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Archive for Sunday, September 20, 1998

NET

September 20, 1998

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Frustrations have made their way to a Kansas Highway Patrol Web site, where Col. Lonnie McCollum is the target of repeated ridicule.

That some Kansas state troopers are upset over working conditions and pay isn't new. But what is new is that their gripes are being aired on the Internet, along with harsh criticism of the patrol's superintendent.

Nobody has figured out who maintains the Web site where Col. Lonnie McCollum is called ``Loonie'' and his leadership questioned. And nobody has claimed responsibility.

``We find it particularly offensive. All the Internet site does is distract from the real issues,'' said Steve Kearney, executive director of the Kansas State Troopers Assn.

With about 315 members, the association represents rank-and-file troopers. It has been locked in contract talks with patrol management for months.

At one time, a Web site titled Latest News From the Kansas Highway Patrol included links to photos of nude women. But those links were removed after The Topeka Capital-Journal wrote about them. One woman was falsely identified as first lady Linda Graves and another as McCollum's wife, Terri.

``It was just garbage,'' said Secretary of Administration Dan Stanley, who saw a printout of the bogus Linda.

McCollum, who oversees 416 troopers, 50 Capitol Police officers and 150 motor carrier officers, says he can handle the criticism -- but derogatory comments about his wife and fellow officers upset him.

``Whatever their personal frustration, it is with me. They should leave the innocent people out of it,'' McCollum said. ``When they do that to my wife, I take that personally.''

Contract disputes

Contract talks have been under way for more than a year but have reached impasse. A major sticking point is the association's insistence on including binding arbitration to resolve disputes. Stanley, who opposes that, eventually will make a recommendation to Gov. Bill Graves on whether to accept an agreement.

``All these guys are asking for is better working conditions. I think what the citizens need to know is members of the association are proud to be troopers and are doing their jobs in spite of all this,'' Kearney said.

Several years ago, troopers lost a federal lawsuit over being denied overtime until after 86 hours in a two-week period. In 1995, troopers agreed to cut the number of annual days off by 13, believing it would be restored, which hasn't happened.

``What you've got is a fullblown, take-it-to-the-wall labor dispute,'' McCollum said. ``It simply comes down to what I feel are good business practices for the highway patrol. The union feels like I am shortchanging them.''

Meanwhile, those on both sides of the bargaining table await an audit due to be made public on Wednesday by the Legislative Division of Post Audit, which began an investigation earlier this year at lawmakers' behest.

Among other things, auditors looked at the patrol's salaries and benefits, work schedules, staffing levels, turnover rate and other personnel matters.

Frustrations have made their way to the Web site where McCollum is the target of repeated ridicule. For instance, one headline reads: Service, Courtesy, Kidney -- an apparent reference to McCollum donating a kidney this summer to Topeka lobbyist Pete McGill.

Beneath the headline: ``We have determined that it is best to stay out of this controversial subject. All the transplant kudos to whomever. Perhaps Pete should keep on smoking and a lung might be next. Can you live with just one lung?''

McCollum said his reason for donating the lifesaving kidney is ``extremely personal and known only to me.'' He said the comments ``went beyond good taste.''

Uncertain origin

The superintendent said he doesn't know who wrote the material for the Web sites, and didn't know if it involved troopers, state work time or state equipment.

``I think it's a person who wants to inflict any injury any way they can and they no conscience about it,'' he said.

There is no real beginning point on the Internet since all Web sites, in theory, can be joined in one huge circle of links. But as a starting point, there is an unofficial Kansas Highway Patrol page complete with the patrol's emblem. That site includes a link to the Latest News location, which also can be accessed directly.

The unofficial patrol page was started in 1995 by David Hornbaker, patrol superintendent in 1980-83. But Hornbaker said he hasn't operated the site since he retired in 1996 and the Latest News site he had included happenings within the patrol.

``After I retired, the password was changed and I couldn't get into it,'' Hornbaker said. ``I don't appreciate them taking the site.''

Asked if he knew the author of the critical commentary, he said, ``I can guess, but it is conjecture on my part.''

The Latest News site is a collection of inside jokes, complaints and comments about McCollum who is dubbed ``Loonie McCollum.''

``As for calling me Loonie, I have considered myself to be that. I go after things hard. They can say what they want about me personally, but the innocent people they are dragging into this ... ,'' McCollum said, not finishing his thought.

On the Latest News site, some ranking officers were characterized as ``KHP Weasels.''

From Latest News, there's a link to the Latest Top Ten List -- ``The top 10 reasons Loonie McCollum is still the superintendent of the Kansas Highway Patrol.''

Earlier this month, the list ranged from Reason No. 10: ``If anyone says `no' or disagrees with him `They are outta here.''' to Reason No. 1: ``Nobody in State service is dumber than Loonie now.''

The Latest News Website is: http://members.xoom.com/khp/

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