Wherever the Strip goes, it leaves a savory aftertaste.

Meaty Leftovers 

Wherever the Strip goes, it leaves a savory aftertaste.

Since the ribeye of local reporters knocked on her door a few weeks ago, Venita Clark says she's become a changed woman.

Clark is one of several folks the Strip interviewed last month for a column about the tacky three-year-old shrine to Precious Doe in Hibbs Park and how unpopular it is with people living nearby ("Precious Moments," May 6).

Clark lives a block away, and like others with whom the Strip spoke, she complained about how the memorial had become an eyesore, a shabby collection of rain-soaked teddy bears hanging on an ugly carport in a corner of the park near the spot where someone discovered a headless girl's body. Long after Precious Doe was laid to rest in a cemetery, the ugly memorial remains. For Clark and some of her neighbors, the mildewy menagerie is less a symbol of an anonymous dead girl than a sign that people obsessed with the case -- who don't live in the neighborhood -- won't let it go.

Clark called last week to say that since she met this meat patty, she's been inspired to get aggressive with city leaders about removing the memorial. "I called everybody I could think of," she says, including Alvin Brooks, the city councilman who had the carport installed in the park. Clark says Brooks has promised to call her back, but she was particularly irked by the reaction she got when she tried to go directly to Mayor Kay Barnes and couldn't get past a female underling.

"She told me the mayor doesn't talk to ordinary people," Clark says. "She told me to write a letter." Infuriated, Clark says she told the mayor's minion that when Emanuel Cleaver was mayor, "he wasn't above talking to regular people."

Clark didn't let the brushoff from Barnes' lackey hold her back. She kept trying different avenues until she found someone who appeared to take her seriously.

Gene Kotlinski is a manager at the city's Parks and Recreation Department, and Clark says he seemed very receptive to her message -- that it was high time the Precious Doe memorial came down. To her surprise, Kotlinski told her that he would convene a meeting with City Council members within two weeks to decide how to replace the makeshift memorial with a more tasteful, permanent marker of some sort. And then, Clark says, Kotlinski said something even more surprising. Whatever the result of the meeting, he'd make sure the current mess was removed within a month.

That was a relief to hear, Clark says, because it would save her and some neighbors from having to execute their alternate plan. "We were going to take it down ourselves and put it in Alvin Brooks' yard," she says. "We want it gone."

Thrilled that this pontificating porterhouse's involvement, however slight, had motivated a citizen to rally such decisive action, the Strip called up Kotlinski to hear the good news for itself.

But the sound of Kotlinski's backpedaling nearly drowned out the telephone connection. OK, maybe it was a bad cell-phone link, but this Strip strained to hear the parks official explain that the meeting he planned to hold might not settle anything.

"Unfortunately it [the temporary memorial] is going to stay until we make the decision of what's going to go in there. I'm not really sure what we'll determine," he said.

"It does keep people thinking about [Precious Doe's death]," Kotlinski added, "but it is kind of an eyesore. Hopefully, within a month, we could see some progress."

But hadn't he made a more definite vow to Clark just minutes earlier?

"I didn't promise her anything," Kotlinski said.

"He did too!" Clark exclaimed to this chuck steak when we related Kotlinski's words.

"What he said was, 'Give me at least a month, and I guarantee we'll have your park cleaned up.'"

Angry, the newly fired-up activist says she's more determined than ever.

"We'll go down there and move it ourselves and take the chance of going to jail. It's our neighborhood."

Alvin Brooks might want to keep an eye on his lawn. Burnt Ends
Since its May 20 column ("How Suite It Is"), the Strip has been corrected by several readers who e-mailed to say that sportswriters do indeed pay a few measly dollars to dive into the generous buffets supplied for the press at sporting events and that some media organizations don't pick up the tab in these tougher economic times. This cud-chewer doesn't remember paying anything for the pregame feasts it has experienced, but whatever. The Strip's point was that sports scribes don't exactly have it rough, particularly at the gleaming new cathedrals that cities are told they must build in order to remain "competitive" with the rest of the country. In making this argument, the Strip took a jibe at Jason Whitlock, the Kansas City Star columnist whose fulminations have been among the paper of record's most breathless expressions of support for the proposed new downtown arena.

On his radio show last week, Whitlock and his partner, Bill Maas, said some kind things about this column (much obliged, fellas) but lambasted the Strip for making snide implications about the Star columnist and his affinity for stadium culinary spreads. (What can we say? It's hard for this quivering cut to resist an easy joke.) Whitlock bragged that he doesn't need free meals at stadiums -- he turns down enough dinner invitations that he wouldn't have to pay for a scrap of food for the next year. Nice to hear he's not missing any meals. (See, there we go again.) But Whitlock said he was mystified about the point of the rest of the Strip's musings.

The Strip can only reiterate, slowly this time: $250 million for an arena built to attract a yearly basketball tournament with three or four days of intense competition sounds like civic-booster overkill. And when millions of dollars of public money are on the line, it would be nice to see a little more caution on the part of our major media organ.


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