Kansas City Strip

The other Chandra: Democrat Gary Condit‘s fifteen minutes of blame have worn on and on, prompting more than a few Internet conspiracy mongers to wonder why Lori Klausutis‘ sudden death in a Republican lawmaker’s office has gotten so little ink. Former Jackson County coroner Mike Berkland‘s shaky work record in Missouri plays a starring role in the chat fest.

Klausutis was found dead July 20 in the Fort Walton Beach, Florida, office of U.S. Representative Joe Scarborough, where she worked. Berkland, who’s now a Florida coroner, says the woman passed out early one evening because of a “previously undiagnosed” heart ailment, then fell, bumped her head on a desk and lay dead until a couple of constituents found her the following morning.

Berkland claims he “sectioned” Klausutis’ brain during her autopsy to determine that her head was injured by a fall, not by a blow from a weapon. But that’s the same sort of claim that got Berkland run out of Kansas City in 1996, after he’d falsely reported that he’d sectioned brains later found whole by his boss — a mistake he blames on poorly proofread reports written with computer macros.

No such mistake occurred with Klausutis’ brain, Berkland told the Pitch. “You can rest assured it was sectioned,” he says.

As for Scarborough, the 38-year-old congressman had recently divorced, and in the days before 28-year-old Klausutis died, the right-winger had announced his resignation from the House. Compared with the Condit story, which has no corpse, no divorce, no resignation and no coroner, the Scarborough tale has gotten remarkably little news coverage. Not that either story deserves prime-time specials with Connie Chung or the ministrations of all those blond, out-of-work prosecutor-pundits on Larry King Live and Fox News. Would it be any different if Scarborough were a Democrat?


The Twilight District, Episode 4: With Elma Warrick absent from the August 21 school board meeting, it fell to Superintendent Bernard Taylor to shout down board member Patricia Kurtz.

Kurtz has gone on a crusade against “consultants” hired by the district for tasks that perhaps should be done by regular employees. “We have money for consultants, yet we don’t have money for books,” Kurtz groused (to scattered applause from the public) after telling of a volunteer committee that worked long and hard to select a textbook, only to be told by administrator Patricia Rowles that the district didn’t have money to buy it. (Rowles has since found some money.)

Among the sweetheart contracts coming under Kurtz’s criticism was one with the Urban League of Greater Kansas City — $160,000 for a Leadership Development Institute for principals and district-headquarters administrators. “Why did we not put this up for bid?” Kurtz asked. “I know there are other agencies that provide this service.”

Perish the thought! Those other agencies aren’t approved by district meddler Clinton Adams, whose sister, Gwendolyn Grant, heads up the Kansas City Urban League.

But that’s not the answer Taylor delivered to Kurtz in his full-throated defense of the sacred-cow contract. He thundered against “dickering” and asserted that Kurtz would only accuse him of wasting time if the contract went out to bid instead of being handed to Adams’ sister. “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel!” he shouted. “Why waste time? If there’s a problem with the provider, then that’s a different issue entirely.”

Besides, it’s only money. “It’s $160,000 out of a $350 million budget!” Taylor scoffed.

On August 7, Kansas City voters savaged the city’s $793 million light-rail plan in every area but Midtown north and south of the Plaza. Like an island at the center of an angry sea, 62 percent of the voters in the 5th and 6th Wards approved of the 25-year, half-cent sales tax increase.

The day after the election, they found out they got their tax. Just no light rail.

On August 8, the Tax Increment Financing Commission approved a court-backed plan to establish the Country Club Plaza Transportation Development District. Come fall, shops within the new taxing district will collect an additional half-cent sales tax to help pay for the new $14 million parking garage at 47th and Pennsylvania. Voters in the neighborhood of Armani and Ann Taylor wanted an alternative to automobile transportation — now they’ll be subsidizing the Plaza’s free parking.

“The issue that needed to be highlighted more in the light-rail discussion is the extreme level of subsidies we already provide for cars,” says Heidi Shallberg, a 6th-Ward resident. “This sales tax is just one more example of those subsidies that we don’t acknowledge.”

Not only does the new tax smell funnier than Brush Creek, it could sink future light-rail initiatives. If grassroots light-rail supporters successfully petition to get another plan on the ballot, 62 percent of the 5th and 6th Wards’ voters will have to consider whether they want to bump the Plaza sales tax up even higher.

Although sources suggest that light rail might not appear on the ballot for at least a couple of elections, supporters better be careful. By that time, the Plaza might need a new fountain.

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