As 2018 comes to an end, The Northeast News is looking back on the last 12 months of top stories. In no particular order, we are highlighting the top 10 headlines of the year:
Work progresses on 441 Bellefontaine, new roof under construction
The rapid deterioration of 441 Bellefontaine, refusal of owner Janice James to leave the home, and the City’s work to locate sources to fund the project have been an ongoing saga in the community for years. A lot of progress has been made in the last 12 months. James’ resistence to be moved off the property, despite the surrounding danger of a collapsed roof, stems from the idea of completely losing her home altogether. City officials responded earlier this year after the front porch of the famed “cougar house” collapsed on August 15 and a call was made to the City’s Dangerous Buildings department. James stayed put in the home, but was convinced to stay the night in KCFD’s children’s safety trailer while the home was being evaluated. Most recently, funds have been pooled and James signed over a deed of trust, and work is moving forward on the repair of the roof. Workers have removed the old roof and tarped the home to begin installing a truss-style roof. John Baccala, Community Liason with the KCMO Neighborhood and Housing Services Department, said the time estimate for the completion of the roof is going to take longer because they are going through greater steps to ensure the roof’s viability for long-term stability of the house. “We want people to stay in their homes,” he said. “That’s the whole purpose and way we solidify neighborhoods is by keeping people in their homes, so the last thing we want to do is remove her. We are glad we came to agreement and are finally moving forward on it.”
KCPD secures Social Workers at each patrol division to combat crime
Identifying root issues of crime in the Kansas City community, KCPD has worked this year to embed social workers at each of its six patrol divisions. In January 2018, funding had been approved to expand its Social Services Coordinator pilot program department-wide. The Hall Family Foundation pledged $640,000 towards the social worker program over the next three years, with the City of Kansas City, Missouri agreeing to pick up the remaining $470,000 necessary to employ the six social workers – as well as social services coordinator Gina English – over that time frame. The department placed priority on this project to address issues in the community and decrease crime in the city. Chief of Police Rick Smith said the primary reason for this project was to find an alternate solution to crime in Kansas City other than criminal consequences. “There are a lot of people dealing with issues in Kansas City that are frankly not the job of police to address: family problems, poverty, addiction and more,” he said. The new social workers will work out of each KCPD patrol division, where they will attend weekly crime meetings and communicate regularly with officers on residents in need of assistance, particularly early intervention for at risk youth. In January of 2018, KCPD identified the grant funding necessary to embed social workers at each of its six patrol divisions. Before that, social worker Gina English served at Central Patrol Division in a pilot program initiated by then-Major Rick Smith.
English said Ortega’s vision, coupled with tangible action steps, is what will create the much-needed change in the communities.
“He has a vision in pulling people and resources together, and tapping into creating opportunity for collective impact. That’s where the movement is going to happen, that is where we are going to see change is when we are all working in unison, complimenting the services that we each provide.”
Ortega says his current goal is to not be so program-focused, but instead, meet with the communities to determine what services are needed. He also plans to find a hub in Midtown for community members to meet.
State of the Northeast Forum addresses community concerns
This year, leaders in the Historic Northeast created the first State of the Northeast Forum to address issues of concern in the community. The forum was organized by Northeast Alliance Together (NEAT), a non-profit based out of the Mattie Rhodes Center, in collaboration with the six neighborhoods that represent the Historic Northeast: Independence Plaza, Indian Mound, Lykins, Pendleton Heights, Scarritt Renaissance, and Sheffield. The State of the Northeast Forum was an outlet for area residents to present issues as a unified front to Kansas City leaders who hold the power enact change. With roughly 130 area residents in attendance, the turnout for the forum was evidence to the level of community engagement and concern. Fourth District Councilwomen Jolie Justus and Katheryn Shields, 3rd District Councilmen Quinton Lucas and Jermaine Reed, 1st District Councilman Scott Wagner, KCPD Chief of Police Rick Smith and East Patrol Major Jim Thomas, and KCMO City Manager Troy Schulte were in attendance. John Burnett – a former State representative and husband to District 19 State Representative Ingrid Burnett attended the forum in her stead. One of the events born from the forum was the negotiated scrap metal ordinance. Mary Cyr, Executive Director of NEAT, in collaboration with Scott Wagner, KCPD, Regulated Industries and several other entities brought the issue before City Council and were able to create a negotiated scrap metal ordinance to hopefully, in time, reduce the level of criminal scrapping activity that has plagued the Northeast for years. Another State of the Northeast Forum is planned for 2019.
Jason Kander enters and exits mayoral race to address PTSD concerns
Jason Kander kicked off his official campaign Saturday, July 14 at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Not three months later, he withdrew himself from the race on October 2, citing depression and PTSD symptoms from his service as an Army Intelligence Officer in Afghanistan. In a letter he posted online, he said “I’m done hiding this from myself and from the world… To allow me to concentrate on my mental health, I’ve decided that I will not be running for mayor of Kansas City… I can’t work on myself and run a campaign the way I want to at the same time, so I’m choosing to work on my depression..” He said he still had recurring nightmares and depression. He went to the Kansas City VA office for help, but admitted to “leaving boxes unchecked” as he filled out forms, being “too scared” to acknowledge his true symptoms. He ended his letter addressing veterans who struggle with the same issues. “I hope it helps veterans and everyone else across the country working through mental health issues realize that you don’t have to try to solve it on your own. If you’re struggling with something similar, it’s OK. That doesn’t make you less of a person.”
Kansas City Museum temporarily closes to undergo renovations
This year, the Kansas City Museum at Corinthian Hall, located in the Historic Northeast area at 3218 Gladstone Boulevard, temporarily closed its doors for restoration and renovation of Corinthian Hall (the mansion) into a leading-edge, 21st-century museum of Kansas City’s history and cultural heritage. The Museum will offer exhibitions, programs, and events in the community as well as at the Kansas City Museum at the Historic Garment District at 800 Broadway Boulevard. Renovations at the Kansas City Museum will be completed in several phases of architectural design and stages of construction. Each stage of construction will open to the public a new face of the Museum. Stage I Construction includes the extensive restoration and renovation of the lower level, first floor, second floor, and third floor of Corinthian Hall. Stage I Construction is expected to be complete and open to the public in 2019.
Violent crimes drops in HNE, Combat works to enact change and bridge gap
2018 saw the decline of violent crimes in the Northeast community. Kansas City Police report there have been zero homicides in the Northeast, compared to 11 in 2017. This area– the 310 zone– extends north to south from the Missouri River down to St. John Avenue, then east to west from Hardesty Avenue to Wabash. Major Greg Volker with KCPD gives credit to the relentless efforts of several organizations, community leaders, and law enforcement personnel collaborating to enact this change. In October this year, Vince Ortega was selected as Director of Jackson County COMBAT, an organization designated to rooting out crime in Kansas City. COMBAT is built on three pillars: Prevention, Treatment and Criminal Justice. Working closely with the Mattie Rhodes Center, Ortega will give sustainable resources to the community to help blot out the Northeast as a “hot spot” for violent crime, stopping it before it starts. While there is much work being done to reduce the crime in the area, there is still a wide gap between the community and KCPD, evident in the failed Hispanic Citizen’s Academy in the Historic Northeast. The three-part, multi-hour course was supposed to be a time of positive connection between law enforcement and the Spanish-speaking community– but no one showed up. Many in the community feared a disguised ICE raid, admitted to not trusting the police, or being afraid to engage with police because of their legal status. The Northeast News sat down with Westside Community Action Network (CAN) Officer Chato Villalobos to discuss the community concerns. “Regardless of status, if there’s a community that doesn’t have trust or a relationship with their police department, they are the most exploited by career criminals. Property crimes, violent crimes, whatever: they are the most exploited,” he said.
Nguyen sentenced after 2015 fire that claimed lives of two area Firefighters
Two and a half years after a fire claimed the lives of Kansas City Firefighters John Mesh and Larry Leggio, Thu Hong Nguyen was found guilty this year of six counts related to the Oct. 12, 2015 blaze she started in her nail salon at 2608 Independence Avenue. The two men were killed when a brick wall collapsed upon them as they were working the scene. The bench trial in the case of The State of Missouri vs. Nguyen began on the morning of Monday, July 16 and finished with closing statements July 20. First-person testimony was provided from firefighters who were standing alongside Mesh and Leggio on the day of the deadly blaze. Nguyen stood accused of two counts of arson, two counts of assault, two counts of murder in the second degree and one count of causing a catastrophe. Monday, July 23, 2018, Judge Joel P. Fahnestock delivered the verdict: not guilty to the first count of causing a catastrophe, but guilty on all following six charges. Friday, September 21, Nguyen was sentenced to a 74-year prison term. “On the night of October 12, her actions gave my brother John a death sentence,” Jim Mesh, brother of John Mesh, said of Nguyen. “She has created a void in my family that can never be filled.”
Missy Leggio recounted her perspective from the night of the fire, beginning with her arrival at the scene, and her frantic attempt to account for Larry.
“All I wanted to do was get a glimpse of him, make eye contract, and tell him I love him,” Leggio said through tears.
Leggio also described in stark detail the fate of her husband.
“My husband was literally crushed from head to toe,” she said. “I am so thankful that his death was considered instant and that he felt none of it.”
City Council moves forward on KCI Airport Project
The single-terminal airport project has made much headway in the last 12 months. On November 7, 2017, Kansas City, Mo. residents voted in favor of building a new single terminal at KCI, with 75-percent saying yes to the project. The plan calls for constructing the new terminal at the site of the closed Terminal A, with the new terminal opening by the end of 2022. On Thursday, February 8, 2018, the City Council voted 8-5 to approve the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Edgemoor Infrastructure. The new MOU addresses 43 of 45 points of concern the council brought to attorneys representing the city in negotiations with Edgemoor. The highly-negotiated Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) with Edgemoor Infrastructure & Real Estate was a sticking point for the Kansas City Councilmembers. The total cost of the project has increased to $1.9 billion since June, with Edgemoor at $1.459 billion, Kansas City Aviation Department and airline costs sitting at $175 million, and financing costs at $401 million. Roughly five to 10 percent of the design work is done, but it is on hold while the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) and State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) complete their due diligence. Once the FAA approves the Environmental Assessment (EA), there will be a groundbreaking ceremony followed by demolition of Terminal A, as well as financing of the project before construction can begin. Throughout the next 12 months, about 90 percent of the design work will be completed and bid out, with demolition starting in spring 2019.
Catholic Charities begins construction on two homes in Indian Mound
After a home was donated to Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph on the 400 block of Elmwood and donated to a homeless veteran in need, the organization decided to expand the housing and construct their own homes for those in need. The two projects are at 401 and 501 S. Cypress and will be roughly 1100 square feet, each with three bedrooms and one bath. Jarrod Sanderson, Executive Director of Housing Development with Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph said that this way, the organization will have a lot more control over the homes and the rent prices. “Most of the people that we work with have convictions or evictions in their background, and so the traditional housing market just won’t touch them,” Sanderson said. The two homes on Cypress currently have the walls up and Sanderson said they anticipate to be finished with the homes at the turn of the new year. They have plans to construct several more in the Northeast and surrounding areas. The organization recently received a $250,000 grant for the project and said that this will allow them to build a few more homes. The mission of Catholic Charities is ‘To Serve and Lift,’ and Sanderson said this is a way to serve people and lift them out of their current situation, hopefully for generations to come.
Serial Northeast burglar apprehended on string of charges
DeAndre Buchanan, the notorious Historic Northeast burglar, was the subject of a long-time pursuit for East Patrol officers this year. The serial burglar initially drew the attention of authorities this spring, after committing a string of burglaries in the Historic Northeast. Police had connected Buchanan to a series of burglaries committed May 8 and May 9, and further suspected his involvement in at least a portion of the 18 forced-entry burglaries that occurred in the Northeast between March 26 and April 20. By late June, Buchanan had been offered a priority release and placed on conditional house arrest. East Patrol officers were quickly notified of the burglar’s release, and issued a warrant on additional charges for Buchanan by July 3. East Patrol Captain Ryan Mills expressed frustration that Buchanan had been released, especially with the police department preparing additional charges. After being released from custody in late June following a May 12 arrest, he was once again apprehended by the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department. Buchanan appeared before Judge Kevin Harrell on Monday, Aug. 6, standing accused of two charges: Burglary in the First Degree and Stealing in the First Degree. Judge Harrell declined to reduce the $10,000, 10% bond against Buchanan, despite a request from the defendant to do so. Buchanan argued for a reduced bond or a release on his own recognizance (RoR), saying that he’d recently secured a job, had a child to care for, and only skipped out on house arrest because he didn’t get along with the homeowner.
“I’m trying to do right now, your honor, I just need a chance,” Buchanan said. For now, Buchanan’s charges include two counts of 2nd Degree Burglary, one count of 1st Degree Burglary, one count of Trafficking a Stolen Identity, and one count of possession of a Controlled Substance. Bail for Buchanan is set at $47,500.