JeffCo Congressmen Fight Operation Choke Point

24 Jul

The Post-Dispatch highlights a House Financial Services subcommittee hearing in which US Reps. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-3rd) and Ann Wagner (R-2nd), both of whom represent parts of Jefferson County in Congress, pushed back against an Obama Administration initiative called Operation Choke Point. This plan is supposed to “cut off bank access to enterprises that prey on consumers.” But our representatives see it as a scheme to shut down business sectors that the Administration doesn’t like.

“Operation Choke Point takes a new approach to banking supervision,” said Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, Mo., who has introduced legislation to end the Justice Department initiative. “Bend your authorities and force that industry out of the financial services space, making it impossible to survive.”

Luetkemeyer has worked in the banking industry. As for Wagner:

Wagner said she had “heard from business owners from across Missouri and Kansas … who said they have had to cut thousands of jobs” because of concerns they would incur the scrutiny of Operation Choke Point.

Businesses that Republicans argue could be affected are those related to guns, ammunition, payday lending, and coal, among others. Here’s what a former FDIC chairman said, from a Daily Caller article:

“Operation Choke Point is one of the most dangerous programs I have experienced in my 45 years of service as a bank regulator, bank attorney and consultant, and bank board member. Operating without legal authority and guided by a political agenda, unelected officials at the DOJ are discouraging banks from providing basic banking services…to lawful businesses simply because they don’t like them,” said William M. Isaac, former chairman of the FDIC.

Isaac has an editorial here. It appears the way this program works is by threatening banks with expensive, dragged-out investigations and audits if they don’t do the Justice Department’s bidding. Luetkemeyer has introduced a bill:

Missouri Republican Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer brought forward the End Operation Choke Point Act Tuesday to curb the DOJ’s activities in this area. The act would provide financial institutions with safe harbor to serve customers engaged in legal activities, so as to cut out politically motivated attacks on businesses deemed undesirable by the Justice Department.

Fulbright: Really Republican?

23 Jul

The news that Arnold city councilman Jason Fulbright would be running for the GOP nomination for state representative in the 113th district (Arnold-Imperial area), and also for GOP committeeman for Arnold Township, caused a lot of people to say “Hubba-whaa?! He’s a Republican?” Let’s look at the evidence and see if Fulbright is a true believer or merely a RINO (Republican in name only).

Evidence For

  • He “likes” a lot of Republicans on Facebook. Of course, this could be just campaign-season posturing. I recall checking his online accounts awhile back, and he at the time liked Mitt Romney and Fox News’ Megyn Kelly on FB and/or Twitter.
  • He was a sponsor at the 2013 Jeffco Lincoln-Reagan day (scroll way to the bottom for his name).
  • He seems to have a friendship/alliance of sorts with Rep. John McCaherty (R-97th).
  • He says he is Christian, pro-life, and pro-2nd amendment. (I take his word on this, and these are good things, but every elected JeffCo Democrat can say the same thing.)

Evidence Against

  • He is firmly ensconced in the Arnold regime, where Phil Amato, no friend of the GOP, appears to be his closest pal. As a regime member, he has remained silent on the two reported cases of unethical behavior by police chief Bob Shockey. He also served as a deputy treasurer for every regime candidate (MacArthur, Crisler, Plunk, and Freese) in the April election – hardly a lineup that warms GOP hearts.  Upon joining the council, he voted to pay Protective and Investigative Services for the worthless investigation it did of the Boone-Moss incident. Furthermore, Fulbright’s tenure on the council was launched when city attorney Bob Sweeney illegally kicked his opponent off the ballot, leaving Fulbright unopposed. If he condones Arnold malfeasance, what kind of Nixon administration antics will he give a pass to if he’s in the Legislature? I consider cronyism like this to be a Democratic trait. Sure, Republicans do it sometimes, but look at every big city in this country – run by liberals and corrupt.
  • His legislative focus has been on spending programs. He supports “free trash.” He sponsored a bill to buy unnecessary metal detectors for city hall. He co-sponsored another program to give grants to subdivisions for beautification (isn’t that what HOA fees are for?) Another grant he supported was for businesses to tear down buildings on their lots (the businesses should pay for that). He did vote in favor of ending the red light camera contract right before the April election, but it seemed to pain him to do so.
  • The highlight of his term in office is when he and Amato arranged a stunt to invite a bunch of union types to city hall to watch them introduce and pass an anti-right to work resolution. This despite the fact that there were only a couple of weeks left in the legislative session and such a bill was clearly not going to pass. This charade appeared to pay off, however (literally); Fulbright’s biggest monetary donor on his second quarter MEC filing was the Laborers International Union Local 110 Political Fund, with a $1,000 contribution (will all this union support continue past the primary election?)

Amato, JeffCo Labor Club President Bart Velasco, and Fulbright stand united for unions.

  • Let’s look at that campaign finance report some more, because you can judge a person by who donates to them. Prominent names on the report are as follows:
    • Committee of Brian MacArthur, Arnold council member – $200 (he personally gave $60, too)
    • Int’l Union of Operating Engineers Local 513 – $250
    • Deb Amato, wife of Phil Amato – $500 (is he trying to maintain plausible deniability or something?)
    • Vern Sullivan, Fox school board member – $100 (he is apparently content to let Dianne Critchlow walk away from her internet scandal scot-free.)
    • Mary Elizabeth Coleman, Arnold city council member – $200 (she’s a big supporter of Democrat Mike Evans for county council)
    • Gaye Counts, wife of Arnold Mayor Counts – $100 (Mr. Counts gave a $3,000 in-kind contribution; I don’t know what that was).
    • Dan Kroupa (and wife), Fox school board member and Arnold treasurer – $200 (ditto on the Mike Evans and Dianne Critchlow points from above.)
    • Glaziers, Architectural Metal & Glassworkers Local Union 513 – $100
  • He skipped out on the July 17 Tea Party debate, where he would have faced his primary opponent, Dan Shaul. This suggests he has no interest in that segment of the party. [Update: There was a city council meeting that night. See comments below]

So there is the evidence. Feel free to contribute what evidence you may have in the comments. On August 5, you (GOP voters in the 113th district and/or Arnold Township) can be the judge.

Prop S Primer: JeffCo Road Tax Renewal

20 Jul

The following item, Proposition S, will appear on Jefferson County ballots at the August 5 primary:

Shall the County of Jefferson amend the Road Improvement Sales Tax adopted by voters on April 1, 1986, by renewing this current countywide sales tax at the rate of one-half of one percent (1/2 of 1%) for a period of fifteen (15) years from the expiration of the current tax for the purpose of capital improvements to the publicly maintained roads of both the unincorporated and incorporated areas of Jefferson County based upon a population and mileage formula?

As the language indicates, this tax was first approved in 1986, with a 15-year expiration date. It was approved again in 1998, and it expires in September 2016 (I guess the second 15 years was added on at the end of the first 15.) Last year, the tax generated $10.2 million, of which $6.9 million went to the county government and the rest went to JeffCo municipalities.

A half-cent sales tax adds 5 cents to every $10 purchase. Depending on where you live in the county, you pay a sales tax rate of 6.6% to 9.35% (that’s Arnold) on most purchases. This includes taxes imposed by state, county, fire, ambulance, and other local entities. Allowing this tax to expire, which will happen if it isn’t renewed, would drop your tax rate by 0.5; passing Prop S would keep it the same.

There has been some contention over the way the tax money is distributed. The folks in Arnold have demanded that they get a bigger cut. Unfortunately, the county council at its July 14 meeting voted to adjust the formula to basically give Arnold an extra $300,000 per year, on top of its allotment of about $900,000.

Despite the change, I am leaning towards supporting this proposition (which could draw ire from many of my readers). Roads are a proper function of government (unlike many things it does), and this tax ensures that our roads get fixed and expanded. This money can’t be spent elsewhere. Some would argue that we should reject this tax and force county and city governments to cut elsewhere to come up with road money. I am sympathetic to that argument, but then you run the risk that the money won’t be allocated to roads. I am OK with this particular tax. Here’s a Festus-specific flyer supporting the tax, from a group called Citizens for Safe Roads (it’s always about safety, isn’t it?). Here’s one for Crystal City.
I’m kind of tempted, though, to oppose it, in the hopes that next time (and this tax will be brought up again if it fails – they always do. That’s why they are starting the renewal drive two years before the expiration date), the formula will be reverted, taking away Arnold’s bonus. But I’m not sure Arnold would get the blame if the vote fails.

This tax should not be confused with Amendment 7, which will also be on the ballot. This amendment, if passed, will raise the sales tax statewide by 0.75%. This would push sales taxes in Arnold over 10% overall. This money would not necessarily go to roads; unlike Prop S, it can also go to light rail, streetcars, and bike paths. Jefferson County would get about $100 million over 10 years under this tax, and MODOT has identified which projects the money would go to (see the link). I do not support this proposal. If more road money is really needed, I would rather see it come through the gas tax. Even the Post-Dispatch editorial board doesn’t like this tax, although I’m not a fan of all their reasons. County Executive Ken Waller and council candidate Jim Kasten support it, however. But the main supporters are those who would benefit from additional road construction: contractors and unions. Left-leaning groups have actually been some of the biggest opponents of this amendment.

Elliot Davis On the Case at Fox

17 Jul

Fox 2 investigative reporter and corruptocrat-confronter Elliot Davis made another trip to the Fox district to attempt to talk to board members about the Critchlow scandal and the bloated administrative salaries. View the report here. He pulled together some good information, and I have captured a screen shot. This quantifies the dollars that the Fox school board shovels out to administrators:


Fox2 information on Fox C-6 administrative salaries

To sum up a few later slides, here is a list of the number of assistant superintendents at some local districts compared to their student enrollment:

  • Fox: 6 for 11,500 students
  • Francis Howell: 4 for 17,000 students
  • Rockwood: 2 for 21, 537 students
  • Parkway: 2 for 17,500 students

As you can see, Fox has problems with both the salaries and the sheer number of administrators. One of the most recent administrators to hop on board the gravy train was Andy Arbeitman ($136,000 salary), who was previously given the ax as De Soto superintendent. He walked away, though, with $208,000. Maybe he is currently giving Dianne Critchlow some pointers in how to fleece the taxpayers. And he was hired unanimously; remember that when John Laughlin says we had a bad board then and a good board now (he was on the board when Arbeitman was hired). The board also recently (unanimously) hired as CFO John Brazeal ($165,000 salary), a guy who is tied in tight with Arnold government, having served as city administrator and council member (and consultant to a developer that was dealing with the city). One member of the school board is Dan Kroupa, who is Arnold’s treasurer. And Brazeal previously worked at Affton School District, where Arnold police chief Bob Shockey was once on the school board. So many connections.

And the best part of the Davis piece is this shot of board member Cheryl Hermann, who I deem to be most guilty of all current board members for the current problems due to her long tenure on the board (since 2000), fleeing into the ladies’ bathroom to avoid Davis’ questions. Remember this piece 9 months from now if Hermann dares to run for re-election.


Fox C-6 board member Cheryl Hermann flees from Fox2′s Elliot Davis.

Byrnes Mill Corruption Focus Shifts

14 Jul

The Byrnes Mill police department is in the news again. I chronicled its previous problems here. While past allegations focused solely on the PD, this time a lawsuit by the (most recently) fired chief alleges that it is the city that is pulling the corrupt strings, says the Post-Dispatch:

A former police chief says he lost his job because he reported “fixed” traffic tickets and falsified court documents to a prosecutor and elected officials, and alleges he was ordered to enforce ticket quotas.

The former chief, Michael Smith, made the claims in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday against the city, Mayor Susan Gibson and City Administrator Larry Perney.

Here is the full lawsuit. The Post-Dispatch continues:

Smith claims Perney ordered him not to conduct sobriety or safety checkpoints, not to ticket certain unidentified people and to make sure his officers issued “a minimum traffic ticket quota of 250 to 270 traffic tickets per month,” the suit says.

Hopefully, as this suit progresses, the identities of these “unidentified people” who were not to be ticketed are revealed. That would be juicy. The suit also alleges that the police were ordered to ignore drug crimes.

Blowing the Whistle

Smith says he reported the alleged wrongdoing to several people, including [city attorney Bob] Sweeney, Alderwoman Sharon Ippolito and Alderman Robert Prado, and to the Jefferson County prosecutor’s office.

Now, reporting corruption to Bob Sweeney is like a mid-level North Korean bureaucrat reporting government impropriety to Kim Jong-Un: The problem won’t get addressed, and the person reporting it will be punished. Over the course of about two weeks, Smith, who was merely an interim chief, says he reported his concerns, in chronological order, to Prado, Perney, Ippolito, and Gibson, with no apparent result. Five days after contacting the mayor, Smith talked to Sweeney. That very day, he was suspended with pay and told to resign. From the suit:

On or about March 10, 2014, at the office of City Attorney Bob Sweeney, Mayor Susan Gibson informed Plaintiff that it was improper for him to investigate Defendant City Administrator Perney or to speak with Board Members Prado and Ippolito. Defendant Mayor informed Plaintiff that he was suspended with pay until further notice and that she would accept his letter of resignation.

Smith declined. Gibson and Perney then told city police officers that they could not contact their own chief. They really seem to be opposed to communication at Byrnes Mill city hall. The next day, the board fired Smith. The mayor then took to the Leader newspaper to smear Smith. This is similar to what the city of Arnold did to both former city councilman Ken Moss and city council candidate Shaun Missey when it went after them. Such media attacks must be part of the Bob Sweeney playbook. Note that both Moss and Missey won settlements in the $50,000 range from Arnold as a result of the city’s antics.

Also in the Sweeney playbook is displays of bluster:

City Attorney Bob Sweeney said Friday that he was “confident the allegations will not be proven and the process will vindicate the defendants.”

Despite his assurances, I expect that Smith will walk away with a settlement, too, after which Sweeney will explain that the settlement is not an admission of guilt, and that he wanted to fight in court, but the city’s insurance company ordered the settlement.

City administrator Perney talks to KMOV 4′s Russell Kinsaul in this report. Perney laughably says “there’s no corruption, and that the city has “a great government,” which will also inspire chuckles. In the report, Kinsaul speculates that this suit will damage the city’s reputation, but that is incorrect, because the city’s reputation can’t get any worse.

Who’s The Boss?

What is also remarkable about this suit, if true, is the extent to which the city, specifically Perney, controls the police department. Police chiefs normally control their departments, so to have the city administrator making all these decisions, and the chief allowing it, is noteworthy. The question of city control of the police is highlighted as well in this note in the minutes of the June 4 board meeting (page 4):

Mayor Gibson made the Board aware that she and Administrator Perney are conducting monthly meetings with all Officers in the Police Department.

Is current chief Dougherty OK with this? It seems like an infringement on his territory to me. What is taking place in these meetings?

Interesting Survey Results on Unions

12 Jul

The following are the results of a survey sent to constituents of state Rep. TJ McKenna (D – 114th). While something could be said about each question, I direct you to number 5, Workforce Protection.


Rep. TJ McKenna survey results 2014

Rep. TJ McKenna survey results 2014

On the question of union dues laws, the first two responses could generally be seen as pro-union responses, while the third and fourth choices are more anti-union. If you lump them together, 50% of respondents chose the anti-union responses, and 47% chose the pro-union options. The most popular option, “employers should be required to allow employees to choose whether to join a union to bargain on their behalf or to negotiate their own compensation individually,” which is essentially what right to work laws require, was picked by a full 35% of those who returned the surveys. And you have to assume that the 15% that said “unions are an impediment” would support the right to work option, too (respondents could only pick one of the answers). Does this mean that half of the voters in the 114th district, in the heart of Jefferson County, support right to work?

Well, not quite. This is a self-selected survey, sent in by those who were motivated to read mail from their legislator, fill out the survey, and mail it back. That would suggest that the people who responded are more politically aware than the average person, who might be hard-pressed to name their representative. Now I don’t know if this survey was sent out to the entire district, or just those who went to McKenna’s web site and signed up for his newsletters. I suspect it was something closer to the latter, which further restricts the pool of potential survey takers. A proper survey would be sent out randomly to a properly selected cross-section of voters. About 1,400 people responded to the survey, which is about 4% of the approximately 36,000 people that live in the 114th (although that total includes children).

But I have to think this result has some significance in a county where Republican candidates and elected officials are unwilling to support right to work, presumably for political reasons. I can’t find county-level data on union membership, but statewide only 8.6% of wage earners in Missouri were union members in 2013. I would expect Jeffco to be above that average, but it is probably declining here, too, which would suggest that the number of people who strongly oppose right to work is also declining.

Of course, the influence of union PACs with their dollars is still strong, but perhaps supporting right to work is not quite the political suicide it is made out to be. But without better data, someone will have to prove they can win on a right to work platform to change that conventional wisdom, and so far nobody is eager to be the first to try.

Let’s Not Forget Shockey Nepotism

7 Jul

About two days after I first reported on the hire of Arnold Police Chief Robert Shockey’s son-in-law as a cop (back in 2011), the Dianne Critchlow scandal broke. The news of the defamatory online posts that came from her house sucked all the air out of the room, media-wise. Only KMOV had time to run a story on the issue, although I know other outlets were looking into it. This allowed the story to fade from the headlines, at least for the time being.

And the city administration and council took advantage of this. The issue has not come up at all at council meetings, as far as I can tell. The council is displaying its own brand of unity – no dissent from the administration line, no alternate viewpoints.

The following individuals particularly need to answer some questions:

- Mayor Ron Counts is supposedly the final approver of new hires. Did he know the chief’s son-in-law was being hired? Was he concerned about this?

- Councilman Paul Freese was on the council when this hire occurred. Did he know about the relationship? Did he raise any objection?

- Councilman Jason Fulbright is running for the GOP nomination for state representative and GOP committeeman. Any good Republican supports good government and opposes cronyism like that we normally see in liberal-dominated big cities. But he seems to have voiced no concern over Shockey’s business dealings or relative-hiring. Do these activities not bother him? What kind of Nixon administration shenanigans will he overlook if he joins the Legislature?

- Councilwoman Mary Elizabeth Coleman is heading up a committee to review city “employee and financial policies” formed in the wake of the Shockey business scandal. Will she be reviewing hiring and supervision policies? The police nepotism issue should be of concern to her and be reviewed by her committee.


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