Recent Kansas editorials

January 6, 2020 GMT

The Manhattan Mercury, Jan 2

By now certainly you’ve heard of the unfortunate episode in Herington. It’s been all over the news, nationally and even internationally. That’s because it’s very much a story of our time — fakery, social media, and amped-up conflict as a result.

To review, a rookie cop came to the office last Saturday with a cup of coffee from the McDonald’s in Junction City. On it was written, “f---ing pig,” but with the “f” word fully spelled out. The cop evidently showed it to his boss, Chief Brian Hornaday, who then put a photo of the profane cup on Facebook along with commentary about how wrong it was, and that McDonald’s owed his officer far more than a free lunch. He called it bad for McDonald’s and a black eye for Junction City. “Please share!” he wrote.

Of course that went viral, picked up by newspapers and broadcast stations. Those professional journalism outfits attempted to get comment from McDonald’s, which of course prompted the company to investigate.

And so then the kicker: It turns out that the cop made up the whole thing. McDonald’s had video.

Chief Hornaday, at a press conference Monday, said the rookie cop had resigned. He did not give out the man’s name, but said he was 23, lived in Junction City, and had been on the force a couple of months after getting out of the Army. He said it was a “personnel matter,” which was his phony rationale for keeping the name secret. He fails to realize that the man in question was employed by taxpayers, who have a right to know. The name will come out because it is a matter of public record, and he and his bosses are just making themselves look worse by trying to hide it.

The chief bought the cop’s story because, as he said, “a police officer who is sworn to protect, their integrity is of the highest order, and it would be foolish of any law enforcement agency or professional to not take the word of their police officer until they can be proven otherwise.”

Well, excuse us, but we’re not buying that. The blame here obviously lies with the cop who fabricated the story — presumably as just some weird joke — and then failed to come clean about it when his boss took a photo for Facebook. He’s lost his job, as he should.

But Chief Hornaday also has to shoulder some blame. He not only swallowed a hard-to-believe story, but he shouted it out for the world to see, badmouthing a company and a community in the process.

What he should have done is pretty obvious: Ask the cop if he was really serious, and then ask McDonald’s to explain. Had McDonald’s confirmed the incident — or totally stiff-armed him — he could have made a stink, and justifiably so. But instead, he hit the “post” button, and the 2019-20 machinery kicked into high gear.

Fakery and deception. Immediate jumping to conclusion. Raising hell. Conflict and bad feelings. And then... eventual reeling back in and trying to patch up the works.

There are dozens of examples of this phenomenon, most recently after the Junction City-Manhattan football game. It goes on all the time across the country.

What’s the solution? A little skepticism, a little patience, a little discretion. Maybe try the decaf.


The Kansas City Star, Jan. 6

Better pay and working conditions for mental health workers must be a priority issue for Kansas lawmakers in the 2020 session, which begins next week.

There are two primary mental health hospitals in Kansas, one in Larned and the other in Osawatomie. In late 2019, the federal government told the state it found deficiencies at an acute care unit in Osawatomie, and ordered it to develop a plan to rectify the problems.

The state has submitted a plan, but faces loss of federal Medicare payments in March if the government remains unsatisfied. Even if those immediate challenges are addressed, the 60-bed Adair unit is “not a therapeutic environment,” according to Gov. Laura Kelly.

That’s a polite way of saying patients aren’t getting the help they need.

Serious concern about treatment in one part of one mental health hospital is bad enough. In fact, though, the hospitals in Larned and Osawatomie are in generally in crisis, with too few workers and too many patients to handle effectively.

Recruiting employees to both facilities has been difficult for years, leading to massive overtime, burnout, and staff turnover. At Larned, almost 40% of positions were unfilled in the fall of 2019.

In December, Kelly’s office ordered salary increases for “direct care staff” at Larned, a move designed in part to help job recruiting and retention.

But it is only a start. “It’s a huge problem,” the governor told the Star’s Editorial Board in late 2019.

Lawmakers must act this year to make those raises permanent.

Kansas spends more than $114 million a year to operate the two hospitals, including $100 million from its general fund. On any given day, they hold more than 600 patients.

Osawatomie also faces challenges in hiring and retaining workers. Like Larned, it is located in a rural area. Asking workers to move to either community will continue to be difficult.

A task force report issued a year ago called for providing an additional 221 patient spaces in Kansas over a five-year period. The governor is expected to announce a plan later this month that would expand beds available in Osawatomie.

But the real answer may lie in decentralized treatment and community mental health centers, where employee retention is easier.

Expanding Medicaid would provide important options for patients, decreasing the load on the state’s psychiatric hospitals. That’s why it’s encouraging that Medicaid expansion talks are continuing in Topeka.

To be sure: Kansas will always need hospitals to care for mental health patients who need intensive, prolonged help. For those facilities, the state must step up and provide additional pay and benefits to make those jobs attractive.

Kelly has said improving mental health treatment is a key goal for 2020. That’s helpful, too. All of Kansas benefits when its sickest residents get the treatment they need.

Lawmakers in both parties should recognize the need, and appropriate supplemental funds for Larned and Osawatomie in 2020.


The Topeka Capital-Journal, Jan. 1

There’s a reason that we have a nonpartisan, independent judiciary system in Kansas. And a recent decision by a Shawnee County judge over the Kansas Department of Health and Environment improperly issuing permits for hog farming proves the point.

In essence, hog producers thought they might have found a loophole in state water protection laws. The KDHE under former Gov. Sam Brownback seemed to accept the move.

As The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Tim Carpenter wrote: “The central issue in a lawsuit brought by the Sierra Club of Kansas was whether KDHE enabled prominent north-central Kansas hog farmer Terry Nelson and his relatives to sidestep sewage waste discharge controls and to subvert livestock concentration limits by creating side-by-side businesses out of what were actually single operational complexes. All swine facilities in the dispute were under common management but segregated in the 2017 permit application process by establishing four separate limited liability companies.”

There’s a reason we have environmental regulations. We have decided as a society that we want to keep our citizens — and resources needed to sustain these citizens like water — safe. Industries twisting themselves into knots to sidestep regulations, or even searching for ways to do so, violates the spirit of the law.

The Legislature in 1998 made a simple calculation. The larger the hog operation, the more environmental risk it posed. Thus, facilities needed to be “located at least 500 feet from surface water,” as Carpenter wrote.

It simply defies common sense to think that a single operation, owned by separate yet connected LLCs, would be able to skirt that law and the clear intention of our state’s elected representatives. For the sake of our state’s environment and commonsense reading of the law, we would hope that the producers and the Kansas Livestock Association (which was consulted during the process) accept and follow the ruling.

Kansas needs a healthy and thriving agricultural sector. It’s a huge part of our economy and an important part of our history and culture. We raise food enjoyed by the whole country and the world beyond, and we should support our farmers.

But if farming practices harm the land itself, we’re throwing away the ability of future generations to keep using this land productively. And we’re risking the health and well-being of those who live here now. We’re all in the business of long-term, sustainable, responsible use of our lands.

That’s a cause that everyone should be able to get behind.