McCane Calls Out DeSoto Council, But Falls Short

6 Oct

According to the September 26 Leader, former DeSoto mayor Rich McCane got up at the Sept. 16 council meeting to excoriate the council, saying that a better council could be found from five people on stools at the bar. While this is no doubt true, McCane’s criticisms did not go far enough.

McCane stated that he received abuse and threats during the latter part of his eight years on the council, as well as after he resigned. He specifically mentioned some anonymous letters he received.

McCane apparently did not mention the assault allegation that was leveled against him by a city employee one week before he resigned. That case ended up with no charges filed. Does McCane consider this as part of the harassment against him?

Give Us Details

Where McCane failed is that, according to the Leader, “he made no specific allegations of wrongdoing against the council.”  He worked with all of the people that are currently on the city council. He has to have a number of examples of them engaging in questionable behavior and/or stupidity. Why not lay it all out there? Otherwise, what will this rant accomplish? The city council needs to be turned over, but if McCane is only going to be vague, he isn’t going to advance that goal.

And what about these threatening letters? Did he go to the police with them? (It’d be best to go outside the city PD for this.) There are ways to figure out who mailed something. Go after these people.

McCane’s act of resignation was also a big win for his detractors, and was probably exactly what they wanted. The bad actors in all levels of politics want the honest people out of the way, so they can pursue their selfish schemes. If you quit, they win.

Biggest Loser

By many accounts, the biggest loser on the council is Larry Sanders. I have heard several examples of him trying to intimidate or fire people who get in his way. The voters apparently came to recognize this, booting him off the council in 2018. However, the council, in its infinite lack of wisdom, appointed him to fill the vacancy after McCane resigned, citing his experience in city government. Well, Brett Cecil has experience being a relief pitcher, but that doesn’t mean the Cardinals should put him on the mound. Sanders then won another term in April 2019 when three people ran against him and split the opposition vote.

Sanders showed his ignorance in August when he spoke out against police chief Jeff McCreary’s request for a police personnel board. According to the September 12 Leader, Sanders said at the August 19 council meeting that “there are a lot of things in the Police Department that nobody needs to know” and claimed that serious police disciplinary matters never came up when he was mayor.

Well, recall that in July 2018, shortly after Sanders lost his re-election race, the JeffCo Sheriff revealed that the DeSoto Police Department was in total disarray – bad leadership, huge turnover, poor training, poor facilities, poor procedures. It was to the point that the city thought about shutting down the PD (and should have done so). Maybe Sanders should have let people know what was going on in the PD when he was mayor, and maybe he should have engaged in some disciplinary actions to prevent the deterioration of the department.

If I was investigating the letters sent to McCane, Sanders would be the first person I would look at.

Not Too Late

There is still time for McCane to be more specific, and to press the issue of an incompetent council that needs to be turned over. There are two seats coming up for election in 2020 – those of Clayton Henry (the conflicted leader of the effort to keep the DeSoto PD) and Rick Lane. McCane can help find good candidates to run and use his platform to help support them, and at the same time give the public more information on what’s gone on behind the scenes and why there needs to be change on the council.

Final Note

The following was posted on Facebook in response to a statement in the Leader article:

ccds-mccane

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Pevely Buys Trailer from Mayor’s Bae

27 Aug

At the July 15, 2019 board of aldermen meeting, the board approved (page 10 of the minutes) the purchase of a used 2004 trailer (approximately 24 feet long, 10,000 lb. GVWR) for $4,800. What was not mentioned at the meeting or in the board packet was that the trailer was owned by McCain Towing & Auto Body of Herculaneum, whose owner is in a live-in partner relationship with Pevely Mayor Steph Haas. The city also paid McCain over $700 for repairs to the trailer. While this arrangement may pass legal muster, it does not look good.

The only hint that something was going on during the meeting was that Haas handed over the gavel for the discussion of the purchase to her ally, board member Steve Markus. Evidently, this was an ethical fig leaf to remove herself from the act of approving the purchase of the trailer.

It should also be noted that McCain has the city contract for repairing police vehicles(page 2).

park trailer

The trailer

Convenient Price?

I found some Pevely city ordinances that shed some possible light on the particular sale price of this trailer:

  • Informal bids: The city is required to use the Informal Purchasing Procedure for purchases of items of a value between $5,000 and $10,000. This procedure calls for the collection of at least three bids on such purchases. The difference between the formal and informal procedures is that the formal one requires publishing a public request for bids.
  • Open market: The city can use the Open Market Procedure for purchases of items with a value between $1,500 and $5,000. The ordinance says  “open market purchases shall, wherever possible, be based on at least three (3) competitive bids.”

$4,800 is, of course, just under $5,000. Coincidence? The “whenever possible” language in the open market rules seems like a truck-sized loophole that was used here. I’ve seen no indication that bids were requested for the trailer.

Perhaps Technically Not a Conflict

Here is the Pevely ordinance on conflicts of interest:

“Any purchase order or contract within the purview of this Chapter in which any officer or employee of the City is financially interested, directly or indirectly, shall be void unless the Board of Aldermen waives compliance with this Section before the execution of a purchase order or contract.”

While one could have a discussion over the applicability of the word “indirectly,” since Haas doesn’t have an official ownership interest in McCain, she probably doesn’t violate the above.

In addition, the city can argue that it wasn’t the mayor who bought the trailer, it was the board. Even though the board and this mayor have a crony relationship, and we don’t know who proposed or arranged the sale, it is the board that’s ultimately responsible for buying stuff.

The city will probably argue that it doesn’t matter anyway because the trailer supposedly came at a good price. Markus said at the board meeting that someone told him the trailer was a good deal. But we kind of have to take his word at that.

Conclusion

As I stated above, this probably passes the legal tests for avoiding conflict of interest. But it doesn’t seem very ethical. At the least, the city should have been up front about this, and explained why buying this trailer was a good idea despite the questions it raises. Transparency is a good policy.

Behind the Herky Trash Re-Bid

14 Aug

Herculaneum put its trash services out for new bids in June, since the existing 5-year contract was expiring. Two companies submitted bids: Republic Services, the current trash provider, based in Phoenix, and Freedom From Waste LLC, a company out of Farmington. But the city board of aldermen, for unexplained reasons, decided to throw out the bids and start over.

The bids that the city threw out were as follows (these are monthly costs to homeowners):

trash bid table

Freedom clearly had the lower bid. So why did Herculaneum throw them out? The Leader on July 18 quoted city administrator Jim Kasten as saying that the board gave no reason for rejecting the bids. This is a cop-out, as all information the board received it got through Kasten. So he knows what’s going on, and he should be transparent about it.

City ordinances say contracts “shall be awarded to the lowest responsible bidder.” The bidders give prices based on the criteria set out by the city. “Lowest responsible bidder” includes criteria set out here, but it considers such items as ability, skills, and previous performance. Basically, can the company do the job? The city gave no reason to believe Freedom can’t do the job.

Discussion of the issue at the July 15 board of aldermen meeting is summarized here, starting at the bottom of page 3. Here’s an interesting exchange:

trash disc 15 Jul.jpg

Here we see more cryptic refusal by Kasten to discuss why the bids were rejected. I have an email that city attorney Jessica Mikale sent to Kasten regarding her issues with the proposed contracts submitted by the trash companies. I assume this is the “memo” referred to above. It seems a little odd to me that they are quabbling about contracts before awarding the bid, but I digress.

I agree with what Alderman Seithel said, that the memo contains a lot of nitpicking. Here it is. I don’t see anything in there that would seem to merit throwing out the bids and starting over. It’s just a lot of “change this to that.” I don’t see anything that the companies would have even objected to changing, in my view.

New Specs

On another note, when the city reopened the bidding in July, they greatly increased the bid specifications. For the original bidding, all the city said was basically “provide trash, recycling, bulk pick-up, and yard waste collection for 1,430 city residents.” The city probably failed in its duties by being so non-specific. But the new specifications run a full page, setting out frequency of pickups and details about the contract, addressing all the contract issues the city complained about in the memo.

Bids for this latest round were due August 1. There should be a Herky board meeting on August 19, where presumably this bid question will again be on the agenda. This may seem like a minor deal, but the way it has all been handled makes one wonder if the city is putting a thumb on the scale in favor of Republic Services, the out-of-state company that has had the contract for 25 years or so, for whatever reason, or if this was just handled in a shoddy fashion. I am interested to see who wins the bid. Of course, the fact that both companies surely know what each other bid the first time throws a curveball into the whole competition.

Waller Unloads on Council Foes

28 Jul

Ken Waller moved on from the Jefferson County executive job to become county clerk in January, but he took the opportunity a few weeks back to give his thoughts on some of the county council members (all Republicans, like Waller) that he used to spar with. This was in response to a publicly-available Facebook post praising councilman Phil Hendrickson (District 3, GOP, Arnold). This is the latest salvo in the ongoing JeffCo GOP civil war.

 

Eviction Stunt at Pevely Board Meeting

27 Jun

I wrote here about an uncorroborated claim of a threat levied by Pevely alderman Larry Coulson and his wife Diane against former alderman Dave Bewig, and Diane’s subsequent, fully documented threat against Bewig. This series of events led to Bewig being banned indefinitely from board meetings, and to the Coulsons both being appointed to the Pevely Park Board (although Diane only squeaked by on a 3-2 vote by the park board).

I mentioned in that post that the way Bewig was evicted from the May 20 BoA meeting was strange. I put together some video to show you. But first, here is a crude graphic to point out the major players:

boa-labels1

Here is video #1. It does not have audio. Below I will post an annotated timeline:

Continue reading

Perry Says She Has No Conflict, But Here’s Exhibit A

17 Jun

The Missouri Attorney General, in response to a complaint, wrote to county council and Jefferson R7 school board member Tracey Perry stating that she has a conflict of interest in holding those two positions. Legally, the AG stated that she effectively resigned from the board when she joined the council. They gave her 30 days to respond to this, and Perry says she is going to fight the ruling.

Perry also claims in an interview that she has no conflict of interest. That would only arise, she says, if three or more R7 board vacancies arose at once and the county executive had to make appointments to fill them, as happened in Hillsboro R3 recently. She would recuse herself in that event, she says.

But I say she does have a conflict of interest, and here is Exhibit A to prove it.

Zoning Proposal

In March 2019, the county planning and zoning commission (P&Z) and subsequently the county council considered a rezoning request from an applicant wanting to build a mini-storage and RV storage business on Highway 61, across the road from Plattin Primary School in the R7 district. Here’s the location:

r7 storage proposed site

As a councilwoman, Perry participated in the final decision on whether this proposal would be allowed to proceed or not. And as a board member, she heard in detail what R7 leadership thought of the idea. This is from the complaint filed with the AG (emphases mine):

During the March 2019 Jefferson R-VII School Board Meeting, a discussion item was brought up by School Board Member Wayne Surratt, who noted that Ms. Perry could not comment due to her position on the County Council to avoid a conflict of interest. The discussion was the position of the Jefferson R-VII Board of Education and the upcoming County Council vote regarding the rezoning of the property directly across from Plattin Elementary. The recommendation of the Board was to support Ms. Perry and vote against the rezoning of the property directly across Plattin Elementary. Several points were made to the concern for student safety and traffic increase near the school.

Ms. Perry voted with the School Board’s recommendation to defeat the proposed rezoning. Ms. Perry was later publicly thanked by Mr. Wayne Surratt on his Facebook account named ‘Smart Development for R7.’ He posted, “Thank you councilwoman Tracey Harris Perry for representing our interests tonight at the county council meeting. The rezoning was defeated. It was slightly confusing as a positive, so the measure passed on a 5-1-1 vote, but the measure was a denial. There will not be a mini storage or RV storage on that site. Win one for the community!”

In addition to the discussion at that meeting, superintendent Clint Johnston (who Perry helped place on administrative leave) and Surratt (Perry’s crony in that matter) spoke out against this proposal at the March 14 P&Z meeting, as reported in the Leader. Surratt also voiced his disapproval for the project at the March 25 county council meeting. In addition, councilman Brian Haskins, the only person to vote for the rezoning, stated at the council meeting that he walked the property with Perry. At the council meeting, Perry introduced the resolution (page 5) to deny the rezoning request and moved to bring the resolution to a vote. And she voted against the project. So we know that Perry was involved in discussions about this project, knew the project well, knew full well how the school district felt about it, and helped vote it down.

Therein Lies the Conflict

What we don’t know, and what is impossible to tease out, is whether Perry voted against the zoning proposal with the county’s interests in mind or R7’s (or her own political concerns with each constituency). This is the definition of a conflict of interest.

She might argue that A) everyone else except Haskins voted against it too, or B) the county’s and school district’s interests were the same in this situation. But those points are irrelevant. I pulled this from Wikipedia:

“A conflict of interest is a set of circumstances that creates a risk that professional judgement or actions regarding a primary interest will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest.”

In this case, we don’t know if Perry’s primary interest (which in this case should have been her role as councilwoman) was unduly influenced by her secondary interest (her role as R7 board member) as it pertains to this issue. It is easy to make the argument that this project would be good for the county but bad for the school (from the administration’s perspective). I think the county needs this kind of business, especially the RV storage part of it. Haskins and the representative of the project, Dan Govero, made the points that the proximity of this site to the interstate is ideal for this type of business, that traffic going in and out of the business would not occur at the same times as school traffic, and that this use will generate less traffic than other uses, including even housing. I think R7 doesn’t like this business because 1) they’d rather have nice open land next to them, 2) barring that, they’d rather have expensive houses that would generate big property taxes, and/or 3) they think a storage business is trashy.

Perry’s Response

In an interview with KJFF Radio that contained hubris, diversions, and claims of victimhood, Perry addressed the zoning issue. I will transcribe her response for you (emphases mine):

For example, we had someone that wanted to come up and put some storage units in R7 area. The school board made a comment that they wanted to talk about it, well the school board is not in control of planning and zoning and changing and that property. If it was the school board’s property they wanted to put up a storage unit, that’d be a different story. The only problem in that situation is they cannot present to me any information about what they feel is right or wrong if it’s already gone up in front of a planning and zoning committee because I can’t hear evidence that they may present in a hearing that may come up in front of the county council so I would have to leave the room, and just let them know I can’t hear this information. I can only hear this information before any petition has been filed or before it goes up to planning and zoning, so it’s a matter really of education, so it’s not necessarily a conflict, it’s just that I have to abstain, they wouldn’t make any decisions at the school level to wanna change any of that stuff.

This is 100% BS, because Perry did hear what the superintendent and school board thought about the project. She was at the March school board meeting where this was discussed (which took place AFTER the P&Z meeting, by the way), and she didn’t leave the room. And it is highly likely that she knows about Johnston and Surratt speaking at the P&Z meeting. Furthermore, she says in the interview that if a conflict were to arise, she could just abstain. She didn’t abstain here. She voted. She failed her own ethical test.

This just shows her total lack of self-awareness as it related to the incompatibility of her two offices. She also explains in the interview that she’s going to explain to the AG why they are wrong to say she must leave the school board. She says in the interview that the ruling doesn’t apply because Jefferson County has a charter government now, and not the old county commission system. As if the AG doesn’t know that? As if she knows better than the experts in Missouri law?

Who knows how long this process will drag out, but I think it is safe to say that Perry will soon be off of the R7 school board, one way or another.

 

 

Tax Hike Haskins and His Park Proposal

7 Jun

Jefferson County councilman Brian Haskins (1st District, GOP) has unveiled a plan to ask voters to raise taxes in the county to fund a 650% 550% increase in the budget of the county Parks Department, according to the May 16 Leader. This appears to be all in the name of building a recreation center in the lightly populated west part of the county (he talks about building other parks, but it is clear that the rec center is his main goal). His 3/8-cent sales tax would increase the county parks budget from $1 million per year to $6.5 million, with another $2.5 million going to JeffCo municipalities to use for their parks. Of note, Haskins did not ask the cities if they want this tax, although we know that JeffCo city politicians will never turn down a tax hike.

Haskins uses a bit of false equivalency and false math to argue for parks. First he compares expenditures by cities on their parks to what JeffCo, an unincorporated county, spends. He says Farmington spends $189 per person while JeffCo spends $4. Let’s compare:

Farmington population: 18,500

Unincorporated JeffCo population: 158,000 (approximate)

I’m not sure where he gets the $189 number, but presumably his park calculations for Farmington include expenditures on the Civic Complex there, which is projected to lose $1.4 million in 2019. The subject of unprofitability of rec centers came up at a council meeting when this topic was discussed (with Arnold getting a mention for its money loser), but Haskins rejected the idea that rec centers need to operate in the black, since we don’t ask roads or libraries to turn a profit.

If JeffCo spent $189 per person, our parks budget would be $30 million. Is that what Haskins wants?

How Many Parks?

Haskins also states the canard that JeffCo only has two playgrounds and 1.5 miles of trails. Anyone who lives here knows that is preposterous. I know what he is doing; he is citing only those playgrounds/trails that belong to the county government. But guess what? JeffCo also has the following:

  • Two state historic sites and a state park (not counting Dunklin’s grave)
  • Several state parks just outside our border
  • Parks in nearly every municipality in the county, with trails and playgrounds.
  • Several conservation areas (like Glassberg, Labarque Creek, Valley View)
  • Many schools with playgrounds

All of these are available to residents of unincorporated JeffCo. To say that these don’t count, and so we have to hike taxes to build county-operated parks, is bogus.

I will also note that Eureka has a rec center. It is 15 minutes away from High Ridge, 20 from Cedar Hill. A JeffCo family can join it for $65 per month. Fenton and Arnold also have rec centers that are not far away from the northwest area of the county where Haskins wants to build his own version.

So Many Taxes

Taxes are going up every year around here. There have been from 4 to 12 tax hike proposals on April ballots in recent years across the county. And most of these tax hikes pass because the people that benefit most (e.g. fire fighters and teachers) show up to vote while few others do. The county is talking about building a new jail and courthouse that will require funding. We can’t be passing giant tax hikes at the same time so Haskins can have a rec center in a lightly-populated part of the county.

In an editorial, the Leader took the predictable position that the council should just let the people vote. But we are not a direct democracy. We elect representatives to (hopefully) make good decisions for us. They should reject this bad idea, not punt it to the ballot. Besides, JeffCo voters have been making some poor decisions lately as it relates to tax hikes. Let’s not give them (us?) another chance.

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