April 2018 Election Recap

8 Apr

Let’s look at some of the headlines from the local elections held a few days ago.

Taxes: Six of nine tax measures succeeded in all.

The property tax for the county sheriff passed in a big way, with 64% of the vote. A sales tax hike for police passed in Hillsboro with 71% of the vote.

Byrnes Mill went 1 for 2 on tax hikes after going 0 for 3 last year (with two close losses). This time, a road maintenance tax won by 31 votes and a transportation tax failed by six votes. Will the city try the failed tax proposal again in a future election?

Antonia Fire’s 35-cent property tax proposal failed by 56-44%, after a 50-cent tax lost by the same margin in November. This time 2,100 people voted, versus 1,489 last time. Will the district try again in a future election? Maybe 25 cents next time?

A tax for a Hillsboro library failed for the third time in recent years, with 64% voting against a property tax proposal. Will they try again in a future election?

Despite all the turmoil in city government with firings, resignations, and lawsuits, DeSoto’s Prop P park and stormwater tax passed with 67% of the vote.

DeSoto: Some shake-up took place, as one city council member who was serving as mayor, Larry Sanders, was knocked off, and one school board member (recently fired as city manager) who was previously appointed to the board to fill a vacancy, David Dews, failed to win a full term.

Pevely: Big turnover, as three incumbents, all part of the faction that wanted to fire acting police chief Tony Moutray, were defeated. One, Rick Arnold, also facing an n-word controversy, lost to a write-in candidate.

Arnold: Two incumbent councilmen won close races. In ward 4, Gary Plunk beat Randy Hoselton by three votes. In Ward 3, Vern Sullivan beat Rod Mullins by 12 votes. Sullivan was assisted by a third candidate, William Denman, who received 62 votes, which would have been more than enough to put Mullins over the top. Denman also played spoiler in the mayor race last year, when incumbent Ron Counts beat councilman Phil Amato by 176 votes while Denman got 276 votes. It’s almost like Denman entered these races for that specific purpose…

Denman’s name has popped up in Arnold before in association with a shady political group called Citizens For a Better Arnold (CFABA) that used outside money to push candidates who supported red light cameras. Early on, CFABA supported Amato, but later on Counts moved over to the dark side, and Amato recently broke with the Counts regime (and with the Democratic party, he claims). It is all rather shadowy.

Also in Arnold, he who I like to call the Critchlow candidate, Jim Chellew, was predictably voted onto the Fox school board.

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DeSoto Officer Sues City over Firing

1 Apr

Mike McMunn, who was named DeSoto interim police chief on November 3 of last year after previous chief Rick Draper resigned (but was probably forced out), and then was fired on February 7, only to rejoin the force two weeks later as a sergeant, has filed a lawsuit (read it here) against the city over his firing. He also alleges that his rehiring agreement was violated and that part of this treatment was for political reasons.

Here is a timeline of events:

      • 10-23-17 – Police chief Rick Draper resigned (probably under threat of termination, I am hearing)
      • 11-3-17 – McMunn named interim chief
      • 1-29-18 – DeSoto police engage in high-speed chase over a stolen donation jar that leads to a bad crash in Washington County (McMunn was not doing the chasing)
      • 2-5-18 – Draper comes back to the department as a detective
      • 2-7-18 – McMunn fired, and while the city won’t say why, the chase and crash appears to be the official reason. McMunn says the city manager, Ann Baker, and the city attorney, Mark Bishop, fired him, even though his contract says only the city council can do that.
      • 2-19-18 – New police chief Joe Edwards’ first day
      • 2-21-18 – McMunn returns to work at the same rate of pay he received as acting chief
      • 3-23-18 – McMunn files lawsuit

McMunn states that after he was fired, he requested some documents from the city (personnel records and policies and such). One could surmise that these were wanted in preparation for a lawsuit. McMunn states that after this request was made the city started talks with him about bringing him back on the force at his old rank of sergeant but at his chief level of pay. The deal also said McMunn need not sign a waiver of litigation (basically agreeing not to sue).

However, he states that as soon as he came back to work, new chief Edwards, City Manager Baker, mayor Larry Sanders, and city attorney Bishop all, one at a time, pressured him to sign a waiver, which he declined to do. His next paycheck then showed a rate of pay $2.51 per hour lower than what was agreed upon. McMunn is suing to have his pay restored and the termination expunged from his record.

Claims of Political Motive

The lawsuit alleges that some of this treatment is politically motivated. Bishop has filed as a candidate in the August GOP primary for county prosecuting attorney. McMunn states that he is a vocal candidate of another candidate, presumably Bishop’s GOP opponent, Trish Stefanski. McMunn alleges that it is for this reason that Bishop had it out for him. (I notice that former chief Draper is also a Stefanski supporter.)

While I don’t doubt that McMunn was mistreated by the city and its ethically-dubious leadership, I have some skepticism about this part of the suit. This is in large part because McMunn’s attorney is Allison Sweeney, daughter and law partner of Robert Sweeney, who I have written much about and who has built a local municipal law empire while frequently interfering in politics. Perhaps the Sweeneys saw the chance to append a political shot onto this otherwise credible suit.

Related to this, here is a Leader ad from 2016:

judge-ad2

Note on the last line that the Sweeneys and Stefanski teamed up here to promote the Democratic judicial ticket. While I do not allege that there is any collusion here with the candidate, we see that all three agree on the type of candidates that should be elected to judicial system positions in JeffCo. So it makes you wonder.

Antonia Fire Wants Big Tax Hike but Fails on Transparency

31 Mar

The Antonia Fire District asked for a 50-cent per $100 assessed valuation tax increase in November, which was rejected by a 56-44% vote. Now they are back, asking for a lesser, 35-cent increase on the April 3 ballot. However, while the district is eager to ask for more of your money, its leadership is not eager to share what it does with it.

Here is the page on the Antonia Fire website devoted to board meeting agendas:

antonia web agenda page

Yup, empty. Here is the board meeting minutes page:

antonia web minutes page

Just one entry, from two-and-a-half years ago, presumably chosen to make them look good.

Furthermore, there is no budget page on the site. I know from a Leader article on the tax hike that the district’s current budget is $2.65 million, but that’s all the information I have. I did find that if you use a little Google-fu you can find some old meeting minutes from 2013-14:

antonia google

So these minutes are still uploaded to the site, but no longer featured on the minutes page. Why take them off, and why stop uploading new ones?

Rock Ambulance has some of this information on its site, for comparison.

No Sunshine on the Budget

The district does no better in responding to Sunshine Act requests for copies of the budget. If you request a few years’ worth of budgets, you won’t get them unless you pay money (about $25). That’s not a huge amount, but this information should be on the website, free for all to see. Furthermore, the district might slow-roll your request until after the election. It should literally take the district 20 seconds to attach some files from a folder onto an email and hit send to fulfill such a request.

I feel that, if this district wants more money, its leaders should be transparent about what they are doing and how they are spending. If they aren’t, we should vote no.

As an aside, I would also compare this 35-cent tax request to the Sheriff’s Department 35-cent tax request that will also be on the ballot. Which is needed more?

Long List of April Tax Measures

17 Mar

Local elections will take place on April 3, and the 15% or so of voters who bother to show will be faced with many tax hike proposals, just like we were a year ago. Here is a full list from the county website:

  • Sheriff’s Office: 35-cent property tax increase for pay increases for deputies, as well as training and equipping. This is motivated by the fact that a number of deputies have left for higher pay elsewhere. I know may people who oppose all tax increases who see the need for this tax and support it.
  • Hillsboro library: 28-cent property tax increase to fund a new Hillsboro branch of the Jefferson County Library. Efforts to establish this branch failed in 2012 and 2014.
  • Hillsboro: 1/2 cent sales tax for police.
  • Arnold: increase in business license fees in order to triple its revenue from this source to pay for police and improve streets and parks. This is after trying and failing to increase sales taxes in 2015. This seems to be part of a general strategy to increase the burdens on Arnold businesses.
  • Northwest R-1: a bond issue for various facility improvements. While taxes will not go up under this measure, it would prevent a tax from expiring in about 2034.
  • Byrnes Mill: two 1/2-cent sales taxes, one for capital improvements and one for transportation. This is down from the three taxes the city tried and failed to pass a year ago. One sales tax lost on a tie then, and another lost by three votes. Again the city blames SB5, which stopped the city’s policing for profit ticket-writing strategy, for the need for new revenue.
  • DeSoto: 1/2-cent sales tax for storm water control and parks.
  • Antonia Fire: 35-cent property tax for staffing, training, and equipment. This is less than the 50-cent tax the district tried and failed to pass in November, which lost 56-44%.

I went ahead and created a chart of April tax measures voted on and passed in each of the past 5 years, for comparison. This does not include the Prop V vehicle tax votes that each local entity held over the past couple of elections.

tax vote chart

Most JeffCo Reps Vote Against Prevailing Wage Repeal

15 Mar

One of the major union-related issues the Missouri Legislature has looked at in recent years is prevailing wage laws, which regulate and inflate what construction workers are paid for work on public construction projects. The state House passed a bill Tuesday to repeal these laws. The bill now moves to the House. According to the Post-Dispatch:

Supporters of the repeal say getting rid of the labor rule would save taxpayer dollars and make it less complicated to get government projects underway. Opponents say the law would essentially take money out of workers’ pockets.

According to MissouriNet:

A sticking point with many Republicans which represent rural districts is that contractors don’t report their wages paid, and worker pay is then skewed toward urban areas where the cost of living and wages are much higher.

The bill passed the House with 89 votes, as 20 Republicans voted no. That includes four Jefferson County GOP representatives: Elaine Gannon, Becky Ruth, Shane Roden, and Dan Shaul. Democrats Ben Harris and Mike Revis also voted no. The only JeffCo rep to support the bill was Majority Leader Rob Vescovo.

This is another example of how, even as the GOP has taken over the county, local politicians still generally side with unions, although not unanimously as they once did.

Fox Board Candidate Chellew’s Critchlow Connections Persist

4 Mar

Former Fox superintendent Jim Chellew is the latest in a line of Friends of Dianne Critchlow to run for Fox School Board since she resigned in disgrace in 2014 after news of her massive theft from the district emerged. He is running in the April 3 election. Chellew, in fact, is the one who got Critchlow the superintendent job. As the Leader put it:

When Chellew decided to retire in 2005, he championed Dianne Brown (Critchlow) as his successor. She was hired at $135,217, a salary that nearly doubled in nine years.

Chellew said at the time:

“She will be the finest superintendent the Fox district has ever had, and I sincerely mean that,” he said. “She is one of the brightest individuals I’ve ever worked with and the most talented. I believe the best for Fox is yet to come.”

Not only that, but she was the only applicant for the job, which was only advertised in the district. It’s like everyone else knew the fix was in and didn’t even bother to apply.

Some might say, well, he didn’t know she would go on to defraud the district. But I find it unlikely that Critchlow was a woman of morality, ethics, and virtue right up until the moment she decided to hatch a wide-ranging conspiracy to rob the district blind.

Furthermore, Chellew’s support for Critchlow did not end when she assumed the superintendent job. In 2011 he attempted to persuade district critic Rich Simpson, he who caused the Fox scandal to be uncovered, to stop speaking out against the district. When that failed, Chellew apparently blabbed to Critchlow. We know this because Chellew was cited in the cease and desist letter that Critchlow got the district’s law firm to send to Simpson (and three other district critics) threatening them with lawsuits if they continued to use their free speech rights to criticize school district administrators. From the letter sent to Simpson:

“As an additional example, you approached a former Superintendent of the District in a public setting. Among other things, you informed him that it was your intention to see that two of the District’s administrators were fired.”

Simpson recounted that conversation here. In the post, he states that Chellew also said “he was the one that put Dianne in her position as superintendent and that he would fight to make sure that she didn’t get fired.”

Would Critchlow still be superintendent today if Simpson had listened to Chellew?

This activity seems to belie the politician non-answer Chellew gave on Facebook when questioned by Simpson and myself about his Critchlow connections and whether he would attempt to recover any of her illicit gains:

chellew-fb

Still Supporters

It is also interesting to see who is pledging their support for Chellew’s campaign:

brengle-jc

Brengle, a retired Fox assistant principal, was one of the people caught leaving nasty anonymous comments on the Topix web page targeting Simpson and other Fox critics.

didi-fb

And there’s the big kahuna herself, Dianne (Critchlow) Salsman, expressing her public support for Chellew.

Why It Matters

Some might say about this issue, “who cares, time to move on.” But the thing is, Critchlow’s attorney has threatened to sue the school district, claiming she is the victim. This is from January 2017:

“It is time for the public’s and the media’s outrage to focus on the true wrongdoers – the people who lied to and deceived them, humiliated and embarrassed Fox C-6 School District, and defamed an innocent, life-long public servant,” Barth said in the statement. “We intend to hold all of the responsible parties accountable in a court of law.”

I realize that statement will cause a lot of you to laugh and/or puke. This is, however, a serious threat. These days, lawsuits against local government entities are not heard in the courtroom, they are settled in the boardroom. Look at the many lawsuits the city of Arnold has been party to, or look at how the Pevely mayor scored herself a big settlement from the city. In these examples, cushy relationships between elected and appointed officials allowed for paydays that would have been unlikely had a judge been involved

So what happens if a bunch of Critchlow pals make it to the school board? Will they give her a big settlement? That is why this issue is so important.

Answers Needed

People generally seem to think Chellew did a good job as Fox superintendent. Here is what the Leader said:

He did a great job mending fences, got tax issues passed to pay for major facility upgrades and generally restored sanity and confidence.

Winning a tax hike being, I guess, the modern measure of superintendent success (will he support another Fox tax hike?). That and not stealing. But even with that being the case, the Critchlow issue is a cloud over him.

Chellew so far refuses to comment on his Critchlow ties. At the very least, he needs to tell us if he thinks she did anything wrong, or if instead he agrees with Dianne’s lawyer that she is a totally innocent victim. He also needs to denounce any support for his campaign from her or her cronies. Finally, he really should admit he made a large mistake in making her superintendent. Then he can put the Critchlow issue behind him.

Dem Win in Special Election – What Does It Really Mean

20 Feb

Two weeks ago, a special election was held in Missouri House district 97, which covers parts of Arnold and Fenton, including a small slice of St. Louis County. The election was necessary because Rep. John McCaherty (GOP), who was in his 4th and final term in that seat (due to term limits), resigned to focus on his run for county executive, which he has since decided to back out of.

In the special election, Democrat Mike Revis defeated Republican David Linton in an upset. Revis brought in 51.5% of the vote and won with a 108-vote margin.

Of course, this got Democrats excited, even on the national level, sure that this means a blue wave is coming in November. Some examples:

I think the Trump comparison is not that relevant. Trump was running against Hillary Clinton. If Clinton had run as the candidate in district 97, she would have lost big there once again. Instead, the local Democratic party nominated a moderate candidate who touts his NRA membership. And using the presidential election results to suggest that the 97th district is “deeply red” is erroneous. Keep in mind that McCaherty was a firm no on right-to-work legislation, reflecting the views of the district.

And Trump was not running either. Instead, the county GOP committee, a sclerotic, pro-establishment bunch that is primarily interested in getting themselves re-elected to the committee and that probably thought Jeb Bush would win the 2016 GOP nomination, chose a candidate who was blamed by at least one person for losing the seat:

Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, blamed the Jefferson County loss on a weak candidate.

“I’ve won a lot of Democratic races for Republicans,” Engler said. “In order to do that, you have to outwork your opponent, not kind of work your opponent.”

Some blamed Governor Greitens and his current scandal for the loss:

It should also be noted that 14,000 people voted in this race in 2016, when McCaherty had no Democrat opponent, versus the 3,500 that voted in the special election. While the labor union troops that were reportedly out in full force in this campaign can make a big difference in a low-turnout race, I think their efforts will be insufficient come November 2018.

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