The Jefferson City News-Tribune, June 7

Missouri’s flood recovery group submitted its final report to Gov. Mike Parson.

It’s an oversimplification, we acknowledge, but the recommendations can be boiled down to two requests from the feds:

—We'd like more money

—We'd like more control

The group formed last year in the wake of historic flooding during the spring and summer along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

The group — including state departments, levee authorities, agriculture associations, and river management and conservation advocates — worked to guide the state’s priorities for recovery, including on how to prevent or mitigate future damage from flooding.

A primary recommendation was “States should have a leadership role in implementing improvements to flood protection infrastructure and management of major river systems.”

That does make sense. Missouri, like other states, is best-positioned to know what it needs. Missouri officials are closely connected to the farmers, landowners and the local governments along the river.

Each state, however, can’t solely manage the rivers that go through them. Federal agencies such as the Army Corps of Engineers needs to set overall priorities with input from the states and municipalities.

But some decisions can and should be more local.

That’s why some of the recommendations make sense, such as amending laws to allow more flexible in regulatory requirements during disaster response and recovery and in the transfer of levee easements for emergency repair work.

Streamlining the federal environmental review process is another welcome recommendation, although it would be nice if we could streamline all federal processes dealing with river management. Here in Jefferson City, some of the frustration we have with the feds stems from the seemingly turtle-like pace of federal agencies when it comes to making decisions.

The report also asked Congress to “support robust funding” for planning. Congress and Missouri should increase funding for pre-disaster mitigation aid, the report also says.

Asking the feds for more control might be an uphill battle, but asking for more money and more control most certainly is an uphill battle.

Recent history has proved that flooding is a continuing problem in our state. We can seek federal funding all we want, but we — Missouri and its municipalities — need to be prepared to buck up ourselves to make serious headway toward solutions.


The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 8

A nationwide movement to defund police departments, or dismantle them completely as the Minneapolis City Council proposes, is the wrong answer to the right question. It’s obvious that much more work needs to be done to raise policing standards so that the badge is never confused by its wearers as a license to kill, abuse or administer any form of street justice.

But local lawmakers can’t reform criminal justice by starving it to death. There remains a very real need for law enforcement in crime-ridden urban neighborhoods, which means funding police forces and training officers to behave with the highest standards of professionalism. Depriving police forces of funding almost certainly would lead to a dramatic decrease in patrols where they are needed the most: in the high-poverty neighborhoods where violent crime is highest.

We know of no credible movement in the high-crime areas of St. Louis where residents are clamoring for fewer police officers and less attention to crime. And, no matter how justified some protesters feel at denouncing all officers for the actions of a few, the fact remains that when any member of the public faces, say, a home break-in or other imminent threat, 911 will be the first phone number called.

St. Louis, like other major urban centers, needs a strong, fully funded and fully staffed police force. Some politicians, led by 15th Ward Alderman Megan Green, have effectively called for defunding the St. Louis police department by diverting money budgeted to fill the current shortage of more than 150 officers. She wants the money to be spent on social programs, wrongly portraying it as an either/or proposition.

Green’s position would put her at odds with a fellow Democrat, Rep. Karen Bass of California, head of the Congressional Black Caucus. Asked Monday on National Public Radio if she supports defunding police departments, Bass responded emphatically: “No, I do not support defunding the police.” Bass did note the imbalance that local budgets typically reflect in which police forces consume a large chunk of public expenditures while “budgets for education, health and human services” go underfunded.

“We need to look at the root causes of why policing is needed in communities. If it’s crime, then why is there crime? Why are people committing crimes? We need to get at the root causes, I absolutely agree with that,” Bass said. Changing police culture is essential, she added. “The profession that has the power to kill should be a profession that has national standards, is transparent and is accountable to the public.”

Changing police culture means putting greater emphasis on accountability, such as requiring the use of body cameras, and training officers with an emphasis on measured responses to nonlethal situations. But starving local police departments of funding in response to egregious abuses can only invite more tragedy.


The St. Joseph News-Press, June 4

This week’s metropolitan-area unemployment report lays out the reality of coronavirus-related shutdowns for the local economy.

St. Joseph recorded a 7.1% unemployment rate in April, which reflects the first full month for business shutdowns that were designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. That’s up from 3.6% in March. In St. Joseph, unemployment hasn’t been this high since September of 2011.

This increase in unemployment comes as no surprise after business activity came to an abrupt halt in the middle of March. Perhaps the only surprise is that it wasn’t worse, considering the latest figures show unemployment of 9.7% statewide and 14.7% nationally.

Two mitigating factors for St. Joseph would be the nature of the workforce, which includes a large number of manufacturing and industrial workers who were deemed essential. Also, Paycheck Protection Program funding may have kept some small business employees off the unemployment rolls for now.

All too often, the debate over reopening the economy is painted as a choice between health and personal liberty. Certainly that’s part of it, but it misses a broader point that a person’s economic well-being can be just as essential to long-term health as just about anything.

We wonder if those 4,397 St. Joseph-area residents who are now counted as unemployed, a number that jumped 89% in one month, would feel that same way. How many of those who are still working, a number that exceeds 57,000 in the St. Joseph metro, are worried about the future? The latest Gallup poll shows a record drop in public confidence regarding the economy.

All this isn’t to suggest a rush to reopen as soon as possible. Economic consequences must be weighed against the health risks in terms of COVID-19 and its spread.

The situation with one occupation, hair stylists, may illustrate the complexities. Someone complaining of not getting a haircut during lockdown could be viewed as selfish, but what about the stylist who goes without income or the taxing entities — schools, fire districts, libraries and cities? They might see it another way.

For the person who cuts hair, the lockdown means struggles with putting food on the table or paying the mortgage or the rent. With schools and local government, there are whispers of future job cuts as funding for essential services begins to run dry.

The numbers are just the numbers, with unemployment, COVID-19 cases and anything else. They are valuable for identifying trends and deciding on next steps.

We would urge policymakers, when deciding on whether to keep up the pace on reopening, to look past the number and try to contemplate the lives behind them and the concern about economic uncertainties.