- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Columbia Daily Tribune, Oct. 8.

University of Missouri presidential search

As the 16-member University of Missouri search committee for a new system president nears the end of its work, it promises to keep names of applicants secret until the final choice is made. The rationale is familiar. A secret process will attract better candidates who don’t want their current employers to know they are looking elsewhere. A secret process will relieve committee members and applicants from bothersome public attention. A secret process will give the public fewer reasons to second-guess the work of the committee until only one finalist is left standing.

These excuses have some merit, but do they measure up against a policy of disclosure?

As a general principle, public agencies should operate openly so constituents can second-guess their activities. In the current case, public knowledge of the applicants and finalists gives the world a chance to deliver potentially helpful information about the prospects. How a candidate for a top public job deals with an open selection process might tell a lot about fitness for the office. We learn more about the function of the selection committee.

Florida’s Sunshine Law applies to university search committees. All applicants’ names are posted publicly. Finalists are identified and interviewed publicly. Recently the University of Florida released the names of three finalists touted for their exemplary credentials. The university had plenty of applicants not dissuaded by the public process. They were encouraged by the high salary and other benefits offered, but that’s part of the public process citizens can observe in action.

At the University of Missouri, we will learn nothing except the name of the person chosen to be the next president. We have heard reports from search committee members that they are receiving a good pool of applicants, and no doubt curators will say the same when they make the final decision, but this vague allegation is not the same as knowing and learning about the applicants.

Of course selection officials and applicants will say they prefer secrecy when privately asked, but the experience in Florida demonstrates the value of an open process. Perhaps the Missouri General Assembly, in the mood lately to be more demanding of UM, will consider making a productive requirement rather than another punishment. If legislators consider requiring presidential selection openness under the state Sunshine Law, they will have to overcome their own penchant for secrecy, but since the demand will visit on the university instead of themselves, who knows.

Out of concern for my personal mortality, I’m not holding my breath.

Meanwhile, let us hope for the best as a new UM president is chosen. Of course it’s possible for the best choice to be made even in a secret process, just not as likely.


The Jefferson City News-Tribune, Oct. 9

Our Opinion: Consequences of violating public trust

A list of the top Sunshine Law violations by local governments in Missouri got our attention, particularly after reading a commentary about rising distrust of government both nationally and globally.

Government, on all levels, must do a better job of being transparent and responsive to the public, or face a rising tide of populism among disaffected and disgruntled constituents.

Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway has identified the five most common Sunshine Law violations, based on audits of county, city and other government entities during a one-year period from July 2015 through June 2016.

The list of violations includes:

- The reasons for closing a meeting were not documented adequately, or the reasons were documented, but not allowable under the law.

- Minutes were not prepared for open meetings.

- Minutes were not prepared for closed meetings.

- Meeting minutes were not always reviewed or approved in a timely manner.

- A meeting agenda was not prepared or posted, or did not include adequate information related to the upcoming meeting.

These violations are serious, although they are overlooked all too often. Governments, particularly, must obey laws established by government.

Beyond that, violations exacerbate the public perception that government officials have established a double standard where they exempt themselves from the rules others must follow.

On a broader scale, this was the topic of an Orange County Register viewpoint titled “Populism arises from failures of political class,” published in Thursday’s News Tribune.

Citing examples from home and abroad, the authors wrote: “Populism is trending globally. There is an evident global frustration with those in the political class who are viewed to be out of touch with the average person. These folks are voting for what they believe will disrupt the political system and displace the establishment.”

Evidence from this election cycle includes candidates campaigning as “outsiders” ready and willing to replace “career politicians.”

Prevailing public perception is the political class is seen as ineffective, uncompromising and - worst of all - insensitive to the problems of their constituents.

Some violations result from ignorance of the Sunshine Law, which is why we favor a tutorial for all newly elected office holders.

Intentional violations, however, are inexcusable and indicate an approach that puts self-interest above public interest.


The St. Joseph News-Press, Oct. 7

Protesters not due apology

The right to freely and openly express personal views, including through peaceful protest, is a bedrock of our society. However, it should not extend to taking over an event of which you are part and making it your own.

This is why athletes protesting during the national anthem at sporting events justifiably have drawn rebuke in many quarters. Critics are misguided in suggesting the athletes are wrong about their beliefs. The real wrong is that they are trying to have it both ways.

The athletes - paid well in professional sports and often placed on a pedestal on our college campuses - want the spotlight on them, then want a captive audience to watch as they do something that is offensive to many looking on.

The better course: Step aside from your role in the event, ask to be excused, suffer the consequences of a smaller paycheck or being outside the limelight. Then do as anyone is entitled to do - demonstrate for your cause, choose to sit or turn your back or raise your fist.

Make this your personal protest - freely exercised but also free of the entanglements that come with being part of team or a representative of a larger entity, such as a university, that may not agree with your actions or beliefs.

These entanglements are why two dance team members at Missouri Western State University were not due the apology recently extended by President Dr. Bob Vartabedian. In fact, you can argue the apology should have come from them.

The two students chose to take a knee during the playing of the national anthem at a Griffon home football game. They said they told fellow dance team members but not their coach, who then communicated to them they would not be allowed to perform with the dance team the rest of the evening.

Their protest called attention to them and took attention away from the anthem, which was part of a program of activities that evening that included the dancers. They paid a price by being sanctioned by their coach. End of story, right?

Unfortunately, no. As recounted by the students, Vartabedian sought them out to apologize on behalf of the university and explain they had broken no rules.

In this instance, Vartabedian confuses support for free expression of ideas with an unjustified endorsement of behavior that required consequences.


The Kansas City Star, Oct. 7

Ugly murder rate is perennial problem that tears at the fabric of Kansas City

When the official FBI homicide numbers for 2015 were released recently, Kansas City fell into a familiarly awful position.

Specifically, Kansas City last year recorded the fourth-worst murder rate among the nation’s 50 biggest cities, according to The Star’s analysis of FBI and U.S. Census Bureau data.

The city’s 22.9 homicides per 100,000 residents was better than only New Orleans (42.0), Detroit (43.6) and Baltimore (55.3).

This is the fourth year we’ve looked at this metric. And Kansas City has been near the bottom of the rankings each time. It was fifth-worst in 2012, fourth-worst in 2013 and eighth-worst in 2014.

And 2016 is shaping up to be even grimmer. Through Thursday, Kansas City was on pace to have its highest number of murders in the last five years.

On the other end of the spectrum, the lowest rates of homicide among the 50 largest cities were achieved in cities such as Austin and El Paso in Texas; and San Jose and San Diego in California.

Enough with the numbers. Here’s more of what they truly mean.

Each one of these homicides had a ripple effect - on families, on their neighborhoods and on the fabric of this city.

The murders cut short some productive lives. They created grief and anger among families and their relatives. And they created a high cost for the public, as law enforcement officials investigated and prosecuted these cases.

In addition, Kansas City’s image as a violent place to live has long damaged its reputation with local residents - including those who move to the suburbs to try to escape crime - and with people from the outside looking at this region as a place to live and work.

The city has gained population in recent years, including in downtown and midtown neighborhoods, which is excellent news. However, most of that residential growth has occurred in the Northland, far from beleaguered urban core neighborhoods.

If Kansas City’s murder and violent crime rates could fall over a sustained period, that would be a big boost to the city as well as this entire metropolitan area.

Officials at City Hall, the Police Department and other law enforcement agencies have tried various programs in recent years to bring about that positive change.

One prevention strategy - called Kansas City No Violence Alliance - continues to sound like a good idea that simply isn’t working as once hoped.

The goal is to identify people most likely to commit violent crimes and to keep a close eye on their acquaintances, too. The police crack down on the criminals, while other agencies reach out to provide social services such as getting a better education and finding jobs.

When Kansas City’s murders plunged in 2014, the NoVa program appeared to be an essential way to reduce the worst aspects of violent crime. Officials from St. Louis, another city with a very high murder rate that’s not among the 50 largest municipalities anymore, talked to Kansas City in 2015 about NoVa.

On other fronts, Mayor Sly James, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker and others have tried to tighten Missouri’s gun laws, to make it more difficult for criminals to get and carry guns. Unfortunately, the General Assembly has ignored these calls from law enforcement officials and recently approved an irresponsible law that will allow people to buy and use guns without training or permits.

Police Chief Darryl Forté is on the right track when he implores residents who know something about homicides to come forward with that information. Keeping that knowledge to themselves or, worse, engaging in revenge violence damages this community.

But whether the Police Department needs more resources in patrol units or in investigating homicides can’t be answered until a promised staffing study is completed. The city and the police need to get this independent review completed as soon as possible.

Other tactics could help.

Murders involving domestic abuse have caught the public’s attention in recent years. That field of violent crimes deserves much more scrutiny.

Too many homicides are committed by people for ridiculous reasons. They include anger over girlfriends, drug deals and who controls “turf” in neighborhoods. The police can’t stop much of that anger from exploding into violent actions.

But good jobs could help. So could better education in public schools. Better ways must be found to help youngsters stay out of criminal activities in the first place.

All of this is difficult and complicated work. Other cities with similar problems - such as Detroit, Baltimore, Chicago and St. Louis - haven’t found any magical, long-term answers either.

Kansas City’s sky-high murder rate is a big black eye that demands full and constant attention from the city’s political, law enforcement and civic leaders. They must stay focused on finding effective ways to reduce homicides and make this community a safer place to live.

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