Budget “Crisis” Was a Total Nothingburger

11 Jun

County executive Ken Waller, a Republican, went to the microphone Thursday to inform the unquestioning St. Louis media that there was a budget crisis in Jefferson County and that a shutdown was imminent. In fact, there were merely two typos in some account numbers, something that was easily fixed. This is all part of a six-month fight by Waller, who is trying to stop the county council from cutting spending. Instead of accepting political defeat after a veto-proof majority of the council opposed him, Waller decided to freak everybody out with a #fakenews shutdown threat. This is another sign of the abysmal leadership Waller has provided in his 7.5 years as executive.

waller-pc

Back Story

As I wrote in January, the council passed an amended version of the 2018 budget Waller proposed. However, Waller’s ally Tony Dorsett, the county counselor who has announced he is resigning effective June 22, used some tortured analysis of the county charter to say that Waller could just ignore the council’s budget until January 1 and then implement his own budget. However, the council is also required to pass an ordinance to implement the budget. But Dorsett waved his hand and said this was not necessary.

Meanwhile, the council, as is its right, moved to amend Waller’s budget again to make its desired changes, while also passing the implementation ordinance. The main changes the council desired, totaling about $130,000 in reductions, were:

  • Cutting the county’s contribution to the Economic Development Corporation (which doesn’t do much, from what I can tell) in half,
  • Cutting the salary budget of the counselor’s office, and
  • Cutting the salary budget of the county auditor’s office.

Waller argues that the latter two cuts are retribution for those officials’ refusal to approve the payment of the county council’s legal bills in its efforts to fight the politician pay lawsuit, in which several current and former elected officials (including Waller, who has since withdrawn from the suit), sued the taxpayers to get more money for themselves. And that may be true or not, but the council has the right to take steps to stop those in county government who want to play games. The council says the cuts were not punitive and were made to reallocate the money to other purposes (county bus, legal fees, legal fees).

Quick Fix

Waller called for an emergency council meeting for June 8, the day after his press conference. He placed an item on the agenda to rescind the ordinance that the council passed over his veto, thus eliminating the council’s budget cuts. At the meeting, the council amended the item to reiterate its previous cuts, making the following corrections (by a 6-1 vote) to two account numbers:

account strings

This hardly seems like a crisis. When county auditor Richard Carter III resigned on Wednesday over this issue, he said “the account strings are all wrong.” That seems to be an epic overreaction, especially since the auditor’s office knew exactly what accounts the council meant, judging from this February memo:

strings memo auditor.jpg

Again, seems like a pretty minor thing. So when Carter told the Leader “oh, we can’t transfer money between accounts because some of the accounts do not exist,” he knew exactly what the council’s intent was.

Word is that Carter already had another job lined up when he resigned, so maybe his departure was not all about taking an ethical stand. His term was to end in January, and he was not running for re-election.

I would also not look at Dorsett’s resignation as some kind of moral move. He has been providing legal cover for Waller for years; why stop now? Waller recently tried to appoint him to the county municipal judge job, but the council refused to go along. Dorsett presumably would have been out the door in January, also, when Waller’s term (mercifully) concludes.

Why Go Nuclear?

The question is, why would Waller get everyone all spun up about a fake shutdown threat? It just makes the county government look bad. He may think it only makes the council look bad, but he has plenty of stink attached to himself. I’m seeing many comments saying “the whole idea of charter government was a mistake.” It seems like he just wants to damage candidates ahead of November’s election, even though this will only help Democrats. I can’t imagine it will help his own run for county clerk.

Unfortunately, bringing in the St. Louis media for his press conference accomplished Waller’s goal of inciting mass hysteria. The big city outlets, who do not follow JeffCo affairs, had no idea of the back story, and took Waller’s scaremongering at face value, spreading the erroneous fears throughout the region and causing unnecessary alarm to county employees who feared they would miss out on pay.

But we have seen this before. Waller sued the council last March after they passed an ordinance that gave them the power to remove people from county boards. A judge eventually threw out Waller’s suit after the county spent big bucks on legal fees. Waller also removed his frequent foe, councilwoman Renee Reuter, from the East-West Gateway board after she resisted his attempts to gut the county’s budget for legal fees to fight Waller-associated lawsuits against the county.

Waller is accustomed to getting his way, and if he doesn’t, he lashes out with no regards for the consequences. And that is why Waller set off a fake news budget crisis over two typos.

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JeffCo GOP Responds to Party-Switchers

24 May

As the political tide in Jefferson County has switched from blue to red over the past eight years, local candidates are starting to take notice. Candidates that would have (and in some cases, previously have) filed as Democrats are now assuming the Republican mantle. This includes several sitting judges who were elected as Democrats but are running for re-election in 2018 as members of the GOP.

In one case, the local party organ, the Jefferson County Republican Central Committee (JCRCC) has decided to take a stand. Gary Stout, who ran in the Democrat primary for county executive four years ago (and received only 21% of the vote) is running for the same office on the GOP side this year. So earlier this month the committee decided to send a letter to the county clerk:

The second page of the document is a statement by the part requesting the state party and the legislature to take steps to allow the party to control who runs under its banner.

The second page is necessary because the party really has no leg to stand on in asking for Stout to be removed from the ballot. Under Missouri law, a candidate just has to show up during the filing period, say which office he/she wants to run for and for which party, and pay $50. A candidate does not need to prove that he/she is a loyal or longtime member of the party. Furthermore, voters can vote in whatever primary they want to; Missouri has open primaries.

It is no surprise that the party wants to control who gets to run for office. Going back to the early days of party politics in this country, the party bosses wanted to select who they thought was the correct candidate, based on loyalty, pliability, or other criteria. But in the past 100 years, the pesky voters have taken over the right to choose what candidates win the party nomination, and sometimes they don’t choose the person that the party bosses want them to choose.

The solution here is simple. During the campaign, the party bigwigs can make it widely known that they don’t think Stout is a real Republican. Make your case to the voters, let them decide. Stout probably doesn’t have much of a chance anyway, running against Dennis Gannon, husband of state representative Elaine Gannon. So why go after Stout and not former Democrats like Judge Ed Page or county prosecutor candidate Mark Bishop, both of whom have much greater chances of winning the primary? I’m really not sure what the point of this letter is.

Collector Candidate Saga Raises Suspicions

16 May

Update: Short tells her version of events here.

Lisa Brewer Short announced way back on May 28, 2017 that she intended to run for Jefferson County Collector as a Republican against longtime (8 terms!) incumbent Democrat Beth Mahn in the fall of 2018, according to her Facebook page. When it came time to file as a candidate earlier this year, Short showed up on the first day (Feb. 27). However, she had to withdraw the day after the filing period closed a month later because she states she was blindsided by a requirement for a bonding affidavit that she was not informed about until she filed. But now, a turn of events has allowed her to place her name back on the ballot for the August primary.

A requirement that is unique to candidates for collector and treasurer, officials who handle the county’s money, is that they have to present a signed affidavit from an insurance company saying that they meet the statutory bond requirement for the position, meaning their personal financial and legal history is deemed trustworthy enough that an insurance company will sell them a bond, $750,000 worth in the case of the collector.

Short states that this requirement is not listed on the county clerk’s website, where the requirements to run for office are listed. And this is true, as you can see if you follow the link. The bonding requirement is also not listed as a treasurer requirement. The page does reference the relevant state law, and the bonding requirement is mentioned there, but I don’t see why you wouldn’t list it on the clerk’s page, which gives you the impression it is all-inclusive.

This lack of notice did not give Short enough time to pay off some debt and have that show up on her credit score in order to meet the requirements before the filing deadline, so she withdrew her candidacy, leaving a rather unknown Republican, Julie Zelenda, as the only person left to take on Mahn.

However, Zelenda withdrew from the collector’s race on May 9. This left the GOP ballot devoid of collector candidates. This triggered a state law that says candidate filing must reopen for 5 days in such a situation. Short went to the clerk’s office to re-register as a candidate, having since met the requirements for bonding, but states that she had to spend the whole day making phone calls and being quite persistent to get the clerk’s office to let her register. Here is a news story, posted after filing reopened, indicating that the clerk’s office was not aware of the law about the 5 day filing period. The clerk’s office does mention the bonding requirement in this story (which was posted after Short’s battle).

Beth Mahn is one of the county politicians that is part of the lawsuit demanding that county taxpayers give them extra salary and retirement benefits (see her get confronted by Elliott Davis here). The greedy plaintiffs cite Boone County (where Columbia is) as a county with higher salaries for elected officials that Jefferson County should match. Well, if you go to the Boone County website, they inform potential candidates all about the bonding requirement for collector candidates, and even tell them what company to talk to. So maybe they earn the extra pay there.

Why would the Jefferson County Clerk’s office not be upfront about the bonding requirement? Was it a general failure of their duties, or was it because the current clerk, Randy Holman, and his predecessor, Wes Wagner, wanted to protect Mahn, their fellow Democrat and pay lawsuit plaintiff, by blocking any potential opponents? Short thinks the latter is a distinct possibility.

JeffCo Reps Mostly Quiet on Greitens

26 Apr

Updated to add Revis statement.

With Governor Eric Greitens facing three felony charges and a jarring House investigative report, a number of politicians have called on him to resign, including state Attorney General and US Senate candidate Josh Hawley. But less than half of Jefferson County’s legislators have done so. Here is a list:

  • Rep. Becky Ruth, GOP, 114th district, Festus – called for his resignation on April 12 in a Facebook post.
  • That same day, Sen. Gary Romine, GOP, 3rd district, Farmington, and two other Missouri senators signed a letter to President Trump asking him to tell Greitens to resign. Romine, who has had an acrimonious relationship with the governor since Greitens took office, called on the governor to consider resigning in February.
  • Also on April 12, JeffCo’s newest representative, Mike Revis, Democrat, 97th district, Fenton, called for Greitens’ resignation. He is also one of 20 cosponsors (19 of them Democrats) of a bill to allow the House committee investigating the governor to introduce articles of impeachment against Greitens “upon a finding of good cause.”
  • On April 17, Rep. Rob Vescovo, 112th district, Arnold, the GOP majority leader, issued a statement with the rest of the House GOP leadership asking the governor to step down.
  • Reps. Elaine Gannon, Shane Roden, and Dan Shaul and Sen. Paul Weiland (all Republicans) have made no calls for resignation at this time. They are likely awaiting Greitens’ trial next month and/or the completion of the House investigation before commenting.
  • Rep. Ben Harris (the other JeffCo Democrat) does not appear to have made a statement on Greitens, but his office could not confirm that. Harris has not cosponsored the aforementioned impeachment bill.

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.

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?

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