Five Ideas: What are your thoughts on these items in the news this week?

Saturday, August 9, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT

Chase exits

Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Phyllis Chase announced her retirement last week, effective at the end of the month. The announcement came during a news conference held in the middle of Tuesday's primary elections. The school board is trying to find an interim superintendent; the search for a permanent successor to Chase will begin in January.

The announcement caps a year full of controversy and public criticism directed at Chase and the school board. About a year ago, Chase and the board fumbled their decision about where to locate Columbia's next high school, choosing a site miles south and east of town without public input and lengthy consideration of the necessary infrastructure. Then, their decision to spend $10 million from reserves on annual operating expenses came back to bite them. Voters in April rejected a 54-cent tax levy increase, forcing the board to cut millions from its budget for this year and prompting Chase to accept a $20,000 pay cut.

Although there were public calls for the board to remove Chase as superintendent, she said during her news conference that she simply decided to retire after being notified by the Public School Retirement System that she was eligible. Henceforth, her paychecks will come from the state.

After five years as the leader of Columbia Public Schools and a hot-and-cold relationship with taxpayers, what will be Chase's legacy?

Signatures support props

Two voter-initiated propositions will appear on the November ballot in Missouri. The first asks voters to axe a state law that limits gambling losses to $500 in a two-hour period. Missouri is the only state to have loss limits. If passed, the proposition would raise the gambling tax 1 percent, which supporters say would generate more than $100 million in revenue for public schools.

The second proposition would allow home health care workers to unionize and would create the Missouri Quality Homecare Council. The organization would fall under the state's Department of Health and Senior Services and would recruit, train and support a stable work force. The program would cost $500,000 a year.

Ballot measures that would change the state constitution require between 140,000 and 150,000 signatures. For propositions to change state law, 86,000 to 95,000 signatures are required.

Several voter-initiated propositions failed to make the cut. A proposition to restrict eminent domain for private development fell thousands of signatures short of the nearly 29,000 it needed. A proposition mandating increased usage of renewable energy missed the necessary signature count by 526. A third proposition that would bar several state affirmative action programs was denied because signatures weren't turned in before a May deadline.

Did the best propositions make it onto the ballot? What issues would you prefer to vote on and why?

Career politicians

Three incumbent county officials are assured of retaining their jobs after Tuesday's primary election. Boone County Assessor Tom Schauwecker, who has held the office for nearly 20 years, held off a challenge from Barb Bishop of Ashland, while Southern District Commissioner Karen Miller, who's been in that job since 1993, defeated Sid Sullivan. Northern District Commissioner Skip Elkin, who was first elected to that post in 2001, is unopposed for re-election.

There used to be more turnover in county government. Perhaps today's salaries are keeping people on the job. When Miller was first elected in 1992, it was for a two-year term, and the job paid $39,438. Today, Miller and most other county officials make more than $82,000 - a 93 percent increase over her starting salary.

County officials' pay levels are set by a salary commission. Wondering who's on it? Well, it's the county officials themselves. For years, the commission restrained itself, but in 1997 the officials felt the need to catch up and voted for hefty raises, none less than $11,000 per year. Some of those raises took effect in 1999, others in 2001. And their pay has steadily increased since.

These days, elected positions in county government are high-paying jobs, so it's no wonder incumbents try to keep them. Voters thus far have been inclined to go along.

What are the pros and cons of elected county officials staying on the job for decades?

Green Bay Blues

Start spreading the news. Brett Favre's vagabond shoes have arrived in New York, where he hopes to be a part of the Jets' resurgence. The legendary quarterback who spent 16 seasons with the Packers was traded to the Jets on Wednesday to the outcries of Packer fans everywhere.

Favre, 38, brings a strong arm and celebrity - all of which can be profitable marketing for the Jets, who went 4-12 last season.

For longtime Packers' fans, the trade marks the end of an era. With Favre, the Packers won seven division championships and Superbowl XXXI. Debate about whether Favre would or should retire had gone on for years, and he finally called it quits in March. Fans teared up alongside Favre as he announced his "career was over."

But when Favre decided he'd like to return, the Packers weren't too willing to take him back, having committed to quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Favre said that he'll always be a Packer and that the trade is strictly business. Watching Favre play for another team this fall could be painful. Some lifetime cheeseheads said they'll follow Favre over coach Mike McCarthy's lineup.

Professional sports have become such big business that team loyalty appears to be out the window. How can the NFL and other leagues counter that?

Polluting the competition

The Olympic games began Friday despite hazy gray skies over host city Beijing. The weather report: smog. Concentrations of tiny dust particles fail World Health Organization standards, according to data gathered by The Associated Press. Estimates by China's Environmental Protection Ministry put the pollution level just below the official unhealthy mark. China pledged to clean up the city and has spent more than $20 billion trying to do so since 2001. Factories were closed and more than 1 million cars were removed from the streets. Constant construction and increased traffic, however, practically cancel out these efforts.

Athletes have complained about the air quality and its possible impact on performance. And members of the U.S. cycling team arrived at the Beijing airport wearing protective face masks. The U.S. Olympic Committee is allowing athletes to wear the masks if they feel they're necessary, but Olympic organizers took offense to the masks. The athletes apologized, saying the masks were not worn in protest.

Portuguese cyclist Sergio Paulinho, who won the silver medal in Athens in 2004, dropped out of the games because of a pre-existing respiratory condition that he thought would worsen with the pollution. Haile Gebrselassie, who suffers from asthma and is the world record holder in the marathon, withdrew from the games months ago.

Should environmental regulations be imposed on sites for future Olympic games? Why or why not?




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