Archive for Opinions

Column: Editor wants to connect with community

Opinion column

by Murrel Bland

Colleen McCain Nelson said she came back to the Midwest because she missed the connection with the community.

Nelson, who recently was named a vice president and the editorial page editor for The Kansas City Star, spoke at the monthly luncheon meeting of the Congressional Forum last Friday, Aug. 18, at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.

About 50 persons, mostly members of the Kansas City, Kansas, Area Chamber of Commerce, attended.

Nelson comes from Washington, D.C., where she covered The White House and presidential politics for The Wall Street Journal. She also worked for the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, The Wichita Eagle and The Dallas Morning News where she won a Pulitzer Prize for editorials. The award praised the editorials for “depicting the stark social and economic disparity between the city’s better-off northern half and distressed southern half.” Nelson grew up in Salina, Kan.

Nelson explained that The Star’s editorial writing staff, which deals with informed opinion, is independent of its news coverage staff. She said that she was pleased that she was able to choose an excellent staff including Dave Helling, Steve Kraske, Mary Sanchez and Derek Donovan, who were existing columnists at The Star, and a newcomer, Melinda Henneberger, who was with The New York Times, The Dallas Morning News and USA Today.

Nelson said she appreciated being asked to talk to the Congressional Forum. One of her goals is to reach out to the community to get a better understanding about local issues. She said she has had conversations with Kansas City, Kansas, Mayor Mark Holland about the need to eliminate blight.

One member of the audience complained that The Star has fewer and fewer pages with little or no coverage about Wyandotte County. Nelson blamed the rise of the internet that is taking away advertising dollars from traditional print newspapers. She said that although The Star has an electronic edition, most of its revenue comes from print.

A couple of other audience members challenged Nelson about the “town hall” meeting The Star’s editorial staff writers will sponsor for U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder Aug. 22. Rep. Yoder has held several telephone conference calls to reach voters during his tenure in Congress. The complaint was that this meeting, promoted by a four-color ad in The Star and on its website, showed favoritism to Rep. Yoder. Nelson justified the effort as a way to connect an elected representative with the community.

Things certainly have changed at The Star since the days some 50 years ago when I worked there. In the mid-1960s, more than 1,500 employees worked at the headquarters building at 1729 Grand Ave., in Kansas City, Mo. The newspaper had multiple editions in the morning and afternoon. The Kansas City, Kansas, office had more than 20 employees at 827 Minnesota Ave. (now a printing company). Today there is one edition a day and only an estimated 250 employees work at the newspaper’s headquarters.

One of the things I do for Business West is visit local units of government in Wyandotte County, urging elected officials to hold the line on property taxes. (I have yet to meet anyone who believes he or she is not paying enough in property taxes.) These local units of government have budgets that total more than $1 billion.

In attending these meetings during the past few weeks, I saw a reporter from The Star only once. That was at a meeting of the Board of Trustees of Kansas City Kansas Community College. The reporter was there only to report about the controversy concerning the placing of Doris Givens, the president of the college, on administrative leave.

I read in The Kansas City Business Journal that The Star is considering the sale of its buildings, including its historical headquarters location. The estimated value of these buildings is $40 million. The plan would be to move news, advertising and editorial offices to its press building near Grand Avenue and Truman Road, according to The Business Journal.

The Star is owned by The McClatchy Company which has struggled financially for the past several years. Its stock closed last Friday at $6.17 a share. That is an improvement, however. The last time I checked on its stock several months ago, it was worth about $1 a share.

Nelson is married to Eric Nelson, The Star’s assistant managing editor-digital. Both are graduates of the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas, Lawrence.

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


Opinion: Another senseless tragedy should inspire wide condemnation

Window on the West
Opinion column

by Mary Rupert

Not too long ago, in 2015, I wrote an opinion column deploring a shooting tragedy at a church in South Carolina, where the assailant was reportedly a white supremacist.

Here we are with another tragedy last weekend, this time involving a white supremacists’ rally in Virginia. It was an act of domestic terrorism when a vehicle was driven by a white supremacist sympathizer into a crowd of people protesting against neo-Nazis, killing one and injuring many more, according to news reports.

This incident again is one that should be widely condemned in America. If members of the public are afraid to speak out about their opposition to the white supremacists’ violence, some leaders may assume the public has no opinion or they are in favor of the discrimination and hatred represented by this group.

In the background of this incident last weekend were attempts to take down statues of Confederate soldiers and officials in Virginia. Such changes are up to the community and state – and they reflect a changing society. In the Kansas City area, community leaders ought to consider changing the name of Johnson County, Kansas – a county named after a founder who held slaves – and all the accompanying institutions and the street named after Thomas Johnson.

A few important points after watching the news about violence and a death in Charlottesville, Va., following a white supremacists’ rally:

• I am appalled by the violence that took place at a white supremacists’ rally over the weekend in Virginia, in which a woman died after a car ran into a crowd of protesters.

• I do not support any of the positions or actions of white supremacists, including neo-Nazis and KKK. Discrimination and hate are wrong.

• I believe the vast majority of Americans, of all backgrounds, do not support them, either. Our multicultural society can work if we work at it.

• I support the rights of all persons in America for equal opportunity, justice, and the right to live a life free from persecution.

• I, and many of you, had relatives who fought for the United States against Nazis in World War II, and these relatives were on the morally correct side.

• I have seen a historically preserved Nazi death camp in Germany, and it represents the low point of humanity. Never again should we knowingly let white supremacists rise to political power.

• People should speak out against the white supremacists, including rallies, letters and public statements, but they should not use violence in their responses. The original White House statement and some later statements were not strong enough against this group.

• More efforts should be made to make sure teens and young adults find their place in society so they are not attracted to violent fringe groups.

• This is a good time to look inward and try to do away with any hate directed toward any individual or group.

To reach Mary Rupert, editor, email


Opinion column: College needs to look past problems

Opinion column

by Murrel Bland

During the past few weeks, several persons have asked me what is going on at Kansas City Kansas Community College. I had known for some time that there had been personnel issues at the school, including those in senior administrative positions.

That all came to a head when the college’s Board of Trustees voted 6-1 on Friday, July 14, to place its president, Doris Givens, on administrative leave with pay. Givens, the first woman and black person to be president at the college, has been at the school for about six years. Her present contract, which calls for her to receive nearly $200,000 a year in salary plus benefits, expires in 2019.

The board, on advice of its lawyer, Greg Goheen, isn’t talking except for Wendell Maddox. Maddox, whose term expires at the end of the year and is not seeking re-election, was critical of J.D. Rios, the president of the board, who initiated an internal investigation. Maddox, according to an article in The Kansas City Star, said Givens didn’t have a chance to tell her side of the story.

In the meantime, the board has hired Jackie Vietti as acting president. In a prepared news release, the board said Vietti was chosen because of her extensive experience, having served as president of Butler County Community College, El Dorado, and as interim president of Emporia State University. Those who follow college administrators report Vietti is very qualified.

Rios has said that Vietti will serve until a permanent successor can be found; he said the board will conduct a national search. Rios is not seeking another term as a trustee; however, he is a candidate for Unified Government Commission.

I have been a close observer of the college for some 45 years. Over the years, I have seen various conflicts and disagreements between college administrators and the
trustees. That was particularly the case in the mid-1970s when Alton Davies (a senior administrator who later became president) and the president, Jack Flint, wrote undated letters of resignation and filed them away; I recall Davies telling me that writing those letters gave him a real sense of relief. The letters were never presented formally to the trustees; however the board was aware they had been written.

At times, conflicts among board members became public during trustee meetings, particularly between Ron Mears and Cliff Nesselrode. In some of these cases, it was the college president who was the “referee.”

Fast-forward to the present. The college has grown during the past several years, playing a very important role in providing a much needed, well-trained workforce. And the college continues to provide a very cost-effective way for traditional students to receive the first two years of a four-year college education.

Thanks to foresight, the college has built a Technical Center in a building that was a former Walmart. A major concern however, is that often students from the Kansas City, Kansas, School District, are not prepared for college-level work and must take remedial classes in such basic subjects as reading and mathematics. That forces the college to pay for training that should have happened in high school or earlier. The college must accept anyone with a high school diploma.

There are plenty of good-paying jobs awaiting those who successfully complete technical training in such career fields as machinist, welder and diesel mechanic. It is not unusual for such jobs to command a starting pay of $40,000 a year. The college has worked closely with the Wyandotte Economic Development Council to determine workforce needs. Despite this effort, there are still critical shortages of qualified workers.

In looking at the public notice published July 27 in The Wyandotte Echo, I find that the trustees approved a budget for the coming year that totals more than $72.2 million. That compares to actual expenditures of about $67.2 million for the current year. About one-fifth of a typical residential tax bill in Wyandotte County goes to the community college.

The trustees should conduct a national search for a new president. Despite its challenges in recent years, it will offer an opportunity for the right person to lead an excellent community institution.

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