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"They thought that perhaps we would occupy the basement area," Hawley recalls. "We just didn't want to be in the basement, and it never got past just casual conversation. Probably they didn't see that our presence there was going to be a great benefit."
Now, Hawley says, he doubts that they'd fit in at Union Station. "My feeling is that the entrepreneurial spirit is completely void in that environment." But that's all the more reason to sign him up fast.
Board replacement for Turner White: Bob Hawley.
Then there's the chairwoman of the board, Mary Bloch. A fine lady, we're sure, who's put in a lot of time on other civic boards and founded important area organizations. At last week's hearings, I asked her how the board members got their jobs. "We're self-selecting," she said. When it's time for new members, the current members put forth the names of other civic leaders, replacing bankers with bankers, marketing pros with marketing pros. "You look for people with experience in certain areas, and their civic connections, and what makes a good board," she said.
In other words, the same clique of monotonous potentates gets recycled in and out of decision-making roles all over town. When it comes to Union Station, though, people like Brisbane, Kansas City Southern Chairman Michael Haverty, retired Kansas City Power & Light chief Dru Jennings and Federal Reserve Bank President Tom Hoenig are clearly best left to running their stodgy newspapers, railroads and banks.
Regime change begins at the top, so we nominate Anita Dixon to replace Mary Bloch. Last time we saw Dixon, she was presiding over 700 rowdy but extremely well-dressed African-American baby boomers at the $10,000 two-step competition at the Park Place Hotel last December ("Strictly Basement," December 18). She's had experience with Union Station, too.
"Almost ten years ago, when they were going through all that hoopla, I went to one of them open-forum things," she recalls. "I said, 'OK, since you've insisted on being the stupidest thing in the world -- a science museum -- why don't you incorporate a little more, like what George Washington Carver did for the state of Missouri? He was born and died in Missouri, and all the modern inventions from peanut butter to linoleum he donated to the United States in the name of his people. It was a jewel of scientific wonder, and y'all don't want to hear anything about it.' I got shot out of the water."
Instead, Dixon observes astutely, "they started doing stupider and stupider things. Now we're here again."
It's damned depressing. But that's why we need some true entertainers on the new board, too. So to replace former KCPL head Jennings and Olathe Mayor Michael Copeland, I nominate Gary Huggins of the Chucky Lou AV Club and Rita Brinkerhoff of the Burly-Q Girly Crew. Brinkerhoff has been integral to reviving Kansas City's burlesque scene, while Huggins' AV Club was a raucous midnight movie series. When he's not working his day job at the Kansas City Public Library, Huggins also occasionally performs as the Amazing Dr. Incredible, doing feats of wonder and magic.
"In a way, one almost wants to keep it the way it is," Huggins says gloomily. "It's a perfect monument to Kansas City's ineptitude and corruption and failure." It is an intriguing idea, but he has other ideas, ones more consistent with Union Station's past.