Frank Morris

National Correspondent and Senior Editor

Frank Morris has supervised the reporters in KCUR's newsroom since 1999. In addition to his managerial duties, Morris files regularly with National Public Radio. He’s covered everything from tornadoes to tax law for the network, in stories spanning eight states. His work has won dozens of awards, including four national Public Radio News Directors awards (PRNDIs) and several regional Edward R. Murrow awards. In 2012 he was honored to be named "Journalist of the Year" by the Heart of America Press Club.

Morris grew up in rural Kansas listening to KHCC, spun records at KJHK throughout college at the University of Kansas, and cut his teeth in journalism as an intern for Kansas Public Radio, in the Kansas statehouse.

Ways to Connect

Almost all of the goods we buy spend time in a truck before they get to us. And because store shelves are full and sales are strong, you might assume that the trucking industry is doing great.

But trucking companies say they are critically short of drivers — and many truckers say it's pay the companies are short of.

One of the fast-growing parts of the trucking industry these days is driver training.

Schools, like APEX CDL Institute in Kansas City, Kan., are cranking out drivers.

Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

Almost all the stuff we buy spends some time in a truck before it gets to us. So, since store shelves are full and sales are strong this holiday season, you might assume that the trucking industry is doing great.

They're not.

Trucking companies say they are critically short of drivers. Truckers say they’re really just short of pay.

Teaching truckers

Dan Verbeck / KCUR 89.3

Union workers at Ford’s truck assembly plant in Claycomo have dented the push to ratify the new labor agreement worked out between Ford and the UAW. 

Courtesy of mutigers.com

University of Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel says he will resign at the end of season.  The announcement is the latest twist in a dramatic week for the team.

On Friday, the 63-year-old Pinkel announced his resignation, effective at the end of this season.  Doctors have been treating Pinkel for lymphoma, a type of blood cancer, since May.  Pinkel says his health and not the turbulent week at MU drove his decision.

Looking for a job? How about working way up in the air, in all kinds of weather, with thousands of volts of electricity?

Working on high-voltage lines pays well and doesn't require a degree, but electric utilities are hard-pressed to replace retiring linemen.

If you want to learn about the dedication and character needed to be a lineman, look no farther than a place with a super-abundance of line workers: the International Lineman's Rodeo.

Copyright 2015 KCUR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.kcur.org/.

Transcript

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Frank Morris / KCUR

The morning after the Royals take the crown in the 2015 World Series, KCUR listeners tell us what this moment means to them. Plus, what fireworks have to do with the Kansas City-style of celebration.

Guests:

  • Frank Morris, national correspondent and senior editor, KCUR
Frank Morris / KCUR

In Kansas, you have to show proof that you are a U.S. citizen to register to vote, and that requirement has held up tens of thousands of registrations and produced an enormous list of would-be voters who are essentially in limbo — all because they haven’t shown a birth certificate or passport. 

Now Kansas’ top elections official in Kansas wants that list purged, and that’s leading to a fight. 

UAW Local 249

With a possible strike looming, Ford's Claycomo assembly plant has canceled the day shift on Sunday, when the United Auto Worker's Union has threatened to strike the plant. 

The UAW has threatened to strike Ford’s Claycomo assembly plant at noon. The company had scheduled a shift of workers on duty at that time, as part of a program of mandatory overtime to keep up with demand for Ford’s popular F-150 pickups.

A Ford spokesperson says the overtime was simply unnecessary.

Frank Morris / KCUR

China’s rapid industrialization and economic expansion over the past few decades has been a boon for U.S. farmers — especially soybean farmers. But China is slowing down, leaving American farmers exposed to the downside of being tied to the world’s second largest economy.

With tall stands of corn, and green soybean fields stretching for miles, the river bottom land around Langdon, Missouri seems a long, long way from Beijing, but economically it’s right next door.

The United Auto Workers union is threatening to shut down Ford’s Claycomo assembly plant, with a strike that could start this weekend.  

Ford and union negotiators are at loggerheads over a number of issues specific to the Claycomo plant.  They involve the health and safety of workers and seniority for employees who do specialized jobs.

Frank Morris / KCUR

A taskforce aimed at addressing an alleged pattern of abuse by guards at the Jackson County Detention Center heard accusations of violence from a former inmate Thursday.

Terry Coleman is part of an ongoing FBI investigation at the jail that came to light in August, when the county acknowledged allegations of several beatings at the facility.

On Thursday, the taskforce held a public forum, where Coleman explained how he'd been transferred to the detention center on a snowy day in February 2013 on a drug possession charge.  

Corbis / CC

A task force scrutinizing the Jackson County Detention Center has found some serious HR problems. Overtime and turnover at the jail are on track to cost the county more than $5 million this year, and alleged abuse of inmates by guards at the jail sparked an FBI investigation.

The county task force also looked into a wider range of issues affecting the environment for inmates and staff at the facility. According to the task force, one problem is that corrections officers seem almost as anxious to get out of jail as the inmates do — guards only make about $25,000 a year.

Frank Morris / KCUR

Demolition Derby has been around since at least the 1950s.  The sport draws a passionate following.  Whole families dedicate their money and free time to it, and the drivers involved say it is deeply addicting, devotees are pulling out all the stops to save the sport, but in the last decade demo derby has driven off a cliff. 

The reasons for that are partly cultural, part economic, and partly to do with automotive engineering.

Mike Mozart / Wikimedia Commons--CC

Applebee’s is leaving the Kansas City area after bouncing around the region for decades, collecting tax incentives.   

Applebee’s parent company DineEquity announced Friday that it’s moving executive functions for the Kansas City based restaurant chain to California.

Frank Morris / KCUR

The FBI is investigating repeated use of excessive force by guards at the county jail.  

The problem came to light last month, when a nurse told the county’s acting corrections director, Joe Piccinini, about an inmate hospitalized with serious injuries.

Piccinini says the county looked into the issue and discovered that a group of four corrections officers may have used excessive force on inmates on at least three other occasions between May and July of this year.

Frank Morris / KCUR

More than four out of five Kansas City area residents have to cross the Missouri river to get to Kansas City International Airport.  For many it’s a lengthy drive, one that begs the question “why is our airport so far?”  

Frank Morris / KCUR

Back when terrorism was a vague threat, and security was light, airlines let kids go right up into the cabin and get a set of plastic wings from the pilot.  

Air Force Bases were relatively easy to enter, air shows were regular happenings, pretty much any kid could touch the planes. 

Mike Saxton thinks all that exposure inspired young people to pursue aviation careers, and he wants to bring a little of that back with the freshly-restored bright red, 28-year-old MD83 airliner his organization, TriStar, just brought to the Wheeler Airport in downtown Kansas City.

Americans have been intentionally ramming cars into each other for sport for decades. And at this time of year, fans crowd into county fairs to see battered, souped-up cars bash each other to pieces.

This steel equivalent of blood sport draws a passionate following, and the drivers say it is deeply addicting.

"There's nothing better," says John Green, a demolition derby driver at a recent fair in Franklin County, Kan. "A lot of people say they would do it, but until you get in there and do it you never know the real feeling."

Elle Moxley / KCUR

The Democratic presidential primary was being fought in Kansas City Monday. 

Three out of five announced candidates – former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley – were in town to address the National Conference of La Raza, meeting in Kansas City

Each year, convicted felons get thousands of weapons from licensed gun dealers. They skirt the mandatory background checks by having people who do qualify fill out the paperwork for them.

Now, the settlement of a lawsuit over a tragic murder-suicide in Kansas has made it easier to sue gun dealers who allow these "straw purchases" with a wink and a nod.

The greeting card industry is struggling to stay relevant in the digital age.

Hallmark has announced that it's closing its distribution center in Enfield, Conn., and cutting 570 jobs there, as it consolidates operations elsewhere.

For decades, the greeting card maker held a reputation as the type of company where good employees had a job for life.

Julie Elliott, Hallmark's PR director, says layoffs, like the ones announced this week, are especially painful.

The Charleston, S.C., shootings have sparked lots of discussion about the Confederate battle flag, but it's not the only symbol of the Confederacy.

Frank Morris / KCUR

This story was rebroadcast as part of our best-of 2015 series. It was originally reported in May 2015.

Just a few years ago, downtown Hamilton, Missouri, looked a lot like many other forgotten, rural towns. Abandoned, forlorn buildings marred the main drag.

But in recent years, an explosively fast-growing startup business in rural northwestern Missouri has shaken up a staid industry, producing a YouTube star and revitalizing a town with a proud retail history.

That's why Dean Hales, who has lived here 77 years, is so delighted now.

Just a few years ago, downtown Hamilton, Mo., looked a lot like a thousand other forgotten, rural towns. Abandoned, forlorn buildings marred the main drag.

But in recent years, an explosively fast-growing startup business in rural north western Missouri has shaken up a staid industry, producing a YouTube star and revitalizing a town with a proud retail history.

Eric Baker / KCUR

Google will fund two temporary positions in Kansas City aimed at narrowing the digital divide, the company announced Thursday. The people hired for the positions will work to get people in low-income communities online.

Google Fiber came to Kansas City pledging to make the internet more accessible to everyone. It offered very low cost connections in some neighborhoods, but didn’t wire others, where interest in the service was low. The upfront cost of installing Google Fiber made it unattractive for many low-income renters.

Frank Morris / KCUR

General Motors says it will sink another $174 million into its Fairfax Assembly plant in Kansas City, Kansas, to get it ready to produce a new Malibu — one equipped with technology designed to keep teenage drivers safer.  

GM already builds Malibus at Fairfax (and the Malibu’s fancier cousin the Buick LaCross) but plant manager Bill Kulhanek says the 2016 Malibu will be something else entirely.

“It’s a brand new architecture. We’re the first in the globe to launch it. China and Korea will follow us. So, we’re brand new to the market,” says Kulhanek. 

Frank Morris / KCUR

This story was rebroadcast as part of our best-of 2015 series. It was originally reported in April 2015.    

Remember last year, when the Kansas City Royals were the underdog darlings of baseball? The team’s winning again this season, but it’s been a bit ugly.

Frank Morris / KCUR

As Kansas state government braces for another round of budget cuts or tax increases (or both) to balance the state’s declining revenue, Wyandotte County is looking forward to a big jump in tax collections. That’s just part of the county’s profound, if spotty, change of fortunes.

Death spiral

Twenty years ago, Carol Marinovich became mayor of a city in steep decline. The Kansas City, Kansas she grew up in was collapsing. The house she grew up in, along with half her Strawberry Hill neighborhood, had long since been bulldozed to make way for I-70. But that was far from the worst of it. Wyandotte County seemed locked in a death spiral. 

The Native American tribe that gave Kansas its name will dance in the state for the first time in 142 years.   

The Kaw or Kanza tribe once occupied most of what became Nebraska, and nearly half of modern day Kansas. Tribal spokesman Ken Bellmard says bad treaties and European diseases decimated the tribe.

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