Kansas City Star. May 30, 2021.

Editorial: Racist, hateful recordings show the Wyandotte County DA’s ‘integrity’ unit had none

What’s been going on inside the Wyandotte County District Attorney’s office is vile.

DA Mark Dupree’s “Community Integrity Unit,” tasked with policing the police and reviewing wrongful convictions, just blew up. Two members of the three-person unit, one white and one Black, had to be fired after being secretly recorded disparaging Black people as well as those who are gay, disabled, Chinese, transgender and unemployed.

The two also disparaged people who make claims of a wrongful conviction — in other words, the very people the unit was in theory set up to help.

According to recordings obtained by KCTV5 News, the white official says of Black people: “And now you have a generation of complete sh--bags, who are sh--bags to the core, who are out doing sh--bag things and are like, ‘I’m Black, you can’t do nothing to me.’”

The Black official agrees.

“All our criminals, all the sh--heads and unemployed, ship them on a plane, give them a rifle and drop them in China,” the white official says.

“You know what they do with their homosexuals?” the Black official says of China. “I’m not sure, but they probably kill them.” Laughter follows. “I’m not saying we should kill the homosexuals. That’s not what I am saying. I’m just saying I don’t understand why I need to be proud that you’re homosexual.”

Adds the white official: “I am down for, like, killing these freaky a-- people that are so confused …”

“You mean trans people?” the Black official asks.

“Uh-huh.” More laughter. “I’m fine with cleaning that out.”

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Topeka Capital-Journal. May 29, 2021.

Editorial: Kansas lawmakers are supposed to listen to their constituents. Here’s what you can do to make your voice heard.

Those of us who follow the news and share our opinions with you weekly are sometimes presented with contradictions.

Take this example: Polls show strong majorities of Kansans support expanding the state Medicaid program, also known as KanCare. Similarly, residents support common-sense gun legislation such as background checks.

Yet legislators in Topeka don’t do these things. Instead, they’ve dragged their feet for nearly a decade on Medicaid expansion. And they’re pushing the boundaries of gun legislation, advocating for open carry and removing age restrictions.

Put simply, legislators aren’t listening to their constituents.

But their constituents aren’t holding their legislators to account either.

This summer, state senators and representatives will be back in their home districts. We hope they hold meetings and actually ask the people they represent what they want. We also hope that constituents show up to make their preferences heard. If you want Medicaid expansion, if you want sensible gun laws, you have to make your voice heard.

Beyond that, if you’re a constituent, you must vote. You must make it clear that there will be consequences at the ballot box if the people who represent you don’t listen. That means making a plan and casting a ballot in a primary election, given the GOP’s dominance of state politics.

Some have made sure to register as Republicans to have a voice in these elections, and depending on your beliefs, that might be a wise move.

The point is, lawmakers should want to please their constituents. They are supposed to serve you, not an ideology or a special interest group. But the only way they know that is if you tell them.

That doesn’t let senators or representatives off the hook, either. Regardless of whether you represent Kansas in Washington, D.C., or Garden City or Pittsburg in Topeka, listen to your voters. Hold town hall meetings this summer and invite everyone, not just a small band of passionate followers.

Don’t cherry-pick who you want to hear from.

We don’t elect people to represent a party. We don’t elect people to represent God or Donald Trump (and indeed, we believe these two figures to be different). We elect people to represent us. That means Republican and Democrat and independent, man and woman, black and white, gay and straight, you name it.

That’s their job. And they need to get with it.

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Lawrence Journal-World. May 29, 2021.

Editorial: Now is the time for further review of our shelter strategy

The board of the Lawrence Community Shelter should be applauded for taking the difficult but wise step of ordering an independent investigation of alleged actions related to its director, Renee Kuhl. Now, the board and community leaders should take the next important step by conducting an in-depth review of how the community can better help and stabilize the homeless shelter.

To ensure such a review is productive, it would be good to get on the same page about the current state of affairs at the shelter. Following last Sunday’s article in the Journal-World, some people felt the only issue that has come to light is that of a personnel matter.

It is not uncommon for managers and employees to differ on workplace rules, strategies, discipline and other such matters. In the Sunday article, there certainly were allegations by current and former employees related to such differences. That has led some to try to brush this off as a “he said, she said” sort of situation. If you want to take that line of thinking, you should at least be more accurate and call it a “they said, she said” situation. The Journal-World talked to 11 current and former employees of the shelter.

But indeed, everyone involved deserves the benefit of answers from an independent investigation. It appears the board has set the organization on a path to get those answers. Again, the board should be thanked for taking that action.

However, the focus on those personnel matters could overshadow other important issues. Those other issues are the primary reason the Journal-World pursued last Sunday’s article: to give a voice to vulnerable, front-line workers who are in a position to help our community better understand a vital organization.

So, what are these deeper issues? Here are a few:

• Approximately 30 people have quit, been fired or otherwise ended their employment at the shelter in 2020 and thus far in 2021. That is a high turnover rate by the shelter’s standards. None of this seems to be in dispute. None of this is “he said, she said.”

• The high turnover is creating operational problems at the shelter. As we’ve reported, the shelter had dramatically cut its daytime operating hours in May, due to staff training needs. This is not “he said, she said.”

• Kuhl is the fifth executive director at the homeless shelter since May 2014. It is not “he said, she said” to worry about how little consistency in leadership this important institution has had in recent years.

• In August 2019, well before the pandemic, LCS reduced its shelter capacity from about 125 people to 65. The reduction didn’t happen because need had suddenly diminished. The most recent count estimates that more than 200 people are unsheltered in Lawrence. There are small tent cities scattered throughout Lawrence. There are many, many people saddened, discouraged and frustrated to see this in our community.

Let’s have a community conversation about why the shelter reduced its capacity so much before the pandemic. Let’s have a conversation about how it plans to increase its capacity above the approximately 40-person level it is now operating with. Let’s have a conversation about why LCS is providing fewer shelter beds today than the LCS and The Salvation Army provided in 2009.

Those two organizations provided 70 beds in 2009, and when The Salvation Army decided to get out of the shelter business, the community felt like it was in a shelter crisis. The public responded with millions of dollars of donations and so much effort to find a site and building that would work for the shelter. That building, by the way, has several thousand square feet of undeveloped space. That space could be improved and LCS could provide far more than 125 beds.

There have been some suggestions this reduction in capacity is part of a larger “Housing First” strategy. If so, let’s have a discussion about that too. Maybe there are good arguments why people who would rather sleep in a shelter are sleeping in a tent while our partially publicly funded shelter operates below its capacity.

Maybe there really are good arguments on that front. But if so, they need to be made soon because too many people are losing confidence in an organization that is critical in making Lawrence a compassionate community.

END