Recent Kansas Editorials
The Kansas City Star, Aug. 25
Kansas owes Lamonte McIntyre $1.5 million for wrongful conviction. Why won’t the AG pay?
For Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, approving the compensation Lamonte McIntyre is owed should not be a tough call.
After all, the 42-year-old Kansas City, Kansas, man spent 23 years in prison for a 1994 double murder he did not commit.
Last year, Kansas became the 33rd state to offer compensation to people who were wrongly imprisoned. The state is required to pay $65,000 for each year they spent behind bars. And Schmidt is now tasked with recommending to the state’s finance counsel whether compensation should be approved.
Under the new state law, McIntyre is owed more than $1.5 million, educational assistance and counseling, as well as other social services. And he has every reason to expect that he should be paid without delay.
When then-Gov. Jeff Colyer signed the legislation last year clearing the way for the wrongfully convicted to be compensated, he offered McIntyre and two other men whose convictions were overturned an apology and a promise.
“We will make it right,” Colyer told the three men.
Schmidt apparently didn’t get the memo.
The other two men, Floyd Scott Bledsoe and Richard Jones, have already received more than $1 million in compensation, had their records expunged, have been given a certificate of innocence, access to counseling and state of Kansas health care benefits for two years. Bledsoe was falsely accused and later convicted of murder and kidnapping, and Jones was sent to prison for a robbery committed by another man whose appearance was similar.
McIntyre, though, has been denied his due.
Incredibly, Schmidt believes that McIntyre, whose wrongful conviction became one of the driving forces for passing the much-needed compensation legislation, is owed nothing.
In a court filing to answer McIntyre’s claim for financial relief, Schmidt wrote: “The State of Kansas asks that claimant take nothing by his petition.”
“It feels like I am being bullied,” McIntyre said Friday.
McIntyre was arrested when he was 17 and then convicted at age 18 of a double murder in Kansas City, Kansas. He says he is ready to fight the system again, yet worn out from decades of trying to prove his innocence.
And he should be.
McIntyre’s case has been well-chronicled. And the facts are conclusive.
No physical evidence ties him to the crime, no motive was ever established, and two witnesses have testified that they were coerced into identifying McIntyre as the shooter by Roger Golubski, who was then a detective in Kansas City, Kansas, and Terra Morehead, who was a Wyandotte County assistant prosecutor.
The Midwest Innocence Project and defense attorney Cheryl Pilate have spent years collecting credible evidence to prove McIntyre’s innocence. In 2017, Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree took a fresh look at the case and eventually announced that the county would no longer contest the facts of McIntyre’s innocence.
After spending 23 years behind bars, McIntyre finally walked out of prison a free man in October 2017.
Now, Schmidt seeks to deny McIntyre a just resolution all over again.
“It’s not about money,” McIntyre said. “It’s about equality and justice.”
Despite the reams of affidavits and case files that led Wyandotte County to drop the charges against McIntyre, Schmidt claims his innocence has not been proven as required by law. All of those documents were sent to the attorney general, but Schmidt still wants to challenge the compensation claim in court.
“You mean to tell me they are going to take that family through one-and-a-half years of litigation?” Pilate asked.
The law’s purpose is to provide relief and assistance to the wrongfully convicted after they’re released from prison.
The state of Kansas already stole more than two decades of McIntyre’s life by imprisoning him for murders he did not commit. Now, Schmidt’s motion to deny McIntyre compensation threatens to rob him of the chance to land on his feet as he starts his life anew.
The Topeka Capital-Journal, Aug. 24
Editorial: Antiquated ID system too key to be ignored
One of the most dispiriting aspects of life under a new administration in Topeka is the continual revelation of expensive gaps caused by previous administrations. As Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration has approached its work in a technocratic, fix-the-problems manner, ever more problems have been revealed that might have been hidden before.
The latest eye-popping, stomach-churning problem?
The Kansas Bureau of Investigation’s obsolete Automated Fingerprint Identification System. We’re the only state still using the system, which was installed 12 years ago and isn’t actively supported by its vendor. Its last major update was seven years ago.
The system is one of the backbones supporting public safety in our state. It’s the system used for criminal investigations, as well as background checks for those working with children. Its reliability and continued functioning is not a minor issue. It’s foundational for keeping Kansans safe and protected from those who might pose a threat.
“The risk to public safety is significant,” said Joe Mandala, the KBI’s chief information officer, told The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Tim Carpenter. “A failure of this system would cripple criminal justice and public safety operations across the state, most directly at local law enforcement agencies.”
The agency is putting together a study, which it expects to wrap up in September, that will look at options to replacing the current system, which is called the Automated Fingerprint Identification System and contains the impressions of some 2 million individuals.
Reports about the system’s challenges first hit the Legislature in 2017, but one expects that the executive branch had some inkling of the brewing problem before then (if it didn’t, that suggests a whole new range of problems). However, if all of state government is devoted to frantically trying to paper over gaping holes caused by damaging fiscal policy, thoughtful forecasting of future problems can take a back burner.
Kansas will now be faced with the unenviable task of putting a new fingerprint system in place with vendors knowing that we’re between a rock and a hard place. Our negotiating position is shot. If we had started the process six years ago, with the last software update, or two years ago, with the first legislative airing of issues, things might be different.
As it is, yet again, the Kelly administration is in the painful position of cleaning up a mess not of its own making. Despite 2020 being an election year, we hope leaders in the Legislature roll up their sleeves and commit to solving this very real problem.
The Wichita Eagle, Aug. 23
It’s sensible to sound the alarm on Wichita’s water system
We don’t have to imagine what might happen if Wichita’s aging water system shuts down, because we lived it — at least temporarily — about 25 years ago.
On a late-September morning in 1995, Wichita residents started the day grumpy and gritty as showers, toilets and faucets across the region stopped working. About 300,000 people were left without water for 12 hours and without water that was safe to drink until the following day.
Schools called off classes. Restaurants closed. Hospitals postponed medical procedures. Factories sent workers home early. Firefighters crossed their fingers and arranged to borrow water tender trucks from surrounding communities.
Crews were able to make repairs and get water flowing again before any major catastrophes. But that day illustrated how Wichita’s water system is a fragile network that relies on a single treatment plant and outdated, patched-together equipment.
Nearly a quarter-century later, the system remains shockingly vulnerable, as The Eagle reported in a series of recent stories.
Unfortunately, some city leaders have gotten defensive — criticizing media reports, blaming previous City Councils and taking a casual, “we’re working on it” approach that doesn’t acknowledge the severity of the crisis or inspire confidence.
Consultants recently found that 99% of Wichita’s water treatment plant and all of the city’s raw water pipes are in poor or very poor condition. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment labeled the situation “critical,” and also raised concerns about the city’s emergency water supply plan.
Alan King, Wichita’s director of public works and utilities, said the city’s water plant could fail at any moment. And because we have only one — unlike Colorado Springs, Des Moines, Oklahoma City, Omaha and Tulsa, which have multiple plants and back-up options — a shutdown here could mean disaster.
“We don’t want to have a catastrophic failure and put a half a million people without water,” King told City Council members during a workshop recently.
“And it may not just be for a little while. The kind of catastrophic failures that we could potentially have, have the possibility of putting us out of water for months.”
Mayor Jeff Longwell has called King’s comments “maybe a little dramatic.”
That’s right. They’re dramatic.
They’re also shocking, appropriate and overdue.
This crisis didn’t happen overnight. A new water treatment plant was identified as a need as early as 1993, but it wasn’t seriously considered until 2017, when a study found the plant in dreadful shape.
Wichita’s initial application for a loan through the Environmental Protection Agency was unsuccessful, in part because the project wasn’t shovel-ready — and that delayed the project by another year.
It’s understandable that Wichita leaders want to highlight what’s right with the city’s water system, including reasonable rates, and the fact that they’re working toward a permanent fix.
But they shouldn’t discount news reports or balk at critics who condemn decades of delays and misplaced priorities.
When something’s alarming, you sound the alarm.