JeffCo School APR Scores 2017; Sunrise Rises, Followed by Fox

19 Nov

Once again, the state has released the yearly Annual Performance Report (APR) scores for each Missouri school district, and once again I will compile scores for the districts in Jefferson County. Here is my report from last year. The state has also released the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) scores; these tell us how students did on the subject standardized tests. I will look at the MAP numbers in a separate post.

Here is a table of this year’s APR data:

2017 apr table.jpg

 

As you can see, Sunrise R-9 school district made a big jump, from 89% all the way up to a perfect 100%, one of eight area districts to achieve this score. Sunrise is a K-8 district near Desoto that is considering expanding to K-12. From what I can tell by looking at the raw data (which is hard to find and a bit hard to decipher), Sunrise’s increased score is entirely due to improved performance on the science portion of the state standardized test. Sunrise went from 64% proficient or advanced in that subject last year to 76% this year. As you see from the chart, Sunrise also saw a big jump in APR score from 2015 to 2016.

In other news, Fox jumped ahead of Festus, who led the ratings each of the past three years. This year, the difference between Fox and Festus is one point on the 140-point scale. Jefferson, who was 4th last year, also jumped ahead of Festus by half a point. Fox’s score went up four points from last year.

Desoto, which has been rocked by the controversial departure of a principal and two resignations from the school board and is facing a state audit, came in last place in the county for the third year in a row. For comparison, a score of 70% or more is required to be considered fully accredited; Desoto scored an 87.1%.

As the Post-Dispatch explains, “Missouri’s Annual Performance Reports score school districts on measures such as academics, college and career readiness, student attendance and graduation rates.”

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Jefferson County Government Chaos Continues

16 Nov

Despite a full agenda that included approving higher-cost insurance coverage for county employees, appointing several people to county boards, adopting a procedure to fill resigning councilman Jim Kasten’s seat (Democrat, district 5), and dealing with a controversial zoning change on Old Lemay Ferry Road, the council instead voted to adjourn its November 13 meeting early in a continuing, seemingly intractable row between the council and County Executive Ken Waller over the payment of legal bills to defend the county against two lawsuits filed by county officeholders, including Waller himself.

After public comments part of the meeting, which happens right after roll call and in this case took over half an hour (mostly focused on the insurance issue), it was time to approve the agenda of the meeting. Councilman Don Bickowski (GOP, district 1) made a motion to add to the agenda a “resolution to acknowledge the valid obligations of Jefferson County to pay for legal services.” At a special meeting on November 6, the council voted to have this item placed on the agenda for the November 13 meeting, as the county charter allows in section 3.5.10. However, Waller did not place the item on the agenda. County counselor Tony Dorsett stated at Monday night’s meeting that there were unspecified “errors” with this vote, which apparently explain Waller’s failure to add the item to the agenda.

Dorsett also stated that, because of the Sunshine law and the charter’s 72-hour rule, both regarding advanced notice to the public of meeting agenda items, Bickowski’s resolution could not be added to the agenda. Some discussion took place over whether these rules apply to resolutions as opposed to bills, and Waller, in his role as chairman of the meeting, refused to allow a vote on this motion, stating at one point that “we aren’t going anywhere.” The meeting was at a standstill.

Bickowski then motioned to adjourn, and this motion passed on a 5-2 vote, with councilwoman Renee Reuter (GOP, district 2), who had been pressing for a vote on Bickowski’s agenda item, and councilman Phil Hendrickson (GOP, district 3), voting no. Though clearly frustrated, Kasten voted yes on the motion. So the meeting ended. The above described events can be watched on video here, starting at the 43:30 mark (the back-and-forth only lasted 10 minutes).

I’m not sure how this conflict over the legal bills is going to be settled (besides Waller resigning), but the county has to pay for services it has already received, and it is undeniable that Waller has a big conflict of interest here, since he was involved in bringing these lawsuits (one is a money grab for politicians, the other was a spat over who can remove county board members). However, I do not see what was accomplished by adjourning the meeting prematurely and delaying a lot of needed actions.

Pevely’s Side of Cop Beating Suit

12 Nov

I wrote here about a lawsuit filed against the Pevely police over alleged excessive force. The incident was from November 2016 and the suit was filed in January 2017. In it, a man (Robert Golden Jr) alleges he was beaten by Pevely police at a traffic stop for no good reason.

Having acquired the Pevely and Herculaneum police reports on this incident, I can provide the other side of the story. First, I stated in the previous post that dashcam video should be useful in adjudicating this claim. However, the police vehicle used in this incident (an unmarked one) does not have a dash camera. Several other Pevely cars also do not. The department is looking to phase out dash cameras and switch to body cameras for officers.

As the officers tell the story, Golden’s vehicle drew their attention because one of them recognized it from a brief high-speed chase a few months previously. The vehicle is distinctive in that it is a Chevy truck with a lift kit (as preferred by Florida-Georgia Line) and LED brow lighting. The officers turned to follow the vehicle and claimed that it crossed the center line four times and began to drive very slowly (35 in a 45). Golden states that he slowed down to let the close-following vehicle pass him. A stop was initiated.

Golden pulled over, but says that since he saw nothing indicating the people behind him were police, and he saw their guns drawn, he took off again. Pevely police indicate they were in an unmarked car equipped with lights and a siren that has been used for traffic stops in the past without incident. The police were also wearing plain clothes, as they were working that night on a Minor in Possession grant looking for underage drinkers. The police make no mention of their guns being drawn.

The officers state that Golden took off at high speed and continued to swerve. He proceeded into Herculaneum, where a Herky officer was waiting with lights flashing. Golden says he pulled over to seek assistance, but the Pevely officers say he pulled over abruptly in a way that had his vehicle pointing at the Herky car’s driver door, giving Golden “a distinct tactical advantage” and creating a “very grave and dangerous situation.” As such, the Herky officer drew his gun, a fact agreed to by all, and Pevely police initiated a “dynamic approach” to the vehicle.

Pevely police claim that Golden refused to exit the vehicle, so they yanked him down from his lifted cab to the ground and he sustained an abrasion on his cheek (this is the only injury visible on booking photos). They say he would not put his hands behind his back, so they forcibly pulled them back and cuffed him. This included an officer placing a knee in his back and placing a gun against his head, at which time his resistance stopped. [This is when Golden alleged that other abuse, including kicks and head slams into the ground, occurred.] Meanwhile other officers broke the passenger window after orders to open it were ignored, opened the door themselves, and removed three passengers without incident.

Two minor charges were all that Pevely filed as a result of this incident:

  • Failed to maintain a single lane of traffic
  • Failed to yield to emergency vehicle

Judge Reverses Council on Zoning Rejection

5 Nov

I have written before about what I see as the Jefferson County Council’s excessive willingness to deny rezoning applications filed by people trying to start new businesses, instead siding with the NIMBY interests of neighboring landowners. On this subject, we had a case last month (16JE-CC00344) in which a rejected applicant sued the county and won, with the judge ordering the council to approve the rezoning request.

It was in April 2016 that the council heard a request by Tony Pona to rezone land at Miller Road and West Outer Road in Imperial from residential to commercial in order to open a mini-storage and boat/RV storage facility. The county staff and the planning and zoning commission recommended approval of the project, but the county council rejected it (see meeting minutes here). Pona filed a lawsuit a month later.

In October, JeffCo judge Troy Cardona sided with Pona, stating that:

The reasoning for the denial was at best conjecture and refuted by the evidence presented. The denial cites to traffic concerns as one of the main reasons for denial, yet such speculation used in the denial was refuted by a traffic study that showed little to no impact on traffic. It has been held that it is incongruous to use existing traffic conditions to limit a property owner to a use which those very traffic conditions have made undesirable.

At the council’s October 23 meeting, it passed the first of three votes of approval of the storage project. This was after moving the vote to the end of the meeting, after a closed session that presumably was used to discuss this case and the judge’s order.

This case goes to show that business owners have avenues to challenge the council if it makes improper zoning denials.

Waller Lawsuit Dismissed

27 Oct

Jefferson County Executive Ken Waller (Republican) was a plaintiff in two lawsuits. One was asking for more salary for county elected officials. This suit is ongoing, but Waller took his name off of it (though he probably still stands to gain if it succeeds). The second suit was filed against the county council in a dispute about who can remove the appointed members of county boards (the council or the executive) in the wake of a recent piece of county legislation. On Tuesday, a judge granted the council’s motion to dismiss this suit.

Part of the judge’s decision was whether to enforce the settlement that was initially agreed to in the case. Apparently the two attorneys in the case made a deal, but the council did not accept the deal and thus did not vote to accept it. Waller asked the judge to make them accept it, but he ruled that a deal isn’t a deal until it is made official, so he would not enforce the settlement.

The dismissal of the case centers on ripeness. You can’t sue over a hypothetical. Nobody is actually trying to remove a board member at this time, so there is no dispute for the judge to decide on. So this case is over for now. It could be filed again if an attempt was made to remove a board member.

This seems like a fairly obvious result. However, it took seven months and tens of thousands of dollars of legal bills to get here. Thanks, Ken.

Update: Waller Response

Here is a press release Waller issued in response to the judge’s decision:

waller press release board lawsuit.jpg

Paying the Bills for the Lawsuits

There is an ongoing dispute over the payment of the legal bills for the county to defend against the lawsuits filed by the sue-happy county exec. First, Waller tried to cut the allocation for legal defense from $100,000 down to $25,000. This drew a strong rebuke from councilwoman Renee Reuter, who Waller then retaliated against by removing her from the East-West Gateway council.

There is also a question about the date that the council’s lawyers started working on the cases versus the date when the money was allocated (the council argued that the relationship with the attorney and the allocation of money were pre-existing). The council is trying to clarify the effective date of the appropriation, but Waller vetoed the change, in a clear conflict of interest (he is once again trying to cripple the defense against his lawsuits). The council tried at its Monday night meeting to override this veto, but fell one vote short, according to the JeffCo Citizens for Honest Government Facebook page. As has happened several times that I can recall, an absence from the council doomed a bill, as councilman Dan Stallman (GOP) was not there. In addition, new councilman Phil Hendrickson (GOP) abstained, as he did on a vote to add additional money to the legal defense fund. (He abstained when the vetoed bill was originally passed, but that was on the day he was sworn in to the council, so I can excuse that). So it is not clear where we go now in this dispute.

These abstentions by Hendrickson are wrong. It doesn’t matter if he wasn’t on the council when all this stuff started. He’s on there now, and he needs to take a stand. If he doesn’t want to, he should not have applied to fill the seat. In addition, council members need to be present for meetings.

Quick Reaction to Desoto Shakeup

25 Oct

Huge news in Desoto, where the school district is already reeling, facing a state audit after a questionable firing of a principal and having two recent resignations from the school board. Now the city is looking for two top officials, as the police chief, Rick Draper, resigned Friday and the city manager, David Dews, was fired on Monday. Dews was, incidentally, appointed last month to fill one of the school board seats.

It sounds like Draper’s unhappiness was due to low pay for city police officers, and apparently the city was not interested in giving cops the pay the chief requested for them. Now Draper is going to go work at the Mahn Funeral Home and run for city council, he told the Leader. The city won’t say why Dews was fired.

Here are some of my thoughts:

  • The city needs to tell us why they fired Dews. They can’t hide behind “personnel decisions.” That is often used as a fig leaf to be secretive when it is not necessary. If you are going to fire your top administrator, you have to say why. Given everything we have seen around here lately, we have to ask: was there wrongdoing? Or was this just a power play?
  • Now is not the time to be approving any tax hikes from the city or the school district, if they are going to run things this way. The city will be asking for a 1/2-cent sales tax hike for parks next April.
  • Maybe the intrepid parents of the school district who did such a great job collecting signatures for the state audit of the district should have another go round and get an audit of the city. They could go around to all the same people who signed the initial petition and have them sign again.
  • Perhaps we have a job opening here that is good enough for (Whinin’) Ken Waller, the outgoing (in 2018) county executive who sued the county asking for more salary. Dews was making over $111,000 as city manager, which seems quite excessive for a city of 6,500 people. Waller is only making about $81,000 now as exec, and we know he was unhappy with that paltry sum. He tried to get the Festus city administrator job in April, but was unsuccessful.

Arnold Mayor Rewards His Ally Sweeney

18 Oct

This post has been on my back burner for quite some time, as it dates back to June, but better late than never, I say.

One of the first acts of Arnold mayor Ron Counts after he won re-election in April was to reward one of his biggest allies, city attorney Bob Sweeney, with a pay hike. Sweeney has done a lot, while zigzagging across ethical lines, to keep the Counts regime in power and to quash opposition, and I guess it was time to thank him (hmm, why not do it before the election)? On June 1, Counts asked the city council to give Sweeney a 40% pay raise, from $100/hour to $140/hour, and the pliant council unanimously agreed.

Here is how Counts justified the move to the Leader:

“One thing I have learned about Bob that sets him apart from anyone I can think of, as far as having an attorney, is Bob really loves our city. You can hire an attorney and usually they’re just hired guns, but this guy (Sweeney) is for real. He grew up in the city and raised his family here. He has a long history with the city and he truly cares about the city and wants it to be a success. I think when you get these kinds of people who do a good job for you, you need to do what you can to keep them.”

I guess that’s why he lives in Crestwood? I think what Sweeney loves about Arnold is that the city gives him lots of money and power. And when Counts says Sweeney does a good job, he means a good job of covering for Counts and his cronies.

Here is the information that city administrator Bryan Richison gave the council concerning hourly rates for area city attorneys:

atty fee table1

From this, you would say, yeah, Arnold is way at the bottom of the list, and even with the $40 raise, they are still low. But you have to remember that, like a car salesman, Sweeney makes it up on volume. Here’s his formula:

low hourly rate X lots of hours billed = $$lots of cash$$

While he’s not billing the city $200,000 or more like he was a decade ago, as you will see below, he is still making plenty of money despite his low hourly rate. I did a comparison of the annual city attorney payments made by Arnold to other area cities of similar populations. This kind of data was not presented to the council. Here’s what I found:

atty fee table2

The green row shows where Arnold is now. The city’s attorney expenditures are in line with similarly-sized cities, even with Arnold’s low hourly rate, and maybe even on the low end when divided by population (Arnold is the 2nd biggest city on this list). But if we take Arnold’s 2015 and 2016 spending on attorney’s fees and increase it by 40% to estimate the impact of the pay raise (the first row, in red), we see that Arnold shoots to the top of the list when you average the two years together and divide by each city’s population (“$/person avg” column). This is what Arnold taxpayers can expect going forward. Also note that Arnold’s median income is much lower than the other cities mentioned.

Retainer Option

You can see in the next to last column that three cities on the list pay a retainer fee to their city attorneys (Creve Coeur, Webster Groves, Manchester). The retainer is a monthly set fee that covers basic city attorney duties. If work needs to be done that is outside the scope of the retainer, that work is billed at the hourly fee listed in column two. Services that generally fall under the retainer include attendance at council and board meetings, consultations with the mayor, council members, and department heads, and review of documents.

It seems like Arnold could save some money by going the retainer route, given the apparently high number of hours billed by Sweeney. But Arnold probably won’t do that if it is not advantageous for Sweeney’s bottom line.

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