DeSoto Should Turn Policing Over to the Sheriff

15 Jul

This will be a rather unpopular opinion in some circles, but here goes. Herculaneum last month solicited a proposal for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO) to take over policing in the city, but the city rejected the offer without much discussion (which I think was a mistake). Now, with the current chaos in DeSoto, the city will consider the idea of turning things over to the sheriff. Given the high level of public attachment to the idea of having a local police force, and a general reluctance to give up control, the city will probably reject the idea. However, DeSoto would be better off going with the sheriff.

Here are the main reasons:

Pay. With its passage of Prop P, JCSO has taken care, for the forseeable future, of the officer pay problem that is facing most police departments. They will be able to attract a sufficient number of qualified applicants to field a complete contingent of officers. If DeSoto decides to maintain its own PD, they will have to raise revenue in order to increase police salaries. The city claims it will be able to reassign $200,000 of general fund money away from parks to police when money from its recently-passed parks and stormwater tax starts rolling in, but that assumes that the city will refrain from spending 1/3 of the estimated $600,000 proceeds from the tax each year on new projects and instead use it for park maintenance and salaries, which seems unlikely.

So while it is possible that a proposal from the JCSO will cost more than DeSoto’s current police budget ($975,000 plus $260,000 for dispatching), one has to factor in the additional spending DeSoto must do to bring its department up to standard and raise salaries. Note also that, even if the DeSoto PD goes away, the city will be able to keep its own municipal court and receive ticket revenue.

Training and Experience. A number of recent departures have gutted the DeSoto PD of its experienced leaders. The department has no chief, no detective, and only one sergeant. As Sheriff Dave Marshak indicated in his note, the PD is not up to date on policies and procedures, creating increased risk of liability. The lack of an experienced detective mean victims of violent crimes are less likely to receive justice. The sheriff indicated that, even with the needed money, it would take a long time to bring the PD up to acceptable standards. This is not a knock on the officers in DeSoto, just a consequence of high turnover and low budgets.

Leadership. While they do not seem to recognize this, city leadership is largely responsible for the current issues at DeSoto. In discussions, I have heard blame directed at several different people in city government, and there are others not currently in government who caused problems in their day. What are the chances of this leadership changing any time soon? I have my doubts. There has been some turnover lately, but it does not seem to me like enough has changed to warrant confidence that the city can turn things around and stop driving police officers out of the department.

Misconceptions

I have heard a number of misconceptions from the public in Herculaneum and DeSoto relating to a sheriff switch that I would like to address.

Deputies will have to come all the way from Hillsboro. First of all, deputies don’t sit in Hillsboro waiting for calls, they are out on the roads in whichever of the three zones in the county they are assigned to. Second, the Herky proposal included officers assigned exclusively to the city. The DeSoto proposal will undoubtedly include the same provision.

The JCSO would be spread too thin. If the JCSO takes over policing in DeSoto, the city will pay for the privilege. The JCSO will be able to use this money to hire more officers. Maybe even officers from DeSoto. Therefore, both the city and the unincorporated county will have a sufficient number of deputies on patrol.

Response times are too long. It is true that in the past, due to salary issues, the JCSO did not have enough deputies, and therefore it would take a long time for deputies to respond to low-priority calls. However, with the passage of Prop P, JeffCo has begun hiring many new deputies, even though the tax hasn’t kicked in yet. According to a Facebook post today, the JCSO will be at full strength in two weeks for the first time in 20 years. Response times in the unincorporated county will be improving. And this would be a moot point for DeSoto anyway, since it would have its own dedicated deputies, as I said above.

Probably Not Gonna Happen

In the end, DeSoto will almost surely keep its own police department and its own dispatchers. That is the politically smart choice, because that’s what the vocal contingent of DeSoto residents seems to want. And councilman Clayton Henry has a double conflict of interest in keeping the PD (his wife’s dispatcher job and city ammo purchases from his business). But I think this decision will lead to the city simply muddling along for the next several years or more. I also predict that the city will take this outcry of approval for a hometown police department as an opportunity to propose a tax hike for law enforcement. So get ready for that. However, city leadership will change little, so it is quite possible that good cops will continue to depart from the city at a high rate.

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Suggestions for Next DeSoto Council Meeting

12 Jul

At the DeSoto city council meeting Tuesday night, which was belatedly moved to the gym at Vineland Elementary, the council voted on a deal to reimburse the county sheriff’s office for supervising the DeSoto police department for the short term. This is after the city police chief, Joe Edwards, resigned last week. The residents of the city also had the chance to make their feelings known during the comment portion of the meeting. Here’s a TV news report on the proceedings.

The next meeting, on July 16, will also be held at the gym. Before that meeting occurs, I have some advice for the city.

1. Have more than one microphone. There was a mic at a podium to the right side of the council table where speakers would stand, but nothing at the council table. So when the council was going through its motions and votes, nobody could hear anything. This led to a bit of an uproar when the council was voting on the temporary contract with the sheriff. Some in the crowd were mad that voting was happening before public comment, but others were mad they couldn’t hear what the council was doing. The sole microphone was attached to a portable speaker that was stashed in the corner. Move that speaker out and turn it up next time.

2. Don’t let the city attorney run the show. I have been to meetings of several county bodies, but have never seen the attorney (in this case, Mark Bishop, who is running for county prosecutor) play such an active role. He got up to introduce the contract to the council, and even “strongly urged” the council to approve it. Meanwhile the city manager didn’t speak at all. When the aforementioned uproar took place, Bishop was the guy trying to get the crowd to quiet down. The mayor spoke at the beginning and the end, but he’s gotta take charge and put Bishop, who is being sued by a recently-resigned Desoto officer, in the corner.

3. Talk about the actual problems with the city and police department. At the beginning of the meeting, Mayor Rich McCane gave some extended remarks in which he blamed Ferguson, Senate Bill 5 (which stopped cities from making excessive profits from writing tickets), wages, and other things for the current problems with the police department. He only vaguely referred to “internal issues” during his talk, but managed once again to whinge about the thwarted annexation of the Union Pacific property, from which he hoped to gain new revenue. Conversely, during the public comment time, residents spoke about leadership being the main problem. Several relatives of former cops spoke, saying expressly that money was not the issue. The two biggest applause lines of the night were:

  • “We need a change in leadership” and
  • “The chief (Edwards) destroyed the department”

DeSoto operates under a ridiculous “absolutely no comment” rule when it comes to personnel, which they claim is due to state law, but I believe they are going overboard. There is no reason a longtime city manager should get fired, like David Dews did, and the city provides absolutely no reasoning whatsoever. The people who paid for Dews’ big severance deserved to know what happened, and in the current situation, the people also deserve straight talk. If city leaders were as worried about ethics as they were about total silence on personnel issues, then they wouldn’t be in this mess right now.

Explanations of Swampy Hire Don’t Hold Water

5 Jul

I wrote a week ago about the swampy hire in Jefferson County government, wherein Tony Dorsett, a crony of county executive Ken Waller who supposedly resigned in protest over the Shutdown Scare, got a job on the day of his resignation with Beth Mahn at the county collector’s office. KMOV also did a piece on the hiring. I did not expect the Leader to touch the subject, but I guess Mahn wanted a friendly outlet to report her side of the story, so they did.

Mahn’s explanation for the sweet deal for Dorsett is that he has been handling delinquent tax collections since Steph Powell vacated her position in the collector’s office in June 2016. Yes, this job that had to be filled with an urgency unheard of in government had been vacant for two years. And so, with Dorsett leaving as counselor, he simply had to be snapped up or there would be nobody to do the work. Likewise, Waller told KMOV that the job had to be filled quickly.

Let’s take a look at the numbers Mahn gave to the Leader, to show how this arrangement was working out. Here are the number of delinquent tax cases the collector filed each year:

  • 2015: 1,016
  • 2016: 668 (Powell left halfway through the year)
  • 2017: 64
  • 2018: 300 (Mahn says this is how many cases are now ready to file)

As I interpret this, Mahn has been derelict in her duties. Her job as collector is….to collect taxes. And when she failed to replace Powell, the number of cases her office filed dropped precipitously, meaning that taxes were not being collected. Not only that, but cases were dismissed because there was not enough manpower to follow through on them. I would not expect Dorsett to have filed as many cases as Powell; after all, his full-time job was to carry out Waller’s petty political schemes. He only did collecting on the side. Mahn told the Leader:

“We didn’t have enough time to pursue a lot of these cases [after Powell left].”

Instead of hiring someone to replace Powell, who was making $48,000, Mahn left the job open while getting part-time help from Dorsett. Then, when Dorsett resigned, she moved bureaucratic heaven and earth to hire him in only eight days, when it normally takes 2-3 months to hire a county government employee. Furthermore, she hired him at a salary of $90,000, almost twice what Powell was making. Does this make any sense? How much was the collector’s office paying the counselor’s office for its part-time assistance these past two years?

As if it wasn’t bad enough that she is suing the taxpayers for more salary for herself, now we have another reason why Beth Mahn needs to be thrown out of office by voters in November.

Swampy Hire in Hillsboro

30 Jun

You may recall that, as part of Ken Waller’s Shutdown Scare in county government in early June, his consigliere, Tony Dorsett, announced his resignation. This was likely supposed to look like he was taking a moral stand against the evil county council. Dorsett announced his resignation on June 7, effective June 22.

But guess who got hired on to a new county job on June 22? Tony Dorsett. He was hired as an attorney in the county collector’s office, with a salary of $90,000. His old salary was $98,000.

I am told that hiring in the county is normally a several-month process. However, in the case of a Waller crony, the whole process took 8 days from when the job opening was posted, and just happened to conclude with a job offer on the day Dorsett left his other position.

I think it is also noteworthy that the hire took place in the Collector’s office, which is run by Beth Mahn, who is running for her 9th term as collector in November. Mahn is part of the politician pay lawsuit, in which some current and former county elected officials are suing the taxpayers to get higher salaries. She memorably defended the lawsuit in an interview with Fox 2’s Elliott Davis in November.

Waller is a friend of the lawsuit. He dropped out as a plaintiff under public pressure, but led the fight to prevent the county council from defending the taxpayers. So, despite the fact that Waller is a Republican and Mahn is a Democrat, it would not be surprising at all to see one of them hand out a job as a favor to the other.

We must also question the human resources office, which is under the Administration office run by Waller pal David Courtway. The HR office is involved in the hiring process, and no job can be awarded (especially not in 8 days) without their involvement.

The point of this hire is to help a crony, perhaps keep him employed after the election, and to poke the eye of the county council, which is apparently Waller’s main role as county executive. But it gives us some insight into how swampy things are in Hillsboro.

 

Budget “Crisis” Was a Total Nothingburger

11 Jun

County executive Ken Waller, a Republican, went to the microphone Thursday to inform the unquestioning St. Louis media that there was a budget crisis in Jefferson County and that a shutdown was imminent. In fact, there were merely two typos in some account numbers, something that was easily fixed. This is all part of a six-month fight by Waller, who is trying to stop the county council from cutting spending. Instead of accepting political defeat after a veto-proof majority of the council opposed him, Waller decided to freak everybody out with a #fakenews shutdown threat. This is another sign of the abysmal leadership Waller has provided in his 7.5 years as executive.

waller-pc

Back Story

As I wrote in January, the council passed an amended version of the 2018 budget Waller proposed. However, Waller’s ally Tony Dorsett, the county counselor who has announced he is resigning effective June 22, used some tortured analysis of the county charter to say that Waller could just ignore the council’s budget until January 1 and then implement his own budget. However, the council is also required to pass an ordinance to implement the budget. But Dorsett waved his hand and said this was not necessary.

Meanwhile, the council, as is its right, moved to amend Waller’s budget again to make its desired changes, while also passing the implementation ordinance. The main changes the council desired, totaling about $130,000 in reductions, were:

  • Cutting the county’s contribution to the Economic Development Corporation (which doesn’t do much, from what I can tell) in half,
  • Cutting the salary budget of the counselor’s office, and
  • Cutting the salary budget of the county auditor’s office.

Waller argues that the latter two cuts are retribution for those officials’ refusal to approve the payment of the county council’s legal bills in its efforts to fight the politician pay lawsuit, in which several current and former elected officials (including Waller, who has since withdrawn from the suit), sued the taxpayers to get more money for themselves. And that may be true or not, but the council has the right to take steps to stop those in county government who want to play games. The council says the cuts were not punitive and were made to reallocate the money to other purposes (county bus, legal fees, employee pay raise).

Quick Fix

Waller called for an emergency council meeting for June 8, the day after his press conference. He placed an item on the agenda to rescind the ordinance that the council passed over his veto, thus eliminating the council’s budget cuts. At the meeting, the council amended the item to reiterate its previous cuts, making the following corrections (by a 6-1 vote) to two account numbers:

account strings

This hardly seems like a crisis. When county auditor Richard Carter III resigned on Wednesday over this issue, he said “the account strings are all wrong.” That seems to be an epic overreaction, especially since the auditor’s office knew exactly what accounts the council meant, judging from this February memo:

strings memo auditor.jpg

Again, seems like a pretty minor thing. So when Carter told the Leader “oh, we can’t transfer money between accounts because some of the accounts do not exist,” he knew exactly what the council’s intent was.

Word is that Carter already had another job lined up when he resigned, so maybe his departure was not all about taking an ethical stand. His term was to end in January, and he was not running for re-election.

I would also not look at Dorsett’s resignation as some kind of moral move. He has been providing legal cover for Waller for years; why stop now? Waller recently tried to appoint him to the county municipal judge job, but the council refused to go along. Dorsett presumably would have been out the door in January, also, when Waller’s term (mercifully) concludes.

Why Go Nuclear?

The question is, why would Waller get everyone all spun up about a fake shutdown threat? It just makes the county government look bad. He may think it only makes the council look bad, but he has plenty of stink attached to himself. I’m seeing many comments saying “the whole idea of charter government was a mistake.” It seems like he just wants to damage candidates ahead of November’s election, even though this will only help Democrats. I can’t imagine it will help his own run for county clerk.

Unfortunately, bringing in the St. Louis media for his press conference accomplished Waller’s goal of inciting mass hysteria. The big city outlets, who do not follow JeffCo affairs, had no idea of the back story, and took Waller’s scaremongering at face value, spreading the erroneous fears throughout the region and causing unnecessary alarm to county employees who feared they would miss out on pay.

But we have seen this before. Waller sued the council last March after they passed an ordinance that gave them the power to remove people from county boards. A judge eventually threw out Waller’s suit after the county spent big bucks on legal fees. Waller also removed his frequent foe, councilwoman Renee Reuter, from the East-West Gateway board after she resisted his attempts to gut the county’s budget for legal fees to fight Waller-associated lawsuits against the county.

Waller is accustomed to getting his way, and if he doesn’t, he lashes out with no regards for the consequences. And that is why Waller set off a fake news budget crisis over two typos.

JeffCo GOP Responds to Party-Switchers

24 May

As the political tide in Jefferson County has switched from blue to red over the past eight years, local candidates are starting to take notice. Candidates that would have (and in some cases, previously have) filed as Democrats are now assuming the Republican mantle. This includes several sitting judges who were elected as Democrats but are running for re-election in 2018 as members of the GOP.

In one case, the local party organ, the Jefferson County Republican Central Committee (JCRCC) has decided to take a stand. Gary Stout, who ran in the Democrat primary for county executive four years ago (and received only 21% of the vote) is running for the same office on the GOP side this year. So earlier this month the committee decided to send a letter to the county clerk:

The second page of the document is a statement by the part requesting the state party and the legislature to take steps to allow the party to control who runs under its banner.

The second page is necessary because the party really has no leg to stand on in asking for Stout to be removed from the ballot. Under Missouri law, a candidate just has to show up during the filing period, say which office he/she wants to run for and for which party, and pay $50. A candidate does not need to prove that he/she is a loyal or longtime member of the party. Furthermore, voters can vote in whatever primary they want to; Missouri has open primaries.

It is no surprise that the party wants to control who gets to run for office. Going back to the early days of party politics in this country, the party bosses wanted to select who they thought was the correct candidate, based on loyalty, pliability, or other criteria. But in the past 100 years, the pesky voters have taken over the right to choose what candidates win the party nomination, and sometimes they don’t choose the person that the party bosses want them to choose.

The solution here is simple. During the campaign, the party bigwigs can make it widely known that they don’t think Stout is a real Republican. Make your case to the voters, let them decide. Stout probably doesn’t have much of a chance anyway, running against Dennis Gannon, husband of state representative Elaine Gannon. So why go after Stout and not former Democrats like Judge Ed Page or county prosecutor candidate Mark Bishop, both of whom have much greater chances of winning the primary? I’m really not sure what the point of this letter is.

Collector Candidate Saga Raises Suspicions

16 May

Update: Short tells her version of events here.

Lisa Brewer Short announced way back on May 28, 2017 that she intended to run for Jefferson County Collector as a Republican against longtime (8 terms!) incumbent Democrat Beth Mahn in the fall of 2018, according to her Facebook page. When it came time to file as a candidate earlier this year, Short showed up on the first day (Feb. 27). However, she had to withdraw the day after the filing period closed a month later because she states she was blindsided by a requirement for a bonding affidavit that she was not informed about until she filed. But now, a turn of events has allowed her to place her name back on the ballot for the August primary.

A requirement that is unique to candidates for collector and treasurer, officials who handle the county’s money, is that they have to present a signed affidavit from an insurance company saying that they meet the statutory bond requirement for the position, meaning their personal financial and legal history is deemed trustworthy enough that an insurance company will sell them a bond, $750,000 worth in the case of the collector.

Short states that this requirement is not listed on the county clerk’s website, where the requirements to run for office are listed. And this is true, as you can see if you follow the link. The bonding requirement is also not listed as a treasurer requirement. The page does reference the relevant state law, and the bonding requirement is mentioned there, but I don’t see why you wouldn’t list it on the clerk’s page, which gives you the impression it is all-inclusive.

This lack of notice did not give Short enough time to pay off some debt and have that show up on her credit score in order to meet the requirements before the filing deadline, so she withdrew her candidacy, leaving a rather unknown Republican, Julie Zelenda, as the only person left to take on Mahn.

However, Zelenda withdrew from the collector’s race on May 9. This left the GOP ballot devoid of collector candidates. This triggered a state law that says candidate filing must reopen for 5 days in such a situation. Short went to the clerk’s office to re-register as a candidate, having since met the requirements for bonding, but states that she had to spend the whole day making phone calls and being quite persistent to get the clerk’s office to let her register. Here is a news story, posted after filing reopened, indicating that the clerk’s office was not aware of the law about the 5 day filing period. The clerk’s office does mention the bonding requirement in this story (which was posted after Short’s battle).

Beth Mahn is one of the county politicians that is part of the lawsuit demanding that county taxpayers give them extra salary and retirement benefits (see her get confronted by Elliott Davis here). The greedy plaintiffs cite Boone County (where Columbia is) as a county with higher salaries for elected officials that Jefferson County should match. Well, if you go to the Boone County website, they inform potential candidates all about the bonding requirement for collector candidates, and even tell them what company to talk to. So maybe they earn the extra pay there.

Why would the Jefferson County Clerk’s office not be upfront about the bonding requirement? Was it a general failure of their duties, or was it because the current clerk, Randy Holman, and his predecessor, Wes Wagner, wanted to protect Mahn, their fellow Democrat and pay lawsuit plaintiff, by blocking any potential opponents? Short thinks the latter is a distinct possibility.

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