selfie.

Many at The Landmark party--including our new lefty columnist Aimee Patton--posed for selfies with our Rambling Moron Chris Kamler and agreed to do interviews on camera, with our pal Brad Westmar serving as sign language interpreter.

Catch some flavor of The Landmark party--and some spoofing of Jack Harry’s denial of his ‘Gayhawks’ remark--in the newest episode of the Rambling Morons podcast ready for you at ramblingmorons.com

******

Have you been wondering how Nan (McManus) Johnston, Parkville alderman and presumed mayoral candidate, will be spending time over the holidays? The answer may come in reporter Alan McArthur’s front page story about the Downtown Master Plan. Johnston suggests the aldermen may need some more time to review the plan “since it is already the holiday season.”

“I would like more time to spend with this document,” Johnston said.

Not exactly Christmastime kinkiness.

******

Speaking of Parkville’s mayoral race, Dave Rittman attended The Landmark party Friday. He tells me he has decided he will not be running for mayor. Instead, he’ll be filing for an alderman position. And he expects to win. And if anyone files against him, he will crush them at the ballot box. Okay, I put those last words in his mouth, but you get the point. Rittman is going to be an alderman. Most elections at Parkville are decided before the filing period, when chummy potential candidates talk to one another and work out who is going to file and who isn’t. Because heaven forbid, we wouldn’t want any real competition.

That leaves Johnston in the race for mayor. Tom Hutsler, downtown property owner, has previously said if Rittman did not run for mayor that Hutsler would. We’ll keep you posted.

******

Between the Lines was able to intercept letters to Santa from several of your local public figures. It’s amazing how we were able to do this, but we can’t give away our secret. The letters to the Jolly Old Soul provide a little insight as to what is truly on the wish lists for some of the folks you read about in the local media.

Dear Santa

I wouldn’t mind a new set of golf clubs, Santa, if you can find the room in your budget (pro tip: get wildly optimistic with revenue projections). Also, maybe I could use a new calculator. I haven’t noticed any problems with my old one, but the guy at The Landmark thinks it is adding too much to the black and not enough to the red. Also, please bring raises to all county employees. If you don’t have enough for all employees, at least bring raises to the HR department.

So, I’ve asked for golf clubs, a calculator, and a raise for my wife. That’s five things. Don’t bother checking my math. I’m the auditor.
--Kevin Robinson
Platte County Auditor

 

Dear Santa
Would you be so kind as to bring my office a large case of White Out? Thank you, sweetie. God Bless America.
--Joan Harms
Platte County Clerk

 

Dear Santa
Please bring me the newest edition of Pandering Politicians for Dummies. I’ve dog-eared the hell out of the first edition.

Did I mention I’m an attorney? Did I mention I love to go kayaking? Well, I am and I do. When you’re not so busy, I’d love for you to slide your big bottom into a kayak with me at an expensive and unnecessary boat ramp.

Remember, Santa, Christmas isn’t a zero sum game. (Just between you and me, I have no idea what that phrase means. I just like to say it because it makes me sound like an economist or something. Am I cute or what?)
--Beverlee Roper
County Commissioner

 

(Twitter.com/ivanfoley. It’s a big red sack of toys.)


TAXPAYERS, BE ON ALERT
IN 2014; AND IT’S
CHRISTMAS PARTY TIME

Written 12/11/13

Another swing and a miss by the Platte County auditor.

Remember a few weeks ago when Kevin Robinson, the elected auditor, was busy promoting a two percent pay raise for county workers in 2014 and talking about his predictions of sales tax revenue growth for the county? When we questioned him on the topic, he said he was projecting sales tax revenue for the month of December 2013 would be up by four percent over what it was in December of 2012.

Well, the numbers are in, and they’re not close to what the auditor predicted. General sales tax revenue in Platte County actually went down by 1.6%--that’s a decrease, not an increase--in December of ’13 compared to December of ’12.

Oops.

******

For the year, general sales tax revenue for the county is up by 1.3 percent for 2013 compared to 2012. But use tax collections are down by 3.5%.

As pointed out here recently, the important number is the combined total of sales and use tax collections. That combined number came in down for the calendar year of 2013, down half a percent compared to 2012.

So simply stated, there is no growth--in fact a slight dip--in revenue for the county in 2013.

******

After reaching out to the county treasurer to acquire the above numbers on Wednesday morning, I called Jason Brown, presiding county commissioner, for his reaction. While the auditor is oddly projecting growth for 2014, requesting raises for employees and suggesting candy and nuts for everyone, the hard numbers are showing a revenue decline. So I wasn’t the least bit surprised at the reaction from the fiscally conservative presiding commissioner.

“This is not good news, but it's honest news and we'll need to adjust the 2014 budget accordingly,” Brown said.

I like the “it’s honest news” portion of that quote. That’s a nice way of saying the presiding commissioner has taken note of some of the overly optimistic projections and spending proposals made by the auditor.

******

You’ll recall in last week’s issue, we mentioned that the ‘everything is candy and nuts’ auditor-recommended budget predicts operating revenue at the county’s golf course will increase by 33% in 2014.

Robinson makes that projection despite the fact the golf course in 2013 posted its lowest revenue numbers in history. The auditor’s projection leaves most folks asking this question: What the hell, Kevin Robinson?

Apparently the auditor believes there is some kind of financial fairy in the air ready to sprinkle gold coins over the greens at Shiloh Springs.

******

I want to be in the room when Brown asks the auditor about that projection of operating revenue at the county golf course increasing by $173,000. That conversation has the potential to be quite entertaining.

******

Don’t look now, taxpayers, but you’ll need to be in watchdog mode in 2014. There are going to be attempts to gain further entry into your wallets.

Look what’s ahead. Park Hill School District is talking about putting a tax increase on the ballot in the spring. The Platte County R-3 School District is considering a tax increase question on the April ballot, also. And remember, county commissioners Duane Soper and Beverlee Roper mentioned in a public meeting last January that they will be looking toward an increase in the county’s property tax rate or a new sales tax (with Platte County already the highest in the KC metro area when it comes to sales tax rate) as a way to fund the county’s $10 million emergency radio infrastructure debt. And that’s not even considering the need--real or imagined--for improvements/additions at the Platte County Jail.

Of course, had Soper and Roper taken a deep breath and been open to the idea of rewriting the 3/8th cent road sales tax last spring to include a portion of the tax to go toward radio debt, that problem would be out of the way. Instead, they kicked that can further down the road.

This is no time to sit on the sideline. Pay attention to your elected officials in 2014. Now more than ever, you’re going to need to pressure them into making financially-sound decisions.

******

But enough depressing thoughts. This is Christmastime, for goodness sake. And that means The Landmark’s annual Christmas party, which is Friday at the Comfort Inn in Platte City. Come join us as the newspaper serves up some food, beverages, and fun from 4-8 p.m. No math or budgeting skills required.

The forecast for Friday calls for 37 degree temperatures, which should feel toasty compared to some of the temps we’ve already experienced this month. Come say hi to your favorite publisher/columnist/Santa; as well as Cindy Rinehart, our always multi-tasking office manager; ace journalist Valerie Verkamp, this market’s most intrepid reporter; Matthew Silber, the most talented--and tallest--cartoonist you’ll meet; our entertaining and insightful columnists, including Rambling Moron Chris Kamler (the notorious @TheFakeNed on Twitter and host of the Rambling Morons podcast); right-handers Brian Kubicki and James Thomas; and our lefty-swinging Obama supporter Aimee Patton.

You’ll also get a chance to meet and greet our noted photojournalist Bill Hankins and take a look at his newest book; talented sports photographer Doug Baldwin; all 6’5” of our private investigator/security expert Ron Rugen; and we’re hopeful our contributing reporters/photographers Stephanie Eaton, Deb Hammond and Mylissa Russell will be dropping in.

Of course it wouldn’t be a Landmark Christmas party without Victoria Lynn-Crook, our official dispenser of the drink/hairstylist to the stars.

Come say hello, enjoy a bite to eat, relax, have a good time.

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

 


THE BIGGEST WINNER REGARDING CHAPEL RIDGE; AND AUDITOR NEEDS REALITY CHECK

Written 12/4/13

So a trail project at Parkville is getting axed by a government entity for the sake of something of higher priority, like say, debt.

Somewhere a tear is slowly running down the cheek of Betty Knight, the queen of trails in Platte County.

Picture the old TV commercials with the Native American standing by the side of the road watching someone toss litter out the car window.

******

The newest Rambling Morons podcast with Chris Kamler and yours truly is now setting the Internet ablaze. Locals will want to check out this episode, as it captures some man-on-the-street interviews we did during Platte City’s holiday lighting ceremony.

There will be plenty of faces you’ll recognize.

Watch the episode by going here: http://bit.ly/18m3uPi

Of course, you can also find the video by checking the Twitter accounts @TheFakeNed and @ivanfoley, and by going to our Facebook pages. You can also find it by going to YouTube and searching Rambling Morons. This one is labeled Season 3, Episode 2.

Watch it before the Internet explodes.

******

We’ll be filming our next episode of Rambling Morons on Friday night at Parkville’s Christmas on the River celebration. Gonna try to get through it without freezing our jingle bells.

******

Say what you want about Jason Brown--and trust me, the folks in opposition to Chapel Ridge are saying plenty--but give the man credit for going out of his way to conduct a fair meeting on the zoning change appeal Monday during the county commission meeting.

Criticize Brown for voting the way he did (more analysis of all three commissioners on this issue in future columns) if you’d like, but what is not fair is to try to claim Brown fast-tracked the decision. His efforts in giving folks a chance to speak on the topic went above and beyond fair during five hours of painstaking discussion. Some speakers from the public were even given multiple shots at the microphone. It was getting to the point of ridiculousness, quite frankly, in how fair Brown was trying to be to let every voice be heard. Writers for Saturday Night Live could turn a speaker or two into a pretty funny parody, in fact.

Just because you don’t like the way he voted doesn’t mean he didn’t conduct a fair meeting.

******

A quick note or two about the planning and zoning development process in Platte County. It’s not appropriate to have a constantly changing set of rules and regulations on proposed developments. Give developers a target of rules, policies, guidelines and conditions that must be met. If those terms are met, move forward. Establish firm development regulations that limit negative impacts and live by them--and live with them. It’s not realistic or appropriate to just close the gate and not allow new residents and new development in Platte County.

Developers can’t be expected to throw darts at a moving target forever. It had reached the point that many builders would rather take their business to Clay County. That’s not good for the county tax base, and keep in mind, Platte County is going to need growth. The county has a couple of commissioners (Beverlee Roper and Duane Soper) who said publicly last January they are already in favor of increasing the county’s tax rate, either through the property tax levy or through a new sales tax.

Chapel Ridge neighbors have valid concerns, certainly, and did an outstanding job of getting their concerns heard, though those concerns were not always dealt with to their satisfaction. No system is perfect.

This is an oversimplification, of course, but there has to be a balance struck. If a development gets shot down every time a neighbor complains, the county tax base will never grow.

******

The biggest winner in the Chapel Ridge approval could turn out to be the City of Parkville. Chapel Ridge will sit outside the city limits, meaning the city will have no obligation to provide services, yet the city could substantially benefit from the influx of consumers locating not far outside its city limits. As you’ll notice in our front page story, Parkville has some financial challenges ahead of it, much of it due to some Neighborhood Improvement District debt that is staring the city in the face due to lack of development inside the NID near Hwy. 45 and I-435.

Significantly more rooftops in the area--which Chapel Ridge will bring--increases the chances that businesses will be attracted to that NID and help pay off that significant debt. And that would mean a better financial picture for the ity of Parkville and its taxpayers.

As things stand now, some folks with their eyes on the financial numbers inside of Parkville City Hall are getting nervous. And rightfully so.

******

Be sure to read accountant Gordon Cook’s letter to the editor about the county’s money-draining golf course. There are a couple of revealing paragraphs in there that really shine a spotlight once again on the silliness--or incompetence--on display by Kevin Robinson, county auditor.

Cook points out that 2013 projected revenues at Shiloh Springs, the county’s golf course, are at $536,000, the lowest in history. But Robinson doesn’t want to accept this financial reality. Robinson projects 2014 revenues at the golf course to be $709,000.

Say what?

Yes, Robinson projects golf course revenues to increase by $173,000 next year. Unless the golf course is going to open a Champagne Room with a stripper pole and exotic dancers, there is no chance in hell that happens. It’s hard to believe these shell games are being played by the auditor. But they are.

Why does Robinson obviously overstate projected revenues for the golf course? A couple of reasons for that, in my opinion. Number one, Robinson is an avid golfer who frequently takes to the links at Shiloh. He doesn’t want to close it. Shiloh is a conveniently located--and relatively private, due to lack of crowds--play area for him. He hopes his phony revenue projections will help calm the rising tide of folks who are of the belief the county should get out of the golf course business.

With an unrealistic projected revenue growth of $173,000, Robinson can show a projected operating loss of $87,000. As Cook points out, a more realistic revenue loss at Shiloh for 2014 will be $250,000. And that loss does not even include the $447,000 annual debt payment due for Shiloh in 2014. Add in the debt payment with the operating loss, and the county’s net loss at Shiloh in 2014 will be nearly $700,000.

Good grief. Stop the madness.

(Get a good kind of madness at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


SOMETIMES, YOU GOTTA BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

Written 11/26/13

Hey, I’m thrilled to let you know Chris Kamler asked me to be his co-host on this season’s Rambling Morons podcast. How could I turn down an opportunity like that? I couldn’t. The first of our 10 episodes hit the internet today (Tuesday). Go to ramblingmorons.com to check it out. And be sure to follow our Twitter and Facebook accounts for updates.

Chris’ vision is to make this thing a lower-budget version of The David Letterman Show. So far, we have mastered the lower budget part. Soon we’ll be nailing the rest. Our primary purpose is to have fun. Oh, and if we can make $10 or so along the way, that’s good too. To that end, Ted Heater and his CarSmart dealership jumped on board as the title sponsor.

Lots of folks have podcasts, but hey, nobody else has this one.

By the way, we’ll be filming a good portion of our next episode this Wednesday night during the Platte City Holiday Lighting Ceremony. It will include a ‘Peeps on the Street’ feature. So if we come walking up to you with video camera in hand, don’t be shy.

******

Be careful what you wish for.

For the first time, The Landmark will editorially address the circus that is the fiasco involving the Vikings--a youth football organization that uses a field owned by the city--and the city of Parkville

On Monday afternoon, a big guy with a booming voice made a lot of tough statements during a ridiculously epic rant--much of it, for some reason, aimed at this newspaper--in a meeting of the Parkville finance committee. Of course, we know everything the man had to say was very true and very accurate because he said these things in a very authoritative voice. I mean, anytime a big guy says something in an authoritative voice it is correct, am I right?

Not hardly. Not even softly. Alan Hoambrecker, the big guy associated with the youth football organization known as the Vikings, now comes across looking as silly as City Hall, where somebody has been asleep at the switch for a decade or more allowing the Vikings to enjoy free water at taxpayer expense.

You’ve probably followed this story. The Vikings use the city-owned field near the city’s sewer plant. Something strange started about a decade or so ago--the city is vague on details, because it’s tough to be on top of details when you’re, um, running a city. It seems a water line got connected to a metered line at the city’s sewer plant. And somebody started watering the football field. For years, water bills piled up during the four months or so out of the year the Vikings use the field. Taxpayers pay that bill. Problem is, there is no record of the powers-that-be at City Hall approving the connection. Former city employees who would have been in a position to know have also denied knowledge.

City Hall has been giving this topic some vague talk but it has been just that--vague talk. If the city has been keeping good records, the mystery of when this began and an idea of how many dollars are involved shouldn’t be hard to trace. But this mystery draws attention to the fact somebody at City Hall has not been minding the store, so some folks don’t seem anxious to thoroughly address it.

******

But back to Alan Hoambrecker and his misplaced rant. He claimed the newspaper’s coverage of the story was one-sided. “The newspaper shouldn’t even have written about this without getting our side of the story.”

Yo, Alan. A couple of things here. The biggest thing, Alan, is that we had been doing you and other current leaders of your organization a favor by not identifying you by name. You’re a businessman in the community--why would you want your name attached to this embarrassing fiasco? But most importantly, your club’s position had been clearly stated in this newspaper in our Nov. 13 issue. Here are just a couple key sentences: “Lauren Palmer, city administrator, said in recent discussions with Vikings representatives the club held that there is no knowledge or evidence that anyone affiliated with the Vikings actually connected the water line to the city’s metered service. Instead, Vikings officials speculate that a city employee may have actually been responsible for the connection.”

Yo Alan, did you miss that part of our coverage? See what we did there? We got your club’s position in the paper without having to drag your personal name into a situation that casts some doubt upon a cloudy situation.

******

But since his dramatic, Chris Christie-like performance on Monday sounded like a cry for attention, reporter Valerie Verkamp and I were more than happy to chase Hoambrecker down on his way out of the room. It was clear he had intimidated some city officials in the room. You know, because he’s not a small guy and he has an authoritative sounding voice. And let’s face it, some elected officials just aren’t accustomed to confrontation. This isn’t The Landmark’s first step into that arena. Heck, this happened at 12 noon. By that time Hoambrecker wasn’t even our first confrontation of the day.

So Valerie--all five foot zero and 95 pounds of her--started asking Hoambrecker some questions. Cuz you know, he wanted his side of the story told. And he wanted to clear his name--you know, the name that had never appeared in the paper. Valerie’s key questions--and Hoambrecker’s lame answers--are here:

Did you ever consider that maybe the city (and not the Vikings) was paying to irrigate the fields?

“Since I don’t take care of the bills, it was never on my radar.”

To be fair, Alan Hoambrecker, probably does not take care of the Vikings’ bills. That duty falls to the treasurer, who is, um, his wife, Janet Hoambrecker. The Landmark found this out via some research after the interview.

Did you ever even consider the possibility the city was paying the tab for the water? “I just never really thought about it. I know that sounds evasive, but it really isn’t. It was there before I ever got there. I guess it’s just an oversight.”

Alan. Oh, Alan. You were disappointed the newspaper didn’t reach out to you earlier so you could give us those quotes? Are you sure? You wanted to talk to the newspaper so you could make it clear you’re the head of an organization who never considers how much your organization pays (or in this case, does not pay) for one of its key commodities?

It’s kind of hard to believe that the leaders of the Vikings never have water costs, or non-costs, on their minds. In fact, we can call BS on that claim. While surfing the Vikings web site, we came across a funny thing. The Vikings, in addition to registration fees to players, request additional financial support from members of a Booster Club. That additional financial support is needed for a variety of reasons, the Vikings’ web site says, including to pay for items like--wait for it--watering the field.

Now that’s funny.

******

Truthfully, Alan, I enjoyed getting to hear your dramatic interpretation. Maybe you didn’t realize The Landmark was there, since the layout of the room had us partially hidden from your view. Maybe you did. Either way, I get the feeling the anger you expressed about the newspaper was actually anger created by aldermen due to their comments that had been reported exclusively in this newspaper. After all, if you truly felt the newspaper hadn’t given you a fair shake, why not call me when the story hit the streets three weeks ago? I think your rant at the newspaper was your way of trying to find a mutual enemy for your group and the city, so you boys and girls could then skip along hand-in-hand pretending to be happy with one another while negotiating a deal.

Unfortunately for you, your designated “mutual enemy” was sitting in the corner of the room ready to grant your wish for an interview. The rest is history.

(Between the Lines is live, late-breaking and occasionally investigative at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


QUIKTRIP PROPOSAL STILL COMETH; PLATTE COUNTY AUDITOR TRIES A SPIN MOVE

Written 11/20/13

All quiet on the southern front. Kind of.

The QuikTrip proposal to open a location in Parkville at the intersection of Hwy. 45 and Hwy. 9 is quiet but it isn’t going away.

“They’re still working. They’re working on coordinating the plans for the McDonald’s and the QuikTrip and addressing sewer, traffic, etc. They haven’t come back with a full application, but they are still moving forward. They’re trying to coordinate between two big corporations, so it’s taking a while. My expectation is they’ll have something in the next couple of months to bring forward,” Sean Ackerson, community development director for the City of Parkville, told me last week.

******

Still no hookers planned as part of QuikTrip’s development.

******

Opening weekend of firearms deer season wasn’t exactly a success for most hunters. Missouri Conservation Department officials say the opening weekend harvest was down 12 percent compared to last year, in part due to weather being warmer than normal and some extremely high winds. Bambi and friends are less active when the weather is warm or extremely windy.

******

I nearly harvested three deer with my Pontiac Grand Prix one night last week on Hwy. 273 between Platte City and Weston.

Be careful. It’s a jungle out there.

******

Readers, mark your calendars. The date and location for The Landmark’s annual open-to-the-public Christmas party has been established.

This year’s shindig will be Friday, Dec. 13 at the Comfort Inn in Platte City. We’ll start at 4 p.m. and end at 8 p.m. (allegedly).

The Landmark will treat attendees to food and beverages. Expect several Kansas City media personalities as special guests.

Of course you’ll be reading much more about this in the weeks ahead. This notice is just a warning shot so that you can clear your calendar of any family commitments or other ridiculous obligations you may have had for Dec. 13.

******

Well, it’s budget time at Platte County, which is always fun. At least it’s fun for the Between the Lines crowd because often the soap opera can be entertaining. It’s early in the budget process, with Platte County Auditor Kevin Robinson releasing his recommended budget for 2014 as a starting point for county commission discussions.

Robinson’s proposal--and this newspaper’s resulting interview with him--has already provided a bit of entertainment for me. Keep in mind I am easily entertained when politicians are caught in half truths and political speak. During the course of a 10-minute recorded interview with Robinson after Monday’s county commission session, I counted four to five instances of half truths, incorrect reciting of factual information that was available at his fingertips, or contradictory stances made and taken by our esteemed auditor.

Honestly, I can’t tell if the guy is intentionally misleading, just not very good at what he does, or his vision is obscured by the fact his head is often attached to the backside of two county commissioners. Whatever the case, it’s not harsh to say there is room for improvement in his office.

As space allows in future columns, I’ll detail a few of the ways the auditor stitched himself in a clownsuit during that interview. It was a dumpster fire.

******

Robinson must have realized how badly his responses to questions were being received. A few hours after the interview was completed, he sent me an email in which he tried to backtrack from and spin many of his earlier answers.

******

Example of half truths: Robinson says sales tax revenues this year in Platte County are up by 1.6%. While this is true, that’s only half the story. The rest of the story isn’t as pretty.

General sales tax collections are up by 1.6%, but county use tax collections are down by 4.5%. As you know, the county combines revenue from its general sales tax and its use tax collections into one big pot from which it funds general operations. To say sales tax collections are up by 1.6% is misleading. The combined revenue pot of sales tax and use tax collections--which is the bottom line--is down by nearly one percent compared to last year.

So, when the county auditor implies the county can easily afford to give 2% pay raises because county tax revenues are on the increase, he is being intellectually dishonest with the public.

******

This is the same auditor who has a backassward approach to the annual budget approval process every January, preferring not to summarize for the public what is in the budget with an accompanying message until after the budget has been approved by the commission. It can be debated whether his approach is legal. He says his advisors say it’s legal. The Missouri Press Association’s Sunshine Law attorney says it is not.

The court of common sense says Robinson’s approach is either intentionally deceptive or simply incompetent. Take your pick. His method defeats the purpose of the yearly budget message, since by the time his written summary is available to the public the document has already been passed by the commission. As we’ve said before, it’s like closing on a house before the inspections are down.

******

The county auditor recommends a two percent pay increase for employees in 2014.

The same county auditor is projecting a one percent increase in county tax revenues in 2014.

Quick, somebody do the math.

******

By the way, a two percent pay increase for county employees means a two percent increase in income for the Robinson household. Robinson’s wife, remember, is the county commission’s hired human resources director.

Anybody feeling conflicted here?

******

Paging Gordon Cook, accountant from Parkville.

Dear Gordon: Where do you stand in your consideration to run for county auditor in 2014?

Do it for your country. Or at least your county.

(Follow Foley at Twitter.com/ivanfoley and on Facebook and YouTube. It won’t save your country, but it might help you tolerate the pain)

 


THE BOWE SHOW COMES TO PLATTE COUNTY

Written 11/15/13

Another crazy week in the local news world. In other words, things are normal.

******

There are a whole lot of possible angles for commentary about the “Dwayne Bowe busted for speeding and marijuana in Riverside” news story, which one of my clever Twitter followers aptly tabbed the ‘speed ‘n’ weed’ story.

That thing went national faster than Bowe can run a fly pattern.

******

If you haven't yet, read our front page story on the Bowe arrest, complete with some interesting details included in the police report, by clicking here.

******

My guess is it would have been easy for the Riverside officer to look the other way once he found out the driver of the car he had stopped was the undefeated Chiefs’ “best” (and I use quotation marks because this hasn’t exactly been a bang up year for Bowe thus far) receiver.

The officer’s supervisor, Major Chris Skinrood of the Riverside Police Department, responded to that observation this way: “Everybody gets treated the same. That’s the way we do business.”

******

Still, I’m thinking the officer and some of his co-workers were enjoying the national buzz the Bowe arrest created. I was in the Riverside Police Department headquarters (beautiful facility, by the way) shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday and the big screen television mounted on the wall in the lobby was tuned to ESPN.

Was that because the small town police department was enjoying watching the coverage of this local arrest that went national? Or is the TV in the Riverside Police Department lobby always tuned to ESPN?

You make the call. I know which way I’m leaning.

******

Some zealous Chiefs fans were on Twitter “blaming” the cop for the incident, which is silly. Not only is it silly, it’s also the reason The Landmark, as of now anyway, is choosing not to identify the Riverside officer who made the arrest.

It’s understood that a good portion of society doesn’t view marijuana as a major threat to health, safety and welfare. We can argue all day whether marijuana should be legal or illegal. Fact is, it’s illegal, and until such time as that is changed, it’s impossible to justify criticizing a police officer for enforcing the law.

Possessing marijuana is illegal--everybody knows it’s illegal. And if you’re knowingly (allegedly) doing something illegal, it’s best not to do anything to draw attention to yourself, like say, going 48 in a 35 mph zone.

The blame for the incident doesn’t rest with the police officer.

******

Some of my favorite quotes from the police report:

Bowe asking the officer: ‘Is Sonic open?’

And the part where Bowe allegedly says it was probably his brother who put the alleged weed in Bowe’s bag is a rib tickler, too.

******

These are municipal charges, by the way. If you’re a longtime Between the Lines reader, you’ve heard my thoughts on municipal courts. Strange things often happen when cases are in municipal court. One of the most recent examples of that is the Platte County High School principal last year who was arrested for patronizing prostitution in a Platte County hotel last fall. There was all kinds of evidence, including a video. Still, the case was eventually dropped by the Kansas City municipal court prosecutor without explanation.

I’m not saying strange things happen in Riverside’s municipal court. I’m saying strange things happen in municipal courts in general.

*******

Obviously for Bowe, the damage is done. At this point it probably doesn’t greatly matter to him if something mysteriously happens to his municipal court case. The NFL is already on top of his arrest and drug possession charge. The scrutiny from the league is going to be more hurtful to him than any municipal court citation.

******

As you’ll see within our front page story, Bowe wasn’t far from home when pulled over by Riverside police. The Landmark has confirmed Bowe owns a home in Briarcliff, just across the county line in Clay County, not far outside of Riverside. He paid $1,050,000 for the home in June of this year.

The more you know.

******

Here’s what I’m guessing you can expect in the Chapel Ridge continuing saga. The developer will appeal the latest planning and zoning decision to deny his proposal to the county commission. If unsuccessful in his appeal, expect a lawsuit. Then when depositions get rolling, I want to be a fly on the wall, because I think some interesting situations and actions will be exposed.

Much more on this in future Between the Lines columns.

******

So the room temperature in the meeting room for the planning and zoning session was “very comfortable,” I’m told. That’s opposed to the September meeting, when attendees made emergency trips out for ice and water after somebody at the county didn’t get the thermostat set at an appropriate level in time for the meeting on a 100-degree day and the room temperature rose to 287 degrees.

I was a little worried about going Tuesday night, fearing I might not be appropriately dressed for the always unpredictable weather conditions inside the administration building.

“Dress in layers,” is the best advice you’ll get in advance of any meeting held there.

(Dress any way you like to get infotainment 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley, Facebook.com/ivan.foley, and on YouTube. Email ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


A PROFESSIONAL ADMINISTRATOR WOULD AID PLATTE COUNTY

Written 11/6/13

Remember, when you think things can’t get any worse, often you can be proven wrong.
Shoot, it even happens to your humble Between the Lines columnist. In the summer of 2012 I was convinced Beverlee Roper would be a better county commissioner than Kathy Dusenbery. We’re 10 months into the first year of her four-year term (man, does four years ever sound like a long time right now) and Roper’s performance has been a lot of things, but better than Dusenbery isn’t one of them.

******

Speaking of “if you think things can’t get any worse, often you can be proven wrong,” voters in Clay County recognized this on Tuesday and wisely shot down a proposed “constitution” form of government.

Clay County, as you know, has its share of dysfunction in county government (let’s be honest, the soap opera inside the Platte County Administration Building isn’t far behind), but the constitution proposal would only have made things worse.

The vote wasn’t even close. The proposal, which needed only a simple majority for passage, was supported by only 37 percent of the voters.

The proposed constitution would have given the county home rule, converted the three-member county commission into a seven-member council, and turned several elected offices into appointed positions. To me, this smells a lot like laying the groundwork for a political machine. By converting several positions that are now elected into positions that are appointed, the proposal would have effectively taken considerable power out of the hands of the voters.

I hope you read last week’s letter to the editor on this page from Ronald Thiewes, who is active in politics in Clay County. I met Ron in November of 2010 when the Clay County Pachyderms were apparently under the influence and asked me to be their guest speaker. In his letter in The Landmark last week, Thiewes spelled out some great reasons for Clay Countians to oppose the constitution proposal.

As Thiewes reported, the proposed constitution would have been interpreted with the presumption not in favor of the people but rather “powers under this Constitution shall be construed liberally in favor of the county.”

Wow. Kind of sends a chill down your spine. Like big government, much?

Thiewes also explained in his letter: “We Clay County voters will lose control over those who manage our county’s funds. Our right to elect the fiscal stewardship positions of assessor, collector, treasurer and auditor will be taken from (the voting citizens). Instead, politicians will select those who fill these vital positions.”

Thus, the political machine-building reference I mentioned above. If you believe in the idea of allowing voters to make important decisions in governing themselves, this constitution plan was a terrible idea.

On top of that, it was endorsed by the Kansas City Star’s editorial page writer, Yael Abouhalkah, the biggest lefty at a leftist publication. When Yael endorses a plan, circle the wagons because it’s a sign we have a disaster waiting to happen.

*******

Hopefully the ease with which this bad idea was kicked to the curb in Clay County will squash any talk of Platte County trying to head to a similar “constitution” proposal.
Platte County has some problems, certainly, but a lot of those could be solved--and a lot of the high school drama that permeates the administration building could be eliminated--if the county hired a professional administrator. And by professional I mean an administrator who has no political campaign ties, no habit of playing political games, and no allegiances to or personal friendships with county commissioners. I mean an administrator interested only in helping provide efficient government to the people, rather than being worried about protecting political futures of friends while trying to ruffle the feathers of perceived enemies within the administration building.

Just a thought.

******

Mistakes happen. Voters make mistakes. Sometimes in county elections, candidates who perhaps aren’t quite ready for primetime get elected because of party affiliation. In GOP-heavy Platte County, that means sometimes Republicans get elected over more experienced or qualified Democrats. Sometimes it means folks who aren’t really “Republicans” file as “Republicans” because they know it enhances their chances of winning.

Mistakes by officeholders happen. It’s up to voters to make any fixes they deem necessary at the next election by sharpening their choices. That’s a much better solution than tossing out the current form of government.

Remember, things can always get worse.

******

Remember in January when we told you in this column space the Platte County Commission held a budget hearing on an incomplete proposed budget document because the county auditor didn’t have the required “budget message” completed and included in the proposed document?

That wasn’t just my opinion. That was the opinion of a widely-respected Sunshine Law attorney for the Missouri Press Association. And the opinion of two former county auditors contacted by this newspaper, who shared that the budget message is designed to be--and always has been--included with the proposed budget document. Sure, the county’s legal counselor might publicly say otherwise, but the county’s legal counselor has been wrong before. Besides, what’s he gonna say? “Yeah, our auditor screwed up. Somebody could sue our pants off.”

It will be interesting to see if the county chooses that same backassward approach when it holds next year’s budget hearing in January. In addition to the possibility it could be legally challenged, failure to provide the budget message for the public to review in advance of the budget being approved is simply bad government and not in the public’s best interests. It’s like closing on a house before the inspections are done.
Something to keep an eye on.

(Keep an eye on The Landmark’s reality show at Twitter.com.ivanfoley, Facebook.com/ivan.foley and on YouTube)


BABCOCK'S CURRENT GIG TOO COZY TO RELINQUISH

Written 10/30/13

Will the Parkville Quik Trip have a special lane for golf carts?

******

Fog engulfed much of the region overnight Tuesday. Whenever we get heavy fog in late October, I’m reminded of a Chiefs’ game road trip that John Elliott--a local banking tycoon at the time who later became a Mr. Mom--and I made to Denver in late October 1997.

John and I spent a month in Denver one weekend. That was thanks to a butt-kicking the Broncos laid upon the Chiefs and some heavy fog that closed the Denver airport.
The trip was designed as a fly in Saturday, fly out Sunday after the game kind of thing.

Fog closed an airport or two. After debating whether to share a rental car with a couple fellow travelers who for all we knew may have been serial killers, John and I instead opted to spend an extra night or two in the Rockies. Somehow we went from Denver to Colorado Springs, riding in some kind of transport bus with an operator who was driving blind.

The unplanned extra day caused some wardrobe drama. Always mindful of cleanliness and wearing clothes with that ‘fresh from the dryer feeling,’ on the last night John suggested we exchange boxer shorts. I suggested we simply turn our own boxers inside out.

It was a trip for the ages--probably because it felt like ages getting back home.

Good times. Kind of.

******

Remember folks, if the Obamacare web site isn’t working properly for you, the administration says it is perfectly fine for you to sign up via telephone, carrier pigeon, pictogram, or cave painting.

******

You can sign up for an Obamacare family plan by installing one of those stick figure bumper stickers on the back of your minivan.

******

Though the game was a blowout, Chris Kamler and I had a great time on the broadcast of the Park Hill vs. Park Hill South football game last Friday night. The Panthers scored early and often, rolling to a 38-0 halftime lead and put it on cruise control in the second half. Mercifully, a running clock helped speed up the second half, though even that was slowed somewhat by an officiating crew that seemed fond of throwing yellow-colored laundry on the field.

Unless higher powers have destroyed the evidence or the digital copy has been seized by the NSA, our broadcast is still available for your viewing pleasure in the archives at 810varsity.com.

Enjoy it. Or at least tolerate it.

******

Since voters were sold a bill of goods, can taxpayers get a refund on the $64,000 Beverlee Roper is making as county commissioner?

******

So is Gordon Cook, an accountant who lives in Parkville who has made a name for himself with letters to the editor in this paper, really considering running against Platte County Auditor Kevin Robinson in 2014? Cook thus far is refusing to confirm or deny.

He did confirm that he dumps his own trash.

******

Speaking of rumored candidates, one of the latest names to hit the rumor mill is Dana Babcock, the county’s director of administration. A few weeks ago after a Between the Lines column item about potential county candidates in 2014, some folks inside the administration building were ringing my bell with the rumor circulating that Babcock is considering running for county clerk, a position held by Joan Harms.

So I called Babcock to inquire. Of course I had to leave a message because she insists on screening her calls by letting the first attempt go to voicemail. To her credit, she did return my call and a brief conversation ensued. After her initial response was to answer the question without really answering the question (thereby proving she is qualified to be a politician), I tried to get her to be more specific by rewording the question to this: So what are you saying?

“I’m saying I’m not running. I’m very happy with what I’m doing. Not interested,” was Babcock’s response.

So there you have it. And I’m not surprised that she’s not interested, but also feel comfortable in telling you I’m confident Babcock is flattered as heck that her name was being mentioned.

A couple of things here.

No. 1: I’m not sure DB has the tummy for a contested race. She prefers to be a background player. It’s obvious she fancies herself a political operative of sorts. She prefers throwing others out in front of the wolves while she gets to stay in the background and avoid taking direct hits.

No. 2: Babcock is making nearly $65,000 as the county’s director of administration. Why give up that position to run for county clerk against an incumbent, especially when the clerk’s job pays $65,755? She doesn’t wanna put her comfy gig on the line for an additional $750 per year. No sense risking that. After all, before she started tickling the ivories of the government payroll, Babcock was an active mom who gave piano lessons. After she worked on the campaign of Eric Zahnd for prosecutor in 2002, Zahnd gave her a job as victim’s advocate in his office. Then in 2004, Babcock worked on the campaign to get her neighbor/friend Jim Plunkett elected second district commissioner, which eventually led to her being hired as director of administration.

As long as her friends Duane Soper and Beverlee Roper are two of the three commissioners, Babcock knows she has job security in her role as puppet master over those two. It’s a fiscally safe move to stay where she is.

******

If the Platte County Administration Building were the setting for a Cinderella story, the roles of the stepsisters would be played by Dana Babcock and Mary Robinson. The role of Cinderella could be played by anyone else in the building.

******

Ready for Halloween? Chris Kamler and I are going as pieces of Landmark Eye Candy.

If a once a week helping isn’t enough, you can track Ivan Foley on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

 


APPARENTLY SOME
RESIDENTS DIDN’T
SEE THIS COMIN’

Written 10/23/13

Will somebody organize a community dodge ball tournament in Platte County? If so, I feel certain I could round up enough Landmarkers to sport a team.

You know you occasionally get the urge to throw things at our columnists, anyway. This would be your chance to take out some of that aggression.

******

In regard to some voiced opposition to the proposed Quik Trip at the intersection of Hwy. 45 and Hwy. 9 in Parkville, let me see if I understand this correctly: You purchased/built a home near the intersection of two state highways and didn’t anticipate that someday there might be a traffic-increasing commercial development go in there?

Alrighty then.

******

Well, the release form has been signed and a negotiated fee has been established. Now we’ll wait to see if The Landmark’s 30-second video of the demolition-gone-bad of the historic former Methodist Church building in downtown Platte City will be used by a production company for a show to be aired on the National Geographic channel. The company initially contacted us in July seeking permission to use the video, which shows a portion of the old brick church dramatically coming down on a house next door.

The production is a science and comedy show that explores the theories behind popular internet videos. This can be anything from ‘How do bulletproof vests work?’ to ‘Tree Felling’ or in the case of The Landmark’s video, ‘Demolition.’ The basic format is to show someone successfully completing the action and explore the science of how that actually works, then show a montage of clips of what happens when the science goes wrong--with very painful and sometimes comedic results. We’ll keep you posted on a date for the show to air, assuming they keep us posted.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you can watch The Landmark’s video by going to YouTube.com and entering ‘Ivan Foley’ in the search box.

******

This just in: The City of Platte City has named Jeff’s True Value Hardware its 2013 Business of the Year.

Uh, oh. Remember, this thing has turned out to be a precursor of misfortune for some previous winners, several of whom have had owners and/or employees end up in the court system not long after winning the award.

Early Wednesday morning, Mayor Frank Offutt was on his way to Jeff’s to inform him of the honor. Curious to see whether Jeff accepts or rejects.

******

At The Landmark, we’re pumped about this.

One of the most interesting high school football matchups of the season takes place this week when the Park Hill Trojans take on the Park Hill South Panthers. The two high schools from the Park Hill School District square off at Park Hill District Stadium Friday night, and we’ll have this thing covered like a blanket. You’ll be able to watch the game live and in color on The Landmark’s web site at plattecountylandmark.com, with our man Chris Kamler expertly handling the play-by-play call. I’ll be providing quirky color commentary. Chris has been doing a great job on the videocasts all season long, and this week has invited me to come on board to drop some knowledge. That means I’ll be speaking in very short sound bites.

My appearance on this webcast will make up for the lost years I unsuccessfully lobbied for airtime on Parkville’s now-defunct Channel 2.

Doug Baldwin, The Landmark’s outstanding sports photographer, will be on the sidelines shooting some stills for next week’s issue.

Should be a great time. We hope you can make it out to the game, but if not, watch our videocast on your computer or smartphone.

******

There remains some drama in regulating the temperature in the county commission meeting room. Remember in September when the big story was how it was 357 degrees in there for the planning and zoning meeting? That was the night patrons resorted to bringing in their own water and coolers in order to stay conscious. It was like an episode of Survivor.

That occurred on a 100 degree day. And with an estimated 200 or 250 in the room.
Well, last Friday it was raining and the outdoor temperature was in the 40s. But inside the county commission meeting room? Toasty. Toasted to a crisp for the commission’s 10 a.m. session.

Members of the crowd fanned themselves and removed as many layers of clothing as allowed by law. I kept my pants on, but did leave the room long enough to get a drink from the hallway water fountain and throw some cold water on my red-as-a-beet face. I glanced over at Robinson at one point and noticed his facial color had also reached the level of red alert.

The county commission carried on like everything was fine, as if the room temperature was exactly as it was supposed to be. Of course they can do that, knowing full well they have a self-proclaimed HVAC expert on staff.

******

Loyal Landmark reader Gordon Cook in our letters section this week points out the $60 million number I’ve been quoting when mentioning how much debt Platte County accumulated under Betty Knight’s watch is actually cutting Betty too much slack.
Cook, a certified public accountant, points out the county’s Knight in Debt-Ridden Armor actually took the county’s debt load all the way up to a peak of $80 million in 2005.

Whew. Credit to you, Be$$y Knight. I apologize for understating your ability to spend a dollar.

******

Someone needs to start a rumor that Gordon Cook is thinking of running for county auditor against Kevin Robinson.

Never mind. I think I just did.

******

Has anyone dumped Robinson’s trash yet?

******

The temperature dipped to 30 degrees overnight, folks. I hope you covered your tender vegetation.

And your outdoor plants.

(The publisher’s temperature is always just right at Twitter.com/ivanfoley, and if not, search for him on Facebook and YouTube)

 


SO LONG, CHANNEL 2, WE HARDLY KNEW YA

Written 10/16/13

As long-advocated in regard to a long-ridiculed topic in this column, the City of Parkville is cutting the cord, pulling the plug and kicking to the curb its expensive and ridiculous cable access station known as Channel 2.

I think they called it Channel 2 because that’s how many people watched it.

******

Let’s observe a moment of silence for Channel 2. Better yet, maybe a moment featuring a long, annoying, piercing sound. Now envision a television test pattern.
Thank you. Carry on.

******

The upcoming elimination of Channel 2 is probably causing separation anxiety for some city leaders. Ego was the only reason the city wanted its aldermen meetings televised into the homes of residents, right? It’s not like there had been a demanding public clamoring for those riveting meetings to be broadcast live and in color on the big screen. Somebody at City Hall just liked to see their mug on the tube. It probably made the wife and kids proud that daddy was a TV star.

Anyway, I’m glad we’ve all decided to grow up and are humbling ourselves. The decision to switch from broadcasting meetings live on cable TV to simply livestreaming the meetings on the city’s web site will save at least $23,000.

So now, instead of hundreds of people not watching the meetings on their television there will be hundreds of people not watching the meetings on their computers. Parkville residents twice a month will still be paying no attention to that man behind the curtain. And taxpayers get to save $23,000. Color me ecstatic.

This is one of the best decisions to come out of City Hall in quite some time. Now if aldermen would only admit a town the size of Parkville doesn’t need four hired staff members making more than $80,000 a year.

But I’m asking a lot there. Baby step this thing.

For now, let’s spike the football and do a celebration dance.

******

It’s the time of year those annoying boxelder bugs try to make a comeback. You know the little pests I’m talking about. They’re sometimes called Democrat bugs, apparently because they come out in swarms in October right before election time and vote using names of dead people.

Some boxelder bugs formed a flash mob outside my window over the weekend. I ventured to the garage to mix a helpful liquid agent, then quickly returned and opened fire with a handheld sprayer. It was a successful form of chemical warfare, without causing international tension.

I purposely let one of the bugs go free, yelling at him: “Now go tell all your friends!”

That should do it.

******

Guarantee you my Democrat bugs are checking to see if chemical poisoning is covered by Obamacare.

******

You may have noticed that Beverlee Roper, first district commissioner, was a no-show when the Platte County Salary Commission met to vote on whether or not officeholder positions should be given salary increases and/or cost of living allowances. Roper had been at an event in the county earlier in the day, so she was in the loop and active the day of the meeting, she just failed to show at the administration building in time to take part in the session.

How convenient.

Somebody didn’t want to go on record on that topic.

******

In fairness, Joan Harms, county clerk, was also absent at the salary commission meeting. However, Harms’ track record on officeholder salaries has been clear. She has spoken out against any pay increases for the elected positions, and in fact there are reports that behind the scenes Harms has talked about starting a push to have the salaries of officeholders cut. Harms was reported to be sick the day of the salary commission meeting. I noticed a few days later at the county commission meeting she was fighting a nasty cough, so I don’t doubt she was under the weather on salary commission day.

Still, if you’re dedicated to a cause, you climb out of bed long enough to withstand a 30 minute meeting and cast your important vote.

At least that’s how it works in the private world. In the world of government, you simply pull the covers over your head and go back to sleep.

******

Hey, did you realize Platte County still has $16 million in bonding authority remaining from the original 2003 road tax? Yes, in 2003 voters approved $45 million of bonding authority along with the original road tax. Of that, $29 million was used. The other $16 million has remained out there on what is in effect an authorized credit card just waiting for the county to spend.

What, you didn’t know? Don’t beat yourself up over it, nobody at the county knew it either. You can bet former Platte County Presiding Commissioner Betty Knight, queen of the county’s $60 million debt load, didn’t realize it or she would have found a way to spend $16 million on a project to which she could have attached another plaque with her name on it before she left office.

You can bet current commissioners Duane Soper and Beverlee Roper sure as heck didn’t realize it. Soper and Roper, remember, pushed for renewal of the 3/8th cent road tax this year and with it pushed for another $20 million of general obligation bonding authority. What this means is that Roper and Soper asked voters to approve another $20 million of road bond credit when the county already had a $16 million road bond credit card in its wallet.

Wait, who’s minding the store?

Anyway, commissioners this week advised their bond counselor to begin the process of closing that still-open $16 million in bonding authority. In addition, Jason Brown, presiding commissioner, has urged the bond counselor to review all previous bonding issuances (this would include park tax bonding, administration building bonding, jail tax bonding, etc.) to make sure there isn’t any other bonding authority that should/could be retired.

I asked Brown about it this week.

“We need to check to see if there is any additional bonding authority hanging out there that some mischievous present or future county commission could do something with,” he said.

Yes, cut up those credit cards. Please and thank you.

(Follow the adventures of The Landmark 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley. Also find him on Facebook and YouTube. Please and thank you)

 


SWING AND A MISS:
QUIK TRIP HERE,
PROSTITUTES ABSENT

Written 10/9/13

You’ll see on our front page that Quik Trip is proposing to come to Parkville, at the busy intersection of Hwy. 45 and Hwy. 9. Frankly, I’m surprised it took this long.

******

Anytime I hear that Quik Trip is proposing to open a new location, I think back to the days when the QT was first presenting plans to build what has become its wildly popular and successful store in Platte City. It was the late 1980’s, maybe the very early 90’s (my Between the Lines research team right now is working to get you the exact year--but the exact year really isn’t important to the story I’m about to tell).

The QT proposal was unsettling to some in town. I didn’t really understand the fear at the time, in fact I gently ridiculed that fear back then. As it turns out, QT in Platte City has become a great thing, being a revenue generator for the city in some ways through sales tax collections on inside sales (remember, gasoline sales taxes are distributed to cities based on population, not on the number of gallons sold within the city) and simply giving interstate travelers another reason to pull into the city. Anytime you have travelers pulling into your city, of course, there’s the chance they’re going to spend some money while they’re here, whether it be at the QT or any other local business.

Anyway, some longtime Platte City residents may recall Quik Trip’s plans to build here were not met with unanimous support among the populace. An area newspaper publisher at the time (he is no longer in this market) penned editorials urging city fathers to fight the proposal, claiming a Quik Trip would bring rampant prostitution to this fair city. In addition, the late Donald Haugland, the owner of Sonny Hill Motors--and this was back in the day when everyone thought Sonny Hill Motors was a wildly successful enterprise, though later we would find out he was actually slowly drowning in a debt load up to his eyeballs--took it a step or two further. Haugland and his top representatives sat in a packed City Hall meeting room one night, telling the crowd a Quik Trip would not only mean open prostitution on site but also lead to the opening of local massage parlors, local houses of ill repute, and lead to an outbreak of AIDS in the community.

Yes, he said that. I was covering the meeting that night at City Hall. Heard it with my own ears. Sonny Hill (Haugland) was a very interesting character. But I digress. That’s a topic for a future column.

Others hinted that truckers would venture a little further down Hwy. 92 to the local high school and try to peek in the windows of the girls locker room (would that have even been possible? Did the locker rooms have windows to the outside?). Reality is, drivers of 18-wheelers don’t typically pull into towns to get to know the area or creep the local high school. Their mission most often is to get in and get out as quickly as possible. If you leave them alone, they leave you alone.

Yes, according to some, back then a Quik Trip opening in Platte City would mean the end of a clean-living civilization as we knew it.

Despite the fear mongering, Quik Trip’s project in Platte City was approved. The local store is one of--if not the--most profitable Quik Trips in the region.

And there are no reports of prostitution in the parking lot dotting the local police blotter.
Platte City officials, in fact, should be doing whatever it takes to keep Quik Trip happy.

******

“Hey, where are all the hookers we were promised?”--a local college-aged kid said to me in mock disappointment a couple years after QT had opened in Platte City, obviously poking fun at that former newspaper publisher’s editorials.

******

The only danger I’ve seen from the presence of Quik Trip in Platte City is the traffic danger within their own parking lot. The place is so busy you better have your head on a swivel when driving or walking through their lot.

******

Platte County elected officials won’t be getting increases in salary anytime soon. You’ll find all the details on this in our front page story about the Platte County Salary Commission meeting.

Bottom line: Only two officials during that meeting expressed a desire for more money for their elected positions: Mark Owen, sheriff; and Kevin Robinson, auditor.

Owen’s stance doesn’t surprise me. It was the same speech made by his predecessor, Richard Anderson, at every salary commission meeting. His view is that elected officials are underpaid and Platte County better step it up or good people will quit running for office.

I’m not buying it. We haven’t really had a shortage of candidates. Sure, Owen ran unopposed for sheriff, but I think that was more out of respect from some of his colleagues rather than a general feeling of “I’m not running because the job doesn’t pay enough.”

As for Robinson, his position on pay raises may surprise some folks. By the way, he is a likable guy and is always cooperative and helpful when we ask for public information. Some folks believe--incorrectly, in my opinion--that the auditor is a small government type. From my experience, he has never really put off a fiscally-conservative vibe. This is the guy who thinks it’s a travesty, for instance, to ask officeholders to be responsible for cleaning their own offices. He would rather the county have plenty of housekeepers on the payroll so officeholders aren’t asked to dump their own trash cans. Oh, the humanity.

With Robinson pulling in $65,755 in his elected position, and his wife earning $61,697 as the county’s hired human resources director, it’s probably not a good look for him to be publicly asking for more. I’m not sure his stance will play well in the court of public opinion.

But maybe that’s just me.

(Get The Landmark news, sports and fun 24/7 by following @ivanfoley on Twitter)

 


TIME FOR A NOTEBOOK
DUMP; AND A NEW
PROPOSAL FOR CHAPEL RIDGE

Written 10/2/13

It’s one of those weeks to do a notebook dump. If you don’t know what that means, keep reading.

Yes, friends, the government might be closed but Between the Lines rolls on.

******

Since the federal government is shut down it means we have to spy on ourselves.

******

Obama says we’re not one, but just to be safe I bought some Banana Republic boxer shorts over the weekend.

******

So Platte County employees held a chili cook-off on Friday around lunch time. Not sure it was a hit with everybody. A county worker came strolling into The Landmark office mid-afternoon that day.

“I needed to get out for a walk. I ate the chili for lunch. I need to either puke or crap my pants,” he said.

******

A high of 60 degrees is being predicted for Sunday. Gimme some of that.

******

Breaking news alert: It’s Wednesday morning and I just got off the Between the Lines Bat Phone with developer Brian Mertz. The breaking news is that Mertz told me he is retooling his Chapel Ridge project and coming back with a new proposal for the Platte County Planning and Zoning Commission to hear in November.

Chapel Ridge, for those not yet familiar, is (or at least it was in its first life) a proposed 379 single family home development that would be located near Union Chapel Elementary School at the northwest corner of Hwys. 45 and K near Parkville.

“We’re going to work on it today,” Mertz said while telling me some of the changes in the new plan, adding that the deadline to submit an application to get on the November planning and zoning agenda is Oct. 9.

So what will be different about this new proposal? “We’re making some of the lots bigger. We’re adding some buffer space,” he said.

The number of homes in the new proposal will be about 10-15 fewer than in the plan that was turned down by the P&Z board in September. Also, Mertz said he has been having meetings with MoDOT on traffic issues. He said the new plan will do away with one of the 76th St. entrances to the proposed development.

So does Mertz believe the new proposal will quiet some of the neighborhood opposition? “Not at all. That’s not possible,” he said matter-of-factly.

Reiterating what he said last week, Mertz then explained Chapel Ridge is too expensive of a project to make considerably less dense. “It’s not cheap to develop. It’s tight now. We’ll never get to one or two-acre-sized lots.”

******

Reports from inside the administration building indicate that if the Chapel Ridge proposal ever comes in front of the Platte County Commission for a vote, Duane Soper, second district commissioner, intends to recuse himself. Soper is a builder by trade, but that’s not the reason he wouldn’t be voting on Chapel Ridge. Instead, the potential conflict comes from the fact Soper sits on the board of directors for Wells Bank. Soper indicated, without giving away too much inside-the-bank info, that the Chapel Ridge developer is/would be a Wells Bank client.

Other than budget matters, decisions involving development proposals are probably the most important and difficult for a county commissioner to make. Is it good to have a commissioner who cannot chime in on these important matters? No. There are only three county commissioners, eliminating one of them on a controversial housing development that comes up for a vote is not exactly ideal representative governing.

But obviously if he has the possibility of financially benefitting from Chapel Ridge, recusing himself is the right thing for Soper to do. Hopefully this is a conflict that won’t come up often for Soper. The fact to be stressed is that he is abstaining based on the Wells Bank connection and not on the fact he is a builder. Soper said he sought an opinion from an attorney with the Missouri Association of Counties in making the decision to stay away from the Chapel Ridge matter should it eventually come before the county commission.

******

We’ve had some fun with this topic, but in all seriousness, what happened to the Beverlee Roper voters were led to believe was being elected as first district county commissioner last year?

You know, the one who stood up in a debate and said the county should be run on a “cash basis.” As I recall, that comment drew a standing ovation from many of the folks at the Roper-Kathy Dusenbery debate hosted by the Platte County Pachyderm Club in July 2012. The only problem--and it’s a big one--is that she hasn’t lived up to that pledge. She promoted a ballot question in April that authorized the county to incur up to another $20 million of debt and later, after the successful road tax election, indicated to the county’s financial consultants that the county intends to start issuing bonds in 2014 to pay for road projects.

At the same debate, Roper spoke in detail of how she would keep a very public eye on park tax expenditures, including seeing to it that a report on every park tax expenditure would be furnished to The Landmark on a monthly or quarterly basis for publication. I told her this newspaper, as a public service, would print that report at no charge to the county. After winning the election, she has never produced such a report or even mentioned the topic.

I’m sure Roper is a good person. I simply doubt she is ever going to be a particularly strong or effective elected official. I don’t think it’s in her DNA. So far there has been a whole lot of bluster, a whole lot of fluff, but not a lot of substance to her game.

Trying to please everybody often ends with nobody being pleased. That seems to be where this is headed.

(You can head to Twitter.com/ivanfoley 24/7 for unfiltered news, commentary, and infotainment)

 


CANDIDATE RECRUITING
EFFORT SEEMS
TO BE IN FULL SWING

Written 9/25/13

Hey, so now there will be no $8,000 hurried special election at Parkville.

Maybe there is hope for fiscal responsibility after all.

Ah, let’s not get carried away.

******

According to Between the Lines tipsters in a position to know, chatter circling in the local political world over the past several weeks is that Betty Knight, former presiding commissioner for Platte County, is engaged in a search to find a candidate to run against Jason Brown, current presiding commissioner, in his expected reelection bid next year.

The chatter is that Knight’s first plan was to encourage Beverlee Roper, current first district commissioner, to run against Brown, but that plan has been crap-canned now that Roper’s first months in office have become a Shakespearean tragedy.

Roper talked the fiscally conservative talk in her campaign but in no way has walked a fiscally conservative walk. It would take a conservative--or someone who has never held office and therefore doesn’t have a record of spending to defend--to have any kind of shot against Brown. Right now, Roper couldn’t win a district-wide rematch against former first district commissioner Kathy Dusenbery, let alone have any shot at defeating the well-funded, strongly supported, war hero Brown in a countywide race.

So Knight has expanded her search. Is she getting any takers? Some insiders say Michael Short, former first district commissioner, was approached but expressed that he has no interest in running for the post.

Another name that has come up is Jim Plunkett, former second district county commissioner. “Not at this time,” said Plunkett when I reached him by phone Wednesday morning. “If you’re hearing my name, that is not accurate.”

A few other names making the rumor mill as potential candidates for presiding commissioner include recently retired Platte County Circuit Court Judge Lee Hull (I could be wrong, but I have my doubts that Hull wants to get that political--serving on the bench and handing out one-way orders is drastically different than serving in a position where fire and brimstone are consistently returned) and Steve Wegner, another former second district commissioner. Wegner didn’t say yes but didn’t say no in a recent conversation with your inquiring Between the Lines columnist.

And finally, Betty Knight’s name is making the rounds, though this is another one that I would cast doubt upon. My guess is Knight feels more comfortable recruiting someone to throw into the fire rather than putting her own legacy--and her accomplishment of taking the county from $1 million of debt to $60 million of debt--on the line in what could be a no-holds barred campaign.

Maybe Betty is molding a future opponent for Brown at her candidate “Boot Camp With Betty” course she’s conducting through UMKC.

******

With JRay’s Restaurant and Bar now closed, where will the Platte County administrative staff’s covert meetings be held?

******

Will the developers of the proposed Chapel Ridge project, a high density residential housing proposal that would be located near Union Chapel Elementary School at the northwest corner of Hwys. 45 and K not far from Parkville, be appealing the project’s recent denial made by the Platte County Planning and Zoning Commission?

The developer, as you know, has the option to appeal the P&Z ruling to the Platte County Commission, in whose hands a final decisions rests.

“I don’t know. We’re still kind of sifting through the information and looking at things,” Brian Mertz, developer for the proposal, told me when I reached him this week. The earliest the county commission could hear an appeal would be Oct. 7, but Mertz said that’s not likely. “I don’t think we’re going to do that (appeal in time to be heard on Oct 7).

Mertz didn’t directly say this, but it is known the developer and/or his representatives have been meeting with county planning and zoning staff in an effort to look at re-thinking what they have in the plan and possibly changing things up a bit. Mertz indicated in our conversation, however, there isn’t a lot of room for changes.

“Options are to scratch it or retool it somewhat. We don’t have a clear path on that right now,” he said.

I asked if a potential change would be to reduce the density of the proposal. “It’s too expensive of a project to make less dense. It’s not a cheap project. If it was that easy I would have done that. I’ve been looking at some ways to reduce it a little bit, but we’ll never get to one acre or two acre lots (or whatever size the opposition is screaming for). We’ll never get to that point.”

Mertz is frustrated at the process. “I presented a county staff- approved plan with all their comments and got shot down 6-0. To put your plan out there and make all the changes the (county planning staff) wanted and then get shot down. . .”

We’ll keep you posted.

******

If Mertz does appeal the Chapel Ridge decision, I hope his case isn’t heard until cooler weather hits. You know, for the sake of the room temperature.

******

The Platte County Commission meeting room: First World problems heard in Third World conditions.

******

Maybe what happens in a banana republic should stay in a banana republic.

(Go bananas and monkey around 24/7 by following your Landmarkers on Twitter: @ivanfoley, @thefakened, @bkparallax and @greghall24)

 


PICCO IS ONE OF A KIND;
AND WHAT DOES THAT
JAIL STUDY SHOW?

Written 9/18/13

If you’ve been to downtown Platte City recently, you may have noticed a few weeks ago I placed a handmade 4 ft. x 3 ft. wooden KC Chiefs’ arrowhead logo in the front window of The Landmark. The Chiefs haven’t lost a game since.

You’re welcome, Chiefs Nation.

******

By the way, remember about a month ago when we gave readers the opportunity to predict which Landmark staffer will win our Pigskin Picks contest this year?

Thanks to all those who entered. Here’s the sad part: Nobody thinks I will win it. None of you. Zero. None. Not one of you, with a shot at winning a free three year subscription, chose me as your guess. This despite the fact I warned you that I feel like my picks will go nuclear this season.

Anyway, just as I started to feel sad and a lonely tear started to slowly roll down my puffy cheek, I realized another thing: none of you picked Greg Hall, either. That’s right, all the guesses are divided among Brian Kubicki, Kurt Foley and even Chris Kamler (Chris??!!! Come on, were you not paying attention last year??).

So if you’ll check out the Pigskin Picks on page B-2 of this issue you’ll notice I went 13-3. Oh ye of little faith.

Going nuclear. Or something.

******

A buzz was created around Parkville one day last week when folks were sure Marc Sportsman was about to announce that he’ll run for mayor in the spring. The buzz began after an invitation went out in regard to a party Sportsman and his wife are hosting at the American Legion in Parkville next month. People who hang in Parkville’s political circles seemed sure this was an indication Sportsman was using the event as a kickoff to a campaign for the office that Jim Brooks has said he will be vacating.

Not so, those close to Sportsman are saying. Word is the party being thrown by Sportsman is not connected to any future political campaign.

If so, that leaves Dave Rittman, former alderman, free to pursue the mayor’s chair. Indication was Rittman and Sportsman are tight and most believe Rittman would not run if Sportsman was in the race.

Rittman sounded like a man who wanted a clear path to the office if he ran when we spoke recently. Not sure that’s going to happen. Some folks are convinced Nan McManus, current alderman, will look hard at running for mayor again. She lost to Brooks by only 37 votes in 2012.

Of course all the posturing and conjecture is just posturing and conjecture. Filing for the municipal races doesn’t begin until December, which in politics is still a lifetime away.

******

Platte Countians, if you ever run into David Picco of southern Platte County, thank him for his longtime service on the Platte County Planning and Zoning Commission.

It’s one of those thankless jobs that would be easy to fake your way through. Something just to put on your resume so you can at least sound like you’re somebody important while not actually putting much thought or effort into the position. You know, like being a school board member is for a lot of folks.

But thankfully, that’s not the way Picco approaches his job. This guy does his homework, knows pertinent history on development proposals, visits the area of every important proposal, knows the ins and the outs of the county’s land use plan, and knows the various zoning codes like the back of his hand. To say he does his homework is an understatement.

It’s a joy to watch him in action on those rare occasions a planning and zoning meeting becomes newsworthy. Like last week during the Chapel Ridge hot box. Picco at one point was peppering Daniel Erickson, the county’s paid planning and zoning director, with a line of questioning that basically dressed Erickson in a clown suit and seemed to have the director sweating bullets--and not just because it was 187 degrees in the meeting room.

We may not always come down on the same side of every issue but I respect the heck out of Picco and the commendable work he has done for the people of Platte County, most of whom don’t even know he exists.

******

Remember that study being performed on the Platte County Jail? It’s done, well, kinda. Not really.

“There has been no formal report yet,” Cpt. Erick Holland told me recently. But, and this is important information, Holland said it’s his understanding the study shows the county will need 200-300 additional beds over the next 10-20 years, based on expected population growth.

Is that 200-300 additional or a total of 200-300? The county jail has 154 beds now.

"It’s my understanding that’s 200-300 in addition to what we already have,” Holland answered.

The firm doing the facility study, as well as the cooperating architectural firm, “have been given instructions to come back with different structural options which of course will determine what the price will be,” Holland said.

So what kind of price might the county and its taxpayers be facing? Impossible to nail down just yet, of course, but some of the early whispers are that if the county simply looked to double its current capacity from roughly 150 to 300 or so, the cost might be in the neighborhood of $6 million.

“Any cost at this point is too speculative,” Holland says. “No price tag has been put out yet. It’s possible additions could be done in phases.”

As far as the current population of the jail, Holland says the county has consistently had more than 140 inmates over the past year and a half. The county does not do any “rent a cell” services for any federal jurisdictions like was the case back in the day. There may be a few occasions where the county “swaps” prisoners with another county for reasons of security, but there is no renting of jail cells to other agencies, Holland said.

******

High school football fans, remember to go to plattecountylandmark.com every Friday night to watch a live videocast of the Park Hill or Park Hill South game live from Park Hill District Stadium, with our man Chris Kamler on the call.

******

If you’re headed into downtown Platte City next Thursday night for the Ladies Night event (I’m sure the male gender is welcome, too), swing by The Landmark at 252 Main St. We’ll be open till 7:30 p.m. selling new subscriptions for only $20--and with it you’ll get four tickets to the Renaissance Festival, which is an $80 value in itself.

Boom.

(Stay updated and amused 24/7 by following all your Landmark personalities on Twitter, including @ivanfoley, @thefakened, @chriskamler, @greghall24 and @bkparallax)

 


COUNTY OFFICIALS SHOULD BE EMBARRASSED

Written 9/11/13

Memo to Platte County officials: That was ridiculous. That was embarrassing.

We’re lucky there were no fatalities.

I’m talking about the temperature of the county commission meeting room Tuesday night during the planning and zoning commission hearing, which everyone with a pulse knew was going to draw a large crowd with a controversial issue like Chapel Ridge and other proposals set to be heard that night.

Look, I fully realize the outside temperature was upper 90s maybe 100 degrees Tuesday. But as you’ll discover as we outline the facts for you over the next few paragraphs, that was no surprise and therefore no excuse.

The room wasn’t just warm. It was steaming. Many folks were sweating through their shirts. I don’t know how the important folks dressed in suits and ties survived. May as well have been holding this meeting outdoors, at least then maybe we could have caught an occasional breeze.

Nobody in a role of county administration thought ahead to begin a cooling down process of the room early that morning or even the night before?

Unforgivable.

Sheriff’s deputies providing security that night told our reporter the air conditioning in the meeting room was not kicked on until almost meeting time. Really? Unforgivable.

Members of the public in the standing room only crowd resorted to bringing in cases of water to give to their like-minded friends in order to avoid dehydration.

******

Pat Daly, director of facilities management, got very defensive on this topic when I interviewed him by phone Wednesday morning. The thing he was most adamant about is he wants the public to know that he is an HVAC expert with an engineering degree in HVAC. “I am an expert,” he emphasized. That’s a direct quote.

Hey, kudos to you, Pat Daly, for being an HVAC expert and having an HVAC engineering degree. But here’s a scientific fact for you: You can have all the engineering degrees you want, but if you don’t turn the thermostat down well in advance of a packed house you’re going to have a hot-ass room.

I’m not an HVAC expert and I don’t have an engineering degree, but in hot weather I’ll leave The Landmark’s AC running overnight at a lower than normal temperature on Tuesday nights. You know why? Because on Wednesdays we have more people than normal in here and they’re doing manual labor, carrying boxes, inserting papers, and hauling mail bags loaded with Landmarks to the post office.

The “let the AC cool down the room well in advance” is a little trick of the trade I picked up without paying for an engineering degree. I think I got the better end of the deal.

******

Though he wasn’t there, Daly estimated there were 250 people in the room based on the fact 200 chairs had been set up. Daly’s stance is there was nothing that could have prevented the heat-stroke like conditions in the room. “The system was working just fine. It’s not designed for the load that was in there,” Daly said.

I’m calling BS.

I’ve been attending crowded meetings in that room since the administration building opened in the early-to-mid 1990s. Yes, even on hot days.

Daly then went on to try to explain the normal process for temperature-keeping of the room. He contradicted himself a time or two in our conversation. At one point he said the temperature of the meeting room is kept at 80 degrees when the room is unoccupied. Later he said the temp was set at 74 or less throughout the day Tuesday because officials were in there setting up the room.

“So on Tuesday, what time did the room thermostat get set at 74 degrees?” I asked him at one point. His response: “At 5 o’clock.”

So, to not really clarify, at one point in the conversation he said the room thermostat was at 74 degrees all day and at another point he indicated the room thermostat didn’t get turned down to 74 until 5 p.m.

My guess is the latter comment is the accurate one. It would also explain why the deputies felt the room was warm when they arrived, you know, in advance of the other 200 or so people that Daly is blaming for causing the temperature problem.

Whatever the case, with all due respect to the facilities manager’s degree in HVAC and the fact he considers himself an expert, this isn’t rocket science. We can argue all day about what was done and what time it was done, but here’s what is obvious: Well in advance, Tuesday’s forecast called for a large crowd on a blistering hot day. The cool down of the room should have begun a lot sooner than it did at a lower temperature than normal.

Try to argue that and you’re making a fool of yourself. No matter how many engineering degrees you have.

******

A Landmark reader on Twitter speculated the county intentionally had the room temperature high as an incentive to make the crowd uncomfortable enough to leave. If that was the plan, it certainly didn’t work. A dedicated crowd hung in there in sauna-like conditions.

******

Gotta say I love the fact that the Platte City Chamber of Commerce--an often critiqued organization in this column, and rightfully so--is forming a group called Chamber on Main Street. Hey, this effort may eventually prove to not be successful, but at least some local leaders are trying, so they deserve credit and respect for that.

Chamber on Main Street isn’t just for chamber members, which is good because The Landmark decided to drop our membership a few years ago when some of the leadership of the club was getting all caught up in junior high-level clique wars instigated by a previous executive director. Too much juvenile drama combined with too little benefit from being a member made the decision to get out very easy for The Landmark and several other businesses, to be brutally honest.

Angie Mutti, newest executive director, came by The Landmark recently to let us know of the Chamber on Main Street idea. The chamber--and Mayor Frank Offutt, for that matter--want to add life to the downtown area and work together independently rather than separately. Mutti says the purpose of the Chamber on Main Street approach is to “form a group of people who are passionate about the downtown area to work together to preserve, maintain, unite and promote growth.”

Anyone who lives, owns a building or works in downtown is invited to be a part of this committee. First meeting is Thursday, Sept. 26, 8 a.m. at Wells Bank. The Landmark will be there. We hope several others will be there as well.

(Get Main Street coverage and beyond, 24/7, on Twitter @ivanfoley)

 


IT’S FALL, AND
ALREADY THE WACKY
WHEELS ARE TURNING

Written 9/4/13

It’s time to fall in love with fall. Let’s get it on.

******

Parkville’s next mayoral election doesn’t take place until April, but already plenty of political positioning is taking place. In fact, one potential candidate already has a sign up. And I emphasize the phrase “potential candidate,” because Tom Hutsler says he’ll only run if a certain other potential candidate does not.

“I’ll run for mayor unless Dave Rittman runs,” says Hutsler, a downtown property owner who has long been active in Parkville Main Street activities and functions. Hutsler already has a campaign sign--one sign--displayed. It’s at the entrance to his English Landing Center along Main Street. Check my Twitter timeline for photographic evidence. But Hutsler, who has sought city office previously without success, sounded like a reluctant candidate during our conversation. “I’ve talked to Dave Rittman. He is considering it and I would support him 100 percent,” he said this week.

Rittman is another familiar name in Parkville politics. He served as an alderman for 14 years. He gave up his post five years ago when work took him to Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. He is now back in Parkville most of the time, doing much less commuting to the island. I reached him by phone Tuesday evening to gauge his interest in running for mayor.

“Nothing on that has been decided. I have been approached but I have not decided yet. I gotta go talk to some folks around town and then offer my best evaluation,” he said. “I’m interested in community service and would definitely get back in at some point if an alderman spot opened up.”

Word on the street at Parkville is that Jim Brooks, current mayor, has hinted--perhaps more than hinted--to a few folks that he will not be seeking reelection. The story is that Brooks has acquired some property in Florida and intends to retire there. I reached out to Brooks for comment and confirmation of those reports Wednesday morning but he was in meetings at City Hall and unavailable to take the call. Watch Twitter.com/ivanfoley for updates after contact is made with the current mayor. (Update: Brooks confirmed Thursday morning he won't be running again and will be moving to Florida, he said, in about a year.)


Other names being bounced around in the rumor mill as potential mayoral candidates--listed in the order of most likely to run-- include Nan McManus, a current alderman who was defeated by Brooks in the last election for mayor; former alderman Deborah Butcher; and former alderman/mayor/county commissioner Kathy Dusenbery.

I reached Dusenbery late Tuesday. She insists she has no interest in running for mayor.

******

While on the topic of Parkville: About that Downtown Master Plan based on a ‘Livable Communities’ study? A lot of opposition is stirring as the project kickoff meeting is planned for tonight (Wednesday).

Opposition has been marinating for quite some time from current businesses who worry about the potential addition of overpasses and loss of parking. Word of newly-formed opposition is circulating this week from folks who say the Livable Communities concept will put the city in bed with federal government agencies and non-government organizations like the Sierra Club, adding controls and massive regulations to limit how merchants and residents can use their private property. Opponents says this type of ‘Livable Community’ is a wacky dream of the Mid-America Regional Council (the regional planning organization for Greater Kansas City) as a way to greatly reduce the use of automobiles “for the environment’s sake.”

Parkville is said to be on the books to be a corridor for a rail system that, supporters apparently believe, will eliminate much of the need for cars.

Stay tuned. This could get interesting.

******

I’m about to get my Hazel on. That means I’m about to do some housecleaning. And when I say housecleaning, I mean there are so many things happening around your ol’ Landmark I need to bring everybody up to speed. So let’s get started.

******

A step ahead of the competition. We’re really pumped about this new service to the community, and high school football fans should be, too.

On Friday, you’ll be able to go to your computer or smart phone and watch a live videocast of the Park Hill South football game at plattecountylandmark.com. We’ll have the video embedded into our web site. The Landmark’s Chris Kamler will be the voice on the broadcast. Check it out, it should be cool. You’ll even want to watch the in-game commercials, because The Landmark will have one of those, too.

A weekly newspaper offering live video of local high school football in Platte County? You can’t beat it. And The Landmark is the only area newspaper equipped to handle it. All season long, we’ll be bringing you a live videocast each week of the home contest for either Park Hill or Park Hill South. The videocasts will be archived at 810varsity.com in case you miss it live and want to catch it after the fact.

As a smart man recently observed: “The Landmark is, quite simply, the epicenter of the multimedia universe.”

I concur.

******

Football season also means it's the return of our Pigskin Picks feature, which you’ll see on page B-1 this week. College boy and (occasional) Landmark facilities manager Kurt Foley is out to defend his championship after his upset pick of Baltimore in the Super Bowl allowed him to edge Brian Kubicki by one game last season. Kurt makes his picks between classes at Washburn University, and by that I mean he makes his picks during class.

For you facilities manager groupies, by next week he promises his Pigskin Picks picture will include a mustache, so you’ve got that to look forward to.

By the way, correctly guess which Landmark staffer will win this year’s picks contest and you’ll win a free three-year subscription to The Landmark. Email your guess to me at ivan@plattecountylandmark.com. Your guess must be sent by noon this Sunday, Sept. 8.

You’d be smart to choose me. My gut tells me I’m gonna go nuclear.

******

And if you haven’t seen the ad about our subscription special, here’s what you need to know. You can get a one-year subscription to The Landmark right now for only $20. That’s a savings of nearly 25%.

But that’s not the best part. The kicker is that for the $20, new subscribers also get four free tickets to the Renaissance Festival, which is an $80 value in itself. Quite a deal.

If we run out of Ren Fest tickets, Chris Kamler and I will come snake your toilets and scour your bath tubs.

(Things are always interesting on Twitter @ivanfoley. Getcha some.)

 


ABOUT THAT CITY COURT
FEE; AND TIGHTEN THE
BUSINESS OF YEAR PROCESS

Written 8/28/13

The state’s recent order to municipal courts to begin collecting a $3 fee on every traffic ticket and other convicted offenses in city court seems bizarre as heck to me. Get more details in our front page story penned by reporter Valerie Verkamp.

What’s bizarre is that the $3 goes into a state-run Sheriff’s Retirement Fund, which as the name implies, goes to fund retirement payments to qualifying former county sheriffs.

Um, what?

County sheriff’s typically have nothing to do with municipal charges and cases heard in a city court. So, again, why? The ‘why’ can’t be answered logically. The only answer is what we have here is another case of a government operation that has not caught up to changes in the economic climate. If your government retirement fund can’t afford to make its pension plan payments, make some changes (cuts) to the system. Don’t keep tapping into the well and then try to tap inappropriate sources for more.

St. Joseph Municipal Court Judge John Boeh has the best analysis I’ve heard. He has ordered his folks not to collect the fee for the Sheriff’s Retirement Fund. Boeh says: “It cannot be seriously argued that the duties of 114 sheriffs of this state include services to the municipal courts of the state.”

The Between the Lines interpretation of Boeh's quote? “Stick it.”

Not surprisingly, a lawsuit alleging the $3 fee in municipal court violates the state constitution has been filed. We’ll keep you updated.

******

Kathy Dusenbery, former first district commissioner for Platte County, was asked to serve as emcee for the Parkville Days Parade on Saturday (pictured on front page).

The chore fit her cheerleading background and skill set very well. She did a fine job, even when unexpectedly forced to fill some “air” time when the beginning of the parade was delayed due to a late start for the 5K run that preceded the parade.

A ton of Parkville Days photos can be found on my Facebook page.

******

“Twerk” and “selfie” are among the new words that have gained mainstream acceptance and have just been added to Oxford Dictionaries Online.

******

I’m twerking at this very moment.

******

Now I’m taking a selfie while twerking.

******

If you’re interested in seeing what, if anything, comes of the newest effort at developing a master plan for Downtown Parkville, you’ll want to hit the forum scheduled for next Wednesday (see our front page story).

In the meantime, businesses in the Crestridge Shopping Center at Parkville in the area where Hwy. 45 was recently widened want you to know access is now excellent and all the businesses in the center are ready for you. Check out their advertied deals and specials, including some coupons, in the full page ad on A-8 of this issue of The Landmark.

******

Last week’s Landmark exclusive about the owner of JRay’s Restaurant and Bar being charged with possession of child porn continues a string of bad publicity for recent Platte City Business of the Year winners. JRay’s was the 2012 Business of the Year.

Another previous winner, Casey’s General Store, had a pizza-making employee arrested and convicted of murder not long after winning the award. Another winner several years ago, Olive or Twist Liquor Store, later had its owner charged with theft and forgery from another company she was working for at the time. Yanother previous winner of the Business of the Year, the Platte County R-3 School District (you’ll remember the head-scratching this selection caused, as much of the public wondered how a tax-supported public school fell into the “business” category) later had a principal arrested for solicitation of prostitution, though the charge was eventually dismissed without explanation by the Kansas City Municipal Court prosecutor.

All this has created an atmosphere of “no thanks” when it comes to being chosen Business of the Year. “If elected, we will not serve” is the popular mantra now.

*******

Some of it is simply a combination of bad luck and bad timing, to be fair to whoever makes these Business of the Year selections. Bad things happen to all humans at some point. Clearly I understand not all humans (allegedly) commit crimes, so don’t take my ‘bad things happen’ point too far, there.

A little bit tighter vetting process should probably come into play in naming these award winners. At least perform enough of a check of public records to see that a business you’re about to honor has not had legal proceedings brought against it by the government for failure to pay unemployment taxes in a timely fashion and that sort of thing, as last year’s winner has a rather lengthy history of such, according to CaseNet.

******

What are your standards for referring to someone as “doctor?” Guy Speckman, publisher and excellent Ponder the Thought columnist for the Savannah Reporter, nailed it in his column last week by writing this:

“The Ponder the Thought policy for referring to people as doctors is a little more stringent. I call you Doctor if you can fix something that goes wrong with me. For example, if you can insert a tube into me and surgically repair something, that’s good enough for me. But, for example, if you just spent a lot of time in a classroom, I’m still just going to call you Mr. or Mrs.”

Boom.

As most of you know, we’re pretty informal here at The Landmark and in Between the Lines, so Speckman’s words hit home.

It reminded me of a situation that occurred several years ago when I phoned the Platte County R-3 School District asking to speak to the superintendent at the time. The conversation went like this:

Me: “This is Ivan at The Landmark, is Mr. Harpst available?”
Receptionist: “You mean DOCTOR Harpst?”
Me: “No. I mean Mark.”
Receptionist: “Let me check for you.”

(Follow Ivan Foley on Twitter @ivanfoley. Call him whatever makes you feel good.)

 


IT’S EARLY, BUT NOT
TOO EARLY TO
DRAW CONCLUSIONS

Written 8/21/13

Monday’s county commission meeting did not feature an update from Dana Babcock on her personal utility usage. The world weeps.

******

Marc Sportsman is becoming one of my favorite local elected officials. The Parkville alderman speaks the language of common sense.

******

Alderman Ron Porter this week said Platte City elected officials deserve a raise because they’re making “million dollar decisions.” Alderman Tony Paolillo says he is not in favor of a pay raise for the elected. Alderman John Higgins says he hasn’t really thought about it.

Developing.

******

When it comes to The Landmark’s plan for high school football coverage this season, the cat’s slowly slipping out of the bag. The front page photo cutline gives you some details. Chris Kamler, The Landmark’s Rambling Moron columnist and ace sports reporter, will be calling play-by-play of Park Hill and Park Hill South football games this year on 810Varsity.com and on WHB 810 AM. You’ll get your high school coverage as it happens by listening to his broadcasts live and, (if you have a good imagination), in color.

Basically, whichever Park Hill team is playing at home that week is the game Kamler will be calling live on 810Varsity.com with cut-ins spilling onto sports radio giant WHB 810 AM. He’ll of course give us game recaps in the print edition each week, as well.

Exciting stuff if you’re a local high school gridiron fanatic.

Developing.

******

Some of you have asked for the link to my audition for Dancing With the Stars. Here it is:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfTR0Hibi38

******

A couple of notable events the next two Fridays at your Platte County Administration Building: This Friday, Aug. 23, new county assessor David Cox gets sworn in. On Sept. 1 he’ll begin getting sworn at.

Cox was elected in November, but under state law the new term for an assessor doesn’t begin until Sept. 1.

Next Friday, Aug. 30 at 10 a.m., retiring Platte County Circuit Court Judge Lee Hull will be noted (unless he ducks from the attention, I’m being told he is a reluctant participant) by Platte City Mayor Frank Offutt. The mayor will be presenting Hull with the Community Spirit Award.

******

You likely noticed our front page story in last week’s Landmark detailing how Platte County’s sales tax revenue is not growing. Total sales and use tax collections year-to-date are up only about one-half percent over this time last year.

For a county that relies heavily on sales and use taxes to fund its core services, this is not a good thing. Fortunately, the county commission was smart enough not to build this year’s budget by predicting sales tax growth. Instead, they budgeted for sales tax revenues to basically be flat compared to last year. And that’s where the actual numbers are hitting.

So credit the commission for doing one thing right when it comes to money this year. That makes. . .one.

With sales/use tax revenue very flat, what does this mean? As Kevin Robinson, county auditor, pointed out in last week’s article, it means consumers are being very conservative with their disposable income so far in 2013. Robinson said he doesn’t expect that to change much in the remaining months of this year. He mentioned “unknowns associated with health care reform” (in other words, Obamacare) and “other economic factors” as reasons folks are being tight with their dollars.

What does the lack of growth in revenue mean for the taxpayer? Unfortunately with the county’s priorities out of whack to the point of ridiculousness--a half cent sales tax for parks and a 3/8th cent countywide sales tax for roads going to some jurisdictions who should be taxing their own constituents instead of everybody in the county--it means don't be surprised if you see a tax increase being pushed by new commissioners Beverlee Roper and Duane Soper.

Remember, because Roper and Soper did not want to rewrite the 3/8th cent sales tax for roads earlier this year to dedicate a portion of that 3/8th cent amount to law enforcement/emergency radio debt, the county still has no dedicated funding source for that $10 million purchase.

Also, the jail study will soon be coming in with recommendations. And you can bet there will be recommendations for expanded capacity, which means a need for funds, which means you may see a push for a law enforcement tax.

It will once again draw attention to the fact that two county commissions really missed the boat by being too stubborn to rewrite sales tax issues so money could be dedicated to law enforcement needs. Instead, we had a county commission in 2009 (Betty Knight, Jim Plunkett, and Kathy Dusenbery) who chose to push voters to renew a half cent tax for parks. Instead of doing the responsible thing and engaging in some fiscal foresight by rewriting the overfunded parks department so that a portion could go toward law enforcement, the commission took the easy way out. Then earlier this year while Presiding Commissioner Jason Brown was wisely asking them to use a mixed approach, Roper and Soper made the same choice, avoiding the overall long term needs of the county and instead focusing solely on renewing the 3/8th cent tax for roads. Rewriting that sales tax question to allow a portion to go to law enforcement would have funded some needs that are now staring the county in the face.

It all could have been done without increasing the overall sales tax rate in Platte County. By the way, don’t forget Platte County already has the highest overall sales tax rate of any county in the KC metro area.

Instead, now we have a situation where a dedicated funding source has still not been identified to take care of $10 million in emergency radio debt. And the jail has issues that will take some $$$ to fix for the future.

Buckle up and enjoy the ride. Or something.

(To get the Twitter Spirit Award, follow @ivanfoley)

 


HEY, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO?

Written 8/14/13

"School is back in session so drive safely."

I’m sure glad they tell us, cuz without that announcement we would’ve continued our summer habits of driving on sidewalks and crashing through bus stops.

******

Whatever happened to Jason Grill, former state representative for southern Platte County?

You’ll recall Grill, whose reputation as a state representative was of that as a rep who worked hard but played even harder, was defeated in the 2010 election by Ron Schieber. Since then, Grill formed something called JGrill Media, LLC, where he focuses and consults on media relations and outreach. He is also listed as a member of the law firm King Hershey PC with offices in Downtown Kansas City. You may have seen him on Fox 4 some election nights, offering commentary during their coverage. That’s a role in which he doesn’t seem to say anything terribly insightful but also doesn’t completely suck, so there’s that.

He has also created and seems to religiously update his own Wikipedia page. So there’s that.

Sources say Grill now lives in Kansas City, and the popular and respected web site Tony’s Kansas City reports Grill is seriously considering a run for KC City Council as a Northland representative.

We’ll keep you posted.

****

Whatever happened to Shannon Thompson, the former city administrator at Parkville who was fired last year? Ever wonder what she’s doing now?

According to a business card pinned to a bulletin board above a urinal in the men’s restroom at a Parkville bar and grill, Thompson is now a real estate consultant for Reece & Nichols. According to the business card, she works out of an office at 6300 N. Lucerne Ave.

Check my Twitter timeline for a pic. Of the business card, not the urinal.

******

Whatever happened to Betty Knight? As presiding commissioner, she was queen of the Platte County Administration Building, serving from 1995 through 2010. What’s she doing now, I mean other than guiding the cruise ship Beverlee Roper into iceberg after iceberg?

Well, Knight is running a boot camp. She and Carol Marinovich, former mayor/CEO of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Ks., will be leading a four week boot camp entitled Campaign 101. It’s part of UMKC’s Civic Enrichment Program.

Starting Sept. 16, you can spend four straight Mondays with Betty from 4-6 p.m. Literature distributed by UMKC indicates Betty will be teaching you: How to make a personal assessment of your readiness to run for office; how to identify a race that meets your personal passion and interests; campaign logistics including characteristics of an effective mailer, strategy for absentee voters, and election day operations; how to develop a fund raising strategy; how to articulate your campaign platform; how to leverage the media (I want to be a fly on the wall for this part); and how to practice your speech skills.

The cost to go through Betty’s Boot Camp? $125. It includes all materials. And chocolate.

*******

Things not included in Betty’s Boot Camp that should be:

How to take your county from $1 million in debt to $60 million in debt; how to make people feel good while you’re guiding them into debt so they won’t notice till you’re out of office; how to play high schoolish games against officeholders you don’t like; how to prioritize parks over core government essentials; how to use government resources to play games against those who disagree with you; how to steer clear of a run against Jason Brown; and where to score free meals on the political circuit.

******

Technology is a great thing, am I right? We can do so many things with our smart phones these days. For me, it’s like carrying all the resources of my office at all times. The thing I do the least with my cell phone is actually talk on the thing. Maybe you’re the same way.

Texting with our cell phones is something nearly everyone does nowadays. Even the senior citizens are doing it.

There’s a special language of abbreviations, acronyms and slang most folks use while texting. You know, like LOL means laugh out loud, BRB means be right back, and so on.

Apparently senior citizens have developed their own texting language. According to an internet posting I’ve seen, here is a guide to Senior Citizen Texting Code:

ATD--At The Doctor’s.
BFF--Best Friend Fell
BFW--Bring the Wheelchair
BYOT--Bring Your Own Teeth
FWIW--Forgot Where I Was
GGPBL---Gotta Go Pacemaker Battery Low
GHA--Got Heartburn Again
IMHO--Is My Hearing-Aid On?
LMDO--Laughing My Dentures Out
OMMR--On My Massage Recliner
OMSG--Oh MY! Sorry, Gas
ROFLACGU--Rolling On Floor Laughing And Can’t Get Up
TTYL--Talk To You Louder

(He was gonna give you some thoughts on his trip to Chiefs training camp, but is out of room. Tackle him on Twitter @ivanfoley and Facebook.com/ivan.foley for those topics--and many more--24/7)

 


KAYAKING LEADS TO KUMBAYA; DOUCHEBAGGERY ALERT

Written 8/7/13

Hats off to the City of Platte City in general and the Platte City Police Department specifically for pulling off a successful Main Street event Tuesday night. It was the local version of the National Night Out Against Crime and it was a success.

Hosting regular community events on Main Street has been a stated goal of Mayor Frank Offutt, so look for more in the future. Nice job getting a crowd out to a mid-week event on a sun-splashed Main Street.

******

Was a recent kayak outing the moment the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal? Was a joint kayak adventure the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth? Was kayaking the impetus for making a city and a county love another again?

That’s one conclusion that can be drawn after sitting in on the county commission meeting Monday. Beverlee Roper, first district county commissioner, likes to brag (I use the term loosely) to friends and acquaintances about going kayaking. Her friends say she calls herself a river rat, which sounds odd because she lives at Weatherby Lake. But I digress.

There were reports shortly after last month’s Parkville aldermen meeting, which featured some negative city reaction to scaled back county plans for Platte Landing Park, that Roper would be inviting Parkville Mayor Jim Brooks on one of her kayak outings. Perhaps it happened. Perhaps a peace pipe was smoked.

Several Parkville officials were on hand Monday as the county commission put out requests for bids on Phase 1 of the Platte Landing Park project next to English Landing Park at Parkville. City peeps must not have been there to complain, because the only city official to utter a word was Brooks, who did everything but sing Kumbaya.

Apparently life is all rainbows and unicorns at Parkville, as even outrage by their city officials turns to mush within days. Evidence, of course, that a kayak outing has healing powers.

Seriously, what changed? Who knows. Maybe it was more of a united effort to make nice-nice publicly than anything else. Or maybe kayaking really does get the credit. Not sure. Whatever the case, everybody--publicly, at least--now seems more interested in painting this as a lovefest.

Yes, the arrogant sighs and frustrated laughter that Roper let fly from her position in the audience as aldermen spoke their concerns at the meeting in Parkville last month were gone. And Brooks seemed like a happy kayak team captain ready to paddle a boat gently down the stream.

It should be noted, however, that a couple of aldermen who had been the most outspoken with concerns over the downgrading of Phase 1 did not accompany the mayor to the commission meeting (paging Nan McManus, paging Marc Sportsman).

******

Also at Monday’s commission meeting, Platte County Parks Director Brian Nowotny, while talking about bid requests going out for Platte Landing amenities, briefly wandered off into some kind of weird commentary about how the county has no control over the pricing of park amenities, saying that costs all depend upon the amount contractors bid to construct the projects.

The first time he said it I didn’t think much about it. Then he went there a second time. It was then that I said to myself: “Self, why is Brian Nowotny engaging in this kind of douchebaggery and voodoo economics?”

Then it hit me. Nowotny is known inside the county walls as being the passive-aggressive type. This was his odd way of trying to respond to recent ridicule for a proposed dog park being listed as costing $115,000. This was his way of playing the role of blameless victim.

Anyone with even a little bit of knowledge of dog parks--or anyone with the ability to Google the phrase “costs associated with a dog park”--knows that a dog park should not cost $115,000 to develop on ground that is already bought and paid for. But, as we mentioned here last week, that’s the amount the county had plugged into the budget.

There are several reasons why Nowotny’s attempted point that the bidding market would drive the cost of a dog park is misleading for many reasons. Let’s just mention two. First, bidders are submitting pricing to specifications that are drawn up by whom? You guessed it, by the county, in other words, by Nowotny. Simply put, if bid specs call for a lot of frills in your doggie park, yep, I guess you could spend $115,000 on a tail-wagger of a dog park.

Secondly, if Nowotny thinks some bidders don’t look at the amount the county has budgeted for a particular project and let that figure serve as a potential guide to their bid amount, then he is one naive dude and should not be overseeing expenditures of public money.

Save the douchebaggery. The public isn’t stupid. And neither are your bidders.

*******

Sheriff Mark Owen stood up to defend the idea of a boat ramp going in at Platte Landing Park. The sheriff said the $500,000 boat ramp would be critical for public safety response to a bridge collapse; something about airplanes bouncing off levees and ending up in farm fields; and other Bruce Willis disaster movie scenarios.

So there’s that.

******

Personally, I think a helicopter would be a quicker response method than launching a boat. Maybe that’s coming in the next county tax hike.

******

Also included in a day of strange off-the-cuff commentary from county reps, Dana Babcock, county director of administration, twice during the commission meeting mentioned at the microphone that she personally is a huge buyer of electricity from Platte-Clay Electric Coop. It was more of a boast than a complaint.

So let’s all take a moment to congratulate her.

(So there’s that. Another Between the Lines in the books. Until next week’s episode, stay up-to-the-minute via Twitter @ivanfoley)

 


DOG PARK DILEMMA; AND MANY MEDIA IRONS IN THE FIRE

Written 7/31/13

Looking at the Platte Landing Park proposal again. Sitting here wondering how it could cost $115,000 to develop an off-leash dog park.

Only a government entity could come up with a way to spend $115,000 on a play area for dogs.

The ground is already there, already paid for. It’s a play area for dogs, for crap sake. Give it some fencing, some signage and some trash cans and we’re good to go.

This common sense approach, apparently unavailable in the world of government, should save taxpayers around $100,000 minimum.

You’re welcome, America.

******

Remember The Landmark’s dramatic and (not gonna lie) entertaining video of the demolition of the old Platte City Methodist Church in early June? The one where the church (oops) came down on the house next door in a demolition-gone-bad?

Representatives of the National Geographic Channel saw it on YouTube and have asked for permission to use The Landmark’s video. If used, it will be as part of a new series the channel is working on that celebrates web clips and analyzes those clips with some light-hearted science. The gentleman negotiating with me for the broadcast rights is based in London, where his job title with a media company is “researcher in the science of stupid.”

I’m not making that up.

We’ll keep you updated. If they do use the clip, we’ll give you advance warning of the date the show will air.

I still watch the clip from time-to-time when I’m in need of a cheap chuckle. You can watch it right here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7okRZ6TXa4g

******

Here is what’s known as a tease: We’ve got some exciting new tools in the works as additions to our coverage, with baby steps underway to further grow The Landmark’s footprint as the noted multimedia operation in the Northland.

My buddy Chris Kamler, our Rambling Moron columnist on page 3, is furiously working behind the scenes--well, furiously might be a bit of a stretch, but he is working--to lead the charge on much of this.

It’s a great time to be a Landmark reader and advertiser.

******

Speaking of Chris Kamler, he and I will be part of a gathering of media hounds at Uncle D’s sports bar in St. Joseph Saturday evening. Jay Binkley of 610 Sports, a Northlander who makes Uncle D’s his home-away-from-home this time of year while covering the Chiefs for the radio station, is also a major part of this.

It’s the second annual Tweet-Up among some media schmucks held during Kansas City Chiefs camp in St. Joseph.

The atmosphere for this event at Uncle D’s is very relaxed. It’s informal. I mean really informal. Pants are optional. By that I mean if you’re not wearing pants, please be wearing shorts. Assless chaps are strictly prohibited.

No egos allowed. If you do bring an ego, you won’t leave with one.

There are beer towers. There are sports discussions. There are non-sports discussions. There is media shop talk. There are games of darts. There are arguments over what music gets played on the juke box. Last year, a grown man got uncomfortably emotional over the song Kiss From a Rose by Seal. In order to protect the status of his man card I won’t mention his name, but his initials are Jared Speckman.

Obviously, it was a night of epic proportions.

This year, the only thing I can predict with utmost confidence is that Binkley and Kamler will make beer towers disappear. They are trained professionals. Do not attempt this at home.

If it goes like last year’s impromptu session, you’ll get the chance to meet and shoot the breeze with some of Kansas City’s sports media and Twitter personalities. Last year’s crowd included many recognizable media faces, voices and bylines.

Landmark readers are invited--actually, encouraged--to come join us, because once Kamler and Binkley start downing the beer towers I’ll need reasonable conversation.

If you can’t be there in person, you might--and that’s only a maybe-- be able to catch occasional updates via Twitter.

But there’s no substitute for being there.

******

A few years ago I met Mark Muller backstage at a political event. Our points of view connected. We also discovered we had a trusted mutual friend. His car dealership, Max Motors of Butler, Mo., became a Platte County Landmark advertiser, signing on for a 90-day deal. Landmark readers may remember the Max Motors ads splashed in our pages in the summer of 2010, proclaiming the “lowest prices in the nation.”

These days, Mark Muller and his Butler car dealership are the stars in a highly entertaining and highly praised reality TV show on History Channel. The show stars Mark and his brother, nationally-syndicated morning radio host Mancow Muller, whose career started in KC but these days operates out of the large market of Chicago.

The TV series airs Monday nights. It’s called God, Guns and Automobiles. Although to this point in their lives Mancow has been the more widely-known brother, this TV show is leveling the playing field. Mark and his wacky ways at the dealership have clearly become the featured attraction.

I’m not normally a fan of reality shows, but this one has surprised me with its entertainment value. It’s one of the best shows on summer television right now. I encourage you to check it out. Let me know what you think.

For more information and to see some video clips of the show (even watch an entire episode), go to http://www.history.com/shows/god-guns-and-automobiles/videos

(Get a Landmark publisher reality show, kind of, 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley, or settle for an email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)


EGOS HAVE WRITTEN CHECKS THE COUNTY CAN NO LONGER CASH

Written 7/24/13

Headed to the 150th Platte County Fair tonight (Wednesday)?

Specifically, are you headed to watch the demolition derby? If so, watch for the car with The Landmark logo. Max Van Fosson of Platte City will be behind the wheel of a car that in a previous life is believed to have been an ‘87 Lincoln.

Check out the ride on this week’s front page. The Landmark is proud to be one of the sponsors for Max’s wheels for the second year in a row. The Landmark delivery car--as Max’s dad Larry Van Fosson likes to call it--can be found on the run in the rookie heat and pure stock heat.

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Larry Van Fosson, by the way, won the Fair’s mustache contest held Tuesday night. Check out the picture of his prize-winning ‘stache on this week’s front page. That thing is its own species.

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With those handlebars, will Larry be giving free mustache rides??

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Is it still Fair week if it’s not 100 degrees?

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If only the Royal Family would have a baby.

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If only Platte County had a golf course.

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If only the Department of Homeland Security had a boat ramp at Platte Landing Park.

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I hope y’all realize what a great asset a Department of Homeland Security boat ramp would be at Platte Landing Park. This is a matter of national security.

And in all matters of national security, price tag--and heck, these days, constitutionality--is immaterial.

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If taxpayers build Homeland Security a boat ramp at Parkville, my prediction is Platte County will not be hit with a terrorist attack in the next 20 years.

It’s a ballsy prediction, I know. But that’s what I’m going with.

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If you build it, terrorists won’t come.

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Question: How many of Platte County’s “parks” require $1.4 million of county tax dollars annually-- annually, as in you know, every year-- just to stay open for business?

Answer: One. Shiloh Springs Golf Course.

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Oh, and that $1.4 million figure above? That’s just to keep the doors open. Capital improvements will eventually be needed to keep Shiloh’s features from being further ridiculed by golfers. That will require hundreds of thousands of dollars more. This has no happy ending, folks.

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Let’s not lose sight of the fact that the purpose of taxes is to pay for things the private sector would normally not build and provide for the public. Things such as streets, sewers, storm drainage, parks, etc.

Golf courses? Nope. The private sector has provided--and is continuing to provide--plenty of golf courses for public use in Platte County. There’s no longer a need to throw millions of tax dollars away at Shiloh. Not that there ever was a need, truthfully.

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Next time you hear a county commissioner--present or past county commissioner, for that matter--boasting about what an asset the county’s community centers are and how busy those county-YMCA partnered buildings are, stop to think about the dirty secret nobody talks about. Stop to think how many privately-owned fitness centers in the county have been run out of business by the fact they can’t compete with a fitness center run with a never-ending supply of public money.

The politicians don’t want to talk about that. And they don’t want you to think about it, let alone talk about it.

Entrepreneurs have lost their businesses. Leaseholders have lost their tenants, resulting in empty buildings. Private sector jobs have been lost. All due to these multi-million dollar taxpayer-subsidized centers.

Have that conversation with your past or present politicians sometime.

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More background information on Shiloh Springs continues to be researched. Lots of documents, but in short, the county issued Neighborhood Improvement District debt to construct a golf course on land owned by the Martins. Nothing was put forth to voters. That was 1993.

Terrible deal by the county from the start. But one screw-up wasn’t enough. As you now know, the county doubled down in 2005 without any voter say. Maybe Betty Knight--presiding commissioner/chief debt creator at the time and now a lead advisor to first district commissioner Beverlee Roper, which is equal to being the captain of the Titanic--can tell Bev why.

Voters have been avoided twice on the same deal. The county must have good attorneys.

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Another interesting tidbit: the county’s long term debt in 1992 was about $900,000. That’s right, under $1 million. Fast forward 20 years: as of 2012, the county’s debt was $61.8 million, an increase of 6,770%.

What does it mean? It means over the past 20 years the egos of county-level politicians have written checks the county can no longer cash without feeding its addiction. They’ll be coming after your wallets real soon. Count on it.

(Count on The Landmark for 24/7 news, information and entertainment at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


COMMISSIONERS BECOMING THE MEAT IN A TAXPAYER SANDWICH

Written 7/17/13

Uh, oh. It appears people in the Parkville area were sold a bill of goods. And the natives are a little bit restless about it.

The Platte County Commissioners are finding themselves in another uncomfortable position. Promises of shiny objects were made to Parkville as plans for a new riverfront park were being developed. But it now appears much of the pretty stuff is only a pipedream. See our front page story for details.

The county is now being non-committal about future Platte County park tax money helping to bring all kinds of amenities to the new Platte Landing Park in Parkville. As things currently stand, the park will fall considerably short of reaching all the goals that were promised in those earlier fancy conceptual creations.

Now that it is time to take those plans from the pretty drawing phase and make them become reality, what has happened? Many of the previously discussed amenities have been nixed. Such things as ball fields, which by the way would have helped the city defray the maintenance costs at the park. Also gone? A plaza, a boardwalk, and an impressive amphitheater that sure sounded rad--that means cool and stuff--and looked so attractive in those beautiful digital daydreams.

In simple terms, the county commission is not ready to commit to anything beyond phase one, and phase one has already been scaled back dramatically from what it was originally intended to be.

This news comes on the heels of The Landmark exposing the fact the county is annually losing hundreds of thousands of dollars on a poorly designed and lightly used golf course known as Shiloh Springs east of Platte City. The golf course lost--that’s lost, not just cost--county taxpayers $780,000 last year. It will likely lose at least another $750,000 this year.

Counting debt with the expenses that are necessary to keep Shiloh running each year, county taxpayers spent around $1.4 million at the golf course in 2012 alone.

That’s in one year.

Holy golf balls.

Take a minute to digest that information.

If the county can afford to dump that kind of money each year into a little-used golf course in northern Platte County, you can understand why the good folks at Parkville aren’t pleased to hear that some of the amenities to their Platte Landing Park project are falling off the table.

This has the potential to become a nightmare for county commissioners, from a public relations standpoint and a political standpoint.

Stay tuned.

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Public memo to Beverlee Roper, first district county commissioner.

Dear Bev:
In your election campaign last summer, you frequently mentioned what was really a great idea that would provide transparency to the public in regard to where the county’s park tax dollars are spent. You even boasted of this plan in a public setting, you’ll recall, during the heavily-attended debate with your opponent Kathy Dusenbery last July.

You’ll recall during your campaign that you came to me with the proposal of printing a monthly (at minimum) detailed report in The Landmark, Platte County’s newspaper of record, of where and how the county’s half cent park tax money is being spent. I told you I thought this was a great idea and that The Landmark would provide space for the information furnished by you and Brian Nowotny, parks director, at no charge to the county.

Well, here we are seven months into your term of office. Curiously, you have not approached me with this information or even brought it up for conversation. Certainly you’ve had the opportunity to do this. I’m not at every county commission meeting, but I’ve certainly been in the room at the majority of them during your months in office. More importantly, my office location has not changed. You were here multiple times during your campaign but never since taking office. Also, none of my phone numbers have changed--I know you have them. Oh, and my email address is still the same as it has always been, no change there. In other words, I’m very easy to reach, so I’m wondering why you haven’t come at me with this information.

I’m looking forward to getting this detailed park tax expenditure report from you very soon.

Thanks again for a fantastic idea to help provide taxpayers with information on the expenditures of millions of their dollars each year. Transparency creates trust, and as you said in your campaign, this should help reduce questions many taxpayers have about the county’s significant tax for recreation.--Ivan

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Something else to keep in the back of your mind:

The two new associate commissioners--Duane Soper in the north and Beverlee Roper in the south--still haven’t publicly announced how they’ll deal with the matter of the county’s $10 million emergency radio debt.

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Are you ready for the 150th Platte County Fair? You’ll find some historic photos from some past county fairs in our special fair preview guide inserted in this issue. Some of our older readers in particular may get a charge out of looking through the old snapshots. My favorite is the old photo on page 8 of The Landmark’s fair guide, which features a group of folks who attended the first fair of 1863 and also were in attendance 60 years later at the fair of 1923. The photo is accompanied by identifying names of those present.

Our thanks to local history buffs like Laverne Taulbee and Shirley Kimsey. Laverne and Shirley (not the same duo from the famous TV sitcom) dropped in with fair history to assist The Landmark’s Cindy Rinehart with her own research in getting some “ancient” artifacts into this year’s fair preview.

(Always the meat in your social media sandwich, you can catch Ivan Foley at your service 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


GOLF COURSE IS IN THE ROUGH AND ITS FUTURE LOOKS LIKE A SANDPIT

Written 7/10/13

A recent Landmark front page article detailing up-to-date numbers on the operating losses at Shiloh Springs, the county-owned and operated golf course east of Platte City, and the resulting research by Landmark reader/accountant Gordon Cook has done wonders for destroying a couple of Urban Legends that have long been associated with the money-losing operation.

Let’s get specific.

Urban Legend No. 1: “Financially the course will be fine once the debt is paid off. The only reason the numbers show Shiloh losing money is because of the debt payments.”

You’ll find there are several of the rose-colored glasses types who believe this to be true and actually spread this as gospel. In reality, this is complete hogwash.

For proof, all you need to do is look at the county’s recent outside audit. As reported in the June 19 Landmark, Shiloh Springs lost $333,000 in operations. That’s in operations alone. The $333,000 loss does NOT include the $450,000 debt payment. So in other words, even if all debt was gone, the course still would have lost county taxpayers $333,000. Ouch.

Don’t let a small gang of Shiloh country clubbers lead you to believe differently. The facts are not on their side.

Urban Legend No. 2: “The county does not have the option of closing the course because the bondholders require the debt be paid with revenues derived from a golf course.”

Please. This position always sounded fishy. Debt holders as a rule just want to get paid without laying down specific terms on the source of those payments--this is the world of ‘just show me the money.’ Why would bondholders demand that the payments come from golf revenues? You know, especially since at Shiloh the bottom line number is always in the red? Cook’s recent research has killed this myth.

Look at item No. 10 in Cook’s letter to the editor this week. Cook’s review of the documents reveals that the 2005 certificates of participation (COP) debt covenants state: “the county will have no obligation to operate, replace or renew any element or unit of the project which becomes uneconomical to the county because of change in economic or business conditions.”

Boom.

Urban Legend exposed.

And as far as Shiloh becoming “uneconomical?” Yeah, I think an annual operating loss of $333,000 in tax dollars qualifies as “uneconomical.”

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Doing the right thing quite often isn’t the easy thing.

Closing Shiloh while paying off the debt as early as possible on land that eventually would become a sellable asset would be the right thing to do. It cuts losses. It would show fiscal responsibility. It would show commissioners are taking their responsibility of being good stewards of public money very seriously.

It wouldn’t necessarily be an easy thing to do. Why? Because there is a small but dedicated group of golfers--including at least two elected county officials-- who really, really like Shiloh. My guess is they like it in large part because Shiloh is used by so few patrons that it almost feels like a private play area to them. In other words, when they go there they aren’t fighting crowds. They get some privacy on a public course. At taxpayer expense, of course.

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Because it’s always important to get as many viewpoints as possible when dealing with an issue that is near and dear to the hearts of some of the elected--and because I don’t play golf and therefore am not familiar with the particulars of the golf course itself--I reached out to a person in a position to have inside knowledge on details about Shiloh. The following comments, I believe, are both insightful and informative:

“The golf pro there has a strong youth program. He is great with the kids. But a strong kids program cannot support this course. The management is not the problem. Golf takes too long to play. Most hard-working people do not have the time to play a round of golf. Because of the economy, most private courses, which are better designed, are offering great prices for the public to play,” this insider notes.

“Platte County went from having hardly any golf courses to having too many. The Shiloh clubhouse is so poorly constructed that utility costs are high. There is no equipment in the kitchen to decently cook with, but I have been amazed with what they did accomplish (considering those kitchen limitations).”

There’s more:

“Shiloh is simply not very pretty. Its layout is for left-handers, and it has ugly utility lines running through it. It is a lose-lose situation. A very small portion of Platte County residents get any benefit out of the course. It was a rip-off to the county since its conception by a Democrat county commission (in 1993).”

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Only time will tell where the most recent discussion leads, if anywhere. County officials have gotten by with ignoring the topic of the money pit for too long. It’s time for a discussion that focuses on financial feasibility, not emotion.

To summarize in bullet points what we have here:

•A course that was poorly designed.

•A course that was poorly constructed.

•A course that lost--that’s LOST, not cost--$780,000 in taxpayer money last year. (Still trying to say that with a straight face).

•Increased competition.

•A course that obviously does not attract enough players.

What may prevent the right thing from being done is the fact that the few players Shiloh does attract are in a position to have the ears of some potentially weak-kneed leaders who might be more worried about hurting feelings than they are about being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

Good luck. We’re all counting on you.

(You can always count on Twitter.com/ivanfoley for news and views. Getcha some.)

 


WHAT SHOULD BE DONE WITH AN OLD PUBLIC SWIMMING POOL?

Written 7/2/13

We’re all adults here, so you don’t need me to remind you to be careful with your hot shot fireworks this holiday.

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Please be careful with your hot shot fireworks this holiday.

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Is it still July 4 in Platte County if Woody Grutzmacher isn’t around to sell us fireworks?

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Is anybody wearing one of those “I Got Banged at Woody’s” T-shirts this week just for old times’ sake?

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Not gonna lie, I miss seeing wild man Woody come bursting through The Landmark’s front door jacking his jaws at the speed of a Texas tornado with a story that was often true but just as often exaggerated, always in his trademark recognizable voice.

RIP Woody. We hardly knew ya. And frequently misunderstood you.

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Looking for a good summertime movie rental? Here at Between the Lines headquarters, your columnist has a couple of recommendations for you.

1. Jack Reacher. The non-descript title left me having no idea what this movie is about when Landmark facilities manager Kurt Foley snatched it from the Red Box. I’m not normally a big fan of Tom Cruise, but he is excellent in this one. A movie web site describes the plot as “a homicide investigator digs deeper into a case involving a trained military sniper who shot five random victims” but it goes deep than that. In other words, you need to pay attention. You’ll be glad you did.

2. Side Effects. Impressive cast includes Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, and Jude Law. This one started a little slow for me but once it got rolling became highly entertaining. “A young woman's world unravels when a drug prescribed by her psychiatrist has unexpected side effects,” the movie sites describe this psychological thriller. But there’s much more to it. You’ll need to be mentally tuned in, as it’s not a movie during which you can walk in and out of the room and stay on top of the many twists. There’s a good life lesson, too, for the devious minds in this world--if you’re going to try to frame events in an effort to ruin someone’s name, you better be smarter than the person you’re trying to ruin.

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What should be done with Platte City’s aging--and, according to the size of some “crowds” eyeballed at the facility over the past few years, little-used--swimming pool?
If you haven’t been to the swimming pool lately, take advantage of a free swim day offered on July 4. A few years ago I sat outside under the shelter enjoying a free hot dog with Mayor Frank Offutt, then-city administrator Jason Metten, and a couple other folks on July 4. The free swim day/free hot dogs grilled by the parks and rec director (Mayor Offutt each year refers to them as “Dannie Stamper’s hand-rolled hot dogs”) are part of the parks department’s daytime Independence Day activity. There was a free swim offered that day as well. The size of the crowd? Embarrassingly small, likely fewer than 10 people in the pool in the first hour of that free swim day a few years back.

So what’s the answer? The swimming pool was a topic when the city conducted its citizen survey last fall. Nearly 70% of the 367 survey responses supported investing in repair or replacement of the city swimming pool. Approximately 40% of the 367 respondents supported construction of an upgraded new pool. And 29% supported spending money to repair and continue operating the current pool.

All that sounds lovely, but my guess is support for a new pool or a significantly upgraded pool would dwindle substantially once a potential price tag was presented to the public.

To that point, 25% of respondents already think the answer is to close the pool. And they haven’t even been presented with updated funding options for improvements. I haven’t studied the financials but would sadly anticipate the numbers would show closing the pool is the smartest answer.

It’s no secret that high quality pools aren’t cheap, and are expensive to maintain. There’s no taxpayer friendly answer to this one, especially when we consider other pool options are readily available nearby. In fact, those “other pool options” have to be a huge factor in declining attendance at the Platte City pool. My sense of the demographics is that the average Platte City swimming pool patron lives within walking distance of the pool. Most other local residents, if they get in the car to head for a swim, aren’t even considering the local pool, and instead are driving to options like the local YMCA/Platte County Community Center or Tiffany Springs Water Park.

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The Sixth District Judicial Commission that will be meeting soon to decide on a list of three nominees to send to the governor to replace Judge Abe Shafer will be operating one member shy of capacity. Judy Stokes, a former Platte County treasurer who has served on the commission for several years, recently tendered her resignation.

This means there are technically two seats on the board that can now be filled by Gov. Jay Nixon. David Barth, another lay person on the commission, has continued to serve because Gov. Jay Nixon has been slow to appoint a replacement. Nixon, in fact, has been slow to make appointments to several state boards, and has been catching some heat for it from political opponents.

Others serving on the local judicial commission in addition to Barth are attorneys Scott Campbell and Keith Hicklin, and James Edward Welsh, chief judge of the Missouri Court of Appeals. They’ll be meeting on July 19 to conduct public interviews of the applicants and select a panel of three nominees for Shafer’s spot.

On July 18, Shafer turns age 70 and is forced to step down under the state’s mandatory retirement age statute for judges.

(Swim your way to a good time at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


GOLF COURSE FINANCIAL PAIN HAS REACHED THE POINT OF RIDICULOUSNESS

Written 6/26/13

Welcome back to Between the Lines, a weekly stream of consciousness. As always, this column is closed captioned for the hearing impaired.

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This is one of those weeks where I need to sift through recent notes to get you caught up on a variety of facts and opinions that have been rolling around in my head but ended up on the cutting room floor for whatever reason. Here we go with some quick hitters:

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My thoughts on the financial drain that is the Platte County taxpayer-owned golf course known as Shiloh Springs? Shut it down.

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More thoughts on the financial drain that is Shiloh Springs Golf Course? See Gordon Cook’s letter to the editor to the right of this column. His letter nails it. Cook is an accountant who resides in Parkville. You’re likely familiar with some of his previous letters. He’s a numbers guy who knows Platte County’s numbers better than most county officials. Trust his info.

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More thoughts on Shiloh Springs Golf Course: The strain this thing has become on taxpayers has reached the point of ridiculousness. The county’s refusal to take the bold step needed to cut its losses makes the course the butt of jokes. In the dating world, Shiloh would be described as a Stage 5 Clinger.

I can’t even talk about it with a straight face anymore. After last week’s front page Landmark article detailed the fact Shiloh lost $333,000 in operations in 2012, a friend engaged me in a discussion on the topic. “So it really lost $333,000 last year?” the friend asked. “Yup. And when you add in the $450,000 bond payment the county had to make on the property, it lost (my sentence ended here when I broke into laughter).”

When the loss of $783,000 in tax dollars brings laughter instead of anger to a fiscal conservative, you know things have reached the cartoon stage.

For the sake of all things right in this crazy, mixed up world, let’s implore the county to stop the assault on taxpayers’ wallets and “shut that whole thing down.”

Privately-owned courses are serving the needs of golfers quite well, thank you very much. There are much better uses for county tax dollars than to sink them in golf course holes.

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Disclaimer: The people working at Shiloh by all accounts are caring professionals. It’s not their fault the course is a fiscal nightmare. Financial and economic factors beyond the control of hard-working golf course employees are the reasons for the struggles.

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Remember that $32,000 Chevy Tahoe purchased on a split vote by the Central Platte Fire District board of directors earlier this year? It’s now a $42,000 Chevy Tahoe. The district had to spend $9,700 to add emergency lights and decals to it.

So taxpayers have invested $42,000 in a supplemental vehicle. But relax, we’re being assured this Tahoe is saving lives that a less expensive supplementary vehicle apparently could not.

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The “it’s in the interest of saving lives” catch phrase is the localized version of the feds’ “it’s in the interest of national security.”

It’s the “if we scare the hell out of you, you won’t mind what’s going on” approach.

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From the “Where are they now?” department, a recent auction ad placed in The Landmark featured property owned by former Platte County Sheriff Richard Anderson, who retired last year after serving four terms as the county’s top lawman. The ad mentioned the former sheriff and his wife “are moving out of state.”

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The long-talked about audit of the Central Platte Fire District is underway. Remember, the purpose of the audit isn’t to allege or uncover any wrongdoing. The purpose of the audit is to study past practices and polices, in addition to looking at financial record-keeping. It’s the first ever audit in the 30-plus year history of the department. It’s a good business decision and a good use of taxpayer funds.

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As you’ll see in a front page story, Platte City is moving ahead with its intention to acquire 35 acres east of I-29 at HH. City officials indicate their intention is to acquire the land, but to not be a landowner for a long period of time. The city intends to seek a private developer to either purchase or develop the property.

After acquisition, the next important and potentially expensive step is to get sewer infrastructure to the site. The city is expected to front the costs of connecting that area to city sewers, then will recover those costs via future connection fees and sewer rates charged to new customers, D.J. Gehrt, city administrator told me this week.

“Aldermen have directed staff to use only those existing resources that will not have an impact on taxes or fees charged to current residents,” Gehrt said. Funding for the remainder of the infrastructure such as streets, storm water, street lights, etc. will be dependent upon the development proposals received from the private sector.

Based on the results of a recent survey of residents, the city will be on popular ground as long as its eastside development efforts are done without increasing property taxes or utility rates for current residents. The survey showed 75% of residents will support the city’s effort if that’s the case. However, fewer than 30% support the city’s involvement in eastside development if it requires a property tax or utility rate increase for current residents.

Let’s support the effort while being watchdogs on the city’s pledge to promote the development without a tax or utility rate increase on the general population.

(The tone at Twitter.com/ivanfoley is sometimes growling watchdog, sometimes fuzzy poodle. Check it out for news, commentary, and entertainment.)


IT'S TIME TO TURN THE CAMERAS ON THE GOVERNMENT

Written 6/19/13

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was written to protect the American people against the government conducting fishing expeditions: a fishing expedition such as ordering the collection of the phone records and other electronic communications of millions of private citizens without probable cause.

Of course, some Americans seem to think our government leaders of this generation are much smarter than our Founding Fathers. A disinterested populace is a dangerous thing. Just because you don’t take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.

We’ve gone from a nation of folks willing to fight tyranny in a “give me liberty or give me death” approach to too many folks saying “yeah, I heard somebody say the government might be violating the Constitution with illegal spy tactics or something like that, but the Constitution is really naive and outdated. It was written by a bunch of dudes who have been dead for years. By the way, did you see that reality TV show last night? It was awesome.”

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Ron Paul may have summed it up best this week after hearing Congressional testimony from NSA representatives who say the overreaching spy program is a necessary defense against terrorism:

“You can’t burn the Constitution to save the Constitution.”

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More from Ron Paul:

"The government does not need to know more about what we are doing. We need to know more about what the government is doing. We need to turn the cameras on the police and on the government, not the other way around. We should be thankful for writers like Glenn Greenwald, who broke last week’s story, for taking risks to let us know what the government is doing. There are calls for the prosecution of Greenwald and the other whistleblowers and reporters. They should be defended, as their work defends our freedom."

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On a similar topic, if you’re not familiar with what the government did to Fox News investigative reporter James Rosen, do yourself a favor by Googling the topic and reading up on it now. Same goes for Sharyl Attkisson, CBS news investigative reporter, whose story broke on the Philadelphia radio show of Landmark columnist Chris Stigall. Read about how their computers have been monitored and manipulated. Read about how the government painted Rosen as a suspected criminal in order to BS their way into a warrant.

If you’ve been too busy to pay attention, take a moment to start doing the math. Start piecing the puzzle together. Think about where this is now and where it has the potential to go. If the government can succeed in an effort to control, intimidate and eliminate the watchdogs and the people whose job it is to hold them accountable, where will it head next?

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A survey reported by Fox News the other day showed two thirds of Americans were angered by the recent revelations of the spy game the NSA is playing on American citizens. One third apparently think it’s okay to live under a government that has disregard for our nation’s Constitution.

Here are some common reactions I hear from people who aren’t bothered by an overreaching government spy program (and by the way, if you want to read the thoughts of someone who thinks it’s ok, check out Chris Kamler’s column by clicking here).

1. They’ll say there are “laws in place” to prevent authorities from abusing privacy rights of citizens. Here’s a news flash: As noted above, these folks are manipulating and ignoring the Constitution, the highest law in the land. There is no law more powerful than the Constitution. That being the case, do you really think they give a squirt about obeying privacy laws?

2. Kamler writes that the concepts of a presumption of innocence and a respect for privacy are “naive ideals.” Really? Presumption of innocence simply means that authorities need to show probable cause. The idea that authorities should need legitimate probable cause is naive? Are you sure you want to live in a society where that’s the case? It would be fun to test Chris on that stance. If authorities don’t need probable cause for an electronic investigation then they don’t need probable cause on the street. For the next several days, can we get a police officer--for no specific reason--to pull Chris over every time he gets in his car? Not only pull him over but order him out of the car, search his car, search his pockets, search his wallet, and bend him over the hood while using a nightstick to perform a fishing expedition near his scrotum. After all, he was voluntarily driving on a government-built road, so doesn’t that give the government the right to get way up in his business? To make Chris feel better, the officer can whisper: “Relax. I’m doing this to protect you from terrorism.”

That’s what the government has the capability to do--figuratively speaking--by collecting all of your electronic data for no legitimate reason.

To use an internet phrase, most Americans would not enjoy those “terms and conditions.” Something tells me it wouldn’t be long before Chris and other “I’m fine with the government spying on me” types were longing for a return to the good old days when the government needed that “naive ideal” of probable cause.

2. Another argument you’ll hear from the big government types is “I’m not doing anything wrong, I don’t mind giving up my privacy. I don't care if they look at my records because I have nothing to hide.”

Hmm. Sounds mighty brave to say. But I’m calling your bluff. You don’t mind giving up your privacy? Let’s test that position. If you really don’t mind giving up your privacy, please hand The Landmark all of your phone records, emails, medical records, internet records, anything sent, received, or handled via electronic means. We’ll print some details of your records each week, perhaps picking out something a little more “interesting” as the series progresses.

How many weeks would you allow this to go on before you’re taking action to stop this ridiculous privacy invasion?

(What won’t stop is the news, commentary and entertainment at Twitter.com/ivanfoley. Getcha some.)

 


GAME OF MUSICAL CHAIRS ABOUT TO START AT COURTHOUSE

Written 6/14/13

If you’re not disturbed by the recent revelations on the depth of the methods your federal government through the National Security Agency is employing to spy on innocent civilians while trampling the Bill of Rights, it’s time to check your pulse.

This isn’t the America that I learned about in government class 30 years ago. How about you?

******

All the super sleuth invasions of the privacy of Americans, most of whom are never accused of doing anything wrong, are done under the admirable notion of protecting us from terrorism.

Who isn’t against protecting Americans from terrorism? But there needs to be a balance, a presumption of innocence and a respect for privacy. These are important cornerstones to what America is supposed to be about. Without balance, it won’t be long before we can eliminate the “land of the free” portion of the “land of the free and home of the brave” description for our country.

Statistics show you’re more likely to die from the flu than from an act of terrorism. Even more startling, statistics show Americans are eight times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist. In other words, does the threat of terrorism justify the extent of the civilian spy game being employed upon everyday Americans?

There has to be a balance between privacy invasion and protection. If we accept the “we’re protecting you from terrorism” as an acceptable reason for the federal government to be allowed to trample the Bill of Rights, then the terrorists have already won.

That sounds like the punch line to a joke, which tells you just how far out of bounds things have become.

******

I’m not the first one to say this but it’s worth repeating: It’s time to stop treating terrorists like Americans and Americans like terrorists.

*******

We need to hear from some experts on this.

Where is the Central Platte Fire Department’s Constitutional Scholar (‘our feelings got hurt, that’s damages’) Mike Ragone? We need him to chime in.

Or maybe ousted Tracy Mayor Rita Rhoads (‘yes, I hired my son-in-law but as contract labor so that doesn’t count’) can further enlighten us as well.

******

Kevin Rawlings, guilty of misuse of public information in a shady land deal involving the Northland Regional Ambulance District while he was a member of the district’s board of directors, has paid the court-ordered $125,000 in restitution to NRAD.

Rumors had circulated in the community that the restitution had not yet been paid. I checked with Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd.

“You bet he paid it. He paid the full amount in a single payment. It was the largest restitution check we have ever received,” Zahnd said.

Rawlings, you’ll recall bought some land in an area he knew the district was targeting to construct a new ambulance station and then sold it to NRAD at an inflated value a short time later.

******

Platte County R-3’s Citizens Advisory Committee seems to be aiming at--or have been guided to--recommending to the school board that the district come back with a 58 cent levy increase proposal at its next levy election, which might be in April or August of 2014.

In contrast to the 60-cent proposal that was handily defeated by voters in April of 2012, the recommendation this time will likely include a provision to have the tax sunset. But, it’s possible that sunset will not kick in for 20 years. It remains to be seen whether voters will see that as enough of an incentive to switch opinions.

******

As you’ll see on our front page, changes are on the way in the judicial offices at the Platte County Courthouse. Two long-standing and respected circuit court judges, Lee Hull and Abe Shafer, will both soon be turning 70 years old, which is the state’s mandatory retirement age for persons in that role.

What does it mean? In reality it means Gov. Jay Nixon may eventually have to make four appointments considering judgeship positions in Platte County. Hull and Shafer are circuit judges (Hull is the presiding circuit judge). Three other judges--Probate Court Judge James Van Amburg in Division IV, and Associate Circuit Judges Thomas Fincham (Division III) and Dennis Eckold (Division V) serve below Hull and Shafer.

It is anticipated that Van Amburg will seek to be appointed to one of the circuit judge spots. If he gets that appointment, obviously that creates an opening for a judge in the lower court spot he currently occupies. Along the same lines, it seems likely Fincham and Eckold will seek a circuit court judge position as well. If either is chosen, obviously that creates an opening in another lower court. Result is that the governor could be busy making as many as four judgeship positions in Platte County in the coming months.

******

If Van Amburg and either Fincham or Eckold are moved up to the higher courts, who might be wanting the two lower court spots that would become vacant?

Folks who I’m hearing might be interested in seeking a judge’s position are Quint Shafer of Weston; Tammy Glick of Platte City; Ann Hansbrough of southern Platte County; Lisa Rehard of Platte City; and Chris Patterson, whose office is in southern Platte County.

One person who is not interested in becoming a judge, at least not yet? Prosecutor Eric Zahnd.

“I’m enjoying my time as prosecutor too much,” he said this week when I asked him about the possibility.

Keep in mind, too, that Zahnd loves elective politics. Once a step is made into the judge’s chair, it would be hard to ever return to elective politics, at least from a practical point of view. History shows once a person has become a judge, it tends to take all future elective political options off the table.

The judgeship musical chairs will make for a very interesting summer and fall at the Platte County Courthouse.

(No musical chairs, just 24/7 observations at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


DEMOLITION DAY TURNED INTO QUITE THE BASH

Written 6/5/13

In case you haven’t already noticed, this week provided more evidence that The Landmark is much more than just a weekly newspaper these days. The advent of social media has made The Landmark a seven days a week, 24 hours a day resource for news and entertainment. There is no better time to be a consumer of information.

You’re welcome, America.

******

With that in mind, the only appropriate way to start the column this week is to guide you to The Landmark’s addictive video of the demolition-gone-wrong.

Our 30-second video of the demolition that features the 1867 Platte City Methodist Church coming down--with the east wall unexpectedly collapsing onto the vacant home next door--is on YouTube.com. At YouTube, find it by entering the words “Demolition of Old Church” in the search box. You can find more easily by entering “Ivan Foley” in the search box, but telling you to enter my name makes it sound like I’m an attention ho or something.

Wait, what?

The video can also be found on my Facebook page, Cindy Rinehart’s Facebook page, and of course at our 24/7 Twitter.com/ivanfoley. In addition, an entire album of pictures from the demolition will be going up soon on my Facebook page, so check for that.

*******

Folks have a lot of questions about the whole situation surrounding the old church and its eventful demolition. To his credit, church owner/demolition man Jeff Bash didn’t run from our request for an interview. He stopped by The Landmark for a sit-down discussion of the past week’s events. Here are some of the highlights.

*What will you do with the property now? Still up in the air. “I think we’ve still got a prime building lot. It’s not gonna be a case where we just mow an empty lot. It’s commercial property. Maybe a metal building with some kind of historic look, maybe throwing a steeple back on there. Ideas are rolling around in our heads.”

*Had Bash ever done demolition work before tackling the historic church? Yes. “I tore down the two largest roller coasters in the United States at Worlds of Fun. I tore down the Kansas City Stockyards. All that was done in our name. We had 35-40 years of building demolition experience. But when you get into a building that has a problem like this, it’s a new game. When you go into a sound building that’s just an old building, you start at a corner and you start peeling it apart. But when you get into a building that had a bomb in it--and that’s basically what this one had--you don’t know what’s gonna happen. We did what we thought was the best thing and today I would not change any way that we went to work on it.”

*What went wrong during demolition? “What happened was, we were working that east wall down, and then the roof starting coming down toward us. So we got a hold of the roof and started pulling it around. What happened was that steeple and all that stuff on the west came down inside the building and then the percussion of the air is what blew the wall to the east on top of the house next door. You could see the wall (initially) was coming in, doing exactly what we wanted, and then all the sudden (after the percussion of air) it went the other direction and it got bad quick,” Bash explained.

“I would not change any way with what we were doing. But I wish we had a better outcome.”

So did you anticipate the steeple coming down before the east wall? “That’s the problem. We went up there and looked at that and you couldn’t tell which way it (the steeple) was gonna go. It’s out of the line-of-sight, it was too high above the tractor so I was trying to keep track of that and watch the mainframe of the building at the same time,” said Bash, who was on the ground while his son Trevor was operating the demolition machinery. “The steeple was so bad there was no way you could have gotten it off there. The building wasn’t stable enough to get up there to take the steeple down and the steeple was so rotten that you couldn’t put a strap around it--you just would have picked up pieces.

“The structure of the building was gone. The corners were blown out. You just didn’t know what it was gonna do. By rights, if that roof would have come around like we had it pulled out, none of that should have fallen in there. It should have rolled out into the street. That’s what should have happened. I’m not gonna say we did something wrong.”

*What about the liability issue for the damage to the vacant foreclosure house next door? “I don’t know how all that’s going to play out. It will probably be a fight between my insurance and their (Bank of America) insurance.”

*What about the original stained glass windows? Bash says all but one were salvaged. The windows are valuable. It’s 3-dimensional stained glass, he said. Some folks have indicated an interest in purchasing the stained glass, including a lady who grew up here but who is now living in Arizona who has offered $5,000 to $6,000 for a stained glass window. Bash indicated the windows might be used in some fashion in whatever type of commercial business he decides to construct in the lot. “We have hired a lady to take care of the valuable things we find.”

*What about the bricks from that 146-year-old piece of local history? Bash says he is giving them to folks who want to come haul them away. “The bricks are not really salvageable. I’ve been giving them away as fast as people can take them away,” Bash said. But don’t just show up at the lot and start grabbing bricks. Call Bash in advance to make arrangements. His number is 816-918-6222.

*There are rumors that a time capsule was in the church building. Was one found? “No. Is there a standard where a time capsule goes in the general area of a building? Somebody said it was behind the plaque that was on the front, but we found the plaque and looked through that debris and didn’t find anything. We don’t know if we’re looking for a metal safe, or a cardboard type box.”

*How is everybody holding up after the drama-filled demolition? “None of us can talk,” Bash said referring to the significant amount of dust that kicked up when the church--and part of the house next door--came tumbling down. “That dirt is so bad. It’s 100-year-old dirt. Everybody thinks demolition is cool. But when that dirt comes at you--well, you saw it,” Bash said.

He’s right. Those of us present for the demolition know what he’s talking about. The tremendous cloud of dust that came billowing down the street reminded me of the images of New York on 9/11.

(It’s been one of those weeks you won’t soon forget. Those happen often at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


JAIL STUDY IS KEY TO NEXT MOVE; KEEPING AN HONEST PERSON HONEST

Written 5/29/13

Notes, quotes and stuff while we all anxiously await the findings of that Platte County Jail feasibility study.

******

I neglected to mention this bit of good news when it first happened.

Loney Wilcoxson, a true conservative, is now a member of the Platte County Republican Central Committee, and has been for several months. He strikes me as a strong voice who’ll be a great addition to the committee.

“I’m enjoying having Loney on the committee,” Jackie Cox, committee chairman, told me this week.

Wilcoxson won’t be shy. I know this from following him on Twitter. Tuesday night, for instance, during a Twitter exchange he mentioned to me he is now on the GOP committee. He wasn’t bashful in his next tweet: “Ole Bev sold us a bill of goods. I intend to make her life miserable.”

The “Ole Bev” he is referring to, of course, is new first district commissioner Beverlee Roper. The “bill of goods” he is referring to, of course, is the campaign in which Roper convinced everyone she would be more fiscally conservative than her opponent last summer, Kathy Dusenbery. Roper has been anything but conservative to this point. The fact her actions in office have not matched her words on the campaign trail hasn’t gone unnoticed by many who bought into her words at election time. Roper, you’ll recall, topped Dusenbery by a narrow 46-vote margin.

On Twitter? Follow Loney Wilcoxson at @LNWilcoxson.

******

How did that recent meeting about communication problems go between fire department representatives and the sheriff’s department? According to some in the room, Central Platte isn’t the only fire department complaining about issues with the new radios. Also according to some, Platte County Sheriff Mark Owen did not sit in on the meeting, which isn’t completely surprising. The top guy can’t be everywhere and has to delegate, that’s understandable. But what his absence does is create another communication step that has to be followed before definitive answers can be given to certain questions that were coming from fire officials to sheriff’s department representatives. “I’ll take that request to the sheriff,” I’m told was a common theme of the meeting held a couple of weeks ago.

Next regular meeting of the Central Platte Fire Board is scheduled for Tuesday, June 11.

******

Speaking of that feasibility study being performed on the Platte County Jail, the results and recommendations to come from that study are likely going to guide the county commission in its decision on how to pay for $10 million in emergency radio debt.
If the study comes back with solutions that require significant financial investments--and do you know any bureaucratic study that doesn’t?--it could begin a new push for a dedicated law enforcement sales tax.

Although Roper has recently been saying privately that she’ll “just increase the tax levy” to pay for radio debt, don’t be surprised if that mood changes once the jail study comes in.

A push for another sales tax will put the Platte County voters and taxpayers in a position to make a choice. Do they want to continue increasing a sales tax rate that is already the highest in the KC metro?

At some point voters are going to start checking their receipts when they make purchases and gasp at the amount of sales tax they’re paying. When that happens, voters will start pushing back on these sales tax questions that the county continues to place in front of them.

Voters eventually start thinking a little more deeply about tax questions rather than just reacting positively to every feel-good tax question tossed at them. It does happen. For example, many folks thought Platte County R-3 would never lose a tax issue placed to voters. That changed last year when a tax increase was overwhelmingly rejected. R-3 leaders were taken aback by the result and have been slowly marinating options regarding “when and how much” when it comes to their next move.

******

And speaking of Platte County R-3, Kirby Holden’s web site, plattecountyr3facts.com, is worth a read. He has done a nice job of exposing some claims made by the school district in regard to the school’s accomplishments, awards, test scores, and projections for growth (and let’s be honest, some of R-3’s projections of an upcoming housing explosion have been a bit over the top).

“The district doesn’t really lie, they just don’t tell the complete truth,” Holden told me recently, and his web site points out several instances of such. Holden has done an effective job of linking his remarks and opinions to sources of information--like the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education--to back up his writing.

“I used to drink the Kool-Aid,” Holden remarked recently. Now, he says, he verifies claims the school makes in public news releases, in public remarks, and on the district’s web site. Holden’s web site indicates he is finding there isn’t as much Kool-Aid as he originally thought, and the Kool-Aid that is there doesn’t taste as sweet as he was led to believe it would.

My guess is R-3 isn’t the only school district that has used the embellishment tool when it comes to playing up awards, financial issues such as bond ratings, etc. Schools want growth for obvious reasons, so it’s tempting to always be in the mode of giving a sales pitch to current and future “stakeholders” (the new catch phrase, which I think is just a fancy term to describe those who are paying the tax bills). But Holden’s research is an example that such a strategy can eventually work against a school district.

One area official in education (not in the Platte County district) summed it up quite well in a recent conversation. This veteran in education said to me a few weeks back after Holden’s site launched and his letters started to hit the pages of this newspaper: “I won't say I condone embellishing--it looks worse in the long run, like you are covering something up. Transparency is important with public dollars.”

That’s what it’s about.

Whether they realize it or not, I do think Holden’s web site has been--and will continue to be--a good thing for R-3’s leaders. It will keep them tempered and keep their future sales pitches tied to facts--not embellishments or hyperbole.

And that’s a good thing for everybody involved.

(Know what else is good for everybody? Twitter.com/ivanfoley, that’s what. Get information, opinions and fun 24/7)

 


COME FOR THE VIEW, STAY FOR THE HIGHER TAX BILL

Written 5/22/13

Weatherby Lake in Platte County. Population: 1,750.

It’s a unique little city. Kinda quirky. There are some good people there, for sure. One of my favorite Between the Lines sources (you know who you are, no need to name names), in fact, is a resident at the lake. There are also some interesting characters at Weatherby Lake, as is the case in any city in this crazy world in which we reside.
Weatherby Lake is known to get some media coverage for bizarre reasons. It’s known for being a confusing place to out-of-towners who have no idea what’s private and what’s public property in this little city by the lake.

The Pitch once accurately described it this way: “Weatherby Lake: Come for the views; stay for the trespassing charges.”

In 2011, a lady who visited the lake during a break between meetings in Kansas City sat down on a bench to write thank you cards. As she was leaving, a police officer busted her for trespassing. The lake is private property but some of the roads and some of the land are public. A picnic table the lady was sitting on was privately owned. Instead of simply chalking it up to an otherwise innocent out-of-towner not knowing the rules, the lady was arrested, fingerprinted and had her mug shot taken in an incident that made the Kansas City television news.

Recently, another Kansas City news channel did a curious and factually inaccurate piece about Weatherby Lake and zebra mussels. I watched the original piece and then a corrected version. Honestly, I still don’t know what the hell the point of either report was. I did gather this much: water is wet; zebra mussels are bad.

******

Weatherby Lake is a city with a mayor who has an interesting background. The mayor is Gerald Bos, formerly of the Dairy Farmers of America, who in 2008--along with Gary Hanman of Platte City--was ordered by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission to pay a $12 million civil penalty for attempting to manipulate the milk futures market.

The feds say Bos attempted to manipulate the price of milk futures contracts by purchasing block cheddar cheese. The block cheese market price plays a significant role in establishing milk futures prices. The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, in a press release dated Dec. 16, 2008, called it “a manipulative scheme” by Bos, Hanman and the DFA.

Despite his not-so-admirable role in the milk market that was worthy of millions of dollars in civil penalties, Weatherby Lake voters have kept Bos in the big chair. Maybe they’re convinced Bos just really liked cheese.

******

So why the Between the Lines attention to Weatherby Lake this week?

Because property values around the lake are skyrocketing. Well, at least skyrocketing in the value they’ll be listed by the county assessor for taxing purposes. Many residents at Weatherby Lake are screaming about property assessment increases of 50% or more. At least one Weatherby Lake resident, in fact, has been hinting at a lawsuit, though as of last week no legal action had been filed. Platte County Assessor David Christian says his office has followed the proper methods for determining market values, so it’s unclear what the basis would be for such a lawsuit or whether said lawsuit would have a snowball’s chance of being successful.

This is a reassessment year in Platte County. Values are being adjusted according to factors such as comparative sales of property.

“It is clear a lot of properties there (at Weatherby Lake) are selling for a lot more than what we had them assessed at,” Christian told me. “A lot of the increases there are significant, to get them up to where market value is.” Most of the problem, Christian indicated, is that homes at Weatherby Lake had not been reassessed by the county since 2005 for a variety of reasons, mostly due to choices made by the previous assessor.

Christian says the discrepancies were largest for lakefront properties. Thirteen lakefront homes were sold for an average price of $541,985. Those properties had been assessed at an average value of $341,265. Market value is basically whatever someone is willing to pay for a particular property. Based on this data, obviously lakefront homes at Weatherby Lake were under-assesssed. Homes that sit a bit farther from the lake no doubt got pushed up in value by that data as well. As one level-headed Weatherby Lake resident told me recently: “Most of the homes here needed to be adjusted upward in value.” Other residents, based on the reports of complaints and whispers of legal action, disagree. Or at least disagree in regard to the amount of the change in value.

******

The residents of Weatherby Lake don’t have far to travel if they feel like complaining to a county official. Beverlee Roper, new first district county commissioner, is a resident there. Insiders say Roper has tried to be somewhat of a hand-holding go-between among pissed off Weatherby Lake residents and the county assessor.

This has the potential to get really interesting for Roper. As you know, there is the matter of paying for $10 million in emergency radio debt that Roper and Duane Soper, new first district commissioner, did not solve by keeping the road sales tax at 3/8 cent instead of asking voters to dedicate some of that percentage to radios. Roper and Soper in January mentioned their preferred method to pay off the radio debt would be either an increase in the county property tax from one cent per $100 of assessed valuation to seven cents, or to come back with a separate sales tax question. The deadline has come and gone for a sales tax question to go on the August ballot, and Roper and Soper have done zero public talking about the next move. Some folks close to Roper’s inner circle are telling me at this point she seems to favor the idea of raising the property tax levy.

This could get fun. Some of Roper’s staunchest supporters are at Weatherby Lake and are getting hit with massive assessment increases in the taxable value of their property. At the same time, their favorite commissioner might be on the verge of seeking a 600% increase in the county tax levy.

This has the potential to turn into quite a spectator sport.

******

Property owners in the county not happy with their assessed value can fight it in front of what is known as the Board of Equalization. Members of that board are Donald Hoy, John Elliott and Abby Olson. Deadline for appeals to the equalization board is June 15. The board then holds in-person hearings for property owners starting the week of July 8. Contact the assessor’s office for more details at 816-858-3301.

Christian says he anticipates the equalization board hearing more than 200 appeals this year, with a good number of those coming from the Weatherby Lake area.
Speaking of entertaining spectator sports. . . I’m marking my calendar.

(Mark your calendar for information and entertainment 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


TIME FOR CENTRAL PLATTE TO MAN UP, PUT BOOKKEEPER IN TIMEOUT

Written 5/15/13

Welcome to the start of The Landmark’s 149th year of uninterrupted publication. You’ll see details on that milestone in a story elsewhere in this issue. It’s one of the oldest newspapers in the state, dating back to the closing days of the Civil War. It’s astounding that the paper has never missed a week of publication in that time.

Since the newspaper is now 149 years young, that means a milestone birthday celebration is only a year away. The Landmark will be involving the community in a 150th celebration as much as possible. In fact, Platte City Mayor Frank Offutt and I have already held a brief pow-wow on this topic.

If you have suggestions on how the newspaper and community should commemorate The Landmark’s notable milestone next year, let us know.

******

As we celebrate turning 149, The Landmark is also ready to announce with great pride that we have our latest winner of the coveted Landmark Award for English. The $250 cash scholarship is awarded to the top English student at Platte County High School, as selected by a faculty panel at the high school. This year’s winner is Hailey Godburn.

This is the 32nd consecutive year The Landmark has presented the award to an R-3 senior.

******

Back and forth we go.

The latest in the “it’s not our fault, it’s their fault” debate over who or what is to blame for communication problems Central Platte Fire Department is having since the switch to narrowband radio system is now back in the county’s lap.

As you’ll recall, it started in April when the Central Platte fire chief and assistant chief criticized the county for Central Platte’s inability to communicate with law enforcement or with many other fire departments on mutual aid calls. Two Central Platte fire board members then met with the county commissioners and sheriff’s department representatives. The county in so many words said the problem is due to the fact that Central Platte isn’t properly using its new radios. The county said the problem is that Central Platte representatives missed nearly every meeting the county held with first responders as the switch to narrowband radios was being discussed and completed.
Tuesday night, Central Platte representatives fired back, saying that at a meeting of area fire chiefs nearly every other fire department in the county reported having trouble with the new radio system. Central Platte indicated it would be demanding that the county submit the codes needed for Central Platte’s radio man to program the fire department’s new radios. A vaguely worded reference to “going through the FCC if we have to” to get the codes was made. The county has previously indicated it doesn’t hand out the codes “to just any private contractor.”

Anyway, the latest development in this soap opera is scheduled to play out tonight (Wednesday) when fire representatives attend a communications meeting with county officials.

Mike Ashcraft, newest Central Platte fire board member, has had his emotions batted around like a tennis ball. He was the most vocal about getting serious with the county when the problem was first brought to his attention. Then after the meeting with the county, Ashcraft’s disgust was leveled at his own department. “It seems a lot of our problems are self-imposed” he told The Landmark, saying at one point in our conversation that Central Platte leadership seems to have a “John Wayne” complex. Then Ashcraft attended a meeting of the area fire chiefs, and now his anger is directed back at the county.

So the tennis ball is now back in the county’s court. Let’s see what happens.

******

Bjustrom’s bjoard meeting bjreakdown. Great bjalls of fire.

Was it arrogance or a cry for help? I can never tell.

Lisa Bjustrom, the Central Platte Fire Department bookkeeper/wannabe board member/mother hen personality who sits at the front table and often chimes in without being asked on matters that should only be discussed by board members, had a meltdown during Tuesday night’s meeting. Bjustrom is assigned the task of compiling the agenda. As you’ll recall, board member Andy Stanton recently led a push to have the meetings run in a professional--and legal--manner. Part of that involves an agenda that clearly identifies potential action items involving spending. In the past, the board’s agenda was literally as specific as this: “Old Business” and “New Business.” Not good enough. Stanton reiterated that fact Tuesday night when Bjustrom had vaguely disguised what amounted to a spending request for a training trip under the agenda item “public relations.” When Stanton objected by reminding that actions involving spending should be itemized on the agenda, Bjustrom threw a fit. I had left the meeting a few minutes earlier to tend to another work matter. But my phone started ringing with a play-by-play description of Bjustrom’s embarrassing tirade. Stanton also confirmed it with me in a later conversation. Bjustrom during a portion of her fit asked Stanton: “Do you want to do (prepare) the agenda?” Bjustrom, obviously, forgets that she works for the board, including Stanton. The board doesn’t work for her.

Bjustrom is a perfect example of the culture that has needed changing at Central Platte. Her Tuesday night audition for a strait jacket is a sign that more work needs to be done. Her attitude is “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Yes, Lisa. And that’s the problem. You’re doing it wrong. You’re doing things that are not in compliance with the Sunshine Law.

This is the kind of ridiculousness Stanton, and to a lesser extent Ashcraft, has been trying to clean up. Kudos to Stanton for keeping his cool during outbursts like the one in which Bjustrom embarrassed herself.

Though she obviously doesn’t think so, Bjustrom is really nothing more than a very replaceable piece of the puzzle. There are others who would gladly perform her duties at her rate of pay. And 99% of them would bring much less drama to the table. After Tuesday night’s inappropriate three-minute outburst of sarcasm and rage, Bjustrom should be bjanished. It won’t happen, based on the personalities in play. At minimum she should be forced to skip a recess. Or placed in the timeout chair.

******

Firefighters earlier this year selected Larry Bigus--or is it Bjigus--to continue serving as fire chief. That choice--according to department bylaws which apparently are often treated as nothing more than suggestions-- needed to be approved by the board of directors. Bigus was approved by a 2-1 vote by the board, with Stanton opposed. Stanton told Bigus his vote is nothing personal, but rather a desire to improve the district’s battered public relations image.

“The best way I can explain it is that, from all the reports I can gather, he just doesn’t play well with others,” Stanton said.

I don’t know if that viewpoint is directly related to the aforementioned “John Wayne” reference Ashcraft made a couple of weeks ago, but it certainly sounds similar.

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

 


CATS BACK IN THE NEWS;
PARKVILLE’S SALARY STUFF;
PARK HILL’S TRANSPARENCY

Written 5/7/13

Call it irony. Maybe call it karma.

Call it what you will, but here’s the inside skinny: You know the Platte City Police Department’s new location at Fourth and Main? Sources are saying the interior of the building has a distinct aroma of cats. Maybe a colony of cats lived just outside the back door. More likely, a previous occupant of the building is a huge fan of felines. And we all know an overabundance of even the cutest of kitties can create a distinct, shall we say, fragrance.

The irony? Carl Mitchell, police chief, has made it somewhat his personal mission to crack down on feral cats. In a story that rightfully garnered regional attention, he even approved the improper placement of a surveillance camera on private property to presumably try to figure out who was feeding stray cats in a certain neighborhood.
Several months later, the city’s top cat cop is apparently getting a taste of feline flavor each and every work day.

I’m certain the department is working to fix the problem right meow.

******

After hearing reports of the alleged feline fragrance in the police department’s new headquarters, I emailed D.J. Gehrt, city administrator, to see if he would confirm. He confirmed without directly confirming. Even Gehrt saw the humor.

“Given the events of the past year, it is great to see that irony is alive and well in the world. . .” he said in response to my question.

******

I bet the den of Royals’ manager Ned Yost smells like a lifetime of bad decisions.

******

In this day and age of news getting everywhere at the speed of the internet, you may have already heard about this. But just in case . . .

If you enjoy watching train wrecks and freak shows, there’s one playing out on Twitter right before our very eyes. If you care to look, that is.

It appears Amanda Bynes, who I’m told was a successful child actress on shows that aired on the Nickelodeon network, is now 27 years old and quite literally having a public breakdown on Twitter. Her bizarre behavior (posting overly revealing photos of herself) and off the wall words contributed to her gaining one million Twitter followers despite the fact she has only sent about 450 tweets.

Many pop culture enthusiasts agree that following Bynes’ Twitter feed is similar to not being able to look away from that crash on the highway.

E! Online entertainment news describes it this way: “The mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a question mark and topped with a blond wig known as Amanda Bynes is transforming before our very eyes. But transforming into what, you ask?”

Do with this information what you will--or won’t. Every now and then, Between the Lines readers deserve a pop culture update to help you keep your finger on the pulse of society.

******

As you see in this issue of The Landmark, Parkville has a new city administrator. Here’s the kicker to this story: Parkville will pay the new administrator an annual salary of $96,000.

Say what? The former administrator, Shannon Thompson, who had been there more than four years, was “only” making $83,000.

Lauren Palmer may turn out to be the best city administrator in America. Or she may turn out to be a bust. More than likely she’ll fall somewhere in the middle. We don’t know. But what we do know is that Parkville is paying a premium rate to a person who has never been a head administrator.

The depressing part of this for area taxpayers? Every other city--and city administrator--in the area is going to look at what Parkville is paying its top hired hand and this will create a snowball effect that will spiral out of control. Hold on to your wallets.
Government spending begets more government spending.

*****

And don’t forget, Parkville also has an assistant city administrator.

******

Hats off to the folks at Park Hill School District for a much improved atmosphere of transparency.

After learning that the school board had voted to extend the contract of Scott Springston, superintendent, The Landmark put in a request for information surrounding the extension and salary details on his current and future contract years. Expecting a vague response because, honestly, it’s pretty normal for many public agencies to play stupid by pretending they don’t understand what it is you’re looking for, I worded my request as specifically as possible.

About 24 hours later, we received a very detailed response that included even more information than we had asked for, including a very specific breakdown of Springston’s contract package over each of the next three years, a copy of his original contract, and a copy of the addendum to his original contract. It was beautiful--and how it should be.
Insiders say Springston himself is very supportive--and one of the leaders--of Park Hill’s effort to become more taxpayer friendly when it comes to the idea of transparency and being open with information requested by the public. Another leader in this regard is Chris Seufert, board member. Seufert, by the way, was the only board member to vote against the motion to add on to Springston’s contract and provide salary increases in each year of his deal. As of Landmark deadline, which was earlier than normal this week, Seufert had not yet responded to my request for his reasoning for his vote. My educated guess would be after the uproar that followed when the public learned how outrageously compensated Dennis Fisher, former superintendent, had become in his time at Park Hill, Seufert would have preferred the district to hold the line on those matters for the time being.

Fisher, you’ll recall from reporting exclusively done by The Landmark, was being compensated to the tune of nearly half a million dollars per year. He also was driving around a luxury car--for both business and personal travel--provided by the school district. During his seventh and final year at Park Hill, Fisher’s compensation deal was for $454,000. According to terms of his extension, Springston’s package will be worth around $362,000 in his fourth year at Park Hill.

(There’s no price tag on the publisher’s package. Get his deal 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


WE DON'T NEED A MONKEY TAX; AND WHAT HAPPENED TO FIRE DEPARTMENT'S SCHOLAR?

Written 5/1/13

Deep breath. Exhale.

If you’re tired of questionably needed, feel-good sales taxes lifting Platte County’s sales tax rate to the highest in the KC metro area, breathe a sign of relief. At least for the time being.

Remember that crazy 1/8th cent sales tax for the Kansas City Zoo that was passed by Jackson and (narrowly) by Clay counties in November of 2011? Remember how the tax, despite a valid petition of signatures by registered voters, didn’t make it to the ballot in Platte or Cass County? Then I’m sure you’ll remember the fact that Friends of the Zoo took the matter to court after, despite the collected signatures, county commissions in Cass and Platte did not put the zoo tax on the ballot in their respective counties.

Friends of the Zoo lost its legal battle at the circuit level in Cass, then took it to the district court of appeals. The court of appeals this week upheld the lower court’s ruling--that the county commission in Cass had the discretion over whether to place the question on the ballot. It was not mandatory, the court says, that the commission put the petition-driven initiative to voters.

Of course the Friends of the Zoo still have the option to pursue the matter to the Missouri Supreme Court, but for now Platte and Cass counties certainly like the way this thing has been handled by the courts. It shows the county commissions in each county (in Platte, the commission at the time consisted of Jason Brown, Jim Plunkett and Kathy Dusenbery) weren’t nuts when they maintained they had the legal right not to place the matter on the ballot. It also shows the county received sound legal advice on the topic (that’s an unsolicited plug for Bob Shaw, the sometimes praised, sometimes verbally abused county counselor).

*******

My favorite remark at the time the debate over whether the two counties would be forced to vote on the zoo tax was made by Brian Baker, a county commissioner in Cass County. Baker unleashed this quote to the Cass County Democrat-Missourian newspaper in 2011: “I’ll jealously defend Cass County’s budget before I’ll give money to a bunch of chimpanzees.”

******

If you’ll recall at the time the issue was in the news, I mentioned in this column I was thankful the county commission had a true conservative lean to it at the time. With Brown in the presiding commissioner chair as opposed to his predecessor, Betty Knight, who claimed to be a conservative but in reality never met a sales tax idea she didn’t support, it was refreshing to see the commission take a bold stance by doing nothing. Doing nothing sometimes is the bravest thing to do, especially when you’re catching heat from zoo supporters and liberal media types like tax-loving Yael Abouhalkah at the Kansas City Star.

In 2011 after the petitions were turned in, Abouhalkah wrote this editorial directed at elected officials in Cass and Platte counties: “No funny business. Just follow the law. . .”

Well, according to two different courts now, “follow the law” is exactly what the commissions in Platte and Cass did. Libs can throw a hissy fit, as they’ve been known to do anytime conservatives give opinions, but for now the law certainly upholds the route chosen by Platte and Cass in 2011.

*****

As a sidenote, it would have cost Platte County an estimated $65,000 to hold that special zoo election in the off year of 2011.

******

It has been an up and down week for the Central Platte Fire Department. The department deserves praise for its handling of a fire that had the potential to be worse than it was in the Estates of Platte Valley Saturday night. The blaze, the cause of which is still being investigated but is believed to be an accidental fire that started on the front porch, brought significant damage to a home at 2900 Willow Terrace in Platte City.

On the downside, it’s coming to light via our front page story that the firefighters’ leadership failed to attend most of the training sessions and informational meetings the county hosted in regard to the new digital radios. And Central Platte leadership chose to have its radios programmed by a private vendor instead of through the sheriff’s department. Those two factors, according to information the county shared with fire board members Mike Ashcraft and Andy Stanton, are what has led to Central Platte’s troubles with the new system.

As was reported here a few weeks ago, Central Platte firefighters complain of not being able to communicate with other fire departments, with law enforcement, or with helicopter ambulances. County leaders say that’s because of choices of action--and inaction--made by the leaders of the rank and file firefighters. The sheriff’s department, in a move that seems reasonable, has declined the sharing of codes necessary for a private vendor to reprogram Central Platte’s radios. Ashcraft admitted this week it seems most of Central Platte’s communication problems are “self-imposed” and pledged to “work on” that problem.

The only communication problem for which there isn’t an immediate answer is for Central Platte to radio directly with South Platte Fire. That’s because South Platte chose to switch to Kansas City for its dispatching service.

At any rate, the communication issue and lack of Central Platte attendance at the county’s training sessions are expected to be topics when the fire board meets on May 14.

******

Speaking of Central Platte meetings, remember Mike Ragone, the Firefighter of the Year who drifted into a flowery speech of self-importance at the February board session? Ragone is the one who said firefighters were offended by a cartoon that had appeared in The Landmark, a cartoon for which the department should sue the newspaper, Ragone urged. “Firefighters were extremely offended by the cartoon.

Clearly it was defamation. That’s damages, quite frankly,” Constitutional Scholar Ragone told the board that night, speaking with authority in his voice while making ridiculously misinformed statements about the law, the Constitution, and the United States Supreme Court. I recorded his bluster on my cell phone and still listen to it at least once a week for cheap entertainment.

The board, as you’ll recall, ignored his request to take action.

Anyway, Ragone is now gone. He is no longer with the department and no longer living in the area. Sources say he has moved to Florida, where he is likely dishing out First Amendment commentary to impressionable minds in the Sunshine State.

(Cartoons and commentary available 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


COUNTY'S WISH LIST COULD BE GROWING; NEW WEB SITE QUESTIONS PLATTE COUNTY R-3

Written 4/24/13

Hats off to State Rep. Nick Marshall, Republican of Parkville, for leading the push for an investigation into what the heck the state was doing releasing personal information of people with concealed carry permits (see front page story). It will be interesting to watch how this plays out.

******

As you’ll see in our front page story, a feasibility study is underway at the Platte County Jail. The jail, which opened only 15 years ago, was touted as being ahead of its time. Apparently now the fear is that the jail in its current configuration is about to reach its peak. Platte County Sheriff’s officials tell me the county averages around 145 inmates in a 154-bed facility.

“We’ve gone over capacity many times. Our high is 170 inmates,” Cpt. Erik Holland said to me recently.

The study is expected to come back with recommendations on options for handling a potential continued growth in inmate population. There is what has been called a “futures” area in the lowest level of the facility, an area we’re told the county has been using to store a variety of old equipment and documents, etc.

Of course by now you’re also aware the county has around $10.7 million in emergency radio infrastructure debt due to the recent upgrades to meet a federal narrowband emergency radio mandate. New county commissioners Duane Soper and Beverlee Roper in January mentioned the possibility of putting a 1/8th cent sales tax question on the ballot in August to fund the radio debt. The Platte County Board of Elections says the deadline to place an issue on a special August election ballot is May 21.

Since we’re being told the report on the jail study won’t be completed until the summer months, my personal speculation is the county won’t be placing any sales tax measure on the ballot in August. Don’t be surprised if the sheriff’s department ends up hoping the sales tax question will seek more than 1/8th cent to cover any wish lists as far as the jail is concerned.

Also, coming off the bombing in Boston, now is the time you’ll see local law enforcement agencies across the country start selling the “need” to have more equipment at their disposal, everything from armored tanks to drones to weapons of mass destruction.

Because, you know, you just never know.

******

There’s a new local website now in operation that will make for some interesting reading and is worthy of your time. It’s the product of local resident Kirby Holden and you can find it at www.plattecountyr3facts.com

Holden says he constructed the website to “keep the taxpayers of Platte County up to date on information about our schools. We will look at mailers, test scores, pay and other information.”

There are some eye-opening facts. Holden’s site exposes what he says are misleading statements made by the school district in regard to such things as test scores and awards. Holden has attended and served on community committee meetings at R-3 and has raised many questions and let his feelings be known on many occasions to top district officials like Superintendent Dr. Mike Reik and school board members. He says he hasn’t been happy with the response he has received, in particular from Reik, which is surprising and disappointing considering the last time R-3 took a levy issue to the voters it was thumped quite handily. R-3 needs to be in fence-mending mode with voters. When he had reached his fill of unsatisfactory responses from school officials, Holden created the website.

If you pay attention to such things, you already know what the reaction of district leadership is going to be. That game plan has become well-known. Privately, they’re going to hint that Holden is a “radical” and accuse his facts of being “wrong,” even though he links to state education-run sites. Publicly, they’re going to claim he is “putting out misinformation” without ever providing verifiable facts correcting what they claim is “misinformation.”

This much I can assure you: Holden is a passionate patron who lives east of Platte City. He is a veteran at fighting battles, like the successful one against a proposed major development along a narrow stretch of Hwy. 92 a few years ago. He is thoughtful, extremely intelligent, caring, and a good communicator who wants the best education for his kids. He cares about how public money is spent. And he is a bulldog when he knows he is right. If that makes him a “radical” in the eyes of leftist bureaucratic spenders who often occupy school administrative posts, lazy resume-builders who often occupy school board seats, and fanny-kissing types who often push propaganda without verification, I really don’t think he cares.

I’ve just started to peruse plattecountyr3facts.com. Some of the early highlights include Holden taking the school district to task for touting an award that no longer exists. He exposes how the district’s test scores aren’t as lofty as district mailers promote them to be, and provides links to state education sites to verify his information. He points out that the “Distinction in Performance” award Platte County R-3 consistently boasts of winning is actually closer to a participation ribbon than an elite award. “There are 522 school districts in Missouri. In 2011, 70% of them received the ‘Distinction in Performance’ honor,” Holden points out. “The standards for this award are so low that of the 17 local schools looked at, 13 received a perfect score. Not really the award it is presented to be. The really scary part is once in the past six years we (R-3) did not get the award,” he said.

“R-3 compares most everything to the state average. Remember when you look at the state averages for any comparison, these averages include Kansas City and St. Louis schools, which contain some of the worst scoring schools in the nation. I believe we don’t just want our kids doing better than Kansas City and St. Louis,” Holden says.

There’s much more but I won’t go into it here. Read the website for more items that may cause you to pause.

To generally summarize Platte County R-3’s approach on matters such as test scores and costs per student, Holden says this: “They don’t really lie, they just don’t tell you all of the truth needed to make an informed decision. We (patrons) have been answering the school district’s survey questions without knowing all of the facts.”

Check out plattecountyr3facts.com. See if it opens your eyes or makes you say “Hmmm.”

(Eyes are open 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


LOCAL CONNECTION MAKES BOSTON TRAGEDY HIT CLOSE TO HOME

Written 4/17/13

Welcome back to Between the Lines. Since last we spoke in our weekly chats here on page A-2, much has happened in the news and with our newsmakers. In other words, it’s been business as usual.

Read on.

******

Stay tuned for some future Between the Lines fun with this: I’m getting multiple reports--confirmed by a political blogger who was present--that an elected official had a meltdown in a public meeting last week in which he made reference to “that idiot at The Landmark.”

Every time I read that quote it makes me smile. Apparently The Landmark is not only occupying that guy’s head, we’re rearranging his furniture. Without even trying.

******

Of course the news scene is dominated this week by the bombings near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday.

Our buddy and longtime Landmark contributor Greg Hall was running in the marathon again this year. Many of you are familiar with Greg, as he is an annual guest at our Christmas party and even helped cover some of those Pirate football championships back in the day. Hall writes a sports media column that we post to our web site several times a week and runs his own site at greghallkc.com.

Anyway, as I learned of the explosions via Twitter, I grabbed my cell and immediately started calling Greg’s cell number to check on his welfare. At the same time, my Twitter account was getting direct messaged and The Landmark office phone immediately started ringing with media types asking, as one of them put it, “Is there an ice cube’s chance of getting Greg on the phone?” Sam Hartle of Channel 41 called. Kris Ketz of Channel 9, who by the way played some kick-ass defense for our soccer team during the Comets Media Game in December, messaged to ask for Greg’s contact info. Even legendary news anchor Larry Moore, he of the golden throat, dialed The Landmark office asking for a way to contact Greg. Note to Larry the Legend: It was an honor. Call back sometime when we’re not busy breaking news. Then my son sent me a text saying he was listening to 610 Sports and the hosts were mentioning Greg and The Landmark, basically begging for a way to get Hall on the phone. Then Landmark columnist Chris Kamler sent an email saying media types were contacting him asking for a way to reach Greg.

The first few attempts at calling Hall’s cell were met with a recording to the effect “your call cannot be completed at this time.” On about the third or fourth try, Greg answered and we were able to talk for a few minutes. Hall, an accomplished marathon runner, had already finished the race and cleared from the finish line area before the explosions occurred. “I was about 4-5 blocks away,” he said. “With music blaring on the streets, I didn’t even hear it.” Things soon got a little more hairy. “They're moving us out of this area, looking for more bombs. They seem to be treating it like a terrorist situation," Hall then said in our brief phone talk. I told him that in case he didn’t already know it, every media outlet in Kansas City wanted his time and that 610 Sports was basically begging him to call in. He said his phone was about to die and we hung up.

A short time later on his Twitter account @greghall24, Hall posted that an explosion had occurred very near him and more panic was ensuing. As it turns out, that was the “controlled explosion” that police conducted--apparently without warning to many within earshot--on a suspicious device they had found. Eventually Hall made his way into a restaurant where he was able to charge his phone before authorities arrived and forced the evacuation of the building.

If you don’t yet follow Hall on Twitter, do so. Scroll back through his timeline of posts on Monday to get a feel for what he was experiencing.

Also, check out the column that he wrote about his Boston Marathon experience, which we have now posted for your perusal at www.plattecountylandmark.com/ghall.htm.

Greg’s performance in the marathon is worth bragging about, though he won’t do that.

We’re just happy to have the guy back in KC safe and sound.

******

Chris Kamler, our Rambling Moron columnist you will come to know and love--if you haven’t already--has been busy in his role as multimedia magnate. Thursday night he was representin’ at the Red Carpet Event for the new Jackie Robinson movie. Kamler was hanging with people like Harrison Ford (after last week’s column by Hearne Christopher, I feared Kamler and Indiana Jones might end up in a seedy joint by night’s end) and current and former Royals. His coverage of that night starts on our front page.
Then Saturday, Kamler (@TheFakeNed on Twitter) put together a Tweet-Up for fellow Twitter enthusiasts at The K during the Royals game. There must have been a lot of noise at the Tweet-Up, as Kamler reported waking up with a headache the next morning. Sunday, The Landmark was credentialed for the Royals game and Kamler was busy cranking out journalistic genius from the press box. Check out his K Replay feature on page B-2.

Every Wednesday at 4 p.m, Chris hosts a radio show on ESPN 1510 AM called The Ballgame. His guest as The Landmark was going to press this week? None other than Greg Hall. The discussion, of course, was set to focus on Greg’s experience at the Boston Marathon and his commentary on what he saw after the explosions. Chris was gracious enough to invite me into the studio to help pepper Greg with questions but I had to decline due to previous scheduling commitments. Besides, the three of us might have ended up fighting over microphone time, and who wants that?

(UPDATE: I did manage to give the show a call. You can hear the show here: http://bit.ly/11f3YF6)

(Ivan Foley gets microphone time 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


FOR COMMISSIONERS, THE TOUGHER DECISIONS LIE AHEAD

Written 4/3/13

There are many angles from which Tuesday’s election results can be viewed, and there’s no hurry to hit them all the day after the 3/8th cent road sales tax passed by a comfortable 57-43% margin.

But it is time to touch on a few, in no particular order:

*The easy part of their two-part approach to the financial issues facing the county is now over for Beverlee Roper and Duane Soper, the two new associate county commissioners. The easy choice for them was to place the existing tax on the ballot for renewal, to keep in the good graces of fellow bureaucrats heading road districts and municipalities. But no change to the tax question means even though the issue passed handily, the county commission woke up Wednesday morning with the same problem it had prior to the election: How will the county pay for the $10 million of debt associated with the emergency radio mandate?

The answer to that won’t be as easy for the new commissioners, because for the first time it will put them in a position of making decisions that could place them politically sideways with a good number of folks.

Roper and Soper have previously proposed a 1/8th cent sales tax election later this year or raising the property tax levy by six cents. The other option--not likely to be chosen based on the new regime’s reluctance to use the word “no” when it comes to spending requests--would be cutting general fund expenditures by $1.3 million annually.

*Opponents to the county’s sales tax question recognized they were in an uphill battle from the start, especially when operating with a small campaign budget. Fighting a tax is never easy, especially when the election is in the always low-turnout month of April (or worse when it’s a special one-issue election, remember the park tax renewal in 2009).

For opponents, there was the imagined bad guy fear factor to overcome, you know, the “They want to tear up our roads--and next they’re coming after our puppies.” What gets misunderstood and misinterpreted by some observers--often intentionally so for political reasons--is that opponents weren’t against road funding and in fact had explained what they saw as a better plan. Those of you with a sense of history, for instance, will recall that this newspaper and this columnist editorialized in favor of the roads tax when it was proposed and passed 10 years ago. This time around, opponents--and this newspaper--favored a plan that included a portion of the sales tax going to roads (2/8ths) and a portion going to the radio debt (1/8th). A sincere look at the road and bridge needs over the next 10 years would have shown that 2/8th cent would have been sufficient. Add in the 1/8th cent for radio debt and the county’s financial challenge for the time being could have been met without an overall increase in the sales tax rate. That approach wasn’t taken by the new county commissioners because it wasn’t as easy. That approach would have required a bit more work than just slapping the same tax on the ballot and crying that opponents were being “naysayers,” whatever that means.

*Have you noticed that the county’s tax questions presented in low-turnout elections pass comfortably but the officeholders who promote them aren’t nearly as successful as the taxes they have promoted? For instance, Steve Wegner was a county commissioner who worked harder than anyone at getting the road tax passed 10 years ago. One year later he was defeated in his reelection bid. Same for Michael Short. In 2009, the county’s half cent park tax renewal was promoted by Betty Knight, Jim Plunkett and Kathy Dusenbery. In 2010, Knight got cold feet when conservative Jason Brown let it be known he was interested in making a run at her post and stepped aside. Plunkett did not seek reelection in 2012. Dusenbery sought reelection in 2012 and was narrowly defeated by Roper, who put off the impression during her campaign that she would be more fiscally conservative than Dusenbery. (We’re still waiting for any sign of evidence to support that, by the way.)

In other words, put those tax questions on the ballot when the county is electing officeholders in either August or November of an even numbered year--when turnout is high--and the results would likely be different. As an example, turnout Tuesday was 15%. Voter turnout last November was 70%. Yikes.

*A bit of irony. Many of the Parkville area folks who were working in favor of the 3/8th cent tax for roads are the same ones who campaigned for Dusenbery in her unsuccessful reelection bid against Roper. The irony is if Dusenbery had been reelected, it was her intention to cut the amount of the road tax and build in a dedicated amount of the 3/8th cents for radios. Take a minute to digest that.

*Dusenbery made an observation to me a year or two into her term that the northern part of the county is “a different world” from the southern part of the county. That could be interpreted a couple of different ways. One way to interpret it is that the northern part of the county is more fiscally conservative than the southern. Another way to interpret it is that the folks in the northern part pay closer attention to the week-to-week activities going on within county government. The impression by some is that the folks in the southern half of the county are farther away from the county seat and thus they don’t think about county government all that often, unless there is an issue that is a potential direct hit. Perhaps it’s more of a “don’t bother us with the details, just give us our cut of the money” attitude. It wouldn’t be fair to make blanket statements, so I’m treading carefully here. But it is fair to opine that while many taxpayers in the northern half of the county are concerned about things like $10 million in radio debt sitting there with no dedicated revenue stream, many folks in the southern half of the county are more concerned that they get $1.5 million from a county sales tax to ensure they get more traffic circles and wider lanes on Hwy. 45.

Remember, in 2009 when the park tax passed 54-46%, it actually failed in the precincts located within the county’s second district (northern half). Certainly some similar patterns are reflected in looking at the precinct-by-precinct breakdown of Tuesday’s road tax vote. The precincts that heavily opposed the tax are northern: Platte City (57% opposed), Hoover (69%), Seven Bridges (59%), Shiloh (70%), and New Market (64%).

Precincts heavily favoring the 3/8th cent road tax were primarily southern locations, including Lake Waukomis (77% in favor), Prairie Point--Tiffany Springs (67%), Weatherby Lake (70%), and Parkville (64%).

*As the county commission prepares to enter the next phase of tackling the real challenge in its financial future, The Landmark will be there to keep you posted. Thanks for reading.

(Tackle challenges 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


COUNTY TRYING TO USE 'DOUBLE COUNT' MATH TO PROMOTE PASSAGE OF ITS TAX

Written 3/27/13

What a lovely winter we’re having this spring.

******

After weeks of waiting for the county to explain itself and offer unsolicited details, on Monday of this week--eight days ahead of the election--I left a voicemail for the county folks to ask if there is a list of road projects detailed in its 3/8th cent road tax plan. It’s not a newspaper’s job to do the county’s campaigning for it. If the county had a detailed plan, it needed to be taking those details to the voting public long before now.

The county commission has chosen to run and hide on this topic instead of inviting the public out to share information and proposed plans for their proposed tax.

But for grins, I left the voice message Monday. A few hours later the county public works director emailed me a three-sheet information piece that had obviously been prepared ahead of time. Were they going to keep it secret if I had not asked? And three sheets? In 2002-03 the plan was very detailed, had been vetted by the public, and many public forums had been held for input. Not this time around.

Even the cheerleaders and apologists for the county commission have to admit this has been a weirdly-staged proposal and campaign by the county. As one public figure told me this week: “It has been chicken-bleep.”

You can’t argue with that. It has been a stealth campaign lacking transparency. That’s reason enough to vote no. If you need more reasons, keep reading.

******

Basic math and logic are getting tossed out the window as the county commission responds to the plentiful pushback it has been getting against its road tax proposal.

We’ve all heard the term “fuzzy math” that was coined by George W. Bush. The county commission is employing what I call “double count math.” Your Platte County commissioners are using it as a desperate measure. They're trying to tell you that voting for the 3/8th cent road tax will also fund the $10 million radio debt. This is a total fabrication.

If the roads tax passes as presented, it will be impossible to pay off the county’s emergency radio debt without a tax increase or a very significant cut in general fund expenditures. Presiding Commissioner Jason Brown has made that statement many times. The new associate commissioners, desperately trying to pass a tax plan that was not taken to the general public for input, are in denial.

In a hard-to-read flow chart with slings and arrows making it look like a high school algebra worksheet gone bad, the county this week basically says this: Hey, if you renew this road tax, we’ll bring in $1.3 million in accompanying use tax that we can put toward our $1.5 million annual payment on the emergency radio debt.

Sounds good, right? But it’s complete BS. Here’s why. Hang with me here, the explanation is lengthy but it is not at all complicated. Commissioners are not counting on you taking the time to employ logic on this.

The county is already getting that $1.3 million in accompanying use tax. Renewing the existing sales tax CREATES ZERO NEW USE TAX MONEY. That’s zero as in zero.

The problem is the county has been putting that $1.3 million of use tax in the general fund and has been spending it to fund basics of government. And for the last few years we’ve been told the general fund is strapped, right? So if suddenly the commission decides to spend that $1.3 million in use tax money for radio debt, it’s going to need to find another $1.3 million elsewhere to balance the general fund budget.

That’s basic math and common sense. That means a tax increase or $1.3 million in cuts to general fund expenditures.

The commissioners are counting the use tax funds twice. They’re counting it when they look at their general fund. And now they’re saying they’ll count it to go toward radios. Breaking news: You can’t spend the same dollars twice. That’s Washington D.C. math. Platte County watchdogs are too smart for that kind of misleading propaganda.

If commissioners say they’re going to put the $1.3 million in use tax money toward radio debt, they’re selling you a bill of goods unless they can tell you how they will at the same time cut $1.3 million from general fund expenditures. Can the general fund survive the taking of $1.3 million from it? No. Not without major cuts to government or a tax increase, one of the two.

But don’t just take my word for it. Even Kevin Robinson, county auditor and friend of the two new county commissioners, will tell you the same thing. Read our front page story for his reaction to the county commission floating the idea to pay for radio debt with road use tax money. Because the county has been spending the use tax money on general operations, the fund wouldn’t be able to survive a hit like that, Robinson confirms.

“You’re going to have to make up for it somewhere else,” he said, which would mean either a tax increase or an equivalent $1.3 million cut in expenses.

And based on their actions in their first few months in office, do you have any confidence that new commissioners Beverlee Roper and Duane Soper are willing to cut expenditures? Absolutely not. They’ve been busy growing county government, not downsizing it. Since January, they’ve added four county employees to the budget. They’ve been busy giving raises, adding employees, and proposing new taxes.

If you think Roper and Soper are suddenly gonna turn into budget cutters and start slicing $1.3 million from the general fund budget then I hope you enjoy your time with the Easter Bunny this weekend and have a good time sitting on Santa’s lap in December.

The only way this commission is going to change its ways and turn fiscally conservative is if the voters force the action. Voters have that opportunity on Tuesday by voting against the 3/8th cent sales tax proposal.

Demand the commission come back with a plan that will address the roads tax and radio debt at the same time with a 3/8th cent tax proposal that puts 2/8th cent toward roads and 1/8th cent toward emergency radio debt.

You’re not just voting no, you’re spelling out the solution for them: Bring back a 3/8th cent tax that addresses roads and pays off the radio debt at the same time. It’s not a difficult concept.

******

Simply stated, if you vote yes you’re telling the county you want more taxes. Because in reality, that’s the only way the radio debt will get handled. Roper and Soper publicly said as much in early January. They can’t run from it, they said it in an open meeting with road district officials in January. The Landmark was there. Audio recordings are available.

If this road tax passes as proposed, Roper and Soper said their options for dealing with radio debt are to increase the property tax levy by six or seven cents or come back with a 1/8th cent sales tax for radios later this year. They even asked (begged) road district officials to be on hand to help them pass the radio tax, in what sounded like a trade-out for putting the road tax on the ballot at its current level of 3/8th cent.

The political pressure will be on the new commissioners regardless of how next week’s vote turns out. Fascinating stuff.

(Get fascinating stuff 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 

 


CREATOR OF COUNTY'S ORIGINAL ROAD TAX DOES NOT SUPPORT RENEWAL

Written 3/20/13

Hey, remember that time when a government agency said: “We don’t need to continue that temporary tax any longer. We’re living within our means and will let that tax expire.”

Me neither.

******

Hey, remember that time a couple new county commissioners came into office and said: “Give us some time to evaluate the overall financial situation of the county, both present and future, before we start proposing taxes. Until we get a grasp on things, everybody will get told ‘no’ to requests for increased spending.”

Me neither.

******

The last roads tax, passed in 2003 with a 10-year sunset, accomplished and solved most of the major road problems facing the county. Discussions about cutting the 3/8 cent road sales tax down to 1/8 cent before putting it up for renewal were underway by the previous commission, before new commissioners Beverlee Roper and Duane Soper came into office. With $10 million in emergency radio debt, restructuring the road tax at a lower rate and building in a sales tax percentage to go to radio debt would have been the more fiscally responsible proposal for county taxpayers. Roper and Soper, instead, stepped on the gas pedal.

The problem is this: The new commissioners haven’t yet developed the capacity to tell anyone “no” when it comes to requests. Roper felt a lot of pressure from her home city of Weatherby Lake to keep the road tax at 3/8 cent. Apparently Weatherby Lake, instead of treating this money as the gift that it is, has annually built its street budget with the assumption the money from the road tax was always going to be there. As a result, Weatherby Lake--and perhaps some other entities--have created their own dependency.

That’s not the purpose this road tax was designed to serve. But don’t take my word for it. Steve Wegner was second district county commissioner at the time the county designed the workings of the tax and put the question to voters. Wegner was the man who played a major role in creating the plan and personally led the pitch around the county. In other words, he knows the history.

“Tax monies going to the cities and small road districts were designed to be used for maintenance,” Wegner emphasized in a conversation with The Landmark this week. “The money wasn’t to fund new projects.”

The reason for that, obviously, is that those entities each have their own tax levy. If they want/need new projects, those entities can adjust their tax levy for that. Instead, what it appears has happened at Weatherby Lake and perhaps other areas, is that the government grew addicted to that money and started spending as if the road tax share was a never-ending thing.

That’s not the taxpayers’ fault. That’s the fault of those who have been entrusted with spending public money at the local level.

Under the original guidelines developed along with the first road tax, county road tax money going to Parkville so the city could pass it on to a MoDOT project like the widening of Hwy. 45 was not the intent.

“We dedicated no such money to go to the state of Missouri,” Wegner said. “I don’t think they need our money to do that.”

Wegner and other county officials at the time didn’t want the rich (MoDOT, Parkville Special Road District and Platte City Special Road District) getting richer off the county’s road tax.

The current proposal, according to Greg Sager, public works director for Platte County, calls for all entities to share equally this time around. In other words, the rich entities like Platte City Special Road District and Parkville Special Road District will be taking a share of the road tax if it renews. Last time, those two road districts were not provided a share because of their already deep coffers. This time, the rich will get richer.

“That’s like giving money to Donald Trump for cash flow,” Wegner said in disbelief upon hearing that news. “I can’t support this plan.”

******

By the way, Weatherby Lake has a population of 1,723 people.

Records on file at the county treasurer’s office show the City of Weatherby Lake has received $781,000 of county road tax money over the first nine years of this tax. That’s $453 per every man, woman and child in the metropolis of Weatherby Lake. That’s roughly $87,000 per year coming from the county sales tax for streets at Weatherby Lake. Wow.

How about this stat: the City of Weatherby Lake covers a geographical area of only 1.3 square miles. So a city of 1.3 geographic square miles being gifted $87,000 per year for roads hasn’t yet solved its road problems after nine years?

Seems ridiculous and irresponsible. Don’t punish the county taxpayers because Roper’s home city hasn’t spent its monetary gift wisely.

(Get some unfiltered commentary 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley and Facebook.com/ivan.foley)

 


FOLEY'S FORECAST

Written 3/20/13

If you entered The Landmark Bracket Battle, here’s what you’re up against if you’re out to win a Landmark subscription. This is Foley’s Forecast. Don’t be scared:


ROUND OF 32: Louisville, MU, Oregon, St. Louis, Memphis, Michigan St., Creighton, Duke, Gonzaga, Pitt, Wisconsin, K-State, Belmont, New Mexico, Notre Dame, Ohio State, KU, UNC, VCU, Michigan, UCLA, Florida, San Diego St., Georgetown, Indiana, NC State, UNLV, Syracuse, Butler, Davidson, Illinois, Miami.

SWEET 16: Louisville, St. Louis, Michigan State, Duke, Gonzaga, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Ohio State, KU, Michigan, Florida, San Diego State, Indiana, Syracuse, Butler, Miami.

ELITE 8: Louisville, Michigan State, Gonzaga, New Mexico, KU, Florida, Indiana, Miami.

FINAL 4: Louisville, Gonzaga, Florida, Miami.

CHAMPIONSHIP: Louisville 72, Miami 65.

Follow @ivanfoley on Twitter for updates throughout the tournament.

 


WHEN LIBERALS ENDORSE A LOCAL TAX, BE VERY AFRAID

Written 3/13/13

Be sure to get in The Landmark’s wildly popular NCAA Bracket Battle. See the details in a story in this issue. Anybody with a higher score than yours truly will win a free subscription to The Landmark and very public bragging rights. Top scorer wins $100.

Get your 15 minutes of fame. Make your picks and be somebody. Fax your bracket to 816-858-2313 or email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com.

******

I gotta admit the smoke-blowing approach by the Catholic Church Selection Committee is a creative way for them to get involved in all the March Madness stuff.

******

Parkville’s Economic Development Council this week announced it is endorsing the county’s 3/8 cent sales tax proposal for roads.

Don’t color me stunned. This is the same organization that endorsed Parkville’s crazy idea of legalizing golf carts for street traffic in a city filled with winding roads and bad sight lines.

“The Parkville EDC and its Board of Directors join business leaders and other major civic organizations including the Platte County Economic Development Council and the Northland Regional Chamber of Commerce in endorsing this issue,” the Parkville EDC’s letter of support states.

Couple of things to discuss here. Number one, has any EDC or Chamber of Commerce ever opposed a tax issue? Honestly, I can’t recall a time such a group opposed any proposed tax hike (and keep in mind, this proposal is in reality a tax hike because if allowed to expire as scheduled, taxpayers would enjoy a decrease).

Chambers of Commerce and EDC’s are typically run by a bureaucratic bunch, often lacking in individuality, who don’t have a problem promoting the idea of spending other people’s money. So really, the fact organizations like these hide behind the “group think” approach in endorsing the tax isn’t really news. What would be news is if such a group actually had the tummy to publicly oppose taxing and spending.

It’s understandable wanting to see the good in all things, and it would be nice if we lived in a perfect world. We don’t. Taxpayers don’t have to like or accept every attempted attack on their wallets.

The bottom line is this: Representing the good of the taxpaying public occasionally calls for getting one’s nose dirty. That’s not going to happen inside a chamber of commerce or economic development council.

******

By the way, who are these unidentified “business leaders” the Parkville EDC claims have endorsed the county’s sales tax proposal? That’s a blanket statement that needs some specifics, folks. Name some individual names for us--you know, names of people not involved in a leadership role of your EDC. Please and thank you.

******

And by the way, Yael T. Abouhalkah, editorial writer for the Kansas City Star, was all gung-ho on Twitter about the county’s proposed sales tax measure when it was first announced that the tax will be on the April 2 ballot. This comes as no surprise. Yael and the Star are extremely liberal thinkers when it comes to taxes. Keep in mind, Yael was always the Kansas City Star’s mouthpiece/cheerleader for Betty Knight during her time as presiding commissioner. Also keep in mind, if the tax and spend policies of Betty Knight were still popular in Platte County, Knight would still be presiding commissioner. She stepped aside rather than run for reelection in 2010 because she could feel that the political wind was shifting.

Anytime the liberals in the region are telling you a proposed tax is a great idea, be afraid. Be very afraid.

******

On the topic of chambers of commerce and such, it’s fair to say now the Platte City Chamber of Commerce can officially be described as an irrelevant organization. I’ve long maintained the group is nothing more than a social club, and recent developments have reinforced my observation.

Case in point: When you hear City of Platte City leaders talk about efforts to attract development east of I-29, they talk of working with the Platte County EDC. City leaders don’t mention the local chamber of commerce, which no longer has a contract with the city for economic development efforts. And when the mayor recently gave a major economic development speech, he didn’t seek an audience with the Platte City Chamber of Commerce. His speech was to the Platte City Lions Club. That is very telling in itself.

I will give the chamber credit for this much: Its paid staff has become less grumpy and more cordial than it was under the previous executive director. So at least the chamber has become a more friendly social club, as opposed to the cliquish and often holier-than-thou organization it had become under the previous director.

******

More follow-up on Angela Van Batavia, the Park Hill teacher--you remember, the one who tried to hide her identity by signing her maiden name--who wrote the letter to the editor complaining about our reporting in exposing the $454,000 compensation package to former Superintendent Dennis Fisher. A little more research this week uncovered this: Angela Van Batavia is married to Brian Van Batavia. Brian Van Batavia is the assistant principal at Lakeview Middle School in the Park Hill district.
It’s all becoming clear. Who better to scream foul about exposing an extravagant compensation package for a school administrator than the spouse of a school administrator? What a circus.

It has me thinking now we need to take a transparent look at the compensation packages of every administrator at every level in the district.

(Constant news and analysis, plus Bracket Battle updates, are yours at Twitter.com/ivanfoley, Facebook.com/ivan.foley, or via email to ivan@plattecountylandmark.com. Getcha some.)

 

 

 


ONCE A TAX IS OKAYED, IT'S OUT OF THE PUBLIC'S HANDS

Written 3/6/13

Hey, remember when 54% of voters in 2009 approved a renewal of the county half cent park tax? The 10-year written master plan for this money included horse trails.

Yes, it was in there.

Well, here it is 2013 and there is absolutely no sign of horse trails becoming a reality.

Voters were hoodwinked.

******

Hey, remember when 54% of voters in 2009 approved a renewal of the county half cent park tax? The 10-year written master plan for this money included mountain bike trails.

Yes, it was in there.

Well, here it is 2013 and has anyone heard a word about mountain bike trails becoming a reality? Voters were bamboozled.

******

Hey, remember when 54% of county voters in 2009 approved a renewal of the county half cent park tax? The 10-year written master plan for this money included canoe trails.

Yes, it was in there.

Well, here it is 2013 and there is still no sign of canoe trails becoming a reality. Duped again.

******

I mention these items not because I think an overwhelming number of county residents are longing for horse trails, bike trails, and canoe trails.

The point is this: Government can tell you how it plans to spend your money if you approve a dedicated tax; it can put all kinds of project lists in writing; it can make all kinds of written plans, but the bottom line is the government is still going to have the ability to change its mind and spend your money however it wants within the legal framework of the dedicated tax. The only thing certain is once that tax is approved, the government types are going to become addicted to that money and they’re not going to give it back. The only recourse is to kick that tax in the fanny when it comes up for renewal.

Something to think about before you vote in favor of a “dedicated” tax.

*******

By the way, Platte County has a 3/8th cent dedicated sales tax renewal on the April 2 ballot.

******

Last week’s anticipated economic development announcement from the city of Platte City concerning potential development efforts on the east side of Interstate 29 was more of a statement of generalities and not exactly groundbreaking news. There’s talk of forming an enhanced enterprise zone, working closely with the Platte County EDC on future development efforts, and future use of such tools as neighborhood improvement districts, etc. to “sell” to potential developers.

There is still some speculation in certain circles that the city is having to work hard to keep KC Bobcat as a part of the Platte City business community. KC Bobcat looks awfully crowded at its current location at I-29 and HH, and earlier there was talk Tracy would like to attract the business to a spot near the Tracy exit on I-29.

So, it’s possible Platte City’s development effort east of I-29 could be as much about retaining existing businesses as it is about attracting new ones. Time will tell.

The thing I liked best from Mayor Frank Offutt’s ‘State of the City’ speech to the Lions Club last week was his insistence that any development incentives will be done without increasing taxes or fees upon existing businesses and residents. The public will need to be diligent in holding the city to that promise.

******

If you read my Twitter updates, you already know this. If you don’t here’s the scoop. I was bombarded with phone calls and emails after last week’s paper included a letter to the editor signed with the name Angela Dozier. In the interest of full disclosure of connections to the topic at hand (the transparency issue at Park Hill) we had attached a line in her signature identifying her as a teacher at Park Hill. Readers familiar with the teaching staff at Park Hill began contacting the paper, saying there is no “Angela Dozier” listed on the roster of Park Hill teachers. Readers feared that the letter was signed with a fictitious name.

Here’s the background story. The letter to the editor signed by Angela Dozier arrived via an email account listed under the name Angela Van Batavia (in her correspondence she did not identify herself as a Park Hill staff member).

It is The Landmark’s policy to research the authenticity of letters to the editor prior to printing, so in beginning that process we conducted research into both names. We could find nothing under the name Angela Dozier but became aware of voter registration records and evidence of a Park Hill teacher by the name of Angela Van Batavia.

The next step in our verification process is to phone the letter writer. I called the phone number “Angela Dozier” had supplied the day before the paper came out. “So you’re a teacher at Park Hill?” I asked. She paused, sounding surprised we had figured that out. “I am a teacher at Park Hill and a patron,” she responded. I then asked her about the two different names. She answered only that the Van Batavia email address was “an old email account.” From that, I thought perhaps she was recently divorced and therefore had a new last name. Satisfied that I was indeed talking to the person who had sent the letter, that’s as deep as we needed to go in that conversation, as we typically don’t need nor care to know the details of our readers’ domestic situations.

Turns out Angela’s last name is Van Batavia after all. Dozier, she admitted this week after the topic was blown up on Twitter, is her maiden name. Her explanation for the bit of misdirection? “I used my maiden name in my letter, as the beliefs and ideas in my letter were mine, not my husband's,” she said.

That’s quite a leap in logic. Using Angela’s approach, married women all across America should now identify themselves by their maiden name when giving an opinion.
Draw your own conclusion. My gut feeling is Angela signed the letter as “Dozier” hoping her employment as a teacher would not be discovered and thus her viewpoint could not be interpreted as having a bias.

At any rate, that was last week. More letters on the Park Hill transparency topic are in this issue. Enjoy by clicking here.

(Ivan Foley always uses his maiden name. Follow him at Twitter.com/ivanfoley or email ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)

 

 


TAXPAYERS PROVIDED
LUXURY CAR FOR
FISHER’S PERSONAL USE

Written 2/27/13

In case you haven’t noticed, it has been a crazy week or so in terms of weather, with a couple of heavy snows dumped on Platte County. Sincere kudos to the road crews for keeping up with what has been a monumental task. They haven’t been tested often in the past couple of years, but when they have they’ve responded well. The county road clearing crew earned praise from first responders at the scene of the train vs. car accident last week. And those of us in downtown Platte City can attest to the fine way the city of Platte City public works crew has handed the difficult chore of maneuvering piles of snow in what is a challenging environment to do so.

*******

As we go to press on Wednesday, based on agendas from recent closed door meetings, a big economic development announcement from the city of Platte City could be coming soon. Mayor Frank Offutt will be giving a ‘State of the City’ address to the Platte City Lions Club tonight. Does he have some sort of news for the community in regard to a plan for the area east of Interstate 29? Stay tuned with us here and at Twitter.com/ivanfoley. I’m anxious to hear details as to whether the money involved is private or public. And anxious to see how the public will respond if public money is being spent on “potential” development.

******

As an audit of the Central Platte Fire Department gets rolling, here’s hoping the communication with the auditors is being handled by the three fire board members (Paul Regan, Andy Stanton and Mike Ashcraft) rather than being turned over to Lisa Bjustrom, who serves as the bookkeeper and unsolicited adviser to the board on many matters. I’m sure Bjustrom is a good person and probably good at basic accounting as well, but during meetings I do find her remarks on spending topics to be quite entertaining. If the board is seeking services on just about any matter, Bjustrom has no problem spending the money--without a bid process. But every time the topic of a audit came up, Bjustrom was quick to mention how expensive an in-depth audit of the department’s books and procedures could be.

She has expressed many times in open meetings that she doesn’t feel the need to put certain service items out for bid, because members of the department or family members of firefighters are already hired to do the work. She seems to feel the practice of hiring firefighters and family members without a bid process is a completely acceptable way for public money to be spent. With that in mind, the fear is unless the board members are communicating directly with the hired auditors, the district isn’t going to get the type of audit it is paying for. My guess is Stanton and Ashcraft will stay on top of it.

******

As we told you we would when we first exposed the topic in a Feb. 6 front page article and subsequent editorials, The Landmark is continuing its look at the lack of transparency in general and the 3-part contracts of former Park Hill Superintendent Dennis Fisher.

A teacher in the district this week submitted a letter to the editor (to read it click here) in which she claims the reporting is one-sided and casts Park Hill in an unwarranted light. I think it’s cute that an employee of the district is stepping forward to try to defend her employer for less than transparent activities and $454,000 compensation packages to a now-former superintendent. Unless things have changed at Park Hill, the teacher may get a nice bonus in her next contract for defending the school district.

Shoot the messenger all you’d like. We wear it as a badge of honor. The truth of the matter is that the facts are what is casting the district’s past practices in a negative light. And the truth of the matter is that some folks currently in place at Park Hill are working to clean up the lack of transparency issue. Chris Seufert, board member, is one of them leading the charge. Helping aid the cause has been some revealing comments by former board member Fred Sanchez, who despite the insinuation in the letter to the editor, certainly broke no laws by legally having a concealed weapon on his person at a board meeting.

For the record, the newspaper has reached out to those who were involved in the decision-making in regard to Fisher’s past contracts. Most notably on that list is John Thomas, former school board president, who has made negative remarks about the coverage of this topic on his Facebook page. Recently I extended an invitation to Thomas to sit down for an in-depth interview on this topic, since he signed some of Fisher’s contracts. Thomas has not responded to that invitation.

Sometimes no response says it all.

******

As we have previously reported, Fisher’s compensation was hidden in the form of three separate “agreements” instead of one employment contract. It seems that method was an attempt to hope the general public would never know about things like bonuses, incentives and payments of nearly $100,000 annually into Fisher’s pension.

The teacher’s letter this week put The Landmark’s focus back on some documents related to Fisher’s employment. Guess what we found this time?

The Park Hill School District (um, that would be taxpayers within the district) purchased, maintained and insured a “full size American-made vehicle” for Fisher’s business AND personal use.

Read that again.

It was written in his contract, strangely placed under the sub-heading of “retirement.” It doesn’t say the superintendent was furnished a car for business use. It says Fisher was furnished a car for business and PERSONAL use. Personal use, of course, means anything. Fisher could take the car on vacation, go to the movies, run to the grocery store, anything. . . at taxpayer expense.

It’s not hyperbole to say that’s insane. What government entity thinks it is appropriate to buy and maintain a vehicle for an employee’s personal use? It shows a lack of accountability on the part of the school board and a clear case of a superintendent outfoxing some not-so-smart foxes who were supposed to be serving as his bosses.

I mentioned the car benefit to a person who ran for Park Hill School Board a while back. This former candidate remembers the vehicle well.

“I rode in that car with him when I ran for school board. It was a top of the line luxury car. I didn’t know at the time I was helping pay for it. During the tour, he was adamant about how the administration was not being paid enough. Why did the families, students and teachers of Park Hill get taken for dollars used for the superintendent’s own personal use and enjoyment?” asked the former board candidate.

That’s a question a guy like John Thomas should be able to answer--or at least try to answer. The Landmark’s door--and our phone lines--are wide open.

(Catch us 24/7 regardless of the weather at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


LOCAL GOP NEEDS TO 'VET' ITS CANDIDATES; A PARK HILL MEMORY

Written 2/19/13

It’s not clear how they can do it or what it will mean if they do, but the chatter in political circles is that the Platte County Republican Party will be working harder to “vet” candidates who file as Republicans in the future. The tax-and-spend ways and views being espoused by the two newly elected county commissioners has quite obviously sparked the recent talk.

As has been mentioned in this space previously, with the decline of the local Democrat party to the point of irrelevance, what’s happening is candidates with less than Republican-like backgrounds and beliefs are filing as Republicans because they realize it’s next to impossible for a Democrat to win a local election in Platte County. Once these Republicans in disguise get elected, the worry, the fear and the evidence is they will not/are not following the core Republican beliefs of smaller government and lower taxes.

******

The life and times of Park Hill school officials would be so much simpler if The Landmark wasn’t around. Yes, I’ve written that sentence before. I first wrote it in September of 2008. It still rings true today.

Our recent articles about the past lack of transparency at Park Hill--and the recent movement afoot to change that--has me recalling a Park Hill incident in 2008.
There was an opening on the Park Hill School Board, and the board was in the process of selecting a person to fill that spot. It came to our attention, mainly by listening in on public conversations, that at least some board members wanted their deliberations about candidates to fill the spot to be held behind closed doors. When the board decided to form a subcommittee to sort through a list of 18 candidates, Alan McArthur, Landmark reporter at the time, politely asked if the meetings of the subcommittee would be open to the public. Alan had worked at The Landmark long enough that he already knew the correct answer to the question he was asking. He just wanted to find out if anybody at Park Hill knew the correct answer.

The correct answer, of course, is that such a subcommittee meeting by law must be open to the public. But that’s not the way John A. Thomas, president of the school board at the time, initially answered Alan’s question. “No, I don’t think it will be,” Thomas said, before Park Hill’s communications coordinator Nicole Kirby quickly stepped in to say the matter would be researched and assured us the committee meetings would be run in accordance with Sunshine Law regulations. In other words, the meeting would be open. They said they would notify us of upcoming committee meetings. They didn’t. Alan found out about it by searching their web site.

But the fun didn’t stop there. The subcommittee meeting was set for 7 a.m. on a Friday. But that’s only half of it. The chosen meeting site was the Corner Café in Riverside. You heard it right. . . Park Hill chose to hold a public meeting of three board members and the superintendent at one of the busiest morning cafes in the Kansas City area. What a joke. Call me paranoid, but I’m gonna say they chose such a time and place in hopes it would deter the press from attending. Their plan almost worked. But much to Park Hill’s chagrin, I’m sure, The Landmark did attend. Reporter Alan McArthur showed up at the Corner Café on that Friday morning. He chatted with Superintendent Dennis Fisher, whom we now know as the man with the jaw-dropping $454,000 contract/benefits package, in the lobby of the restaurant.

When the three board members--John Thomas, Denise Schnell and Bob Weidt--arrived and the restaurant employee asked how many would be seated at the table, Fisher answered four. As in three board members and himself. Another not-so-subtle hint, wouldn’t you say? Or did Fisher really think it was coincidence that a reporter was just hanging out chatting with him at the café at 7 a.m.?

Anyway, Alan was mentally primed and had been prepped for such a situation. Undaunted, he pulled up a chair next to the uncomfortable board members and superintendent to take in the circus, err, I mean the “meeting.” Yes, three board members and the superintendent ate breakfast at a noisy, crowded restaurant while talking through the process of choosing a new school board member. Alan’s report on the session included everything but a critique of the food, as the working journalist declined to order.

******

John Thomas, the former Park Hill School Board president mentioned above, had an interesting time in public service. I can remember when he was recruited/encouraged/supported by conservatives who hoped Thomas would make a difference and bring a new perspective to the board. So much for the best laid plans. Thomas fell into the same ol’ same ol’ instead of being part of a new approach. Thomas obviously didn’t have a grasp of the concept of open meetings. Thomas obviously was subservient to the superintendent. Thomas obviously didn’t mind the huge contract/benefits packages for the superintendent, a package that spread the rewards out in three separate contracts which meant the public would have to dig deep to be able to figure out the shell game hiding the total amount of the superintendent’s compensation. Thomas obviously liked to, as former board member Fred Sanchez so eloquently describes it, let the tail wag the dog.

Thomas now spends time on Facebook as a media critic. And, hey, who can blame him for that after such a stellar career in public service?

It’s best for taxpayers that Thomas remain a media critic and stay away from a position that allows him to spend public money.

******

Baseball season must not be far off. Had a dream last night that some childhood buddies and I were tossing a ball around in an open field. We were all about 12 years old. It was cool and it was weird, all at the same time.

******

What really made the dream weird was that Firefighter of the Year Tom Ragone suddenly appeared riding horseback across the field, carrying a baseball bat, a catcher’s mitt and a copy of the Constitution--with a pet monkey riding on his shoulder.
Ragone warned my friends and I that we were defaming the sport of baseball and the great men who have played the game. He demanded an apology and threatened a lawsuit.

We let him carry on for 10 minutes. Then we laughed and kept playing.

(Send your request for an apology to ivan@plattecountylandmark so it can be received and ignored. Follow Foley at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


FIREFIGHTERS NOT HANDLING LOSS OF INFLUENCE WELL

Written 2/13/13

Oh, shoot. Better gather my lawyers. I heard it’s a clear case of defamation to offend the Central Platte Firefighter of the Year.

******

In his public role, Mike Ragone is a publicly-paid firefighter for the publicly-funded Central Platte Fire District. Records show Ragone checked in for 387 runs last year and was paid $5,642 for his “volunteer” duties.

But Ragone isn’t just any firefighter. Recently, he was very publicly bestowed the honor of Central Platte Firefighter of the Year. Good for him. Nice honor for a public figure.

Ragone loves to spend fire department money. In other words, your money. At last month’s board meeting, for instance, he lamented the fact the fire district had a good amount of money in the bank. “We’re a government entity. We should be running our balances to zero,” he said.

That remark tells you all you need to know. There’s no desire for accountability or fiscal responsibility from anyone who would make that comment.

I’m told in his private life he travels a lot and is some type of “consultant” for other fire districts. Better yet, on Tuesday night at a meeting of the fire district board of directors, we learned Ragone fancies himself a Constitutional scholar.

Yes, toward the end of a meeting under an agenda item labeled “public relations,” Ragone launched into a blustery speech. Ragone, who appears to have a feeling of self-importance that perhaps comes standard with the “consultant” profession, in short claimed that he and other firefighters have been defamed and libeled by this newspaper. He seemed to particularly feel defamed by a recent editorial cartoon on this page. That cartoon followed a comment in this column that I’ve seen “monkey poop fights and drunken poker games” more organized than a Central Platte fire board meeting.

The outstanding cartoon produced by Matthew Silber in the following issue displayed a scene of monkeys throwing poop at one another with two guys sitting at a table, beverage can in hand, cards on the table under the tagline: “Monkey poop fight + drunken poker game=Central Platte Fire Board meeting.”

Ragone, a white man, even tried to play the race card, saying “calling someone a monkey” is a racial slur. Well, perhaps, Scholar Ragone, but that’s irrelevant since no one was called a monkey.

“Firefighters were extremely offended by the cartoon. Clearly, (the cartoon) was defamation. That’s damages, quite frankly,” Ragone continued in his spiel, which went on for more than 10-15 minutes.

Ragone asked the board members to write a letter to The Landmark demanding a public apology (Note to self: let’s do a cartoon on this).

Ragone claimed the monkey poop/drunken poker game cartoon--which obviously was a satire of the atmosphere often found at fire board meetings and aimed at no individual person--was “defamatory” and “libelous” to firefighters. He claimed he has gotten a couple legal opinions from attorneys that back him up on this. Maybe he visited with attorneys operating out of a van down by the river.

The publicly decorated Firefighter of the Year even claimed firefighters--who are paid with your tax money and who work with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment purchased by you--are private citizens protected from editorial scrutiny. Yes, the decorated Firefighter of the Year says he is not a public figure. “I’m not free game. They’re not free game,” he said, referring to a crowd of young firefighters in the room who, not knowing any better, looked on with wonderment in their eyes as their scholarly leader tried to go all Patrick Henry-like.

I recorded Constitutional Scholar Ragone’s State of the Union address on my phone. I’ve listened to it at least a dozen times. It’s comedy gold.

If Ragone’s talk were a skit on Saturday Night Live it would be the hit of the show. It’s the authority in his voice with which he says stuff that is total BS (things like “the United States Supreme Court is very clear on this”) that makes me laugh out loud. I’ve already hosted “listen to this” sessions at my desk with friends and co-workers. I’ve accumulated enough column material from his Declaration of Defamation to last a lifetime.

******

Board member Andy Stanton pointed out to Ragone that he missed the point of the cartoon. My guess is Ragone and his followers missed the point on purpose. His speech ended when, after more than 10 minutes of listening to his baloney-filled shtick, I asked if he’d like me to address the topic. Another person in the crowd asked him “Are you an attorney, sir?” My comment to Ragone was that his expert opinions on legal issues and his expert opinions on what newspapers can and cannot do--even though he is not a lawyer nor a newspaperman--were “way off base” and “not even close” to providing an accurate interpretation of the situation. I rebuked his claim that he, as a taxpayer-funded firefighter for a taxpayer-funded department, is not subject to editorial scrutiny. The room went quiet. Board member Mike Ashcraft had already indicated he believed the newspaper’s opinions are protected by the Constitution. Stanton asked the firefighter/constitutional scholar if his request was for the board to write a letter to The Landmark seeking a public apology. Ragone said yes. Stanton said “your request is. . . . received.”

In other words, received but not going anywhere.

******

People in desperate situations say and do desperate things. Ragone was simply trying to find an argument by attempting to turn the cartoon into something it wasn’t. The pushback from firefighters is due more to their loss of power and influence rather than any true feelings of “defamation.” The good ol’ boy network is slowly being replaced by an atmosphere of accountability pushed by Stanton and Ashcraft. Firefighters aren’t used to it. And they don’t like it.

For years, firefighters spoke up at any point during a board meeting. They influenced and mentally intimidated lesser-willed men who were on the board prior to the arrival of Stanton and Ashcraft. If Tuesday night’s smooth-flowing meeting is an indication, those days are coming to an end. As of this month, meetings are being run in a more professional manner. Services that have been typically supplied by firefighters or family members of firefighters on a hiring whim are being put out for bid, to ensure proper use of tax dollars and greater transparency. An audit process approved Tuesday night will ensure the district’s books are in order--and proper procedures in handling funds and services--are being followed.

Improvements in policies and procedures are being made at Central Platte Fire and that’s good for the community. Firefighters would be better suited to embrace the process rather than fight with anyone who wants to see continued improvements.

(Get ‘scholarly’ Twitter updates 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)


 

TRYING TO SOLVE SOME GREAT LOCAL MYSTERIES

Written 2/6/13

As we all know, there are some great mysteries in life. Let’s touch on a few of them this week. Read on.

******

Did you know the Platte City Police Chief makes more money per year than the Platte County Sheriff? It’s true. Irresponsible, but true. Why?

The annual salary for Carl Mitchell, chief of police for Platte City, is $72,654. The annual salary for the Platte County Sheriff, per a formula set by the state legislature for a sheriff in a first class county, is $72,258.

It is ridiculous that small cities like Platte City have continued to grow the salaries of their police chiefs to the point the chief's salary is higher than the head of a department he calls on for help when a case is above his department's pay grade. There is no fiscal discipline being displayed in these small cities.

*******

As a counterpoint, it should be mentioned that if the sheriff ever needs advice on how to illegally place a surveillance camera on private property he could call the higher paid police chief of Platte City. So there you go.

******

The City of Parkville has placed a use tax question on its April ballot that the city says will bring in $38,000 per year that the city will lose if the tax is not passed. It will be on the same ballot as the county’s 3/8th cent road sales tax question.

So Parkville can’t survive without $38,000? There isn’t $38,000 worth of “fat” the city could cut from its budget? I haven’t even studied the city budget in any great detail as of yet but off the top of my head I can name two areas where the city could easily save more than needed to make up for any “lost” $38,000.

No. 1: Eliminate the city’s unnecessary and useless public access television operation (as much as I’d like to have my mug appear on Parkville’s most watched television station, eliminating the channel would account for $30-$35,000 in annual savings right there.)

No. 2: Forget the idea of having a city administrator and an assistant city administrator. Question: How can a city of 5,500 people need--and justify--two administrators? Answer: It can’t.

Decide on who will be the new city administrator, whether it's the interim Sean Ackerson or a new hire--then eliminate the assistant position. This alone would save more than enough money saved to account for this potential $38,000 loss of use tax revenue.

Taxpayers of Parkville, this solution was conceived in less than two minutes. No consultants, no committee meetings needed.

Boom. You’re welcome.

******

Platte County Commissioners are traveling to Jefferson City this week for officeholder training sessions put on by the Missouri Association of Counties. They’ll need a five passenger vehicle.

******

Can anybody else picture the elected commissioners running to the car to head to commissioner training with auditor Kevin Robinson clinging to the tailpipe (‘Guys, wait! Isn’t this for all of us?’) and director of administration Dana Babcock riding on the hood (‘Duane and Bev, go this way!’)?

******

At Monday’s county commission meeting, newly-elected second district county commissioner Duane Soper remarked that his first month has been active and interesting. “We’ve had the budget and the 3/8th cent road tax (proposal). I feel like I’ve taken part of my campaign and checked off a couple things I said I was gonna do and I’m proud of those decisions.”

This is at least the second time Soper has publicly referenced pledges he says he made during his campaign to justify some decisions he made in his initial month in office. The first time he said something to the effect that if anybody is surprised by some of his early decisions then “they must not have been paying attention” during his campaign. But the mystery is, did Soper really make these kinds of promises and pledges during his campaign? Look, it’s entirely possible we may have missed something, but I like to think there’s no other outlet that has its finger on the pulse of local politics quite like The Landmark does. And Soper has done some things in his first month that nobody around these parts can find record of him saying or writing that he intended to do. For instance:

*Where is the campaign literature or where was the speech in which Soper said he favors expanding county government and growing the county’s expenses by adding four new non-essential county employees? Does anybody have evidence Soper ever said that or wrote that? Cuz we musta missed it.

*When and where in his campaign did Soper say he would favor raising the county’s tax levy by six cents over a finding a no tax increase solution to emergency radio debt? He said it after taking office. But where’s the campaign piece or where was the stump speech in which he promised to raise taxes? Cuz I have a feeling a bunch of voters missed it.

*When and where in his campaign did Soper say he would turn down the chance to let voters decide on a dedicated funding stream for the county’s emergency radio debt that could be done without a tax increase? Can anybody find evidence that he made a “promise” to do that in his campaign? Cuz we musta missed it.

*When and where in his campaign did Soper say he would favor increasing the county’s sales tax rate by 1/8th cent? He publicly promoted that thought a few weeks ago. But is there any evidence that he said in his campaign he would favor doing that over a plan that could be done with no tax increase? Cuz we musta missed it.

******

On the heels of what has been a tax-and-spend kind of month by a Platte County Commission comprised of all Republicans, there was a meeting of the Platte County Republican Central Committee Monday night. I found it to be a combination of interesting, fascinating, occasionally testy, with at least one-part weird/bizarre.

No room to get into it here. Look for a special Between the Lines column focusing primarily on the weird/bizarre part of the meeting at plattecountylandmark.com in the coming days. I’ll tease the column at Twitter.com/ivanfoley when it’s ready for your perusal.

(Weird/bizarre is most often the norm at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


SCHOOLS--PARK HILL INCLUDED--LIKE TO PLAY SHELL GAMES TO HIDE ADMINISTRATOR SALARIES

Written 1/30/13

As we all know, there are some great mysteries in life. Let’s touch on a few of them this week. Read on.

******

Did you know the Platte City Police Chief makes more money per year than the Platte County Sheriff? It’s true. Irresponsible, but true. Why?

The annual salary for Carl Mitchell, chief of police for Platte City, is $72,654. The annual salary for the Platte County Sheriff, per a formula set by the state legislature for a sheriff in a first class county, is $72,258.

It is ridiculous that small cities like Platte City have continued to grow the salaries of their police chiefs to the point the chief's salary is higher than the head of a department he calls on for help when a case is above his department's pay grade. There is no fiscal discipline being displayed in these small cities.

*******

As a counterpoint, it should be mentioned that if the sheriff ever needs advice on how to illegally place a surveillance camera on private property he could call the higher paid police chief of Platte City. So there you go.

******

The City of Parkville has placed a use tax question on its April ballot that the city says will bring in $38,000 per year that the city will lose if the tax is not passed. It will be on the same ballot as the county’s 3/8th cent road sales tax question.

So Parkville can’t survive without $38,000? There isn’t $38,000 worth of “fat” the city could cut from its budget? I haven’t even studied the city budget in any great detail as of yet but off the top of my head I can name two areas where the city could easily save more than needed to make up for any “lost” $38,000.

No. 1: Eliminate the city’s unnecessary and useless public access television operation (as much as I’d like to have my mug appear on Parkville’s most watched television station, eliminating the channel would account for $30-$35,000 in annual savings right there.)

No. 2: Forget the idea of having a city administrator and an assistant city administrator. Question: How can a city of 5,500 people need--and justify--two administrators? Answer: It can’t.
Decide on who will be the new city administrator, whether it's the interim Sean Ackerson or a new hire--then eliminate the assistant position. This alone would save more than enough money saved to account for this potential $38,000 loss of use tax revenue.
Taxpayers of Parkville, this solution was conceived in less than two minutes. No consultants, no committee meetings needed.
Boom. You’re welcome.
******

Platte County Commissioners are traveling to Jefferson City this week for officeholder training sessions put on by the Missouri Association of Counties. They’ll need a five passenger vehicle.
******

Can anybody else picture the elected commissioners running to the car to head to commissioner training with auditor Kevin Robinson clinging to the tailpipe (‘Guys, wait! Isn’t this for all of us?’) and director of administration Dana Babcock riding on the hood (‘Duane and Bev, go this way!’)?
******

At Monday’s county commission meeting, newly-elected second district county commissioner Duane Soper remarked that his first month has been active and interesting. “We’ve had the budget and the 3/8th cent road tax (proposal). I feel like I’ve taken part of my campaign and checked off a couple things I said I was gonna do and I’m proud of those decisions.”
This is at least the second time Soper has publicly referenced pledges he says he made during his campaign to justify some decisions he made in his initial month in office. The first time he said something to the effect that if anybody is surprised by some of his early decisions then “they must not have been paying attention” during his campaign. But the mystery is, did Soper really make these kinds of promises and pledges during his campaign? Look, it’s entirely possible we may have missed something, but I like to think there’s no other outlet that has its finger on the pulse of local politics quite like The Landmark does. And Soper has done some things in his first month that nobody around these parts can find record of him saying or writing that he intended to do. For instance:
*Where is the campaign literature or where was the speech in which Soper said he favors expanding county government and growing the county’s expenses by adding four new non-essential county employees? Does anybody have evidence Soper ever said that or wrote that? Cuz we musta missed it.
*When and where in his campaign did Soper say he would favor raising the county’s tax levy by six cents over a finding a no tax increase solution to emergency radio debt? He said it after taking office. But where’s the campaign piece or where was the stump speech in which he promised to raise taxes? Cuz I have a feeling a bunch of voters missed it.
*When and where in his campaign did Soper say he would turn down the chance to let voters decide on a dedicated funding stream for the county’s emergency radio debt that could be done without a tax increase? Can anybody find evidence that he made a “promise” to do that in his campaign? Cuz we musta missed it.
*When and where in his campaign did Soper say he would favor increasing the county’s sales tax rate by 1/8th cent? He publicly promoted that thought a few weeks ago. But is there any evidence that he said in his campaign he would favor doing that over a plan that could be done with no tax increase? Cuz we musta missed it.
******

On the heels of what has been a tax-and-spend kind of month by a Platte County Commission comprised of all Republicans, there was a meeting of the Platte County Republican Central Committee Monday night. I found it to be a combination of interesting, fascinating, occasionally testy, with at least one-part weird/bizarre.
No room to get into it here. Look for a special Between the Lines column focusing primarily on the weird/bizarre part of the meeting at plattecountylandmark.com in the coming days. I’ll tease the column at Twitter.com/ivanfoley when it’s ready for your perusal.
(Weird/bizarre is most often the norm at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


SCHOOLS--PARK HILL INCLUDED--LIKE TO PLAY SHELL GAMES TO HIDE ADMINISTRATOR SALARIES

Written 1/30/13

The taxpaying public deserves more transparency than it’s getting from school districts. It’s time to end the shell games when it comes to hiding expenditures involving salaries of administrators, for instance. It’s time to be honest and upfront with the public in regard to how many tax dollars are going toward funding salary (some on ‘hidden lines,’ so to speak) and total compensation packages for administrators.

It’s a problem everywhere. It has been a huge problem inside the Park Hill School District. Right now, the buzz in education circles across the Northland is how the covers are getting pulled back and some mind-blowing numbers are coming to light at Park Hill.

So what is the fuss about? How about this: Did you know that in school year 2011-12, the Park Hill School District paid out $453,968 in total salary/compensation to Superintendent Dr. Dennis Fisher? Yes, that’s nearly half a million dollars to your local school superintendent. Insert your own expletive here.

Here’s the kicker. Had you called Park Hill or sent an email asking for “the salary” of the superintendent during 2011-12, you likely would have been given this number: $243,500. But the secret is that number only included Fisher’s base salary of $239,500 and a $4,000 doctoral stipend.

Of course school officials who deal with this information aren’t stupid. They know when a patron asks “how much are we paying our superintendent,” the patron wants to know the bottom line, how many total taxpayer dollars are being invested in the top spot. What they get in return--not just at Park Hill but other district as well--is a line of half-truths.

Let’s look at Fisher’s 2011-12 situation, for instance. After the $243,500 the school would have openly acknowledged, there is a $50,000 “benefit maintenance” payment. What’s this for? I’m told it came in his paycheck, just like salary. Its purpose, supposedly, is so that the superintendent could take that money and invest it in some benefit program he would like to have, with the idea being this is because there is not a 401K program at a public entity like a school district. But understand, Fisher was handed that $50,000. What he did with it from there is his business.

Looking further at Fisher’s 2011-12 deal, he earned $40,000 in bonus money. This is listed as a performance stipend, payable if the district achieved certain goals. It’s not clear what those goals were but apparently they were easily within reach, as out of a possible $50,000 bonus Fisher was paid $40,000 of it. So if you’re scoring at home, with the “benefits maintenance” of $50,000 and bonus money of $40,000, Fisher’s salary has grown from $243,500 to $333,500 in cash money.

Moving beyond direct cash of $333,500, the next stunner is that the school district was paying both halves of his retirement contribution. In most of these type situations, an employer will match an employee’s contribution into a retirement pension plan. But Park Hill goes beyond that. Park Hill pays both for its superintendent. You read that right. In 2011-12, Park Hill paid $49,034 for the employer’s contribution into Fisher’s retirement pension, AND paid $49,034 for Fisher’s contribution into his retirement plan. Yup, that’s $98,000 taxpayers put in Fisher’s pension in that year alone. That’s astonishing. Digest that for a minute.

Add in some payments for a health plan, dental, vision, life, disability, family health, family dental, family vision, Medicare, vehicle allowance dollars, and the grand total of Fisher’s salary and compensation package that year was $453,968.

I’ll let a Park Hill taxpayer take it from there.

“I know several people who are upset with this, both in the amount of money and the lack of transparency. Is the public going to want to vote for any more tax levies after learning this? I have friends who are teachers in that district. They’ve told me the district is top-heavy in the number of administrators and in the salary paid to those administrators,” Park Hill patron Nancy Kraus Womack told me this week when I asked for her reaction.

Expect much more on the shell game topic in future editions.

******

So remember that budget message that Platte County Auditor Kevin Robinson did not present along with the proposed 2013 county budget, instead saying it couldn’t be completed until after final budget approval by the county commission because it was a ‘statement of policy?’ Well, Robinson distributed the budget message Monday, six days after the county approved the budget, which is, as one Landmark reader pointed out, kind of like closing on a house before the inspections are done.

In addition, there’s plenty of evidence that the county auditor is up to more than just “crunching numbers” inside the administration building. Robinson is in full political mode. You might even say right now he is the fourth commissioner. He clearly is privately speaking into the ears of both new county commissioners, Beverlee Roper and Duane Soper, now known as Tax and Spend. So far, Tax and Spend are allowing Robinson to guide much of their decision-making. Whether that’s inexperience, lack of confidence in their own abilities, or the personal social relationship they all enjoy, it will eventually be proven to have been a mistake.

******

Need evidence that Robinson has become political as auditor? Here’s some. The previous county commission cut expenses, didn’t grant staff raises but fully absorbed a 10% health insurance cost increase for the benefit of staff, in order to meet a constrained budget revenue. When the previous county commission did this, Robinson publicly criticized commissioners Jason Brown, Kathy Dusenbery and Jim Plunkett for “showing a lack of business acumen” and their actions resulted in, according to Robinson, a politically-charged “unsustainable budget philosophy.”

Now, the current county commission consisting of Brown, Tax and Spend approves expenditure increases including four non-essential new positions not called for publicly, approves a budget that did not include a summary required by state statute, approves a budget without the public having such summary information in advance in order to adequately evaluate the budget in detail, and then proposes more taxes in order to fund certain increased expenditures that were caused by somebody else but which such commission stated in the election campaign process they would prudently address as fiscal conservatives. Tax and Spend last week passed up a chance to dedicate a funding stream for the emergency radio mandate without a tax increase. Why isn’t Robinson issuing memos about the lack of business acumen? He won’t, because Robinson’s household (his wife is the county’s HR director) is directly benefitting from the pay increases at the county and Robinson is enjoying his new role as the fourth commissioner.

Aren’t all of these officeholders Republicans? Well, at least in name?

(News, views, notes and quotes 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


DO THEY HAVE THE STREET CRED TO SURVIVE? AND THE BS METER IS EXTREMELY ACTIVE

Written 1/23/13

Well, heck, another week in the books and I still haven’t reached my lifelong goal: I wanna be on Parkville’s cable access channel.

I don’t ask for much. Just get me some face time on Parkville’s most watched television station.

******

How quickly can a political career derail? Looks like it can happen in as little as three weeks.

We may be seeing what was once considered a rising political star drive her own train right off the tracks less than a month after taking the wheel. I’d rather turn my head but I can’t. There’s a couple of reasons for that. 1. It’s my job to look. 2. It’s a natural reaction to check out the carnage.

Beverlee Roper and Duane Soper took office Jan. 1. A little more than three weeks later, both are catching a tremendous amount of heat in political circles for their decisions to expand county government and raise taxes.

When--and it will eventually happen--he comes to realize the folks inside the administration building who currently have his ear are leading him to do what’s best for them instead of what’s best for the county, Soper may have enough street cred to overcome his rocky start. With Roper, I don’t see it. Droves of people who worked tirelessly and put their names on the line for her during a rugged campaign are already jumping off the Titanic.

Remember, she only defeated incumbent Kathy Dusenbery by 46 votes. If another election were held tomorrow, as Between the Lines takes the temperature of folks around the county it’s my impression Dusenbery would win by a margin in the hundreds. That’s the effect of some bizarre moves Roper has made in her first few weeks.

Fiscal conservatives don’t typically come into office and immediately start expanding the size of government. They don’t agree to add four employees. They don’t lobby for giving five percent pay raises across the board (her effort to do this failed and she had to settle for 5% for deputies, 3% for everyone else). Fiscal conservatives don’t turn their heads at a chance to fund county debt without a tax increase. Fiscal conservatives don’t then, after turning down the chance to do it without a tax hike, lobby for a tax increase to pay that debt.

Roper has already done all those things.

She has also been openly critical of previous commissions for not addressing the need for dedicated funding for the emergency radio mandate. On Tuesday, the chance to assign dedicated funding for the emergency radio mandate stared her in the face. She refused it.

And I thought the first couple years of Dusenbery’s term cornered the market on bizarre. Not so.

Did you see this awkward start coming? Some folks did. I admit I didn’t. Even though I noticed she talked out of both sides of her mouth on some issues, such as sales taxes in general and the county park tax specifically, Roper had a lot of us convinced she was a fiscal conservative. Last summer when she talked about what a great thing the road tax has been, people just assumed that if she worked to keep the road tax in place a self-described fiscal conservative like herself would then cut some fat in other areas of county government to pay for other needs. That’s not happening. Roper doesn’t want to give $1.2 million each year from the road tax to pay for the emergency radio infrastructure debt, even though that would still leave at least $4.5 million annually going to roads. Instead, Roper has a big government plan. That plan is to propose a new sales tax, this one of 1/8th cent, in August. Then if that fails, she and Soper have indicated they will be in favor of raising the county’s property tax levy from one cent to seven cents.

Good luck with that. Put that on your political resume in 2016. See how things turn out for ya.

******

Did the Platte County Commission hold a public hearing on a budget without making all of the required budget documents available to the public 10 days in advance? Sure appears that way. Platte County Auditor Kevin Robinson says all required budget information was made available. The Landmark disagrees with his interpretation. Jean Maneke, attorney for the Missouri Press Association, agrees with The Landmark.

The item in question is what is known as the “budget message.” It was not made available to the public 10 days in advance of the hearing. Robinson had said in a public commission meeting on Jan. 9 that the budget message would be ready Jan. 14. It wasn’t. In an email exchange with our newspaper on Jan. 15, he said he was still “crunching the numbers” for the budget message, which doesn’t make sense because the remainder of the proposed budget had supposedly already been posted, meaning the numbers were already crunched. On Tuesday, the day of the hearing, I asked Robinson if the budget message had ever been completed. He responded that the budget message was something he could not complete until the budget had been approved by the commission “because the budget message outlines the fiscal policy,” and that “until the budget is approved there is no fiscal policy.”

Say what? That makes no sense. Previous county auditors have had the message included with the proposed budget. More importantly, if Robinson really couldn’t complete the budget message until final budget approval by the commission, why was he telling us on Jan. 9 that he would have the message ready Jan. 14? On Jan. 15 he was telling us he would have it ready “soon.” Then on Jan. 22, he tells us the budget message is a document that can’t be completed until after budget approval by the commission? The Between the Lines BS meter is jumping off the charts.

State statute 50.590 indicates the proposed budget document shall include: “(1) A budget message outlining the fiscal policy of the government for the budget year and describing the important features of the budget plan, giving a general budget summary setting forth the aggregate figures of the budget in a manner to show the balanced relations between total proposed expenditures and total expected income and other means of financing the budget compared with the corresponding figures for the last completed fiscal year and the current fiscal year, and including explanatory schedules classifying expenditures by organization units, objects and funds, and income by organization units, sources and funds.”

Platte County’s proposed budget never included that message. The auditor admits the message wasn’t even ready as of the day of the hearing. It’s the opinion of this newspaper, and the opinion of the Missouri Press Association attorney, that the county’s duty to meet the statutory requirement in advance of their budget hearing can be seriously called into question.

“If the message is a mandatory part of the document and if the hearing cannot be held until 10 days after the document is ‘made available to the public,” (50.600) then if it is really not available then I’d say they can’t have a hearing,” says the Missouri Press Association’s attorney.

Something to chew on.

(You can chew 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


THE ROPER-SOPER PLAN FOR PAYING FOR RADIOS CALLS FOR TAX INCREASE

Posted 1/18/13

In Platte County, we’ve seen this movie before. It doesn’t have a happy ending.

In this movie, county taxpayers eventually end up disappointed. In this movie, policymakers involved in the decision end up out of office at term’s end.

Flashback to the year 2009. The Platte County Commission--at that time comprised of Betty Knight, Jim Plunkett and Kathy Dusenbery--held meetings with supporters of the county’s half cent sales tax for parks. The initial 10 year term of the tax was about to expire and would need to be renewed. But there were other financial matters on the horizon facing the county, not the least of which included consistent problems meeting budget requests by the sheriff and the prosecutor, and a looming unfunded narrowbanding emergency radio mandate.

The commission at the time had the option to restructure that half cent park sales tax before placing it back on the ballot. It could have split the half cent into a quarter cent for parks and quarter cent for law enforcement, or even less than that if it would so choose. Instead, in a decision that is now widely seen as a mistake--even by at least one of those who made the decision--the commission made no changes to the structure of the park tax prior to putting it up for renewal. A parks department that was already sufficiently--let’s be honest, overly-funded--was going to get another 10 years of a half cent tax--roughly estimated at the time to be around $80 million. Law enforcement? Nothing. Surprisingly (more on that in a minute), the sheriff and the prosecutor stayed silent in the campaign and the park tax passed 54% to 46%.

Move forward to present day. County commissioners now are Jason Brown and newcomers Beverlee Roper and Duane Soper. The narrowbanding radio project cost came in at around $11 million. The county has no dedicated funding source to make the payments on that debt. But good news. The county’s 3/8th cent road sales tax is about to sunset, and the opportunity to restructure that tax so that a per capita portion of funds raised through a renewed 3/8th sales tax could go to paying off the debt on the mandated emergency radio system. Brown has said he favors this approach.

But based on comments made at a public meeting Wednesday night, Roper and Soper don’t seem to be interested in that approach. Their preference, based on their comments Wednesday, is to keep the status quo in regard to the road tax. They based their leaning, at least in part, by meetings they had with road district officials and some mayors of cities. Not surprisingly, officials of road districts would like to keep the same level of funding. Duh. After you’ve been eating at the taxpayer trough for 10 years, it’s tough to settle for less, right?

So the county commission is indicating it intends, at its meeting on Tuesday, to approve the placement of the road tax in its current structure on the April ballot.

But the bad news doesn’t stop there. Roper and Soper then advocate an additional sales tax proposal to be placed before voters in August. They propose a 1/8 sales tax with proceeds going to pay off the radio debt.

This approach would raise Platte County’s sales tax rate, already the highest in the metro area, by another 1/8 cent. That’s assuming voters don’t kick it in the rear.

Oh, and if that sales tax measure should happen to fail in August--and let’s be honest, that’s a real possibility--Roper and Soper say their next move would be to raise the county’s tax levy from one cent per $100 assessed valuation to 7 cents.

A 700% increase in the property tax rate. Try running for office in the future with opponents salivating at the chance to use that fact against you.

*******

First, when they met with those folks, what did the county commissioners expect the road districts’ answer to be? Asking road district officials if they're willing to ask voters for less road tax money is like asking kids to ask less from Santa.

The approach by the county commission is lame. That’s not leadership. The county commissioners have the power. The county commissioners hold the cards. This is an important decision that needs to be made by the county’s top policy makers. No need to try to share this important decision-making process with road district entities and cities, some of which, quite frankly, are very small fish.

County commissioners with leadership qualities would take the bull by the horn and guide the public to a solution that works for all aspects of county government. That solution would be to restructure the road tax.

Leaders lead. Leaders don’t share important decisions with officials from podunk road districts.

Most people on the street can’t even tell you what road district they reside in or who the elected leaders of their road district are.

******

So, you might argue, directing some road tax funding to radios would hurt these small road districts and small cities who have grown dependent on a nice check from the county road tax, right? The answer here becomes a matter of want vs. need. Sure the entities want the same level of revenue. But is that what’s best for the county as a whole? After 10 years, county roads are in much better shape than they were a decade ago. Decisions based on prioritized needs have to be made.

And here’s the thing nobody wants to talk about: If they’re not happy with the amount of money they’ll be getting from a future roads tax, these local road districts and cities can tax their own constituents for more money. Read that again because it’s very important. You want more improvements within your own road district or within your own city? Propose a tax to your own residents, not to the entire county.

Why depend on a countywide tax to solve a very localized ‘problem?’

*******

There are several risks here with the county’s announced approach. The biggest concern might be the long-term negative effects of raising the sales tax rate. People are noticing the amount of sales tax they’re being charged on their receipts. Even the road district reps admitted as much during Wednesday’s worthless pow-wow. Of course, what should even be more of a concern is whether the sales tax issue(s) will pass in the first place.

After watching them in action Wednesday night, it appears to me Soper and Roper might be a bit disconnected with the mood of the voting public on tax questions. Think back to last April. Platte County R-3, a school district that had not lost a bond issue or levy question election in decades, was given an in-your-face rejection by voters.

And what if the county isn’t the only entity with a tax question on the April ballot? These are not great economic times. The more tax questions presented to voters in April the higher the risk the county’s question could be defeated.

******

Secondly, even if the road tax issue passes in April, then the Roper-Soper plan gets worse. The preferred Roper-Soper next step would be to place a 1/8th cent sales tax question for law enforcement (primarily emergency radios but there would be some slush, too) on the August ballot.

I’ve got a news flash for you that nobody is going to openly acknowledge: There are a good number of voters lying in the bushes, champing at the bit to get a chance to kick a law enforcement sales tax in the fanny.

Why? Many of the folks who worked their tails off to oppose the half cent park tax renewal in 2009 are still disappointed--pissed would be a more accurate word--that the prosecutor and the sheriff did not step forward to help campaign against the park tax proposal. Those folks still hold a grudge against the prosecutor and sheriff’s department because of it. They’d like to vote against dedicated funding for law enforcement for no other reason than to spite law enforcement folks who politically tucked tail in 2009.

My guess is there might even be some significant campaign money generated to fight such a proposal.

If the existing roads tax is reconstructed in a manner that allows some of those funds to go toward emergency radios, it would defuse the ambush that is awaiting a separate law enforcement tax.

******

Less than three weeks into their reign, Commissioners Roper (a self-described Libertarian) and Soper are running the risk of having very short honeymoon periods. A step further, at this rate Roper and Soper are almost certainly destined to be one-termers.

Fiscal conservatives and believers in small government can’t be pleased with the direction things are headed so far in 2013. Already, Roper and Soper have pushed for a budget that creates three new county government positions: a receptionist, a housekeeper, and a parks director of events; a budget that includes five percent raises for some employees and three percent across the board raises for the remainder of county workers; a proposal to raise the county’s already too high sales tax rate; and if that sales tax idea fails, they want to increase the property tax levy by 700%.

Not exactly the start fiscal conservatives envisioned.

(Get a jump start 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley, Facebook.com/ivan.foley or ivan@plattecountylandmark.com)

 


CALL IT CRITICISM IF YOU WANT, BUT IN REALITY IT'S FRIENDLY ADVICE

Written 1/16/13

Sometimes in this column we’re quick to point out what we believe are deficiencies, lack of good judgment, or unwise moves by our local governing agencies. You may not believe this, but just as often we’re aware of deficiencies or situations that we know are wrong but stay silent for a time, giving those involved a chance to correct the situation on their own without having to dish out a public flogging.

When it comes to how things are being done at the Central Platte Fire Department board meetings, the moments of polite silence are done. It’s time for the board in particular and the entire department in general to realize it’s going to, in one fashion or another, be held accountable by the taxpayers who provide the funds for the “volunteer” department. There are laws that govern things such as open meetings. There are general rules--not laws, but good governmental practice--that govern other aspects of conducting a smooth public meeting.

And Central Platte fire board meetings are anything but smooth. I’ve seen monkey poop fights and drunken poker games conducted in a more organized fashion.

******

Here are just a few things for the board--and its employees--to keep in mind. First, the Missouri Sunshine Law requires--this is not a suggestion, this is the law--that an agenda for your meetings be posted at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting. The agenda should be posted at your meeting site or at district offices, which are one and the same. The fire district is also required to furnish a copy of that agenda to any media and others who have requested to be on a contact list at the same time the agenda is presented to members of the board. The law requires an agenda must be “made available” to media who have requested a copy.

Just as importantly--and this is an obvious problem right now--your agenda needs to get more specific. The Central Platte fire board often votes on items--usually spending requests by firefighters who sit in the room and take part in virtually every discussion as if they are elected members of the board--that are not listed on the agenda. Unless the item being voted upon is considered an emergency, this is inappropriate and a violation of the Sunshine Law.

Chris Koster, attorney general for Missouri, advises agencies that the meeting notices statute provides that a public governmental body’s tentative agenda should be constructed “in a manner reasonably calculated to advise the public of the matters to be considered.” In other words, just listing agenda items such as “old business” and “new business” is not good enough.

Jean Maneke, a Kansas City-based attorney who is a Sunshine Law expert for the Missouri Press Association, explains it even better. “The agenda needs to be constructed so that the public has a general idea of what you’re going to discuss. If a board is just casually amending the agenda or is too lazy to list specific agenda items, it raises some potential problems.”

It certainly does. Like getting sued.

And what if the board is voting on non-emergency items that are not listed on the agenda, is that a violation? “Definitely. You’ve got an argument that that’s violation,” Maneke points out.

Don’t take this as criticism and certainly don’t take it as a threat but instead consider it friendly advice. Questionable decisions and questionable expenditures increase the level of public scrutiny. With increased public scrutiny comes the increased chance somebody might want to take you to court for treating the Sunshine Law the way a dog treats a fire hydrant.

Here’s another thing that needs to be controlled. The practice of allowing everybody sitting in the audience--including the district’s hired accountant sitting at the table, who frequently spews opinions on items that have nothing to do with her hired duties--to take part in every discussion of every topic needs to stop. I’m not by nature a formal person but the fire board’s meeting structure is way too informal and is influencing at least one board member. Remember, this is a meeting of the fire board, not the fire department. Three board members are elected by the public to make these decisions. Comments and input from the audience--here’s looking at you, firefighters--could be handled at the beginning of the meeting under an agenda item referred to as “public comments.” Up to five minutes per speaker. If you want input on every point of discussion during the meeting, put your name on the ballot at the next fire board election.

We all know by now that the Central Platte firefighters are a sensitive bunch. They can’t understand why anyone--and I do mean anyone--would question their methods on any topic. After all, you know, anytime they propose spending money it’s all about saving lives. Getting a shower put in the satellite fire station? Well, that’s about saving lives. Having a relative of a firefighter clean the fire house, provide computer services, mow the grass or clear the snow instead of properly putting these services out for bid? Well, it’s all about saving lives, you know. In their minds, somebody without a direct connection to the fire department isn’t going to clean the offices, mow the grass or clear the snow as thoroughly so there’s no need to even put services out for bid, right?

Buying a 2013 Chevy Tahoe at a cost of $32,000 to replace a four-year-old Dodge Durango? That’s all about saving lives, you know. That Durango, you know, is just not dependable. But wait, the Tahoe they’ve ordered won’t even be in until June. If lives are really at stake, shouldn’t the department run out to purchase a new Tahoe off a lot somewhere instead of waiting until June? Imagine the lives that are being put at risk as we wait five months for that new Tahoe to get here. . .

******

The “it’s all about saving lives” behind every proposed expenditure can be shot full of holes if somebody wants to be an ass and employ logic to shoot down those scare tactic talking points. We don’t mind doing it in this column. There are others out there who feel the same. While you don’t see those folks running to meetings to spout their opposition, their true feelings were shown at the ballot box last year when longtime board member Stanley George was voted out by a candidate who did little more than put his name on the ballot. That was a signal that the days of the department getting by with the “good ol’ boy” approach are over.

Board member Andy Stanton “gets it.” Newly-appointed board member Mike Ashcraft “kind of” gets it, but seems to be too easily swayed once the firefighters are sitting in the meeting room taking part in every discussion as if they are fellow board members. Veteran board member Paul Regan does not “get it” and never will, at least until the day his fate is decided in the same fashion in which George’s fire board career ended--at the ballot box.

(It’s all about saving lives 24/7 at Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


THIS ISN'T A GOOD LOOK FOR THE POLICE DEPARTMENT; AND LET'S SHUT DOWN CHANNEL 2

Written 1/9/13

Welcome back to Between the Lines. This week’s column is closed-captioned for the hearing impaired.

******

Well, this happened quietly and virtually unnoticed.

You know who is the longest-tenured elected officeholder at Platte County? Why that would be Eric Zahnd, your county prosecutor.

Zahnd was first elected in 2002 in an active campaign against Tammy Glick, who had been appointed prosecutor after Todd Graves left to become U.S. Attorney.

Remember what left wing pundits were saying about Zahnd during the 2002 campaign? I do. I’m sure Zahnd does as well.

“He’s a political opportunist. He’s just passing through. He has his eyes on a bigger political career. He’s going to use this as a springboard to run for some other office. . . .”

Remember? That was the word from those who pretend to have their finger on the pulse but don’t really have their finger on the pulse.

Ten years later, Zahnd is still here. Still putting bad guys away. Sure, he might seek some higher office at some point. But the man has been here a decade. It’s not like he was just gonna make a pot of coffee in the office and head on down the road.

Zahnd admitted to me recently he looked around the room during the Dec. 28 swearing-in ceremony at the county and it hit him that he is now the longest-tenured elected officeholder in Platte County. In fact, it’ll take some research to verify, but I’m guessing a check of historical records would show there aren’t many folks who have served as Platte County prosecutor for a longer period of time than Zahnd has.

Not exactly the trait of a political opportunist. . .

******

By the way, where’s the need for the public access television channel (known as Channel 2) at the city of Parkville? In the name of all things fiscally responsible, it’s time for the city to cut the cord on that $30,000 to $35,000 annual expense. Mayor Jim Brooks recently indicated he would be in favor of pulling the funding. He is right on this one.

I wish there were a way to get an actual count of viewership. What do you think it would be? Maybe 20 people? And if you take out elected officials who just like to go home and watch their own mugs on the tube, the viewership is probably less than that.

Come up with your own estimate on viewership and do some math--break down that cost per viewer. It will knock your socks off.

The only buzz I’ve ever heard about Channel 2 is when less-than-ambitious journalists would watch the meetings on the channel from the comfort of their home or favorite restaurant and then file a news story for their media outlet, trying to give their audience the impression they had actually been in the meeting room. Pretty sure taxpayers never needed to be covering the costs for that ‘service.’

Pull the plug on that boondoggle.

******

So the charge of patronizing prostitution against former Platte County High School principal Patrick Martin has been dismissed in Kansas City Municipal Court. No reason or explanation given (see front page).

You’ve heard my commentary on this before: Municipal courts are a joke. In many situations they’re kangaroo courts whose main purpose is to generate revenue for cities. Justice most often takes a back seat to dollars and diversions. That’s why it would be a crazy mistake to ever entrust significant power--such as the power to issue administrative search warrants--to a small town municipal court.

******

If we were in the South, this would be a great time for somebody to say: What in tarnation is goin’ on around here?

That’s a question even more folks will be asking after they take a look at the Platte City Police Department’s yearly crime statistics. The stats are the topic for intrepid reporter Valerie Verkamp’s insightful front page story.

If the public needed any more evidence that some things just aren’t right inside the Platte City Police Department, the yearly department activity report provides it. This is just weird. The flow of traffic within Platte City is growing, not subsiding. If you don’t believe that, try to make a left hand turn out of nearly any business driveway along Hwy. 92 at certain times of day. You’ll need to have a lot of patience.

So with traffic on the rise, how come traffic citations issued by the Platte City Police Department are down 33% in the past year? Traffic “stops” are also way down, showing a drop of 28%.

DWI arrests have also fallen off remarkably, from 36 in 2011 to 22 in 2012. That’s a 39% drop.

So what gives? Is the city spending less on its police department than ever before? Absolutely not. In fact, The Landmark’s research shows the city’s budgeted amount for its police department in 2013 is a whopping 30% more than it was just two years ago.
The drastic falloff in car stops, traffic citations, DWI arrests, etc. almost certainly has to signal a directive in priorities coming from someone in charge, presumably Carl Mitchell, police chief.

While I would never want Platte City to be known as a speed trap and certainly support the idea of neighborhood patrols, this is too drastic of a drop to think everything is fine and dandy. It signals to me the police department is spending way too much time on low priority matters. Think feral cats. Think surveillance cameras.

And a nearly 40% drop in DWI arrests? That happens when police aren’t patrolling certain areas of the city at certain times of the day or night. Doesn’t take a genius to figure that one out.

Members of the public are not stupid and most are not naive. For much of the past year or so, folks have noticed where police patrol cars are often parked for lunch, sometimes for dinner. I realize everybody needs to eat lunch or dinner someplace, and by all means it’s nice for the police department leadership to patronize local businesses.

But it’s just not a good look for police cars to be sitting unoccupied for long periods of time in front of establishments whose primary source of revenue comes through alcohol sales. When the public makes these observations (it has) and then it comes to light that DWI arrests are down by 40%, the public reaction is going to be “hmmm.”

(There are weekly newspapers and then there’s The Landmark. Say “hmmm” 24/7 by following Twitter.com/ivanfoley)

 


A LOT GOING ON AT CITY HALL; FASCINATING MONTH AHEAD FOR NEW COUNTY COMMISSIONERS

Written 1/2/13

The holidays are over and all of us here at the ol’ Landmark hope you were able to enjoy some special time with family and friends the past couple of weeks. Everybody needs a chance to catch their breath on occasion.

While you were hopefully recharging your batteries, The Landmark continued doing what it does. Gathering news, information, commentary and entertainment and distributing it at the earliest possible times. The Landmark has truly become a 24/7 hub of information with our presence at Twitter.com/ivanfoley and Facebook.com/ivan.foley.

There’s never been a better time to be a news junkie. Take advantage of the opportunities available to you as a consumer of local news.

******

Rambling Moron columnist Chris Kamler and your Between the Lines columnist had a blast in our roles at the Media Game at the Missouri Comets Saturday night. As you’ll see in Kamler’s front page report, the battle ended in a 2-2 tie. If you weren’t one of the 4,500 people in attendance at the Comets game that night, I hope you were able to follow along on Twitter or Facebook. There are plenty of pictures--and even a Coach Chris Kamler-produced video--of the evening’s fun on our Facebook pages. Both Chris and I thank the Comets for inviting us and putting up with our nonsense. Fun times.

******

Carl Mitchell, the embattled--and deservedly so--police chief in Platte City, was out of the office for a couple of weeks before returning on Monday.

So was this a disciplinary action or a vacation? That was the question I posed to DJ Gehrt, city administrator. According to Gehrt, the official word is that the chief was on vacation.

Sources say the chief was told by his superiors to stay out of department headquarters while he was “on vacation.” I asked Gehrt about this and his response was: “I strongly encourage all the department heads to stay away from work while on their vacation time because it defeats the purpose of vacation if they are constantly at work. This is especially true of the public works director and chief of police, who are exempt employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Leonard (Hendricks, the public works director) and Carl (Mitchell, the police chief) both have to be encouraged to really take time off because they both tend to keep working,” Gehrt told me.

In the aftermath of the uproar over the improperly placed hidden surveillance camera on private property without a warrant or permission, now we’re hearing there is some real internal discord within the police department that has been sent up the chain of command.

In any event, what can be reported with absolute certainty is that the city’s public safety subcommittee is scheduled to meet Monday at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall. As you know, the situation surrounding the hidden camera fiasco has been forwarded from the subcommittee to the full board of aldermen, so it won’t specifically be on the subcommittee’s agenda on Monday. But, Monday’s meeting will offer the chance for public comments, so you never know what might come up.

******

Is KC Bobcat considering leaving Platte City? That seems to be a concern among city officials. Talk in some circles is that an effort is underway to try to attract KC Bobcat from Platte City to a potential development on the west side of Interstate 29 at the Tracy exit.

KC Bobcat might be feeling a little squeezed at its current location at the northern entrance to Platte City at I-29 and Exit 19. Across the street from KC Bobcat is that old gas station/restaurant property that at one time was going to be developed by Dina Cox and friends. The property has been vacant for many years with a for sale sign prominently displayed. Gehrt tells me the city has encouraged KC Bobcat and the property agent for the former gas station/restaurant property to talk to one another, and the city is apparently even contacting local contractors who might be interested in bidding demolition of the structures on that property. But the ‘why’ behind that is not clear.

I asked Gehrt if the city has plans to acquire the property in some fashion and then offer it to KC Bobcat as an incentive to stay in Platte City. “No. Staff has encouraged KC Bobcat and the property agent to talk to one another. Last I heard is that the parcel is not large enough. However, the city is very open to working with KC Bobcat to help them expand in Platte City,” Gehrt told me.

We’ll keep you posted.

******

Be aware that her name has changed but the city clerk in Platte City is still the same lady. Amy Hubbard became Amy Edwards when she got married on Dec. 21.

******

The swearing-in of new officeholders went off without a hitch at the Platte County Administration Building Friday, including the oaths taken by new county commissioners Beverlee Roper and Duane Soper.

The first county commission session featuring Roper, Soper and presiding commissioner Jason Brown will be Monday morning. But the first real test for the new commissioners will come when they finalize the 2013 county budget this month. Of particular interest is how the new commissioners will handle the auditor’s recent recommendation to approve a five percent salary hike across the board for county employees. A lot of voters and taxpayers will be watching with great interest to see how the new leaders react.

Sometimes elected officials fall into the habit of being too in touch with “co-workers” and advisors inside the governmental buildings and as a result become out of touch with taxpayers and voters paying the bills. That’s the challenge here for Roper and Soper, who will be lobbied by friends inside the administration building to approve the five percent pay hike for everybody, while the prevailing mood outside the confines of county government is that a five percent pay increase in these economic times is inappropriate.

It will be a fascinating first month for the new commissioners--a month that could set a tone for what to expect over the next four years.

(There’s never an inappropriate time for Between the Lines via Twitter.com/ivanfoley or Facebook.com/ivan.foley)

For earlier columns, click here