Friday, April 27, 2018

Area volunteers aim to breathe new life into forgotten cemetery






by Mary Wilson

Leaves, sticks and debris from a south Kansas City cemetery were stuffed into 297 bags on a recent Saturday morning. The cemetery, tucked inside the Timber Hill Estates subdivision at 125th and Wornall, is an old community burial ground, holding generations-old memories that have long since been forgotten.

Mount Pleasant Cemetery was the final resting place for around 45 known people. Once known as the one-acre King Burial Ground, it has been overgrown and seen significant damage since the last known clean-up event took place in 2012. Local historian and teacher, Diane Euston, discovered the cemetery several years ago. After conducting her own research with the city and trying to gather information from the subdivision that now surrounds the grounds, she came up with more questions than answers.

“I knew the subdivision didn’t own it, and the City of Kansas City and Jackson County have little, if any, records on it, too,” said Euston. “I decided that we needed to work together, the subdivision and my volunteers, and get a group together including some of those who have family members buried there and work toward a common goal.”

After gaining permission for the clean-up from Timber Hill Estates, Euston called on area Boy Scouts, students from Avila University, and descendants of those buried at Mount Pleasant for whom she had contact information. According to Euston, a fence was installed by the subdivision developer around three-fourths of the cemetery, while shrubbery was planted along the northern side.

“From what I understand, when things fall inside the fence boundaries or the fence itself needs repaired, the subdivision is repairing it,” said Euston. “But when it comes to the contents of the actual cemetery, nothing is being done.”

Euston said there are several missing headstones, and most of those which are visible are in pieces. Some of the larger gravestones have gone missing within the last six years.  The last records that Euston has found of those buried at Mount Pleasant is from the Daughters of American Revolution’s 1934 history book. Family names include the Bargers, Holmeses, Hayses, Kings, Lees, McCraws, McPhersons, Sheltons and Sharps, along with several other individuals.

“The first burial, at least in 1934, that was on record according to the DAR is a Shelton, a five-year-old,” said Euston.

During the recent cleanup, Euston and the volunteers unearthed pieces of headstones, and uncovered pits where the ground has sunken into a burial site. Some of those sites have no markers or just fragments of a headstone near them.

With the nearly 300 bags of debris collected, there is still work to be done. Euston is organizing another cleanup effort at Mount Pleasant Cemetery for this Saturday, April 28, beginning at 9 a.m. Those interested in helping are encouraged to bring gloves, rakes and lawn bags. Euston would also like to reset the headstones. Hundreds of flags were placed where volunteers thought a grave might exist.

“We need a better report. We’re an operation of volunteers and no money,” Euston. “We would rather donate time and services and, eventually, maintenance of the cemetery, but we need help to get to that point.”

Euston would like to find someone willing to donate ground-penetrating radar services to determine where each grave is located in the cemetery. She also believes there may be an old slave burial ground on the site that she’d like to confirm. At Saturday’s cleanup, Grade A Tree Care has volunteered to help with the trimming and removal of large branches on the property.

With no ownership on file, it has been suggested to Euston that a cemetery board be incorporated, which would include descendants of those who are buried there to provide maintenance and upkeep of Mount Pleasant going forward.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Sheriff resigns amid sexual misconduct allegations


by Mary Wilson

Jackson County Sheriff Mike Sharp resigns this week after allegations of sexual misconduct were brought to light following a recent deposition held earlier this month. A former employee of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office sued the county in 2016, indicating that she was sexually harassed by two female and one male employee of the department.

In his letter of resignation addressed to Jackson County Executive Frank White, Sharp said that “due to a pending legal matter, and in order to avoid further disruption to the important work of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, I have reached the conclusion that I will resign the office of Sheriff of Jackson County, Missouri, effective Thursday, April 19, 2018.”

According to a statement released by the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, Sharp takes full responsibility for his actions.

“I allowed my judgment as Sheriff and my obligations to Jackson County be clouded because of my feelings for someone I cared very deeply for in the past,” said Sharp in the statement. “I am accountable for my actions. This was a personal failing and is entirely my responsibility.”
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker’s office was first made aware of the misconduct and Sharp’s involvement in a civil case against the county last year.

“My office was notified in late 2017 by the county counselor of concerns regarding a pending civil action involving the Sheriff,” Peters Baker said in a statement issued this afternoon. “We contacted a law enforcement agency and began our own investigation into the matter. We also closely monitored the on-going civil litigation involving Jackson County. While the allegations that have come to light are extremely troubling, today’s resignation satisfies the state’s interest regarding a potential ‘quo warranto’ action to remove the Sheriff from office. We will continue to monitor this matter and take any appropriate action in the future.”

Sharp indicated in a deposition on April 4 that he had an ongoing relationship with a former employee of the Sheriff’s Department, sometimes of a sexual nature involving Sharp, the employee and his wife. Sharp also went on several different trips with the employee where he paid for hotel rooms, food and drink and other items. During the deposition, Sharp said that he personally put the down payment down on a house for the employee and has supplemented her income since 2013.

Sharp leaves with two years remaining on his term as Sheriff. White will have to appoint someone until the November 2018 election.

“Based upon the serious allegations made public today, the Sheriff has taken the appropriate action to step down," said White in a statement released this afternoon. "Under the authority of the Jackson County Charter, I have the responsibility to name an interim. I will be making an announcement regarding my appointment in the coming days.”

Thursday, April 12, 2018

City and developers come to partnership agreement for Gateway Village


by Mary Wilson, mwilson@jcadvocate.com

With last month’s $8 million infrastructure ask of the City of Grandview from PG, LLC, developers of Gateway Village, left on the table, an agreement has been reached.

“We’ve talked at length about this being a partnership and I think we’re at a point now where we can say that we do have a partnership and we are working together to accomplish a phenomenal goal of building a world-class soccer/mixed-use facility here in Grandview,” said Deron Cherry, developer.

According to Grandview Mayor Leonard Jones, the city and Gateway Village developers are coming to an understanding of potential costs or risks that may be associated with a development of this magnitude. The $250-300 million project, upon completion, will bring in an estimated 1.8-2 million visitors each year for the soccer facilities alone. Adding in the other amenities such as retail, hotels, 
restaurants and other mixed-use, Cherry said the number of visitors will definitely be higher.

“From a city perspective, we have a much better understanding of what the Gateway Village complex is going to look and feel like based on the last six or eight months of negotiations with our partners,” said Grandview Mayor Leonard Jones. “This is the very beginning of what is happening in the Grandview and the surrounding metropolitan area that will have a long-lasting legacy for many, many years to come.”

The developers have been exploring the financial implications, and lenders are looking for the City of Grandview to have some ownership and be involved in the project. The now $5.65 million contribution from the City of Grandview will go toward the public infrastructure pieces of the development. The City of Grandview will eventually own the public infrastructure pieces, and the funds used for that part of the development will be 100% reimbursable costs.

“The fact that the city is willing to invest in the project makes it a lot better for all of our partners involved to know that the city is in on this deal,” said Cherry. “I think it’s important for people to understand that the investment from the city could be recouped down the road.”

The developer and the City of Grandview are working together to seek public funding assistance from all local, state and federal resources, including Missouri Department of Economic Development, Missouri Department of Transportation, Jackson County and the federal government.

Residents of the City of Grandview will see other benefits beyond having the development along the 150 Highway corridor. Part of the agreement includes that any Grandview resident who wishes to participate in recreational soccer, youth or adult, at Gateway Village, will be able to do so at a 75% or more discounted rate.

“Gateway wants Grandview to be very strong participants in the soccer program,” said Jones. “It’ll be right here in our city and they want to draw from the youth here in Grandview to the point that they are willing to discount that participation rate. That shows, to me, that the developer wants to invest and be a very good partner with the City of Grandview.”

“We’ve always believed in giving back to the community,” said Cherry. “It’s so important and we look forward to doing that.”

The city’s contribution will enhance the developer’s opportunity to obtain private financing. PG, LLC anticipates closing on their financing within six weeks, with construction on the first phase of soccer fields to begin in mid to late summer. Depending on the site excavation and other work on the property itself, the plan is still to have fields ready for soccer by fall of this year.

“The focus at this point is to get this project started,” said City Administrator Cemal Gungor. “We want to jumpstart this project and start seeing some momentum.”

Retail, restaurant and other development that will occur in Gateway Village will be announced at a later date as the developers continue to receive letters of intent from potential business partners.

“I know it’s taken a long time, but we should be proud that we can work together to see this thing happen,” said Cherry. “This is something that is completely different and entirely new, and the developer has a lot of skin in the game, as well as the City, now, to a certain degree. It truly is a public-private partnership, and we’ve taken the necessary steps to make that happen.”

Gungor stated that the 26,000 residents of Grandview remain the city’s priority and that they will ensure that whatever contributions are made to the development will be affordable and include a return on investment.

“The City of Grandview can be proud of a project of this magnitude,” said Jones. “People will begin to see that they’ll have options here that they may not have thought about before. It’s not just about the soccer; this is for the entire metropolitan area and we can all benefit from that.”

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Community member honored for act of heroism


by Mary Wilson

In the early morning hours of Saturday, February 24, Grandview resident Joshua Jenkins noticed that his street seemed to be full of what he considered fog, but quickly realized from the smell that something was on fire. He then discovered that the heavy smoke was coming from a neighbor’s house at 13803 10th Terrace.

Jenkins immediately called 911 to report the fire, and then approached the home where he saw flames through the living room window.

“After witnessing one of the occupants breaking out a window in the middle room of the house, Joshua reported to the 911 dispatcher that there were people trapped and could see the fire in the living room growing larger,” said Grandview Mayor Leonard Jones, who presented Jenkins with a proclamation during the Tuesday, March 27 Board of Aldermen meeting.

Shortly after, Grandview police arrived, followed by the Grandview Fire Department. Upon investigation, it was discovered that the home had no working smoke detectors.

“Fire Department staff believes that by stopping and becoming involved in reporting the house fire, Joshua saved the lives of the three trapped occupants who only had a few minutes to spare before being overcome by smoke inhalation,” said Jones.

 “A couple more minutes, and these could have been fatalities,” said Grandview Fire Marshal Lew Austin. “One victim was taken out of the rear window by an assisting police officer, and the two others were rescued by firefighters through the front door of the home.”

According to Austin, one occupant was admitted to intensive care for severe smoke inhalation, one was unconscious when they were rescued and they all suffered from lacerations and other injuries from the fire.

“The key thing here is that we need to have working smoke detectors,” said Austin. “If residents in Grandview do not have smoke detectors, call us and we’ll come out and install them.”

The City of Grandview Fire Department receives donations of smoke detectors from the American Red Cross organization, and the department purchases any additional that may be needed for homes in the community.

“We don’t want to see any fatalities,” said Austin. “His actions that evening have led to a Community Fire Department Citizen’s Award.”

For his actions, Jenkins received further recognition from the fire department. He has been a Grandview resident for 23 years, and lives with his wife and three children. Jenkins has also completed the Community Emergency Response Team training as well as additional safety training in the Boy Scouts, his church and from his family.

“It is nice to be recognized, but I want to recognize our EMS personnel, our fire and our police that do this every day,” said Jenkins. “They are who do the heavy lifting of all that for our community, and I’d like to thank them for their services, as well.”

If you are a Grandview resident in need of a smoke detector in your home, you can contact the Grandview Fire Department at 816-316-4961 to have one installed at no cost.