County Exec Waller Wants Greener Pastures

17 Apr

According to the Leader, “The Festus City Council voted 5-3 at Wednesday’s (April 12) meeting to hire Gregory Camp, currently city administrator of Desloge, as the new Festus city administrator.”

According to individuals with knowledge of the hiring process, current Jefferson County Executive Ken Waller (Republican) applied for this position, and was one of the six candidates who received an interview. But he did not prevail in the end. It should be noted that the Festus city admin job will pay Camp $90,000 per year, whereas Waller currently makes about $81,000. We know that Waller wants more money from taxpayers, as evidenced by his participation in a multi-politician lawsuit against the county asking for more pay.

Waller’s second term as executive ends in 2018, but he was apparently looking for an early exit. His time as exec has been marked by conflict with the Republican-led county council, where he has adopted a more moderate, status quo approach to governing. He is currently trying to hector (his preferred leadership approach) the council into joining a prescription drug monitoring program.

Latest Lawsuit

This conflict is made evident by Waller’s recent decision to file another lawsuit, this one against the council over an ordinance it passed over his veto. The ordinance contains a rule that allows the council to replace members of some county boards that miss three meetings in a year. The original version of the bill gave the executive that power. It is the executive that appoints members to these boards while the council votes to confirm his appointments.

I’m not sure that this issue is even ripe for a lawsuit, since we aren’t in a situation where a board member has actually been removed. But it will require both sides of the lawsuit to shell out county money for outside legal representation, since the county’s full-time lawyers can’t participate in an intra-governmental court battle.

Next County Executive

It seems unlikely that Waller will run for another term as executive, though he still has a campaign committee set up for that purpose that has brought in $88,000 in the current election cycle and has $63,000 on hand.

One other Republican has taken a step to run for the seat. 97th district House Representative John McCaherty, Republican from High Ridge, who held the seat for seven years, has changed his campaign committee’s office of intent to county executive, per campaign finance records at the Missouri Ethics Commission:

mccaherty-exec

McCaherty will be subject to term limits next year, and thus unable to run again for the House. Incumbent Republican Paul Wieland will presumably run for reelection to the state Senate seat for northern JeffCo in 2018, so that option is out (though it is rumored that Waller was looking to make a play for it). McCaherty has raised $171,000, but only has $55,000 on hand.

Waller lives in Herculaneum, in House district 114, which is represented by Republican Becky Ruth. She is in her second term, and so could occupy that seat until 2022 if all goes well for her, so that option doesn’t seem open to Waller.

I guess he could always run for secretary of state.

Lawsuit Filed in Sketchy Jail Death

10 Apr

At the end of 2013 I wrote about the death of inmate Terry Edwards at the Jefferson County jail. Edwards, who was being held for driving on a suspended license, had been there for two days after being arrested by St. Louis County police. He died of a perforated ulcer.

Now, a multi-million dollar lawsuit has been filed against the county over this death. The suit contends that Edwards was in major pain from the afternoon of November 28, 2013 (Thanksgiving Day) until his death early the next morning, and that his requests for help were shrugged off by jail staff and the doctor (who was reached by phone).

According to the jail’s IJMS (Inmate Jail Management System) log, the doctor was called at 4:20 pm on the 28th due to Edwards’ “massive stomach pains,” and said to give him Milk of Magnesia. The doctor was called again at 8:58 pm because Edwards had “bad lower stomach pains and his shoulder and arm was hurting.” The doctor said to give Edwards Motrin and have him see the nurse in the morning. Edwards refused the Motrin. (Of note, ibuprofen and other NSAIDs can actually cause ulcers). Deputies’ reports say he was last seen alive at about 2:15 am. It was at about 4:20 am that Edwards was found to be unresponsive and the ambulance was called. He was pronounced dead at 4:44 am.

What The Lawsuit Says

According to the lawsuit, two other inmates stated that Edwards made additional and repeated requests for medical assistance, but jail officials declined, claiming that he was “dope sick” (he was not found to have drugs in his system). The inmates stated that they also asked, and even begged, jail officials to help him, and that he was vomiting blood. One inmate told this version of events to Fox 2:

“He had been having stomach pains, and he was leaned over holding his belly,” the inmate, who did not want to be identified, said.

He went on to say that Edwards asked jail authorities for help.

“Like six or seven times,” he said.

Here’s a contemporaneous Facebook posting:

FB_screenshot2

What Sheriff Records Say

According to one corrections officer (CO), Edwards complained of back pain at 5:45 pm on the 28th, but did not mention any pain when his meal was delivered at 7 pm or at 10:30 pm. This officer mentions no other contact with the inmate until the time he was found unresponsive after 4 am.

Another CO reported that Edwards never asked for medical treatment or mentioned any medical problems. A third CO who interacted with Edwards during the afternoon of the 28th saw him in a vomiting position but says he observed no blood coming up. He also stated with a suspicious tone that Edwards only asked for help when he could see a CO, but did not ask for help when he did not see one. (That kinda seems reasonable to me.)

The CO who apparently was last to see Edwards alive, at 2:15 am, said he complained of stomach pains and asked for something “to calm his stomach.” The CO denied this request, due to his refusal of Motrin, and told Edwards to see the nurse, who was scheduled to arrive at the jail at 9 am.

Discrepancy?

There are apparent differences between what one inmate told the COs and what he told the plaintiff’s attorneys. This is in a CO report:

cox2

This is in the lawsuit:

cox1

The latter statement has additional details; one might wonder why these details were not shared with the COs. But maybe Cox did not feel comfortable placing blame on the COs while he was still in custody. Of note, it does not appear that the COs took statements from any of the neighboring inmates, including one who claimed in the lawsuit that he had asked the COs to help Edwards.

In general, this lawsuit will have to overcome the general tendency to trust law enforcement officers over those who’ve been accused of crimes (however minor) and incarcerated, as well as the probability that there are inmates who lie about medical problems. But the fact that Edwards was fine when he entered the jail and shortly thereafter died of a treatable condition is also a hard fact to explain away.

Contractor

At the time, and I believe currently, the jail contracted with Correctional Healthcare Companies for inmate medical care. This company has been hit with a number of lawsuits for inadequate provision of care and may find itself a party to this lawsuit at some point.

Other Recent Jail Deaths

  • Bradley Kingery – heroin overdose; 2012; arrested during a traffic stop and wanted on outstanding traffic warrants.
  • Michael Abboud – cause unknown at this time; last month; being held for tampering with a motor vehicle and leaving the scene of an accident.

April 2017 Election Results

4 Apr

Headlines (results here):

  • Ron Counts re-elected as Arnold mayor by 177 votes over Phil Amato. Candidate William Denman, probably a stalking horse, gets 276 votes. Fulbright, Owens, Hood, and Cooley win council seats (all but Hood are incumbents). With these results, and with Amato off the council, the Counts-Shockey-Sweeney cabal is only strengthened.
  • All three Byrnes Mill tax hikes fail (one ended in a tie, which means it failed by one vote).
  • Pevely alderman candidate Linda Hahn wins Ward 2 by one vote; Steph Haas re-elected as mayor.
  • Rock Fire’s large tax increase wins with 52% of the vote.
  • Fox school board incumbent Dawn Mullins wins while Vern Sullivan loses. Steve Holloway returns to the council after a one-year absence, while Scott Stewart also won a seat. Stewart joins Carole Yount and Sherry Poppen as part of the Jim Chellew clique on the board. Chellew was once Fox superintendent and was a mentor to a young Dianne Salsman Brown Critchlow (who indicated her support for Stewart on Facebook).
  • Jefferson County Library tax hike wins.
  • In the “every vote matters” category, along with Hahn and the BM tax, there was a tie for the second director seat at Valle Ambulance District between Steven Bergner and Nathan Myers.

Sweeney Screws Up Again

27 Mar

Oh man, the laughs were loud and side-splitting in my household when I belatedly saw this little tidbit. It turns out that the Saline Valley Fire Protection District, which got a tax hike passed in August of 2016, has to go before the voters again for a redo. Why?

Because their attorney, Bob Sweeney, f’ed up the ballot language!!!

According to the Leader, who limited this story to its West Side edition in February, the State Auditor’s office ruled that the tax initiative from 2016 only applied to that year. Here is the 2016 language:

Shall the board of directors of the Saline Valley Fire Protection District of Jefferson County, Missouri be authorized to levy an additional operating tax of not more than twenty-five cents ($0.25) on the one hundred dollars ($100.00) assessed valuation to provide funds for the support of the District, with the levy increase to be effective for taxes imposed in 2016?

That last sentence does seem a bit awkward. We see tax increases on the ballot left and right in these parts, especially on the upcoming April 4 ballot, and the other entities don’t have this problem. Couldn’t Sweeney just have copy and pasted some language? Why did he put the year in there like that?

Here’s a delicious excerpt from the Leader article:

saline sweeney

Rebuke! So now Saline has to spend $5,474 to hold another election. That money should come out of the district’s payments to Sweeney, but the board probably won’t make such a common sense move. That amount is surprisingly low to me, considering that Sweeney’s decision to illegally kick a candidate off the ballot in the North Jefferson Ambulance District cost that entity $20,000 in extra election costs.

This is more evidence of my repeated assertion that Sweeney, who serves as attorney for a multitude of local entities, including the cities of Arnold and Byrnes Mill, is, in addition to being ethically bankrupt, just not a very good lawyer. Since municipal law is almost all he does, you would think he could handle something simple like this. Now if only these entities would realize he’s a bad lawyer and get rid of him…

More Arnold Mayor Drama

One person who seems to have belatedly realized that Sweeney is no good is Arnold city councilman and mayoral candidate Phil Amato, who correctly stated in January that Sweeney and police chief Robert Shockey are the ones running the city. Amato is the latest in a line of Arnold council members, including Ken Moss, Cricky Lang, and Sandra Kownacki, to apparently come around to the realization that things are rotten in Arnold. I suspect, though, that part of Amato’s epiphany is politically motivated.

Now, the Leader reports that Amato has filed a complaint against Sweeney with the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel (OCDC) of the state Supreme Court (I understand this is not the first complaint against Sweeney filed there). Amato says Sweeney violated attorney-client privilege as it relates to the election deal that Amato offered Counts. I don’t know if this particular complaint is legitimate, but if you have to get Al Capone for tax evasion, or get OJ for robbery, that’s good enough for me.

The Leader also reports that the bogus Missouri Election Commission (MEC) claim Counts filed against Amato for the election deal offer was dismissed by MEC for being out of its jurisdiction. Sadly, there is only one week left in this contentious Arnold mayor election campaign. With events like this, I wish it would drag on for months.

Plaintiffs Proliferate in Pursuit of Politician Pay

22 Mar

On the last day of 2015, Bruce King, Democrat former elected public administrator for Jefferson County who was defeated for re-election in 2012, filed a lawsuit in Jefferson County court against the county, alleging that the county charter had been misinterpreted and that he was not paid as much money as he should have been. The lawsuit demanded back pay and retroactive credits towards retirement.

At the time, observers including me speculated that King was merely a front man, one who no longer had a political career to protect, who was filing the suit on behalf of other greedy incumbent elected officials. Well that belief has been affirmed, because a slew of current and former county elected officials added their names to the suit in January of this year. Most notable, I would say, is county executive Ken Waller, a Republican, who I hear is actively pursuing another job at this time, with two years left in his term. Here is the rest of the list of new plaintiffs:

  • Mark Abel – Democrat deceased former treasurer. His wife is also on the suit, presumably to collect his posthumous windfall.
  • Chuck Banks – Democrat former county commissioner.
  • Marlene Castle – Democrat former recorder of deeds.
  • Randy Holman – Democrat former assessor and current appointed county clerk (put in place by Waller).
  • Pat Lamping – Democrat former county commissioner.
  • Beth Mahn – Democrat current collector.
  • Linda Nees – Democrat former treasurer.
  • Terry Roesch – Democrat outgoing assessor.
  • Dorothy Stafford – Democrat former auditor.
  • Wes Wagner – Democrat former county clerk, who left in the middle of his term for a private sector job.
  • Steve Farmer – Republican current public administrator.

We must condemn the above officials, all of whom are/were making $70-85,000, who knew when they took their jobs what they would be paid, but are now going to the courts to attempt to extract money from taxpayers, in many cases well after they left office. But let us praise those elected officials (who served prior to 2017) who have apparently chosen not to join this lawsuit (let me know if I missed someone):

  • Richard Carter – Republican current assessor.
  • Debbie Dunnegan – Republican current recorder of deeds.
  • Forrest Wegge – Democrat current prosecutor.
  • Michael Reuter – Republican current circuit court clerk.
  • Howard Wagner – Democrat former circuit court clerk.
  • Glenn Boyer – Democrat former sheriff.
  • Survivors of Ed Kemp, Democrat deceased former county commissioner.

The plaintiffs are citing section 7.7.3.11 of the county charter (page 38), which says that “the annual salary of every elected County Officer is not to be less than the annual salary of the holder of the equivalent office in a first-class non-charter county.” The suit then goes on the cite the salaries of elected officeholders in Boone County (which is where Columbia is). Never mind that there are 13 other first-class non-charter counties they could have chosen to compare with JeffCo.The lawsuit says:

“The clear intent also was to provide that…salaries would be adjusted upward to match those of office holders of the highest paying first class non-charter county.”

Doesn’t sound clear to me at all. In general, this seems like a poorly thought out and drafted provision.

All told, this lawsuit could cost the county over $600,000, according to the Leader. This is in addition to the legal costs, as the county has hired an outside law firm to deal with this case (see page 22).

Speaking of lawyers, local attorney and JeffCo GOP apparatchik Derrick Good is one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys in this case. He even helped write the damn county charter that he is trying to exploit via loophole in true lawyerly fashion. Did he help draft the provision in question? It is sad (sad!) to see several supposed conservatives joining in on this effort to divert taxpayer money to their bank accounts.

April 4 Ballot Chock Full ‘O Taxes

19 Mar

April 15 is usually thought of as tax day, since that’s the deadline for filing your federal income taxes. But tax day in Jefferson County might come 11 days early this year. There are many tax proposals on the municipal election ballot. Obviously, each of these taxes only pertains to people living within the boundaries of the listed political entity. Let’s take a look at the proposals:

We will start with Byrnes Mill, which is swinging for the fences with three tax increases, one property tax hike of 40 cents per $100 valuation and two half-cent sales taxes.

byrnestax

Byrnes Mill’s current tax rates are as follows:

  • Property tax:
    • 40.35 cents per $100  – so they want to DOUBLE it. If passed, Byrnes Mill would go from second lowest to second highest property tax among cities in the county, behind Pevely’s 88.77 cents.
  • Sales tax:
    • 8.35% – total sales tax (including state, county, ambulance district, etc). If Props R and I both pass, Byrnes Mill would have the highest total sales tax rate in the county outside of a special taxing district (CID, TDD).

Byrnes Mill makes its case for the tax hikes here. The property tax is intended for police, and requires 2/3 approval to pass (this could be intended to make up for lost traffic ticket revenue thanks to SB5).

Jefferson County Library

The library is requesting a 8 cent increase in its 20 cents/$100 property tax. The library makes it case here. Districts like to forecast dire scenarios if tax proposals fail, and the library does that here, stating that one of its three locations could need to close in 5 years.

Windsor School District

This is one of those “no new tax” bond issues that keeps the tax levy the same, but extends it for additional years in the future, in this case 8 years for a $14.75 million bond issue. The district makes it case for the proposition here. The Leader reports that Windsor voters passed bond issues in 1998, 2001, 2006, and 2011.

Hillsboro School District

Another “no new tax” bond issue, this one for $12 million. Here is their campaign literature. Bond issues require a 4/7 majority for approval.

Festus School District

Festus is looking to convert 35 cents/$100 of debt service levy (which has an expiration date) to operating levy (which is permanent). Festus’ overall property tax rate, lowest among JeffCo school districts, would remain at $3.7407/$100 valuation. Plans for the tax proceeds are found here. Festus did something very similar just two years ago (page 3); it passed by a wide margin.

Rockwood and Meramec school districts, which cover small pieces of JeffCo, also have “no new tax” bond measures on the ballot for $95 million and $11.75 million, respectively. Rockwood voters passed a $68 million no tax bond issue just two years ago.

Festus Fireworks

Increase the business license fee on sellers of fireworks and firecrackers from one hundred and forty dollars ($140.00) plus three percent (3%) of the gross receipts to one thousand, five hundred dollars ($1,500)?

$1,500 minus $140 equals $1,360. By my calculations, $1,360 is 3% of $45,333. So if a fireworks stand in Festus brings in less than that amount, this is an increase in cost. It could just be a simplification rather than a revenue raiser.

Rock Fire

I talked about this a bit here. Rock Fire wants to increase its property tax by 50 cents/$100 valuation. Rock Fire’s current levy is 76.32 cents per $100, so this is a large increase. Rock Fire has the 10th lowest tax levy of 14 JeffCo fire districts (though Rock also has a sales tax); if this measure passes Rock would be 3rd highest. Rock Fire is pushing this really hard through mailers and door-to-door visits by firefighters. Here is their Facebook page, and here is the letter the chief sent out. A Facebook page called Whole Truth is examining with a critical eye Rock Fire’s claims that it needs more revenue.

Saline Valley Fire

Saline is asking for a 25 cents per $100 valuation increase in its property tax. Saline already has by far the highest property tax among fire districts in the county, at $1.575 per $100. The next highest is Cedar Hill Fire at $1.3826, and the majority of JeffCo fire districts levy less than $1. Saline does not have a sales tax, however.(Note: Saline Valley is the product of the merger of two fire districts. In 2008, by a simple majority, voters approved this merger. I think we need to see some more mergers). I was unable to find any campaign materials for this tax online.

I have not mentioned all of the local Proposition V listings on the ballot. These props, which every entity in the county is trying to pass, allows them to keep collecting sales taxes on private and out-of-state vehicle purchases. All Prop V votes to date in the county have passed.

Low Turnout, High Taxes

By my count, there are 13 tax proposals on county ballots this year, not counting Prop V. In 2015 there were 15 tax props, 12 of which were successful. In 2016 four of six were successful. Republicans have taken over most county elected offices, but in the nonpartisan local districts, tax hikes are still being requested quite frequently.

Turnout for the last two April elections was about 15%. In addition to these tax measures, city council, school board, and fire/ambulance board seats get filled in April. The candidates that get elected are the ones that put these taxes on the ballot. With the low turnout, it is city employees, teachers, firemen, and paramedics who make the difference in these races with their endorsements and their votes. Then you end up in a situation where the pocketbooks of residents are a secondary priority. With all these tax votes, as well as school board elections in two districts (Fox and Grandview) where employees have been investigated by the FBI for wrongdoing, it behooves JeffCo residents to go vote on April 4.

Rock Fire Tax and Arnold Giveaways

13 Mar

The Rock Community Fire Protection District is proposing a property tax hike of 50 cents per $100 in valuation, a big increase over its current 77.6 cent rate (on top of sales and personal property taxes). I plan to get into the larger issue in another post, but at this time I want to talk about one cited reason this tax is being proposed.

Here is a letter that Rock Fire sent out to residents of the district. I didn’t think government entities could campaign for their own tax hike, but here it is, paid for by the district.

Paragraph four talks about a rollback of their property tax over time, then says “this, combined with the redirection of public tax dollars to various TIF projects, has forced us to take serious measures in order to meet budgetary shortfalls.”

What do they refer to? Well, for one, in October 2015, Arnold made a deal with Anheuser-Busch for the expansion of the can production plant in Arnold. As part of the one-sided deal, Arnold agreed to a 100% tax abatement for 20 years, meaning that the can plant won’t have to pay any property or personal property taxes on the new buildings and equipment that come with the project.

Now, this doesn’t really affect Arnold, since the city makes most of its money through sales taxes. But this really puts the screws to other government entities that are also affected by this project and do rely on property taxes, like Rock Fire, which stands to lose over $2 million over the life of the abatement, while incurring additional responsibilities to provide fire coverage for the can plant. The deal also includes no payments in lieu of taxes (pilot), something that Rock Fire attorney Frank Vatterott called “highly unusual.” The city has the power to make these deals without consulting any of the other affected districts, and in this case, without informing them until a month before the deal was ratified.

Fox school district CFO John Brazeal had some harsh words for the city of Arnold (note that, when Fox asks for a tax hike in a couple of years – they are laying the groundwork now – they will undoubtedly cite this same project as justification):

“It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.” (Thomas Sowell)

Compare the Arnold, MO deal to the Jacksonville, FL deal, both projects currently in progress.

Arnold: $150M project ($20M building + $130M equipment) with a 100% tax abatement of $19.96M over a 20-year term, including $12.72M of school taxes. This on the heels of Arnold’s 2012 project of $88M having a 100% tax abatement of $14.53M over a 20-year term, including $9.59M of school taxes.

Jacksonville: $170M project ($40M building + $130M equipment) with a 75% tax abatement of city taxes totalling $12.0M over a 12-year term. All other property taxes, including 100% of school taxes) to be paid by Metal Container.

Team Jacksonville = smart. Team Arnold = @#$%!

Incredibly, Team Arnold’s starting offer was 100% abatement. This deal was announced in December 2014 following a council approval that took place somewhere other than an open meeting.

It takes no special skill and no special strategy to end up empty handed. Nothing for the emergency services. Nothing for the school students. Not even cheaper beer prices.

It is true that Florida law contains some restrictions on the ability to give away the farm like Arnold did, but still.

On top of the current deal is the 2012 can plant deal that Brazeal mentions above. I’m not sure what that deal cost Rock Fire, but estimating from the amount it costs Fox, it is probably about $1.5 million.

Mayor’s race note: Arnold councilman and candidate for mayor Phil Amato was the only councilman to vote against the can plant deal.

Kroenke TIF Also Hurts Fire District

Another corporate giveaway that is draining Rock Fire’s coffers is the tax increment financing (TIF) that was passed for Arnold Commons in 2005. The project was undertaken by a company called THF Realty, which is run by none other than this guy:

e_stanely_kroenke

Stan Kroenke

The project also included eminent domain land seizures.

Rock Fire paid over $600,000 of its tax receipts towards the TIF debt from 2008-2012, according to a 2014 Leader article, but then stopped because Rock Ambulance was not paying in. They say they don’t have to since they did not sign off on the agreement. Rock Fire thought this was not fair, and stopped paying until the city filed suit against Rock Ambulance. This lawsuit, filed in 2014, is still being adjudicated. When the suit was filed, Rock Fire paid another $400,000 towards the TIF debt, and continues to keep paying. Under the TIF terms, Rock Fire and Rock Ambulance are supposed to pay half of the sales tax money they get from the development back to the TIF.

So here we see another of the negative side effects that these poorly-negotiated, poorly thought out corporate giveaways have on us.

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