Friday, April 18, 2014

Grandview Resident Arrested for Metro Highway Shootings

by Mary Wilson


During a press conference this afternoon, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker announced charges against Mohammed Whitaker, 27, a Grandview resident, for the recent shootings on Kansas City’s interstates.

“Today is such a good day, I’m so pleased to announce charges against this defendant for these horrible acts,” said Baker.

Whittaker has been charged with eighteen different federal charges. Two of the charges are “A” felony charges for shooting into a motor vehicle, seven “B” felony charges, also for shooting into a motor vehicle, and nine separate counts of armed criminal action. According to court records, the 12 incidents occurred on Kansas City area highways. Ballistics tests connected .380 caliber bullets recovered from those shooting incidents and witness reports of the shooting incidents linked a vehicle similar to Whitaker’s to those shootings. Surveillance of Whitaker in his vehicle found him pacing cars in their blind spots while on the highway.

“This has impacted all of us, across state lines and across the river,” said Baker. “This case represents teamwork and good solid police work.”

On April 3, 2014, the Kansas City Police began connecting four different cases of shootings on the metro highways. On Monday, April 7, the department began their first formal briefing, and within ten days had the suspect in custody, according to KCPD Chief Darryl Forte.

Investigators received over one hundred leads in the case, and are still receiving further leads today. Forte said that the department controlled the release of information to protect the citizens in the community, as well as to not impact the investigation.

 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Hickman Mills Reorganizes School Board

 

 

by Paul Thompson


The Hickman Mills C-1 Board of Education welcomed newly elected board member Karry Palmer and reorganized last Thursday, April 10, in a special regular meeting held before their monthly work session.

Palmer, Dan Osman, and Bonnaye Mims took the oath of office at the special meeting, marking the official end of Breman Anderson, Jr.’s tenure on the C-1 Board of Education. Once sworn in, the board re-elected Eric Lowe as president and named Shawn Kirkwood as their new vice president, replacing Osman in that capacity.

Osman was named as the board’s new MSBA delegate, while board member Darrell Curls will serve as the MSBA alternate.

Truman Elementary teacher Tracy Pruitt expressed optimism for the future of the C-1 district during the portion of the meeting reserved for audience comments.

“I wish to congratulate the three candidates that the Hickman Mills NEA endorsed for the Board of Education,” said Pruitt. “The voters of Hickman Mills sent a message, and I hope it was heard loud and clear that they would not support dirty politics.”

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Grandview Considers Projects for No Tax Increase Bonds

 

By Mary Wilson

With the upcoming election less than two weeks away, the Grandview Board of Aldermen already has sights on the August 5 election. City Parks and Recreation Director Eric Lucas presented to the board administration’s wish list of items to be considered in the upcoming no tax increase bond election. The goal of the work session was to come to a consensus as a board on the projects they would like to see brought before the voters.

“We started the seeds to success back in 2008 with the bond that we’re currently finishing up,” said Lucas.

The bonds from 2008 included the parks and public works facility, which has received a “Green Design” award from Capstone. Eleven of Grandview’s thirteen parks will be fully renovated within a few months. Brumble’s Forest in Meadowmere Park has been rated number one in South Kansas City, along with recognition received for the John Anderson Splash Park.
“We see every day the positive impact that all of the facilities have had on our employees as well as in our community,” said Lucas.

The 2014 No Tax Increase Bond will be $13 million over twenty years. Continuation of these bonds will enable the city to continue to place emphasis on first-class public safety and the parks system, essentially a renewal of the 2008 bonds.
“If we were to not place this on the ballot, or if it were to not pass, any future bond issue would be a tax increase because of the lack of bonding capacity,” said Lucas. “We would basically be starting over.”

On the public safety side of the bonds, the first item for consideration is a new radio system for the police and fire departments in Grandview. The city is one of two cities in the metro that has yet to transfer to the newer system, and it is a requirement that Grandview is broadcasting on the correct airwaves. The price tag the city is looking at is approximately $1.8 million.

"This will be the way we communicate, not only internally, but with other cities in the area in the event of an emergency,” said Lucas. “It is a city-wide safety communication system. If other cities are on the new system and we are not, then we have a lot of difficulty trying to converse.”
Also included in the safety portion of the bonds, the fire department would like to refurbish the ladder truck, while also buying an additional pumper truck, at an approximate cost of $450,000 each.
Included in the parks projects to be considered are renovations at Shalimar Park. This entails renovating the former Shelton softball fields and turning the former Ricker baseball fields into multi-purpose fields. Also under consideration is a larger splash park in Meadowmere, north of Brumble’s Forest.

“Other than John Anderson, we don’t have another outdoor aquatics area where people can get wet,” said Lucas. “A splash park is really the way to go, short of building an outdoor pool, which can be extremely costly.”

Lucas said that a splash park would provide the water opportunity for the community, with minimal staffing requirements and low safety concerns. Another parks project would potentially be an expansion of the View. The expansion would be, according to Lucas, a teen/senior center. The wing would cater to seniors in the morning and early afternoons, and teens later in the day and in the evenings. Also in the Meadowmere Park area under consideration is the future Meadowmere East, which is the city-owned property directly east of the View. This property could potentially be a parking lot, tennis courts, basketball courts with the ability to flood with water for ice in the winter, a large green space, and an outdoor amphitheater.

The projects Lucas presented total approximately $12.8 million. City staff included a few additional projects to be considered, including secured police access at the police station and storage buildings, as well as a police and parks shooting range that would be open to the public at Grandview the ballpark.
The city will be surveying the citizens of Grandview through social media and other forms of communication to garner the feel of the community in their support of these projects in August. City administration will bring the citizen survey results back to the board in early May for a vote before issuing the bond to be on the ballot. After the board determines what items the public will be voting on, the city will begin a community education campaign throughout the summer on the projects.

 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Grandview Has Eyes on the TIGER

By Mary Wilson

 
The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER Discretionary Grant program, provides a unique opportunity for the DOT to invest in road, rail, transit and port projects that promise to achieve critical national objectives. Since 2009, Congress has dedicated more than $4.1 billion for six rounds to fund projects that have a significant impact on the nation, a
region or a metropolitan area.


The TIGER program enables the DOT to examine a broad array of projects on their merits, to help ensure that taxpayers are getting the highest value for every dollar invested. In each round of TIGER, DOT receives many applications to build and repair critical pieces of the country’s freight and passenger transportation networks. Applicants must detail the benefits their project would deliver for five long-term outcomes: safety, economic competitiveness, state of good repair, livability and environmental sustainability.

Another round of TIGER grants are being made available. Grandview Public Works director Dennis Randolph is developing a package to submit, including the two previous pedestrian bridges included in the last submission, as well as the addition of the phase one conversion of the Frontage Road, between Harry Truman Drive and High Grove Road.

"I always planned to continue submitting," said Randolph. Last year, Grandview submitted for three pedestrian bridges: one going over I-49 at Truman’s Marketplace, one at 135th Street connecting the splash park and the View community center, and a third pedestrian bridge at 155th Street.

One reason to include 155th Street was to encourage the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) to do more than replace the bridge with another two-lane road. MoDOT has made the decision, as of last week, to replace the bridge at 155th Street and I-49 with a new interchange. The new interchange will fit with Grandview’s road project. Because MoDOT is planning to move forward with the replacement, there was no reason for Grandview to include that as part of the TIGER grant application projects.

"That would give us a project that really emphasizes the idea behind the TIGER grant, which is connectivity," said Randolph.

Randolph hopes to include letters of support from the business community, and plans to include the citizens of Grandview as well. With the grant applications not due until the middle of April, it gives Randolph and his team plenty of time to garner the support from the community.

"I think we have a better chance of receiving a grant this year," said Randolph. "Kansas City clogged up most of the money last year with their street car grant. They’re going after it again this year, but I don’t think anyone in congress will give them another $20 million this year."

According to Randolph, the lack of two-way connectivity along the Frontage Roads for Grandview citizens has impacted the city greatly. Aside from traveling extra miles to do basic shopping, Randolph said the trek citizens in the community make going in circles have a deep impact on their wallets.

"On the average, it costs every household nearly $700 a year in extra costs," said Randolph. "For thirty-five years they’ve been doing this. That is a big chunk of money. Roughly $264 billion."

Randolph stated that Grandview citizens travel an extra ten to twenty miles per week for necessities. The final project submission will be one package with the three components: phase one of the Frontage Road conversion, and then the two pedestrian bridges over I-49. Randolph is hoping to receive around $15 million, and believes that Grandview has a chance.

"We’re going to give it another shot," said Randolph. "We’re ready, and we’ve got some time to tune up our proposal."

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Hickman Mills School Board Sends Mixed Messages in Wake of Audit

By Paul Thompson
By the time Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich released the findings of his department’s 21-month audit of the Hickman Mills C-1 school district on Tuesday night, the district’s Board of Education had already scrambled to distance themselves from the shocking findings.

Last week, an investigative report published in The Pitch linked some audit revelations to Kansas City political group Freedom, Inc., an organization committed to elevating African-American candidates to political office. The article alleged that the organization wielded unusual influence over the C-1 Board of Education, and highlighted examples during the tenure of former board president Breman Anderson, Jr. On Monday, March 3, the history and vision of Freedom, Inc. could be found online at their website, freedominckc.org. By the morning of Tuesday, March 4, the site was shut down, leaving behind only a message that the domain name had expired.

For his part, Anderson has downplayed both his involvement with the organization and its influence on board activities.

"That’s up to speculation. There are a multitude of political organizations that are involved in the district," said Anderson of Freedom, Inc.’s influence over the Hickman Mills district. "I haven’t even paid any dues to that organization this year. That is just one of about seven or eight organizations that I am affiliated with."

Fellow board member Darrell Curls, whose father was a founding member of Freedom, Inc., was up front about his affiliation with the political group. But he told the Advocate that he didn’t feel the group exerted undue influence over the district.

"To my knowledge, I don’t think they have that much influence," said Curls. "There are members of the board that are members. I’m a member. My last name has been synonymous with Freedom, Inc. ever since it was organized."

Nonetheless, Freedom, Inc. connected lawyer Clinton Adams offered his assessment of the audit and the state of the Hickman Mills district when reached for comment late last week.

"Academic achievement in the Hickman Mills school district declined continuously for the past 12 years under the leadership of Marge Williams and Bonnaye Mims," said Adams. "As I recall the district even lost its full accreditation, and children have suffered from an inferior education."

Anderson and Curls offered a similar timeline for the worst infractions within the district.

"There was a time where board members were kept out of the loop," said Anderson. "It took about 11 or 12 years of decline to get to where we are."

"Under previous administrations, there were some things that were not shared to the board," added Curls. "I just don’t think that the previous administration was as totally upfront and honest with us as they could have been."

Board members contend that the issues in the district exacerbated once Anderson took over the board presidency in 2012. At issue was Anderson’s penchant for recommending no-bid contracts to Freedom-affiliated businesses, mismanagement of district resources, the difficulty other board members had in obtaining district records, and Anderson's close relationship with Clinton Adams, among other questions.

Anderson and Adams attempted to ensure a majority on the C-1 Board of Education with the 2013 election, and Anderson offered to endorse candidate Debbie Aiman if she would agree to support his endeavors as board president, sight unseen. 

"I was on the board for three years, and you know that I will not support anything sight unseen," said Aiman in explaining a conversation between her, Anderson, and Adams. After Aiman refused, she never heard from Anderson and Adams again about the election. "They said, ‘We’ll meet with our group, and we’ll get back to you.’ They never got back with me."

Although she suspected as much, Aiman noted that Anderson and Adams never said outright that they were operating on behalf of Freedom, Inc. During that election cycle, Freedom, Inc. supported eventual winners Shawn Kirkwood and Byron Townsend. Meanwhile, an anonymous attack mailer sent out in the days before the election blasted Aiman and fellow candidate George Flesher. Both Kirkwood and Townsend told the Advocate at the time that they had no involvement with the mailer.

Board member (and former board president) Bonnaye Mims is so concerned about Anderson, and his relationship to Clinton Adams, that she offered a public apology for her own past affiliation with them.

"He’s behind the scenes, so his hands aren’t getting dirty," said Mims of Adams. "He’s letting Breman carry his water, but he hasn’t been able to execute what Clinton wanted."

"I am so sorry. When he first came to me and was running for school board, I thought he was sincere," Mims said of Anderson. "That’s why I helped him get elected. I’m so sorry that Breman even was brought to me."

Some board members also questioned Anderson’s actions surrounding the no-bid hiring of Gallagher Benefit Services to conduct the district’s 2012 national superintendent search. Multiple board members told the Advocate that they voted to pay a $30,000 flat rate to Gallagher in exchange for conducting the superintendent search. That fee was later altered to be contingent on the incoming superintendent’s salary. Ultimately, the district paid $36,490 to Gallagher, or roughly 20% of the new superintendent’s salary.

The $30,000 fee had already seemed high to some board members, especially when the Missouri School Boards Association (MSBA) could have done the search for roughly half the rate. But further issues emerged from there. The job listings were not as prevalent as anticipated, and the search yielded less than a dozen candidates.

"Almost none of the candidates we saw had any superintendent experience," said board member Eric Lowe. "I did question whether we had a legitimate crop of people."

At the time, Lowe considered holding up the interview process in order to get more candidates. But he decided to proceed with the interview, and was pleasantly surprised with one candidate: new Hickman Mills C-1 Superintendent Dr. Dennis Carpenter.

Carpenter has ultimately proved to be very popular among the community and the board, despite the questions that surrounded the search process. The successful outcome has allowed Anderson to stand behind the process that led Carpenter to the district.

"With regards to what took place during my tenure, I accept full responsibility," said Anderson. "Yes, we hired a search firm. I was comfortable with the search and the outcome."

Clinton Adams has also stepped forward publicly with support for Superintendent Carpenter.

"It’s important the entire community supports the new superintendent, Dr. Dennis Carpenter, in his effort to regain accreditation, so our students don’t continue to suffer," he said.

On April 8, three spots will up for election on the Hickman Mills School Board. Ten candidates filed for the election, including incumbents Dan Osman, Bonnaye Mims, and Breman Anderson, Jr. The South Kansas City Alliance will hold a public forum for all ten candidates on March 10 at the Baptiste Educational Center, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.



Thursday, February 27, 2014

An Unusual Medium

Mary Wilson
When a loved one passes away, oftentimes those left behind search for things to help keep the memories alive. Aside from mementos, photographs, a gravesite or an urn, some might look for something a bit more personal. There are a few options on the market today, including jewelry with the ashes of a loved one encased inside. A Grandview artist is offering up something different.

 Adam Brown can make a custom portrait of a loved one, and include cremation remains in the final product. Moving to the Kansas City area roughly six years ago, Brown has been an artist for most of his life. He attended the Missouri Fine Arts Academy in his hometown of Springfield, and gave up painting for a few years after some art supplies were stolen from his space at the Academy before his senior year.

"When I met my wife and we got engaged, I wanted to do something nice for my soon-to-be father-in-law," said Brown. "I painted a lighthouse for him using only five tubes of paint, mixing my own colors. I realized that art was still a part of me, and I hadn’t lost any of it."

Slowly over time, art came back to the forefront of Brown’s life. While his wife was pregnant with their daughter, Brown painted an "under the sea" themed mural in the nursery. 


 "It was really cute and reminded me how much I enjoyed making art," said Brown. "I never got to finish it though, because the walls had mold in them, which sent my daughter to the hospital three times in her first ten weeks of life, with breathing problems."

 Once the family figured out where the health problems were coming from, they moved to a cleaner environment. For his daughter’s first birthday, Brown painted a portrait of her with butterflies that he presented to her at her party. Since her first birthday (she’s now five), Brown has had a space to work on his art. Over the last few years, he has completed dozens of portraits, commissioned mostly by word of mouth from his clients.

"The portraits are what I do the most; it’s what I’m known for," said Brown. "I do other things too, including landscapes. Whatever helps to pay the bills."

He worked as a corporate event planner for several years, but knew it wasn’t something that he could see himself doing long-term. Brown recently opened his own marketing company, providing a wide-range of services that he did previously for his employer, and now is able to set his own hours.

"I’ll be thirty-three next month, and I’m in a position now that I can look ahead into the next thirty years and not get tired of doing what I’m doing. I never really feel like I’m working," said Brown.

 While in high school, Brown was introduced to cremation art and was intrigued. A few years ago, he was put in touch with a woman through a friend who wanted a portrait of her late husband. 
"The cremation remains thing just sort of came up in talking with her," said Brown. "It was pretty much her idea."

The client asked Brown if there was any way he could incorporate some remains into the portrait. Initially, Brown wasn’t sure about the idea, but he came around and jumped at the opportunity to create something different. Due to the popularity of the portraits, he has recently added the option to his list of services. Brown is aware that there may be a little of a creep factor for some folks.

"I think I expected it that first time to be a little weird," said Brown. "Once I got to work, it wasn’t weird at all."

The cremation remains are applied to the surface of the portraits, creating a bit of a texture on the background, or wherever the ashes are incorporated. Brown applies craft glue to the area, and then sprinkles the remains on.

"Kind of like when you sprinkled glitter onto glue as a kid," Brown said. "It’s the same process."

Once it dries, he saves any unused remains for the client, and applies a sealant to protect the portrait. Brown’s charges start at $45 per portrait, and go up from there based on size. He adds the remains at no extra charge. To find more information on Adam Brown and his art, visit www.adamsartgallery.com.

"When I can give a piece to someone and I know it’s going to hang on their wall and every time they look at it they can remember that the person in the portrait was special to them, that means a lot," said Brown. "That’s a big reason I do this."

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Hickman Mills Considers Re-Opening Ervin

By Paul Thompson

If C-1 superintendent Dr. Dennis Carpenter gets his way, the vacant Ervin Middle School will re-open for early childhood programming by the start of the 2014-2015 school year.

In addition to his plan to provide early childhood education for each of the approximately 600 four-year olds in the district, Carpenter also proposed turning Hickman Mills into a Freshman Center and creating a new, off-campus alternative education program during an aggressive "Moving Forward" presentation he showed the C-1 Board of Education at their Wednesday, February 12 work session.

Carpenter’s proposal would alter the building layout of the Hickman Mills district for the second time since 2010, when Hickman Mills High School was consolidated with Ruskin and transformed into a junior high. Just four years later, the district is considering another relatively radical change. Under Carpenter’s plan, the Freda Markley Center and Ervin (expected to be renamed the Ervin Early Learning Center) will house pre-school and kindergarten students. The district’s eight elementary schools will serve all first through sixth graders, Smith-Hale Middle School would serve seventh and eighth graders, the renamed Hickman Mills Freshman Center would serve ninth graders, and Ruskin High School would continue to house grades 10-12.

If passed by the school board during the Thursday, February 20 regular session, the proposed projects would be rolled into the district’s pre-existing blueprint and implemented in time for the beginning of the school year. Dr. Carpenter believes that the district cannot afford to wait.

"I believe this is responsible; I believe this is prudent; and I believe that our students can’t wait for us to figure this out," said Carpenter.

The biggest proposal revolves around Ervin, which will need a $7.73 million renovation in order to house students by August. Hollis and Miller, an area architectural firm, inspected Ervin before the work session and came away thinking the school could be ready for the first day of school in August.

"Overall, the facility is still in good shape for renovation," said John Brown, a partner at Hollis and Miller Architects. "One of the key things is that there are critical needs with the roofing, and there are some minor ADA compliance issues."
A preliminary timeline presented by Hollis and Miller anticipates that an official proposal for Ervin could be passed by the March 12 work session. In that event, general construction could begin April 18, construction could be completed by August 1, staff could move into the renovated facility by August 6, and school could open normally by August 20.

"We’re going to put together a team of about six to nine people that will really focus to get this project done," added Brown. "We’ve looked at some of the key big issues up front to make sure the building was where it needed to be moving forward."
 

Aside from an accelerated construction schedule, financing the renovation at Ervin was also discussed at the meeting. Because the administration has asked to have to renovations completed before next school year, there is not enough time for the C-1 district to request a bond from taxpayers. Instead, Carpenter’s plan calls for the district to pursue lease financing for Ervin, a maneuver that would allow the district to maintain their aggressive timetable.

"In essence, you’re borrowing money, and the financing is secured by the actual buildings in the district." said Greg Bricker, an executive vice president for the George K. Baum and Company investment bank, in explaining lease financing. "To meet the timeline that was described to you using the traditional form of debt is not a possibility."

Bricker noted that the $7,730,000 bond could hypothetically be issued as quickly as May 1, 2014. The district would pay the loan back over twenty years, in average annual installments of $589,644.72. If the district were unable to make a payment, however, they could potentially lose access to Ervin.

"The hammer that we have is that we will have, in effect, a mortgage," said Bricker. "If you don’t make your payment, you don’t get to use your building."

In addition to the re-opening of Ervin, Carpenter envisions the creation of a Freshmen Center at Hickman Mills Junior High. In his argument, the superintendent cited research that reveals that students are 3-5 times more likely to fail a class in ninth grade than students in any other grade.

One glance at Hickman Mills’ internal statistics bears out the trend. Of 483 total freshmen in the Hickman Mills district, 71 had at least one F as of the board meeting. Ninety-three students, or roughly 21% of ninth graders, had at least two F’s.
Carpenter says that the Freshman Center would help deter these issues. He told the board that the center would focus on the unique needs of the freshman class, provide necessary support, hold a required freshman seminar, and offer career exploration courses. Carpenter also thinks creating a freshman center will ultimately help Ruskin High School’s graduation rate.
"You’re not going to head off to Ruskin two credits behind," he said.

Another way Carpenter thinks he can get Hickman Mills students on track is through a proposed new alternative education program known as Ombudsman. The Ombudsman program is a national alternative education program dedicated to reducing the stigma surrounding alternative schools and getting students back on track. Carpenter told the board that the district’s current alternative education program is lacking. In his presentation he cited disruptive behavior, failing grades, truancy, teen parenting, and low retention of assigned students among the issues with the status quo. According to Carpenter, Ombudsman would fight those problems.

"If the board moves in this direction, we’ve taken a great step in the right direction, according to what I believe as an educator," he said.
Carpenter believes in providing a high-quality, rigorous curriculum with the district’s alternative program, and focusing on getting more students through Ombudsman and back on a path towards graduation. He thinks that students are currently being underserved through the district’s alternative education programs.

"I have a problem with preparing a student for the GED in grade 10," said Carpenter. "I’ll go on the record; I have a problem with that."
Phyllis Lucia and Fred Thompson were at the meeting on behalf of Ombudsman, and took some time to explain their program in detail. The pair described a structured, supportive learning environment in which each student works at his or her own pace. The program utilizes a blended learning method, and celebrates the gains of each individual student, creating a positive environment for a class of students who may not have that type of positive structure anywhere else in their lives.

"Everyone deserves a second, and sometimes, even a third chance. This is an opportunity that we want to provide students," said Thompson. "Once that light bulb comes on, now we’re on a path moving forward."
Thompson and Lucia don’t consider placement in the Ombudsman program to be a permanent sentence, either. Instead, the goal is to get those students recovered academically and back in normal classes, if at all possible.

"Our goal for these students is to return them to the district on or closer to grade level," said Lucia. "We want to show students that what they are learning inside the classroom is what they will need and use outside the classroom."
Board member Dan Osman noted that he was impressed with the Ombudsman program when he saw it in action during a trip earlier this month to observe Philadelphia public schools.

"I was impressed. It worked really well," said Osman. "Just within this same school year, there was a phenomenal difference between what they came in at and what they were doing mid-semester."
The board will have their opportunity to adopt some or all of Carpenter’s presented projects when they reconvene tonight, February 20, for their regular board meeting. The board appeared cautiously optimistic about the district’s intended direction after Carpenter’s presentation.

"I was very concerned with the direction that Ervin was going to take," said board member Breman Anderson, Jr. "(But) it appears that we’re going to take that building from an eyesore to a valuable asset. I’m very comfortable with that."
As it relates to an expansion of early childhood education at Hickman Mills, board members Dan Osman and Eric Lowe came out in support of a renovated Ervin.

"I think this is a tremendous idea for our community," Lowe said. "For a long time, I heard complaints about students even arriving in kindergarten not prepared to learn."

"I’ve done the research between districts that do Pre-K and districts that don’t," Osman added. "The disparity between the two, you just don’t make that up, ever."