Jan. 1, 1996
The new year holds some promise, even though the Czars exhibit is gone and there will be no downtown building to blow up. My crystal ball says one big story will be Glen Mason winning the Republican primary for Senate, but then changing his mind and deciding to remain as KU football coach because he just can’s bear to leave all those wonderful folks in Lawrence.
But will those wonderful folks in Lawrence say, “Oh, go ahead, Glen. Don’t let us keep you.” Some day. Maybe.
The early news spotlight also will be focused on another one of your favorite newsmakers. You want to guess who? Fred Phelps will be heard demanding that the police officer who called his gang a “cult” be reprimanded.
In response, the Concerned Citizens of Topeka will demand that the officer be awarded several medals, be immediately promoted to major, and be encouraged to speak out.
Mayor Butch Felker will call for an investigation of this incident, because a) Phelps wants it, and b) the mayor doesn’t care who or what is being investigated, as long as it’s not the fire department.
Topekans will eagerly await the outcome of this investigation and several others. There is the city’s investigation of who, if anyone, ordered the police to overlook the activities of the Phelps gang, and the sheriff’s investigation of the same matter.
There is the city’s investigation of the sheriff’s investigation and the sheriff’s investigation of the city’s investigation, plus the police department’s investigation of both those investigations. The city council is investigating all of them.
In the meantime, who’s running the city? Fred Phelps.
The Legislature, aka the annual Our Gang Comedy, will be busier this year because it has some really heavy issues to resolve. First up, the lawmakers must decide on new speed limits for the state’s highways. They will debate this serious matter at great length.
For some reason, Oklahoma didn’t bother with all that. Before the ink was dry on the new federal bill, the Sooners put up signs posting speed limits of 70 mph on interstate highways, and 80 on turnpikes. They apparently aren’t big on debate.
Our solons will also argue the merits of slot machines at state racetracks and an effort will be made to put the issue on the ballot.
While they’re at it, the legislators should try to pit the issue of initiative and referendum on the same ballot.
It makes sense, and that’s the reason it will never happen.
Another thing the legislators won’t do is handle that nagging problem of the Statehouse dome, and the statue that’s supposed to be on top of it. The statue is ready, but the dome structure is too weak to hold it, and there is no money to strengthen it.
It’s frustrating. The bald capitol dome sends a clear message that Kansas can’t handle even a trivial task like this. How can we expect to attract industrial giants and new plants if we can’t even get a modest statue in place to adorn our dome?
If this were a city problem, our mayor would order an investigation and tell the Legislature to “put up (the statue) or shut up.”
But the legislators slumber on, and Kansas is rapidly becoming known not as the home of the Flint Hills, amber waves of grain, or beef on the hoof, but rather as the state that can’t manage to get a cotton pickin’ thing on its capitol dome. Welcome to the home of Old Baldy.
As each new year begins, many of us dream that maybe it will be the year that everything works out. It is no different this Jan. 1 Maybe this will be the year the mayor and the council will muster up enough wisdom and courage to once and for all to get rid if the Phelps stigma that brands the city as a place unable or unwilling to handle its problems.
When an outsider asks how one man can paralyze a city and, regardless of whether the mayor likes the term, hold it hostage, there’s no good answer except that we must not be trying hard enough to do something about it.
Maybe this year the Legislature will get rid of the freeloaders who don’t pay state income tax on their pensions.
Maybe someone will explain why Shawnee County needs five school districts, five sets of the administrators, five maintenance facilities and five what have you.
Maybe in ’96 the city will find the courage to put a through street across the Shunganunga between Washburn and Gage.
Maybe common sense will prevail this year. Fat chance, but Happy New Year.