Op-Ed – Kansas Web site ‘Kaw and Border’ defends Ben Hodge after false KC Star column

From Kaw and Border.  Re-printed with permission:

Steve Rose, chief mouthpiece for the Dick Bond-wing of Johnson County politics, has largely been off our radar for the past few months. The largest reason is that due to some kind of contractual issue, his column was removed from the front of the Johnson County Sun and with it, his automatic access to tens of thousands of Johnson County residents who received the Sun in their mailboxes or driveways the past 20+ years.

However, although his “Memo” was removed from the front of the declining Johnson County Sun, it has quietly reappeared on the front page of the neighborhood news section of the declining Kansas City Star, on which he has resumed his weekly opining about various issues impacting Kansas. So far, his columns have been pretty harmless, talking about things such as the 1992 school funding formula, supporting broad-based candidates, and buses. He had largely avoided his all-too-common tactic of making one accurate point but then using that point to build up and attack strawmen, usually in the form of some Johnson County conservative(s) or conservative issue he hates.

That is, until this past week, when in his column “They See a Lump of Coal,” he ripped on one of his favorites, Ben Hodge, former JCCC Trustee and State Rep, and James Nelson, both current candidates for the JCCC Board of Trustees. That race involves 9 candidates, the top three of which will win on April 5.

In his column, Rose uses his old tactic of using a basic accurate point – in this case that most county residents see JCCC as a “crown jewel” – and then creating a strawman by saying Hodge and Nelson would be “dangerous to the health of our cherished Johnson County Community College”, implying that both Hodge and Nelson hate JCCC and would like to tear it down. Rose falsely accuses Hodge of calling JCCC a “corrupt institution”, when in fact Hodge has said no such thing – he has been quite critical of individuals running the college – not the institution itself. Hodge’s and Nelson’s point of view is that the college is a cherished institution that is being harmed by poor leadership.

If anything, what is apparent in Rose’s column is that he is apparently wearing rose-colored glasses regarding the current leadership atJCCC, as he doesn’t even address several recent controversies, instead zeroing in on Hodge and Nelson in a series of weak/thin criticisms with little or no substance.

Now, perhaps one thinks Hodge is too harsh in his word choices, communication style, or his criticisms. Perhaps one even agrees with the direction the college is going with its recent string of controversies, which we will get to in a minute. Fine, vote against him if you want to.

But what struck us about Rose’s piece was how weak it was in his critique of Hodge, even hypocritical at times, without addressing the core of Hodge and Nelson’s campaign points regarding the college. Let’s go through the list:

- Rose attacks Hodge for critiquing Terry Calaway, who Rose quoted as saying that Hodge “attacks people who disagree with him”, despite the fact Rose was doing the same thing to Hodge in the column by calling him “dangerous”. How is Rose calling Hodge “dangerous to the health of the community college” anymore harsh tha Hodge callingJCCC leaders “incompetent”? Rose fails to even address why Hodge is so critical of Calaway, not even mentioning the recent dismissal of students and the harsh ruling by the judge who overturned the decision nor the issues involving ODEI, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

- Rose attacks Hodge for his claims regarding the Kansas Open Meetings Act, relying on the fact DA Steve Howe said there was no violation, without even mentioning what Hodge was critical of regarding KOMA and the Board of Trustees. Rose also ignores the fact that he and Howe stood essentially alone in their interpretation of the the Kansas Open Meetings Act – running against opinions on the law issued by the Kansas Attorney General, the editors at the Kansas City Star, the Kansas Press Association, the Kansas Broadcasters Association and the editor at KMBC Channel 9. To refresh, the Board of Trustees introduced a budget in a closed session because a tiny group of items in the budget involved employees; and a majority of the commission also sent a letter critical of Hodge to the newspaper, which would be a technical violation of KOMA given that at some point, a majority of the commission had to come together to agree to sign the letter. Howe is not the be all and end all of opinion on this issue, and in our view, defended the indefensible.

- Rose attacks Hodge for continuing to criticize the college’s use of disgraced Chuck Carlsen’s name on their buildings; Rose calls Hodge “obsessed”. Does Rose think Carlsen’s name should remain? That a “crown jewel” such as JCCC should continue to enshrine the name of a sexual harasser? And, given that this isn’t the first time Rose has gone after Hodge, a relatively minor Johnson County political figure, who exactly is the one who is obsessed with someone?

- Rose says Hodge gives education a low priority based on the absolutely illogical reason that Hodge has “quality education” low on his list of several priorities on his website, a list which includes such items as “economic freedom and lower taxes”, “private sector growth”, “the rule of law”, a “culture of life”, and “property rights”. Putting aside the humorous note that Rose essentially published Hodge’s values – none of which most Johnson Countians would disagree with – it’s worth noting that this portion of Hodge’s website simply addresses several policies he supports – it isn’t specific to the college nor is it referred to as a list given in order of importance . By Rose’s absurd reasoning, Hodge thinks low taxes are more important than life, simply because it was given a lower vertical bullet point.

In attacking Nelson, Rose uses a similar reasoning, saying that Nelson didn’t even address quality education despite the fact that all of his points – academic freedom, administrative accountability, fiscal responsibility and open government – all have an impact on quality education, and ignoring the fact Nelson, elsewhere on his website, discusses the importance of JCCC and without ever, to our knowledge, even talking to Nelson himself. Rose also fails to acknowledge that Nelson is a successful area business owner, attended JCCC, or the fact praises its mission and several areas of its service to the community.

Sadly, the Kansas City Star allowed Rose to print this BS, nor gave it proper editing, because if Rose would do more homework rather than simply spouting off at Hodge, he could actually attempt to refute Hodge and Nelson’s detailed critiques with detailed critiques of his own. Or, the Star could have forced Rose to address the core of why Hodge, Nelson, and other candidates (including Platt, Schroeder, and others) who have also questioned the current direction of college leadership. As noted earlier, Rose seems to be focusing on personality rather than substance.

Let’s look at several of the issues Rose ignores:

- The college recently spent $126,000 on rebranding, a decision which was questioned by not only Hodge and Nelson, but the college’s own student newspaper, the Campus Ledger, and – get this – the Johnson County Sun, Rose’s old stomping ground.

The Ledger said: “…a re-branding project as a mainly cosmetic change would be hard to pass the “mission critical only” test Calawaydescribed to the board during last month’s meeting as the criteria for what gets cut in fiscal 2011 and what does not.”

The Sun said: “A recent decision by the Johnson County Community College trustees tarnished the image of JCCC, an institution that takes its image seriously.”

Rose doesn’t mention this. Does the Sun also see the college as a lump of coal?

- The college recently spent a great deal of money on unnecessary legal fees due to its illegal dismissal of four students who took a photograph with a placenta. The legal fees were meant to resist a lawsuit by one of the expelled students, who were subsequently reinstated. Rose doesn’t talk about this, nor the fact the judge was sharply critical of the college (note, link is from Hodge’s site, where he published the judge’s ruling), nor the fact the student newspaper was critical of the college.

- The college has had some significant controversy regarding it’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, or ODEI, which by the title you can tell is a program to ensure extreme liberal causes are given a full hearing while conservative opinions are treated as hostile and against diversity and inclusion.

The point here is that Johnson County Community College IS A CROWN JEWEL. But that does not mean that its leaders (Calaway) and caretakers (Trustees) are immune from criticism and it does not mean that the college shouldn’t perhaps reform some of its ways – so it REMAINS a crown jewel.

The fact is that several of the Board of Trustees are card-carrying members of the political left of Johnson County, including liberal Republican Stephanie Sharp and Democrat Don Weiss, both whom are nice people but both come from the Mainstream Coalition wing of Johnson County politics. Candidate Greg Musil, whose endorsement list, with a few exceptions, is a who’s who of Steve Rose’s Christmas Card list, is of the same ilk.

What’s unfortunate in the case of Rose’s column is that he clearly values Johnson County Community College. We are sure he does, as he has always higlighted it, and that is not without merit. However, given that passion he has for JCCC, it seems Rose would have been better off, rather than mocking and attacking Hodge and Nelson, using his precious column space perhaps addressing some of the issues that are going a long way, in a very short period of time, towards tarnishing the “crown jewel” we all value so dearly, and perhaps even reserved some criticism for some of the current leadership.

If one doesn’t like Hodge’s word choices or style, that’s perfectly fine. Welcome to politics in America.  But no one can deny that Hodge, starting in 2009 with the KOMA case, began blowing the whistle on what he perceived as, to put it in a more politically-correct tone, a mindset and a culture at the college leadership which was troubling. He began to challenge, perhaps if even a bit too aggressively, the leaders at JCCC, criticisms that now seem to have had some validity. If one disagrees with Hodge’s assessments, that’s fine, but area residents and Rose readers would be wise to know he’s not the only one who has observed the troubling pattern at the college.

In fact, given the recent string of controversies, none of which Hodge had anything to do with causing, one might want to take a look at what is going on at the “crown jewel” and whether the current path taken by its leaders is one that will bring long term health to the college.

Moreover, on April 5, voters want to think twice before rewarding Trustees Jon Stewart and Don Weiss with another four years, and perhaps consider bringing two or three new voices to a board in dire need of, in the spirit of ODEI, some “diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

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