Archive for the ‘nonprofits’ Category

Nixon Makes a Mistake – Garza-Ruiz Got it Right – Give Guadalupe its Money

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

In one of his first acts as County Counselor, former Judge Steve Nixon faced the task of interpreting the long-delayed Jackson County Ethics Code and applying it to the County Legislature. In a memorandum issued last week, Nixon misinterpreted the statute and reached the wrong conclusion – an unfortunate mistake by a newbie to the job.

Here’s the background. The Guadalupe Center is a wonderful social service provider on the West Side that has been helping Latinos since 1919. It’s long been a shining star of Kansas City nonprofits, and the County has long provided funds for some of its programs because they are well-managed and cost-effective.

Guadalupe Center recently hired Genaro Ruiz from Congressman Cleaver’s office to serve as one of three Associate Directors. Genaro Ruiz is married to Theresa Garza Ruiz, a county legislator who fought hard against an attempt to exempt the legislature from the provisions of the Ethics Code.

When contracts between the County and Guadalupe Center came up for renewal, Garza-Ruiz immediately recused herself and filed an affidavit pledging to “not participate in any discussion, debate, deliberation, or other decision-making process with regard to possible County funding of this agency . . .”. This language mirrors precisely the language found in Section 908 of the Ethics Code, which provides: “Except as otherwise provided by law, no public servant shall, in such capacity, participate in the discussion, debate or deliberation, or otherwise take part in the decision-making process on any agenda item before the County Legislature in which the public servant or a partner in interest has a conflict of interest.”

Garza-Ruiz got it right, but Nixon thinks that more is required. His opinion is that the situation is ruled by Section 910, which provides “The County is prohibited from entering into any contract with a business in which a public servant or a public servant’s partner in interest has a controlling interest involving services or property of a value in excess of $1,000.00″. It’s an understandable mistake.

But it is a mistake. The general prohibition on contracting with public servants stands as the general rule, while the section on how a legislator is supposed to handle herself when a conflict arises governs the specific situation faced by Garza-Ruiz. The relevant principle is generalia specialibus non derogant, meaning that the specific controls over the general. Generally, contracts with legislators’ partners are forbidden, but, specifically, not when the provisions of disclosure and recusal are followed. Indeed, if not for the general prohibition, the specific instructions on how to deal with it would be useless. (As would the provisions of Section 109, which even allow the conflicted legislator to remain in the room during a consent agenda vote after disclosing a conflict.)

Conflicts of interest are serious matters, and I respect Nixon’s efforts to provide strict guidance to the legislature. The timing of his opinion is unclear in the newspaper reports, and it is entirely possible that he issued his opinion before knowing of Garza-Ruiz’s recusal, in which case his advice would have been technically correct.

This tempest in a teapot must have brought some glee to those who opposed Garza-Ruiz’s crusading in favor of ending the Jackson County Ethics Blackout, and I’m not blind to the irony inherent in using the ethics code to harass Genaro and Theresa, two of Kansas City’s most upstanding politicos.

The insiders have had their fun and laughs about this, but it’s time to grow up and stop the horse-play, before somebody gets hurt. There are people served by the Guadalupe Center who could lose important services, and the West Side of Kansas City could suffer as a result.

Buying Votes for Wayside Waifs

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Before the county election season starts up, with all its excitement and intrigue, Wayside Waifs offers you an opportunity to vote for your favorite pet. The leader of the contest right now features a video that I fear will be stuck in my head long after the contest is over.

Hefeweizen vs. Milk Stout

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

Yesterday evening, I donated two 5 gallon kegs of beer to a charity event for to support ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) research. The event was spectacular, and I was honored to have my beer be served at the same event that featured Christopher Elbow chocolates and spectacular food served by Chefs Jasper Mirabile, Charles d’Ablaing, Marshall Roth, Josh Eans, Todd Walleen, Jeff Troiola and Nick Jonjevic. Those are all culinary allstars – it was kind of intimidating to be on the same menu.

The event came at a good time, because I have a great supply of beer right now. Out of a selection of Schwarzbier, Dark American Lager, Milk Stout, Hefeweizen, and Robust Porter, I chose the two freshest – Milk Stout and Hefeweizen. The weather was perfect for either – cool enough to tackle a rich stout, but after a day warm enough to crave the refreshment of a Hefeweizen.

To my surprise, the Hefeweizen won the popularity contest, hands down. I had expected the richer, sweeter, chocolaty Milk Stout to draw more drinkers, especially since it was served next to a great selection of cigars provided by Fidel’s. Hefeweizens are a little funky and playful, with banana esters and cloudy yeast. But, the masses spoke, and when I went to pick up the leftovers today, the Hefeweizen was all gone, while I got to bring home a gallon or so of the Milk Stout.

As a homebrewer, you don’t often get the opportunity to gauge public reaction. When you serve your beer to friends, they are obligated to say nice things. When you submit your beer to contests, you get expert opinions focused on nuances that would completely elude the average person. Honest popular opinion is scarce.

The thrill of the evening, though, was walking out and seeing Chef Josh Eans, a beer expert who has put together one of Kansas City’s most intelligent beer lists (.pdf), sipping a glass of my homebrewed Milk Stout with a smile on his face.

And the fact that it all supported an effort to find a cure for a horrible disease made it even better.

Great Food Tomorrow Night! And an Opportunity to Support the ALS Foundation

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

How does “Smoked Porter Braised Piedmontese Short Ribs,Black Truffle Grits, Tomato Jam, and Baby Arugula” sound? How about “Tomato Water Poached Halibut, Spanish Sweet Tarragon, Watermelon and Heirloom Tomatoes with Radish accents”? Does “Lemon Grass Seared Fresh Water Prawn, Corn, Green Tomato and Turnip Fricassee, Herb Pistou” sound good?

There will be some homebrew by me on the porch, too.

Better yet, the proceeds will go to support the local ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) Foundation.

Tickets are still available here. It’s going to be a fantastic evening for a great cause.

New Orleans’ Carver High & Its Field of Dreams

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

My daughter, having recently graduated from Tulane, is staying in New Orleans for a year with a program designed to help 9th Ward high school students become high school graduates. It’s an important goal for a part of the city that “Great Work Brownie” somehow didn’t reach. 4 years after Hurricane Katrina, Carver High remains shuttered, and the students attend classes in trailers.

The school used to be a football powerhouse pre-Katrina, and some ambitious people are working to restore that source of community pride.

As a parent, it’s awfully exciting to see my daughter drawn to where she can do the most good, in the presence of others who have bold dreams, real initiative, and problem-solving skills.

Burning Houses, Severed Fingers, Blinded Children – Jackson County Wants More of These – Day 51 of the Jackson County Ethics Crisis

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

Our Jackson County legislature has legalized the sale of fireworks in Jackson County. They claim that the reason they are doing so is to help nonprofits.

No, seriously, they are claiming that.

I attend a lot of nonprofit meetings, I read a lot of nonprofit publications, and I know a lot of nonprofit executives. Never once have I heard anybody propose that fireworks sales are the solution for the funding crisis faced by nonprofits. Not once.

And, really, Mr. Rizzo and Mr. Tarwater, if you want to help nonprofits increase revenues, why choose a seasonal item that causes fires, traumatic amputations and blindness? Nonprofits have funding needs all year, not just in July. Why not let nonprofits sell drugs, or run brothels? There’s a lot more money in those vices than you can get from the chump change people fork over for bottle rockets.

Perhaps I am mistaken. Perhaps Henry Rizzo and Dan Tarwater have been talking to the National Society for Blind Homeless Kids Missing Fingers.

Or, perhaps they have lined up some donations from people with ties to the wholesale fireworks industry.

It has now been 51 days since we have had a fully staffed Jackson County Ethics Commission with the power to investigate our Jackson County legislators. As long as the legislature exempts itself from local enforcement of the Jackson County Ethics Code, Jackson County voters should assume the absolute worst of legislators.

With characters like Rizzo and Tarwater helping out the fireworks industry, it’s hard to believe anything but the worst.

Thanks for Coming Out

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

This is one of those times I don’t dare mention names, because I can’t list them all and I wouldn’t want anyone to be overlooked, but thanks to all who came out and tasted the Triple Sugar Tripel last night. That was a heck of a party!

The beer, for those who weren’t there, was a lot sweeter than I expected, but it was a warming sipping beer for the winter. When cold, it had a pretty good balance between bitter and sweet, that slipped toward the sweet side as it warmed. I’m pleased with how it came out, though my homemade version was less sweet and full-bodied – the 75th Street version is a rich sipping after-dinner beer. The beer snobs at the party seemed to enjoy it as a complex, style-stretching Belgian Tripel, and people who don’t typically drink beer enjoyed a sweet drink. One of my Bud Light-favoring friends summed up her reaction as “if you closed your eyes and didn’t know it was beer, you would think you were drinking wine.” I think there’s some truth to that statement, and it hints at the complexity of the beer.

We raised somewhere over a thousand dollars for the Central City School Fund, enough for a scholarship enabling a child to attend an excellent Catholic school in the old Northeast or the West Side. That’s a tremendous accomplishment. Thank you to all who came out and enjoyed the beer, and a special thanks for those who tossed something into the pot.

Tapping the Keg!

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

Regular readers will recall that I won the opportunity to have a full batch of my beer brewed at 75th Street Brewery. It now appears to be ready for prime time – they’ll be serving “Triple Sugar Tripel” beginning on Monday, December 29th. Yes, I’m working on putting together some kind of party for that evening, and I’ll post details here when I work them out.

I haven’t sampled the beer, and we made a few significant changes to my 10 gallon recipe in the process of scaling it up to 200+ gallons, so I’m relying a bit on guesswork to predict how it will taste. The last time I saw this beer it was nothing more than sweet, tea colored water being pumped from the boiling kettle through the chiller and into a fermentation vessel where it would meet up with the special Belgian yeast that does all the work.

I expect that this beer will be the color of medium-strong tea, with a subdued but long-lasting head. The aroma will probably be honey mixed with just a suggestion of hops. The flavor will be sweet, with a strong note of honey flavor, followed by all the esters thrown off by the 75th Street Brewery’s Belgian strain of yeast. Those esters will add a fruity, spicy taste to the beer, which I hope will combine with the honey to create a sweet, warming beer that will stand up to rich holiday meals and accompany traditional holiday desserts. At 9% alcohol, it will be a strong sipping beer. My hope is that the sweetness will make it appealing to those who think all craft beer is dark, hoppy and bitter, while the Belgian complexity of the beer will appeal to the beer snobs. It’s not really a Belgian Tripel, because those ales focus more on the yeast characteristics than on the sugar, and it’s a little dark for the style. Go here for a good article on the tripel style.

In light of the monkish lineage of this beer, it seems appropriate to use the occasion of its tapping to support a good religious cause here in Kansas City. While I’m still working out exactly how it’s going to work, I’ll make certain that samplers of the beer will have some opportunity to voluntarily support the Central City School Fund, which helps four wonderful Catholic elementary schools in the Old Northeast and the Westside give kids a great education.

Stay posted for more info on the party and the beer.

Want to Support KCMSD Success?

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

You probably don’t know the name Ron Martz, or understand his role in the formation of some of the Kansas City Metropolitan School District’s best and brightest youths. No, he’s not one of the bickering School Board members, nor one of the superintendents who have come and gone.

He’s just a band teacher.

But, in his role as the band teacher at Lincoln Prep, Ron Martz has brought discipline and practice and talent to life in children who are at that crucial age when they start either abandoning dreams of greatness or fitting them into their deepest self-images. Through music, he reaches into kids’ dreams and offers a score for their success. I don’t know how many professional musicians he has taught (though I’m sure there have been a few), but I know for a fact that he has taught kids whose self-confidence, bolstered by their demonstrated ability to master a musical instrument, has walked with them on college campuses from Harvard to Penn Valley, and helped them achieve far more than the newspapers and civic talk would allow them to dream.

Yes, I’m a little emotional on this topic, because I’ve seen him take groups of kids and transform them from unruly, surly mini-gangs into polished orchestras and bands.


Two years ago, two Lincoln students submitted their audition tapes to Carnegie Hall’s National Youth Wind Ensemble competition – and both were selected! The Carnegie Hall staff said they couldn’t recall a time when 2 high school students were selected from the same school in the same year. So last year, four more students submitted audition tapes (these are audio—it’s a “blind” audition) and were selected to be part of this National Youth Wind Ensemble this year. The artistic director of Carnegie Hall contacted Ron Martz, the director of Lincoln’s band program, and basically invited Martz to bring the entire Wind Ensemble to New York. High school bands and choirs from around the country travel to New York for this program each year, but they are overwhelmingly suburban schools. Most urban schools just can’t pull together the resources, even if they have the talent to be invited.


The budget for the trip – bus, hotels, fees, meals, insurance, all that stuff – is about $75,000, and they already have $30,000.

Are you setting up a Holiday Party for your office? How about arranging a few of these students to entertain, and making a contribution to the trip? Do you have a hard-to-shop-for relative? How about making a donation on his or her behalf? If you are fortunate enough to be in a position to donate all or a substantial portion of the $45,000, you could get the kids back into the practice room instead of out with their parents working the concession stands at the Sprint Center and Arrowhead or selling $1 donuts and candy bars. Here is a link to the web page that tells you how to make a donation.

Even if you don’t have a nickel to offer, though, come out to the Winter Concert on Wednesday, Dec. 17, at 7 p.m. at Lincoln College Prep High School, 2111 Woodland Avenue. Offer your applause and appreciation for some great young musicians and their outstanding leader.

They deserve it.

Neil Young, Breast Cancer, and Trout Fishing

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

This is a cool, cool project. American Laundromat Records has put together a compilation of women performing covers of Neil Young songs, and the proceeds are going to support Casting for Recovery, a charity which hosts retreats for breast cancer survivors where “the sport of fly-fishing is used to promote physical, emotional, and spiritual healing.” The CD has already raised over $22,000.

The founder of the label lost his mother to breast cancer in 2005 after a 6 year battle with breast cancer. I lost my mother to breast cancer this past summer after a mercifully short battle. I’m blessed, though, with many great breast cancer survivors in my life, including one who is going through treatment as I write this. These great women need and deserve support in their healing.

Even if it weren’t a fantastic cause, this CD sounds great on its own merits. Here’s a track listing, including songs I love covered by artists some of whom I know and some of whom I’ve never heard:

Disk 1
1. Heart Of Gold – Tanya Donelly
2. I Am A Child – Britta Phillips (Luna)
3. Comes A Time – Kate York
4. The Needle And The Damage Done – Lori McKenna
5. Down By The River – Jill Sobule with John Doe
6. Burned – Veruca Salt
7. Cowgirl In The Sand – Josie Cotton
8. A Man Needs A Maid – Dala
9. Ohio – Darcie Miner
10. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere – Carmen Townsend

Disk 2
1. Cinnamon Girl – Euro Trash Girl
2. I Believe In You – Julie Peel
3. Tell Me Why – Luff
4. Ohio – Dala
5. Helpless – Elk City
6. Only Love Can Break Your Heart – Amilia K. Spicer
7. Sugar Mountain – Louise Post
8. Powderfinger – The Watson Twins
9. Like A Hurricane – Kristin Hersh
10. Old Man – Cindy Wheeler (Caulfield Sisters)
11. Walk On – Heidi Gluck (Some Girls)

If you like Neil Young, if you like women artists, if you like survivors of breast cancer, if you like fly-fishing for trout, if you like conservation, to buy the CD for $15 (free shipping), or download it from iTunes.