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by Marisa Gray

Business West has had a busy and productive year. We have lived up to our motto “We Solve Problems.”

That was very apparent when Business West appeared before the Unified Government Commission as an advocate for small businesses. Let me cite two examples. Last December, when it appeared that Wyandotte County might lose its professional baseball team, the Kansas City T-Bones, Business West, along with other community organizations, were quick to come to the aid of one of its members, Adam Ehlert. He and his family own the baseball team. Business West urged the Unified Commissioners to purchase the ballpark. The commissioners passed the purchase agreement unanimously and Wyandotte County kept its ball team.

The other example was our support of Mirror Inc., a nonprofit organization that will provide counseling for those suffering from alcohol and drug addictions. Despite the objections of certain neighbors, Business West supported Mirror Inc. The service will soon be available at the Salvation Army site near 65th Street and State Avenue.

Property taxes are always a concern for small businesses. For the past seven years, Business West has visited all units of Wyandotte County local government, urging elected officials to hold the line on property taxes. Looking ahead to the coming year, Business West notes that the Unified Government and the Community College have kept the property tax rate the same for next year. The Kansas City, Kan., and Turner school districts have lowered their rates substantially.

Business West continues to call on State Avenue landowners to promote its proposed Community Improvement District. Once approval from 55 percent of the landowners, by acreage and assessed value, is obtained, the CID would have three core functions — appearance, security and marketing. The Unified Government has done an excellent job in repaving State Avenue and 78th Street. The medians, once ugly, are now attractively landscaped. Personnel from the CID would pick up debris in the right-of-way. Security personnel would cooperate with West Patrol, College and Community Police officers, serving as their “eyes and ears.” Business West sponsors the State Avenue Corridor Planning and Marketing Committee that meets monthly to address the concerns of area landowners and businesses.

Since its inception, Business West has had an excellent relationship with the Community College. Business West has supported the business solutions series that the college has offered small businesses. Business West is establishing an endowment arm that will raise funds for college scholarships.

Residential development has always been a concern of Business West. Last summer, Business West convened a meeting with Mayor Mark Holland and builder-developers to discuss concerns. The Kansas City Board of Public Utilities also supported this meeting.

Business West is an active member of the Chamber of Commerce, serving on its Legislative and K-7 committees. It is also a member of the Congressional Forum. Business West also cooperates with the chamber and other neighborhood business associations in co-sponsoring candidate forums.

Business West recently held its annual membership meeting at a member’s home in the Piper community.

The officers for the coming year were elected. They are Marisa Gray, president; Jane Winkler Philbrook, president-elect; and Lesley Johnson, treasurer. Directors elected for a two-year term were DeeAnn Behrens., Melissa Bynum, Tim DeWitt, Joe Maderak, Rusty Roberts and Don Scaro. Chuck Stites will serve an unexpired one-year term; Murrel Bland will continue as executive director. Those directors continuing to serve the second year of their two-year terms are Sheryl Becker, Matt Browning and Pat Sedlock.

Nancy Winkler, who is retiring as the owner of Winkler’s Diamonds, received the first-ever Joe Maderak award for outstanding community service. She is a past-president of Business West and headed its retail committee.

Marisa Gray is president of Business West.

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Window on the West

by Mary Rupert

Has the U.S. Senate race been highjacked by the national fight over control of the Senate?

Undoubtedly it has been, but whether this race is any more important than others throughout the country will only be proven with the results on election night.

At the national level, analysts have sensed a weakness in the U.S. Senate race in Kansas, a vulnerability of Sen. Pat Roberts, and a chance to break the long-standing Republican hold on the Senate seat in Kansas. Currently, Democrats hold 53 seats and Republicans, 45 seats, in the Senate, with independents holding two seats.

This week, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that Democrat Chad Taylor is allowed to drop out of the Senate race. A new fight is brewing over whether Democrats have to appoint a replacement. If not, some analysts think that Greg Orman, the independent candidate, has a better chance of beating Roberts.

What we are really witnessing are the struggles of the two parties to try to control this election from areas that are usually outside the normal election process.

Just as settlers from outside the state flooded into Kansas in the pre-Civil War days to make sure it was a free state or slave state, dollars from outside the state, from both sides of the political spectrum, are now flooding into Kansas to make sure it has either a Democrat or Republican in the Senate. In a campaign like this, the biggest winner is probably the television stations that run ads for the candidates.

And yes, there is something vaguely familiar about a vacant U.S. Senate Democratic slot on the ballot. It reminds me of the vacant Unified Government Commission seat that has gone unfilled for more than a year. The balance of power on the commission might have changed if that seat had been filled.

Kansas voters may be the losers this year, not so much because Taylor pulled out of the race, but because whatever interests our state’s voters have may be overshadowed by this national spotlight on how many Republicans and Democrats are in the Senate. Voters here need to put the spotlight back on the issues that they care about.

Don’t blame the messenger
On another topic, I do not believe in blaming the messenger for any of the events that occurred in Ferguson, Mo., or any other events.

There were recently a couple of fights at Washington High School in Kansas City, Kan., in which the posting of a cell phone video by a television news station was questioned. Some people may believe that posting the video causes further fights. I do not agree with that. It is a logical fallacy, “Post hoc, ergo propter hoc,” or “After this, because of this.”

People tend to blame anything and everything when something goes wrong, but really, the fights are caused by the people who are participating in them.

I believe the parents and people of the community need to know what is going on in their community, in order to better address it. Unless the person taking the cell phone video in some way was a participant in this disturbance, then I believe the video is not a cause of further disturbances.

If some students are reacting to what they see, that sends a message to the parents that they need to teach the students how to resist impulsive behavior, and perhaps even get some anger management training in place for them.

The students will be faced with reacting to other messages in their lives, such as ads for items they want but can’t afford, or pitches from politicians, and they should learn now how to deal with these, too.

To reach Mary Rupert, editor, email

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by Murrel Bland

First the good news: The Kansas City, Kan., Board of Utilities doesn’t see a reason to increase its rates for water during 2015 and 2016.

Now the bad news: the utility plans to increase its electric rates 5 percent in 2015 and another 5 percent in 2016.

Half of that increase would be needed because of federal requirements that utilities reduce emissions. The other half would be because of the anticipated cost-of-living.

The Environmental Protection Agency has been monitoring all utilities with the same message—cut the emissions from coal-fired plants.

To resolve this problems, the BPU will shift its Quindaro power plant from coal to natural gas. The BPU owns 17 percent of Dogwood natural gas wells in Cass County, Mo.

The Nearman power plant, which was built in 1981, will be retrofitted so it doesn’t emit as many particles.

The BPU is subject to the Kansas City Ozone Maintenance Plan that requires lower nitric and sulfur oxide emissions at its Nearman plant. There is also a system at Nearman that removes mercury and other particulates from the air.

Don Gray, the general manager of the BPU, spoke recently at a breakfast meeting. Most of those who attended were major BPU ratepayers. Gray said that BPU employees have not received any salary increase for about the past two years.

The BPU is required to publish its intent to increase rates and hold hearings. The Black and Veatch engineering firm of Overland Park is conducting a rate study.

Gray said that BPU has 566 employees—92 less than what it had 10 years ago. Forty years ago, BPU had more than 1,200 employees. BPU’s annual budget is about $300 million.

Gray said that the United States is responsible for only about 1 percent of the world’s pollution; the big polluters are China and India. However, the EPA said the United States must set a good example.

Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is the executive director of Business West.