JeffCo COVID-19 Numbers as Reopening Expands

17 Jun

I have been providing these charts on Facebook and Twitter on an irregular basis since COVID-19 arrived in our county. I decided to post this one here for posterity. I use the JeffCo Health Department’s daily numbers to compile these charts. The Health Department does a good job of reporting on the corona situation in our county, but I feel like this chart adds extra value, particularly as it provides a 7-day rolling average of new daily cases, which gives us an indicator of what the trend is in the county,

new chart 17 Jun

On Monday, the Governor announced that Missouri would fully reopen yesterday (June 16) and enter Phase 2 of the recovery plan. This means that local officials will decide what cautionary restrictions to enact to prevent the spread of the virus.

As you can see, JeffCo has been in pretty good shape since the Festus Manor nursing home spike in April. The spike on the right side of the chart was a one-day bunch of nursing home cases reported on June 2 that immediately subsided. JeffCo has been seeing less than 5 new cases per day on average since late April besides that one day, despite all the cries of “just wait two weeks!” The last two days have seen 7 and 6 new cases, however, so it will be worth watching the rest of the week to see if this trend continues.

On June 11, the county announced 15 new cases that were determined by IgG antibody tests. I decided not to include these in my chart, because doing so would create a misleading spike, given that these cases happened at various times in the past and were not new.

Dunklin Fire Response to Tax Rejection

16 Jun

In my previous post, I wrote about how the Dunklin Fire Protection District’s request for tax hikes was shot down for the second year in a row. Here is the response from Chief Brad Williams from the June 11 Leader:

When people vote against tax increases, the response is always the same: “the voters were uneducated.” They say, “we just need to do work harder on telling them why they should give us more money.” Officials never stop to think that maybe there is a reason people are voting no.

This response goes a step further, however. It sounds to me like Williams is issuing a bit of a threat: “You’d better give us more money or we won’t rescue you when your house starts on fire.” I think this is kind of appalling. You might say that they are just warning us about what might happen if they don’t have enough money in their budget, but this is another classic government trick: when facing cuts, threaten to get rid of things that the taxpayers want, instead of making cuts in other places, or finding other ways to make ends meet (like a merger).

It looks like Dunklin is just going to ask for another tax hike in 2021, despite losing by a wide margin two times already, without offering any substantial change in order to earn votes (besides possibly lowering the amount of the hike, like they tried this year).

How many more times will voters have to say no before Dunklin Fire will consider the idea of merging?

Dunklin Fire Loses Tax Votes Again; Time to Merge

8 Jun

For the second year in a row, Dunklin Fire District voters resoundingly rejected two tax hikes requested by the district. This year, the district asked for a 25-cent property tax increase for general revenue (down from a 50-cent request last year) and a 5-cent increase for pensions. The measures lost, with 65% and 63% of voters saying no, respectively.

The fire taxes failed last year as well:

The April 2019 Dunklin Fire propositions also were called Proposition S and Proposition P and also required simple majorities to pass. Proposition S, the 50-cent property tax increase, failed with 627 no votes, or 65.86 percent, and 325 yes votes, or 34.14 percent. Proposition P, the 5-cent property tax increase, was rejected with 603 votes, or 62.42 percent, against, and 363, or 37.58 percent cent in favor.

As you see, cutting the one tax request in half pretty much gained them zero extra percentage of votes.

I have been beating this drum a lot in general, but I’d say it is time for Dunklin FD to find a merger partner. The obvious choice would be the Herculaneum Fire Department. Many cities in JeffCo don’t have their own FD, but are instead part of a district (for example, Arnold, Hillsboro, Pevely). Two cities that have their own fire departments, DeSoto and Festus, are much bigger than Herky. Crystal City is not much bigger, but they also should not have their own FD.

Dunklin FD is on the right edge of the map in the center of the county:

jeffco-fire-dist-map2

A merger would allow for the elimination of a chief, maybe an assistant chief, and perhaps another position or two. It would also allow for sharing of equipment and fire houses.

According to Facebook posts by the two FDs, here are the number of calls they have fielded so far this year:

  • Dunklin: About 660 runs through May = 4.3 per day
  • Herky: 133 runs through April = 1.1 per day

In both cases, most of the calls have been for emergency medical services, so we can presume that the local ambulance district (Joachim-Plattin) is responding to these calls as well. I think a merged FD could handle this combined call volume.

Since Dunklin seems to have little chance of getting a tax increase, now is the time to make this merger happen. Only when forced by circumstances are changes like this likely to overcome bureaucratic obstacles and parochial interests.

However, Herculaneum just successfully passed a public safety tax hike, which in part will allow them to hire two new firefighters, in addition to the paid one they have now. This might make them less likely to want to merge, but most of the tax money is for police, and it seems that Herculaneum will likely remain in a tough financial situation, so perhaps there is still some hope.

Herky Cemetery Follow-Up

15 Apr

In July 2018 I wrote about a weird lawsuit involving the Herculaneum cemetery. That case seems to have disappeared from Casenet for some reason (Pryor vs City of Herculaneum). The last items I saw about the suit from there were some motions in limine in November 2019. I’m not sure if these would have resulted in the case being stricken from Casenet.

Anyhoo, I do have an update. One of the issues in the lawsuit was whether the cemetery was disclosing to customers that it was a non-endowed cemetery, meaning it did not have money set aside to care for the property in perpetuity. Well, an addition has been made to the sign at Herky Cemetery:

NE cemetery

HP Investigation Sheds New Light on DeSoto Accusations

14 Mar

Back in September 2018 I wrote about assault allegations made by a DeSoto city employee against councilman/mayor Rich McCane. But now, newly revealed information about a Missouri Highway Patrol investigation into that city employee forces us to look at these allegations in a new light.

The alleged assault incident, for which no charges were brought, happened in August 2018. DeSoto Public Works Director Kevin Warden, who made the allegation, was last interviewed by the HP in April 2018, only four months previously. In the interview, Warden seemed to contradict himself and could not account for $3,800 in missing funds. You can read the summary of the investigation at the bottom of this post.

The HP was brought in to investigate in DeSoto because two councilmen learned about a sketchy scheme and informed the authorities. The two councilmen were Clayton Henry and Rich McCane.

Scrap Scheme

The activity that the HP was investigating started in 2015 when the city began to replace all of its water meters. The old meters contained brass, which could be sold to a metal recycler. So city employees in the Public Works Department took the meters apart to separate the brass and took loads of the metal to be sold. However, employees were instructed to take the payments in cash, if possible, or to have the checks made out to them personally instead of to the city. The employees were then told to cash the checks and bring the cash to Warden. Warden kept the cash in a can in his office. Some employees said they felt intimidated into going along with this scheme.

Reportedly, the money was used for employee barbecues and turkey dinners, as well as to buy TVs and other items for the Department. Warden said some dinners cost up to $500. Receipts gathered by the HP showed expenditures consistent with dinners, but also showed purchases of pizza, Febreze, dog food, gas station snacks, car washes, furniture polish, and a Microsoft tablet.

In total, the Department scrapped metal worth about $13,800. However, between receipts for purchases left in the can, and unspent cash, only about $9,900 was accounted for. Warden could not say (interview report here) where the remaining almost-$4,000 went. Warden claimed the City Manager at the time, the late David Dews, knew all about the slush fund, and even that he authorized its creation. But in his interview with the HP, Dews (who was fired in October 2017) said he first learned about the fund only in the previous year, when it was brought to his attention by an employee, and claimed that he thought the fund was small, as low as $100 (the HP found $2,000 in the can). But Dews also says he didn’t ask how much money was involved. Dews said he told Warden to do what the city’s auditor suggested, turn the money over to the city to handle. But Dews didn’t follow up, he just assumed the matter was closed. It sounds from the investigation like Dews pursued a don’t ask, don’t tell policy about the fund – he really didn’t want to know. At least one of these two men was not being completely honest here.

No charges were filed as a result of this investigation by the JeffCo Prosecutor’s office.

Assault Claim A Revenge Ploy?

Given this information, we must question the timing of the assault allegations by Warden against McCane. You can read his complaint here (well, you can try, it is pretty much illegible). Was this allegation made in an attempt to seek revenge against McCane for exposing Warden’s scheme and putting him in legal jeopardy? After leaving the council, McCane also mentioned receiving anonymous, threatening letters? Was Warden involved in those as well?

According to the city website, Warden remains the Public Works Director in DeSoto. The HP investigation indicates that after this came to light, subsequent proceeds from metal recycling were handed over to the city.

Yet Another Lawsuit Reveals Continued Repercussions of Pevely Mayor’s Choice of Moutray for Chief

25 Feb

The decision by Pevely mayor Steph Haas to select Tony Moutray as chief of police in spring 2018 (after he unofficially took over in fall 2016) over objections from the board of aldermen has caused several black eyes, and several big lawsuit payouts, for the city. While Moutray was forced out in March 2019 over domestic violence accusations (first reported by me), the repercussions of his reign continue to unfold. Another lawsuit is the latest aftershock.

In this case, Pevely officer Amanda Kula, who worked for the city from 2015 until she was fired in December 2018, is suing for sex discrimination (read the lawsuit here). In the lawsuit, she gives a list of incidents where she was reprimanded and claims the reprimands were unfair and that male officers were not written up for similar actions. The main players identified in the lawsuit as engaging in discrimination are:

-Moutray, who in addition to the domestic violence accusation, was involved in a police abuse case that netted a $300,000 settlement for the abused party.

-Ryan Watson, who was hired and promoted to corporal by Moutray, and was fired in May 2019 and pled guilty to a federal misdemeanor after being caught on video abusing a prisoner at the city jail.

-Ben Litteral, who was promoted to sergeant by Moutray. He is alleged in the suit to have had a sexual encounter with Kula, and that this later affected his supervision of her.

Disparate Treatment

Here are some examples from the lawsuit of behavior Kula was punished or treated differently for, compared to specific male counterparts who engaged in the same activity during the same time period:

  • Required to provide a doctor’s note because she left work early to care for a sick child. Watson had done the same thing two weeks previously but was not asked for a note.
  • Was not allowed to bring home her patrol car because she lived more that 15 miles from Pevely. Watson, however, was allowed to take his car home despite living over 15 miles away.
  • Had to provide documentation for needing to miss work during a city movie night, while two male officers were able to miss that night without documentation.
  • Her patrol car was reassigned to another officer while she was on medical leave. Two male officers did not lose their cars while on medical leave.
  • Written up for being involved in a police pursuit just outside city limits. Litterall and Watson had previously violated pursuit policy and were not punished.
    • I’m not sure if this is what the lawsuit refers to, but in 2014 Litterall was part of a police chase that led to the deaths of three passengers and cost the city almost $350,000 in a lawsuit settlement.
  • Reprimanded for missing an official photo shoot after being sent home because her dress pants did not fit. A male officer missed the shoot but was not written up.
  • Kula now works for the Herculaneum PD, but is not allowed to access the Pevely jail, which Herculaneum uses. When she was hired there, Pevely cut off jail access to the entire PD, but eight months later restored access to all Herky officers but Kula.

One of the most damning allegations is that Watson, in front of several officers, yelled “I can’t wait to fire that dyke bitch!” He was upset he had to work on Halloween to cover her shift while she was on medical leave. Throughout the suit, Watson is described as being the most antagonistic to Kula, and other officers witnessed this behavior.

The city will argue that the reprimands and the firing were justified. However, personnel records should exist to prove or disprove the above examples of disparate treatment. Furthermore, what is the city going to do? Put Moutray on the stand? Fetch Watson from a jail cell and put him on the stand? That would be a disaster for the city; with their records, these two witnesses would be destroyed on cross-examination. Expect yet another settlement.

Greivances Aired and Ignored

In January 2019, about a month after she was fired, Kula and another former officer, Tim Schiele, appeared before the Pevely board of aldermen to lay out a list of issues they had observed with the PD. The board, which is beholden to mayor Haas and was buddies with Moutray, refused to act on the allegations, just like they refused to act when Alderman Larry Coulson threatened officers with consequences if they persisted in investigating him for harassment.

JeffCo Medical Weed Licensees Have Limited Apparent Local Ties

8 Feb

The results of the Missouri medical marijuana licensing process are out, courtesy of the state Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS). A total of 11 individual facilities proposing to operate in Jefferson County received licenses (out of 38 applications). I checked the MO Secretary of State website to see who the listed officers were of the companies that were successful. While these companies can operate with some level of anonymity behind registered agents and “organizers” who work for big law firms, from what I found, it does not appear that any of the successful companies have local ties, with one exception. It is possible that there are more locals involved, but their names have not been made public at this time.

The exception is North Medical Group, which won two dispensary licenses. The owner of the company, Zach Mangelsdorf, is not from JeffCo but he owns Home Service Oil Company, which owns several JeffCo gas stations and led the charge to require prepaying for gas at stations in the unincorporated county.

Here are the victorious licensees, by type of license:

Dispensaries

Nirvana Bliss I – Registered Agent: CT Corporation System, Clayton; Listed Organizer: lawyer at Spencer Fane law firm, St. Louis

Nirvana Bliss III – Same as above

Occidental Group – Registered Agent: STLHCRA, St. Louis; Listed Organizer: John Narayan, St. Louis

North Medical Group (two dispensaries) – Registered Agent: Zachary Mangelsdorf, St. Louis: Listed Organizer: Christopher Yarbro, Poplar Bluff

VG Imperial – Registered Agent: SCW Registered Agent, St. Louis (Summers Compton Wells law firm); Listed Organizer: Same

Infused product manufacturing

Robust Missouri Process and Manufacturing 2 – Registered Agent: Kent Weber, St. Charles; Listed Organizer: Same

5150 Processing – Same as Nirvana Bliss above

CMOY – Registered Agent: AT Inc, St. Louis; Listed Organizer: Bill Mackiernan, Denver, CO

Cultivation

None

Transportation

Bold Lane Logistics – Same as Nirvana Bliss above

Testing

GCA – Registered Agent: Accountax, St. Louis; Incorporator: Alisa Meister, St. Louis; Board Members: Syed Hayat, St. Louis, Saqlain Sial, St. Charles

 

Locals Strike Out

By contrast, one JeffCo applicant that does have local ties but was denied licenses, Bright Green Missouri, headed by Arnold city councilman Jason Fulbright, lists Fulbright and four other locals as organizers of the company.

Another company that did not receive a dispensary license was Generations, LLC, which applied for a license to operate in Arnold and lists local big time lawyer Derrick Good as registered agent. I found a couple of other failed applicants with JeffCo ties. But being a hometown weed entrepreneur was clearly not a big deal to the people handing out the licenses.

Leader Continues Weird Trend, Refuses to Mention Critchlow

30 Dec

Since the whole Dianne Critchlow affair went down at Fox C-6, a number of senior executives have departed from the school district. Each time, the Leader has run a story on the exiting individual, often in puff-piece format. But in each case, the paper has strangely refused to mention Critchlow at all, even though it is the biggest news story to come out of Fox in many years. Imagine if the Leader wrote an article about the 1985 World Series and didn’t say the name Don Denkinger. That’s what this is like.

This time, the departing executive is John Brazeal, Fox CFO. While the previous profiles covered assistant superintendents who were at best willfully ignorant about, and at worst complicit in, Critchlow’s reign of terror, Brazeal uncovered and revealed many of Critchlow’s schemes, and pointed out that his predecessor as CFO, Mark McCutcheon, shredded documents before abruptly leaving the district as the scandal unfolded.

In the Brazeal article, as in the others, the problems at Fox were gently alluded to. In this case, the Leader wrote this:

“If the district would have continued on its pathway before John got there, it was set to crash,” said [Jim] Wipke, who is now the superintendent for the Ladue School District. “People don’t always believe that when I say that, but the Fox School District, if it wasn’t for John Brazeal stepping in and making some tough decisions that not everybody liked, would have crashed. He stopped that from happening.”

But, what could have possibly caused Fox to be in such a bad situation? You won’t find out from this article.

In each Leader profile, the events of Critchlow were highly relevant to the tenure of each official. But in each case, she-who-must-not-be-named was not mentioned at all. The question is, why?

Pevely Alderman Makes Appalling Comment in Defense of Cop-Threatening Coulson

10 Nov

On November 4, the Pevely Board of Aldermen held its first meeting since it was revealed here that alderman Larry Coulson allegedly threatened four city police officers, including the acting chief, with “consequences” earlier this year if they completed a police report concerning allegations against him.  Coulson also threatened to block the acting chief from getting the chief job and pressed him to illegally search the vehicle of Coulson’s political opponent.

The only mention of this explosive information at the meeting was a cryptic comment by alderman William Brooks at the very end. If you didn’t know about the aforementioned reports, you would have had no idea what Brooks was talking about, because he refused to directly state what happened, presumably to protect Coulson from further exposure. Here is the beginning part of his statement (you can watch it here, starting at the 22:59 mark). Let me note that he is apparently addressing these comments to Alderwoman Linda Hahn, who filed the original Sunshine request that indirectly brought Coulson’s threats to light.

I’m a little disheartened about the latest information that was misrepresented in a
sunshine request. As chairman of the police board, it would have prudent to at least come to me first about these kind of matters before we approach them and you would have gotten some different insights. So as you know I believe in a lot of transparency, especially on this board, so if you would have come to me it would have been very very nice. However, there was never a coverup in any of this, it needs to be mentioned that this was a citizen vs. a police matter, not an alderman vs. a police matter. And finally, to include the police chief in this matter is irresponsible behavior on such reporting in that he wasn’t even here at the time of this concern.

William-Brooks-202x300

Pevely alderman William Brooks

There are several things to unpack there, but let’s focus on the line in bold. That is an amazingly audacious and asinine statement and a transparent attempt to cover Coulson’s ass. We are supposed to believe that a city alderman can just take off his alderman hat and claim to be a regular citizen whenever it is convenient for him? I don’t think so. Here’s why:

  • Almost all of the activity described in the complaints by police against Coulson happened at city hall, including the uncorroborated police report by his wife that he supported, the eviction stunt against Dave Bewig he participated in, and the interviews between Coulson and the police. The only exception is, we don’t know where Coulson was when he called the acting police chief to berate and threaten him for an hour and forty-five minutes.
  • All of the activity described took place between Coulson and city of Pevely employees. He wasn’t interacting with a gas station attendant at On the Run. In no way can Coulson take off his alderman hat in such situations.
  • Coulson threatened the police with “consequences” if they defied him. What possible consequences could a regular citizen bring down upon police officers? Virtually none. But an alderman who was head of the city police board and a crony with the mayor could definitely arrange for some consequences.
  • What would happen, do you think, if a regular citizen threatened the police with consequences and attempted to forestall a police investigation? That citizen would be laughed at at the very least, if not arrested and charged with interfering with police.
  • Coulson told the acting chief that he would not allow him to become police chief. But a regular citizen does not have the power to impact city hiring processes.

 

Some Analogies

Here are some other incidents that have happened recently that I think are relevant:

-Alderman Dave Bewig was impeached by the Pevely board in 2015 over alleged harassment. Instead of fighting the allegations, what if Bewig had just said “I was acting as a citizen, not an alderman?” Would the board have accepted that explanation?

-Former Pevely police chief Tony Moutray resigned in March (as part of a separation agreement) after being accused of domestic abuse against his wife. Now, Moutray was actually acting as a private citizen, not a chief, when he did that, but he still had to go. Would Brooks have given him a pass in that case?

-Three Pevely cops, including Moutray, were sued for excessive force for a beating that allegedly occurred during a 2016 traffic stop, and the city settled for $300,000. Can those officers claim the beating was a citizen-citizen interaction, and not a police-citizen interaction? Would Brooks buy that?

 

Some Other Points

Allow me to address a few other things Brooks said:

  • I do not agree that he believes in transparency, and I do believe there was a coverup.
  • The “different insights” Brooks would have offered to Hahn would probably have been more BS to cover Coulson’s ass and suppress the story.
  • It is appropriate to involve the current chief, Alan Eickhoff, in all this (I don’t know how he was brought in) because there is an alderman that has threatened city officers and gotten away with it (so far). The chief needs to be aware of the treatment his department might get from the elected leadership of the city so he is prepared to protect his officers and go to bat for them. This seems like another example of Brooks not liking transparency and wanting to keep the chief in the dark about these concerning allegations.
  • Brooks went on to introduce a “Sunshine Request Audit” program, which will basically involve the board being informed of who is making requests for what information and what the requests costs the city in man hours. Since this idea is coming on the heels of a Sunshine request that Brooks is not happy about, one must be skeptical of his motives. It appears that the board is trying to stick its nose into the Sunshine process, potentially to intimidate requestors and attempt to suppress information. Since the Sunshine process for making and fulfilling information requests to governments is laid out in state law, it seems like a bad idea for the board to interfere in this process. The city has gotten in enough trouble in the last few years, and I suspect more is coming on several fronts.

Pevely Alderman Threatens Cops, Acting Chief That Were Investigating Him

24 Oct

Three Pevely police officers, including the acting chief at the time, allege that alderman Larry Coulson threatened them and a fourth officer with “consequences” in May of this year if they wrote a police report concerning allegations of harassment made against Coulson by former alderman David Bewig, according to memos written by the officers. Given Coulson’s position on the board of aldermen, and as the then-head of the city police board, these consequences presumably related to the continuing employment of the officers with the city if they did not act as Coulson wanted them to do against his political opponent.

The acting chief, Larry Miller, stated that Coulson (himself a former airport cop) targeted him and created “a hostile work environment for me and my officers when anything involves him.” Miller also alleges that Coulson improperly interfered in the hiring process for the new Pevely police chief, a job Miller applied for. In July, the city hired Alan Eickhoff to be the new chief. Miller stated that Coulson was using his positions with the city to influence him and the department, calling this “very unethical behavior.” Coulson also wanted Miller to arrest and handcuff Bewig and search his car in order to bust him for drug dealing. Miller does not specify how Coulson expected the drugs to appear in Bewig’s car.

Larry-Coulson-231x300

Pevely alderman Larry Coulson

You may recall that I wrote back in May about a dubious claim from Coulson’s wife Diane that Bewig threatened her and/or Larry, and subsequently in June about a stunt that Larry Coulson participated in that resulted in Bewig being banned from board meetings. The alleged intimidation of police outlined above stems from those incidents. After the Coulsons filed a police complaint against Bewig, he countered with a harassment complaint of his own. Police were asking Coulson about the Bewig complaint when the aforementioned threats were delivered.

The Complaints

Here is a memo that Miller sent in April to Pevely mayor Steph Haas, who banned Bewig from board meetings after the aforementioned eviction stunt:

The first paragraph outlines Coulson’s desires to have Bewig arrested. The second paragraph mentions “one hour and forty five minutes of being berated” and claims that Coulson told Miller he would not allow him to become chief of police. In the final paragraph, Miller lays out the gist of what this is all about: Coulson using his position and his power to intimidate the police into doing what Coulson wanted regarding an incident involving him and his political opponent.

I don’t know at this time if or how Haas responded to this memo.

This pair of memos outlines the other officers’ versions of their interactions with Coulson. I decided to redact their names, since their specific identities are beside the point. You can see that these officers also allege berating and threats of consequences from Coulson. They also suggest Coulson doesn’t really know what he is talking about when it comes to modern policing. From the information at the end of the document, where Miller states how Coulson interfered in the hiring process for the new chief, I’m thinking Miller might even have grounds for a lawsuit, if he wanted to go that route.

In addition to this, I have the memos written by the other officers. Both of them state that Coulson threatened consequences against the officers and their entire chain of command if they completed a police report about Bewig’s complaint, regardless of what the complaint actually even said.

The police report was, however, completed. No charges were brought against Bewig or the Coulsons by the Jefferson County prosecutor. It appears that all of the officers involved are still employed by Pevely; as I mentioned above, Miller did not get the chief job, but remains with the force.

Impeachment?

Recall that in 2015, Haas led the charge to impeach Bewig from the board of aldermen. The charges, in summary, were “bullying behavior and interference with city business.” That description matches closely what Coulson is accused of. Will Haas initiate impeachment proceedings against Coulson? It seems unlikely, since she has known about this behavior since April but has apparently done nothing about it.

Also note this city ordinance:

No member of the Board of Aldermen shall directly interfere with the duties of the City Administrator or any department under his/her supervision, unless such member shall have been authorized to take such action by the Board of Aldermen.
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