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Lenexa says thieves have been stealing catalytic converters at local businesses.

City of Lenexa

Lenexa police say they have seen a substantial increase in catalytic converter thefts over the last couple of months, mainly at businesses where fleets of vehicles are parked overnight.

“While most any type of vehicle is at risk, lately we are seeing thieves targeting work vans, trucks and larger utility-style work vehicles,” the city said in a news release. “Stealing a catalytic converter only takes a few seconds, but can be expensive to replace and costs businesses valuable time while their fleet vehicles are out of service.”

According to various websites, thieves swipe the converters because they contain metals that can be sold. Lenexa offers these tips to minimize the risk:

Park vehicles in a well-lighted area.

Install exterior camera systems that point to property entrances, exits and parking areas. Make sure existing camera systems are still functional.

Use heat-resistant spray paint and stencils on the catalytic converters to identify them as being specific to the company, such as the company name, initials and the last four digits of the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). The markings reduce the risk of theft and make it easier to identify a stolen converter.

Vehicles that have had their catalytic converter stolen will be extremely loud when started, and the noise will grow louder when the gas pedal is pressed. Victims should report thefts or attempted thefts as soon as possible to the police non-emergency number: 913-477-7301.

Kansas Student Journalist of the Year

Riley Atkinson, a senior at Shawnee Mission East High School in Prairie Village, is the Kansas Student Journalist of the Year for 2021. She is the fourth Shawnee Mission East student to receive the honor in the last five years.

Atkinson is the online co-editor-in-chief of The Harbinger at East, where she has been on staff for four years. The Kansas Scholastic Press Association chose Atkinson based on a portfolio submitted to a panel of journalists and journalism educators.

“A superlative portfolio from a superlative journalist,” one judge said. “Among the best student portfolios I’ve ever seen.”

East journalism instructor Dow Tate praised noted Atkinson’s sensitivity in covering nuanced stories during the coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protest of 2020.

“Atkinson’s nonstop drive to keep the student voice alive on paramount issues, while stabilizing a staff of more than 70 student crew members, amidst a quarantine during a pandemic has been impressive to watch,” Tate said.

Time to file for local elections

Since the November national election was challenged for so long by former President Trump, it’s odd to start thinking so soon about the next round of voting.

But filing has begun for local elections to take place later this year in 32 Johnson County jurisdictions. The filing period closes at noon June 1 for the Nov. 2 general election and any August primaries that are needed.

Positions are open for city and school board positions, plus the boards of Johnson County Community College and water and drainage districts.

One high-profile race is for mayor of Overland Park, where longtime incumbent Carl Gerlach isn’t seeking re-election. Mayors also will be elected in De Soto, Edgerton, Fairway, Gardner, Lake Quivira, Merriam, Mission, Mission Hills, Mission Woods, Roeland Park, Spring HIll and Westwood Hills.

For a list of open offices, go to jocoelection.org/content/november-2-2021-general-election. To track filings, go to jocoelection.org/current-candidates.

The Blue Valley School District will hold an informational Zoom meeting at 6 p.m. March 4 for those interested in its three board positions. Contact Sarah Vaughn at [email protected] or 913-239-4020.

Shooting victim’s widow organizes drive for refugees

Forever Welcome, a nonprofit founded by the widow of a Garmin engineer shot to death four years ago in an Olathe hate crime, is hosting a supply drive for refugees in the Kansas City area. It ends March 6.

Sunayana Dumala created Forever Welcome in honor of her husband, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who was fatally shot in February 2017 at Austins Bar & Grill in Olathe, where he and another Garmin engineer were socializing. Both engineers were from India, and the gunman reportedly shouted “Get out of my country,” before shooting them both. A third man was severely wounded while trying to stop the shooter.

The drive is being coordinated with an interfaith group called KC for Refugees. Items needed include toothbrushes, shampoo, lotions and other personal care products, toilet paper and household cleaning products. Donations should be dropped from 2-4 p.m. March 6, at 8006 Mullen Road in Lenexa.

Contributors also can donate cash through GoFundMe.com. Search for Forever Welcome Supply Drive for Refugee Families. The fundraiser coincides with Kuchibhotla’s 37th birthday in March.

“This is how he would have wanted to celebrate his birthday, by giving back to the community,” Dumala said in a news release.

Indian Hills girl wins county bee, again

Ishya Bhavsar, an eighth-grade student from Indian Hills Middle School, is the winner of the 2021 Johnson County Spelling Bee.

She earned the title by correctly spelling the word “onomatopoeia,” which refers to words derived from a sound associated with what it describes, such as such as “burp,” “screech” or “cuckoo.”

Ishya, who also won the 2020 county bee, will advance to the Kansas state spelling bee in late March.

This year, according to the Shawnee Mission School District, students competed through an online testing format, and a championship session was held for the top eight spellers.

The Olathe School District holds its own bee, and its winner goes straight to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in the Washington D.C. area. Seventh-grader Garrett Li is this year’s winner.

As a Briarwood Elementary student, Ishya placed third in the 2019 county bee. Nevertheless, KSHB Channel 41 reported at the time, she was able to compete nationally after receiving an invitation offered to outstanding students in highly competitive or unsponsored local markets.

Merriam reopens indoor pool

With the coronavirus in retreat and with new guidance from Johnson County health officials, Merriam decided to reopen the indoor pool at its new community center, 6040 Slater St.

Adult water classes begin in March, and the staff is contacting those who had signed up previously. Patrons can also call the staff at 913-322-5550 or visit merriam.org/aquatics to see the class schedule or sign up. Swimming lessons will start in April.

Public invited to Achieve Shawnee! meeting

The next phase of the strategic planning effort known as Achieve Shawnee! takes place in March when people have several opportunities to offer their feedback on how Shawnee should grow.

A public open house will take place from 4 to 8 p.m. March 17 at the Civic Centre, 13817 Johnson Drive. Interested parties can drop in anytime.

For those who can’t attend the open house, the consulting team will chat informally with visitors during two days of open office hours: from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. March 16 at New City Church, 7230 Quivira Road, and from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 18 at Fire Station 74, 5300 Woodsonia Road.

The plan is expected to be finished in mid-summer.

Olathe theatre teacher honored

Eddie Shafer, theater director at Olathe East High School, is this year’s winner of the Heart of the Arts award given by the Kansas State High School Activities Association, making him eligible for recognition by the state association’s national counterpart.

In announcing the award, KSHSAA commended Shafer for maintaining a robust performing arts program despite the pandemic.

“Eddie Shafer is truly a gift to the entire Olathe community and is the best in the business,” Olathe East Principal Kerry Lane said in a news release. “Not only are East’s productions the best high school theatre has to offer, his students adore him, push themselves to meet his standard of excellence and many consider him as the educator who has made the largest impact in their lives.”

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