Monday, October 12, 2015

The black one's gone; only four left in storage building

This will be the last video of the five kittens living in the storage shed in Newtonia.

The black kitten has a new home and this weekend, the multi-colored (black, brown, gray, you name it) kitten will be heading to Springfield. It is not just siblings that the three remaining kittens will be losing.

A source (Mom) at the Newtonia home situated next to the storage building tells me that a new home has also been found for the mother cat, though she will be in Newtonia a while longer.

McDonald County drops Bright Futures

From all appearances, McDonald County has become the third school district to end its affiliation with Bright Futures USA.

The Bright Futures McDonald County Facebook page has changed to McDonald County 4 Kids and a new cover photo has been posted to eliminate the Bright Futures logo.

Judging from the website, McDonald County, like Webb City and East Newton earlier, plans to continue its program to help the children, but will do it without the Bright Futures baggage.

BFUSA has been reeling since its decision to hire former Joplin R-8 Superintendent C. J. Huff as a paid consultant. Huff will make $30,000 for six months, with the option to extend the contract at the end of that period.

Rep. Charlie Davis, R-Webb City told KZRG recently that the legislature will examine the use of the money that has been received by BFUSA. the legislature has appropriated $400,000 for the organization over the past three years.

Initial study of baseball impact on Joplin deeply flawed

The 2013 study that convinced Joplin City Council to give the go-ahead for more than $4 million worth of construction at Joe Becker Stadium was deeply flawed and describes millions of dollars in benefits for the city by using a model that does not apply here.

The study, which was commissioned by the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce and was done by the Economic Strategy Center of Lansing, Michigan, based National Community Development Services, relies heavily on prior research that was done by Minor League Baseball MiLB and was primarily based on teams that were affiliated with major league baseball.

The study shows that no such survey was taken concentrating on independent teams such as the Joplin Blasters and their opponents in the American Association.

Those calculations led to estimates of 3,500 attendance at each game, a number that was twice the turnout for the Blasters' inaugural season.

With the attendance diminished by that much, naturally the estimated totals for vending sales, parking, and other game-related activities were also far lower than the original estimates.

And while many Joplin area residents enjoyed watching Blasters games, the Chamber's overly optimistic assessment of the impact minor league baseball would have on Joplin could also impact the millions of future dollars the study said the city would receive via loft apartments and retail in the area of Joe Becker Stadium.

The study indicated the city would benefit from having two restaurants, office space, 16 loft apartments, and a couple of retail stores, with an initial benefit coming from the construction.

The study can be found at this link.

Blasters contract, free downtown parking discussion on tap for Oct. 26 meeting

(Joplin City Manager Sam Anselm provided the following update to City Council members Friday.)

Good afternoon, everyone. Please see below for this week’s update.

Key Meetings

-On Monday, I attended a YPN mentor meeting with Joe Craigmile’s group to talk about different ways residents can get more involved in the community. We discussed the typical avenues, i.e. voting, attending council meetings or contacting city officials with ideas, but we also discussed something as simple as getting to know their neighbors better and building relationships.

-On Tuesday, several agencies and city staff met with representatives from HUD out of Kansas City, as well as Sallie Hemenway from the Missouri Department of Economic Development, to give an update on recovery efforts, and provide an opportunity for agencies to talk directly with HUD officials about issues on their minds.

-Later that afternoon, AtCM Kelly and I met with public works staff to review their list of items to be included in our 5-year CIP.

-On Wednesday, several staff members met to review the solid waste franchise RFP. We are waiting for some additional information from legal counsel before we put the RFP out for bid, but I have asked our public works director to put together a summary of the RFP that we can forward to you and members of the Solid Waste Commission.

-On Thursday morning, staff in my office met to discuss a plan for the various policies and procedures that we need to review, both in response to the state audit, and other policies that need to be looked at. So far we have identified 12 that we are working on. For now, we are going to be focusing on exploring a purchasing card program, creating a change order policy, and updating our purchasing rules/regulations, cell phone reimbursement, and travel policies. We will also be focusing on our take-home vehicle policy, fuel usage, and vehicle allowances (all highlighted in the state audit). Some of these will require council review and approval, while others can be approved administratively by me, under authority granted in the Charter. As we work our way through these policies I will keep you updated.

-Earlier today, I had a meeting with Callie Hudson and a local designer to talk about our city flag. The discussion quickly morphed into a conversation about a lack of consensus about what Joplin is, or who we want to be as a community or what we represent. We ended the meeting with an understanding that anyone who would be interested in talking about this should be invited into the conversation, so we will be working on setting something up. As soon as a place and time are set, we will push the word out.

-The Ham & Bean Feed returned to Joplin this year, and was held from 11-1 today at Memorial Hall, with good success. We raised $976 through admissions, and another $644 in silent auction proceeds, for the benefit of the United Way of Southwest Missouri and Southeast Kansas. I would like to acknowledge the efforts of our Employee United Way committee and the other city volunteers who agreed to serve and help make the event possible, and of course our friends in the fire department for cooking a delicious meal, and our parks staff who stuck around afterward to help clean up our messes. I think it’s fair to say that we’re excited to see the event return, and are looking forward to an even bigger turnout next year.


-I am attaching a memo from Assistant Parks Director Paul Bloomberg, discussing the feasibility of renting the newly-opened JOMO Activities and Sports Complex, which would allow for an expansion of our indoor programming. As I expressed to them, my biggest concern at this point is offering programming at a facility that isn’t within the city limits of Joplin, and we are working with the legal department on an agreement that would allow us to use the facility, before we present it to you formally. But for now, I wanted to share Paul’s email with you so you can begin thinking about it. Feel free to share your thoughts with me and I’ll pass them along as necessary.

-I am also attaching the latest update from Public Works. We have begun including the CDBG-DR projects as they have gotten underway, but here is the rest of Director Heatherly’s summary: 
Operationally, everything is fairly normal with the exception of having several sinkholes/mineshafts open up that we are having to address. We intend to get back onto Main for the completion of our band aide fix of the roughness issues just as soon as we get these sinkholes filled. 

 Staff is continuing to finish up its follow-up report to MDNR on the sanitary sewer break in Tallgrass Estates. o Public meetings have been held with S. Main street businesses and on Thursday night a meeting with the 20th street residents took place as part of the public engagement program for the two CDBG-DR road improvement projects. The design is to be completed next summer with construction to begin late summer to early fall on these two projects.

In the Pipeline

-Please mark your calendars for a work session/special meeting on Monday, October 26th , to discuss two items: 1) the proposal from the Joplin Blasters on redoing our lease agreement, and 2) downtown parking. With respect to the lease with the Blasters, regardless of the outcome of those discussions, we will need to take a new lease to you that reflects some changes made within the organization. Specifically, we need to change the name on the lease from Pro Baseball Management, LLC to the Joplin Blasters, LLC. Staff is still working on additional information that we will be able to present to you at the meeting. Also, I have asked Downtown Joplin Alliance Executive Director Callie Hudson to attend the meeting to discuss the idea of eliminating paid parking in downtown. I will forward that proposal to you, along with staff analysis, well before the meeting so you can be prepared to ask questions.

Reiboldt: Our sheriffs and the In God We Trust decals

(From Rep. Bill Reiboldt, R-Neosho)

This past week I came up behind our Newton County sheriff’s vehicle and noticed for the first time the new “In God We Trust” decal on the car. I admired the fact that it was being displayed. Though the decal’s wording was added to our paper money in 1955, it was 1956 when it officially became our national motto. It wasn’t until this summer that it found its place onto the sheriff’s car.

Historically, the “In God We Trust” phrase had been around for many years before the 1950s. In 1864 it appeared on the United States’ two-cent coin, and in 1886 the state of Florida adopted it as their state’s motto, reaffirming it in 2006. In August of this year, the Missouri Sheriff’s Association voted unanimously to put the “In God We Trust” motto on all their squad cars. Rodney Herring, sheriff of Grundy County and president of the Missouri Sheriff’s Association made this statement concerning the decals: “In the times we are in right now, and how law enforcement is viewed negatively, we are looking for something positive… There is no better time than now to proudly display our national motto.”

The “In God We Trust” decal placement on law vehicles is not just a Missouri initiative either. Police and sheriff’s departments across the nation are beginning to display the motto on their vehicles. Of course, as one can only imagine in our “politically correct” society, there is opposition. The Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF)—a 23,000 member group, 75% of which claim to be atheists—has sent out letters to all Missouri sheriffs insisting that these decals be removed.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF’s leader, states in her letter that the “In God We Trust” decals violate the separation of church and state. She went on to say that a “statement about a God has no place on government-owned property,” and that “hundreds of thousands of Missourians do not believe in a monotheistic God or any god.” Posting such a motto as “In God We Trust” on patrol cars, in her opinion, signals “bias against unbelievers.” In the U.S. today, approximately 25% of the country’s population identify as non-religious individuals. While some of that number are atheists, others are just not sure or they question if there is a God, yet believing there is a Supreme Being of some type. An estimated 75% of our population do believe in a God.

In Gaylor’s letter from the FFRF, she said that if the decals are to remain on government-owned vehicles, in order to satisfy her group and other unbelievers, there should be another decal placed alongside them—one that reads “In Reason We Trust.” However, Gaylor has conceded that there is not much that can be done legally, since, in her words, “It is hard to sue, because it is our national motto.”

Many of Missouri’s sheriffs have spoken out in support of placing and keeping the national motto decal on their cars. The following are some of what has been voiced by law enforcement: “It is our national motto,” “It is on all our currency,” “Our law enforcement officers need God with them everyday,” and “It is because we believe in God and He is our protector.”

It is important to note that the decals have not been paid for by taxpayers, but rather by the sheriffs themselves or by other private individuals. Departments across the nation that have displayed the decals have been offered free legal defense, if need be, by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). Furthermore, U.S. courts have upheld the national motto in a variety of cases for decades.

It is hard for me to believe that the use of our national motto should create any wave of controversy across our nation. “In God We Trust” is patriotic and a part of our heritage as Americans. How is it that we have reached a point in our history where so many of our values are not being respected, and, in fact, are actually being challenged? I cannot help but wonder what this says about us as individuals and us as a nation.

May we always be supportive of those men and women in uniform who daily put their lives on the line in order that our nation’s citizenry may enjoy freedom in a country that respects law and those who carry out its enforcement.

No more slumber parties? Joplin R-8 to consider policy change

Anyone who has read this blog the last couple of years or who read my book Silver Lining in a Funnel Cloud knows that the term slumber party does not refer to girls having a get-together, but to the events that occurred the first day of filing for Board of Education seats for the April 2014 election.

According to current board policy, on the first day of filing, a line should form outside of the office at the administration building with the first one to arrive receiving the top position on the ballot.

Two years ago, the rules were bent and twisted out of shape when former Board President Jeff Flowers used his access to the Administration Building to allow himself and favored candidates, including Shawn McGrew and Randy Steele to wait inside, staying comfortable and using the district's wi-fi and other amenities while waiting for morning.

It was referred to on this blog as a "slumber party" and was the first of many actions taken by the C. J. Huff Administration during the 2014 election to game the system to elect the candidates Huff wanted.

After the negative publicity from the slumber party, no such effort was made for the 2015 election.

If the Joplin R-8 Board of Education adopts a new policy that has been proposed and will be presented to the board at a work session 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Memorial Administration Building, the slumber party days are over.

The new policy would call for a random drawing among candidates who file on the first day. After that, candidates will be listed on the ballot in the order of their filing.

The proposed policy also incorporates a state law passed in 2014 which allows a personal representative to stand in for active members of the Armed Services or for those who have physical disabilities. Those candidates would still have to mail in their paperwork by the filing deadline.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Bright Futures Joplin coordinator filed for bankruptcy in 2013

R-8 budgets over the past few years have shown more than $700,000 annually for Bright Futures Joplin.

Though supporters of the program note that the money comes totally from donations, it is still taxpayer money and all care should be taken to make sure it is being handled properly, which brings into question decisions that have been made concerning the operation of the local Bright Futures chapter.

Four months before former Superintendent C. J. Huff hired Bright Futures Joplin Coordinator Melissa Winston, she and her husband, Erik, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, 

Documents filed in U. S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Missouri show the Winstons owed $326,733.97, including unpaid federal income taxes, thousands to companies that had written off their debts as noncollectable, and thousands more to companies that hired collection agencies to pursue the Winstons' debts.

The Winstons filed July 11, 2013 and the listing of creditors indicate that much of their problems, stemmed from more than a quarter of a million dollars in education loan debt, including $138,856 from Sallie Mae, $74,026 from Great Lakes Higher Education, $51,703 from MOHELA, and $18,390 from U. S. Bank for a total of $282,974.

Other debts listed include the following:

Title Max auto loan $1,400

IRS, unpaid income taxes $600

Dish Network (collection agency) $40.13

Ally Financial, charge off $7,745

AT&T (collection agency) $2,510

Capital One credit card charge offs $1,288

Cash Net USA $901

Sprint (collection agency) $1,863.55

Chase Card Services charge off $1,721

Comenity Bank charge off $1,647

J. C. Penney's charge off $524

Lowe's charge off $744.83

Wal-Mart charge off $534

Gordon Jewelers charge off $538

J. C. Penney (collection agency) $1,065.98

Midland Credit Management (collection agency)  $743

Speedy Cash payday loan $645

Zale's charge off $5,389

The debts also included approximately $5,000 for various medical expenses and prescription drugs.

The placement of Winston as the head of Bright Futures Joplin was not the first time that C. J. Huff had entrusted the management of hundreds of thousands of dollars in donated and taxpayer money to someone with a record of credit problems.

As noted in earlier Turner Report posts, Huff's loyal aide Kim Vann was placed in charge of the not-for-profit Bright Futures USA, which receives most of its money from Missouri taxpayers, despite a Chapter 7 bankruptcy which came as a result of mounting credit card debt.

While declaring for bankruptcy does not make someone a bad person, when taxpayer money is involved, it seems prudent to take care to make sure that people with a proven track record for fiscal responsibility are placed in the top positions.

It is hard to believe that there were not qualified people to run Bright Futures USA and Bright Futures Joplin who did not have recent bankruptcies on their record.

Silver Lining in a Funnel Cloud: Greed, Corruption, and the Joplin Tornado, takes Joplin from tornado to state audits and the "retirement" of C. J. Huff. The book is available in Joplin at Always Buying Books, Changing Hands Book Shoppe, and The Book Guy. It is also available in paperback and e-book formats from Amazon at the links below.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Blasters CEO: This is what we need to stay in Joplin

(From the Joplin Blasters)

The Blasters came to Joplin because we enjoy the city, citizens, and surrounding areas and we were told that we would have much higher attendance numbers than we have today. The Blasters have paid our first two lease payments in accordance with the current lease; however, with attendance not meeting original expectations they are not able to continue forward with this lease and have proposed a new lease that extends the debt over a longer period of time keeping the Blasters in Joplin indefinitely. Recently, certain details of this lease restructure proposal the Blasters gave to the city on September 30 have been revealed.

The original lease between the City and the Blasters was signed based on the assumption of an average paid attendance of 2,500 to 3,000 fans per game for 50 games equaling 125,000 to 150,000 fans for the season. The lease calls for a $150,000 annual payment plus 33% of operating costs which has averaged about $7,000 per quarter. The term of the lease was 20 years and 2 months and provides the use of the stadium to the Blasters for the dates of May 1 through September 10, NOT the entire year. This equals a payment of $34,642.03 per month for the 4.33 months the Blasters have use of the stadium and excludes one week during the summer for the City to operate the Premiere Baseball Tournament at Joe Becker Stadium. If the Blasters wish to use Joe Becker Stadium outside of those dates there is a $500 fee per day which would have to be paid for potential playoff dates that occur when the Blasters make the postseason.

Before the Blasters agreed to the lease it was understood that the City and the Blasters would analyze first year operations to make sure the lease was appropriate for both parties’ financial and operational purposes.

The fan attendance for the Inaugural Year was 1,538 fans per game for 45 games totaling 69,222 fans for the year. However, only 46,531 of the 69,222 were paying fans making the average paid attendance per game 1,038 fans. This makes us similar to the Sioux City and Laredo clubs which have significantly lower lease terms than what we have proposed (Sioux City and Laredo were the two teams in the American Association finals this year). Throughout the Inaugural Season the fact that a restructuring of the lease would be needed, based on the numbers coming in, was discussed between Blasters and city representatives. The Joplin Blasters sent a request to discuss a lease restructure on September 11, 2015 to city council members and staff. The request for a lease restructure and meeting on September 30 was not a surprise. During that meeting on September 30 two proposals were given along with stadium fixes that have been requested throughout the year. The two proposals were as follows:

Proposal A: Extend the Debt to 60 Years

· 2015 Lease Payment of $75,000

· Annual lease payment of $50,000 thereafter paid at the end of each quarter

Proposal B: Extend the Debt to 40 Years

· 2015 Lease Payment of $75,000

· First 5 years lease payment of $50,000 thereafter paid at the end of each quarter

· Re-negotiate terms at the end of the 5th year (End of 2020 season)

Both of these proposals extend the debt. In neither of these do the Blasters ask for a forgiveness on the total amount needed to be paid. These proposals do two things:

· They allow the Blasters to operate based on actual attendance numbers

· It guarantees the Blasters stay in Joplin indefinitely

With that being said, the Blasters had close to 70,000 fans come through the turnstiles not counting all the workers and out-of-town teams. The Blasters’ games have become a gathering place for family, friends, and businesses. The team has helped to showcase and raise money for multiple charities, helped increase local businesses revenues on game nights, contributed to the tax base, and filled hotels. This has not been seen in Joplin for a long time on a consistent basis and shows what entertainment like the Blasters can do for the city’s quality of life. The Blasters will continue to grow but the team needs to be able to do that with a lease that reflects real data and not based on projected numbers that are not accurate.

The support from the Blasters’ fan base and business partners has been tremendous at this time and we would like to thank them. The main goal is to have the Blasters here for generations and that will be accomplished with the support of the City, the citizens, and the business community.

Gabriel Suarez
Joplin Blasters

Turner Report reaches 24,000 posts, nearing 6 million views

Friday night, this blog reached the 24,000 post mark.

I would never have thought that possible when I started the Turner Report in October 2003. The blog kept a small, but steady readership for the first eight years with some spikes when I was writing about the Bruce Speck Administration at Missouri Southern State University, the Kanakuk sex scandals and offering critiques of area media.

The Turner Report growth began after the Joplin Tornado and has continued over the past four and a half years, bringing it to its current status of reaching 150,000 to 200,000 readers each month.

Sometime within the next two weeks, the blog will reach another milestone when it hits six million views.

Thank you, readers, for your support over these past dozen years.

I Survived, Silver Lining, 5:41 top Amazon Joplin Tornado book rankings

Lauren Tarshis' Scholastic children's book, I Survived the Joplin Tornado, is undoubtedly already the best selling book published about the Joplin Tornado and is atop the Amazon charts for books about the May 22, 2011, natural disaster.

Tarshis was in Joplin this week, visiting elementary schools and giving a talk at the Joplin Public Library.

The leading adult books about the tornado, coming in at numbers two and three on the list are my Silver Lining in a Funnel Cloud and 5:41: Stories from the Joplin Tornado, written by Carthage Press Managing Editor John Hacker and me.

Amazon shows that another children's book on the tornado, Joplin Tornado Survival Stories by Emily O'Keefe is scheduled to be published January 1, 2016.

The complete list follows:

1. I Survived the Joplin Tornado, Lauren Tarshis 6,226
2. Silver Lining in Funnel Cloud: Greed, Corruption, and the Joplin Tornado 113,232
3. 5:41: Stories from the Joplin Tornado, Randy Turner and John Hacker 576,653
4. Joplin 5:41, Kansas City Star 818,088
5. Tornado Warning: The Extraordinary Women of Joplin, Tamara Hart Heiner 852,552
6. Simple Pleasures, Kenna White 1,103,958
7. 32 Minutes in May, Joplin Globe 1,125,137
8. Lily: A True Story of Courage and the Joplin Tornado, Carolyn Mueller 1,214,591
9. When the Sirens Were Silent, Mike Smith 1,685,145
10. Miracle of the Human Spirit, Mark Rohr 1,934,506
11. Scars from the Tornado, Randy Turner 1,937,153
12. Life After the Storm, Debbie Kleitman 1,977,661
13. When the Storm Passes, Julie Jett 2,055,522
14. Using Social Media in Disaster Recovery, David Burton, Genevieve Williams, Rebecca Williams 2,228,723
15. Singing Over Me, Danielle Stammer 2,317,629
16. Spirit of Hope, Randy Turner and John Hacker, 2,643,685
17. Hindsight: Lessons Learned from the Joplin Tornado Zac Rantz and Stephen Kleinsmith 2,767,715
18. Shatterproof, Katrina Hoover 2,852,181
19. 20th and Rangeline, Joplin, Missouri Thomas Meisinger 3,022,392
20. 5/22: Stories of Survival, Stories of Faith, Scott Hettinger 3,202,509
21. Out of the Wind, D. Hoggatt 3,438,925
22. Joplin Tornado House of Hope, Tim Bartow 3,815,534
23. Joplin, Missouri Tornado of May 22, 2011 David Prevatt 4,711,816
24. Mayday in Joplin, Donald Clugston 5,918,649
Copies of Silver Lining in a Funnel Cloud and 5:41: Stories from the Joplin Tornado are available in Joplin at Always Buying Books, Changing Hands Book Shoppe, and The Book Guy.