Fox Board: How Are They Doing?

25 Apr

At the April 21 Fox C-6 school board meeting, board member Dan Kroupa gave a statement in which he extolled himself and the board over the job that they are doing. He said the board and the district are “moving forward very well.” He started off by saying “this isn’t a response to Mr. [Rich] Simpson” (who made some criticisms during the public comment period), but it kinda was. You can listen to Kroupa’s remarks here. These are the items that Kroupa boasted about, with my responses:

  • The hiring of CFO John Brazeal, incoming superintendent Jim Wipke, and some other administrators. He demanded that the board get credit for these hires. He said “I don’t like thumping my own drum,” but he kinda does.
    • Brazeal has done well, but the other hires have yet to start working. It is premature to boast about employees before we see how they perform, Wipke included. Many are unsettled by Wipke’s acquiescence in the hires of Dan Baker and Todd Scott as principals. Note also that the previous CFO, Mark McCutchen, was clearly crooked. He should have been gotten rid of long before he bailed out in May 2014. Kroupa said nothing about the hires of Baker and Scott in his remarks.
  • Brazeal changed investment banks and bond counsel.
  • District changed legal counsel.
    • This was well overdue. The law firm should have been fired when they sent cease and desist letters to critics of the district in February 2013 at the behest of Dianne Critchlow. This happened two months before Kroupa was elected to the board.. Changing legal counsel should have been the first thing he tried to do upon taking office.
  • Roofs are being repaired. Kroupa admits the district has been negligent on this for years. Again, why so late?
  • District buying 60 buses.
  • New summer school program.
    • In the March 12 Leader, acting superintendent Tim Crutchley said that the old summer school “had basically been glorified babysitting.” Why did it take so long to remedy that? And who was held accountable?
  • District is “reaping the rewards” of the VSIP program. “We are replacing $80,000 teachers with $40,000 teachers.”
    • Which of course means less-experienced instructors. Also, it was this board that was duped into making the change to the VSIP (early retirement buyout program) that got rid of the 10-year service requirement and allowed Critchlow crony Andy Arbeitman to waltz away with a payment after working at Fox for less than two years. Kroupa alone voted against the two-year renewal of the VSIP (at which time the program would end) in February 2014. I don’t know his reasons for voting no. While it was not VSIP, Kroupa did not mention the $20,000 payout to former food service director (and nepotism hire) Kelly Nash.

Kroupa ended his report with what I would call a shot at Rich Simpson:

“Listening to Mr. Simpson you’d think that we’re all up here and worthless and I honest to God don’t think we are. I think that we are doing a good job. We’ve gone through some horrible circumstances in the past year and I think we’ve done a good job and I’m proud of us and I’m finished.”

First of all, the board should, but never to my knowledge has, thanked Simpson for bringing down the Critchlow regime and apologized for how he was treated. One of Critchlow’s characteristics was a hatred of negative feedback, as demonstrated by the cease and desist letters and, of course, the comments on the Topix web site. Here, Kroupa shows that this resistance to feedback continues in some form.

Finally, Kroupa should note that, if the board was really doing a good job, he wouldn’t have to keep saying so. People would see it for themselves. But I don’t think they do. I gotta say, though, that the results of the April 7 board election don’t give me much hope that the voters really want change.

Also at the meeting, John Laughlin, board member since 2011, was re-elected as president of the board.

MO House Eases up on JeffCo with SB5 Amendment

16 Apr

SB5 is the bill the state Senate passed to reduce the percentage of general revenue a city can obtain from traffic tickets. The current cap is a poorly enforced 30%. SB5, which passed unanimously, reduces that to 20% statewide, and then in 2017 would reduce the cap in first class or charter counties to 10%. The 10% provision would cover 19 counties including Jefferson.

However, according to the Post-Dispatch, a state House committee amended the bill so that the cap would be reduced to 15% in St. Louis County. Elsewhere, including JeffCo, the cap would become 20% (see amendment text here on page 36).

This change from a 10% cap to a 20% cap spares Festus, Hillsboro, and Pevely from being affected by this bill, based on 2013 numbers. Byrnes Mill would still be affected, since it was at 26% last year, but the city’s revenue would take much less of a hit. Note that the 26% number includes non-traffic tickets, which aren’t included in SB5’s calculations.

However, the House amendment adds something that would hit Byrnes Mill and Hillsboro – a provision limiting total fines plus court costs for minor traffic violations to $200. As I showed here, these two cities have a few fines that exceed $200. These would have to be reduced under this law. Note that driving more than 19 miles over the speed limit does not count as a minor violation.

It should be noted that this is merely an amendment passed by a committee. The House Select Committee on the Judiciary will take up this bill next, then it will go to the House floor. If the House passes the bill, the House and Senate would then have to reconcile their bills before sending one to the Governor.

Fox C-6 Board Endorsements

5 Apr

Tuesday is the day Fox C-6 residents will choose two new school board members. I am endorsing Mark Jones in this race. As this profile from 2013 demonstrates, Jones was aware of and concerned about the problems at Fox before the Critchlow scandals blew up. He advocated changes then that the current board only put in after a massive public uproar. I am confident he will do the right thing while on the board. He is also very communicative on Facebook and in other forums; he will likely continue this pattern once elected, unlike certain incumbent board members that choose not to communicate with residents.

My endorsement for the other open seat is Robin Hanson. I like that she is an outsider to the district, but is also knowledgeable about education. She recognizes the need for transparency and active, hands-on oversight by the board.

Here are my concerns about the other candidates:

  • Dave Palmer – 12 years of aiding and abetting of/willful blindness towards the Critchlow regime
  • Chris Hastings – endorsements from NEA and other unions
  • Sherry Poppen –  close ties to Fox as a recent former employee, parent of employees, and brother of a past superintendent; also has expressed openness to easing the recently-toughened nepotism policy and raising taxes
  • Drew Kriese – has social media connections with Baker, Scott, and Crutchley. It is unclear to me what the full extent of these relationships is.

Other Endorsements

Arnold City Council: Doris Borgelt and Bob Lindsley

Pevely Mayor: Stephanie Haas

Hillsboro School Board: Dennis Bradley

Byrnes Mill Mayor: Devon Ising

JeffCo Traffic Fine Comparison – Guess Whose are Highest?

2 Apr

When it comes to raking in revenue from traffic and other tickets, writing a lot of tickets is only part of the equation. A city must also charge high fines for infractions. The DOJ’s Ferguson report notes that Ferguson prides itself on having higher fines than surrounding municipalities (page 10) for traffic and other offenses. Well, it may not surprise you to learn that Byrnes Mill has the honor of charging the highest fines in Jefferson County.

In the table below (click to enlarge), I have chosen a sampling of offenses and listed the fine charged by each JeffCo municipality, along with those charged by the county. The highest fine for each offense is highlighted in yellow and the second-highest is in blue. A blank cell denotes that an infraction is not listed on the schedule for that city. These numbers include court costs. Note that some cities have a different fine for each mile over the speed limit, which is why ranges are listed in the speeding rows for Pevely, De Soto, and Herculaneum.

fine schedules

As you can see, Byrnes Mill leads the pack in 9 of 16 offenses and is 2nd highest in 4 of them. Pevely has the highest fine in 6 offenses and the 2nd highest in 3 of them. Interestingly, Hillsboro’s fines are, in all but a few cases, precisely $2 less than Byrnes Mill’s. Both cities share the same judge, Colby Smith-Hynes. While it is the city council/board of aldermen that ultimately sets a city’s fines, perhaps the judge has some input in those two towns.

Byrnes Mill claims (dubiously) to have changed its ways and reformed its police department. If that is actually the case, perhaps the city should prove it by reducing some of its fines.

Here are links to each city’s full fine schedule:

Nixon Withholds Port Cash

31 Mar

UPDATE: Port money has been released, 4/3/15.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon is once again withholding allocated money from the Jefferson County Port, to the tune of $500,000. Nixon did this in 2013, as well, and I theorized that it was to pressure local representatives to vote not to override his veto of a tax cut bill.

This time, there appears to be no specific rhyme or reason for withholding the port money. This is part of the $480 million or so that Nixon is withholding over concerns about a balanced budget. One would think, perhaps, that Nixon would cut his home county a little slack, but I guess not.

Seven JeffCo legislators signed a letter from Rep. Becky Ruth to the governor on this topic:

This week, I drafted a letter to Governor Nixon requesting that he release the funds being withheld for our ports. Seven legislators from Jefferson County signed the letter and I personally hand delivered it to the Governor’s office. As you are aware, Jefferson County has made progress in the development of the Jefferson County Port in Herculaneum, but it is only a beginning and will take more funds to fully complete this project. We hope that the Governor will see that this is a vital economic development project that affects not just Herculaneum, but will affect our entire county and state. The amount of jobs and economic growth that the Jefferson County Port will bring is substantial and impactful. The development of our ports will further position our state to compete on a global level in terms of industry and agriculture.

In addition, all seven members of the Jefferson County Council signed a letter to the governor:

From the Jefferson Countian

From the Jefferson Countian

Will these letters help? Will Nixon show some love to the county he once represented in the state Senate? The money may come out eventually, but I doubt he will do us any favors.

Leader Puff Piece on Crutchley Ignores Scandals

29 Mar

This week, the Leader ran a profile of acting Fox C-6 superintendent Tim Crutchley, who is retiring from the district at the end of the year, taking a $77,000 payout to do so. The article talked mostly about his time as principal of Ridgewood Middle School, and a little bit about his work as acting superintendent. But it omitted a certain portion of his Fox career:

HIS NINE YEARS SERVING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF DISGRACED FORMER SUPERINTENDENT DIANNE CRITCHLOW.

Imagine if a reporter interviewed Hillary Clinton and didn’t mention her private email server. Or if a reporter interviewed Darren Wilson and didn’t ask about Michael Brown. That is the equivalent of what Leader reporter Kim Robertson did in this article (I note that Roberson also failed to ask the hard questions of the city of Arnold during ballotgate in 2013).

Robertson had no questions about the $1,000 hotel room in Orlando for Critchlow that Crutchley booked, or the other outrageous expenses at the 2013 Marzano conference? Hell, Crutchley admitted that he knew district policy limited hotel costs to $110 per night, but says he was merely following orders and has no regrets. Crutchley had his own share of questionable credit card charges as well.

The big questions Robertson should have asked Crutchley were “What did you know and when did you know it?” It is hard to believe that Crutchley could have been blind to all of Critchlow’s scandals. The fact that he was named acting superintendent by the school board when Critchlow was put on paid leave was an egregious wrong, given his unclean hands. Here’s what he said about his time as acting superintendent:

“I’m proud the board trusted me with filling this role,” he said. “It was a really tough year, and I’m proud that I‘ve led the district to a place where Dr. Wipke can take over and move this district forward. We kept the boat afloat long enough to find the new superintendent and get the transition done, setting it up to be successful and pulling it out of the mess it had been in.”

Fox is far from being “pulled out of the mess.” Board member Dan Kroupa was unsurprisingly pleased with Crutchley’s performance:

“And, in the past year, he’s done a really good job as interim superintendent during this transitional period. There’s been a lot of controversy he’s had to deal with, and he has done it well. I think the whole school board is grateful for the job he’s done and we’re sorry to see him go.”

I think most district residents have a not-so-favorable view of his performance.

Crutchley says he is most proud of his time at Ridgewood. Here’s what he told the Leader that “We changed the culture of that building and the climate of that building.” This is ironic because Critchlow and her crew changed the climate and culture of the central office, to one of cronyism, intimidation, and disregard for ethics. Crutchley is also proud of the character education program at Ridgewood. Too bad he didn’t bring that to the central office.

Crutchley says he wants to continue to work (he’s only 46). He says he will likely work in education, possibly in facilities. I hope that his potential employers ask Crutchley the hard questions about his time as a Fox administrator that reporter Kim Robertson chose not to.

Byrnes Mill Fighting to Keep Ticket Money

27 Mar

I warned Byrnes Mill weeks ago that it had better start planning for what it’s going to do if the legislature passes a bill to cap the percentage of city revenue that can come from traffic tickets. SB 5, which would institute a 10% cap on cities such as Byrnes Mill, passed the state Senate unanimously in February. Byrnes Mill, which got 37% and 26% of its revenue from municipal court fines in the past two years (only part of this total, but most of it, is from traffic tickets), is well over the looming cap, and would be hard pressed to remain solvent without ticket money.

But Byrnes Mill did not take my advice. Instead of preparing, the city is trying to fight the bill. See this KMOV report in which the city trots out city attorney Bob Sweeney to make its case. (To continue with my “JeffCo’s Ferguson” theme, Sweeney is to city attorneys what Ronald Brockmeyer was to municipal judges). Why use him, and not the mayor, police chief, or city administrator? How much did Sweeney bill the city for this appearance? (Note: Sweeney’s daughter is the city prosecutor).

Sweeney said [Senator] Schmitt’s legislation does not take into consideration the financial impact on small cities such as Byrnes Mill that have little retail or commercial tax revenue.

Yes it does. To me, that’s part of what makes the legislation attractive. It will put bogus municipalities that should not exist, and that prey on drivers to keep their governments afloat, out of business, ideally forcing them to disincorporate. It primarily targets places like St. Ann and Pine Lawn, but it has the added benefit of hitting Byrnes Mill where it hurts.

“The police department would be cut in half, at least,” Sweeney said.

Good. The BMPD is a self-licking ice cream cone. It writes a bunch of tickets, to pay for more cops, who can write more tickets. They can afford to lose a couple of officers.

Byrnes Mill collected $118,000 more in revenue than Hillsboro, which is of a similar size. Sweeney said the difference is due to Highway 30.

“The volume of cars that comes through Highway 30 in Byrnes Mill is the highest volume anywhere in Jefferson County except the intersection of Jeffco Boulevard and 141 in Arnold,” Sweeney said.

That second paragraph appears to be true, according to MODOT data – if you don’t count a minor little road known as Interstate 55 (or Hwy 67). Here are some traffic volumes:

  • Jeffco Blvd at 141 – 32,800 vehicles per day
  • Hwy 30 at about Gravois Rd – 22,000
  • I-55 at the Meramec River – 109,000
  • I-55 at Imperial – 81,700
  • I-55 at Pevely – 50,600
  • Hwy A at I-55 – 26,500
  • Hwy 67 at about Meyer Road – 35,400

And we know that cities like Arnold and Pevely love to prey on those I-55 drivers. So that excuse is apparently incorrect.

Leader article

The Leader also ran a story on Byrnes Mill’s desperate campaign. Here’s what the mayor, Susan Gibson, told them:

I don’t know why they (legislators) want to use a shotgun approach instead of focusing on the offending communities and come down on them.

NEWS FLASH, Susan: Byrnes Mill IS an offending community! The current revenue cap is 30%, and your city blew by that in 2013, and was barely under it in 2014.

Gibson also said, laughably, that “when I say our police force is reformed, it is. I don’t deny that it was a problem at one point in time, but that’s all changed.” Pardon me if don’t believe you. Yes, BM’s percentage of revenue from tickets dropped this past year, but that is likely because they way overshot the 30% cap the year before. They budgeted $340,000 in court revenue for 2013, but got $451,000, so they dialed it back to $400,000 for 2014. And if things have really changed, why is the most recent former police chief suing the city, making allegations of city government meddling in the municipal police and court system?

City administrator Larry Perney, who wrote a sample letter, posted on the city website, for residents to sign and mail to their state representative, said “we will have to lay off 6 to 9 people to make our budget balance.” So what? City governments have long been under the illusion that cities exist for their employees, not for their residents. Perney also makes the case that BM has less crime than other cities in the county, so its mass ticketing is OK. But is it much of a surprise that the smallest municipality in the county, one that self-admittedly has few businesses to provide sales tax revenue (and be targets of robbery and theft), has the least crime?

Two city aldermen also gave the Leader some golden quotes. Bob Prado said:

This is a raid on city coffers. They’ll let us enforce the law as long as they (the state) can get the money.

No, Bob. Money over 10% would go to local schools, not the state. Jerry Klipsch said “They should just make all speed-limit signs suggestions.” Kind of like your officers treat Constitutional rights as suggestions in numerous alleged cases, Jerry? And what about all those tickets that city admin Perney is alleged to have fixed, or the checkpoints he ordered not to take place? Didn’t that make the city less safe?

And Police Chief Gary Dougherty, latest to hold a position that has seen many firings, said ridiculously, “If traffic fatalities rise, we can blame it on people in the House and Senate.”

See, if it were just about there being too many tickets, that would be one thing. But the rash of lawsuits, allegations, and demonstrated improprieties involving the BMPD shows that letting the department pull over more drivers leads to more opportunities for people’s rights to be violated. Dougherty needs to consider this aspect of citizen safety.

I am not one to make this call often, but I would suggest that people who agree with this post to contact their state representatives and urge them to vote for SB 5. In the Leader article, Rep. Shane Roden, who represents Byrnes Mill, seems favorable towards the bill. You can find your representative’s contact information on the Byrnes Mill website.

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