Recent Kansas Editorials

October 8, 2019 GMT

The Topeka Capital-Journal, Oct. 7

Kansas trying to strengthen family unit

A new program is working to prevent children from ending up in foster care. A collection of grants totaling $13 million were awarded to 18 nonprofit organizations around the state last week. The grants are a part of the Family First initiative, designed to help children at risk of entering state care.

Although the rate of children entering foster care has increased throughout the United States in the past five years, Kansas has an exceptionally high rate of children in state custody, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. In 2017, the most recent year for which data is available, Kansas ranked fifth in the nation in the rate of our children in foster care.

In addition to the high numbers of children in the system, there are not enough services available to children in state custody with serious mental illness. Shrinking numbers of psychiatric residential treatment facilities for youths and limits on the length of residential treatment stays have led to a statewide gap in services for some of our state’s most vulnerable children. Lack of foster placements for children with mental health and behavioral issues was among the primary reasons children ended up sleeping in contractor offices, a practice that continued into 2019 after stopping briefly last year.

The reasons children end up in foster care are complex. Substance abuse, particularly opioid abuse, has been a large factor nationwide in the rising numbers of children in state custody. Most children in foster care are there due to neglect or parental drug abuse, with a much smaller number of children experiencing physical or sexual abuse.

In response, advocates pushed for passage of Family First Prevention Services Act on a federal level. The legislation allowed money formerly only available for foster care services to be used for prevention. Kansas had to opt to receive federal funds from the program, and did so in the most recent session.

The Kansas Department for Children and Families received 55 grant applications and awarded 18 agencies. Grantees are spread throughout the state and provide a wide range of services. Family First will fund family therapies, substance abuse programs, home visit services and parent skill-building programs. Kinship navigation services, which are resources for grandparents or other family caregivers caring for a relative’s children, will be available statewide.

Another welcome aspect of the program is statewide evaluation led by the University of Kansas’ Center for Research. The organization will convene regional and statewide advisory teams and evaluate Family First programs for up to five years to see if the programs truly reduce need for foster care. This type of evaluation is rarely something individual nonprofit organizations have the resources to implement, but the data will be invaluable as we work to make a measurable impact on the numbers of children in foster care.

Strengthening families to prevent children from entering foster care is certainly a wise approach. Children able to stay with their families, safely and with adequate support, is the best-case-scenario for Kansas.

The Kansas City Star, Oct. 6

With NCAA looming, KU brings in Snoop Dogg, money guns. Who thought that was a good idea?

The Kansas basketball program went looking for trouble this weekend with an ill-conceived, raunchy, NCAA-be-damned Snoop Dogg performance to kick off the season at Allen FIeldhouse.

Facing NCAA allegations of multiple major violations and a lack of institutional control, KU Athletics officials somehow saw fit to green-light a mini-concert during Late Night in the Phog that featured profanity, pole dancers and money guns. After all, when you’re charged with serious recruiting violations, why not shoot fake $100 bills at the KU bench?

Coach Bill Self’s hasty retreat to the locker room during the show — he said he “wasn’t feeling well” — effectively summed up the state of Kansas basketball.

KU athletic director Jeff Long admitted staffers didn’t properly vet Snoop Dogg’s performance before the rapper and his not-so-family-friendly pole dancers took the court Friday night. But pleading ill-preparedness and ignorance is no excuse.

The preseason spectacle would have been a bad look for any college basketball program. But with the specter of serious NCAA punishments looming, KU can’t afford to make light of pay-to-play allegations.

After the money guns came out Friday, Self could only hang his head before leaving the court.

“I didn’t know that there was going to be anything like that,” he said of Snoop Dogg’s show.

But what did Self and KU officials expect? Snoop is a well-known gangster rapper with a strong affinity for marijuana. No one would confuse him with a fun-for-the-whole-family entertainer.

Sure, Snoop has a cooking show with Martha Stewart, who went to prison for insider trading, by the way. And by all accounts, the rapper, whose real name is Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr,. is a doting father and husband.

But on stage, Snoop Dogg is anything but a PG-13 performer.

KU Athletics officials should have anticipated the risks. While Self later hinted at his dismay, Long issued an apology and wisely took responsibility for the widely panned performance. But that did little to quell the criticism or to answer the question on everyone’s mind: Who thought this was a good idea?

“We apologize to anyone who was offended by the Snoop Dogg performance at Late Night,” Long wrote in a statement. “We made it clear to the entertainer’s manager that we expected a clean version of the show and took additional steps to communicate to our fans, including moving the artist to the final act of the evening, to ensure that no basketball activities would be missed if anyone did not want to stay for his show.

“I take full responsibility for not thoroughly vetting all details of the performance and offer my personal apology to those who were offended. We strive to create a family atmosphere at Kansas and fell short of that this evening.”

These unforced errors played out at a moment when KU’s athletic department has essentially declared war on the NCAA’S enforcement division.

Shortly after KU received notice of allegations detailing violations tied to the recruitment of Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa, Self went on the offensive, accusing the NCAA of creating a “false narrative” based on “innuendo, half-truths, misimpressions and mischaracterizations.”

Of course, KU is entitled to mount an aggressive defense in response to the NCAA’s allegations. This process is likely to play out over several months, and it’s too early to draw definitive conclusions.

But at a time when KU can’t afford a single misstep, we’ve seen poor judgment aplenty.

A week before Late Night in the Phog, the school released a video featuring Self donning Adidas gear and a gaudy (“phat” in hip-hop parlance) gold chain adorned with a ”$″ sign.

It was aimed at promoting Snoop Dogg’s appearance. But KU’s lousy timing — the video dropped the same week the school received notice of the NCAA allegations — spurred speculation about whether Self was thumbing his nose at the oversight organization.

Both the video and the Snoop Dogg performance raise questions about whether Kansas officials are just making bad decisions or are not actually taking these charges of major violations seriously.

Neither scenario is reassuring for backers of this storied program. And while there is still more to learn about the NCAA’s allegations, one thing is clear: Kansas basketball should be better than this.

The Pittsburg Morning Sun, Oct. 3

The costs of sunshine law compliance

The Wichita Eagle has been doing extensive reporting on the new water plant Kansas’ largest city is going to need — to the tune of more than $500 million.

As part of that, the paper uncovered evidence that Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell had allegedly been steering contracts to his cronies.

A significant portion of that investigation was a records request in which the Eagle noted they received more than 2,300 pages from the City of Wichita.

“The Eagle requested the documents from city officials in late July and paid $56 for an initial search of employee emails and databases. Subsequent requests added another $1,036 to our bill — 37 hours of administrative staff time at $28 an hour — for copies of the mayor’s work calendar and communications between city staff and contractors,” the Eagle’s editorial board wrote in a Sept. 30 editorial.

The cost?

Less than $1,100.

Still a significant sum to be sure, but it was at least actual costs.

Compare this to a recent records request by the Morning Sun, to the City of Frontenac for records related to the firing of the three top city employees last month. After initially denying the request due to a lack of a city attorney (after having just fired theirs) — a position not supported by the Kansas Open Records Act — interim City Clerk Jayme Mjelde told us the cost would be $3,500 — in advance — with no explanation of how that figure was arrived at, nor any indication how many documents would be responsive to our request. And that at a rate $3 per hour lower than what the City of Wichita charged the Eagle.

By our calculations if — and we don’t have any way to know this — $500 of that charge was for copying fees at 25 cents per copy, then the remaining $3,000 would represent 120 hours of employee time at $25 per hour — and Frontenac officials tell us a third party vendor would be needed to search their own email servers.

Our problem is not that we cannot pay the vig — our parent company GateHouse Media is the largest of its kind in the country — we simply refuse to be extorted in this way.

A private citizen who wanted these same records — records, be it noted, that do not belong to the City of Frontenac, but to that self-same taxpayer — would likely be unable to pay. And so transparency, which should be a watchword of local government, dies.

Indeed, this does not look like the City of Frontenac and its governing body have any interest in obeying the law, but rather as if they are trying to stall our legitimate investigation into what exactly transpired on the night of Sept. 16 and the days leading up to it.

We must wonder— if the governing body’s actions that fateful September night were above reproach, why are they trying so hard to prevent us from exercising our duty of oversight? What do they fear?

We call on the City of Frontenac and the Frontenac City Council to comply with the law, to release the documents we and other news organizations have requested. If they have acted within the law and in the best interests of the residents of their city we’ll be the first to say so, and they should want to put this controversy behind them.

If they have not, they should be held accountable.