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Nick’s Picks | Pondering Reparations, Toll Lanes, Medicaid and Summer Fun

The News Outlook for the Week Ahead

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Above image credit: "Kansas City Week in Review" host Nick Haines. (John McGrath | Flatland)

A growing number of Kansas Citians observed the Juneteenth holiday over the weekend. But is Kansas City about to mark the end of slavery in a larger and far more significant way?

Over the weekend, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas announced plans to pay reparations to Black residents. 

It’s a contentious idea that’s been talked about for decades but never acted upon, until now.

Lucas is joining a group of 11 mayors who have signed a pledge to financially compensate African Americans in their cities for the pain, loss of life and loss of opportunity brought about by slavery.

So what would that look like and how will it work? 

The answer is unclear. 

The mayor has offered few details so far, except to say it won’t involve checks going out to every Black resident of the city. He says it will be a targeted approach designed to address the African American community’s greatest needs. 

One idea can be found 500 miles away.

In March, the Evanston, Illinois, City Council moved forward with a similar plan. It offered $25,000 to qualifying Black households to use for things like home repair or putting a down payment on property.

You can expect a lot more discussion about the plan this week at City Hall. But as we wait for more information on who gets helped, how much it will cost and how it will be paid for, you know this will create another political divide in the city. The reparations discussion closely follows a decision by the City Council to withhold millions of dollars from the police department budget. 

It will also raise questions over whether this is too little, too late. After all, how can you set a price on the misery and suffering of slavery more than 150 years after its abolition? And does a few thousand dollars for home repairs really make up for its lasting impact?

Are ‘Lexus Lanes’ Coming to Johnson County?

Is Johnson County’s largest city about to hit the go button on what’s been dubbed “Lexus lanes?”

Plans are afoot in Overland Park to build an express lane on its most congested stretch of roadway. Citizens packed the seats inside Overland Park’s City Hall last week as Kansas Department of Transportation officials went through a new public opinion poll numbers that claimed local residents are favorable to the idea of charging tolls on U.S. 69 in order to fund an expansion of the roadway.

Let’s be clear. You’d only pay a fee if you use the new fast lane. The existing lanes would still be free, even if it takes you longer to get to your destination. 

The current plan calls for charging between 30 cents to $1.75 depending on where you get on and off. five days a week. Both ways could cost you as much as $17.50 a week. Is that worth it to you to beat the traffic? 

The full Overland Park City Council will vote on the plan tonight at 7:30 p.m.

U.S. 69
U.S. 69 in Overland Park at dawn, as traffic quickly fills up a highway that clogs nearly every rush hour. (Scott Canon | Kansas News Service)

Missouri Tops COVID Nation’s COVID List

Even though bars and restaurants are packed and few people are wearing masks inside stores, local health leaders are sending out a reminder that COVID still exists and some people are still dying from the virus here in the metro.

According to health data compiled by The New York Times, Missouri now leads the nation in new COVID cases. 

Missouri is also tied with Washington D.C. for the highest per capita hospitalizations from COVID.

Over in Kansas, Wyandotte County health officials are so concerned about the low rate of vaccination they’re taking a new approach.

Beginning this week, they’re dangling even more incentives in front of unvaccinated residents. 

Starting Tuesday, anyone who gets the COVID shot in Wyandotte County will be entered into a daily drawing with prizes ranging from season passes to Worlds of Fun to $500 gift cards. 

And with few people bothering to get tested for the virus any longer, anyone who drops in for a COVID-19 test in Wyandotte County will receive a $25 gift card.

Fencing Around Governor

A metal fence erected around Congress following January’s siege at the Capitol may finally be coming down. But in Kansas, a new metal protective fence is going up to protect the governor.  

Workers are expected to complete a permanent metal fence around the governor’s mansion in Topeka by the end of the week. 

Previously, Cedar Crest had a gate restricting vehicles from entering but only a wooden fence encircling the property.

Gov. Laura Kelly’s office said no specific threat prompted the decision to install the barrier. But her chief of staff said in an email that “the climate of civil unrest and threats towards governors in general greatly influenced the recommendation of the Highway Patrol and Security Detail to make these improvements.” 

The project will cost the state $217,000.

Medicaid Funding Fight

Missouri statehouse watchers were expecting Gov. Mike Parson to call back state lawmakers this week to fix the Medicaid expansion funding issue.

But that’s not going to happen now amid a new clash over abortion.

During the last legislative session, Missouri lawmakers not only refused to fund a voter approved Medicaid expansion measure, they also failed to extend a tax on hospitals, nursing homes, pharmacies and ambulances that pays for $2.6 billion of the existing Medicaid health care program. 

But the fix may not be easy as the governor thought. Several key lawmakers are refusing to support any Medicaid funding plan unless Planned Parenthood is removed as a Medicaid provider and contraceptives are removed as a Medicaid benefit.

‘Tiny Homes’ on Hold

I mentioned last week that there was growing concern about plans to build a “tiny homes” village for Kansas City’s homeless.

Now those concerns have escalated, prompting the City Council to delay any vote on the matter until next month.

At the heart of the dispute is finding a place to build the village. Neighborhood groups are opposing construction of hundreds of 64-square-foot cabins for the homeless where they live. 

The City Council will reconsider the project on July 1.

Buck O’Neil Bridge

This is going to be a groundbreaking week in Kansas City.

The Missouri Department of Transportation has announced it will break ground on Wednesday on the new Buck O’Neil bridge. 

The current bridge carries thousands of drivers over the Missouri River every day, and is nearing the end of its lifespan.

The project is expected to cost nearly $220 million dollars. It will be completed in 2024.

Plans to salvage the old bridge are still underway. A study to determine if it’s feasible to close the old bridge and turn it into a park and pedestrian river crossing will begin next year.

The Missouri Department of Transportation has recommended an option to replace the aging Buck O’Neil Bridge. (Courtesy | MoDOT)

Lee’s Summit Paradise

A popular area children’s attraction won’t be reopening. 

After shutting down at the start of the pandemic, Paradise Park is now being bought by the Lee’s Summit School District.

The entertainment center featuring go-karts, laser tag and miniature golf will become an early education center.

The Lee’s Summit school board approved the $6 million sale, which will be paid for out of proceeds from a voter approved bond issue.

Paradise Park opened in 1991.

No ‘Fun’ Two Days a Week

If you’ve been thinking about loading up the kids and heading out to Worlds of Fun this week, make sure you avoid going on Tuesday or Wednesday. It will be closed.

Until further notice, the amusement park is shutting its gates to visitors two days a week. 

A shortage of ride operators and other park staff has prompted the move.

Worlds of Fun says it’s been trying to recruit more employees, but right now they haven’t been able to hire enough workers to maintain its summer schedule. 

A hiring event is scheduled at the park this Wednesday at 3 p.m. Worlds of Fun says it’s increasing pay to $15 an hour.

No Swimming in KCK

With the city baking under sweltering temperatures, where better to cool off than at your local swimming pool. 

While pools around the metro are now open for the summer, you can’t swim in one of our metro’s largest cities.

In Kansas City, Kansas, there are now protests over a decision by the city not to open its only public swimming pool for the year.

The city originally said they made the decision back in April when COVID-19 was a more pressing public health concern than it is today. But now a shortage of lifeguards has made it impossible for them to open. 

A city program set up to train and certify new lifeguards netted just one applicant.

Starlight’s Big Return

Last year was horrendous for Kansas City’s Starlight Theatre. Every show was canceled and its CEO was one of the first Kansas Citians to contract the COVID virus.

Now the outdoor theater is staging its comeback this week.

Starlight reopens Tuesday night at full capacity and with no masks. 

The season begins with “Godspell.”

Symphony at Liberty Memorial

For the second straight year we never got to experience the Kansas City Symphony’s “Celebration at the Station” event outside of Union Station. 

But you can pack up your blanket or lawn chair and experience a scaled down symphony performance this week.

On Friday night, the symphony is bringing its mobile music stage to the southeast lawn of Liberty Memorial. 

Hear a selection of familiar classics and more modern works starting at 6 p.m. It’s a free event.

Nick Haines dissects the week’s most impactful local news stories, Fridays at 7:30 p.m. on Kansas City PBS.

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