Saturday, October 13, 2007

Heathcare in Independence

Heathcare in Independence

My mother was unexpectedly admitted to the hospital. This incident resulted in my first visit to the new Centerpoint hospital in Independence. Here are a few of my initial observations.

1) I've always been amused by the hospital name. At one point they were going to call it the "Independence Regional Medical Center" to combine the names of Medical Center of Independence and Independence Regional Hospital (the two facilities that were closed to make room for the new facility). Instead, they named it Centerpoint. Obviously, some marketing or P.R. whiz-kid came up with this name. Since the hospital is about as far south and as far east as one can get and still remain in Independence, "Centerpoint" makes about as much sense as naming a community college "Blue River" when it is about 20 miles east of the Blue River. But I digress. Clearly, those who make such decisions heard the complaints and concerns of people in north and west Independence about the closing of their two hospitals. Rather than establishing urgent care at the old IRH or MCI, they just decided to give the new hospital a name that might suggest that is was "in the middle." Good work, folks!

2) Okay, most Americans (including me) are technically obese by medical standards. With more and more people overweight and in need of exercise, healthcare costs continue to explode. So, how does the new hospital address this development? First, they have valet parking so people visiting the hospital don't have to walk from the parking lot. Second, they have several menu options for patients, including fried chicken fingers, cheesecake, and the like. And, you can call down to have food sent to your room any time. Frankly, this seemed more like a cruise ship than a wellness center.

3) I always thought it was funny on the television show, "Scrubs" when Dr. Kelso installed a Starbucks-like coffee bar in their hospital to maximize profits. Should I have been surprised to see a full line, Starbucks-like coffee bar right inside the front door? I guess I shouldn't have, but I was! Isn't it funny how art imitates life? I've always said that Scrubs didn't gain the popular acceptance it should have because you just aren't allowed to poke fun at doctors and hospitals. Those "ER" and "Grey's Anatomy" supporters just didn't get the joke. Clearly, the people at Centerpoint didn't get it either!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Petitions in Missouri

Petitions in Missouri

I just got back from the Missouri Library Association annual meeting. The Legislative Committee sponsored a program on TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights) initiatives in Missouri. I've written about TABOR before. My personal feeling is that TABOR, as a legislative issue, is likely dead. While the Missouri House passed TABOR in the 2007 session, there doesn't seem to be any interest in taking it up in the Senate. As long as the Senate doesn't take up TABOR, that avenue is dead. The real potential problem is with citizen petitions to create TABOR as a constitutional amendment. Here's the problem.

The initiative petition process in Missouri (and maybe everyplace) is broken. Petitions are being collected, not by engaged citizens, but by people who are paid to collect signatures. These collectors may come from other states and may not be fully informed on the topic. Since they are paid by the signature, the petitioners will say anything to collect one more name. I've been told stories about petitioners harassing signers. In fact, our library had to have a petitioner arrested at one of our branches for her aggressive collection of signatures in violation of library policy.

My favorite story is a situation that occurred in Columbia, Missouri. Several people were being paid by the signature to gain signatures for two separate issues. The petitioners would ask people to sign the front of the clipboard to put a popular issue on the ballot. Then, the petitioner would flip the clipboard and ask for a second signature to "verify" the other signature. The problem? The "verification" signature was actually for the other petition and was for a less well accepted issue. People are being mislead about what they are signing. Mostly because the people who are collecting the signatures are doing so for money, not due to a dedication to the issue.

When people tried to put TABOR on the ballot in Missouri, petition signature collectors frequently told people that TABOR would allow people to vote on tax increases. One problem. The Missouri Constitution, through the Hancock Amendment (I and II) already assure that people are to vote on tax increases. Whether the collectors don't understand Missouri's constitution, or whether they are just saying something popular to gain more signatures is irrelevant. The point is that the process has been corrupted.

Something has to be done to put the initiative petition back in the hands of the people.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

School District Shifting

School District Shifting

I grew up in Independence, Missouri. Even though our home was about as far east as you could get, our family was always connected with the western part of town. Part of this was because we attended church in western Independence, just north of Van Horn High School. From the time my Aunt moved off the Independence Square, she lived in Fairmount and then near Hill Park. My family's pharmacy was BB Super Drug in Maywood. My doctor's office was in Englewood, as was my dentist's office. You really aren't aware of such things when you're growing up, but I did notice several things. First, my family and one other was the only family at our church with young children. And, more to the point, my family didn't live near the church. I also noticed the stores in Fairmount, Maywood and Englewood lost long-time tenants like the Chevy dealer, the bowling alley, and even Jerry's Restaurant. What I didn't realize when I was growing up was that I was seeing the economic impact of home-owner's perception of the Kansas City School District.

So, am I surprised that the people of Sugar Creek, Maywood, Englewood, and people all up and down the Sterling Road corridor are fighting to leave the Kansas City School District? Absolutely not. I'd guess the majority of the people living in this area didn't live there when the community was vital. They likely didn't live there before busing changed the dynamics of the neighborhood. I think many people who support the move understand that Independence School District students performs much, much better than Kansas City students. Although it is a simple and false argument for some to say "Independence schools should be in Independence." If people really though that was the true point, then Independence needs to get to work and deannex parts of the Blue Springs, Fort Osage and Raytown school districts. That's not the point at all. These other school districts that serve Independence graduate students who perform.

I think the combination of poor school and student performance, poor home resale values, imploding commercial districts, and finally, the Hancock circuit breaker assured this issue would come to the forefront. The Hancock Amendment requires all other taxing districts to roll back tax levies so that revenues don't grow faster than inflation. The KC Desegregation case said that the District was exempt from Hancock roll backs, unlike the Independence, Raytown or Fort Osage school districts. This means that the tax rate in the Kansas City School District increases faster than inflation. This isn't about keeping all Independence in one school district. It is about everything else.

What I'd suggest is that the KC School District should be concerned about south Kansas City and the areas bounding the Raytown, Grandview and Center school districts. I see the start of the same types of declines that I saw as a boy around my church. If Independence is successful, I think the Kansas City School District could become much smaller on all sides. And, frankly that's exactly what may be needed.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Drivin' Me Crazy

I've been on the road a lot this past week. I have to say that I really love driving my car. It is a very smooth ride and it certainly makes the KC to St. Louis trip very, very easy. But I've got to tell you something. Things get a little different once you get east of Kingdom City. I seemed to see more accidents and more erratic driving. One thing I certainly noticed was that I was frequently driving below the speed limit in the left lane. In fact, in the area between Warrenton and Lambert Field it seemed that any time I was switching to the right lane to pass.

Yes, traffic is too heavy on I-70. Yes, I have a personal bias against "St. Louis." But, I don't know if adding an additional lane on I-70 will help the issue as long as self-centered idiots are driving on the interstate.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Minor Thoughts

Minor Thoughts

I think I have a new movie in my top-10. I finally got to watch Idiocracy this weekend. I always knew I would love it. I mean, you're talking about the creator of Office Space, Beavis & Butthead, and King of the Hill. I don't think I've laughed so hard as when they explained how "natural selection" worked in reverse. Namely, that smarter people were concerned about bringing children into the world, given the state of things. While, not-so-smart people had all sorts of trouble curbing the number of children that they were having. Eventually, the smarter people selected themselves out! Between that explanation and the sign for "St. God's Hospital" (where the lettering was too long, and so they just ran it down the side of the building) I don't think I've laughed so hard in several days.

Keeping with the complete idiot theme...

Let's move to the KC Chiefs roster. We are keeping two quarterbacks, neither were really deserving of being named a starter in the NFL. Think of it this way. If this season were to start out like last season (with the starter being injured in the first game) we'd be stuck with Croyle and a guy who hasn't run one play in our system. We are relying on a 4-3 defense with a heavy rotation on the defensive line, so they can stay fresh and allow the linebackers to make plays. But, the Chiefs only have 7 active defensive linemen on the roster since one is suspended for the first two games of the season. This means that there is really only one backup DE starting the season. And then, let me make sure I have this right...there are four tight ends and five wide receivers. I know that Kris Wilson is "supposed" to be a full back...but I think he's out of position there. He's an H-Back. That seems like a lot of pass catchers for a running offense. And then there are 11 defensive backs (6 corners and five safeties).

Still on the roster (clearly because they must have naked pictures of Carl Peterson or something) are Kendrell Bell and Sammy Parker. Missing from the practice squad Brad Ekwerekwu, Bobby Sippio, and Casey Printers. Listed on the practice squad, I'm sorry, but players I just barely recognize from the preseason. You want to know the real difference between an offensive minded head coach and a defensive one? The practice squad. Dick Vermeil kept people like Dante Hall around until he could develop. Herm Edwards should keep some skill players to develop. Instead, he has 5 linemen (offense and defense) and one fullback. I'm still certain this is going to be a long season.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Activist Judges

Activist Judges

Missouri is on the brink of insanity (once again). A few years back, social conservatives worked to get the gay-marriage ban on the ballot so it could be there the same time as the governor's election. What they discovered was these key issues would help pull more social conservatives to the poll to vote against gay marriage, and ALSO to vote for the social conservative candidates. So, with the governor up against it, and several Republicans reeling from defeats in 2006, Missouri social conservatives are taking on "judicial activism."

What is judicial activism? Basically, when you disagree with a judge's decision, that judge is an activist. So, stick with me on this, if the Supreme Court overrules Roe v Wade (for right or wrong, IS the law) wouldn't those judges be activists? What if judges find that teacher lead prayer in public schools is alright? That would overturn several court decisions. Okay, you can say the Roe and school prayer decisions are based on opinion, not law. Fine. Then, when the 1954 Supreme Court overturned several laws based on the Plessy decision, and overturning legal segregation, wasn't that activism?

I've heard people suggest that judges need to follow the will of the people. I disagree. This is how it works. The people create a constitution. The legislature passes bills and crafts constitutional amendments and governors or presidents sign those bills into law. Those bodies are elected by the people and beholden to the people. In the case of constitutional amendments (at the state level) the people get to directly vote on the issue. So, there's you're public check. I'll come back to that. When it is time to interpret the law, or interpret a dispute when people have different points of view about an issue, the judiciary decides those issues. That is, based on the laws and constitution that the people have passed. NOT the laws that people hope were on the books. NOT the constitutional amendments that SHOULD be there. The legislators and the executive are beholden to the public. Legislators and executives can be swayed by the whim of the public or the money that comes with strong special interest. I think that goes without saying. What the judiciary does is check the "flavor of the month" approach to public policy that you find among the elected officials. You must have an independent judiciary to check this.

So, how do you get judges to find "your" way? Change the constitution. The problem? It is a lot more difficult to change the constitution and to get the broad support required to change the constitution than it is to make a law.

This leads to social conservatives attempts to overturn the "Missouri Plan." This would be a huge mistake. More on that to follow.

There you go, Tom.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Topic Updates

I just wanted to take a few seconds to update some previous entries.

A venture capital firm is financing the reacquisition of Midwest Airlines stock. This means that AirTran will no longer be a suitor for my favorite airline. As the media so quickly pointed out...the cookie has been saved. As I previously mentioned. Midwest can keep the cookies. I really don't care about that. What I care about is the four across leather seats, the 24 rows per plane, the frequent non-stops from Kansas City to several of my favorite locations. What the airline industry needs is not another Southwest Airlines. That's what a combined AirTran/Midwest would become. The airline industry needs differentiation. I don't mind flying in the cattle-cars know as Southwest Airlines to get to St. Louis quickly or to get to a specific airport. However, I don't think I'll ever forget how nice and how relaxing it was to fly non-stop KC to LA on Midwest on the first day of my vacation last January. I will always fly Midwest when possible. And yes...they CAN keep the cookie, they can charge a premium for the better service and the better experience. Whenever I can, I will fly Midwest and you should too!

TIFs and personal property tax. I took a little heat recently for being on a TIF commission in Liberty. We approved a $70,000,000 TIF for a development in Liberty. Previously, the overlay had been for much less and the plan had always been to create a TIF district, and then to create a replacement once the developer was in place. What made a huge difference in this case was that the TIF was on land that was in part a junk yard (requiring remediation) and another part that was fields that required massive infrastructure improvement. There was practically no personal property that was taxable on those parcels. Now there will be...a lot of personal property...all of which is taxable. So, even though the schools and libraries are giving up the increment, the personal property tax benefit is going to be many, many times more than if there was no development. Sometimes TIF is a good thing.

Sometime, I'll write about the party switching and Chris Koster. However, suffice to say, this doesn't surprise me. At this point, Missouri, Kansas, and the U.S. at large is very sharply divided. The Goldwater Republicans, the same people who created the Reagan Revolution, have discovered that there is no place for them in the Republican party. And, I really don't blame these people for not flocking to the Democratic party as it stands today. Something is bound to change. I can't believe that this will mean that good financial conservatives will flock to the Democratic party. These folks can't stand for the loony left of the party, and I can't say that I blame them. So, I see a split sometime soon. My hope is that the far left will split off and the Democrats will move to the center.