The Joplin Globe, May 3

Nothing during Tuesday’s lengthy hearing on the duck boat accident on Table Rock Lake in 2018 convinced us these boats are or can be made safe for tourists.

In fact, much of the testimony reinforced earlier conclusions that they are inherently dangerous when used as a tourist attraction because there is little margin for error.

We just don’t think the World War II-era boats belong on the lake any longer.

The National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday listened to several hours of testimony from experts who investigated the accident that killed 17 people, and then ruled on the probable cause, findings and recommendations.

The NTSB determined that the probable cause of the sinking was Ripley Entertainment Inc.‘s failure to halt tours on the lake after a severe thunderstorm warning, exposing the vessel, its crew and passengers to 3- to 5-foot waves and winds that topped 70 mph — twice the wind speed in which the boats could safely operate.

A contributing factor, the NTSB ruled, was the Coast Guard’s failure to require additional reserve buoyancy in the amphibious crafts and its failure to require the removal of the fixed overhead canopy and side curtains that hampered escape when the boat began to sink. In effect, the canopy and side curtains acted like a net, trapping passengers, and wearing a life jacket only made things worse.

These are recommendations the NTSB made 20 years ago after the sinking of a duck boat on Lake Hamilton in Arkansas left 13 people dead.

Yes, weather was a factor at Table Rock.

But it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Anybody who has lived in Southwest Missouri for any length of time knows that our weather can quickly become explosive and deadly. The National Weather Service did its job, issuing accurate and timely forecasts, but as so often happens in this region, whether its a tornado, storm or flood warning, the information was not take seriously.

That is a reminder to us all.

And yes, failure to take NTSB recommended action 20 years ago meant this was disaster that didn’t have to happen. The Coast Guard is now saying it will act on that guidance.

That’s little comfort now.

Listening to the hearing, we were ultimately left with one conclusion: The boats are being used for a purpose for which they were never designed — transporting tourists. The boats’ design makes safety modifications difficult. Their metal frame and heavy chassis and transmission combined with the lack of reserve buoyancy mean they sink quickly. Their low freeboard means passengers have little time in an emergency.

In short, the boats are a bad fit for their current use, and the biggest disappointment Tuesday was that the NTSB didn’t go further and ban then from the tourist business. We suspect insurance rates and publicity will do what needs to be done — scuttle the duck boats trips for tourists.


The Kansas City Star, May 1

Kansas City’s month-long effort to get federal cash to fight the COVID-19 pandemic has taken another bizarre, unfortunate turn.

This week, a Missouri committee agreed to hand out $521 million from the federal stimulus bill to help counties with their coronavirus expenses.

Clay County will get $29.3 million. Platte County will receive $12.2 million. The city of St. Louis is getting $32.2 million.

Wait — St. Louis? Kansas City didn’t get a dime from the fund. Neither did Columbia, or Springfield, or Lee’s Summit, or any other Missouri city. Why did St. Louis get that much federal aid?

On a technicality, as it turns out. St. Louis has a strange hybrid government, a half-city, half-county concoction set up by the state and local citizens. St. Louis is a city when it wants to be and a county when it wants to be.

And right now, being a county means St. Louis can collect a $32 million handout without much fuss. Every other Missouri city has to beg their counties for cash, which they are doing with varying degrees of success.

St. Louis County, outside of the city, gets its own $173.5 million grant.

“It’s incredibly frustrating,” said Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas. Instead of working on reopening the city, or keeping an eye on city policy, the mayor has found himself wrestling with four counties, two U.S. senators, a governor, a congressman or two and state bureaucrats to claim funds for Kansas City’s COVID-19 expenses.

It’s serious money (“damn right it is,” Lucas said this week.) Kansas City thinks it’s owed at least $88 million from the stimulus bill, money it needs to pay EMT overtime, health department costs and other expenses.

Officials in Clay, Platte and Cass counties have generally been sympathetic, the mayor says. But he also thinks Jackson County, which got its stimulus money directly from Washington, should give Kansas City roughly half of its allotment, or $60 million.

So far, Jackson County is less than enthralled with that idea. “We’re trying to have a conversation about that,” Lucas said Wednesday.

State officials have offered vague promises of help. Missouri Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick “is working with the counties on a solution to allow the city of Kansas City to have access to funds as soon as possible,” his office said in a statement.

Maybe our state senators can work on the problem. Oops. Kansas Citians south of the Missouri River don’t have any state senators.

The absurdity of this bureaucratic nonsense is plain for all to see. Kansas City doesn’t qualify for direct federal aid because it’s a few thousand people short of the 500,000 population cutoff. It doesn’t qualify for direct state help because it’s a city, not a county — or a weird tossed salad like the city of St. Louis, which has but 300,000 residents.

Instead, when the focus should be on people, not politics, Kansas City officials are bouncing from courthouse to courthouse with their hats in their hands.

“I believe that the next stimulus will make corrections,” U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver said in a statement. Let’s hope that’s the case.

Let’s also hope that Jackson County understands its responsibility to share revenue with the biggest city, by far, in Missouri. Half of the county’s $123 million grant sounds about right.

No one objects to funding coronavirus costs in St. Louis, which has been hit hard by the disease, or offsetting the costs in any other city or county in Missouri. But there’s no legitimate reason Kansas City should have to rely on political charity to pay its expenses, either.


The St Louis Post-Dispatch, May 2

Even as Missouri struggles with the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic, Republicans in the state Legislature have found time to pursue a cynical campaign to overturn the will of the voters. They’re trying to push through a measure to reverse Clean Missouri redistricting reforms. On redistricting as on voting rights, the state GOP has repeatedly demonstrated its determination to hold onto power even at the cost of undermining democracy.

Missouri voters in 2018 overwhelmingly approved Amendment 1 — Clean Missouri — imposing a series of reforms on the state’s political system. These included increased transparency and lobbying restrictions.

Perhaps the most important reform, though, was to revamp the state’s thoroughly politicized method of drawing legislative boundaries every 10 years. Through gerrymandering, that process has been used to protect incumbents by setting the boundaries to their advantage — especially incumbents of the ruling GOP. The effects have been dramatic. Though Missouri Republicans tend to win by only around 10 percentage points in statewide elections — suggesting a closer balance in support between the two parties — they hold more than two-thirds of legislative seats.

Clean Missouri took that process out of the hands of politicians and put a nonpartisan demographer in charge. A bipartisan commission can make changes to the map, but only if 70% of its members approve, ensuring neither party can skew the process to partisan ends. The idea is to ensure that the boundaries accurately reflect the demographic and political makeup of the state.

Republicans know that will likely pierce their artificial over-representation in Jefferson City, so they’re seeking a do-over of the 2018 vote. Never mind that voters overwhelmingly approved Clean Missouri — a huge, bipartisan show of support. Republican are nonetheless trying to get the redistricting question back on the ballot to force another vote.

It’s as if they didn’t even hear the loud-and-clear message the public sent less than two years ago. And in the middle of a pandemic, is this really where they place their priorities?

Senate Republicans in February rammed through a resolution to force the new ballot question on the issue, sparking a furious debate in Jefferson City. Such debate is appropriate on such a fundamental question — but that can’t happen now because of the pandemic. As the Post-Dispatch’s Jack Suntrup reported last week, the House General Laws Committee approved the measure Thursday with no members of the public present. If the full House approves it before the legislative session adjourns in two weeks, it would likely happen under similar cover of silence.

Forcing voters to reconsider an issue they’ve already decided is insulting enough. Doing it while a pandemic prevents full public debate is doubly so. If this passes, Missourians should not only slap it down hard in November but register their displeasure with the Republican lawmakers whose names will be on the same ballot.