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Toy expert comes to town to tell you about the treasures in your attic; an update on old dispute involving large, unpaid city water bills


Someday we will all take our eclipse glasses to the Antiques Roadshow. We will pull them off the shelf, right next to our dehydrated Y2K meals, and find out they are worth so much that we can comfortably retire in a cardboard box. But until that time, you will have to find another way to turn old attic items into cash, like at a special Lawrence toy show today and Wednesday.

A fellow by the name of Joel Magee — a.k.a. America’s Toy Scout — is hosting a two-day event at the DoubleTree by Hilton — the former Holidome — where he will appraise and possibly buy old toys of all different sorts.

“There is no charge for it,” Magee said. “We just want people to dig out their old toys from their closets and attics. I would love to see them.”

Magee makes his money by buying the toys, restoring them, and selling them to collectors.

It is something he’s been doing for about 30 years now, ever since he saw an old G.I. Joe lunchbox at a flea market in Sioux City, Iowa. That rekindled his passion for toys. He then found old photos of him at Christmas with his toys. He decided to try to buy those toys that were shown in the photos.

“Ever since that day I was on a mission to acquire my childhood again,” Magee told me. “Then, everybody started asking me to look for this or look for that.”

Soon, Magee realized he could make a business out of it. He does about 25 to 30 shows a year, and he decided to add Lawrence to his list because he’s found Midwest communities are usually great toy towns.

“The reason toys are so much bigger here is because of Old Man Winter,” he said. “When it got too cold to go outside, parents would buy toys to keep the kids quiet during the day. In California and Texas, they just kicked them outside.”

Magee isn’t sure how many folks will show up in Lawrence. A recent show in Kansas City attracted several hundred people. As far as what Magee is looking for, he encourages people to bring any toy that is from the 1980s or older. But he said some of his favorites are superhero comic books, Hot Wheels cars, and Star Wars toys. If you really want to get his attention, though, bring him a Major Matt Mason doll, which in case you have forgotten, was a 1960s spaceman.

“I always imagined myself as Major Matt,” Magee said.

In addition to the appraisal services, the show also will include an exhibit of several of Magee’s top collectible items, including a Batman No. 1 comic book from 1940.

Magee said the toy business has been pretty good of late. He said popular television shows like American Pickers and Pawn Stars just frequently enough feature a toy that it helps keep the public’s interest in toy collecting heightened. Magee, though, hopes to build upon that idea. He said he’s currently working on a pilot episode for a show that focuses on toy collecting. Filming is underway — he was recently in Las Vegas to film with some of the cast of Pawn Stars — and he’s working to convince The History Channel to pick up the program.

The two day Lawrence show runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the DoubleTree, 200 McDonald Drive.

In other news and notes from around town:

• After last night’s deluge, water may be on your mind. There is certainly a lot of it in my basement. But some of you have a different type of water question. I had a reader recently ask whatever became of a dispute between the city of Lawrence and its two country clubs over unpaid water bills.

If you remember, the Journal-World in 2012 reported on a dispute between the city, Lawrence Country Club and Alvamar Country Club. The city contended back then that it unintentionally had underbilled the two golf courses for city water by about $325,000 over the years. Both country clubs, though, disputed the city’s math.

The Journal-World followed up on the issue a few months later and found that that city had agreed to adjust their amount downward by $65,000; however, the two golf courses had not yet agreed to pay. There was some optimism at that time that a deal would soon be struck.

Some of that optimism, it now appears, was misplaced. I inquired about the issue with city officials several weeks ago. After they did some digging — many of the people who directly were dealing with the billing issue have since left the city — they reported back. City spokesman Porter Arneill said city records indicate the Lawrence Country Club paid $27,000 over the course of about two years to resolve the issue. The city originally had been asking for $85,000, and then reduced that amount to $60,000. I got no word about why the city ultimately decided to settle for $27,000.

However, that does appear to be quite a bit more than the city received from Alvamar Country Club. Arneill said in a statement that “our records appear to indicate that negotiations between Alvamar Golf Course and the city did not result in an agreement.” However, the city did find an accounting entry that shows about $149,000 in water charges were written off — i.e. not required to be paid — from Alvamar’s account in March 2014. The city originally was seeking $240,000 from Alvamar and then adjusted the amount down to $200,000.

I received no word on why the city didn’t try to collect the unpaid amount through legal means.

The underbilling issue certainly did create a lot of questions. We reported in 2012 that the city believed the problem began when the city switched the golf courses’ water meters from manually read meters to meters that are read remotely with equipment that monitors radio waves that emanate from the meter. The city believed a coding issue in the city’s billing system caused a digit to be dropped from the water totals measured by the meters.

Instead of reading 130,000 gallons, for example, it might show 13,000 gallons, a city official told the newspaper at the time. That seems like a pretty serious issue, but city officials at the time said they believed only the two golf courses experienced the foul-up, even though there were a handful of other remotely read meters.

I’ve asked the city to reconfirm that it didn’t find any other similar issues with other water users.

Although the issue is now about five years old, it still has some relevance today. City water users are always interested in making sure other users pay their fair shares, especially as water rates continue to increase in the city. Plus, the city is currently in discussions to add remotely read water meters on a large scale across the city.

I’ll let you know if I hear any additional information from the city.


David Holroyd 8 months ago

The city is lazy or trying to hide something.

It is simple. It the bill is not paid SHUT OFF THE WATER...it is done at each and every household.

And further more...why does it take so long to resolve the problem...? The city has a legal department....

Is this "new article" just some grandstanding by Mr. Markus OR is it another way to make a case for the installation of new water meters and thus another raise to the customers.

It STINKS and the smell is from city hall for inefficiency.

GET it all or take what your can get and move on! 5 years...a joke!!

Where is the roof on the mausoleum....the promise of that roof is a joke and deceptive. Tonii Wheeler said they had $10,000 to put toward it...when? There is no committment from anyone about the issue...

A good Mayor would bring the issue forward and follow up asap..to show CREDIBILITY something the commission lacks.

And the billing issue should have been resoved 5 years ago. Who is reponsbile for billing and names please..or is this another example of "unnamed staff"...

Rosemary Morris 8 months ago

And this from the man who doesn't pay his property taxes.

Michael Kort 8 months ago

So, who set up the cities coding for their remotely read meters ?

If it was a private vendor are they bonded to cover the cost of their screw up of the unrecorded digit ? If not .....why not ?

There used to be a law in Mo. that water meters located in a home's basement that had a wired reader outside on the side of the house had to be read by law at the meter itself in the basement every 6 months ( these were not radio broadcasting meters ) .

Since i assume that these are large meters in pits that i assume go to outdoor golf course sprinkler systems they should be tamper proof installations . Ditto if they broadcast to fixed remote on a pole locations or if they are drive by reads . Tamper proof total systems are good . Maybe a billing program that throws up a flag when the water use suddenly mostly disappears for no good reason ( such as a service that has been turned off at the cities valve on a commercial account.)..... is needed .

You've got to be kidding me that the person paying these golf course water bills every month did not notice the low $ amount bills that they were getting from the utilities dept .

Did they expect that nobody would ever figure out that something was delivered unbilled that would never be billed........that takes confidence . .

Michael Kort 8 months ago

What I meant to say above was that when you have a large commercial user who HAS NOT BEEN TURNED OFF AT THE CITIES FIRST CONTROLING VALVE TO THEIR SERVICE LINE and the water use suddenly drops ( that is not just a seasonal watering drop ) then some simple billing program should alert the city that something is up .

I get it that rental tenants in college might leave for the summer or that snow birds might turn on the alarm system and leave town in the winter .

We are talking big bills that just disappeared off anyone's radar from companies that don't just disappear ?

Bob Smith 8 months ago

Based on the comments I see here, lots of people in Lawrence have toys in their attics.

Sarah St. John 8 months ago

"A fellow by the name of Joel Magee [...] is hosting a two-day event [...[ where he will appraise and possibly buy old toys of all different sorts.... Magee makes his money by buying the toys, restoring them, and selling them to collectors."

One important thing I learned when attending the Antiques Roadshow this summer -- an ethical appraiser will not appraise, and then offer to buy, your items. It is a conflict of interest. The appraisers at the Antiques Roadshow are not permitted to offer to buy participants' items. (If the participant wants to contact the appraiser later on, after the show, that's their prerogative. But by no means should the appraiser initiate the contact.)

So now I'm wondering about the professional ethics of this appraiser that is visiting Lawrence.

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