If corruption in Arnold becomes so bad that the Leader is forced to write about it, you know it’s serious stuff.
Years of good old boy, backscratching, crony politics broke wide open today as the wary detente of Mayor Ron Counts and Councilman Phil Amato exploded publicly. As the filing deadline for April’s mayoral election approached, Counts filed complaints with the state Attorney General and the Missouri Ethics Commission over a deal that Amato supposedly offered him, which would have kept Amato out of the mayor’s race. This is what Amato wanted, according to Counts and as reported in the Leader:
- Choose a certain person as the next Public Works director, thus eschewing an open, fair, hiring process oriented towards picking the best candidate and instead elevating a probable Amato crony.
- Choose a certain person as the next Parks and Rec director, thus eschewing an open, fair, hiring process oriented towards picking the best candidate and instead elevating a probable Amato crony.
- Force Bob Shockey out as police chief.
- Give Amato an “unspecified benefit.”
Amato does not deny the first two, says that he merely wants to know when Shockey will finally leave, and claims that the benefit is “maybe a dinner.” I fully endorse the third item, and I suspect the fourth is a special deal for a Amato developer pal or something a bit more substantial than a meal at Applebee’s.
I fully suspect that, had Amato and Counts been able to come to an agreement (perhaps by dropping item 3), this deal would have been signed, sealed, and delivered, and Amato would have happily gone back to the council. Instead, here we are.
Smoking Gun Not a Secret
Amato also released what he claimed was a “smoking gun” that would have stayed secret had Counts accepted the deal. Amato said it was the city that ordered Ameren to shut off the electricity to flood-threatened areas of Arnold last December during the historic Meramec River flooding. This decision led to many flooded basements, as homeowners could no longer operate their sump pumps.
Counts denies this, and states that it was a consensus decision. I wrote about this back in February. Here is the statement I got from Ameren on this issue:
I think in the end, it had to be the city that made the order, while Ameren was free to advise. The real question, as I wrote in the article linked above, was which homes to shut off. It was clear that Arnold selected way too many homes to cut power to, 530 of them, when in the end only about 150 homes saw major damage. From statements, it appears that Arnold was working off of flood estimates that were two feet too high and not in line with what anybody was actually forecasting in the days before the flood. This would explain why the number of homes which had power shut off was so excessive. It was Counts and Shockey that were spouting the incorrect flood forecasts.
On an interesting flood note, residents complained that their manholes were not pumped out, and this contributed to the backups. The city said, hey, it’s not our sewer system, we sold it to Missouri American Water. The city heavily campaigned for this sale (while Amato voted against it as a city councilman) and tacked on an illegal tax. The city government got a bunch of money, and the residents got sewage-filled basements.
Shockey and Sweeney
Where there is corruption in Arnold, Shockey and city attorney Bob Sweeney cannot be far behind. It was Shockey who arranged to pay his son-in-law to attend police academy, steered city purchases to his personal businesses, interfered in the 2013 mayoral election on behalf of Counts with a frivolous, baseless discrimination lawsuit, and extracted a $70,000 payout from the city via that lawsuit. And here we are again with Shockey weighing in on the mayoral election on behalf of Counts.
Sweeney has interfered in Arnold elections by selectively booting candidates from the ballot based on their ideology, been grossly overpaid for years by running up billable hours, shilled for red light camera company American Traffic Solutions, and given bad legal advice.
Amato states that Counts doesn’t really do much, and that Shockey and Sweeney run the city. It has been true over the years that certain city officials won’t do much without consulting Sweeney, and that Shockey is pulling a lot of strings to advance his own interests. Here are their responses to Amato in the Leader:
Sad to hear that Shockey won’t retire, but if you face no accountability, why not hang around and suck up a paycheck? And I suspect Amato’s “vendetta” is just that he finally got sick of Shockey’s mooching off of the city.
It is clear that Sweeney and Shockey like the status quo in Arnold, and will be fighting to maintain it in this campaign. It will be interesting to monitor the campaign contributions that the two candidates receive.
Who to Back?
On one hand, I think good people in Arnold should back the third candidate for mayor, William Denman, who I know nothing about, only to get rid of Counts and Amato, who is running for mayor instead of for re-election to the council. But, given that Amato seems ready to get rid of Shockey and Sweeney, perhaps we should support him. Achieving those two goals alone would be enough to Make Arnold Great Again.
More importantly, given the sheer number of figurative bodies that are buried in Arnold City Hall, here’s hoping that the campaign stays nasty, and that Amato and Counts reveal some more secrets about Arnold city operations between now and April 4.