Sam Zeff | KBIA

Sam Zeff

Sam covers education for KCUR. Before joining the station in August 2014 he covered health and education for KCPT.

Sam began his career at KANU in Lawrence. He hosted Morning Edition at WHYY in Philadelphia where he also covered organized crime, politics and government corruption.

The Overland Park, Kansas native has won a National News and Documentary Emmy for investigative reporting, four Edward R. Murrow awards and four National Headliner Awards.  Sam was assistant news director at the ABC station in the Twin Cities, executive producer at the NBC station in St. Louis and executive producer of special projects at the CBS stations in Minneapolis and Kansas City.

Sam was educated at the University of Kansas.

The KCUR news staff presents the State of Kansas City series as a look ahead to 2020 on topics of importance to the region. Find the State of Kansas City report on other topics in the series as they are published each weekday, Jan. 6–Jan. 20. Follow coverage on these topics at KCUR.org and on 89.3 FM throughout the year.

While we’re glued to the news gushing daily out of Washington — impeachment, immigration, health care — the truth is we should be paying just as close attention to what local governments are up to.

With all the hullabaloo surrounding the Chiefs playing Sunday in the AFC Championship game, it is easy to forget there is another huge sporting event looming on the horizon.

Will Kansas City host some matches in the 2026 World Cup? Efforts to start answering that question are picking up steam.

Last Friday, Mayor Quinton Lucas and the Kansas City Sports Commission got a letter from U.S. Soccer saying the 2026 site selection process will resume next month.

When you think back on the Kansas City Chiefs' 51-31 comeback win in the playoffs over the Houston Texans, you might remember Patrick Mahomes rallying his teammates on the sidelines.

Or the Chiefs seven touchdowns on seven straight possessions.

Or even the three touchdowns scored by running back Damien Williams or tight end Travis Kelce's three touchdown catches. 

The KCUR news staff presents the State of Kansas City series as a look ahead to 2020 on topics of importance to the region. Find the State of Kansas City report on other topics in the series as they are published each weekday, Jan. 6–Jan. 20. Follow coverage on these topics at KCUR.org and on 89.3 FM throughout the year.

Once again, Kansas City, Missouri,  finds itself in the midst of a climb in homicides.

As you prepare for Sunday's AFC championship game, here are a few tidbits to help.

Who are the Chiefs playing?

Kansas City will line up against the Tennessee Titans, who finished the season 9-7. The Titans got to the AFC championship by upsetting New England in the wild-card game 20-13 and then beating Baltimore 28-12. Both of those playoff games were on a Saturday. Just saying.

U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Kansas City, is calling on financial regulators to strengthen protections against a possible cyberattack from Iran. 

In a letter Wednesday to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Cleaver urged the department to "take all possible precautions" to protect the country's financial infrastructure.

This comes in the wake of Iran firing ballistic missiles Tuesday night at bases in Iraq that housed U.S. troops as retaliation for the American assassination of Qasem Soleimani.

The weeks of secret and public hearings in Washington, D.C., are over, the articles of impeachment have been drawn up and the U.S. House is set to vote next week on whether President Donald Trump obstructed Congress and abused power in withholding Ukrainian military aid over a sought-after investigation into a political rival. 

KCUR wanted to know how closely residents in the Kansas City metro were following what could be just the fourth impeachment in America’s history. Here’s what we found out. 

By the end of 2019, police expect 150 homicides in Kansas City, most at the point of a gun. Authorities say another 500 people will be shot and wounded.

Many of the survivors, plus their families and neighbors, will spend the rest of their lives dealing with the aftermath of a gunshot wound. A new program is seeking to give people the help they need to heal both their physical and mental wounds.

A consultant's report, written by two Los Angles murder investigation experts, is significantly changing the Kansas City Police Department's Homicide Unit.

It makes some fairly routine suggestions — create a "Murder Book" for each case and implement a 90-day unsolved investigation report, for example — but it also calls for more homicide detectives and a drastic change in the way suspects are given a Miranda warning.

The department received the 10-page report in July, but it has only now become public.

In a move that caught police officers and supporters of the Kansas City Police Mounted Unit off guard, the department Tuesday disbanded the unit.

Chief Rick Smith told the Board of Police Commissioners that a recent consultant's report suggested the homicide unit needs eight more detectives. To get to the recommended number, KCPD is moving the mounted officers back to regular patrol, so eight investigators can eventually move to the homicide unit.

There is no doubt Jackson County has some monumental, vexing problems.

The county jail is in desperate need of being replaced. The downtown courthouse needs to be renovated after flooding earlier this year. And the property reassessment process is a mess, with appeals that will stretch into 2020.

Riding in to apparently try and fix all of this is Troy Schulte, who in September announced he was stepping down as Kansas City's city manager after a decade on the job. The county legislature will discuss a proposed contract with him on Monday.

Segment 1: Why former college athletes care that future college athletes might financially benefit from their name and image.

Many think statements by the NCAA are a step forward since student athletes bring in millions for their respective universities, but others say it's not enough of a step.

In a stinging 48-page investigation, the death of a 19-year-old football player last year at Garden City Community College was blamed on "a striking lack of leadership" by top college officials, including former head coach Jeff Sims.

A pair of legal opinions, covering vastly different clients, supports some kind of blanket change in the 2019 Jackson County reassessment.

The first opinion, from Legal Aid of Western Missouri, landed with the Board of Equalization (BOE) a couple of weeks ago. Legal Aid is handling about 200 cases of low-income people in Kansas City whose property valuations jumped 200% to 300% on average and, in some cases, more than 1,000%, according to Legal Aid attorney Brandon Mason.

Kansas City could once again house inmates and detainees in the downtown Jackson County jail after Mayor Quinton Lucas and Sheriff Darryl Forté reached a deal in principle Thursday.

Since June the city has used a patchwork system to house prisoners. Some have gone to two county jails in Missouri and about a hundred have been housed at the Heartland Center for Behavioral Change.

“Our view is that this is in the best interest of public safety in our community,” Lucas said after a meeting at the sheriff's office in Lee's Summit.

One of the hallmarks of Kris Kobach's time as Kansas Secretary of State was his power to investigate and prosecute voter fraud. Kobach, who is now running for the Republican nomination for the United States Senate, was the only secretary of state in America with such power.

In the annals of Wild West lawmen, you may not know Thomas Speers, the first police chief in Kansas City, but he was a legend in the late 19th century.

“He was contemporaries with 'Bat' Masterson, Wyatt Earp, 'Wild Bill' Hickok," says his great-grandson Clay Speers. "They would hang around when he was town marshal at the City Market square."

Segment 1: Some survivors of sex trafficking in Kansas recieve prison sentences rather than support.

Segment 1: Wyandotte advocates push for municipal IDs to mitigate problems faced by residents without photo identification.

A Jackson County sheriff’s deputy has been charged after shooting a woman in the back while trying to arrest her in August. 

Jackson County prosecutors on Wednesdsay charged Lauren Michael, 29, with first-degree assault and armed criminal action.

According to the charging documents, the shooting occurred after deputies tried to pull over a couple driving a Byrd scooter the wrong way down a street. The man was arrested but the woman fled.

Segment 1: Germany's prisons emphasize rehabilitation and resocialization for their inmates.

Germany is doing a lot of things differently than the U.S. when it comes to criminal justice, and they've got a lower inceration rate to show for it. In prisons there, staff are trained in things like psychology and communication, and they're paid just as much as police officers. This is all to promote a reintegration approach, which focuses on returning inmates back into their communities. 

People from all over Kansas City packed a city council hearing Wednesday to support a change in the city's marijuana laws. 

The committee delayed a decision on the proposed ordinance, sponsored by newly elected Councilman Brandon Ellington, which would essentially decriminalize the possession of 100 grams or less of marijuana.

Jackson County Executive Frank White's proposal to cut property taxes by $3 million next year landed with a thud Monday in the county legislature.

It was criticized, ridiculed and eventually shot down by legislators.

They suggested the modest cut in the county's property tax levy was White's way of deflecting attention from the county's ongoing reassessment mess.

Jackson County Executive Frank White Thursday blasted the audit of the COMBAT anti-crime tax commissioned by the prosecutor's office. 

Over the last three years, millions of dollars generated by COMBAT, the anti-drug and anti-violence sales tax in Jackson County, has been spent with little or no oversight, according to a new audit.

The COMBAT sales tax was approved by voters in 1989, and it has recently generated more than $20 million a year. Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker commissioned the audit after she took over the agency in 2018.

Most Americans believe climate change is a serious problem, according to a CBS poll  released over the weekend. 

But few solutions seem to be coming from Washington, DC, or the statehouses in Topeka, Kansas, or Jefferson City, Missouri. So, local officials are trying to step up.

The Kansas City Zoo billed it as a big announcement—a remodeled home for its seven elephants—but it wasn't the huge announcement the zoo was hoping to make.

The zoo will spend $10 million improving the elephant exhibit. “The best way to do it is to just tear it all out and start from scratch,” said Randy Wisthoff, director of the zoo.

The renovations will make the pool easier for the animals to enter, add shade and make the ground a little softer by adding sand. Wisthoff says the current exhibit was good for the elephants but not great.

Kansas City has more days with a high heat index than it did a few decades ago, and that could make outdoor sports and exercise more dangerous.

Extreme heat events are on the rise across the United States due to climate change. That is putting athletes, especially young athletes, at risk, according to a report released Wednesday from Climate Central, based at Princeton University.

The lawsuit filed against Kansas Athletics by former head football coach David Beaty can move forward, a federal district court judge ruled Thursday afternoon.

KU moved to have the suit dismissed, but it was apparent from the very start of the hearing in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kansas, that the judge was disinclined to agree with the university's arguments. "My questions will be pointed," Senior Judge Kathyrn Vratil said as soon as the KU lawyer stood up.

One year ago a 19-year-old football player from New Jersey arrived in western Kansas to start his dream of playing in the pros. But after just one practice Braeden Bradforth was dead of exertional heatstroke, leaving his family devastated and Garden City Community College (GCCC) to explain how it happened.

“It's like nobody wasn't looking out for him,” said Joanne Atkins-Ingram, Bradforth's mother.

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