Sweeney Post Office Box and Local Elections

19 Aug

I wrote here about how an employee of Arnold and Byrnes Mill city attorney Robert Sweeney named Lisa French was, strangely, the deputy treasurer for the failed Prop C effort to pass a half-cent sales tax in Arnold to fund stormwater and infrastructure improvements in 2015.

French, from Hillsboro, is also the deputy treasurer for a new political action committee (PAC) called The JeffCo Dems. While French listed what I assume is her home address in the paperwork for Building a Better Arnold, she lists PO Box 20 in Hillsboro as her address in the paperwork for The JeffCo Dems. That same address is also listed as the address for the PAC itself. Allison Sweeney, daughter and law partner of Bob Sweeney, who also serves as Byrnes Mill prosecutor, is the treasurer of The JeffCo Dems and also for Democrat county council candidate for district 2 Roger Hendrix (she also wrote a letter to the Leader supporting Democrat Nathan Stewart for re-election as judge). Box 20 is listed as the address for Hendrix’s campaign committee and as the address for both Sweeney and his deputy treasurer, French.

PO Box 20 is also the address for – guess who – the Sweeney Law Firm. Generally, Bob Sweeney has preferred to do his political meddling behind the scenes, but I guess now his organization is going overt in its support for Democrats.

I asked this question in regards to Arnold Prop C, but it comes up again: if Bob Sweeney’s employees are listing the firm’s address as their address on these forms, are they doing political work as part of their job duties? Is Sweeney thus giving unreported in-kind donations to these PACs and Hendrix?

Old PAC Same as the New PAC

Now, I say that The JeffCo Dems is a new PAC, but in fact it is a reformed version of a PAC formed in March 2015 called….JeffCo Dems. This is according to paperwork filed at the Missouri Ethics Commission (MEC) website. JeffCo Dems was terminated on 5/25/16, the same day that The JeffCo Dems was formed. The old group transferred all of its money on hand, $3141.63, to the new group. Both groups have the same treasurers, Sweeney and French. Why end one group and start a new one just to add “the” to the PAC name?

Somehow, the old PAC does not have any finance reports on the MEC website other than its termination report. So we don’t know where it got $4,660 of the $4,920 it brought in, or how it spent $814 of that money (the rest that was not transferred to the new group went mostly to Hillsboro homecoming supplies). The new group has received about $2,300 from traditional Democrat sources: Democrat candidates, a labor group, and lawyers.

Given the Sweeney history of shadiness, I think these committees are worth keeping an eye on.

Former Arnold Pastor Pleads Guilty to Burglary of Parishioners, and Related Events

8 Aug

A former pastor of a church formerly located in Arnold plead guilty in February and was sentenced to probation in April for breaking into the home of a church member to steal prescription opiods, according to court documents. On top of that, this story takes a number of twists and turns that I will lay out in this post.

skiles

Mug shot from JeffCo Sheriff, via Mobile Patrol app.

The pastor’s name is Tom Skiles, and the church was SOS Church, which was located on JeffCo Boulevard but has since moved out of Arnold. Skiles led the church for 10 years (he got some attention in 2009 for a series of MMA-themed sermons). The relocation of the church in April 2014 to Rockwood Summit High School (RSHS) was prompted by a court judgment against the church after it fell behind by over $23,000 in rent to its landlord, according to court documents. Casenet indicates that this judgment has yet to be paid by Skiles and/or the church.

Several former members of the church are convinced that the reason SOS could not pay its rent is because Skiles stole money from the church for personal use, based on extravagant spending they witnessed. However, these allegations do not appear to have been brought to police.

However, Skiles has violated his probation with separate arrests for DWI and drug possession. The process of revoking his probation is underway in county court.

Timeline of Events

  • March 2014 – Skiles breaks into home of parishioners; relocation of church announced*
  • late March 2014 – SOS Church announces that Skiles is “taking a little break which is well deserved”*
  • April 2014 – Church relocates to RSHS*
  • May 2014 – Burglary harges filed against Skiles in Jefferson County court
  • June 2014 – Lawsuit filed against church for unpaid rent
  • July 2014 – Skiles arrested
  • April 2015 – Judge rules for landlord in lawsuit, orders payment of $24,943
  • October 2015 – New lead pastors announced at SOS – Skiles’ brother and his wife*
  • December 2015 – New name announced for SOS Church – Endurance Church
  • February 2016 – Skiles pleads guilty to break in
  • April 2016 – Skiles sentenced to five years probation
  • July 2016 – Skiles arrested for DWI and marijuana possession in separate events, motion to revoke probation filed

* These events are portrayed on social media as positive happenings; it seems that the true reasoning behind the events was concealed from or downplayed to church members.

Unreported

Now, one would expect “pastor steals from his flock” to be journalistic red meat, sure to merit mention in the papers, but to my knowledge the Leader has not reported on these events, despite being tipped off by former SOS members. This is especially strange given the sometimes mundane crimes the Leader does report on.

It was also stated by the county prosecutor in Skiles’ criminal case that he was picked up by the Festus PD in early 2016 for DWI but was allowed to go home uncharged. Recall that the Festus PD also let the city judge get away with a potential DWI in 2004, as I wrote about here. How common is this in Festus?

Might these examples of special treatment have something to do with the fact that Skiles’ aunt is the wife of JeffCo sheriff Glenn Boyer?

There is a feeling among the former SOS members I talked to that Skiles has gotten away with a lot. We will have to watch his probation revocation proceedings to see if this continues. In addition, the mug shot above was taken after the marijuana arrest on July 1 – no charges have been filed for this incident as of yet.

JeffCo August Primary Results

2 Aug

The vote results are in for our county. They came in fairly early this time, compared to recent years, with updates throughout the night instead of a big dump at the end of the night. Candidates in bold below are ones I endorsed.

For the statewide GOP races, our results mirrored what is happening statewide (so far), with Greitens for governor, Parson for lt. governor, Hawley for AG, and Ashcroft for SoS prevailing. Greitens has right about 35% of the 4-way vote both in JeffCo and statewide. On the Democrat side, Jake Zimmerman has a 3,000 vote lead at 50.7% in the AG race as I write this, but he won JeffCo by 2,200 votes at 60%. Judy Baker leads the treasurer race with about 62% here and statewide.

Locally, Bob Boyer pulled out a close win in the GOP assessor race. He was trailing early, as the votes from the southern part of the county came in first, but when the northern vote was tabulated, he won 36-34-29 over Mary Dunnegan and Cary Blum.

Paula Wagner cruised in the GOP treasurer race, 47-28-23 over Mark Paul and Ken Horton.

Charles Groeteke, known for losing two nailbiter races, defeated George Engelbach in a county council race that also seemed to come down to north vs south vote, by a 56-44 margin (almost 400 votes). He will face Jeff Roorda in November.

Incumbent Shane Roden prevailed in a five-way primary for House district 111 with 44% of the vote. Gary Bonacker came in 2nd with 28%.

Dan Stallman beat Kevin Weaver in council district 6 by 66 votes out of 3,600 cast in the closest race of the night.

Dave Marshak rolled to the GOP sheriff nomination, getting half the vote in a 3-way field. Ron Arnhart got 33% while Sean Cooper registered only 16%. Marshak will take on Steve Meinberg in November.

On the Democrat side, for House district 113, Karen Settlemoir-Berg beat perennial primary candidate Mike Evans by 59-41. She will take on Dan Shaul in November.

The three incumbent US Congressmen who represent our county did not fare all that well within our borders. Ann Wagner got only 77% and Blaine Luetkemeyer got 67% vs. minor challengers, and Jason Smith lost the county to Todd Mahn of Festus (but cruised district-wide). Likewise, Senator Roy Blunt got only 68% of the county GOP vote.

The one competitive judicial primary was won by Katherine Hardy Senkel, with a 34.3-33.9-31.8 victory over Tony Dorsett and Trisha Stefanski. Hardy Senkel beat Dorsett by only 83 votes.

The car sales tax issue Prop V won everywhere, while school tax votes lost in Dunklin and won in Sunrise. A Saline Fire tax vote was successful.

And finally, Chief Wana Dubie got 11% of the JeffCo vote for US Senator (Jason Kander won here with  69%).

JeffCo Gets Attention from Statewide Candidates

20 Jul

A number of GOP candidates for statewide office have made appearances in Jefferson County recently. As the 7th largest county in Missouri (including STL City in that tally), one that is trending Republican, and one that arguably put Donald Trump over the top in the Missouri presidential primary, it is appropriate that we are being courted as the August 2 primary approaches. Here is a list of recent and upcoming candidate events, and I encourage to you check these events out. You can meet the candidates face to face, ask questions, and perhaps even get some free food. If there are any other events going on (even on the Democratic side) let me know and I will help publicize them.

July 24 – Secretary of State candidate Will Kraus* ice cream social, Fred Lang Park in Arnold, 7 pm

July 22 – Governor candidate Catherine Hanaway will be in Crystal City

July 20 (today) – US Senator Roy Blunt is in Fenton

July 19 – Secretary of State candidate Jay Ashcroft had a Grand Old Picnic at Arnold Park

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July 16 – Governor candidate Eric Greitens* was at Surdyke Harley in Festus

July 14 – Governor candidate John Brunner was at Arnold City Hall

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July 14 – Governor candidate Peter Kinder was at the Windsor Branch of Jefferson Library

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July 9 – Brunner was at the home of county treasurer candidate Ken Horton in Fenton

July 8 – Kraus* was at Big Carl’s BBQ in Imperial

February 19 – Blunt was in Arnold

December 10 – Brunner was at Big Carl’s

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An * denotes a candidate that I have endorsed

JeffCo Sheriff Candidate Refuses to Condone Special Treatment

17 Jul

I came across an incident from 2004 that is highly relevant to the current GOP primary race for Jefferson County Sheriff. It involves something that is not all that rare, a high profile person being let off the hook after being caught driving drunk. But Sean Cooper, then a Festus cop and now a sheriff candidate, chose not to play along.

Drawing from contemporary news reports and the lawsuit filed by Cooper, here are the allegations in the case:

One night in March 2004 when he was on duty, Cooper states that he was warned by a fellow officer, Sgt. William Stewart, that Festus municipal judge Michael Lowry was driving around drunk in his new black Lincoln. Shortly thereafter, Cooper followed a Crystal City officer to the scene of an accident involving…a black Lincoln. Stewart was already there.

Stewart asked the Crystal City cop to handle the incident, but the latter said no because Lowry filled in as a judge in Crystal City sometimes. He suggested bringing in the Highway Patrol. Stewart allegedly declined, remained in charge, and suggested to the driver of the other vehicle in the accident that she might lose her license because she had no proof of insurance. The driver then left the scene, making no accident report.

cooper suit festus 1-10-05

Post-Dispatch article from January 10, 2005 on the Lowry incident and Cooper’s lawsuit.

Then Festus police chief Tim Lewis, who is still the chief, showed up and drove Lowry home. No charges were filed, no arrrests made, and no police report was filed.

Cooper reported this incident to his superiors and to a Festus councilman. Cooper also met with the mayor. Two months later, some sort of investigative hearing was held with Cooper, the mayor, and several councilmen. Cooper tape recorded his testimony at the hearing, and they knew this was happening. He even turned over the tape to a councilman upon his request.

Despite assurances by the mayor and council members that his job was not in jeopardy and that he was protected as a whistleblower, Cooper was fired by Chief Lewis shortly after the hearing. The investigation into the Lowry incident was dropped and no action was taken. Lowry, however, who denied he was intoxicated, resigned as city judge after this, supposedly for unrelated reasons.

The official reason for Cooper’s firing was that he tape recorded that hearing, and general orders prohibit recording city employees without consent. But Cooper did not record employees, he recorded his own comments to elected officials. This reminds me of a recent Defense Department case in which an analyst who spoke out against political manipulation of intelligence about ISIS was suspended and reassignedfor swearing. Any excuse to get rid of a whistleblower. That DOD analyst won her appeal and got her job back, though.

Festus also tried to claim that Crystal City actually took charge of the Lowry incident, but Crystal City chief Doug Ruess denied this.

Cooper Sues

Cooper filed a federal lawsuit against the city over his firing in November 2004. In the end, Cooper won a $55,000 settlement from the city. According to Stewart’s LinkedIn page, he still works for the Festus police, though his name is not listed in the police email directory.

What We Need

In a time when cronyism is rampant, trust in police is impaired, and the Missouri municipal court system is seen as corrupt, we need a guy like Sean Cooper with ethics, and the courage to follow them, as our next JeffCo sheriff. It would send a message that voters want the same rules to apply to everyone when it comes to the law. Here’s what Cooper says on his website:

First, I will not tolerate any ethical misconduct. This is deeply rooted in the core of my being, and the reason why I became a whistleblower concerning law enforcement related corruption in the spring of 2004.

Honor is a word that its definition is best seen in a life lived of courage, respect, integrity and honesty.  The character of a man will follow him to his grave, but the respect spoken of his name afterward reveals the life he lived.

August GOP Primary Endorsements

15 Jul

For what they are worth, here are my picks for the August 2 GOP primary election. There are several interesting races with big contrasts, so this is one worth showing up for. I omitted the US Senate and House races (though I think anti-incumbent message votes may be appropriate) and the associate judge race from this listing.

Governor: Eric Greitens.  He has an accomplished record of military service, charitable service, leadership, and international experience. He has made cleaning up Missouri politics a major point of his campaign, and some tactics we’ve seen in this campaign show how much that is needed. While some question his conservatism, as he was a Democrat in the past, he has explained why he converted, and I see no reason to doubt him. The perfect replacement for bumbling governor Nixon and his lack of leadership.

Lt. Governor: Bev Randles. I like her record with the Missouri Club for Growth, where she was elbows deep in Missouri issues and the conservative solutions we need to enact.  Along with Greitens, she is another fresh, inspirational face in Missouri politics. Her opponent, Mike Parson, has received lots of lobbyist gifts and helped fight ethics reform in the state Senate this year.

Attorney General: Josh Hawley. He has been the subject of vicious, totally bogus attacks from opponent Kurt Schaefer. Former Senator Jack Danforth said one such attack was “an intentional and malicious misstatement of fact.” Let’s not reward such attacks. Hawley’s harshest attack is that Schaefer is a moderate, since that’s what he once called himself. Hawley is a constitutional lawyer who teaches at Mizzou and worked on the Hobby Lobby Obamacare case.

Secretary of State: Will Kraus. A senator with a solid record who serves in the Missouri National Guard and led the push for a voter ID law, part of which is ready for a veto override and part of which will be on the November ballot. His opponent, Jay Ashcroft, seems to have used his name and connections to travel from big defense contractor to big shot law firm during his career. I’m not a big fan of political legacies.

JeffCo Sheriff: Sean Cooper. I think the JeffCo Sheriff’s Office is ready for some outside leadership after the long reign of Glenn Boyer. Cooper is the only candidate who does not currently work for the JeffCo sheriff. He showed high courage and integrity when he was a Festus cop a decade ago after a drunken driving incident involving a judge that he refused to help cover up (I will write about this shortly). He has also expressed strong support for constitutional rights. He is currently second in command to the sheriff in Madison County.

JeffCo Treasurer: Mark Paul. I think he has best articulated his goals for transparency and efficiency in this office, recognizing the limits of the office’s powers but pledging to do what he can to improve its operations. One of his opponents, Ken Horton, won this primary in 2012 against county executive Ken Waller’s wife Trina, but lost the general election by 1,600 votes.

JeffCo Assessor: Bob Boyer. He has a record of small government conservatism on the county council, and he will bring this to the assessor’s office.

County Council District 4: Charles Groteke. This is close to a toss up, but I think Groeteke is working harder in this race, and opponent George Engelbach has been missing meetings in recent months. The winner of this matchup will have to face a harsh, perhaps underhanded campaign from former legislator Jeff Roorda in November, and I think Groeteke will be best equipped for that. This is a rematch of 2012, when Groeteke was the incumbent and lost to Engelbach by 4 votes.

Council District 6: Kevin Weaver. I like his focus on business and jobs.

House District 111: Jason Jarvis. I am not that impressed with incumbent representative Shane Roden, who focuses mainly on niche issues like motorcycle helmets and saying the pledge in schools. Jarvis has wide experience, and he is focused on serious issues like heroin and business.

Prop V (in the county and various cities): Yes. This just levels the playing field between in-state and out-of-state car dealers in terms of sales taxes paid.

 

JeffCo Reps and the United for Missouri Scorecard

7 Jul

United for Missouri, a conservative organization, has released its 2016 Legislative Scorecard, in which it ranks representatives based on their votes on selected bills. Rep. Rob Vescovo (R, 112th district, Arnold) received a 99.9% score from the group (he missed some of the votes, so he did not reach 100%). I will look at how the rest of the JeffCo delegation was rated.

United for Missouri (UfM) “is committed to educating and mobilizing citizens about the impact of limited government and economic policy on the state and the impact of the federal government exceeding its Constitutional limits on achieving growth, opportunity and prosperity.” It selected 19 bills from the 2016 session that fit within this mission, and tallied how each legislator voted. Here’s how Jefferson County’s House members fared:

  • Rob Vescovo, R, 112 – 99.9%
  • Shane Roden, R, 111 – 90.3%
  • John McCaherty, R, 97 – 88.7%
  • Dan Shaul, R, 113 – 84.0%
  • Becky Ruth, R, 114 – 73.3%
  • Elaine Gannon, R, 115 – 70.7%
  • Ben Harris, D, 118 – 24.0%

Here is UfM’s list of bills. It includes voter ID, paycheck protection, ethics bills, court reforms, a gas tax hike, and a prescription monitoring database. The bills are weighted, so for example, Gannon got four votes “wrong,” but one of them was paycheck protection, which had UfM’s highest weighting. Roden missed on two votes; one for data storage center tax breaks (he voted yes; UfM doesn’t like targeted tax breaks), and one for the ethanol subsidy. Four House members received 100% scores, and two got 99.9%.

In the Senate, three GOP members scored 100%, including two that are running for higher office (Will Kraus for Secretary of State and Kurt Schaefer for Attorney General). Missouri’s senators scored as follows:

  • Paul Wieland, R, 22 – 94.7%
  • Gary Romine, R, 3 – 73.5%

Wieland got one vote “wrong” – he voted for the gas tax increase (which was not enacted).

These numbers probably aren’t too surprising to anyone that follows our legislators, but it’s interesting to see their voting records quantified.

 

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