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Staff photo by Matt Lunsford 

Crews from Law Company of Wichita work to tear down the apartments at 1106 Bluemont Avenue to extend the 12B Loft Apartments down to the corner of North 11th Street and Bluemont Avenue on Friday.

CITY NOTEBOOK | New city flag won’t come until July

The city of Manhattan hoped to have a new city flag to raise Friday for Flag Day, but that wasn’t the case.

City administrators solicited designs from the public earlier this year to replace the current flag, which includes an outline of the top of an apple, the same featured in the city’s logo, encased in purple, white and green borders.

Vivienne Uccello, public information officer, said the Arts and Humanities Advisory Board narrowed 120 entries to six finalists in early May, but flood preparedness efforts over the last month put a public vote on the flags on the city’s back burner.

Right now, Uccello said the city is working to have a graphic designer polish those designs to present to the public. She said she expects to release the designs in the next couple of weeks for a vote. The city commission would then give final approval to the winner of the public vote.

Uccello said the hope is to announce and raise Manhattan’s new flag on the Fourth of July.

City payroll grows

The total payroll for the Manhattan city government grew 4.53% in 2018.

Total payroll — including base wages, salaries, sick leave pay, and car and phone allowances — was $22.9 million in 2018, up $992,000 from $21.9 million in 2017.

A report from the Kansas Policy Institute shows that payroll in 10 of Kansas’ higher population cities grew by 3.1% from 2017 to 2018. In comparison, inflation was 1.9 percent.

In addition to Manhattan, the cities in the report included Hays (5.4% growth), Lawrence (no change), Lenexa (9.8% growth), Olathe (4.1% growth), Overland Park (2.2% growth), Salina (3.5% growth), Shawnee (5.3% growth), Topeka (3.1% growth) and Wichita (2.3% growth).

Manhattan had the fourth-highest growth among the cities, but it also had the second-lowest payroll outside of Hays, which had a total payroll of $8.9 million in 2018.

Nineteen city employees made over $100,000 in total pay, led by city manager Ron Fehr with a 2018 total pay of $164,488.

In 2018, city administrators implemented a hiring and travel freeze in response to a then-anticipated $1.2 million budget shortfall.

May sales taxes grew modestly

Manhattan’s sales tax revenue in May 2019 increased by 1.24% compared to May 2018.

The state’s sales tax report for May shows $957,302 in sales tax revenue for the city. That’s an increase of $11,771, up slightly from $945,531 in May 2018. Both tax reports reflect revenue distributed from March sales.

The city has generated $4.62 million through April, an increase of $37,785 or 0.82% from $4.58 million through that same period in 2018.

The revenue was $5,246 higher than budgeted in April. Overall, the city is ahead of total sales tax projections for the year by $52,573.

Parking changes

The city’s public works department will removed “No parking” signs at the following ATA Bus stops: Beechwood Terrace, Eighth and Bertrand streets intersection, Baehr Place and Claflin Road intersection, Garden Way and Garden Place intersection, and Juliette Avenue and Vattier Place intersection.

New “no parking” signs will be added to stops at Poyntz and Juliette avenues intersection, and Beechwood Terrace. The city is also creating a new stop at University Drive at Claflin Road.


The Manhattan City Commission on June 4 reappointed Mark Bachamp, 4292 S. Dam Road, to a four-year term on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.

The term starts July 1 and ends June 30, 2023.

Panel: Health service shortages among challenges

When Bob Copple stopped to consider if health care in Riley County was at a crossroads, the only answer he could think of was yes.

“Quite honestly, we’ve been going through intersections for the last bunch of years,” said Copple, CEO at Ascension Via Christi Hospital. “And that’s all I see ahead is a bunch of intersections and crossroads.”

Copple, along with Chris Stipe, CEO of Manhattan Surgical Hospital; Tracy O’Rourke, senior vice president and chief administrative officer at Stormont Vail Health; Bruce Johnson, crisis stabilization officer at Pawnee Mental Health Services; Josh Gering, assistant director at Riley County Emergency Services; and Dr. Debra Doubek, president of the Riley County Medical Society, participated in a panel Thursday night hosted by the Flint Hills Wellness Coalition. The panel was asked the central question, “Is health care at a crossroads in Riley County?”

Copple pointed to a lack of specialist medical professionals in the community, rather than primary care physicians, as a challenge for the county.

“The very generic thing we think about is ‘Do we have enough nurses?’ and that’s definitely a big issue,” Copple said. “But it is just as vitally important that we have a respiratory therapist on that shift, and that we have lab techs, and that we have folks in imaging who can do ultrasound versus vascular ultrasounds.”

With upcoming specialist staff retirements, he said Riley County’s healthcare community will have to work hard to find replacements. However, he said the community has had relative success with primary care provider recruitment.

Doubek, representing area doctors, said Manhattan has seen seven new primary care physicians in the past two years, with two more on the way in the coming months. However, she said the area will be hurting for specialty care, especially in neurology and psychiatry.

As far as mental health, Johnson said growing awareness of the seriousness of mental care is good, but mental health facilities like Pawnee run into physical capacity issues and provider recruitment issues, which in turn limits their ability to provide services.

“The fact that I’m even able to be here today means that the community has changed over the past 10 or 20 years in recognizing that mental health is an important aspect of overall well-being,” Johnson said. “In 2013, mental health care or services surpassed heart conditions as the No. 1 most costly specific disorder. We also know now that one in four people at some point in their lives will experience serious mental illness.”

Gering said that first responders are uniquely positioned to feel, observe and respond to health trends in the community, and one troubling trend he said EMS has seen is a roughly 30% jump in the amount of calls for behavioral or mental health emergencies since 2017.

“These are callers whose only acute threat to their wellness is their own mental status,” Gering said. “That’s a shocking number for us. Unfortunately, that’s not something that paramedics are historically well prepared to be responsive to.”

However, the department has put all of its line officers through a mental health first aid certificate program, and officials hope to partner with the Riley County Police Department Crisis Intervention Team and the Riley County Crisis Intervention Task Force to put all of its staff through intensive crisis intervention training. That will help EMS personnel better respond to calls on the scene and avoid exacerbating mental health issues.

“Unfortunately, there have been times when as an industry, we labeled these people as ‘frequent fliers,’ and quite literally, they were just pawned off on someone else — in the truck and to the hospital,” Gering said. “At Riley County EMS, we’re not satisfied with missing that piece of the puzzle, and we’re working diligently to learn and grow and be part of the solution to that trend.”

Johnson said it’s a question of being smarter with using the little money they can get, as funding will always be an issue. By responding to and treating mental health emergencies at the scene or locally at places like Pawnee, he said every dollar spent on crisis stabilization efforts ultimately saves $2 in other community costs, like law enforcement, jail, ambulance and emergency room expenses.

O’Rourke said both capacity and space are issues for area health organizations, but clinics like Cotton O’Neil are trying to understand what the community needs through analyses in order to bring in specialists accordingly. The healthcare community needs to target community health more holistically as well, she said.

“Health is actually only about 20% in healthcare services you receive,” O’Rourke said. “Another 20% is your genetics, but the other 60% is determined by social factors — where you live, your ZIP code, the things you have access to in terms of healthy foods, healthy habits, safe housing. Those aspects are what you think about to shift community health and what we can be doing collectively takes partnership to address those needs first.”

Several of the panel members said healthcare legislation at the state level will be critical.

“Our Kansas legislators need to pass Medicaid expansion. Our three legislators, Tom Hawk, Sydney Carlin and Tom Phillips, get it,” Doubek said. “Full disclosure, I’m married to Tom Philips, but they get it. They voted for expansion. What we need to do is get out to the other areas of the state and help their districts vote in senators and state legislators because our legislators get it.

“From January 2014 to this week, the federal dollars that could have been given to Kansas are $3.3 billion,” Doubek continued. “Those have gone to other states for their underserved and low-income people.”

In a presentation before the panel, Riley County Health Department director Jennifer Green said that in Riley County, the percentage of the population under 65 that doesn’t have health insurance sits at 9%, compared to 6% nationwide. In Kansas, that same rate is 10%. The target is to eventually end up with a 0% uninsured rate.

“We’re getting better, but we’re not there yet,” Green said.

Copple said Kansas’ comparatively higher uninsured rate is probably because the state legislature has not passed Medicaid expansion, and that it will take both legislative and advocacy work to improve those numbers.

On the provider’s end, burnout is a pressing issue for workers, especially when they have to work extensive shifts and days. The panel said their organizations have taken steps to reduce burnout, including streamlining tedious administrative tasks and limiting the amount of service provided. Copple said by limiting the number of days some specialists are on call, those specialists are better rested and tend to stick around the community, and although it might mean a small inconvenience for some patients in the community, it means the area keeps the specialists and their service.

As far as the community’s role in improving healthcare, the panel said citizens should give their healthcare providers feedback, especially when things go right. In an industry so focused on responding to when things go wrong, thank-you’s and appreciation go a long way, they said.

The panel said it’s important to recognize the work area healthcare professionals have put in. With a focus on preventative care and improving the general state of healthcare access, Riley County should expect healthcare outcomes to improve in the next couple of years, and that’s something the community should take pride in, the panel said.

“The fact that we’ve had such success on recruiting primary care, that will lead to other things,” Copple said. “It’s just a matter of getting people into the doctor now.”

Kansas Supreme Court rules K-12 funding adequate

Almost a decade of legal fighting is near the end after the Kansas Supreme Court ruled Friday that the Kansas Legislature had met the requirements for adequate and equitable school funding.

The Kansas Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the Kansas Legislature has inadequately funded public schools since several school districts and parents first filed the Gannon v. Kansas lawsuit in 2010.

Lawmakers approved a $90 million increase to school funding in April to comply with the court order in the Gannon case. In the past, the court said lawmakers did not adjust for inflation, and the money approved this year is a response to the concerns.

The court also said in the response they will retain jurisdiction on the case to ensure the funding is implemented.

Sen. Tom Hawk, D-Manhattan, said he agrees with the court’s decision that the $90 million is adequate.

“It’s what I voted on, I believed it was enough and that’s what we agreed to in a bipartisan way,” he said.

Rep. Sydney Carlin, D-Manhattan, said she was pleased with the ruling.

“I’m very thrilled that we’ve been able to put this into perspective,” she said. “This increase in funding is definitely needed.”

Rep. Tom Phillips, R-Manhattan, said he knows this chapter is not closed, but is pleased.

“It’s a good day for the state of Kansas,” he said. “Now the burden is on the Legislature to fulfill the funding we promised … But with the ruling, I’m happy.”

Phillips and Hawk said they were happy to be able to move on to the other problems they’re focusing on in the state, like highways and mental health.

Hawk said he thinks it’s wise that the justices are keeping an eye on the case.

“When you look at the track record of the legislature for not keeping commitments, I can’t say I disagree with their decision,” he said.

The Gannon case came as a response to the Montoy v. Kansas case from the mid 2000s. The legislature agreed to a funding increase for schools in 2006 to resolve the Montoy case but ultimately did not follow through.

Phillips said he was not surprised by the decision.

“It’s a five-year plan, and we still have three years left of funding to fulfill, so for them to say ‘We’re gonna keep an eye on this,’ I’m not surprised,” Phillips said. “It’s going to be a challenge over the next three years to fulfill the funding needs, especially as we begin to shift our focus to other problems like mental health, higher education, highways and the prison system. It’s a big obligation.”

Gov. Laura Kelly said she is pleased to have the ruling in the legislature’s favor.

“Today is a great day for Kansas and for our kids,” she said in a statement. “Educating our kids is not just one of the best ways to address challenges facing our state, it’s also our moral and constitutional obligation. Yet for years our leaders failed to meet that obligation.”

Kelly said she will do what she can to make sure lawmakers finish what they’ve started.

“Investing in our children’s education is the best investment we can make, and as long as I am governor I will continue to fight for our schools and our kids,” she said.

Jury finds Manhattan man guilty of attempted rape

After about a day-and-a-half of deliberation, a jury on Thursday found a Manhattan man guilty of attempted rape and other charges.

The jury determined Tommie Baggett, 18, was guilty of eight of 12 charges, including three counts of attempted rape, two counts of attempted burglary and three counts of aggravated battery.

These convictions stem from two incidents in February and March 2017 at the same residence when three women, all roommates, were attacked and sexually assaulted in their rooms.

Baggett was found not guilty of rape, criminal sodomy, aggravated criminal sodomy and aggravated robbery. These charges were related to an August 2016 meeting with an escort in which Baggett admitted to having sexual relations with a woman he met through a classified advertising site.

Baggett hung his head at the Riley County District Courthouse as Chief Judge Meryl Wilson addressed the jury thanking them for their time.

A sentencing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Aug. 1, depending on judge availability.