Waller Won’t Run Again; What’s Next?

31 Jul

Jefferson County executive Ken Waller announced on July 17 that he won’t run for a third term next year, according to the Leader.

Waller, a Republican, did not close the door on running for something else; he cited his $65,000 campaign war chest and said there were state and county level positions that “may be appealing” to him. In a KJFF interview, I’m told that he specifically cited county clerk and circuit clerk as two jobs he might be interested. These are two interesting choices.

The circuit clerk job is currently held by another Republican, Mike Reuter. He is the husband of one of Waller’s main foes on the county council, Renee Reuter. Waller kicked her out of the JeffCo seat on the East-West Gateway Board last month after she called him out for trying to take away money the county was using to defend itself against lawsuits Waller is involved in. And Jeremy Day, who has announced his intention to run for the GOP nomination for county clerk, is one of the people who brought the recall petition against Waller.

Given these facts, it would almost appear that Waller selected the positions he may run for, not out of personal talents or interest, but out of spite for his political enemies. That is not a good look.

It would also be strange if Waller were to face off in the general election against incumbent Democrat Randy Holman for county clerk. Waller appointed Holman to that position when Wes Wagner resigned. How would Waller argue that the guy he appointed should be voted out of office?

As for city administrator jobs, Waller confirms what was reported exclusively here, that he unsuccessfully attempted to get the Festus job earlier this year. I see in the Leader ads that Hillsboro is looking for a city administrator/city clerk, but they are only offering $45-55,000 in salary. I suspect that’s lower than what Waller will accept. The Festus job was worth $90,000, and Waller currently makes about $81,000. And until recently, he used to be part of a lawsuit suing the taxpayers for more salary.

Council Makes Right Decision on a Rezoning

29 Jul

It was heartening to read in this week’s Leader that the Jefferson County Council reversed a previous negative vote on a rezoning proposal for a trailer sales and service facility near DeSoto on July 24, putting the project on track for approval. While the GOP-dominated council has done good things over the years, too often it has shot down proposals for the new businesses that our county needs. Instead it defers in too many cases to the overwrought, predictable concerns of neighbors who want to control other people’s property.

In this case, council members Dan Stallman and Jim Kasten (the lone Democrat) voted yes both times, while Renee Reuter changed from no to yes and Don Bickowski switched from abstain to yes. Previously absent Jim Terry voted yes also. Bob Boyer and Charles Groeteke were the no votes both times. The original 3-2 vote against became a 5-2 vote in favor.

I did not like the quote in the Leader from Reuter, who said:

It’s always difficult when you have competing groups from the public. I try to vote with what I think is the majority.

That should not be the criteria, whether a majority of neighbors approve of a proposal. These are situations where people are trying to do things with their own land. Zoning rules have a purpose, but unless a proposal presents an egregious issue, property owners should be able to proceed with their projects. In this case, the county’s Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z), which considers proposals before the council does, voted unanimously to recommend this project for approval.

The P&Z made the same unanimous vote in another recent controversial case, in which an apartment complex has been proposed for a long-vacant parcel in Imperial. Of course, the neighbors want to continue to have an empty lot next to them. Don’t we all want to control the land around us for our benefit? Groeteke invoked the classic argument against new developments:

I’m not against development. We need development in Jefferson County. But this is not the right kind of development.

Opponents of new projects always say they approved of new projects, just not in the proposed location, which happens to be near their house. This same argument was advanced to oppose converting another long-vacant building in Imperial to transitional housing for the homeless (which P&Z recently voted in favor of). They want the project to go near someone else’s house. Groeteke also invoked the often-seen “layperson knows best” argument about this property that has been for sale for 12 years.

I think it would be conducive to professional or medical offices, he said. The key is to get more revenue for the county, not just apartment buildings where people just live there.

Everyone thinks they know what project should go where, but they aren’t businesspeople or developers. Clearly the market has no interest in putting offices in this location. And I will add that the people who would have occupied these apartments would have paid plenty of local sales and personal property taxes, and the apartment owner would have paid property taxes. Plus, adding 84 apartments worth of people to the area might encourage more businesses to open.

The apartment project was rejected by the council on a 6-1 vote, with Boyer the only vote in favor. It was officially denied by the same vote at the July 24 council meeting.

As for the affirmative vote on the trailer sales proposal, county executive Ken Waller approved of it, saying correctly that the council has “talked about growth and economic development for a long time.”

Arnold: Where Failure is Cool

26 Jul

I saw this photo in the Leader this week:

sammons arn board

This illustrates an interesting principle in Arnold, that failure and unethical behavior does not get punished, nor does it remove you from “polite” society. See Margie Sammons there? She resigned as chief of the Rock Ambulance district under an ethical and professional cloud after allowing the district’s narcotics license to lapse for the third time and after being found to have helped with the campaigns of some board members while going to great lengths to try to have another board member removed. Yet there she is, still on the board of the Arnold Chamber of Commerce, which she joined at least seven years ago.

As a bonus, look who’s speaking at the next meeting: police chief Robert Shockey, who got his son-in-law hired on with free police academy training, sold items from his personal businesses to the city of Arnold, and filed a bogus, politically-motivated lawsuit against the city to get money. But he has faced few repercussions from all this, other than a public rebuke by some city council members.

Sammons has also stayed in good stead with the Rotary Club. Here she is being celebrated by the club upon her “retirement.”

sammons retire rotary

One could also cite the Fox school district as an example of this phenomenon, where administrators who posted foul statements online and/or abetted the Dianne Critchlow regime keep their jobs (albeit after a demotion), while pals of Critchlow get elected to the school board and nobody goes to jail.

Byrnes Mill City Admin Moves On

11 Jul

The Byrnes Mill city administrator, Larry Perney, was hired by Manchester as their city administrator and took over that job back in April, reports the Post-Dispatch.

Manchester must be one of those places where they don’t have Google. Surely, if they had known what a mess Byrnes Mill is, they wouldn’t have hired someone from Byrnes Mill to run their city, right? Right? Perney was named in a lawsuit against the city in 2014:

A former police chief says he lost his job because he reported “fixed” traffic tickets and falsified court documents to a prosecutor and elected officials, and alleges he was ordered to enforce ticket quotas.

The suit was settled for a relatively small amount of money in 2015. The Post-Dispatch noted that:

Byrnes Mill, a northwestern Jefferson County town of about 2,800 along Highway 30, has long held a reputation as a speed trap with tough enforcement of traffic laws.

Byrnes Mill cried hard against SB 5 two years ago, which limited the amount of money cities could reap from traffic tickets. This law forced Byrnes Mill to cut back on ticketing and lower its traffic fines. The city has had lots of trouble with its police department in recent years, with chiefs being fired and officers going to jail. Mike Smith, the chief who filed the aforementioned lawsuit, is under federal indictment for stealing in the line of duty.

New Administrator

Byrnes Mill, recently rejected by voters in its attempt to enact three tax hikes, has decided to give its city clerk, Debbie LaVenture, the additional duties of the city administrator. While I can applaud the idea of cutting the payroll of a city government, I wonder about Byrnes Mill not wanting to bring in outside eyes. I look at the recent theft case at the Grandview school district, which by many accounts resulted from giving too much unchecked power to one person. The BM city council does not appear to be all that interested in oversight, judging from events of the past few years, just like the Grandview and Fox school boards were not paying attention leading up to their scandals. Continue to keep an eye on Byrnes Mill, especially at election time, because they will probably try again to raise taxes.

Jefferson County, Missouri Solar Eclipse Happenings

8 Jul

The Monday, August 21 total solar eclipse is fast approaching, and Jefferson County has a front row seat. As one moves south from Arnold to DeSoto, the amount of time that the sun will be completely covered (totality) will increase from 2 minutes and 8 seconds up to 2:40, so the further south you go, the longer the eclipse you get to see (until you pass Desoto, then it starts decreasing again). The partial eclipse will start at about 11:45 am, the total eclipse will start at 1:17 pm +/- 20 seconds (starting earlier in the south), and the partial eclipse will end at about 2:45 pm.

Here’s a map from eclipsewise.com:

eclipse-map2

 

The red line is the path of longest duration and the blue line is the limit of where you can see the total eclipse. So much of St. Louis is not in the eclipse zone, and we can expect many visitors from up north on eclipse day, as well as visitors from outside the area. For example, Festus is anticipating thousands of people at its eclipse-day festivities, and all the hotels there are booked up. One estimate says the county’s population will more than double on August 21. So plan on traffic and crowds if you are going out in public that day, especially if you are going south. Get there early.

Here is a list of eclipse activities happening in Jefferson County. The number after each location denotes the duration of totality at that site. I will update this as needed leading up to the big day. Let me know if there’s an event I should add.

Note: Schools in Jefferson County are starting classes the week before the eclipse, and are scheduled to be in session on the 21st (except Sunrise, which starts the 23rd). Update: Schools have been deciding in July and August to cancel classes for the day. Only Fox and Northwest are now planning to be in session.

Arnold, 2:08: Three day event with car show, fun run, science booths, kids events, and a bluegrass festival.

Kimmswick, 2:20: One day of trivia, music, shops, raffles, and a live radio broadcast.

Herculaneum, 2:32: Three-day festival with fun run, parade, live music, and kids activities. Herky also has an array of merchandise available (some other cities have shirts as well).

House Springs, 2:34: The JeffCo Parks and Rec Department is recommending its Northwest Jefferson County Sports Complex as a viewing site. Also, the Deer Creek USA golf course will have a viewing.

Festus, 2:35: Informational presentations, other unnamed activities that weekend.

Hillsboro (Jefferson College), 2:38: One day event with concessions, souvenirs, and activities for the whole family. Viewing will also occur at the Civic Club.

DeSoto, 2:40: A number of viewing sites throughout town on eclipse day, some with food and activities. The AmVets Post seems to have the most excitement planned.

The branches of the JeffCo library will be holding events as well (Arnold, Barnhart, High Ridge).

And for good measure, I’ll throw in:

Ste. Genevieve (2:40): Music festival on Sunday, eclipse viewing with food, entertainment, and exhibits on Monday.

The Leader also has an eclipse guide.

P.S. – Get your eclipse glasses for safe viewing.

Grandview School Theft Results in Guilty Plea

5 Jul

Unlike Fox’s Dianne Critchlow, the culprit in the theft of $1.6 million from the Grandview R-II school district, Angela Huskey, will face legal consequences, as she has plead guilty to felony fraud in federal court last week. According to the Post-Dispatch:

At her Oct. 13 sentencing, Huskey faces roughly four to five years in prison under recommended federal sentencing guidelines. She will also be ordered to repay the money.

Huskey has agreed to forfeit nearly $200,000 in various accounts and a two bedroom condo at Table Rock Lake, or the condo’s sales proceeds.

Interestingly, Huskey employed the same law firm as Critchlow – Newton Barth. They must be the go-to lawyers for public school fraudsters. But the important difference is that, while Critchlow was a superintendent, Huskey was a mere business manager. Hence, while Critchlow got put on paid administrative leave and then was allowed to retire with a big separation payment, Huskey was put on unpaid leave (after a brief period of paid leave) and then quickly fired. And now Huskey likely goes to jail while Critchlow walks free.

Staggering Swindle

In a statement, superintendent Matt Zoph, who took over the job a year or so ago, said that when the district “became aware of possible irregularities relating to the district’s internal fiscal controls, we worked diligently and aggressively to determine the nature and scope of the irregularities.” However, it took ten years for this awareness to take place. According to the feds (the same ones who gave Critchlow a pass), Huskey started stealing money as far back as summer of 2006, stopping only when she was discovered and fired in October of last year.

 

How could this happen? How could one person be able to get away with all of this without being caught? Where was the administration? Where was the school board? These are questions that the district will need to answer. The district is currently reviewing policies and procedures, to prevent such theft in the future. But this is about more than policies, it is about the people who are supposed to lead the district.

Facing Accountability

Grandview officials have not said much about this case, citing the federal investigation, but that is over now – it is time for them to start talking. The district said they are working on holding a special board meeting to discuss this incident with the public. This needs to happen quickly. As I stated in a previous post, there needs to be a state audit. Never mind that the district just spend $80,000 to have Dan Jones do a special audit of the district; a state audit is open, public, and wide-ranging. If the school board requests it, and the auditor agrees to take it on, there is no cost to the district. This is what happened at Fox.

The Grandview school board needs to be taken to task, and current members need to be removed. They were clearly not doing their jobs. Back in April, two board members were replaced: Dion Moore lost his bid for re-election and board president Randy Wakefield decided not to run for another term. Next April, two board members will be on the ballot if they choose to run again –  board president Bob Gearhart and Abe Eoff.

At the June board meeting, Zoph stated that a request for proposals had been put out for a new auditing firm. Schowalter and Jobouri Financial Services of St. Louis County has previously done the district’s annual audits. As we have seen in many districts, these are basic types of audits that every school does that are apparently unable to catch fraud.

According to Zoph, via the April 27 Leader, the district’s insurance will cover any financial losses related to wrongdoing. Conversely, Fox does not think its insurance will cover anything and does not seem to be planning to pursue a claim (maybe because there were no charges?).

We have already started to hear “time to move on” language, like we hear from Fox. Let’s not dwell on this, they may say, it’s bad for the children. But in reality that’s just a way to prematurely end the search for accountability, punishment, and reparations. Here’s what Zoph said in April:

What happened in the past is in the past. We are going to make everything correct in the future.

But the residents of Grandview can help ensure that we don’t move on too quickly. They can look to DeSoto for an example, where over 1,200 people joined a Facebook group in late April in support of a fired principal. The group has turned out in force at board meetings, raised money for the principal, held planning meetings, and started collecting signatures to have a state audit performed.

At Fox, there was a brief surge of activism, with a widely followed Facebook page (which seems to have been removed), huge attendance at board meetings, and plenty of anger. But recent school board elections have failed to produce real candidates of change.

Grandview parents do have a watchdog style Facebook page, but has only about 240 members. This could be a place to organize and share ideas.

The next scheduled Grandview school board meeting is July 20.

Waller Withdraws from Pay Suit, Lashes out at Councilwoman

24 Jun

Only four days after a recall effort was launched against him, Jefferson County Executive Ken Waller (GOP) buckled under public pressure and withdrew from the elected official pay lawsuit as one of the large group of plaintiffs seeking a retroactive pay hike (they claim they just want clarification on the charter from a judge, but come on), becoming the second politico to do so, after outgoing assessor Terry Roesch, a Democrat. Waller’s participation in the lawsuit was the number one complaint listed in the recall petition notice.

In the current edition of the Leader, Waller admits that the recall had a “small part” to play in his decision to withdraw. He also raises an interesting question:

“I don’t know what effect my withdrawal from the suit will have on whether I would share in back pay or benefits if the judge rules that way. That didn’t play into my decision to get into the suit, and it didn’t play into my decision to get out of it.”

It may not make a difference if Waller has his name on the suit or not. If the money-seeking politicians win, in theory every countywide elected official who has served since 2010 would be eligible for a payout. On the other hand, I hear that Waller played a role in helping recruit elected officials to join this suit. I suspect this was to make a show of force to the court and to spread the predictable political backlash out amongst more people. Given the above uncertainty, Waller needs to come out and state unequivocally that he will accept no lawsuit-related payouts from taxpayers if this suit succeeds. But I doubt he will, because this suit is all about the money.

Along with ending the negative attention and trying to thwart the recall, perhaps another reason Waller dropped out is that he read this devastating motion from the county’s defense team to dismiss the lawsuit and realized his lawsuit is weak. This motion is rather savage:

Setback in Another Lawsuit

Waller’s other lawsuit against the county, which is the legal equivalent of a temper tantrum, was filed because the county council went against his desire to take for himself the right to remove (or not) people from county boards for missing too many meetings. This case was dismissed by the judge this week, since Waller sued the wrong entity and did not set forth an actionable claim. Waller was given until the end of the month to file an amended lawsuit. I suspect that if he can’t sue the council that he is unable to get along with and tries to use as a punching bag, he may not bother to go forward with the suit. Here was the motion to dismiss in this case, another barnburner:

Waller Lashes Out

Two weeks ago the Leader reported on Waller’s effort to gut the county council’s ability to defend against Waller’s lawsuits by trying to cut the funding for hiring outside attorneys. He wanted to reduce the amount set aside from $100,000 to $25,000, claiming a desire for fiscal responsibility. Of course, if Waller was really fiscally responsible he wouldn’t SUE THE COUNTY TWO TIMES. Councilwoman Renee Reuter (GOP) rightly put Waller in his place:

“The use of decision-making authority for the purpose of financial gain constitutes a conflict of interest. The penalty for violations of conflict of interest is criminal in nature,” she said, punishable first by a fine and on subsequent offenses, possible jail time. She also noted that under the county charter, “any officer or employee of Jefferson County who willfully violates the conflict of interest section should forfeit their office.”

Right on. Can you imagine if President Trump tried to cut the FBI budget right now, how media heads would explode? Or what if St. Louis County executive Steve Stenger, who has engaged in numerous efforts to reward donors, did something like this? The St. Louis media would be all over it. But since we’re just JeffCo, this won’t get much notice. But basically you have Waller trying to use his position to interfere in his own lawsuits to help himself win.

Well, Waller was apparently not too happy about being taken to task. While the Leader‘s Pat Martin likes to portray Waller as an aw-shucks country public servant, the fact is that Waller is a knife fighter. His revenge against Reuter was delivered Thursday, when he released an executive order removing her from her spot as one of Jefferson County’s representatives on the East-West Gateway council, a regionwide group that allocates federal transportation funding. I don’t know what Waller’s official rationale for this move is, but it is hard to see this as anything other than political payback. Waller whines in this week’s Leader that the recall effort against him just a personal vendetta, while at the same time engaging in actions like this. Maybe we should add a bullet point about hypocrisy to the recall petition.

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