Return of Roorda

30 Jul

After he was defeated 54%-46% by Paul Wieland in the 2014 state senate race, one might have thought that former Democrat representative Jeff Roorda would go away from politics. After all, as business manager of the St. Louis police union, he has carved out a niche as the go-to guy when the cable news networks want someone to come on and defend police, no matter how egregious their conduct.

But no, he is back. He has announced he will be running for County Council district 4 in 2016. That is the seat currently held by Republican George Engelbach. Here is Roorda’s press release. Let’s break it down.

First of all, his official announcement will be at Detours Restaurant in Imperial on August 18 if anyone (including Ferguson-related protestors) want to attend.

As you can see, he is going to lean heavily on his public safety record in his campaign, with his work as a cop and his stints on local fire and ambulance boards and on a related House committee. He also calls himself a “nationally recognized police spokesman” who “sets the record straight” on issues like Ferguson and Baltimore. Of course, his police-related record can be used against him, jujitsu-style. Recall that he was fired from the Arnold PD. Note also that he was replaced as lead spokesperson against a St. Louis civilian review board proposal due to his incendiary conduct. He also had to delete his Twitter account after gaining national notoriety for his ‘police are never wrong’ stances on the news shows.

He then rips on the current council:

“I strongly supported the county charter and the creation of the county council, but by-and-large, the folks that have served on the council have been overly concerned with petty squabbles and advancing the narrow self interests of a small handful of supporters,” he said. “They’ve done nothing to bring jobs to Jefferson County or to improve our local schools or to make Jefferson County a safer place to live. In fact, they’ve taken the county in the opposite direction on these critical issues.”

First of all, what does the county council have to do with schools? Learn the duties of the job you are seeking, Jeff. Second, the main impediment to job development in JeffCo, I would say, is overly onerous planning, zoning, and permitting. We have seen several potential businesses shot down because they could not get clearance from the council (due to Democrats, wishy-washy councilman Jim Terry, and absences of potential ‘yes’ votes from meetings). Will Roorda help alleviate that? I am skeptical.

Let’s talk about safety in JeffCo. We currently have a sheriff, Glenn Boyer, who thinks he is beyond reproach and oversight. He will be retiring in 2016, but if he gets his way, his #2 man, Steve Meinberg, will take his place. This presents an opportunity to deflate the department’s balloon. A civilian review board with teeth would be nice. But a councilman Roorda would only push to give the sheriff’s office more money, more power (to do things like non-DWI compliance checkpoints), and less oversight.

Of course, no Roorda statement can be complete without an attack. He says that Engelbach, who has not said if he’s running again or not, is from Hillsboro, which is “at the southern tip of the district far removed from the population centers of the district in Barnhart and Imperial.” Do we really think the issues in Hillsboro are so different from those in Barnhart? It’s not like this is Chicago vs. downstate Illinois here. Plus, Hillsboro (which is smaller) grew 68% from 2000 to 2010, while Barnhart shrank and Imperial only grew slightly.

Roorda goes on to say that “Engelbach became the subject of national attention when he defended then Congressman Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments in 2012.” You may recall that Roorda ridiculously tried to tie Wieland to Akin as well. The “national attention” Roorda speaks of was limited to far-left sites, as opposed to Roorda’s own brand of national attention, which was much more widespread. Also, here’s a quote from Engelbach:

[Akin] had a statement that he made, and I’m not defending that. I’m saying I forgive him.

So that’s not quite in line with what Roorda claims. But that is typical of Roorda’s attacks.

Recall that Engelbach has already defeated one former legislator. In 2012, he beat Democratic Rep. Tim Meadows 51%-49% to win his current seat.

McKee Circuit Clerk Ragequit

28 Jul

The Leader on July 16 at long last corroborates what I reported back in May, that JeffCo 23rd Circuit Clerk employee and failed Democratic candidate for clerk Jeanette McKee was fired from the office in April. However, the Leader provides more info: that McKee appealed her firing and was reinstated in mid-May (it is hard to fire government employees, after all). But this victory was short-lived, as McKee resigned at the end of June. And she went out in a fit of pique, going to the Leader to air her alleged grievances towards her new/old boss.

There was bound to be tension in the circuit clerk’s office when new clerk Mike Reuter (Republican) took over. There was no way he would retain McKee as deputy clerk, and no reason to expect that he should; he is entitled choose someone he can trust. It is hard when an office is operated for decades under the principles of patronage, only to have the head patron replaced with someone of the opposite party. “Anyone who supported me or was hired by [previous clerk] Howard Wagner he has something against,” McKee claims. Of course, when it was the whims of Wagner, a Democrat, that ruled, she did not object.

McKee claims there was a “strained working relationship” and said Reuter “was never going to let up.” Reuter is unable to defend himself in a personnel situation such as this, so McKee is free to fire away unanswered. McKee would not sign a legal release, as requested by Reuter’s attorneys.

McKee says she took a three-week Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) absence because Reuter was “demeaning” her in front of others. Now, I’m not a human resources guy, but I think it is quite likely that this particular excuse is not covered under FMLA, which is intended for actual medical conditions. This is consistent with McKee’s past liberal use of leave. She took a month off in October to campaign for the clerk’s job.

McKee also says Reuter moved her from a “semi-private office to a cubicle outside his office door and then, after her leave, to a downstairs file room to do microfilming.” One has to wonder if Reuter also gave her a can of pesticide and asked her to take care of the cockroaches down there. Hopefully she got to keep her red stapler.

McKee also accused Reuter of not knowing the job and of relying too much on legal advice. She said Wagner did his own human resources work, to which Reuter attorney Stan Schnaare replied:

“I have no doubt that Howard Wagner did the bulk of his human resources work,” he said “I would say that perhaps in the past, the employees were not getting the same due process as they should have in the past – at least that’s my observation.”

We can see the fruits of Wagner’s HR work in the lawsuits filed by former clerk’s office employee Jamie Mahn.

One has to wonder what McKee’s new employers at the US Court of Appeals in St. Louis think of McKee’s parting shots. What will she have to say about them some day? Also, while it is clear that McKee is trying to cause political damage to Reuter, does she have her eyes on trying to run for the clerk seat again in 2018?

Arnold Streetlights: What Effect?

8 Jul

The Arnold City Council has adopted the trend of giving its ordinances and resolutions cutesy names. Usually, the bills are named after regime-friendly council members in order to advance their political careers. But sometimes the names tell us what the bill will supposedly do, kind of like how Obamacare is called the “Affordable Care Act.” But the claim attached to one recent Arnold resolution is speculative at best.

Arnold’s main bad-idea man, councilman Phil Amato, proposed a street light program by which the city would pay half the cost for subdivisions to install streetlights. Amato called this the “Crime Fighting Street Light Program.” He stated that “more light means less crime.” While this is a common assumption, the facts do not appear to support it. The effects of streetlights on crime are no better than mixed:

According to a 2007 systematic review of lighting experiments in American cities, increased street lighting in Indianapolis, Harrisburg, New Orleans, and Portland, Oregon, did not coincide with a drop in the affected areas’ crime rates, but it did in Atlanta, Milwaukee, Kansas City, and Fort Worth. Yet even in U.S. cities where lights “worked,” they didn’t appear to work consistently: While Fort Worth saw a decrease in all types of crime, Kansas City saw a decrease only in violent crime.

Why would this be?

[S]ome research indicates that an increase in number and brightness of streetlights actually increases the occurrence of crime, noting that street lighting allows perpetrators to monitor their own actions without the use of flashlights or other lighting devices that would make them visible to others. A case has also been made that offenders need lighting to detect potential targets and low-risk situations

Here are some more citations that show mixed or negative effects of new streetlights on crime.

Why oppose this street light program? After all, it may make people feel better. But what about light pollution? Some people like to be able to look up at the stars at night. Streetlights make it difficult to see anything up there.

But more importantly, homes all over Arnold are plagued by storm water problems, as this rainy summer has underlined. But rather than address these issues, the Arnold council spends money on frivolities. Two councilmen, Brian McArthur and Gary Plunk, voted against the street light program for this reason. From the June 25 Leader:

Both said they would like to see more streetlights in the older subdivisions, but they don’t think the city can afford the program right now. They said it would be better for the city to spend any extra money it has on solving longstanding stormwater problems before taking on streetlights.

Good for them. Unfortunately, the council majority has other things to worry about.

New Traffic Fines in Byrnes Mill

25 Jun

With SB5, the municipal court reform bill awaiting the governor’s signature, breathing down its neck, the city of Byrnes Mill has reduced its highest-in-the-county traffic fine schedule, reported the Leader on May 28. However, city judge Colby Smith-Hynes and Mayor Susan Gibson seem to want us to think they made the changes because they wanted to, not because they had to.

Some of the fine reductions include:

  • Speeding 10mph over – reduced from $100.50 to $60.
  • Speeding 30mph over – reduced from $300 to $240
  • Child restraint violation – reduced from $175.50 to $24.50

SB5 allows cities outside of St. Louis County to derive no more than 20% of their revenue from traffic tickets, down from the previous (and weakly enforced) 30% limit. Byrnes Mill was most recently at 28%, so the law, assuming it is signed, will force Byrnes Mill to reduce its ticket income. In addition, the law will limit fines for minor traffic violations to under $300, which Byrnes Mill’s old schedule violated for three infractions.

Smith-Hynes gave other reasons for making the change, though. He said the STL County standardized fine schedule, which Byrnes Mill adopted,  “seemed appropriate.” He also said “there is more consistency” and “they are easier to understand.” Mayor Gibson said “it looks like a fair schedule.” This is a city that only a couple of months ago converted its website into an anti-SB5 propaganda page, predicting doom and gloom if it passed. Now Gibson says this won’t be a hardship to the city.

The Leader, to its credit, pointed out the SB5 provisions in its article.

According to the Leader, Smith-Hynes is also reviewing fines in Hillsboro, where he is also judge and where fines were 3rd-highest in the county.

Thank you to the local legislators who voted for SB5 (which was all JeffCo representatives), thus paving the way for these changes in Byrnes Mill.

Missouri Schools Pass the Trash

9 Jun

Along with Pearson’s hire of disgraced former Fox superintendent Dianne Critchlow to do MAP oversight for DESE, there are some other recent examples of problem administrators getting themselves hired in new positions.

The first is right here in JeffCo, where Andy Arbeitman, who was paid over $200,000 to go away when he was De Soto superintendent, and then hired by Critchlow as an assistant superintendent at Fox before waltzing away after less than two years with a $66,000 payday, has been hired as athletic director and assistant principal at Grandview R-2, reports the Leader.

Arbeitman’s career is slowly circling the drain, as he has received another demotion and will be making only $55,000 in the upcoming school year. That is less than half of his Fox salary, and about 1/3 of the almost $180,000 he was making only three years ago at De Soto. So that’s a bit of consolation here.

How dumb is the Grandview school board? Let us count the ways. First, board president Randy Wakeland said “we hired the best-qualified candidate.” It is hard to believe Grandview has that much trouble attracting applicants. Not only that, but the assistant principal job is a new one. Just what every school district needs, more administrators. Wakeland also said he believes the contract runs from year-to-year. Um, shouldn’t you have checked that, especially given that Arbeitman will probably bail on you guys in just a couple of years? Anything other than a year-to-year contract opens Grandview up to a big payout. I don’t know what he knows about education administration, but Arbeitman is clearly quite skilled at extracting free money from school boards.

I can’t find a solid answer, but it sounds like Arbeitman’s 2-3 years as superintendent at Twin Rivers school district ended on a sour note as well.

Caruthersville

In a non-local but highly egregious example of pass the trash, Caruthersville School District in the Missouri bootheel made the shocking move of hiring fired St. Joseph superintendent Fred Czerwonka as its director of school services. That’s right, he was fired, and we in JeffCo know how hard it apparently is to fire a school administrator. A state audit of St. Joseph found “$40 million in unapproved stipends, no-bid contracts, nepotism and a string of Missouri Sunshine Act violations.” Czerwonka also accused the district CFO of sexual harassment when the CFO blew the whistle on these schemes. Caruthersville put a cherry on top of this ridiculousness by hiring Czerwonka’s wife, too. I hope the idiots on the Caruthersville school board made sure that Czerwonka’s contract does not award him pay when he gets hauled off to jail (the FBI is investigating him), but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did.

It is noteworthy that there are no e-mail addresses listed for board members or their secretary on the district website, so we can’t tell them how we feel. I have to assume they don’t have internet down there, either, and were thus unaware of Czerwonka’s record. Why else on earth would they hire him?

With all this, I think we need to brace ourselves for Dianne and Jamie Critchlow’s eventual return to education. I have no doubt there is a school board in this state stupid enough to hire them.

Pevely Mayor’s Ill-Advised Moves

6 Jun

I think new Pevely mayor Stephanie Haas is off to a bad start. Her first two major actions have been to push for the impeachment of an alderman and to sue the city for wrongful termination from when she was city clerk. Now, these actions may have legitimate merit, but to pursue both of them in this manner does not set a good tone for her tenure as mayor.

The target of impeachment is Dave Bewig, because of a fictitious online account (Joe Mott) he allegedly created to criticize activist resident Erin Kasten of Pevely 20/20. I’m not sure this offense rises to the level of impeachment (his behavior towards employees has also been cited), but if it does, it won’t succeed, because removing Bewig from office will require 4 votes from the board, according to my reading of the city code (“The Mayor may, with the consent of a majority of all the members elected to the Board of Aldermen, remove from office, for cause shown, any elective officer of the City”). But unless Ed Walters or Dave Young can be browbeat into changing their votes from the motion to draw up articles of impeachment, which they opposed, there are only 3 ‘yes’ votes. Bewig will abstain, so there will be no tie for the mayor to break. This issue will tie up the board for a few months, and we are only 10 months away from the end of Bewig’s two-year term. Perhaps this should be settled at the ballot box.

Haas may well have a case against the city in her lawsuit. She was fired as city clerk in September 2014 and ran for mayor successfully this past April. But I think she should have chosen only one option: sue or run for mayor. Especially since she started down the road to this lawsuit back in October, according to the Leader. Now the city is in an awkward position from top to bottom.

Haas told the Leader that “This is about making elected officials accountable.” But the board members who voted to fire her won’t be held accountable. The city and its insurance provider will be the ones to pay (in one recent Arnold lawsuit settlement, the city had to pay about $60,000 $5,500 out-of-pocket). It is unlikely that this trial will proceed to completion; there will probably be a settlement, voted on by Haas’ allies on the board, Don Menkhus, Steve Markus, and Russ Shackelford. But they don’t make up a majority of the board. Replacing Bewig with a friendly alderman would sure help Haas’ chances of a bigger settlement. I don’t think that’s why she is pursuing his removal, but that would be a result, and appearance matters.

This is not to say I am justifying Haas’ firing or Bewig’s behavior. But because of the low likelihood of success in removing Bewig, the tension created by the lawsuit, and the distraction and the overall tone set by these actions, I think Haas has erred in making these moves, and that they will prove harmful to her attempts to move the city forward and address its many issues.

More News on Critchlow/DESE/Pearson

3 Jun

Update: KMOV did a story, too.

Local media is on my report about Pearson Education hiring disgraced Fox superintendent Dianne Critchlow as a MAP testing observer as part of a contract with the state education department, DESE, like white on rice. Both the Post-Dispatch and the Oakville Call published articles about it on Tuesday. I provided the results of my research to both reporters, upon their requests, but alas, this blog received no acknowledgement in the articles. Such is blog life, I guess.

Both articles added news and reaction to the story. Here are the highlights:

Post-Dispatch

The P-D provided the names of the other schools that Critchlow graced with her presence as a Pearson MAP observer. They were:

  • Parkway Southwest Middle School (Parkway District)
  • Fairway Elementary (Rockwood District)
  • Lonedell Elementary (Lonedell District, not Fox)

Then there’s this tidbit:

The summary provided to the state from Pearson showed no issues with test security or cheating. It noted “some questions regarding a particular monitor were directed to DESE and Pearson by media and other individuals. As a result, DESE and Pearson will add this topic to a post-project meeting agenda and discuss any relevance to future monitor assignment or procedures,” according to the report.

That’s you, guys. Those of you who wrote to the Commissioner of DESE and Pearson’s Missouri Manager made that happen. If you didn’t email them, I don’t think it’s too late. These articles should provoke another round of angst. If we can cause DESE and Pearson some consternation, maybe they will do their due diligence next time. Here are the people to contact:

– The Commissioner of DESE, Dr. Margie Vandeven, at commissioner@dese.mo.gov

– Pearson’s DESE point of contact at nancy.foerstel@pearson.com

I also think it was worthwhile to contact the Mehlville superintendent, despite that district telling me they can’t do anything. I think DESE would listen more to a superintendent or school board member who calls them to complain, compared to some random Joe Schmoe. Here’s what one Mehlville board member, who also contacted DESE, had to say:

“Are you kidding me? Quality assurance?” said Mehlville School Board member Jamey Murphy. “It is of great concern to me to know that this individual, with her track record, was brought into Mehlville schools. The lack of discretion used by Pearson and the lack of oversight by DESE is troubling. We hold our district employees up to high standards and ask that others do the same.”

Oakville Call

The Call revealed that DESE should have known about Critchlow’s hire before the site visits took place:

[Mehlville Director of Communications and Public Relations John] Wolff said DESE “disavowed” Critchlow’s employment when Mehlville officials contacted the state agency. But if the contract was followed, DESE would have known Critchlow was going to Oakville Elementary since Pearson agreed to send DESE a list of the names of its quality-assurance inspectors and their qualifications at least a week before monitoring, along with a list of specific monitoring assignments for each building.

Here’s a quote from Wolff:

“Why would they send her to our school? There’s no one else but Critchlow? It’s like a joke,” Wolff said. “You hire her as a quality inspector, but she’s accused of misusing money, she’s accused of mislaying things, of slander, of libel. Seriously, that’s the lady you want to be in charge of quality? I’m speechless, I still am — it makes no sense.”

This article also revealed that “Longtime Oakville Middle School Principal Mike Salsman is Critchlow’s brother.” Since Dianne did a site visit Oakville Elementary, it’s not a total conflict of interest, but it might be considered a bit sketchy.

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