News and notes from around town:
• Folks who end up in the Douglas County Jail probably already have a lot on their minds. They may end up with one more thing to worry about: Who will see their name and mug shot in a new publication that will be for sale in convenience stores around town? Word is that a publication called “Busted” that currently is sold in the Kansas City market will expand into the Lawrence and Topeka markets in the next couple of weeks. The publication basically just lists the name, offense and mug shot of everybody who has been arrested in the last week. It also will list all registered sex offenders in the area and their last known addresses. It sells for $1.
Randy Miller, the former Kansas City disc jockey is the PR guy for the venture. He told me the company has publications in about 14 markets across the country. It has been in Kansas City for about five months.
“Part of this is just to feed people’s fascination,” said Miller, who now operates advertising agency. “A lot of time when people read the paper, the first thing they go to is the police blotter to see if they know anyone. That’s a big part of this.”
I checked in with Sgt. Steve Lewis of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office about the publication. He said he hasn’t yet been contacted by the company, but he said getting mug shots of everyone arrested in Douglas County won’t be an easy chore for the publication. Unlike some departments, the sheriff’s office does not put all “booking photos” on its website. It does put its jail log online. Lewis said the company will have to make a request under the Kansas Open Records Act for each photo. Most times the act does allow for the photo to be released, but there are occasions where the department can legally withhold release of the photo. Lewis said it is important that each mug shot request be reviewed individually.
“I’m not in a position to make a blanket release of booking photos,” Lewis said.
Lewis said the department does have the legal ability to charge a fee for releasing the photos, if the request requires significant staff work.
Stay tuned — and stay out of jail.
• It certainly was a sand through the hourglass type of event Wednesday night at the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission. Planners for three and a half hours debated a proposal to allow a sand pit operation on about 195 acres at 2102 N. 1500 Road, which is the site of an old golf course just north of Eudora. After nearly four hours of debate, Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioners did what they sometimes do with tough issues: They deferred it. They’ll go through the exercise again in another 60 to 90 days. Yes, like sand through an hourglass, these are the days of my life.
The issue does appear to be a ticklish one, though. The proposed site is in a critical area for two pieces of important infrastructure. Right near the site are the water wells that the city of Eudora uses to supply its approximately 6,000 residents. Near the site also is Eudora’s Kaw River bridge, a key crossing for all of eastern Douglas County. City of Eudora planners are concerned that the sand pit operations may damage both pieces of infrastructure.
There’s concern that all the digging required to do sand pit mining may damage the water table that supplies the city of Eudora’s wells. A study commissioned by the applicant — Kaw Valley Companies — found the operations won’t affect the well field. A study commissioned by the city of Eudora was inconclusive. That concerned planners.
Also, the city of Eudora expressed concern that all the digging could cause the river to shift course in a way that would threaten the abutments to the nearby Kansas River bridge. Kaw Valley representatives noted the Corps of Engineers will study that possibility during its permitting process for the plant. That process hasn’t yet begun.
Probably one of the more interesting parts of the meeting was listening to people talk about what happened in 1993 when a 100-year flood hit the area. Longtime farmer John Pendleton told the commission how he lost 20 acres of ground pretty much in a single day because the river decided to shift course.
The Eudora Planning Commission met in joint session with the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission, since the site is less than a half-mile outside the Eudora city limits. The Eudora Planning Commission unanimously voted to recommend denial of the project. Its recommendation will be forwarded to the Douglas County Commission, which will make the final decision on the project.
But that won’t happen until Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioners make their recommendation. Some planning commissioners noted there’s a real balancing act here. There are all the above concerns, but there’s also the fact that sand is important. It is a key component in a lot of construction and manufacturing processes. Many existing sand quarrying operations are starting to run out of material, and there’s more and more pressure to no longer dredge the Kansas River for sand. It seems Douglas County has good potential for the sand pit type of operations. This is the second request in a year for a sand pit. The other one — which was near Midland Junction north of North Lawrence — was rejected for a whole other set of reasons.
“We find reasons to say no to these requests,” said Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commissioner Brad Finkeldei. “But I think we do ultimately need to find a place where this will work.”
• As we reported, planning commissioners also recommended approval of a one-year extension of the shelter’s operating permit for 10th and Kentucky streets. Shelter director Loring Henderson said he still hopes to be out of that location within a year, but there are lot of questions about the shelter’s situation following a Douglas County District Court ruling that dampened its plans to move to a site near the county jail.
I chatted with Henderson afterward. It sure appears the site by the jail — a vacant warehouse — is off the table, but Henderson would not confirm to me that the shelter has canceled its contract to purchase the property. (The judge did not rule that the shelter couldn’t locate at the site. Instead she declined to affirm that it could, and threw the case out for technical reasons.)
A big question is whether a $540,000 grant from the Mabee Foundation is now in jeopardy because of the shelter’s legal setback. Henderson said the shelter still has the grant, and that he has confirmed that the grant is not tied to that specific location. But the grant has a matching component to it. According to a letter from the Mabee Foundation — which is in the court file — the shelter needs to raise about another $1.2 million by Oct. 13 in order to keep the $540,000 grant. That’s in addition to the $1.7 million that the shelter already has, including the Mabee grant.
Henderson said he’s still feeling good about the fundraising prospects, especially since the shelter hasn’t yet made a big push with the general public. But, he conceded it is difficult to do much active fundraising without an identified site.
How quickly the shelter can find a site and get one approved is a real question. If the shelter were to find a site tomorrow (which it probably won’t) and submit it to the city for planning review, the earliest it would be heard by the Planning Commission would be May 23. Then it still would have to get approval by the City Commission, meaning the earliest that would happen would be sometime in June. All that assumes everything goes perfectly with this project, and that planning commissioners and city commissioners only need to hear the issue once. That seems unlikely for a homeless shelter proposal.
Of course, the Mabee Foundation is a private organization. If it wants to give the shelter more time to raise its money, it probably can do that. Whether it wants to or not, who knows.
All this leads me to wonder — and this truly is just me wondering — whether the City Commission will become more involved in trying to find a site for the shelter. The city does own a significant amount of land. In the past there have been discussions about whether any of that land would be suitable for a shelter, but those discussions never got very far.