Friday, November 20, 2015

SKC remains hotspot for development

by Mary Wilson

City Manager Troy Schulte, who has supported the South Kansas City Alliance from the beginning of the organization, spoke with members on Monday, November 9. He began by talking about the Royals Victory parade, held on November 3, with over 800,000 people in attendance.

“It was a terrific event,” said Schulte. “I have gotten calls from colleagues all over the country and as far away as Australia asking how we pulled that off.”

Schulte said, “That’s how we do things in Kansas City.” It is a testimony to the city, he added, that will pay dividends down the road.

“I just wanted to come down to South Kansas City to say thank you and keep doing what you’re doing,” said Schulte. “Whatever is in the water down here is working.”

According to Schulte, seventy-eight percent of non-residential permitting activity in Kansas City has occurred in the southland.

“This area is hot, and what we have to do as a city is keep that momentum going,” he said.

Plans that were put in place a couple of years ago are starting to come to fruition. Richards-Gebaur, which was struggling for redevelopment for some time, will see movement with the announcement of Sioux Chief’s relocation from Cass County. Along with further development along 87th Street, Oxford on the Blue, Cerner, Centerpoint and others, the southern part of Kansas City is seeing the bulk of development announcements.

“There is a tremendous amount of activity going on down in the southern part of the city,” said Schulte. “It is really the engine that is driving the city as a whole.”

Schulte added that while the projects may not get a lot of attention from a press standpoint, like the streetcar or downtown convention center, the jobs and true economic prosperity are happening in South Kansas City. He is looking at next steps to keep development momentum going.

“We need to build off of the gains that we’re seeing out here,” said Schulte, “and augment the quality of life issue.”

One thing in particular Schulte is looking to accomplish is to wipeout the dangerous buildings. According to Schulte, there are seventeen dangerous buildings in the 6th District boundaries of Kansas City, primarily clustered in the Ruskin area. In comparison, there are three-hundred in the 3rd District boundaries. Schulte said the focus has been on targeted areas.

“Next year, we’ll target that Ruskin area,” said Schulte. “We’re also looking for feedback from the neighborhoods on where we can do some targeted code enforcement.”

Around the larger projects, the city is looking at taking care of some quality of life issues, with the dangerous buildings being a priority. Schulte has found results with an aggressive code enforcement program to help give a push to property owners to bring their properties up to code.

“These targeted enforcements have really paid dividends,” said Schulte. “It can drive some of those problem property owners out of business and they’ll sell and get the homes into hands that are more productive.”

For example, in a different part of the city, Schulte and his team focused on a four-block area and opened 350 cases. Within sixty days, 150 of those homes had been abated.

“With all this job creation and economic development, I want people to invest back into these neighborhoods,” said Schulte.

He added that single-family homeowners would be the best way to fix the education issues the southland is facing, specifically Hickman Mills.

“To have people with incomes buying these houses, and getting them out of rental properties would pay off,” said Schulte. “I’m looking forward to working with the South Kansas City Alliance in identifying areas where we can get the most bang for our buck.”

This approach has worked reasonably well in other parts of the city, and according to Schulte, it should work in South Kansas City as well.

“There are a lot of great things going on in terms of South Kansas City and economic development,” said Schulte.

He added that the conversations regarding rail access in the southland are happening. They are working on plans to get rail south of downtown and through Brookside and Waldo.

“There is certainly a demand out here around Oxford on the Blue and the Cerner project for light rail,” said Schulte. “We as a city have got to foster that need and figure out a way to get that from a connectivity standpoint.”

While it wouldn’t have solved all of the city’s issues moving 800,000 people in and out of downtown for the Royals Victory parade, Schulte stated that more transit options would have been helpful. The city commandeered 400 buses to move people from the outlying areas into downtown Kansas City. According to Schulte, 10,000 people were still waiting for buses at the remote locations at the parade start time.

“We had plenty of buses, we just couldn’t get through the traffic congestion in downtown Kansas City,” said Schulte. “Having another long-term transportation issue, from a logistics issue, in another thirty years we might be better prepared for it.”

Schulte added that he was pleased to see Cerner’s plans from a campus-approach to development, with their own exit and entrance onto I-435, have been abandoned due to cost issues. Cerner is now looking at ways to fully utilize the existing Bannister and 87th Street access points.

“That will then be able to support additional retail and commercial activity along those corridors,” said Schulte.

With all the good things happening in South Kansas City, Schulte said his job is to make sure that the City keeps the momentum going.

“That’s what‘s exciting about it,” Schulte. “We’re trying to figure out how to reinvest in those corresponding neighborhoods around the developments.”

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Grandview business deemed nuisance gets shut down

by Mary Wilson

The Grandview Board of Aldermen held an administrative hearing on Tuesday, October 27, to determine if the suspension of the occupational license for Los Guerreros Mexican Bar and Grill, located at 514 Main Street, should be continued or if the license should be revoked.

According to the staff report, the occupational license for Los Guerreros was suspended on October 10, 2015, on the basis that the establishment was serving beer on the premises without either a state or city liquor license and because the restaurant has become a nuisance in the city due to persistent criminal activity. The hearing gave Los Guerreros the opportunity to appeal the suspension of the occupational license to the Board of Aldermen.

“The City of Grandview has given Los Guerreros written notice of this hearing,” said Mayor Leonard Jones. “Los Guerreros may be represented by council and has the right to present witnesses and cross-examine the city’s witnesses.”

Despite notification of the hearing, there was no representation from Los Guerreros. The owner of the restaurant, Monica Romero, received a copy of the Notice of Suspension on October 10, which served to inform her that the occupational license was ordered suspended and that the restaurant must cease operations immediately, according to the staff report. The suspension notice also provided details for the administrative hearing.

Becky Schimmel, City Clerk, was the first to testify before the Board. According to Schimmel, the liquor license for Los Guerreros expired on June 30, 2015. Schimmel stated that the City issued the most recent occupational license to owner, Monica Romero, on September 1, 2015. It was also brought to her attention that there was inebriation-involved criminal activity.
“I then expressed the information to the police department personnel that they did not have a liquor license,” said Schimmel. “It appeared that there had been drinking either on the premises or inside.”
Sergeant Dean Van Winkle, Director of Liquor Control, testified next. Van Winkle provided a spreadsheet with recorded incidents that occurred at Los Guerreros, including a report of a male armed with and brandishing a handgun.
“Officers found an intoxicated man armed with a shotgun when they arrived,” said Van Winkle. “They found the shotgun to be unloaded, but there was a 12-gauge round found in the vehicle.”

According to Van Winkle, the suspect’s blood-alcohol content level exceeded legal limit. Another incident included a fight and destruction of property at the restaurant. Officers were also sent to the restaurant and were advised by Los Guerreros security that a person was swinging a beer bottle at the head of another person.

“There was arguing that continued after the officers took both subjects outside,” said Van Winkle. “Things escalated into another disturbance and after officer intervention, it resulted in another officer being grabbed from behind by one of the suspects and assaulted.”

The other officers on scene forcibly took the suspect to the ground and an officer suffered minor injuries in the incident. According to Van Winkle, Grandview Police were notified of another incident from a hospital when they were informed that a patient had been assaulted in Grandview. Witnessed described an altercation that resulted in the victim being run over by a vehicle. The report stated that between forty and fifty people were in the parking lot of Los Guerreros when the incident occurred.
The victim suffered numerous fractures but survived. Another incident included a victim of a shooting who stated that he had been hanging out at Los Guerreros, according to Van Winkle. The victim of the shooting is the same victim who was previously run over by the car.

“It is also believed that he may end up being paralyzed from the shooting,” said Van Winkle.

On September 26, 2015, three months after the expiration of the liquor license for Los Guerreros, Grandview Police Department conducted a series undercover investigations after receiving information that the restaurant was selling alcohol.  On some occasions, the officer was told that they weren’t serving alcohol because police were causing them to be more cautious, according to Van Winkle.

“But on this particular occasion, on September 26, at around 11:30 p.m., the undercover officer went in. He had to pay a $10 cover charge to get through the front door,” said Van Winkle.

Once inside, the officer played some pool with several people that were in the bar who were consuming alcohol. The officer was able to purchase a $20 bucket of bottled beer from a bartender. The incident report included a photograph that the undercover officer took that evening of the alcohol he purchased at the establishment.

Both Van Winkle and Schimmel testified before the Board of Aldermen that they feel Los Guerreros is a nuisance to the City of Grandview. Based on the testimony, it was determined that Los Guerreros was selling liquor despite not having a city or state license to do so and it was established that the restaurant is a nuisance and subject to abatement. Ultimately, the Board of Aldermen voted unanimously to revoke the business operating license for Los Guerreros. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Public safety bond project sees changes

by Mary Wilson

Original plans to the Grandview Police Department secured access and storage, approved by 77% of voters in August 2014, are being modified due to bids for the project coming in substantially over budget. For many years, according to Chief Charles Iseman, GVPD has seen a need for increased security in the back parking lot of the police station.

“In 2011, we started making capital improvement requests,” said Iseman. “There was no funding there so it never got approved. We were fortunate in 2014 to have the voters approve the bond election for the public safety and parks projects.”

In December 2014, Grandview Board of Aldermen approved a contract with SFS Architecture, who began working on the project design. When the project went out to bid, only two were received and both were rejected.

“The bids were not even close to what we had estimated or what was in the budget,” said Iseman.
Iseman returned to SFS Architecture to see if cost-saving adjustments to the project could be made. Also, after discussions with Public Works Director Dennis Randolph, it was decided to break the project into four distinct areas.

“Rather than have one contractor do all the work, the bids that come in might be a little more competitive,” said Iseman.  

The four project areas are now the building itself, the fencing and gates, pavement and video surveillance. In addition to the changes in building material and labor costs, Chad Bard with SFS Architecture stated that having the rebid with a longer advertisement period will possibly bring in additional contractor interest.

The original plan called for two access points to the secure police parking area, including a new drive that exited onto Jones Avenue. That option has been removed from the project. The primary access to the lot will now run parallel to Freedom Park and the Depot Museum. A section of black-coated chain-link fence was added to divide the drive from the park.
“The chain-link will blend in nicely with the black, wrought-iron style in the security fencing around the entire lot,” said Bard.
Iseman added that there are plans to re-stripe the area to focus pedestrian traffic away from the police access point. A motorized gate with keycard entry will provide access to the secured area for officers.
The storage building roof was also looked at for cost-saving measures. The slope of the roof was decreased enough to provide for a different material but offering the same look to the previously approved plans.
“It’s about 2000 square-feet less than originally planned,” said Bard. “That will save some money.”

Another significant cost-saving measure is to go with a different material for the outside of the storage building that will match the rest of City Hall, but offer a different look. From a maintenance standpoint, according to Iseman, the new material is preferred. The layout of the building has not changed.

“We didn’t want to shrink the size of the building any so we’re trying to take some measures with some other things to reduce the cost,” said Iseman.

Bard stated that the projects will go out for rebid within the next two weeks. To make it more competitive, Iseman said he hopes for five or six different bidders for the projects.

“I hate changing the scope of the design work based on one low round of bidding,” said Ward 3 Alderman John Maloney. “It could have just been bad timing.”

Iseman stated that the biggest deletion from the project he’d like to remain is the second, dedicated drive to Jones Avenue.

“If the money comes in right, we can still keep that as an option down the road,” said Iseman.

Ultimately, the Grandview Board of Aldermen gave the okay for the changes to the project and for the rebid process to take place at their work session on Tuesday, October 20. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Metro Legislators Discuss Missouri General Assembly

by Mary Wilson

South Kansas City Alliance government affairs chairperson Geoff Gerling held a roundtable discussion with area legislators on Monday, October 12. In attendance were District 37 State Representative Joe Runions, District 26 State Representative Gail McCann Beatty, District 9 State Senator Kiki Curls and District 7 State Senator Jason Holsman.

“We brought in elected officials from both the Senate and the House to give us a sort of wrap-up of what happened in the most recent year in the Missouri General Assembly,” said Gerling. “The thing that I find odd is that is seems as though not a lot actually happened this past year.”

According to Gerling, there was a lot of conflict and legislation passed that was ultimately vetoed by Governor Jay Nixon. The “Right-to-Work” piece of legislation dominated the others, according to Holsman, which is a law that prohibits employers from entering into a contractual agreement with labor dues associated with it.

“For me, it’s a free rider issue,” said Holsman. “If you’re going to have higher wages, better benefits and more security in those contracts, then you should have a responsibility to pay for that negotiation. You shouldn’t get it for free and that’s what Right-to-Work does.”

Holsman was against the Right-to-Work legislation, which passed in the senate. According to Holsman, senate leaders knew that with the Governor’s extensive veto list, it wasn’t legislation worth breaking the senate over. Pressure from donors on the senate leadership brought conflict within the chamber.

“Nine out of ten times, we’ll find a gray medium to negotiate with and everyone is a little uncomfortable,” said Holsman. “With this particular piece of legislation, there was no middle ground.”

The Right-to-Work bill was filibustered by democrats prior to the end of session. Session is required to end on a Friday at 6 p.m. The Thursday before and on Friday of this session, only two votes occurred in the senate.

“Anyone who is a historian in Missouri Senate will tell you that 60, 80, even 100 votes happen in those last few days,” said Holsman. “But this time, we had only two.”

The other passage was the FRA bill, which provided $3.8 billion in Medicaid funding, ending session a rare three hours prior to the 6 p.m. requirement. The concern was, according to Holsman, that 24 conference committee reports and 148 house bills died because of the Right to Work legislation, which was ultimately vetoed by the Governor.

“Consequently, a lot of good things, things that all of us cared about, ended up dying because of the headstrong position of the Republican leadership who forced that bill through,” said Holsman. “I’m hopeful that this next session will not see a return of the Right to Work.”

According to McCann Beatty, most everyone in the House had bills that didn’t get heard due to the lack of items brought forth in the Senate. “We all had some things that didn’t make it,” she said.
With the tumultuous ending in the legislature, Curls added that there were a few things that were completed, including permanent authorization of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority half-cent sales tax.

“The tax was sun-setting at the end of the year and we stood to lose almost 40% of our bus service if it had not passed,” said Curls. “St. Louis has permanent authorization of their sales tax, and this allows Kansas City to be able to preauthorize the tax as needed.”

The climate of the legislature is such, according to Curls, that it is difficult to get any legislation relative to taxation passed. “Luckily, this was just a reauthorization and not a new tax,” she said.
Going into a major election year with new leaders in both the Senate and the House, Gerling asked the legislators if we can expect to see moderate legislation.

“What they will do is they will let the crazy legislation come to the floor and pass it in order to keep the peace among their party,” said McCann Beatty. “Anytime you have 44 versus 117, the art of compromise just isn’t there. Unfortunately, it’s the citizens of the state that suffer as a result.”

Before term limits kicked in, Gerling stated that a lot of the conflict was region-based, rather than between Democrats and Republicans. “It’s much more political now,” he said, “right or left.” The majority of Kansas City is represented by Democrats.

“Because we have the Kansas City Caucus, which is democrats and republicans, I think that’s helpful,” said McCann Beatty. “We try to work together for those things that are important to the Kansas City region.”

She added that Kansas City as a whole has come out okay from a budget perspective, with UMKC seeing funding for two large projects. Gerling pointed out that the new majority leader of the house is from Jackson County.

“I really am happy with our legislators here in Kansas City,” said Curls. “We have very good relationships with each other and I will say that that is not the case on the St. Louis side. We stick together on Kansas City-related issues.”

Runions added that as a group, legislators meet a few times a year with the metropolitan mayors to help prioritize upcoming legislation impacting the Kansas City region.

Looking forward to 2016 legislation, some things the panel said constituents might see are transportation issues, Medicaid expansion, student transfers, Ferguson-related legislation, unemployment, criminal records and possibly an initiative petition process on the cannabis issue. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

All That Fits

Over the course of the years that I’ve been in the newspaper business, I have become more and more of a believer in the power of community journalism. No other news source is covering Grandview and South Kansas City like we do. I believe that wholeheartedly. We have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to bring our readers the good news and the bad news as it unfolds.

I’m not the source of the news. I don’t make it up, and I don’t print only what I want. If there’s bad news, I write about it. I have had my integrity questioned, my faith and morals challenged and my heart broken by readers’ reactions to stories I have penned. Stories that if they had gone unwritten, a certain disservice to the community would have fallen on my shoulders.

Most times, however, the things and people we write about are positive. I have met so many people in this community who have changed me for the better, who have helped develop me into the person and writer that I am today. To all those people, I am eternally grateful.

As I was preparing to write my column on National Newspaper Week early Monday morning, I tried to think of how I could tie in the fact that National Fire Prevention Week happens to fall at the same time. Right around the time this crossed my mind, I heard sirens. Not just the normal police car or ambulance siren, either. This was something major and I immediately knew I had a job to do.

I rushed out of my office door and saw smoke to the west. Something was surely burning. I quickly grabbed my camera and headed behind the emergency vehicles to what would become a horrific scene. Between the mayday calls, an injured fireman and the body of a victim, it can be hard to keep one’s emotions in check. I got some amazing photos despite the lump in my throat and the pure adrenaline that is felt when covering things like this.

That afternoon and evening, I pored through the 400+ photos I took throughout the ordeal. Some showed complete heroism, while others showed complete devastation. This, I thought, is why community journalism is still relevant. Sure, there were television news stations there covering the event. But, I was there first. I followed our guys; guys I know by name, down to the flames. I said a prayer as a captain from our department was taken away by ambulance. And tears fell as I learned of the resident who didn’t make it out.

Monday night, I went home to my quiet apartment in Grandview. With a roof over my head and a blanket to cover up in, I tried to sleep. Each time I closed my eyes, sights and sounds of the day kept me awake. As a journalist, it’s important to stay focused on the job at hand, despite personal ties or feelings. That’s probably, for me, the most difficult part of the job when covering breaking news in my hometown.

I don’t think I have to explain why I feel this newspaper is important to this community. The names in the bylines celebrate with you our accomplishments just as we mourn with you our losses. We don’t just breeze through when something big happens. We live here and we are invested in the people here. We love this community, and more importantly, we love what we do.

I also don’t think an explanation is necessary on why fire prevention can help save lives. The key message of this year’s Fire Prevention Week campaign, October 4 through 10, is to install smoke alarms in every bedroom, outside each separate sleeping area and on every level of your home, including the basement. Smoke alarms save lives.

I’m lucky to be a part of a community of people and businesses that understand the importance of this newspaper. I take this job seriously and sincerely love what I do. Thank you for your continued readership and support. 

Mary Wilson, editor of the Jackson County Advocate newspaper, grew up in the Grandview, Missouri community. She volunteers her time with many local organizations. You can reach her at, or follow her on twitter @MWilsonJCA.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Local organization helps to empower those with disabilities through job placement

by Becky Davis

The past few months have been full of major life changes for nineteen-year-old Maya of Grandview. Her family moved this spring from St. Louis. She started a full load of classes at Longview Community College this fall, and she landed her very first job with the help of JobOne Careers.

Maya has been working at Dollar General for three months. She straightens up merchandise, repackages opened items and helps clean up the store. She loves having her own spending money and uses it for dates with her boyfriend. Her first paycheck went towards a fun time at Crown Center. She is also saving up for a Magic Bullet so she can make her own smoothies.

Co-workers appreciate Maya’s cheerful disposition and positive attitude. Maya’s supervisor, assistant store manager Loovetta Barnes, said that Maya is a great employee.

“I just love her,” said Barnes.

JobOne Careers Director Anne Hochstein said that Maya came to her job-ready.

“We helped her with her resume and made sure she knew how to interview and had basic job skills,” said Hochstein. “Then we needed to find something with flexibility so she could go to school.”

Although the Careers program is only 18 months old, JobOne has been around for 40 years. The Grandview location, which started as the Foundation Workshop, has been in existence since 1981. It merged with IBS Industries, a similar agency operating in Independence and Blue Springs. Today, JobOne employs 260 disabled individuals and 40 staff members at 14 locations throughout Jackson County. There are three workshops where employees complete sub-contracted jobs, a recycling center in Grandview, a document shredding business in Independence, and the new JobOne Careers being piloted in Grandview.

“We partner with Vocational Rehabilitation with the goal of helping individuals who have a disability but want to work in the community,” Hochstein explained. “Sometimes it might be someone who is already in the JobOne program who is ready to take that next step. Or, it may be someone like Maya who already has those capabilities and is transitioning out of high school.

JobOne Careers works on referrals from Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), a program under the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. VR is designed to assist individuals with physical or mental impairments, providing services including guidance and counseling, vocational training, job-seeking skills and job placement.

JobOne also works with the Developmental Disability Services of Jackson County, known as “eitas,” which stands for “empowering individuals through advocacy and support.” VR and eitas are the major funders of the JobOne Careers program.

Rofique Miller is a Customized Employment Specialist for JobOne Careers. He and Hochstein set up information interviews with prospective employers to find out more about the businesses and what kinds of skills they require. They might also discuss how to make a workplace more accessible to a disabled employee. If accommodations are needed, they help employers figure out what could be done.

“When I meet with businesses, I want to learn what they need,” said Hochstein. “We don’t want to send a person who is not a good fit for a business any more than they want us to.”

Some clients don’t know what they want to do, so Hochstein and Miller will set up job shadows.

“Some of our clients don’t have work experience, so they are guessing about what might interest them,” said Hochstein.

“My job is to help our clients find employment that is based upon their interests,” Miller added.

Once a client is placed in a permanent position, JobOne keeps the case open for one year, staying in touch with the employee. JobOne staff members check in with the family, as well. Support is provided should a client lose a job, and help is given to find a new one. Permanent, meaningful employment is the ultimate goal.

There are challenges for the JobOne Careers program, as well. Cristy Carpenter, JobOne Employee Services Director, said, “Transportation is the biggest hurdle in our area.”

Currently, clients in the program are responsible for their own transportation. Sometimes that limits potential placements if the client depends on public transportation. For example, someone who lives in Grandview but needs public transportation to the warehouses in Lenexa is out of luck.

“Sometimes there are people we want to help, but there are too many barriers,” Hochstein said, “and we can’t help them reach their goals.”

“Helping individuals tackle a challenge and helping them remove that barrier is my biggest reward,” added Miller. Helping employers see that there are advantages to hiring employees with disabilities is also important to Miller. “We want to focus on what they can bring to the table,” he said.

The excitement of people getting a job who haven’t previously had work is special for Hochstein. 
“The pride they feel when they get a job for the first time is the pride I feel,” she said.

The JobOne Careers staff wants to educate employers. Since JobOne offered primarily sheltered workshops in the past, they want the business community to be more open to inclusion in the workplace, and not just because it’s federally mandated.

“It’s good for the business and it’s good for the individual,” said Carpenter.

“It’s the right thing to do,” added Hochstein.

Hochstein, Miller and Carpenter are all proud of Maya’s accomplishments. They see Maya as a shining star to what the program is about.  Maya is already scoping out her next job. She’s interested in bagging at the store, but is hoping her education will help her find a full-time job someday. Hochstein is pleased with Maya’s placement and considers her a big success.

“She’s a breath of fresh air,” said Hochstein.

Businesses in Grandview and South Kansas City that would like to learn more about JobOne Careers can contact Anne Hochstein at 816-763-7822, ext. 706, or

Wednesday, September 30, 2015