Sam Zeff | KCUR

Sam Zeff

Metro Reporter

Sam grew up in Overland Park and was educated at the University of Kansas. After working in Philadelphia, Minneapolis and St. Louis Sam just wanted to come home. He came to work at KCUR in 2014. Sam has a national news and documentary Emmy for an investigation into the federal Bureau of Prisons and how it puts unescorted inmates on Grayhound and Trailways buses to move them to different prisons. Sam has one son who spent much of his early life in newsrooms so he is both curious and a damn fine storyteller. Sam is also fabulous in the kitchen.

Ways to Connect

Jackson County Executive Frank White Thursday blasted the audit of the COMBAT anti-crime tax commissioned by the prosecutor's office. 

File photo by Elle Moxley / KCUR 89.3

Over the last three years, millions of dollars generated by COMBAT, the anti-drug and anti-violence sales tax in Jackson County, has been spent with little or no oversight, according to a new audit.

The COMBAT sales tax was approved by voters in 1989, and it has recently generated more than $20 million a year. Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker commissioned the audit after she took over the agency in 2018.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Most Americans believe climate change is a serious problem, according to a CBS poll  released over the weekend. 

But few solutions seem to be coming from Washington, DC, or the statehouses in Topeka, Kansas, or Jefferson City, Missouri. So, local officials are trying to step up.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

The Kansas City Zoo billed it as a big announcement—a remodeled home for its seven elephants—but it wasn't the huge announcement the zoo was hoping to make.

The zoo will spend $10 million improving the elephant exhibit. “The best way to do it is to just tear it all out and start from scratch,” said Randy Wisthoff, director of the zoo.

The renovations will make the pool easier for the animals to enter, add shade and make the ground a little softer by adding sand. Wisthoff says the current exhibit was good for the elephants but not great.

File photo / Kansas News Service

Kansas City has more days with a high heat index than it did a few decades ago, and that could make outdoor sports and exercise more dangerous.

Extreme heat events are on the rise across the United States due to climate change. That is putting athletes, especially young athletes, at risk, according to a report released Wednesday from Climate Central, based at Princeton University.

KU Athletcis

The lawsuit filed against Kansas Athletics by former head football coach David Beaty can move forward, a federal district court judge ruled Thursday afternoon.

KU moved to have the suit dismissed, but it was apparent from the very start of the hearing in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kansas, that the judge was disinclined to agree with the university's arguments. "My questions will be pointed," Senior Judge Kathyrn Vratil said as soon as the KU lawyer stood up.

The Atkins-Ingram family

What began as the tragic death of a young football player at Garden City Community College in western Kansas is now a matter for the United States Congress.

The bill filed Friday in the U.S. House would create a commission to prevent "exertional heatstroke deaths among high school and collegiate athletes"— the cause of death for 19-year-old Braeden Bradforth.

Atkins-Ingram family

One year ago a 19-year-old football player from New Jersey arrived in western Kansas to start his dream of playing in the pros. But after just one practice Braeden Bradforth was dead of exertional heatstroke, leaving his family devastated and Garden City Community College (GCCC) to explain how it happened.

“It's like nobody wasn't looking out for him,” said Joanne Atkins-Ingram, Bradforth's mother.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

The Jackson County Board of Equalization (BOE) will decide Tuesday whether to yet again extend the deadline for property owners to appeal their reassessments.

As of Friday, some 9,500 appeals had been filed with the BOE and staff expected hundreds more before the deadline at close of business Monday.

Segment 1: Orchestra's executive director stepping down after 16 years

Frank Byrnes has kept the Kansas City Symphony financially sound, oversaw its move to Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center and maintained a balanced repertoire between classic and modern composers. Byrne spoke to what he liked most about the job, why he's retiring now and how all the best things in his life trace back to Hawaii.

Segment 1: Northeast News celebrates 21 years with current publishers

Northeast News has been providing Kansas City with local journalism for more than 90 years. In that span, it has developed a website, a podcast and worked with four owners. This year the paper is celebrating 21 years of publishing with owners Michael Bushnell and Christine Adams. 

Segment 1: Missouri's new rules on bond authorizes judges to look for alternatives to cash bail or confinement.

Segment 1: Jackson County reassessment disrupting more than property values

Though the Jackson County reassessment mess has been about market price, it is the people who own the homes and businesses who are most deeply affected. Three Jackson County residents discussed how their neighborhoods have reacted and the real-life implications for them and their neighbors should the new valuations stand. 

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

The fight over the Jackson County reassessment mess is dragging on and becoming even more contentious as critics alleged the assessment discriminated against poorer areas.

The county Board of Equalization (BOE) on Thursday had a plan on its agenda that would throw out the assessment and cap property value increases at no more than 14 percent.

Sam Zeff

In a move that caught the Jackson County Board of Equalization (BOE) off guard, one member proposed Monday that the entire reassessment should be tossed out.

“It’s essentially a do-over,” said Preston Smith who represents Blue Springs schools on the BOE.

Under Smith's plan any property whose market value increased by more than 200 percent would see a hike in valuation of 14 percent.

If the property jumped 100 percent to 200 percent, the valuation would increase 13 percent.

Segment 1: American patriotism through the years

Some things never change, like the American need to blow things up on Independence Day. Not as predictable is our collective definition of patriotism. The concept has sustained the country's 243 years, but does it mean the same thing today as it did during the 1770s, 1870s or 1970s?

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Jackson County property owners may have more time to appeal their valuations as the reassessment mess in the county rolls on with no solution in sight.

At the urging of a half dozen county legislators, the Board of Equalization (BOE) at its meeting Wednesday decided to consider extending the appeals deadline past Monday, July 8.

Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3

Members of the Jackson County Legislature on Friday unanimously called on the county executive to discard all recently issued property reassessments.

It was the newest move in an ongoing controversy surrounding Jackson County's reassessment of the 300,000 parcels of land in the county.

"It's become clear there are numerous grave errors in the 2019 reassessment values," legislators wrote in a statement to County Executive Frank White on Friday afternoon. They said White should "provide a resolution to this situation" although no specifics actions were suggested.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

There are now 22,000 informal appeals related to the growing reassessment mess in Jackson County.

The Jackson County Board of Equalization (BOE), which decides formal appeals of property valuations, is now bracing to hear the cases from people who believe their property was overvalued in the recent reassessment.

"Twenty thousand cases is overwhelming," board vice chair Marilyn Shapiro said at a BOE meeting Thursday in Independence.

Sam Zeff

Jackson County says the reassessment of 15,000 pieces of property are now being disputed."We're now looking at the entire Westside," said Gail McCann Beatty, the county's director of assessment. 

On Tuesday, the county clarified its plans for the neighborhood.

“It is important that everyone know that no area of the county is getting a ‘redo,’” Jackson County spokesperson Marshanna Hester said in a statement. She noted the county was reviewing some residential properties with adjoining vacant lots, which are mainly situated in the city’s urban core, including the Westside.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

It’s 4:30 on a Saturday afternoon, and officers Kelsey Wingate and Uriel Ojeda from the Kansas City Police Department's Central Patrol Division are already behind.

“We’re starting our shift with all these calls waiting for officer response," Ojeda says as he settles in behind the wheel and turns on the laptop.

Almost a dozen calls for service pop up. "That’s very common for us," says Wingate.

Upsplash

Like most big criminal cases, the odometer fraud ring that Missouri Highway Patrol Cpl. Nate Bradley recently busted started with one victim.

"A gentleman came to my shop here in Lee's Summit and he said, 'Hey, I bought this car, and I think I got swindled,'" Bradley recalls. "So I started looking into it and sure enough, he got swindled."

Over a five-year investigation, Bradley eventually uncovered 48 victims of a rollback scheme around Kansas City, according to a grand jury indictment in a case that was recently unsealed.

The Atkins-Ingram family

Garden City Community College Trustees voted Tuesday to spend $100,000 on an independent investigation into the exertional heatstroke death of a football player last August.

The family and friends of 19-year-old Braeden Bradforth from Neptune, New Jersey, have been calling for an independent probe since the teen died after a conditioning practice.

Raymore Police Department

A man who was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison and ordered to pay $11 million in restitution for a wide-ranging mortgage fraud scheme, is back in jail.

Brent Barber, 54, was arrested by U.S. Marshalls when he reported to his parole officer at the downtown federal courthouse Thursday.

In his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lujana Counts, Barber wore a blue sweatshirt and high top sneakers. The one-time millionaire, who lived on a Loch Lloyd golf course, asked Counts for a free, court-appointed lawyer. 

City of Shawnee

Last week, ballots started arriving in Shawnee mailboxes, asking voters to decide on a $38 million bond issue to build a new community center with a pool and fitness center in the city's growing western end.

Joanne Atkins-Ingram

Garden City Community College has broken its silence and released a summary of an internal investigation into the death of a New Jersey football player after a practice in August 2018.

Braeden Bradforth died of exertional heat stroke, according to an autopsy, two days after arriving in Garden City from his home in Neptune, New Jersey. Former GCCC head coach Jeff Sims initially said the 19-year-old died from a blood clot.

Hutchinson Community College

Without fanfare, Kansas junior colleges have reinstated a cap on how many out-of-state scholarships they can offer in football.

Removing the cap was denounced by high school coaches and athletic directors around the state when the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference (KJCCC) voted unanimously in 2015 to allow football and basketball programs to have as many out-of-state scholarship athletes as they wanted.

Rebecca Hange / KCUR 89.3

There is a chance that there might be two new jails in Jackson County in the next few years — one for the county and one for Kansas City.

On June 25, the city will need to house its inmates and detainees somewhere else besides the downtown Jackson County jail. Last year the county ended its contract with the city, saying Kansas City needed to double the amount it paid Jackson County.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

It has been eight months since 19-year-old Braeden Bradforth collapsed and died after a football workout at Garden City Community College (GCCC).

Since then, the college has said little about the teen's death from exertional heat stroke after a grueling practice.

But that wall of silence may be breaking. "Kansas, can you hear me now?" the family's lawyer Jill Greene asked during a town hall meeting Thursday night at Friendship Baptist Church in Asbury Park, New Jersey. "Maybe we have a bad connection. We need to fix that."

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

There are only seven members of the Kansas City Police who patrol on horseback, but at the police board meeting on Tuesday, they were the most celebrated cops on the KCPD.

“I patrolled the same neighborhoods for many years," retired mounted officer Aaron Shillcutt told the board. In a patrol car, he said,  people run inside. "You change your uniform a little bit and you start riding a horse and everybody wants to talk to you.”

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