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Keltic Star closes in Aggieville

Aggieville’s British pub has closed its doors.

Keltic Star served its last meals on Sunday.

The restaurant and bar was owned by Perry and Shirley McCall and their son, Darren. Shirley said the family decided to close Keltic Star because it was time to move on to a new chapter.

“We all just kind of want to go in different directions with our own lives,” she said.

The restaurant opened in January 2013. It served many traditional British and Irish dishes, many based on recipes Shirley knew from growing up in Wales.

“We’ve enjoyed being there,” Shirley said.

City commission OKs female toplessness in public

The Manhattan City Commission on Tuesday unanimously decided to stop banning women from going topless in public.

The commission agreed to amend the city code to allow female toplessness. However, property owners and businesses still retain the right to require all patrons to wear shirts.

City attorney Katie Jackson recommended the city do this for the time being to avoid potential lawsuits after a civil lawsuit in Fort Collins, Colorado, which is covered by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Kansas is also under the 10th Circuit. Fort Collins settled the case, but not before the court said it likely would find the ordinance unconstitutional.

The Manhattan code can be changed down the road, Jackson said.

However, the government could still prosecute if, for example, a woman without a shirt was acting in a lewd manner, which is against state law, Jackson said.

Commissioners Usha Reddi and Jerred McKee said it’s appropriate to treat females and males the same way with this change.

“I don’t like the idea of one gender getting higher penalties or fined more so than a different gender,” Reddi said.

McKee said it is not fair that society generally sexualizes women’s bodies.

“To the nearest point, if we’re going to treat males one way in terms of toplessness, we should treat females the exact same way,” McKee said.

“And so if people are upset about city pools and what could happen there, well then your sons will also be wearing shirts next summer to city pools.”

The code still does not allow exposure of female or male genitalia or buttocks.

According to city officials, Manhattan has prosecuted 51 cases of public nudity since 2003. Of those, 37 defendants were males exposing their genitalia. Of the 14 female defendants, six were cited for toplessness, which occurred between 2004 and 2010.

In other actions:

  • Mayor Mike Dodson announced the resignation of Gary Fees, city clerk. Dodson nor Fees indicated why Fees was leaving, but Fees said he had a new opportunity arise. Dodson and the commission thanked and recognized him during the meeting.
  • The commission unanimously approved a measure to fund levee improvements after a public hearing where no one spoke. The ordinance gets the ball rolling on improvements to the Manhattan levee, including including installation of an 8,000-foot “underseepage collection system,” new relief wells and gates.
  • The levee helps prevent flooding downtown from the Kansas and Big Blue rivers.

“I believe it is for the greater good,” said commissioner Linda Morse.

The project costs about $33 million. The city is responsible for $13.4 million while the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers pays the remaining amount.

  • Commissioners approved an expansion of a pedestrian sidewalk at Wildcat Creek bridge on Highway K-18. The sidewalk expansion goes from 6-feet wide to 10-feet wide. The project costs $69,000, with the city planning to fund it through the trail sales tax fund, official said.
  • Commissioners also approved 2020 service fees for downtown and Aggieville businesses. Fees vary depending on the business size and type. There is a 25% late fee if a business does not pay the amount on time.

Kansas author talks socioeconomics of rural life in Lou Douglas Lecture

To be from Kansas, especially its rural areas, is to be misrepresented and misunderstood at the national level, Sarah Smarsh said, but she’s working to change that.

Smarsh, a journalist who has reported on socioeconomic class for outlets such as The New York Times, The Guardian and The New Yorker, spoke about the rural and socioeconomic divide at a Lou Douglas Lecture on Tuesday evening at K-State’s Forum Hall.

A fifth-generation Kansas farm kid, Smarsh grew up in Kingman County, which she said shaped her entire life and future experiences. In 2018, she published the book “Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth,” which reflects not only on the struggles she saw but on the values her family instilled in her in rural Kansas.

Smarsh tracked down her family history and realized she was the first woman on her mother’s side to escape teenage pregnancy. On her father’s side, she said she inherited a legacy of agriculture work and all of the financial struggle that comes with it.

Her family saw the effects of alcoholism, substance abuse and violence (although not in her family) that often plague rural communities.

“There’s something that drove me to write about this place and about that life and culture and economic station that I was encouraged to get out of and leave,” Smarsh said. “Something was driving me to turn the spotlight on that place and examine, yes, its troubles, but also its great and off-the-public-road beauties.”

Smarsh said that she became a journalist when she graduated from the University of Kansas’ journalism program in the early 2000s. She said that local newspapers and media outlets have struggled to adapt to the digital era.

Most people now get the bulk of their news from national media sources, she said, and that makes it more difficult to tell the story of rural America.

“That creates a perversion of the truth in some ways, because it’s being filtered through folks who couldn’t possibly understand rural Kansas because they live in New York City,” Smarsh said. “And it’s through no fault of theirs that they sometimes get the story wrong or sometimes the headlines are even condescending. I don’t know about you, but I don’t care for the term ‘flyover country.’ I don’t like it when our entire region is painted as if everyone votes the same and thinks the same.”

Smarsh said that as a first-generation college student, she understood the hard work and challenges those students face in adapting to a culture that can seem foreign to them. Without college-educated parents or mentors to walk them through that culture, first-generation students often have to work harder to reach the same level of success as their peers, she said.

But in reflecting on that reality, Smarsh said she realized that her status as a first-generation student didn’t mean that her parents were not also capable, smart people. Rather, their place in society kept them from being able to make choices about their careers and futures, and while agriculture is a beautiful thing, she said not all farmers do what they do by choice.

“I started to figure out that my mom was brilliant, and my dad was a natural poet,” Smarsh said. “I was surrounded by all of these people who have all of these gifts and talents that are overlooked because they have no choice as to what sort of job they could hold. It’s the way our economy works.”

Class, she said, wasn’t really a concept that was talked about in the mainstream during her college years, so she struggled to find a word to describe her experiences, even as she felt a gulf between where she came from, where she was and where she was going.

Although she was a straight-A student, she said she didn’t really understand what graduate school was until she came across a poster for the McNair Scholars Program, a program that helps first-generation, underrepresented and low-income students apply to and navigate graduate school.

“I saw the program said it was for first-generation and low-income students, and I thought, ‘Hot damn, that’s what I am,’” Smarsh said.

When she went to Columbia University in New York City, Smarsh found her perception of wealth and class challenged. Growing up, her idea of “rich” was the local postmaster, and when she lived in the Big Apple, she realized how much bigger the world really was.

She completed her degree but decided to move back to Kansas, where she still lives. She said it was the most controversial decision she made, and her friends called her nuts at the time, but she also said it was one of the best ones she’s made.

Smarsh now regularly writes columns and speaks on socioeconomic class at the national level, and she hosts a podcast called The Homecomers, in which she interviews people who return to their rural home states to advocate for them professionally.

After having lived in two different worlds, Smarsh now claims to speak two versions of English — country and fancy — but she hopes to use her experiences to create connections and increase understanding of rural people.

“For me, I have come to understand that those two things are always going to feel like separate worlds, and the fact that I inhabit both, I no longer perceive it as a challenging burden but rather as a privilege, because it means we need more bridges built in a society that is tearing at the seams. If I can ever be that bridge, than that’s a privilege to be of service that way.”

Reading from her book, Smarsh said for all of the struggles her family went through, she is thankful for the experiences only a rural Kansas upbringing could give her — a background that people pay for through agritourism experiences.

“They go to bars that use Mason jars for glasses. They even throw expensive weddings in barns,” Smarsh said. “Somehow, I got the real thing, increasingly rare in an urbanizing world. All sorts of poverties were passed on to me, but some late night, a tractor pulled me well-fed by what we grew under a clear sky full of stars. That laughter, that freedom is the fortune I inherited.”

Weis helping to choose next Kansas Supreme Court justice

Linda Weis is a busy lady on any given day, but for the last six weeks or so, she’s spent countless hours researching candidates applying to become the next justice of the Kansas Supreme Court.

Weis, of Manhattan, is the owner of Realty Executives. She’s also one of nine people on the Supreme Court Nominating Commission, which recently went from years of dormancy to high gear with the retirements of Justice Lee Johnson and soon, Chief Justice Lawton Nuss.

“I just had to make time,” she said in an interview at her office Tuesday. “It’s the kind of thing you don’t say no to.”

On Thursday and Friday, the commission will interview the 19 candidates applying for Johnson’s seat on the court. Those interviews will be in Topeka.

The commission consists of four lawyer members, one from each congressional district, who are elected by other lawyers. Four are nonlawyer members appointed by the governor. The ninth member and chair, also a lawyer, is chosen by qualified lawyers in a statewide election.

The commission’s job is to vet candidates thoroughly and recommend three to the governor. It’s a job they take seriously. Commissioners are assigned applicants to investigate, and they scour not only their applications but the candidates’ court cases, continuing education, disciplinary records, social media and financial information. Candidates must be at least 30 years old, must be authorized to practice law and have practiced for at least 10 years.

The commissioners then prepare investigative reports on the candidates and present those to the rest of the commission. In this case, Weis and her partner, Garden City attorney Gerald Schultz, were assigned five candidates on whom to write investigative reports.

They’re required to speak to at least two people, usually attorneys or judges, with whom the candidate has worked. Weis says she talks to at least six for each candidate.

“I’m very committed to the administration of justice and to making certain that things are fair and that they’re done well,” Weis said. “It’s important that we pick people who are exceptionally qualified — not just qualified. They have to be exceptionally qualified.”

All that means long hours of work on top of her usual duties. In addition to her real estate business, Weis said she and her husband, Jerry, have a foster son who’s playing football this year at Manhattan High.

But she said she finds time to do what she needs to do and is lucky to have a team at her office that keeps things running smoothly.

Weis has sat on the commission since 2014. She was appointed to a four-year term and then appointed to a second four-year term in 2018.

The commission takes care not to consider political affiliations of the candidates, because the court is supposed to be nonpartisan.

“This is not a political thing,” Weis said. “When these people come up there, I have no idea what political party they are, and I don’t care. What I’m looking for is the brightest and the best, the person with the greatest integrity, the greatest legal minds, and a temperament that will work well with other Supreme Court judges — that’s important. We can’t have prima donnas who want their way on the Supreme Court all the time. It just won’t work.”

On Thursday and Friday, each candidate will have a 20- to 30-minute interview with the commission, and those interviews are open to the public.

Johnson officially left the court on Sept. 8. The commission must choose the three nominees by simple majority.

Their deadline is Nov. 7, and Gov. Laura Kelly must make her appointment 60 days after she receives the nominees.

Nuss will retire Dec. 17. The application deadline for his seat is Nov. 14, so the commission hasn’t yet received applications for his position.

But Weis said it’s likely many of the candidates who applied for Johnson’s seat will apply for Nuss’ as well.

And though Nuss is the chief justice, that distinction will go to the justice with seniority in terms of continuous service, which currently appears to be Justice Marla Luckert.

Nickolas Oatley / Staff photo by Nickolas Oatley  

Ray Guzman and his dog, Lunna, walk on rocks near the waterfall at Pillsbury Crossing on Monday enjoying the warm weather.