Thursday, May 23, 2019

McGee resigns, maintains innocence of alleged sexual harassment


by Mary Wilson

Despite an independent investigation that revealed no sexual harassment took place, Missouri District 36 Representative DaRon McGee said he had no choice but to resign last month.

Anytime there are allegations of sexual harassment in the House of Representatives, an independent investigation is conducted. In the conclusion of the report, completed by HF Law Firm in Kansas City, the investigators determined that there was “no evidence of sexual harassment” between McGee and the alleged victim.

“This is why I was so shocked that this thing even proceeded,” said McGee.

The independent investigation also stated that the alleged victim did not raise any concerns regarding overtly sexual conduct on the part of Representative McGee. A romantic relationship between McGee and the alleged victim never took place, according to the victim’s statement in the report.

The victim, in the independent report, states that she “never felt uncomfortable around Representative McGee. I never felt that he retaliated against me.” McGee said that the victim’s testimony changed after the report was concluded and she got a lawyer. According to him, she opted to tell a different story when testifying in front of the Committee on Ethics.

“I think that she is now trying to sue the state and financially gain,” said McGee. “What she told the independent investigators was completely different than what she told the committee.”

The independent investigation also revealed that the alleged victim was not the one to file the initial complaint against McGee. It was reported and filed by another elected official. In the House of Representatives, there are certain leadership members who are designated mandatory reporters.

“From my understanding, and the way the report read, was that she (the alleged victim) was basically gossiping with another legislative assistant, and that legislative assistant told her boss,” said McGee. “Then they felt the obligation to report it. She never reported this.”

McGee also feels that the process was unfair to him. The Committee on Ethics is evenly split between democrats and republicans, however, McGee said he believes two of the democrats on the committee had a conflict of interest.

“She (the alleged victim) worked for one of them,” said McGee. “She had been a secretary to one of the representatives, and the second representative had written me a letter urging me to keep her when we were going through the hiring process.”

He said he submitted this information to the committee with the assumption that this was a clear-cut conflict of interest for the two representatives. They both refused to recuse themselves, stating they didn’t believe there was a conflict.

“I had a huge issue with this,” said McGee. “This was before they received the independent report. They told me to wait until they got the report back. Keep in mind; we didn’t have the report this whole time. They didn’t turn the report over until they went to a vote to go to a preliminary hearing.”

He said that the two individuals he felt had a conflict of interest in making decisions on the matter voted to proceed with the hearing.

“They were allowed to take a vote on this,” McGee said. “Two republicans voted to dismiss. Had the two democrats who had conflicts not been on this committee, I think this thing would have been dismissed. But they were allowed to vote. Not only were they allowed to vote, they called her (the alleged victim) in for a hearing.”

McGee stated that he told the committee he didn’t think it was fair that they were going to hear the alleged victim’s testimony. The chairman said that since the hearing was already scheduled, the two committee members would be allowed to hear her testimony and then be able to recuse themselves.

“How in the hell is that fair?” McGee said. “So, they voted to proceed. They heard the victim’s testimony, and then they said they’d recuse themselves.”

He requested that the committee consider delaying the hearing and appointing two new members to hear the testimony.

“Why would they hear her testimony only to turn around and recuse themselves?” McGee said. “That didn’t make any sense to me.  They did it anyway. Under any court of law, that would have never flown.”

Once he was able to see the independent investigation, he felt that the report was in his favor. He said that he and the alleged victim were friends, and there were text messages between the two where they joked about going on dates.

According to the report, “when asked if Representative McGee treated her differently or negatively in any way after she declined his request for dates, she indicated he did not. She stated she never felt that he was upset with her; she further stated she never felt uncomfortable around him and he never retaliated against her.”

The alleged victim, according to McGee, then said that he repeatedly asked her out on dates through text messages, though he adamantly denies any romantic relationship with her. When her testimony changed in front of the Committee on Ethics, McGee said that there were instances where the alleged victim would fly out of KCI and leave her car at his house in Kansas City.

“I had no problem with that, because we were friends,” said McGee. “You wouldn’t do that with someone you felt uncomfortable around, or that you feel is sexually harassing you. You don’t leave your car at their house. You don’t ask them to pick you up from the airport. It was never a big deal to me because there never was a romantic thing here.”

When McGee addressed the committee, he stated that there was nothing sexual in the text messages between the two. The alleged victim indicated to the independent investigator that she did not want to be involved in the investigation and wanted to move on with her life. McGee believes she didn’t want to testify because she never reported anything.

“If I’m guilty of anything, maybe I’m guilty of being too comfortable with a staffer,” said McGee. “It was never romantic. It was never sexual. At best, it was flirtatious.”

McGee said that the Committee on Ethics offered him three options: resign and the complaint goes 
away; appeal the decision; or take a censure.

“In my mind, why would I appeal to the same 10 people, dragging this thing out for another three months,” said McGee. “I looked up the censure, and they’ve never censured anybody in the history of the House. I didn’t want to go through that. The rules stipulate that you have to be present for a censure. So, you have to sit there in the chamber and take their berating. Which, I don’t believe that I deserved.”

He felt he only had the choice to resign at that point. However, according to McGee, the Speaker stated that his resignation letter was received 30 minutes too late. They issued the report from the Committee on Ethics anyway.

“It was cruel, and they didn’t have to be,” said McGee. “They had my resignation, and they held onto it until they issued the report. The Speaker’s response was very harsh, and it didn’t need to be.”

He believes that he was treated unfairly for two reasons: the republicans saw this as an opportunity to embarrass a democrat; and he feels that his own party was worried they would appear to not be defending the woman in the time of the “me too” movement.

“The process, at the basis, should be fair,” said McGee. “I don’t believe it was.”

Having previously served on the Committee on Ethics, McGee said that anytime a report came before them that had no evidence to support the claims and was inconclusive, it would be dismissed.

“Hindsight being 20/20, I probably shouldn’t have sent joking text messages back and forth with this person,” said McGee. “I guarantee you there is a lot worse in other people’s phones in Jefferson City.”

He doesn’t believe his career in politics is over. He said while there is a great segment of supporters who simply don’t believe the allegations, unfortunately in this society an accusation is a conviction. However, he feels that the issue will eventually blow over.

“People know me and know my character,” said McGee. “I have never, in my life, sexually harassed anybody. I don’t have a reason to; that’s just not me. As a man with a mother and a sister, that’s just not who I am. I still contend that I did nothing wrong. I would have liked to continue to serve and remain the State Representative for our area. I think I did well for as long as I was there. I have always tried to do good work.”

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Leading aquatics organizations promote safe enjoyment of water



by Mary Wilson 

The American Academy of Pediatrics is encouraging parents to start their children in swim lessons as early as age one, according to a recently released study. Drowning is the leading cause of injury death in children in the US aged one to four, and the third leading cause of unintentional injury death among children under 19.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drowning claimed the lives of almost 1000 US children in 2017. In recognition of the popularity of swimming and other water-related recreational activities in the United States, and the resulting need for ongoing public education on safer water practices, the month of May 2019 is considered National Water Safety Month.

“It is a powerful way to send a crucial message at the start of the busy summer swim season,” said Connie Harvey, Director of the Aquatics Centennial Initiative for the American Red Cross. “There are layers of protection involved in water safety. Ensuring everyone in the family learns how to swim and that parents and caregivers have the knowledge and skills to handle emergencies around the water, including how to perform CPR, is a good place to start. National Water Safety Month helps us communicate these messages.”

According to Barbara Tulipane, CAE, National Recreation and Park Association president and CEO, nearly all Americans believe it is important for children to learn how to swim at an early age.

“That’s why we’re proud to promote the importance of water safety at our nation’s park and recreation centers where there are opportunities for everyone, especially children, to learn how to swim,” Tulipane said.

What started as a week in 2003 has grown into this annual month-long event that is supported by thousands of aquatics facilities and professionals that provide educational programs, public service announcements, governmental proclamations, dealer and aquatics business promotion and the distribution of water-safety-themed materials, designed to help prevent water-related fatalities, illnesses and injuries.

“In 2018, we were able to secure proclamations from governors in all 50 states recognizing May as National Water Safety Month. This recognition emphasizes the importance of protecting kids and families in and around the water through education and building awareness,” said Rick Root, World Waterpark Association (WWA) President. “Participating in National Water Safety Month is a wonderful opportunity to broaden our reach and amplify our message about the importance of learning to swim and providing undistracted parental supervision while children are in or near the water.”

Locally, employees at The View community center in Grandview take water safety seriously, and consider it a top priority for anyone visiting the facility’s swimming pool.

“We have too many kids coming in here needing saved,” said Grandview Parks and Rec’s Aquatics Supervisor Kaitlyn Keck. “We had two saves on Saturday alone. It seems like every year, we have more and more kids needing saved or are drowning. Water is everywhere. It’s not just in a pool. It’s really scary to have to go in and save a kid. It is also scary for the kid. It can give them a bad experience and make them uncomfortable around water.”

Keck helps adults and children of all ages to get over their fear of water. She said that there are some adults who are terrified to go on a cruise or be near a body of water because of something that may have happened to them a long time ago.

“I went to a job fair at Grandview High School a few weeks ago, and we asked students if they’d be interested in being a lifeguard at The View,” said Keck. “Probably 90 percent of those we asked said they didn’t know how to swim. It’s like riding a bike: you never forget once you learn, but you have to learn how to do it.”

New this year, Parks and Rec is partnering with the Grandview School District to offer basic swim lessons for fourth graders enrolled in summer school. They’ll teach the students basic water safety, including when to get help, survival swimming, and how to properly wear a life jacket.

Swim lessons are offered through Grandview Parks and Rec, as well as lifeguard certification, CPR and other water-related activities. Private or group swim lessons are available. The View also offers free, family-oriented events year-round. Visit www.grandview.org for more information on lessons or events.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Controlled Chaos

Mock crash held at Grandview High School to prepare students for prom weekend

By Mary Wilson

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every day, 29 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. The Grandview police and fire departments don’t want Grandview High School students to become part of that one death every 50 minutes statistic.

On the morning of Friday, April 26, before juniors and seniors headed to their prom on Saturday night, a mock crash was held in the parking lot of the high school. Retired Grandview firefighter Terry Magelssen served as the crash narrator. The dramatization is an effort to ensure that students put safety at the forefront of their minds when attending celebrations.

The crash staging included a head-on collision with multiple passengers with differing severity of injuries. Throughout the dramatization, Magelssen provided students with tips on what to do if they are in an accident, and how to avoid something of that magnitude altogether.

“The statistics tell us that everyone here, at least once in your lifetime, will be involved in something like this,” said Magelssen. “That’s a scary thought. It could be tomorrow, or it could be 50 years from now. At least once, you’ll experience something like what you are seeing today.”

A car crash happens almost every 30 seconds in this country, according to Magelssen. In Grandview, crashes happen two or three times each week.

“Keep this in the back of your mind: when you are driving a vehicle, what you are actually doing is controlling a 5,000 pound weapon,” said Magelssen. “You are essentially seated inside of a missile. When these two cars collided, they expended enough energy that would be the equivalent of three or four sticks of dynamite.”

He added that there are three crashes that occur with each vehicle accident. The first is when the cars hit each other. The second is when the bodies, restrained by seatbelts and airbags (or maybe not) hit the inside of the car. The third collision is the one that kills passengers.

“I want you to be serious when you get behind the wheel of that 5,000 pound weapon,” said Magelssen. “Not only could you injure yourself, but you can injure innocent bystanders or everybody in your car. While today we’re focusing on prom season and the distractions that cell phones can create, or the craziness that happens in your brain from alcohol and drugs, know that this happens from a bee flying in the car, a flat tire, or an old man who’s having a stroke or a heart attack. What you can do for us is take away that part that deals with cell phones and other distractions.”

Magelssen said that the first responders have a job in Grandview to make certain that no students end up in crashes like the one shown on Friday. The crash demonstrated what happens when a vehicle collision occurs, acted out by peers from the Grandview High School drama department.