A bar manager gives politics a shot.

Rock the Vote 

A bar manager gives politics a shot.

Kansas City rock star Shaun Hamontree, the singer for American Catastrophe, passes through the metal detector at the downtown Jackson County Courthouse.

In his beat-up leather jacket, Hamontree looks out of place in this dingy marble rotunda. But he's here to get a copy of his personal property-tax records, the same kind of mundane business that requires many of us to make an occasional slog to the courthouse. And he runs into another man who seems out of place: Stan Henry, the manager of the Hurricane.

Anyone who has spent time in Westport bars during the past 18 years probably recognizes him and has probably had a conversation with him, because Henry likes to talk.

He especially likes to talk politics. There's a big difference between running your mouth and running for office, but on March 28, Henry filed for the 4th District seat in the Jackson County Legislature.

I'd always figured Henry would take a shot at City Hall instead. But Henry was disgusted when county legislators Bob Stringfield and Dan Tarwater ended up in a slugfest after a tense meeting back on January 30 — The Kansas City Star said they "pummeled each other."

Plenty of other folks grew disgusted with county politics during the fear-fueled Save Our Stadiums campaign to get county taxpayers to bend over for the Chiefs, the Royals and the county officials who'd pussed-out on lease agreements with the teams.

Still, when Henry asked people in his Waldo neighborhood who represented them in the Jackson County Legislature, hardly anyone knew.

"That was alarming," Henry says. "This county has a $260 billion budget — in taxpayers' dollars — and no one knew?"

Their representative is Tarwater.

Henry's neighbors did know one thing: They got pummeled themselves when Jackson County raised property values after years of lowballing. Homeowners took a tax hit of hundreds, even thousands, of dollars, and they're still smarting.

Tarwater, who works with his brothers selling insurance to car dealers, was first elected to the Legislature in 1994.

"You think, if a guy's been on the job 12 years, he would have figured out they needed to increase property taxes during that time period rather than hitting people all at once," Henry says.

By the time Henry runs into Hamontree at the courthouse on May 1, Henry has spent weeks studying the Legislature at its Monday meetings.

Its second-floor chamber has to be one of the most toxic rooms in town.

It's a fact that the Jackson County Legislature can't go long without erupting in some sort of scandal. Sometimes it's petty politics. Sometimes it involves grand juries and the FBI. On May 1, Stringfield waves around a stack of papers having to do with a lawsuit he has filed against his fellow legislators and how taxpayers will cover the cost of their defense. Dennis Waits tries to keep the situation calm, talking to Stringfield in a hyper-conciliatory tone, as if Stringfield were a child with a personality disorder.

"I can't tell you how upset I get when I read an article about how people in elected office are acting, and it wouldn't be allowed in civil, adult society," Henry says.

Tarwater says Henry reminds him of himself when he first ran as an unknown, campaigning against an entrenched politician. But since he's been in office, Tarwater says, he has helped secure more drug-fighting money for schools, expanded county parkland and, lately, kept the pro teams in town.

Tarwater says he feels sorry for Stringfield. The guy has alienated himself so much that he can't represent his constituents. "If he were to bring up giving fans to the Little Sisters of the Poor on a 110-degree day, it would be voted down 8-1," Tarwater says. For his part, he says, "I'm known as a peacekeeper."

We won't get into how that squares with Tarwater going mano-a-mano with Stringfield in the January brawl. Or how he says he "had a good time" testifying before a grand jury during an investigation of County Executive Katheryn Shields' contracts. ("When people wanted to know the truth, I was called," he says.)

The Jackson County Legislature can, after all, warp a person's perception of what's normal.

By contrast, Stan Henry sounds naïvely idealistic.

"I believe there should be restraint and tolerance for everybody's views," he says. "I spent 20 years managing the Hurricane and by no means agreed with everything in the Westport business community and the neighborhood, but we worked it out."

Here's the sort of thing that's motivating him: In December, his nephew disappeared. Police received reports of a young man jumping off the Paseo Bridge. Months later, they found his body in the river. Henry knows that the county funds mental health programs that might have helped. "If people are made aware of opportunities that are out there, and it makes things a little more bearable for them, it helps us function better as a whole [society] when these people are helped.

"You've got tax breaks, developers raking in millions in investment, and I still see people sleeping under bridges," he goes on. "At some point, people need to count on that they have a voice."

There's another guy in the race, John Michael Tancredi, a longtime FedEx courier who's a Center School District board member and a community volunteer. Like Henry, he wants to be accountable to taxpayers and govern with transparency and civility. "I'd like to see one of us beat him," Tancredi says of Tarwater. His fear, though, is that he and Henry will split the votes for change, giving Tarwater the victory.

When I called him, Tancredi seemed surprised. He'd just assumed that Henry was, he said, my "boy." It's true that I've known Henry for years and that we run into each other around town and talk politics. (Another bit of disclosure: Former Pitch writer Patrick Dobson is challenging Scott Burnett for his 1st District seat. We'll be staying out of that one.)

Actually, I worry what might happen to Henry if he does get elected to the Jackson County Legislature. Would he be driven crazy by the toxicity? Would county politics erode his endearing idealism?

But I'm watching Henry's campaign because I'm interested in a guy who finally stops talking and starts walking. And I wonder what the county would feel like if more people — especially Westport drinkers and musicians — knew who their legislators were.

The election's August 8.

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