The tip came by phone. A friend in the estate-sale business called to alert me that the home of a longtime city official was being emptied out. Boxes of documents were accumulating in a dumpster in the driveway. The home was owned by James I. Threatt, who had been an assistant city manager for 20 years and had recently died.
This was 2005. My friend didn’t know that 20 years or so earlier, I had edited an investigative project at The Star that looked into questionable activities involving a housing development and centering on Threatt’s circle in and out of City Hall.
So sure, I was eager to know whether the boxes contained any smoking guns. And beyond that, it occurred to me that the records of a civic official should not be sent to oblivion. But making a mental check of the newspaper’s ethics policy, I knew it wasn’t a good idea to go dumpster diving on private property to save the stuff and uncover whatever newsy bits the boxes might hold.
What to do? Call Dave Boutros, of course.
Boutros this week was winding up his career as an archivist. He’s retiring (see the news story) as assistant director of the State Historical Society of Missouri Research Center-Kansas City, where he has worked about 35 years. I will confess to sharing some of Boutros’ packrat sensibilities, and back then I assumed he might have been interested.
I was right. The soft-spoken Boutros did seem eager to pursue the opportunity to recover Threatt’s material, and he soon succeeded in retrieving more than a dozen boxes. Ah, well, two Star reporters at the time, Mike McGraw and Mike Mansur, went through each and every one of them and turned up not much of substance.
But who knows? History requires as many of the odd details as possible, and Boutros spent an admirable career following that passion for the story of people and this place. In the case of the Threatt save, perhaps some day this astute archivist’s effort will pay off.