Beyond the quiet shuffle of paperwork in the Jackson County recorder’s office, (Brent) Barber didn’t make much noise as he bought and sold houses between 1999 and 2001. But since he pleaded guilty to more than 100 federal felonies earlier this year, neighborhood leaders, community development officials and others have begun to assess how his conduct affected the city’s social fabric.
Actually, he made a lot of noise. I began hearing about him in 2001, and I seriously pursued the story. Back then he was known around the city as "The Yellow Sign People," because his rentals all displayed yellow signs on the front lawn. The story was this: The Blue Hills neighborhood had long struggled with an absentee landlord who rented dozens of houses under Section 8 contracts with the federal government. These places were decrepit, and in one instance the landlord -- who lived in Boca Raton -- even continued collecting federal rent checks on a house with a dead body in it. It took the feds years and years and years and years to dump this guy from their contract and seize control of the properties. When they finally did, they sold them at auction -- where a good nonprofit, Kansas City Neighborhood Alliance was outbid by Brent Barber.
Even though I fiiled an FOIA request and got stacks of documents, I couldn't quite bring the story home. So it went to a better journalist than I -- Allie. And her story, written three years ago, totally kicked ass. In fact, I think it's safe to say her story kicked the federal investigation into high gear.