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.

Fox Updates, Including New Baker/Scott Salaries

26 Mar

At the March 17 school board meeting, it was announced that assistant superintendents Dan Baker (he of the Fox C-6 Topix scandal) and Todd Scott (he of the nepotism hiring scandals) were chosen to be principals of Seckman Elementary and Seckman High, respectively. This caused much consternation in the community, but apparently SES teachers were pleased with the Baker decision, according to comments and cheers at the board meeting.

The board votes to make these hires were unanimous (6-0). Word is that incoming superintendent Jim Wipke played some role in the selection. Here are some quotes gathered from Facebook and emails to me:

  • “I spoke to one of the board members on Saturday, he told me that in order to give Dr. Wipke a vote of confidence they (the board) were going to vote for whomever Dr Wipke and his committee decided upon. So in essence this was Dr. Wipke’s decision.”
  • “I was told the exact same thing, Wipke was making the decision but I knew the board wasn’t going to shoot down his first recomendations [sic] on who he wanted in.”
  • “Last night a Fox parent contacted us to tell us that she got a call from Wipke after sending him an email about how her daughter was having an Anti-Bullying Seminar and her concerns with allowing Dan Baker who was associated with the online bullying to be appointed as a principal. Dr. Wipke told her that she needed to meet with Dan in person because he thought she would be pleasantly surprised if she just met him in person.”

We know that the board played an improperly subservient role to the disgraced Dianne Critchlow when she was superintendent. It is not a good sign, I think, that the board is still so apparently willing to surrender its independent role in processes such as this.

According to information from the district, the two men will make the following salaries in 2015-16 (reduced due to their demotions):

  • Baker – $124,000 (his current salary is $148,335, so he gets a 16% cut).
  • Scott – $131,200 (current salary is $145,386, so he gets a 10% cut).

Fox C-6 Watchdogs has more on the hires, including Wipke’s participation in candidate interviews.

Crutchley Buyout (Palmer too?)

It was also announced at the meeting that acting superintendent Tim Crutchley will be retiring, even though his contract was renewed in January. I can confirm that he has indeed filed for the early separation buyout, which means he should be getting a payout of about $77,000 (half his salary). His wife, Kristen Pelster, district Executive Director of Curriculum and Professional Learning, has already claimed a $63,324 buyout.

The Post-Dispatch revealed in its election preview that incumbent board member (up for re-election) Dave Palmer’s wife Gee is also about to retire. One would think that she is also in line for a buyout, though I have not seen her name (yet) on any lists.

Byrnes Mill – JeffCo’s Ferguson

15 Mar

Amidst the release of the Justice Department’s report on policing in Ferguson, many have made the point that Ferguson is not much different that many surrounding communities. While most such comparisons are made exclusively with other St. Louis County municipalities, I maintain that we have our own Ferguson right here in Jefferson County – Byrnes Mill. Let’s review:

    • Ferguson was pulling in about 21-23% of its revenue from court fines. Byrnes Mill has brought in 26-37% of its revenue over the past three years from tickets, according to city budgets (though it went down from 2013 to 2014). Byrnes Mill will have some issues if the bill to cap traffic fine revenue at 10% of total city revenue passes the legislature (it already passed the Senate). Note: the percentages above include both traffic and non-traffic tickets. The latter wouldn’t count towards the 10% cap.
    • The DOJ report mentioned that Ferguson’s fines for individual offenses were generally higher than those of its neighbors (page 10). Similarly, Byrnes Mill’s fines are generally higher than those of other JeffCo cities. In a sampling of 18 offenses, Byrnes Mill had the highest fine in the county for eight of them and the 2nd-highest for four of them (Note: I am missing data for two courts).
    • Several Ferguson officials, including the judge, mayor, court clerk, and several patrol supervisors, got tickets taken care of for themselves or others. A lawsuit against Byrnes Mill by former interim chief Mike Smith claims that city administrator Larry Perney fixed one or more traffic citations and directed officers not to ticket one or more (specific) individuals.
    • The Ferguson report lists a number of violations of Constitutional rights by Ferguson officers (starting on page 16). Byrnes Mill was sued several times for similar violations under former chief Ed Locke, including unlawful arrest, unlawful seizure (towing cars unnecessarily), and 1st Amendment retaliation.
    • I reported here that Byrnes Mill filed 1.8 municipal court cases per resident age 16+ in FY 2013, the most in the county by far. According to data submitted to the state, Ferguson filed 1.5 cases per resident age 16+ that year (population figures are from the 2010 census).
    • The main focus of the Ferguson report is race, of course. I could compare Byrnes Mill to Ferguson in this regard, but Byrnes Mill is 97% white, and the police there only stopped 18 black drivers in 2013, according to data send to the state attorney general (page 139). So I’m not sure such a comparison would be valid.

Fox Board Candidate Surveys – Drew Kriese

12 Mar

This is the fourth of my series of survey responses from Fox C-6 school board candidates. The election is April 7.

This is probably the final survey I will publish. Sherry Poppen did not complete a survey due to discomfort with the anonymous nature of this blog, and David Palmer so far has not responded to my emails. Not responding to emails from the public is standard practice for Palmer, and is yet another reason he has no business remaining on the board. But if either of these candidates change their mind, I will let you know.

As for Drew Kriese (Facebook page here):

Profession: District Manager for Bell American Group LLC

Connection to District: My wife is a 1994 Fox High School Graduate, and currently my 4 children attend school in the District. I have an 11th grader, a 6th grader, a 3rd grader and a 1st grader.

What is your reaction to the scandals that have rocked the Fox district over the past years? It has been devastating. The Fox district use to be one of the most sought after Districts to work for. We need to fight hard to make the standards and expectations extremely high again for our community of parents, students and staff.

How would you rate the performance of the Fox School Board over the past 5 years? Over the past year? Obviously something went wrong in our district. The Board has not been vigilant in holding staff to policy and procedure. If everyone on the board was standing for what was right and following through we would not be in the situation we are in now. It is simple to me, when we get back to basics, putting the students first, helping teachers succeed and being transparent the board will function as a whole once again. I think we are beginning down the right path in the past year or two, changes are being made!

What does the leadership of the Fox district have to do to regain the public’s trust? Leadership needs to be transparent, no more covering up of issues. They need to value the input of our community of parents and staff. There needs to be follow through on all issues, good and bad. Most of all we need our Leadership to be people of integrity and honor, let’s get back to being a district of Character that we can all be proud of.

What changes will you push for if elected? I think we all agree on one big change that we want to see: Transparency! We need to be an open book, there is no need to hide anything when we are providing what you were elected or hired to do. We need to make sure the culture of our district is an open forum. Parents and Teachers need to feel comfortable addressing any issue and TRUST that it will be handled properly. I would like the teachers to feel like their input matters, after all they are the ones educating our children every day, they know what is working and what isn’t. Without them we would not need a BOE.

Fox Board Candidate Surveys – Chris Hastings

9 Mar

This is the third of my series of Fox C-6 school board candidate survey responses, this time for Chris Hastings (Facebook page here).

Profession: Project Director, ICS Construction Services

Connection to district:

I’m married with two children. My wife is a Seckman graduate. I’m not connected, employed, or have any relationships with any current board members or staff.

What is your reaction to the scandals that have rocked the Fox district over the past year?

It is very unfortunate. It’s tough for a community to sit and watch their district be burdened with this shame. Board members need to work to hold the administration accountable for their actions. If this is done, the culture between the community and central office will change.

How would you rate the performance of the Fox School Board over the past 5 years? Over the past year?

The current board has taken over issues that have been built up for ten plus years. I think every new member of the board over the last 2-3 years has realized what they were stepping up to the plate to achieve for our district, and that is to create a culture that is more transparent to the community, which in turn, brings back the trust of the board. Over the last year, believe it or not, the board has made many leaps and bounds compared to the previous years.

What does the leadership of the Fox district have to do to regain the public’s trust?

The board needs to address issues with an approach that reflects community input and judiciousness, all while being transparent and safeguarding our children’s education.

What changes will you push for if elected?

Student achievement and transparency. My primary goal as a BOE member is to serve the children and teachers. I want to work with the teachers to see how we can add value to our kid’s educations in our district. Transparency needs to be on the forefront. The issues we have had over the last few years are due to transparency. I want to work with the teachers and bring their opinions, thoughts, and issues to the forefront of the school board. I want to make certain a BOE member is involved in the community. The voice of the community is a huge part in our district’s success.

Fox Board Candidate Surveys – Mark Jones

6 Mar

This is the second of my series of Fox C-6 school board candidate survey responses, this time for Mark Jones (Facebook page here).

Profession: Senior Consultant, Intervolve, Inc., a software company that serves the beer industry and now also the energy industry.

Connection to district: I graduated from Fox High School in 1985, one son graduated from Fox in 2013 and another in the 4th grade at George Guffey Elementary.

What is your reaction to the scandals that have rocked the Fox district over the past year? 

They have been outrageous. The past board members, prior to the last year or two, were not doing their jobs or some of this would have been exposed sooner. I’m grateful that we had citizens concerned enough to stir the pot, in the midst of ridicule, criticism and bullying, so that these inexcusable acts could come to light.

How would you rate the performance of the Fox School Board over the past 5 years? Over the past year?

In many respects, failing. Recent surveys of parents, students and state statistics don’t even place us in the top 100 school districts in Missouri. This has to change. In spite of the scandals, we do have many great people in the district who now no longer have their hands tied by poor management. I am extremely hopeful for our future

What does the leadership of the Fox district have to do to regain the public’s trust?

Be transparent in its activities, have more two-way discussions with the public and prove that it is being more responsible with the tax payers’ money.

What changes will you push for if elected?

We need a top to bottom review of employment contracts to ensure that job requirements are stipulated in those contracts so that we prevent any further “settlements” that have the district paying employees to leave the district, even when they didn’t meet the requirements for the job, but because those requirements were not a part of the contracts. I want more interaction between the board, leadership and employees in each building. Trust has to be rebuilt internally as well as with the public. I want to open communication between the district and our state representatives and senators, so they can help us address those things that have to be done at the state level. I want to put the true best interest of our students ahead of our looking good on paper. We have to promote those students on to the next grade that are truly ready to move ahead, not simply pass a problem on to the next teacher to deal with.

JeffCo Facebook Biz Battle

5 Mar

I must say that I rather enjoy the Facebook rivalry between two JeffCo business promotion pages. This one has 3,352 likes and has been around since December 2013:

jlb2This one only has 577 likes, but is a mere month old. It has a major backer in Jeffco 411, though:

jlb1

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