Another year of COVID tops 2021 stories

Window

Opinion column

by Mary Rupert

The top story of 2021 was another year in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID pandemic continued throughout the world, nation and local community during 2021, changing to different variants including Delta and Omicron, and challenging health experts and local leaders.

The local response to it was the top local story of 2021, as the effort to vaccinate the population continued here was a little slower than some nearby communities. Still, Wyandotte County was considered to be one of the leading communities in the area fighting the coronavirus, reaching out to underserved populations.

Nationally and locally, some efforts organized to fight mask mandates from a population weary of doing what the doctors ordered. It eventually became a very emotional and politicized issue.

Wyandotte County established vaccine and testing clinics during the year that continued to provide free health services to residents. During 2021, booster shots were authorized six months after initial shots, and kids’ vaccinations were approved.

Schools went back into in-person learning during 2021, by order of the state Legislature, with masks required.

The Unified Government received $87-plus million dollars from the federal government during 2021 to replace lost revenues from the pandemic. School districts also received federal funding.

The second most important story of the year was the election of Tyrone Garner as Unified Government mayor and CEO. Garner is the first black mayor of the city. Garner had pledged to be more responsive to commissioners and put items on the agenda when they requested it, and shortly after Garner was elected, the UG Commission voted to drop the mask mandate for indoor spaces in Kansas City, Kansas.

The Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools mourned the loss of several students to gun violence during 2021. The “Enough Is Enough” campaign against violence that started in 2020 continued in 2021.

There were 51 homicides reported in Kansas City, Kansas, during 2021, through Dec. 24.

Redistricting hearings were held across Kansas, including one in Kansas City, Kansas, and one in Bonner Springs, as the Kansas Legislature prepares to redraw lines following changes tabulated by the federal census. The Legislature is expected to act in 2022 on redistricting. The 3rd District, which includes Wyandotte, Johnson and parts of Miami counties, will need to lose some population, according to officials. Several residents turned out to ask the Legislature to keep Wyandotte County together with Johnson County in the 3rd District.

Economic development continued in Wyandotte County, with construction continuing on Turner Diagonal industrial buildings, plans were tweaked for the Homefield development, Amazon construction at the former Woodlands took place, and planning continued for the redevelopment of the 5th and Minnesota area. KCKCC discussed its plan for a new $70 million downtown KCK campus. The redevelopment project to turn the Rock Island bridge into an events center and trail crossing also moved forward. Hotel and restaurant projects also were announced in 2021.

Despite COVID, it was considered safe to hold outdoor events in 2021, with sports resuming in Kansas City, Kansas, including the Kansas City Monarchs, Sporting Kansas City, Kansas City Current women’s soccer, and racing at Kansas Speedway, all outdoor events.

Notable deaths during 2021 included actor Ed Asner, who grew up in Wyandotte County; as well as former Congressman Dennis Moore, from Johnson County; and former Sen. Bob Dole, from Russell, Kansas.

To reach Mary Rupert, editor, email maryr@wyandottedaily.com.

Time to consider a better way for historic preservation here

The historic church at 7th and State could be torn down to make way for development of the new KCKCC downtown campus. The old 7th Street Methodist Episcopal Church was built about 1888. The issue comes before the Unified Government Commission at Thursday’s meeting.

Window

Opinion column

by Mary Rupert

It’s time for Wyandotte County to consider a better way to preserve its historic buildings.

Recently, the Unified Government Landmarks Commission voted to give approval to tear down a historic building, the old 7th Street Methodist Episcopal Church, at 7th and State Avenue, if certain conditions were met.

The issue goes before the full UG Commission for a vote on Thursday, Dec. 2.

The church, which is on the local historic sites list, was more than 100 years old, and its founders included some of the founders of the town of Wyandotte, one of the towns that came together to make up Kansas City, Kansas. Native American Wyandots came here from Ohio to found the town, with many staying to settle here. Only a few blocks away, the Wyandotte Constitutional Convention was held, near 5th and Minnesota, where the state constitution was debated. That historic site was marked by the Reardon Convention Center.

Such an important link to the town’s history as the church at 7th and State should not be forgotten.

The new $70 million KCKCC downtown campus to be built at 7th and State is a very worthy project, and it will be a great benefit to the community.

However, how did the church get to the point of being on the brink of being torn down for the development of the campus?

A recent discussion with retired Rev. George Kemper Sr., who was pastor of the Ebenezer Church of God in Christ at 7th and State from 1988 to 2008, shed some light on the situation. He said the Ebenezer church sold the building to a Hispanic congregation around 2011 or 2012.

The church was built about 1888, and has been vacant and owned by the UG for a few years. It is the last standing example of High Victorian Gothic architecture in Kansas City, Kansas. There are plans to use parts of the old church, such as stained glass pieces and a few pews and trusses, in the new KCKCC campus building. The church building itself would be torn down, if conditions are met.

The church building, according to Kemper, should never have been on the UG’s delinquent tax sale list because it was being used as a church the whole time.

Apparently what happened, he said, was that the last owner did not file its paperwork for a nonprofit organization with the state, and ended up accumulating taxes, with the Land Bank eventually getting the building. Also, he said the last church had sublet the property to another congregation.

If their paperwork had been filed, the church would have been tax-exempt, according to Kemper.

He added that the Ebenezer church wasn’t interested in buying it back, and it had accumulated more than $30,000 in back taxes, almost around the amount they sold it for. It was difficult to keep up the old building, and it was put on the market in 2008, although there wasn’t serious interest in it until around 2012, he said.

The Ebenezer church made several efforts to preserve the historic building, starting in 1988, he said. They tried to get the church on the state and federal historic registers, but it did not work out.

Several public officials came to events emphasizing the church’s history, and they included city officials and the chief of the Wyandots, he said.

“We put almost $50,000 worth of renovations into it, but nobody would help us,” Kemper recalled. They restored a lot of the church to the original, but there was only so much they could do, he added.

He’s a little upset that currently, some people are talking about trying to save the old church. “Where were they then?” he asked.

“There was years and years and years of effort put in to try to attempt to save that church and bring it back to former glory,” Kemper said. “Everybody who came in talked about how beautiful it was and it was just not cost-effective.”

With a small congregation, it would cost too much to restore the church, he added. To sum it up, they couldn’t get any help and they couldn’t sustain it, he said. The cost was overwhelming. Kemper feels the church probably should be torn down, as it is expensive to restore.

However, keeping the church and restoring it could be an addition to the efforts to promote historic tourism in Wyandotte County. It might have become a museum, with exhibits about the early settlers, tours given, and admission charged to help support the building costs.

It was the church where the Conley sisters were members, and they were significant to Wyandotte County history and the defense of the Huron Cemetery against commercial encroachment. There are definitely pre-Civil War-era stories to be told about how passions were so inflamed in early Wyandotte that some of the local churches were burned. If the church could not be restored at its site at 7th and State, perhaps it could be moved to a different site, such as a county park, and become part of a larger historical tourism setting. As we know there are efforts to develop historic sites for tourism in the Quindaro area, it may be a good time to expand that effort to the rest of the community.

The situation with the 7th and State church points up the difficulty of maintaining historic buildings.

While some of the community may feel that this or that group should have restored the building, there is a point where an older building should pass into community responsibility, especially a prominent one. After 100 years or so, the community ought to ask itself how it can help take care of these landmarks.

A better mechanism needs to be set up to help preserve historic buildings in Kansas City, Kansas. Local historic preservation funds should be set aside and kept up for these purposes, to be used with historic preservation grant funds that may be available.

Throughout the nation, historic sites are the backbone of tourism, and it seems that this community could work harder at it so that historic sites, like the 7th and State church, could be a bigger part of tourism efforts here.

To reach Mary Rupert, editor, email maryr@wyandottedaily.com.

See earlier story at http://www.wyandottedaily.com/landmark-kck-church-could-be-torn-down-as-colleges-downtown-campus-moves-ahead/.

Residents urge legislative redistricting committee to keep Wyandotte, Johnson counties together

Wyandotte County residents on Tuesday evening told a legislative redistricting committee they wanted Wyandotte County to stay together with Johnson County in the 3rd Congressional District.

The legislative redistricting listening tour went to Bonner Springs and Stilwell on Tuesday evening to hear comments from residents. It was the second round of redistricting listening tour meetings. Committee members listened to comments by video from Topeka, while residents made comments from their communities.

Connie Brown Collins, a resident of the Welborn area of Kansas City, Kansas, implored the committee to “keep Wyandotte County whole.”

After census results came in, it was found the 3rd District is about 57,816 persons over the ideal population of 734,470, about 7 percent over the ideal, according to Jordan Milholland of the Kansas Legislative Research Department. The 3rd District will have to give the extra population to another district or districts in the state.

Collins, who is with the Voting Rights Network of Kansas, said that western and southern townships in Johnson County could be moved into another congressional district. Currently the 3rd District includes Wyandotte, Johnson and parts of Miami County.

Collins echoed a speaker at the Stilwell location, Amy Carter of Overland Park, who said areas including DeSoto and Louisburg might be moved into another district. The most populous parts of Johnson and Wyandotte counties should be kept together in the 3rd District, while the more rural parts of Johnson County could be moved into another district, Carter suggested.

Also speaking was Dr. Bruce Carter of Overland Park, who said the 3rd District’s diversity needs to be maintained. He noted the district was winnable by either party now. He asked that the voters be allowed to make their decisions and choose their representative; the representative should not be determined by the lines drawn by the legislative committee.

“We voters should be making that decision,” he said.

Collins said Wyandotte and Johnson counties share employment and transportation systems, and as part of the Greater Kansas City area should remain in the same district.

Henry Chamberlain, Bonner Springs, talked about diversity in Wyandotte County, and the difference between rural and urban areas. It would probably be impossible for a representative from rural Kansas to fully understand and represent his interests in an urban area, he said.

Chamberlain told the committee he had expected to be one of the people funding litigation in case the district’s boundary lines were gerrymandered. He urged the committee to keep Wyandotte and Johnson counties together in the 3rd District. He told the committee that they had the ability to avoid delay, litigation and expenditure of public resources, plus there was the opportunity to restore the faith of Kansans in their Legislature.

Alex Overman, who lives in Lenexa and works in Wyandotte County, offered several redistricting maps for the committee. One of them, for example, kept all the cities intact and together, while removing Gardner, DeSoto and Edgerton from the 3rd District.

“If we break up Johnson and Wyandotte counties, someone’s going to be misrepresented,” he said.

Mike Taylor, a retired public relations director for the Unified Government, was representing the Voter Rights Network of Wyandotte County.

He told the committee that Wyandotte and Johnson counties are not only neighbors, they have strong community interests. They share sewer systems, transportation networks, infrastructure networks, and a lot is dependent on federal funding, Taylor said. It’s important to have one federal representative to fight for that funding, he said. Twenty-two mayors in both counties meet on a monthly basis.

Taylor felt that it would be pretty easy to solve the redistricting challenges unless there is an attempt to gerrymander, and “we urge you not to do that.”

After the committee has drawn the maps, Taylor asked it to hold another round of public hearings.

Cassandra Woolworth of Johnson County said the biggest issue was keeping Wyandotte and Johnson counties together.

“We don’t want gerrymandering,” she said. “We don’t want any kind of slanted political view. Aren’t we done with that yet, don’t we already have enough partisan politics.”

She recalled the courts had to decide the issue in 2012. There had been a proposal to put Wyandotte County in with a district in western Kansas.

“I don’t want history to repeat itself,” she said.

“Gerrymandering is cheating,” she said. “We teach our children not to cheat. We can’t show them that cheating is the way to win.”

State Rep. Chris Croft, R-8th Dist., chair of the House redistricting committee, conducted the legislative redistricting listening tour.

State Rep. Tom Burroughs, D-33rd Dist., is the House redistricting committee ranking minority member.

The committee also is still taking written comments at kslegresearch.org.

The listening tour from Bonner Springs and Stilwell is online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8haWh3w7Ts.