Palmer to Run Again for Fox Board

21 Dec

According to the Leader, six candidates have filed to run for the two up-for-grabs seats on the Fox School board as of December 16, the first day of filing. One of these candidates is an incumbent, Dave Palmer, who has been on the board all but one year since 2002. This coincides, of course, with disgraced former superintendent Dianne Critchlow’s reign of terror.

I am at a loss to explain how Palmer thinks he can win. He has witnessed the public outrage that has erupted over the past 7 months in the district. He’s seen the crowds at board meetings, and he must know they weren’t there to celebrate the board or the district. I’m sure his e-mail inbox has overflowed with anger, but I don’t know if he reads those e-mails (I know he hasn’t acknowledged any that I have sent, and I’ve heard other complaints of board member non-responsiveness).

He has also shown (even more so than the other board members) that he just doesn’t get it. After the controversy over the hire of former board member Cheryl Hermann’s daughter, when the board performed an about-face and quickly rescinded the job, Palmer was the only board member who voted to keep Hermann’s daughter on the payroll.

Some noted at the time that Hermann could have saved her daughter’s job by resigning earlier. On a related note, Palmer has relatives that teach in the district. Under the district’s new nepotism policy, these relatives can’t be promoted or take other jobs in the district while he is on the board. Is that a sacrifice he wants to impose on them? (HIs wife is director of nursing, so I don’t reckon there is any room for promotion there anyway).

Perhaps Palmer thinks the vote will be split among the numerous challenger candidates, allowing him to eke out a victory. Perhaps he counts on support from First Baptist Church of Arnold attendees. While these are traditionally sound political strategies, I do not think they are viable in this situation, given the level of outrage and the likely level of engagement with the April election among Fox residents. I only hope my instincts are correct.

I look forward to hearing Palmer try to explain why he should be re-elected, to tell us what he has done to merit another term, to recount his accomplishments over the past three years.

The filing period to sign up as a candidate ends January 20 (so Palmer could in theory withdraw from the ballot). I suspect we will see a couple more candidates throw their hats in the ring before then.

On another note, the Fox C-6 Watchdogs blog called on Palmer to resign on October 30.

New Auditor Accused in Deputy Incident

18 Dec

One of the surprises of the local November election was the victory by Richard Carter III, the GOP candidate for county auditor, over long-time incumbent Dorothy Stafford. He was an unknown and he didn’t really campaign much that I saw. He had no campaign committee, did not respond to the Post-Dispatch voter guide, and did not appear at the JeffCo Growth Association candidate forum. He did have a Facebook page, now taken down, but it only had 63 likes. Yet somehow he was victorious when other GOP candidates who campaigned hard fell short. Did you encounter his campaign or see any signs for him?

Well, the mystery of this man deepens. You see, a Ferguson cop made headlines in August for arresting two reporters at McDonald’s. It was later reported that this officer, Justin Cosma, previously worked as a Jefferson County Sheriff’s Deputy, where he was sued over an incident where he allegedly hog-tied a 12-year-old boy in 2010. That suit was just settled, for a mere $4,500. I am told that the plaintiff contradicted some of his claims under deposition.

But there was another deputy present at the incident, who was also named in the lawsuit. His name: Richard Carter. According to the Post-Dispatch, this is the very same Richard Carter who was just elected auditor. His lawyer says Carter was hired by the JeffCo Sheriff’s Office in 2009 and left in June 2014 (just in time to run for auditor).

But here’s the thing: in the limited campaign materials I have seen, Carter never mentioned that he worked for the sheriff’s office! Here’s a bio he posted on Facebook:

Richard Carter III has announced his Republican candidacy for the Jefferson County Auditor. Richard is 27 years old from Crystal City, Missouri where he graduated in 2005. He later went to Jefferson College and Missouri Baptist University studying business administration and accounting. During his time at Missouri Baptist University, he achieved three president citation awards for a 4.0 GPA. Richard has been in a professional career for the past five years and strives to improve himself and surroundings. The goal for Richard is to provide his knowledge, education and leadership to Jefferson County as the auditor.

Richard has the following credentials:
-Bachelor of Science Degree in Accounting 2014
-Eagle Scout
-National Honor Society member
-Reliable
-Honest
-Detail oriented
-Meets deadlines

I guess his “professional career” was being a deputy, unless he had something else going on the side. In the Leader voter’s guide, published October 23, he also did not mention being a deputy. He said he was “employed as a business professional.”

Isn’t that weird? There were a number of candidates with ties to the sheriff’s office that ran for office, including Steven Bergner for county council, Gary Stout and Chris Borgerson for county executive, and Mike Reuter for circuit clerk. These candidates were more or less open about their employment as deputies. Why wasn’t Carter? Was it because of the lawsuit? I don’t know how widely this lawsuit was known about before Ferguson happened. The aforementioned Facebook information was posted way back in March.

This was quite deceptive of Carter to omit this work experience. And a lot of balls were dropped on this by local reporters (and me). Carter won his race by about 1,300 votes. Would the news of this lawsuit have changed the result if it had been widely reported? I doubt it. Cosma and Carter, of course, deny the allegations, so many probably would have given them the benefit of the doubt. Still, we’re going to have to keep an eye on this guy. I don’t really know what the county auditor does, but if the job involves any interaction with the sheriff’s office, that is an issue.

Former Fox Board Member is Poor Choice for P and Z

7 Dec

Even before he was elected to a second term as Jefferson County Executive, Ken Waller started shaking up the county planning and zoning commission by replacing two members. Two more members have stepped down. One of the board members replaced was Mike Price, an obvious target for removal since his “dress up as a clown” stunt at a council meeting in December 2013.

But his replacement is a troubling choice. Waller appointed Arnold-area Republican Dan Smith, who served on the Fox C-6 School Board from 2008-2014. As anyone at all familiar with recent events knows, that was the time period during which disgraced former superintendent Dianne Critchlow unleashed her reign of terror on the district. Smith was even president of the board for a time, though everyone seems to get a turn with that title. Anybody who has served on the Fox school board over the past six years is, in my mind, automatically disqualified for any elected or appointed office, because it was the board that allowed all of this to happen, through a combination of neglect, naivete, or coziness with Critchlow.

Let’s look at what went on while Smith was on the board:

  • Critchlow’s salary increased from about $192,000 to about $256,000. Of course, it was already too high by the time Smith took office, but it only got higher.
  • Kelly Nash, the daughter-in-law of board president Linda Nash, was hired to the food services director position. Smith voted to approve the hire. This is only one example of nepotism at Fox.
  • The district refused to put credit card statements in the board packets for public release. It was the administration that was running interference on this, but the board abetted the lack of transparency by inaction. It does not appear that Smith and others read the statements themselves, either.
  • Smith did not respond to emails from Fox Watchdog Rich Simpson, and even deleted some of his emails without reading them.
  • In February of this year, the board allowed – by inaction or inattention – the 10-year service requirement for the Voluntary Early Separation Incentive Program to be removed. This allowed Andy Arbeitman to walk away with $66,000 after working at Fox for two years. The hire of Arbeitman, who left De Soto under a dark cloud, was approved unanimously by Smith and the board.
  • Critchlow was allowed to mislead and blow smoke at the board while doing (and spending) what she wanted unchecked.

When he ran for re-election to the board in 2011, Smith said “Fortunately, the previous and current Fox C-6 school board members and administrators have been very fiscally responsible.” LOL. He also said “Our experienced, well-trained Board of Education and administrators will continue to keep a close eye on our budget and continue to be fiscally responsible with our taxpayer’s dollars.” Sure you will. These statements are reminiscent of Baghdad Bob, given what we know what happening at the time, and given recent multimillion dollar budget shortfalls at the district.

I have no problem with Waller making changes to county boards. That is part of his prerogative as executive. Of course, the council also has a role to play in approving (or not) his appointments (Smith was approved unanimously). However, with the Fox scandal still unfolding, it is troubling to see a major player in it get appointed to an important county board.

Postscript: The other P&Z board member to be replaced was Paul Kopp, who I noted in a previous post was “philosophically opposed to the continued expansion of the nation’s cell phone network.”

Roorda and the Rams

1 Dec

Outgoing local state representative Jeff Roorda, who also serves as business manager for the St. Louis police union, is in the news again in that latter capacity as it relates to Ferguson. After five Rams players gave the “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture before Sunday’s football game, Roorda responded with indignance:

The St. Louis Police Officers Association is profoundly disappointed with the members of the St. Louis Rams football team who chose to ignore the mountains of evidence released from the St. Louis County Grand Jury this week and engage in a display that police officers around the nation found tasteless, offensive and inflammatory.

Now, a lot of people will agree with this part of the statement. But as was typical in his political career, Roorda went over the top:

I’d remind the NFL and their players that it is not the violent thugs burning down buildings that buy their advertiser’s products. It’s cops and the good people of St. Louis and other NFL towns that do. Somebody needs to throw a flag on this play. If it’s not the NFL and the Rams, then it’ll be cops and their supporters.”

Here, Roorda is suggesting that everyone who disagrees with the grand jury decision (and I think it is safe to say the case was handled in a bizarre manner by prosecutors) is on par with criminal looters.

Roorda was incensed that the Rams and the NFL would tolerate such behavior and called it remarkably hypocritical…The SLPOA is calling for the players involved to be disciplined and for the Rams and the NFL to deliver a very public apology.

This is interesting. The “hands up” gesture was carried out by five players on their own. The team and league were not involved; you could say the players were rogue, in that respect. Well, as we know, part of Roorda’s job is to defend rogue cops, such as Rory Bruce, who decked a handcuffed suspect right in the face. Did Roorda or the police union apologize for this? No. Was Bruce disciplined? No (well, he was fired, but cleared of assault charges). Why should the NFL “deliver a very public apology” when Roorda won’t apologize for police misconduct?

I know that there are those that will say that these players are simply exercising their First Amendment rights. Well I’ve got news for people who think that way, cops have first amendment rights too, and we plan to exercise ours.

This is reminiscent of when St. Louis cop Keith Novara called a protestor’s employer in October in a clear attempt to get her fired or at least intimidate her and curtail her protests. Roorda of course defended the officer:

Novara’s speech was protected under the First Amendment and that he was only “setting the record straight on public statements made by people spreading irresponsible lies and calling for violence against the police.”

I disagree completely that what Novara did was covered by the First Amendment. But Roorda needs to learn that just because you may have a right to free speech, it’s not always best to exercise it. As Sally Jenkins at the Washington Post points out, Roorda’s statement only made the Rams’ players protest a bigger story than it otherwise would have been. She also discusses the 1st Amendment in her column.

The Post-Dispatch‘s Tony Messenger has a wish:

Roorda has said before, and said again today, that he wants to be part of the solution in Ferguson. He said on CNN that “I mean we’re ready to engage in a dialogue with leaders from communities of color.” However, I would argue that he is the last person that would have any credibility on this issue, or any ability to bridge divides.

Here is a CNN clip from today that I enjoy. You only have to watch the first minute or so.

Byrnes Mill Has County’s Most Confiscatory Court

29 Nov

Update: It has been pointed out to me that both Byrnes Mill and Hillsboro have the same municipal judge: Colby Smith-Hynes.

Following up on my post about JeffCo police ticketing and search practices, here I will delve into the county’s various municipal courts (St. Louis County’s municipal courts have become controversial since the Michael Brown shooting). The state makes available data on number of cases and fine collections. This data is for fiscal year 2013. Here is my table (click to enlarge):

2013 Municipal Court Data for Jefferson County, MO.

2013 Municipal Court Data for Jefferson County, MO.

I ordered the data here by fines per person (based on 2010 population of persons ages 16+), and you can see that Byrnes Mill, notorious for its aggressive policing, leads the #2 city, Hillsboro, by more than a 2-to-1 margin. Byrnes Mill was also first in cases per person; Hillsboro was again second. You may recall that Byrnes Mill was first in arrests per person in the police stats I presented. Hillsboro was second in percentage of stops in which a ticket was issued. I have not heard of any reputation that the Hillsboro police have, similar to what Pevely and Byrnes Mill have, but perhaps one is needed, given these numbers.

Pevely was fourth in both fines per person and cases per person. Pevely was first in stops per person and ticketing percentage in the police stats. I should note that I reported in January that Pevely brought in $548,000 in ticket revenue in calendar year 2013, according to records from the city. The city’s fiscal year also runs from January to December, so I’m not sure what the discrepancy is between my data and the state’s data. Maybe something to do with when tickets are written versus when the money is collected. My numbers indicate Pevely brought in $262,000 in 2012, and budgeted for $425,000 in revenue this year.

It is interesting to compare Hillsboro and Byrnes Mill to Herculaneum, since they have similar populations. Herculaneum is near the bottom of the list in both of my measures. What’s up with that?

It is not clear to me why Kimmswick needs police or a court, if they are issuing no citations.

More on Byrnes Mill

This Show-Me Institute story outlines the eight cities in St. Louis County that derive the highest percentages of their budgets from court fines. The fines per person in the Show-Me article are per all residents, while the numbers in my table above are per residents over the age of 15. Using the article’s measure, Byrnes Mill’s fines-per-person number is $159.45.

Another important number highlighted in the article is percent of city revenue derived from traffic fines. The Mack’s Creek Law says this number should not exceed 30%. All eight of the STL county cities identified exceed that, and the overage should be directed to schools, but this law is not strongly enforced. The article notes that municipal court revenue numbers don’t differentiate between traffic and non-traffic fines; only the former count towards the Mack’s Creek limit.

Here is Byrnes Mill’s budget for 2012-13. The city’s fiscal year runs from July through June. Assuming that the ‘2012’ column is the 2011-12 budget, and the ‘2013’ column is the 2012-13 budget, we see that Byrnes Mill projected that municipal court fees would be 31.1% and 30.6% of total revenue in the two years, respectively; by far the city’s biggest moneymaker. We don’t know what percentage of this is from traffic fines (as opposed to non-traffic offenses), but it is surely high enough that the state auditor should investigate. The auditor is looking into St. Louis area municipal courts in the wake of Ferguson.

Courts in several outlying counties made the auditor’s list of 10 courts to audit, so the chances are decent that Byrnes Mill could make the cut next year if more courts are audited. The article says that “The list was a mix of cities with the highest number of traffic stops per capita, those that generated the most complaints on the auditor’s hotline, and those that raised the biggest concerns with elected officials.” That hotline number is 1-800-347-8597, by the way, and the office’s email address is moaudit@auditor.mo.gov.

Notice also that the budgeted income from the municipal court in 2012-13 was $340,000, but the table above indicates that the city brought in $443,433, which is about 33% more than budgeted.

First Impressions of the New Fox Superintendent

22 Nov

Jim Wipke, executive director of secondary education at Rockwood School District, has been named the new superintendent of the Fox C-6 School District, to begin in July of next year (too bad he can’t start in January). He spoke at the November 18 board meeting. Here is the video of his talk, which I think everyone with an interest in the Fox district should watch:

Off the bat, I’ll say that I wish he would have directly addressed the current scandals at Fox, and pledged to help clean house. However, he said several things that contained oblique, perhaps not coincidental, references to the previous regime. For example, he mentioned “integrity” more than once, along with “fairness” and “doing things the right way.” All of these characteristics have been missing from Fox.

He mentioned the book “Leaders East Last” by Simon Sinek as one that has inspired him. The book title refers to military officers allowing the servicemen they are leading go first in the lunch line. Treating your employees this way leads to an engaged, higher-performing team. Fox employees (at least those who were not one of superintendent Critchlow’s cronies) were treated instead to a culture of intimidation. I don’t know if it was a coincidence or not that the title of the book Wipke cited had to do with food, considering that one of Critchlow’s scandals was the rampant use of credit cards by senior administrators for sometimes extravagant dining. Leaders should not only eat last, but they should also pay for their own food.

Wipke listed two requests he had for Fox residents: hold him accountable (I note that Critchlow worked to avoid accountability), and believe in him (he contrasted belief with fear, which it is said is the emotion Critchlow cultivated). He plans to attend many school functions during the rest of this school year, and to visit every classroom. He cited the military mantra that to fail a mission is catastrophic, and citing Fox’s mission statement, said that failure is not an option.

I wish Dr. Wipke the best, and I am optimistic that he will bring positive change. But we should take him up on his request for us to hold him accountable.

Arbeitman Gets the Golden Parachute

The other highly anticipated part of the November 18 meeting was the request by assistant superintendent Andy Arbeitman, who started at Fox 16 months ago, to take a $66,000 early departure bonus. In between the time this was announced and the meeting occurred, some information came out of the district. It was revealed that in February 2014 an email when out to district staff that eliminated by omission the previous 10-year in-district service requirement to be eligible for the payout. The district had to change the program that month to eliminate a requirement that an employee have no more than 31 years of service (courts have found that discriminatory) and to no longer call it an “early retirement” incentive. It appears that when those changes were made, the 10-year provision was quietly taken out as well. District CFO John Brazeal suggests that, as Critchlow was nearing retirement, she was fighting to keep the incentive program alive and to expand it for her own personal benefit and perhaps that of her husband. Did she also have her boy Arbeitman in mind at this time? I am told that she fought pretty hard to hire him, over the objections of others on the interview panel. I hope Andy bought her a nice steak dinner this week.

Brazeal also stated that district lawyers determined no vote was needed to approve incentive payouts. For an employee to accept the district’s standing offer of a buyout made it official. So the board made no action to approve or stop the payout at the meeting. Board president John Laughlin claimed to be unhappy with what was happening, and said the board is “taking a serious look” at its options. This is the last year of the incentive program, and the offer is open until mid-January (recently changed from mid-December), so there is fear that other senior administrators, whose hands are less than clean in the Critchlow affair, will attempt to cash in as well.

Pat Martin Calls Us All Racists

16 Nov

We knew Leader editorial page editor Pat Martin – longtime Democrat supporter and peddler of weakly-supported endorsements – would not be happy with the results of last week’s election. But did he have to resort to this?

Pat Martin column from 11/13/14 Leader.

Pat Martin column from 11/13/14 Leader.

So let’s break this down. I guess the national GOP is racist for “guiding their candidates” to oppose the President’s agenda (although I doubt the party bigwigs were that concerned with Dan Shaul, Shane Roden, etc. in Jefferson County, Missouri). And I guess it would follow that the local GOP candidates are also racist for pursuing this strategy. I reckon that would also make you and I racist for voting for these candidates. That’s a pretty broad brush that Martin paints us with. And it makes as much sense as, well, most of his political columns. He drops that bomb without any elaboration, failing to even consider that it is Obama’s policies, actions, and statements that make him unpopular.

But as I said, he must have been much displeased with the results of the election:

Hat tip to Ken Horton

Hat tip to Ken Horton

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