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: Dunklin schools (Herculaneum and Pevely) as well as Windsor are off that day.

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).

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). The JeffCo Parks and Rec Department is recommending its Northwest Jefferson County Sports Complex in House Springs (2:24) as a viewing site.

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.

Ethics Questions Again for Local Attorney

15 Jun

A JeffCo lawyer who serves as judge for the once-predatory Byrnes Mill court, Colby Smith-Hynes, is accused of unethical conduct in a family law case where he was representing his wife (and employee of his law firm) April regarding her kids from a previous marriage. This conduct allegedly includes his firm forging a signature and fraudulently notarizing it, which allowed Smith-Hynes to represent his wife’s ex-husband (Sean) for a several-month period without his knowledge, even though the ex-husband is actually siding against April and with the long-deceived biological father in this case (Steve) in a drawn-out paternity/custody case.

The notary for the Smith-Hynes Law Firm has received a cautionary letter from the Missouri Secretary of State over this incident, and the state Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel is investigating. While Colby was ordered to withdraw from this case, since he might be a witness, the only other lawyer at his law firm, Matt Stone, has taken over these duties. Stone has moved to quash a request that the original signed, notarized document be produced in court.

After the ex-husband found out about the unwanted representation, he put an end to it. After that, with his position damaged, Smith-Hynes lashed out in lawyerly fashion with unwarranted filings, including an order of protection against Steve, depriving him of contact with his own son, and a motion for contempt claiming Sean is behind on child support payments. These filings are intended to delay the proceedings, increase legal costs, and inflict stress. Meanwhile, April continues to receive child support payments, and a teenage boy continues to live in limbo.

These parties are simultaneously battling in small claims court. Sean’s wife, Shannyn, was forced to pay taxes on the loan forgiveness of a vehicle that April took ownership of when divorcing Sean but then lost to default and repossession. The IRS does not recognize divorce settlements, so Sean (and therefore Shannyn) were stuck with the $1,400 debt when April did not pay. Now she has to sue April to get it back. Colby is representing her on this case. A search of Casenet and PACER (the federal courts database) reveals that the Smith-Hynes’ have run into a lot of trouble with paying their debts over the years.

Past Issues

Smith-Hynes serves as municipal judge for the two formerly most confiscatory cities in the county when it comes to charging high fees for traffic tickets, Byrnes Mill and Hillsboro. The legislature passed SB5 in 2015, and this law has since forced ticket reforms and fee reduction. In his judicial capacity, Smith-Hynes was found to have double billed the two cities in 2012-2014 for some travel expenses for the annual municipal judge party/conference at Lake of the Ozarks. After my investigation, he reimbursed Byrnes Mill almost $400, calling it an “oversight.”

Recall Effort Launched Against Jefferson County Executive

12 Jun

Unlike many levels of government, the Jefferson County Charter allows for the recall (or removal from office) of county elected officials upon the collection of a specified number of voter signatures followed by a public vote. For the first time, a recall effort has been launched in the county, directed at county executive Ken Waller, a Republican who has clashed repeatedly with the GOP-majority county council.

The reasons for the recall effort are laid out in the petition notice:

 

Reason one is the politician pay lawsuit that he is a part of. Reason two is his alleged role in the Health Department end-around of the council to pass a prescription drug monitoring plan. Reason three is his behavior towards citizens at council meetings and other public forums, and the sending of cease and desist letters.

According to the charter, petition organizers have six months to collect a number of signatures equal to 20% of the people who voted in the last gubernatorial election, which comes out to a requirement for 21,167 signatures. If this threshold is met, a vote would be held at the next election or a special election on whether or not to recall him, and a simple majority would be needed to remove Waller from office.

Waller was elected to his second term as county executive in 2014. I don’t believe he has announced whether or not he plans to run again in 2018, though he did try to land another job recently. He has $63,000 in his campaign account, but he also has a possible GOP primary challenger in state representative John McCaherty.

Here is an online version of the petition. The legality of an online signature is in question, so this may be more of an interest-gathering effort. If this petition interests you, best to sign a petition in person. I’m sure we’ll be seeing the petition at major county events this summer.

%d bloggers like this: