New Traffic Fines in Byrnes Mill

25 Jun

With SB5, the municipal court reform bill awaiting the governor’s signature, breathing down its neck, the city of Byrnes Mill has reduced its highest-in-the-county traffic fine schedule, reported the Leader on May 28. However, city judge Colby Smith-Hynes and Mayor Susan Gibson seem to want us to think they made the changes because they wanted to, not because they had to.

Some of the fine reductions include:

  • Speeding 10mph over – reduced from $100.50 to $60.
  • Speeding 30mph over – reduced from $300 to $240
  • Child restraint violation – reduced from $175.50 to $24.50

SB5 allows cities outside of St. Louis County to derive no more than 20% of their revenue from traffic tickets, down from the previous (and weakly enforced) 30% limit. Byrnes Mill was most recently at 28%, so the law, assuming it is signed, will force Byrnes Mill to reduce its ticket income. In addition, the law will limit fines for minor traffic violations to under $300, which Byrnes Mill’s old schedule violated for three infractions.

Smith-Hynes gave other reasons for making the change, though. He said the STL County standardized fine schedule, which Byrnes Mill adopted,  “seemed appropriate.” He also said “there is more consistency” and “they are easier to understand.” Mayor Gibson said “it looks like a fair schedule.” This is a city that only a couple of months ago converted its website into an anti-SB5 propaganda page, predicting doom and gloom if it passed. Now Gibson says this won’t be a hardship to the city.

The Leader, to its credit, pointed out the SB5 provisions in its article.

According to the Leader, Smith-Hynes is also reviewing fines in Hillsboro, where he is also judge and where fines were 3rd-highest in the county.

Thank you to the local legislators who voted for SB5 (which was all JeffCo representatives), thus paving the way for these changes in Byrnes Mill.

Missouri Schools Pass the Trash

9 Jun

Along with Pearson’s hire of disgraced former Fox superintendent Dianne Critchlow to do MAP oversight for DESE, there are some other recent examples of problem administrators getting themselves hired in new positions.

The first is right here in JeffCo, where Andy Arbeitman, who was paid over $200,000 to go away when he was De Soto superintendent, and then hired by Critchlow as an assistant superintendent at Fox before waltzing away after less than two years with a $66,000 payday, has been hired as athletic director and assistant principal at Grandview R-2, reports the Leader.

Arbeitman’s career is slowly circling the drain, as he has received another demotion and will be making only $55,000 in the upcoming school year. That is less than half of his Fox salary, and about 1/3 of the almost $180,000 he was making only three years ago at De Soto. So that’s a bit of consolation here.

How dumb is the Grandview school board? Let us count the ways. First, board president Randy Wakeland said “we hired the best-qualified candidate.” It is hard to believe Grandview has that much trouble attracting applicants. Not only that, but the assistant principal job is a new one. Just what every school district needs, more administrators. Wakeland also said he believes the contract runs from year-to-year. Um, shouldn’t you have checked that, especially given that Arbeitman will probably bail on you guys in just a couple of years? Anything other than a year-to-year contract opens Grandview up to a big payout. I don’t know what he knows about education administration, but Arbeitman is clearly quite skilled at extracting free money from school boards.

I can’t find a solid answer, but it sounds like Arbeitman’s 2-3 years as superintendent at Twin Rivers school district ended on a sour note as well.

Caruthersville

In a non-local but highly egregious example of pass the trash, Caruthersville School District in the Missouri bootheel made the shocking move of hiring fired St. Joseph superintendent Fred Czerwonka as its director of school services. That’s right, he was fired, and we in JeffCo know how hard it apparently is to fire a school administrator. A state audit of St. Joseph found “$40 million in unapproved stipends, no-bid contracts, nepotism and a string of Missouri Sunshine Act violations.” Czerwonka also accused the district CFO of sexual harassment when the CFO blew the whistle on these schemes. Caruthersville put a cherry on top of this ridiculousness by hiring Czerwonka’s wife, too. I hope the idiots on the Caruthersville school board made sure that Czerwonka’s contract does not award him pay when he gets hauled off to jail (the FBI is investigating him), but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did.

It is noteworthy that there are no e-mail addresses listed for board members or their secretary on the district website, so we can’t tell them how we feel. I have to assume they don’t have internet down there, either, and were thus unaware of Czerwonka’s record. Why else on earth would they hire him?

With all this, I think we need to brace ourselves for Dianne and Jamie Critchlow’s eventual return to education. I have no doubt there is a school board in this state stupid enough to hire them.

Pevely Mayor’s Ill-Advised Moves

6 Jun

I think new Pevely mayor Stephanie Haas is off to a bad start. Her first two major actions have been to push for the impeachment of an alderman and to sue the city for wrongful termination from when she was city clerk. Now, these actions may have legitimate merit, but to pursue both of them in this manner does not set a good tone for her tenure as mayor.

The target of impeachment is Dave Bewig, because of a fictitious online account (Joe Mott) he allegedly created to criticize activist resident Erin Kasten of Pevely 20/20. I’m not sure this offense rises to the level of impeachment (his behavior towards employees has also been cited), but if it does, it won’t succeed, because removing Bewig from office will require 4 votes from the board, according to my reading of the city code (“The Mayor may, with the consent of a majority of all the members elected to the Board of Aldermen, remove from office, for cause shown, any elective officer of the City”). But unless Ed Walters or Dave Young can be browbeat into changing their votes from the motion to draw up articles of impeachment, which they opposed, there are only 3 ‘yes’ votes. Bewig will abstain, so there will be no tie for the mayor to break. This issue will tie up the board for a few months, and we are only 10 months away from the end of Bewig’s two-year term. Perhaps this should be settled at the ballot box.

Haas may well have a case against the city in her lawsuit. She was fired as city clerk in September 2014 and ran for mayor successfully this past April. But I think she should have chosen only one option: sue or run for mayor. Especially since she started down the road to this lawsuit back in October, according to the Leader. Now the city is in an awkward position from top to bottom.

Haas told the Leader that “This is about making elected officials accountable.” But the board members who voted to fire her won’t be held accountable. The city and its insurance provider will be the ones to pay (in one recent Arnold lawsuit settlement, the city had to pay about $60,000 $5,500 out-of-pocket). It is unlikely that this trial will proceed to completion; there will probably be a settlement, voted on by Haas’ allies on the board, Don Menkhus, Steve Markus, and Russ Shackelford. But they don’t make up a majority of the board. Replacing Bewig with a friendly alderman would sure help Haas’ chances of a bigger settlement. I don’t think that’s why she is pursuing his removal, but that would be a result, and appearance matters.

This is not to say I am justifying Haas’ firing or Bewig’s behavior. But because of the low likelihood of success in removing Bewig, the tension created by the lawsuit, and the distraction and the overall tone set by these actions, I think Haas has erred in making these moves, and that they will prove harmful to her attempts to move the city forward and address its many issues.

More News on Critchlow/DESE/Pearson

3 Jun

Update: KMOV did a story, too.

Local media is on my report about Pearson Education hiring disgraced Fox superintendent Dianne Critchlow as a MAP testing observer as part of a contract with the state education department, DESE, like white on rice. Both the Post-Dispatch and the Oakville Call published articles about it on Tuesday. I provided the results of my research to both reporters, upon their requests, but alas, this blog received no acknowledgement in the articles. Such is blog life, I guess.

Both articles added news and reaction to the story. Here are the highlights:

Post-Dispatch

The P-D provided the names of the other schools that Critchlow graced with her presence as a Pearson MAP observer. They were:

  • Parkway Southwest Middle School (Parkway District)
  • Fairway Elementary (Rockwood District)
  • Lonedell Elementary (Lonedell District, not Fox)

Then there’s this tidbit:

The summary provided to the state from Pearson showed no issues with test security or cheating. It noted “some questions regarding a particular monitor were directed to DESE and Pearson by media and other individuals. As a result, DESE and Pearson will add this topic to a post-project meeting agenda and discuss any relevance to future monitor assignment or procedures,” according to the report.

That’s you, guys. Those of you who wrote to the Commissioner of DESE and Pearson’s Missouri Manager made that happen. If you didn’t email them, I don’t think it’s too late. These articles should provoke another round of angst. If we can cause DESE and Pearson some consternation, maybe they will do their due diligence next time. Here are the people to contact:

– The Commissioner of DESE, Dr. Margie Vandeven, at commissioner@dese.mo.gov

– Pearson’s DESE point of contact at nancy.foerstel@pearson.com

I also think it was worthwhile to contact the Mehlville superintendent, despite that district telling me they can’t do anything. I think DESE would listen more to a superintendent or school board member who calls them to complain, compared to some random Joe Schmoe. Here’s what one Mehlville board member, who also contacted DESE, had to say:

“Are you kidding me? Quality assurance?” said Mehlville School Board member Jamey Murphy. “It is of great concern to me to know that this individual, with her track record, was brought into Mehlville schools. The lack of discretion used by Pearson and the lack of oversight by DESE is troubling. We hold our district employees up to high standards and ask that others do the same.”

Oakville Call

The Call revealed that DESE should have known about Critchlow’s hire before the site visits took place:

[Mehlville Director of Communications and Public Relations John] Wolff said DESE “disavowed” Critchlow’s employment when Mehlville officials contacted the state agency. But if the contract was followed, DESE would have known Critchlow was going to Oakville Elementary since Pearson agreed to send DESE a list of the names of its quality-assurance inspectors and their qualifications at least a week before monitoring, along with a list of specific monitoring assignments for each building.

Here’s a quote from Wolff:

“Why would they send her to our school? There’s no one else but Critchlow? It’s like a joke,” Wolff said. “You hire her as a quality inspector, but she’s accused of misusing money, she’s accused of mislaying things, of slander, of libel. Seriously, that’s the lady you want to be in charge of quality? I’m speechless, I still am — it makes no sense.”

This article also revealed that “Longtime Oakville Middle School Principal Mike Salsman is Critchlow’s brother.” Since Dianne did a site visit Oakville Elementary, it’s not a total conflict of interest, but it might be considered a bit sketchy.

JeffCo’s Top Corruptocrat Spreads His Tentacles to Crestwood

30 May

Robert Sweeney is the ethically challenged attorney for a number of government entities in and around Jefferson County, including serving as city attorney for Arnold and Byrnes Mill as well as faraway Iberia, MO (?!). He has illegally kicked candidates off of ballots for political reasons, shilled for red light camera company American Traffic Solutions, received exorbitant payments for his work in Arnold, and possibly steered government money to union organizers. But now he has found his way onto the Planning and Zoning Board in Crestwood, where he lives. But instead of operating in the background, in this position he sits up on the dais.

Conflict of Interest

Sweeney was appointed to the board in November 2014, and voted in as chairman on April 1 of this year (which seems oddly rapid). That chairman vote was not without controversy, though, as reported by the Oakville Call newspaper. Another board member, Steve Nieder (who the mayor tried to remove last year), questioned whether it was a conflict of interest for Sweeney to serve on the board while also serving as city attorney for three other municipalities. Here’s some of the exchange (see more at the link):

“I would beg to disagree with you on that. I think working for other cities is more of a conflict than anything else could possibly be …,” Nieder said, questioning whether Crestwood would be Sweeney’s “first interest” if he was “working for someone else, some other city.”

Sweeney said, “I suppose I’m confused by that comment in that I suppose we all have jobs and loyalties. I also happen to be Catholic. I don’t think that that causes a conflict of interest.”

Nieder interjected, “We’re not talking about that. We’re talking about what you’re being paid for — I mean working for another city. Everybody that comes here could have a possibility of wanting to do business in another city, or you could defray them from doing business in our city ’cause you might possibly want them to do business in another city …”

Sweeney said, “… I will tell you that is so far from my thought process that I didn’t even think of that. It would be a breach of my fiduciary obligation if I did that, and if I felt that I had a conflict with some other applicant, I would recuse myself as I would expect everyone to do.

“And actually, I think I take offense at the notion that I’m somehow going to steer business from one place to another away from Crestwood. Honestly, Mr. Nieder, I don’t — I guess my mind doesn’t work that way …”

This is the Bob Sweeney that Arnold residents are familiar with, taking high umbrage if anyone questions him and throwing out non-sequitur arguments to defend himself.

As for the conflict of interest, I agree that it exists, but I would be more concerned if I was Arnold or Byrnes Mill. I would expect Sweeney to be more loyal to the city he lives in, versus the cities he works for. If he’s going to steer business, I would think it would be to Crestwood.

Out of Order

Later at the same meeting, a Crestwood resident (who also expressed conflict-of-interest concerns) spoke during a public hearing on whether to allow a gas station to operate around-the-clock. He also said things Sweeney didn’t like. Read all of this; it is golden (and there’s more on the Call website):

Sweeney said, “… Mr. Miller, Mr. Miller, I don’t mean to interrupt you, but …”

Miller replied, “You are interrupting me.”

Sweeney said, “Well, then I do mean to interrupt you.”

Miller said, “Do you have any rules for one minute or two minutes or three minutes?”

Sweeney and Miller then talked at the same time, with Miller finally saying, “… I just don’t like interruptions. I’m a taxpayer …”

“And so am I, Mr. Miller, and so are all the folks here,” Sweeney said. “And so we all have equal standing with you, and we are here, Mr. Miller, on this applicant’s request for 24-hour service. His use has already been approved. You’re a day late and a dollar short to complain about that. So if you have any comments about his request for 24-hour service, please have them. Otherwise, I will rule you out …”

Miller said, “I’m very much against 24-hour …”

Before Miller could finish, Sweeney began pounding his gavel and Nieder said, “Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey. Back up. This is a taxpayer that’s talking to you, my friend.”

Sweeney said, “I’m a taxpayer, too, Mr. Nieder.”

Nieder said, “This is a citizen …”

Sweeney interjected, “This is a citizen who is out of order.”

Nieder said, “Back off of him.”

Sweeney said, “You back off.”

Nieder said, “No, I will not. He has a right …”

Sweeney interjected, “You back off.”

Nieder continued, “He has a right to say what he wants to say. Ease up on him.”

Sweeney then asked Gillam “to please get the Police Department because I’m going to have Mr. Nieder …”

Nieder said, “Well, go ahead and get the Police Department because this man has a right to say what he wants to say.”

Sweeney said, “… He has a right to speak on the topic that we’re here for. I’m correcting him on the topic that we’re here (for) …”

Nieder interjected, “… But there’s no reason to throw a hammer on him or anything else like that. My goodness, he’s not hollering at you or anything of that sort.”

Sweeney said, “He was hollering, Mr. Nieder.”

Nieder said, “He is not hollering.”

Sweeney said, “Mr. Nieder, you’re out of order.”

Miller said, “Can I continue, please?”

Sweeney said, “No.”

So in a very short amount of time, Sweeney resorts not only to banging the gavel and using the “nuh-uh, you are!” technique, but also to threatening Nieder with removal by the police. It is beyond obvious that Sweeney does not have the temperament to chair a public board. He is, frankly, an ass. I bet judges just love him (or maybe he does municipal law so he can avoid them). While I’m sure he’s used to compliant/gullible elected officials and employees in the government entities he serves doing his bidding due to his supposed knowledge of the law, or because they’re on his side, he needs to learn to take criticism and be challenged if he wants to be on a board. If he has to bang his gavel and threaten to call the cops at his very first meeting as official chairman (he was acting chairman at the Dec. 3 meeting), what else is in store for Crestwood?

If you would like to listen to these exchanges, the audio can be found here. The conflict of interest discussion starts at about the 3:00 mark, and the exchange about the gas station starts at about 21:00.

Now a Psychologist?

To make matters worse, Sweeney had some choice words to share in an e-mail sent that same night to Crestwood Mayor Gregg Roby, who appears to be the latest in a long line of Sweeney cronies. The Call acquired the e-mail:

“… I explained to Mr. Nieder that my mind just doesn’t work that way,” Sweeney wrote. “Apparently, Mr. Nieder believes that I will breach my fiduciary obligation and steer business away from Crestwood for my personal or professional gain. That is, quite crazy; but, it is also defamatory. Anyway, his friend Mr. Miller agreed, somehow based on the Ferguson muni court problems.”

As for Miller, Sweeney wrote, “Mr. Miller did not take kindly to my suggestion that his comments were not on point. It was my opinion that his behavior was inappropriate and that he was out of order. It was further my opinion that he was refusing to respond to the request of the chair. I gaveled him out of order, which in turn caused Mr. Nieder some consternation.

“The bottom line is that I informed both of them that if their disruption continued I would have them removed. I’m sure Mr. Nieder is not happy. I suspect Mr. Miller has never been happy in his life — I am not licensed to practice psychology, but I do have a quarter century of experience dealing with really crabby, really irrational folks; and, I think he’s one.”

Sweeney also offered to resign “if my presence is a problem.”

We know Sweeney has contempt for those that are not his cronies, and here he spells it out in black and white. Perhaps Sweeney opponents in other entities should submit Sunshine requests for Sweeney’s e-mails, to see what he says about them. He should be forced to resign for these comments. Mayor Roby is not concerned by these comments, though, and in fact agrees with Sweeney:

“After listening to the audio, I contacted the secretary of the board who stated she summoned the police as a result of the disturbance being created by Mr. Miller and Mr. Nieder,” Roby wrote. “As mayor, and a citizen of this city, I am embarrassed that anyone should have to subject themselves to the type of disrespectful conduct and unprofessionalism I heard on the audio … I believe Mr. Sweeney, the new board chair, handled the situation with calm and professionalism …”He also wrote, “In addition, Mr. Nieder has no respect for parliamentary procedure as is evident from his threatening outburst when Mr. Sweeney chose to use the gavel to restore order. As mayor, I have seen enough. I am recommending that each of you review the attached email and the website audio and make up your own mind as to whether Mr. Nieder should be removed for cause …”Roby previously sought unsuccessfully to remove Nieder from the commission.

Reading Roby’s analysis of the events at the meeting is like listening to Jeff Roorda discuss cases of police misconduct – one has to untether oneself entirely from reality in order to accept what he is saying as in any way legitimate. Sweeney was professional!?!? Threatening to sic the police on a fellow board member? Now, undoubtedly the Arnold police would have complied with such a request, since Arnold police chief Robert Shockey is a Sweeney crony and Sweeney’s brother is an Arnold cop, but it would have been interesting to see if Crestwood’s police would have complied with this outrageous request.

Smoked Out

While the Arnold-Imperial Leader has yet to realize that Sweeney is a huckster (their coverage of Arnold ballotgate was abysmal), the Oakville Call has quickly figured Sweeney out. In an editorial, the paper’s executive editor called on Sweeney to apologize and for Roby to accept his offer of resignation.

In gaveling down Miller, Sweeney contended the resident was out of order. We believe the opposite is true.

Sweeney was out of order and created the disruption, as Miller was attempting to address the CUP request. Nieder defended Miller’s right to speak — after all, it was a public hearing — but Sweeney didn’t want to hear it, saying he was going to summon the Police Department.

And:

Sweeney also didn’t like the fact that Nieder questioned whether he has a conflict. Ironically, Sweeney believes Nieder owes him an apology.

We believe Sweeney owes Nieder, Miller and Crestwood citizens an apology for his appalling behavior. In fact, Roby should accept Sweeney’s offer to resign. But that’s unlikely to happen, given Roby’s defense of Sweeney in an email to aldermen.

Citizens once were treated with respect in Crestwood. Just because Sweeney doesn’t want to hear what citizens have to say doesn’t give him the right to abuse them.

Amen! How refreshing to see a newspaper take Sweeney to task. I wish we could experience that in Jefferson County.

Sweeney was probably thinking that, since the Arnold regime he is a part of was able to publicly tarnish their biggest critic, Doris Borgelt, through bogus lawsuits, unfavorable coverage in the Leader, and election stunts, that he can easily dismiss any critics in Crestwood. I will grant that Miller seems to be a cantankerous gadfly and Nieder seems to be a bit brusque, but that does not excuse Sweeney’s behavior in any way.

The next Crestwood P&Z meeting is this Wednesday, June 3, at 7 pm. It might be an interesting meeting. Crestwood residents would be advised to pay close attention to this character.

If you would like to tell the Crestwood mayor how you feel, e-mail him here or go to his Facebook page.

Critchlow Driver’s License Status

30 May

In my post about the DWI guilty pleas by Jamie Critchlow, former Fox C-6 administrator and husband of the disgraced former superintendent, I speculated about the status of his driver’s license. I called the Missouri Department of Revenue (DOR) to request this information as part of my research, but the person I talked to said such information was not publicly available.

But then I saw this article about a Florissant man with 13 DWIs, which gave a lot of detail about the status of his driver’s license:

He has not had a valid driver’s license since 1984…He’s been told he can’t even reapply for a license again until 2022…11 alcohol-related convictions for Tross in Missouri, dating back to 1985. Three of those convictions were felonies. He also has nine convictions for driving while suspended, revoked or denied

So I thought hey, what’s the deal? I contacted the communications people at DOR, and they told me that the information I requested was indeed public information, and fulfilled my request.

Iron County

Critchlow’s first DWI offense was in July 2014 in Iron County. Though he refused blood and breath alcohol tests, in violation of Missouri’s Implied Consent law, the DOR received no paperwork requesting a revocation of his license. Therefore, he was still licensed seven months later when DWI incident #2 occurred in Arnold. Perhaps if Iron County had done their job, this incident would not have occurred. But maybe it still would have – see below.

Arnold

Critchlow collided with another vehicle on the I-55 off ramp at Richardson Road in January, left the scene, and was tracked to his home, where he was arrested. He again refused blood and breath alcohol tests.

Critchlow’s license was revoked for a year, as the law requires, effective 2/15/15. Although he appealed the decision, the revocation is still active. So I can confirm that Critchlow was indeed driving without a license when this photo was taken on May 4th at Arnold City Hall, which is where the Arnold Police are headquartered. Bold move.

Jamie Critchlow heads home from Arnold court, 5/4/2015

Jamie Critchlow heads home from Arnold court, 5/4/2015

Vescovo Joins Suit to Halt Efforts on New Rams Stadium

27 May

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A group of Missouri state lawmakers are challenging Governor Nixon’s legal authority to proceed with a bonding plan for a new Rams stadium. State Reps. Jay Barnes, Eric Burlison, Mark Parkinson and Rob Vescovo joined state Sen. Rob Schaaf in filing a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Cole County that seeks to prohibit the governor’s actions based on several points including his lack of statutory authority to issue new bonds.

This lawsuit, filed against Governor Jay Nixon and the Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority (RSA) today in Cole County, includes the following counts:

  • The defendants’ spending of money towards the new stadium violates their authority in that it extends debt in a way that would increase the principal owed.
  • Defendants’ actions would violate their authority by extending the debt over 50 years.
  • Building a stadium not adjacent to an existing convention facility violates their authority.
  • The composition of the current RSA board is illegal, since only 6 of its 11 members should be of the same party, but the suit alleges that at least 7 are Democrats.
  • RSA is violating its authority, which is limited to debt service and maintenance for the Edward Jones Dome, not on a new stadium. A lot of money has been spent on the new stadium effort.

The suit requests a “Declaratory Judgment and a Writ or Prohibition” to stop the Governor and RSA from moving forward on a new stadium in the aforementioned ways. It is not necessarily that the plaintiffs are against a new stadium, they just want the legislature and/or the people of Missouri to have their say, and they believe current law does not allow new stadium efforts to go forward without additional authority. This is contrary to the NFL’s desire to make a decision on a faster timeline. From Bernie Miklasz at the Post-Dispatch:

For example, if it’s necessary to have a public vote to sign off on the city’s portion of the stadium funding, the timing would be crucial. If a vote doesn’t occur until late fall (early November) it could raise NFL doubts about the firmness of the St. Louis funding. And a November vote may not be in line with the league’s preferred timing.

This would also be the case, maybe more so, if a statewide vote or legislative action were needed. But the people of Missouri deserve a chance to decide if we want to sink taxpayer dollars into this venture.

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