Thursday, October 28, 2010

JC Advocate Poll Results

A few weeks ago, the Advocate asked readers to vote on whether they believed the Grandview Board of Aldermen should appoint a mayor now to succeed the late Mayor Bob Beckers, or wait until regularly scheduled elections in April. Readers who responded to the poll were split down the middle - 50% favored having a new mayor now, and 50% favored waiting. 

The Advocate thanks all of our readers who responded to the poll.

VOTE TUESDAY!

Polling places will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, November 2, 2010. Unofficial results will be updated on the Missouri Secretary of State’s website (www.sos.mo.gov) throughout election night.  Voters can also visit www.GoVoteMissouri.com to find the location of their polling place, learn what to bring, and view a sample ballot.
For a complete list of candidates and issues, see the Jackson County Advocate print edition. Below is information on three State Amendments and two State Propositions that will be on Tuesday’s ballot.

Proposition A: Earnings Tax
A ‘yes’ vote for Proposition A will trigger cities which have an earnings tax--only Kansas City and St. Louis--to put the tax before voters in April 2011. If voters approve the tax at that point, then it will be kept as-is for five years. If voters reject the tax in April, then it will be phased out over a ten-year period, beginning January 1, 2012.
A ‘no’ vote for Proposition A means Kansas City and St. Louis can continue collecting earnings tax revenues, as they have been.
Kansas City officials say the earnings tax accounts for a significant portion of the city’s revenue, and helps the city maintain a good credit rating. Currently the tax accounts for 45% of the general fund, or $200 million. According to acting City Manager Troy Schulte, 40% ($80 million) of the earnings tax comes from non-residents of Kansas City, who work within the city limits.
“The earnings tax is a nice way to share the burden of regional amenities such as the zoo and Liberty Memorial,” Schulte said at the Southern Communities Coalition meeting.

Proposition B: Puppy Mills
A “yes” vote on Proposition B will require breeders of large dogs to provide each dog with sufficient food, water, living space and housing, as well as regular exercise, rest between breeding cycles, and appropriate veterinary care. The proposition would also prohibit any breeder from having more than 50 dogs for the purpose of selling puppies as pets. It would create a misdemeanor crime of “puppy mill cruelty” for any violation of the law.
A “no” vote would not impose these regulations.
Officials estimate the proposal could cost government entities more than half a million dollars to enforce, but officials say if the proposal passes, it will have no impact on taxes.
The activist group Missourians for the Protection of Dogs was instrumental in getting the proposition on the ballot, having collected more than 190,000 signatures in May. The organization is a coalition of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty for Animals, and the Humane Society – all of which have endorsed the proposition. It has also been endorsed by the Jackson County Legislature and Linda Bond, wife of U.S. Senator Kit Bond.

Amendment 1: County Assessors
The Missouri General Assembly proposed this amendment, which would require the office of county assessor – the government official who determines how much property owners will pay in real estate taxes – to be an elected position. It only applies, however, to counties with a population of less than 600,001 that are ruled by a County Charter. Jackson County has more than 600,000 residents, therefore making it the only county in the state that would be exempt from the Amendment.
A “yes” vote on this amendment is a vote to require all county assessors – except for Jackson County – to be elected.
A “no” vote would leave things the way they are, with most counties appointing, not electing, assessors. 
According to the Missouri Secretary of State’s office, the amendment is not expected to have any significant affect on government costs or taxes.

Amendment 2: Property Tax
Exemption for Disabled POWs
The Missouri General Assembly also proposed an amendment that would exempt former prisoners of war who have a total service-related disability from paying property taxes. A “yes” vote on Amendment 2 is a vote for exempting such veterans from property taxes. A “no” vote is a vote not to create the exemption.
The number of qualified veterans is unknown, say state officials, but the numbers are expected to be small, and the cost to local governments is considered minimal. The most likely cost to the state is a slight drop in the blind pension fund – about $1,200.
The Missouri Family Network has endorsed the plan, which is supported by a majority of Missouri legislators. They say it’s a fair way to reduce tax burdens on disabled veterans who have sacrificed their health for their country.
Opponents, such as Missouri Citizens for Tax Justice, argue that all Missourians should contribute to state taxes, and that the amendment will duplicate existing tax credits.
Qualified vets are any who were prisoners of foreign governments or unlawful combatants during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, or military action in Iraq or Afghanistan and who are also fully disabled as a direct result of their military service. 

Amendment 3: No Potential Transfer Tax
Amendment 3, which was placed on the ballot by an initiative petition, would prohibit state, county and municipal governments from placing any new tax – including sales tax – on the sale or transfer of homes or other real estate.
A “yes” vote on Amendment 3 is a vote to prohibit new passage of such taxes. A “no” vote would leave that option available for state officials in the future.
Officials say the proposal would have no impact on state funds – either positive or negative. It would not repeal an existing tax, just prevent any new ones.
Proponents of the amendment say it will protect property owners from “double taxation.”
Ron Yaffe, a local real estate agent, told the Southern Communities Coalition on Oct. 20 that surrounding states – including Illinois, Iowa, Kansas and Arkansas – have already passed “transfer” taxes, which he said can be especially devastating to family farmers.
“I’m not aware that there is any effort to do this in Missouri, but this makes sure there never will be an effort to do it.”
The amendment was placed on the ballot by a petition circulated primarily by the Vote Yes to Stop Double Taxation Committee. When the group turned its signatures into the Missouri Secretary of State’s office, it was declined on the grounds that the group did not provide an estimate of the number of signatures. The state announced on Aug. 3 that the measure failed to qualify for the ballot.
The Missouri Association of Realtors responded with the threat of a lawsuit to challenge the state’s findings. On Aug. 31, a Cole County Circuit Court judge ruled that the petition did qualify and it was then placed on the ballot. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Get Informed and Vote!

Check out this week's print edition of the Jackson County Advocate for full coverage of candidates for state office - in their own words. The Oct. 28 edition will feature coverage of amendments, propositions, federal and county officials.

Well-Kept Secret for a Job Well Done

Conn-West Elementary Teacher Receives Outstanding Educator Award

 By Paul Thompson

For Conn-West 5th grade teacher Anika Williams, it seemed to be just another elementary school assembly last Thursday. A group of students sang R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” to kick things off, and Williams sang along under her breath, the smile of a proud mother on her face.
But this was not “just another assembly.”
Little did she know that the assembly was entirely for her, clandestinely put together to honor her as one of this year’s 55 recipients nation-wide of the Milken Family Foundation’s Outstanding Educator Award.
Once the students had finished their performance, district Superintendent Ralph Teran and Conn-West principal Mary Moore introduced Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Chris Nacastro, who said a few words of congratulations.
To the students and teachers, Nacastro’s visit was the reason they had assembled that day. But then, she yielded the microphone to Milken Family Foundation Vice President Jane Foley.
“I came here to tell you a secret,” Foley told the students of Conn-West. “Before I leave, all of you will know the secret too.”
At this point, Foley began revealing hints that would explain why she was there. She revealed that the surprise involved rewarding an excellent teacher.
Then, student volunteers were each given a square-shaped card: one with a dollar sign, others with numbers. Foley directed the student with a 2 to stand by the dollar sign. She then sent the student with a five over next to it, and two zeros were added as well. It looked like there would be a $2,500 prize waiting for one lucky teacher…
But then Foley brought out another 0, inciting an audible gasp of awe from the audience. One outstanding teacher was about to receive an outstanding prize: $25,000.
Anika Williams sat in the crowd, never guessing it was her.  But at the sound of her name, the entire room exploded in applause like the Super Bowl had just been decided.
“I was like, are they kidding me?” Williams said with a laugh when asked about her initial reaction to the announcement. “I actually was thinking of a couple teachers who might be receiving the award who I thought were excellent teachers.”
The ovation continued as an emotional Williams made her way up to the front of the assembly. Rendered speechless, Williams needed several moments before she was ready to speak. In those moments, U.S. Representative Emmanuel Cleaver injected a bit of humor as he introduced Williams, getting down on one knee in a mock marriage proposal as she was being presented with the check.
 Afterwards, Williams said she was still unsure about how she would spend the money, which comes with no strings attached.
“I have no idea, but I know there are some kids in my classroom that want me to add some more prizes to my treasure box, so I’m sure they’ll give me some ideas,” she said.
One of Williams’ students who participated in the unveiling of the $25,000 cards was 5th grader Lexus Chevalier. Chevalier was not surprised by the choice of her teacher as a Milken Outstanding Teacher. In fact, once she realized there was a teaching award to be presented, she expected it.
“I knew it was going to be Mrs. Williams, because she’s very talented, very nice, and we all love her,” the student said.
Williams comes from a family of educators, and has worked at Conn-West Elementary for 10 years over two separate stints. Growing up, she always appreciated the effect that a great teacher can have on her students.
“My mother and her two sisters were all educators. When you grow up with a teacher for a mother, you’re in the school a lot and you hear the stories,” said Williams about what inspired her to start a career in the field. “People would come back to her, and they would be thanking her. I thought, ‘Wow, I want to have that kind of effect on someone.’”
Williams has had an effect, and the Milken Family Foundation noticed. The Milken Family Foundation is a charity based out of Santa Monica, California that seeks out and rewards outstanding teachers all over the nation. They don’t accept recommendations or applications: the board of education for all states who participate in Milken’s program put together special committees to help pare down potential candidates. Milken then chooses the best of those select few.
In addition to the $25,000 check, the Milken award comes with an expenses-paid trip to Los Angeles for all the winners to attend a conference and receive their awards.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Kansas City Adopts New Redistricting Map

By Andrea Wood
Class. Race. Politics.
The lines have been re-drawn, not only for Kansas City’s six districts, but also for some groups who found themselves on opposite sides when it came to which map would represent the city’s new boundaries.
The Kansas City Redistricting Committee last month presented two options for the city’s new council district boundaries: map 17, and map 13 on its second revision.
On Thursday, the KC City Council adopted map 13 Revision 2 (a portion shown above) for its city council districts. The map was favored by African American organizations in the 3rd and 5th council districts, citing that other maps could possibly violate the Voting Rights Act by diluting the vote in historically black neighborhoods.
However, the Hispanic community favored map 17, which kept together neighborhoods in which they historically resided.
Also split were the 6th District’s two councilmembers, John Sharp and Cathy Jolly.
Sharp was opposed to map 13, and was one of only two councilmembers to vote against it. He said that the 6th District--which wraps around Grandview--is divided into a “west side” of more affluent neighborhoods near State Line, and the “east side” where he lives, which had encompassed all of the Hickman Mills School District as well as Ruskin.
The map adopted by the city council on Thursday takes 800 or so residents between 87th and 85th Streets in the Hickman Mills School District and moves them into the 5th District. Then, according to initial figures, some 6,000 residents around the Ward Parkway Shopping Center are being moved from the 4th District to the 6th District.
“If you make that kind of shift in voting strength, it would be very likely that in future elections the 6th District would be dominated by the larger number of voters in the more affluent neighborhoods in Ward Parkway,” Sharp said during the council’s business session.
Jolly, who lives on the west side, said she was concerned about statements that pitted neighborhoods against one another, such as saying that one area was affluent and the other area was working class.
“We are more alike than we are different,” she said of the new addition to the 6th District.
During public testimony, Hickman Mills School Board Member April Cushing and Rev. Dale Shotts of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church both asked the board not to divide the school district into different council districts. The map which was adopted will have some in northern portion of Hickman Mills C-1 shift into the 5th District.
Sharp said he was disappointed in the council’s decision to adopt map 13, and said the Hickman Mills and Ruskin areas were being disenfranchised by the new boundaries.
“We’ve seen our political voice diluted,” he said.
While the map is effective 10 days after the council vote one week ago, the redistricting argument is far from over.
The city will look again at its district maps once the official data from the 2010 Census is released sometime in 2011.

Anderson Appointed to Hickman Mills Board

 By Paul Thompson
The Hickman Mills C-1 School Board has elected a new school board member to replace the departed Scott Jennings, but just barely.
When Jennings took a job new job out-of-state, it became necessary to fill his vacated seat. Thus, The Hickman Mills C-1 Board of Education held candidate interviews on Wednesday, October 6th to decide who would fill Jennings’ vacated seat.
After five separate votes, the board ultimately chose Breman Anderson Jr. as their newest colleague over two other candidates: Michele Hill and Raymond Cisneros. Anderson has lived in the area since 1995, when he moved from Chicago. He received his B.A. and M.A. from Southern Illinois University. Anderson has a seven-year old daughter who goes to school in the district, and he has been an active parent up until now.
“My passion is for Early Childhood Education,” said Anderson during his interview with the Board. “I have a seven year old, and I’ve participated in numerous activities of the Early Childhood Center of which she graduated.”
The devoted father cited his experience dealing with collective bargaining and contracts as a plus for a potential position on the C-1 Board of Education. Anderson also noted that he had been reading up on past board meeting agendas in preparation for his interview.
“To prepare for this meeting I reviewed, with thanks to the internet, the agendas of the last twelve months of Board Meetings,” Anderson answered in response to a question about his work ethic and potential time commitment to the job. “At this point in time, I could give you no more than 25-30 hours a week; that would be my timetable.”
While Anderson was an accomplished candidate, his selection was by no means a landslide. In fact, having three worthy candidates almost created an interesting dilemma: having no replacement board member at all.
The board’s first vote was an even split, with Bonnaye Mims and April Cushing voting for Michele Hill, J.T. Brown and Darrell Curls voting for Breman Anderson Jr., and Debbie Aiman and George Flesher voting for Raymond Cisneros. A second vote eliminated Hill when Cushing changed her vote to Cisneros. That’s when things got complicated.
With Hill out of the running, the board took a third vote, albeit with similar results. Brown, Mims, and Curls voted for Anderson, while Cushing, Flesher, and Aiman went for Cisneros. After a fourth vote yielded the same result, it looked as if the decision may have to be pushed back until the next board meeting or longer.
“You can put it as an agenda item and talk about it at your next session, or you can just leave it open,” explained district attorney Chris Gahagan when asked what the other options were.
It looked like that might be exactly what would happen. But after board member Debbie Aiman petitioned for a fifth vote in order to change her decision, the board was finally able to break the deadlock between Anderson and Cisneros.
“Had we not broken the tie, there is no way of knowing when the position would be filled,” explained Aiman about her change of heart. “It made no sense to wait. Mr. Anderson came into the meeting prepared. Therefore to fill the vacancy, I changed my vote to support Mr. Anderson and break the tie.”
After the voting process was over, the board members acknowledged the difficulty of the decision and thanked each candidate for their interest in the position. For his part, Mr. Anderson appeared ready to get started in his new job serving on the C-1 Board of Education.
 “I know we need change, and hopefully we can work together to bring that around,” said Anderson.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Mayor of Grandview Seat to Remain Unfilled

By Seann McAnally
The City of Grandview will likely do without a mayor until regular elections this April.
The Board of Aldermen on Oct. 5 held a special meeting to choose a successor for Mayor Bob Beckers, who passed away in August after a battle with cancer.
 “It’s time for the city to take the next step, as difficult as that is for all our hearts,” said Alderman Steve Dennis, who will continue to preside over meetings in his current role as board president until elections in April.
 “It will take four votes to elect any person to the position of mayor,” said Joe Gall, city attorney.
Four candidates were nominated, but none could garner the required four votes.
Alderman Joe Runions nominated himself. Alderman Tony Preyer nominated Dennis. Alderman Leonard Jones nominated Ken Cox, a former Ward II Alderman and current Parks and Recreation Commissioner. Jones also nominated himself.
After a lengthy discussion about how the vote should be conducted, Joe Gall, city attorney, and Becky Schimmel, city clerk, advised the board that they needed to vote out loud in a “roll call” style.
Cox garnered the most votes, with Crain, Jones, and Turnbaugh voting “yay.” Preyer and Dennis voted “yay” for Dennis’ nomination.
No votes were cast for Jones, and Runions was the sole vote for himself.
At the core of the voting process was the question of whether it would be fair for current board members who plan to run for mayor in April to have to face an opponent who had been appointed to the seat and has served as mayor until the election—essentially, an incumbent.
“I think we need someone from outside,” Jones said. “We don’t want anyone to have an advantage because they’re an incumbent. Let’s be honest – I’m looking at this to be fair for all of us going forward who are interested in running for mayor sitting around this table.”
Dennis, Jones, and Runions all expressed an interest in running for mayor in April.
Jones asked Runions to withdraw his name from consideration so a second vote could be taken that might result in four votes for one candidate, presumably his nominee Cox, who had three.
“Are you willing to remove your name, Joe?” Jones asked.
“Nope,” Runions replied.
Jones reiterated that he did not think it would be fair to have to run against an incumbent who was appointed, not elected.
Alderman Jim Crain agreed with Jones. 
“I think we have three existing aldermen who will make a race in April - three good candidates,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair to have one person have an advantage. For a while I didn’t think that mattered, but the more I think about it, it might matter. I would hate for that to be the deciding factor. I want people in April to look at the candidates and talk to them, understand their visions, understand their philosophies, understand where they’re coming from, and make a decision based on that.”
Preyer said he felt the process of appointing a mayor was becoming one of political gamesmanship.
“That seems to be what’s happening here; no one wants to put someone in that seat because it might hurt someone’s chances of election,” Preyer said.
Before the vote, Jones said he felt the board should discuss the issue, so that whoever was chosen would be chosen unanimously.
 “I think it would be wise for us to do something that we could potentially get six votes in agreement to move forward, unless we want to be disappointed,” Jones said. “We could go around the table and there’s going to be disappointed people.”
Dennis shrugged in response.
“That’s the nature of an election,” he said. “We put our egos on the line.”
Preyer said it was important not to take the vote personally.
“As far as disappointment goes, I want to state the obvious: if we vote for someone it’s not an indictment on the other person,” Preyer said.
Dennis said he thought it was good to have disagreement and healthy debate.
“I’m glad we don’t always agree on all the issues. I’m glad we can spend all night having spirited discussion, and still be friends about it,” Dennis said.
The city not having a mayor until April didn’t sit well with Anita Hensley, the only member of the public to attend the entire meeting.
“It seems that there are some here tonight who had a bigger interest in whether they get elected in April than in moving the city forward now,” she said. “This was all just political.”

Karen McCarthy Loses Battle with Alzheimer’s

Longtime Congresswoman Karen McCarthy passed away Tuesday due to complications with Alzheimer’s. Congresswoman McCarthy was 63. She served Missouri’s Fifth District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2005. McCarthy also served as the first female president of the National Conference of State Legislatures in 1994. 

“This evening our nation mourns the loss of a true pioneer,” U.S. Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, II said about his friend and predecessor.  “Our community owes her so very much. Her work as a teacher, an advocate, a state legislator and a Member of Congress helped literally tens of thousands of families in Missouri. Across this nation, millions of children are healthier and happier because of the tireless efforts of Karen McCarthy.  “She was a true public servant and a caring soul.” U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, who served in the Missouri State Legislature with McCarthy in the 1980s, gave the following statement: “For many years Karen McCarthy provided a shining example of public service, and served as a terrific role model for thousands of women.  She navigated the toughest political waters with intelligence and integrity, and never let politics trump good public policy.  I’m incredibly lucky to have had her as a mentor and a dear, dear friend.”