November 2018 Election Notes

7 Nov

It was another big red GOP win in JeffCo, arguably even bigger than those of the previous eight years, despite the lopsided rejection of Right to Work by county voters in August that Democrat candidates thought would help carry them to some victories. Here are some notes:

-As STL Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum put it, “For the first time probably in Missouri history, Republicans now hold every single state legislative seat in Jefferson County.” This is thanks to Mary Elizabeth Coleman ending Mike Revis’ short tenure as the state rep for district 97 (he won the seat in February) and Mike McGirl breaking the Democrat (and JeffCo resident) stranglehold on the 118th district seat. A minority of the district resides in Washington County, as does McGirl, but JeffCo voters went for party over county in choosing him over DeSoto resident Barbara Marco. Also interesting – Marco’s treasurer was DeSoto city councilman Clay Henry.

-In countywide races, victorious GOP candidates averaged 58% of the vote. New county clerk Ken Waller, however, only squeaked by with a mere 51.5%. This suggests that a fair number of Republicans did not vote for him (approximately 7,000, it looks like), but not enough to help opponent and incumbent Randy Holman overcome the red wave.

-Her 32-year incumbency, Democrat affiliation, and pay increase lawsuit against the taxpayers were not enough to keep collector Beth Mahn from winning a 9th term with 52.7% of the vote, the only Democrat in the county to win yesterday.

-One race where money did not seem to matter was the county executive race, where Democrat Jeff Roorda outspent victorious Republican Dennis Gannon by about $46,000 to $21,000 (as of eight days before the election). Yet Gannon won the race by about the same margin as other countywide GOP candidates. I thought Roorda would have been more competitive. But I said the same thing in 2014 when he lost a Senate race to Paul Wieland.

-In another such race, Waller edged Holman while underperforming other Republicans even though he outspent his opponent by $128,000 (!) to $5,000 (again as of eight days out). That was almost a Beto O’Rourke-level of investment return for those who gave to Waller. Holman had about $10,000 in the bank as of that last report; perhaps he should have spent a little more of it.

-In addition to the county legislative delegation being entirely GOP, the county council is now entirely GOP, with lone Dem Dan Darian losing his race. With Waller’s divisive presence out of the way, it will be interesting to see what Gannon and the new council can do. Hopefully they will deliver on measures to improve economic growth and the business climate in our county.

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Candidates Involved in Politician Pay Lawsuit

30 Oct

Here is a list of candidates appearing on your November ballot that are involved in the politician pay raise lawsuit in which they are seeking increased pay and pensions from JeffCo taxpayers:

  • Ken Waller, GOP candidate for county clerk – he has dropped out of the lawsuit, but worked hard as county executive to prevent the county council from paying the legal bills to fight the lawsuit. As county clerk, he could continue to interfere in the payments. Elliot Davis videos here and here.
  • Randy Holman, Democrat candidate for county clerk (incumbent). Elliott Davis video here.
  • Beth Mahn, Democrat candidate for county collector (incumbent). Elliott Davis video here.
  • Dorothy Stafford, Democrat candidate for circuit clerk (she was county auditor for 10 years).

Potential Byrnes Mill Solutions

26 Oct

I would like to propose three possible solutions for the residents of Byrnes Mill to pursue if they are interested in ending the constant parade of scandals and mismanagement in their city. That seems to be a rather large if, considering how long this has been allowed to go on, but I will offer these options anyway.

Run for Office

Year after year we see Byrnes Mill aldermen run for re-election unopposed. People can’t vote the bums out if there are no other options. Here is what happened in recent election years, as best as I am able to determine:

  • 2018: Three incumbents ran unopposed.
  • 2017: Three incumbents ran unopposed. The then-mayor, Susan Gibson, actually had an opponent, who she only beat by 17 votes.
  • 2016: Three incumbents ran unopposed (two incumbents).
  • 2015: Three candidates ran unopposed. There was competition in the mayor’s race, and Gibson won big.
  • 2014: Three incumbents ran unopposed (two incumbents). Jim McBroom originally had an opponent, but for some reason he was not on the April ballot.

You get the picture. The regime also apparently prefers to fill vacancies by appointment after officials leave in the middle of their term, instead allowing voters to select new blood. Three current aldermen and the mayor got their jobs in such a manner.

Byrnes Mill board members need election opponents. There will actually be four board members and the mayor up for re-election this coming April. Knock them out. The candidate filing period will be in December and January. But if you decide to file, make sure you have your ducks in order, because the city will investigate every possible reason to kick you off the ballot.

Get a State Audit

While it is true that the city recently started doing an annual financial audit after years of not doing them, what Byrnes Mill really needs is a state audit, as was done on the Fox school district and is now being done on the DeSoto school district. Instead of just looking at balance sheets, the state auditor looks at “financial accountability, waste, opportunities for fraud, and whether government organizations and programs are achieving their purposes and operating economically and efficiently.” Does this sound like something Byrnes Mill needs? The Fox audit uncovered the depths of disgraced former superintendent Dianne Critchlow’s theft from the district. An audit of Byrnes Mill would perhaps bring to light things that the city prefers to keep hidden.

As part of the audit process, the auditor’s office will meet with local residents and ask for their input about what areas to look into. Before the DeSoto audit started, such a meeting was held, and it was closed with only a certain group of residents present, so that nosy school officials could not check out who was airing the district’s dirty laundry.

Through the petition process, BM residents can force an audit without the city’s consent. The process is as follows:

  • Submit an audit request form, which lays out the public’s concerns. While the concerns are confidential, the name of the person who sent for the form is public record, so beware of retaliation.
  • The auditor’s office will use that form to come up with a cost estimate for the audit (the city has to pay for it). The auditor will then provide signature forms.
  • For Byrnes Mill, only 274 signatures from city residents who are registered voters would need to be collected to force an audit, according to my calculations (15% of 1,823, the number of people from Byrnes Mill who voted in the 2016 race for governor). That seems to me to be eminently doable.
  • The person that submits the signatures to the auditor must also be a resident. The name of this person and all of those who sign is a public record.
  • The county clerk will verify that people who signed the petition are eligible. At this point, the city goes on the list of entities to be audited.

This would require a small group of committed individuals to organize the process and go out and collect the signatures. Be sure you collect more than enough signatures, in case some get thrown out. Again, make sure you follow the rules to the letter to make sure the process gets completed successfully.

Disincorporate the City

The nuclear option would be the disincorporation of the city. It would then become an unincorporated part of the county. To make this happen, residents would have to collect approximately 708 signatures (25% of the city’s 2,832 registered voters). When the signatures are certified, the county places a disincorporation question on the ballot, and a majority vote in the city would be needed to pass it. (Recent example here).

This is a legitimate option because the city seems to have trouble collecting enough revenue. For years the city used traffic tickets to bolster its bottom line, but SB5 a few years ago put a 20% cap on the amount of city revenue that could come from that source (over the city’s vociferous objections). Periodically, the city talks about trying to annex land, like the High Ridge Walmart, in order to seize the sales tax revenue. Lately, the city has turned to tax hikes. Three measures (two sales tax, one property tax) were shot down in 2017, in a welcome sign of life from BM voters. They tried again with the sales taxes in 2018, and one of the two passed.

So, BM residents, you have a few options if you want to clean up your city. I hope you will seriously consider them.

Byrnes Mill Investigation Update

19 Oct

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “When you strike at a king you must kill him,” meaning that if you don’t, royal retaliation will be swift and severe. I think this quote is relevant to the current situation in Byrnes Mill. Eight valiant police officers made a declaration to city leadership of no confidence in police lieutenant Roger Ide, putting their careers at risk to expose wrongdoing. However, they must finish the job and metaphorically overthrow the regime in the city, or it will strike back and the status quo will be preserved.

We have begun to see this manifested, as the powers that be in Byrnes Mill have struck back at the whistleblowers. While Ide has been suspended without pay, according to the Leader, so has Kevin Schroeder, the officer who wrote the letter. In addition, another signee, James Iken, has resigned. All indications are that he was pushed out. There may have been other officers punished, but the city is, of course, refusing to comment. The police chief, Gary Dougherty, seems to be in limbo as well.

Given the pushback, it seems that the officers and anyone else with knowledge has gone to ground, refusing to talk at all about what is going on. While this is understandable, the fact is that the battle is now engaged. The city will fight to bury this story and punish those who went rogue, hoping it all blows over. But this needs to stay in the news. We need to know the lengths to which the city is going to quash this, and what kind of punishments they are handing out. Also, who is doing the punishing? The police chief seems to have totally removed himself from the situation. Shouldn’t he be the guy running the police department? What are the mayor, city administrator, and board of alderman saying and doing?

Arnold: Questionable Choice

One part of the strategy to get past this episode with minimal repercussions, I think, is that the city chose the Arnold PD, of all places, to investigate. Had Byrnes Mill chosen the county sheriff, as did De Soto during their recent turmoil, people would have had faith in the outcome. But the ties between Byrnes Mill and Arnold are enough to give one pause.

The crux of the connection between the two entities is that they share the same city attorney, Bob Sweeney. Sweeney has, in both places, acted in a questionable manner to preserve the ruling regimes, primarily by selectively kicking candidates off the ballot. He has an interest in protecting the status quo, because changes in city government could cause him to lose a client. Sweeney was fired from Arnold in 2010, but he helped get his cronies back into power and he was quickly rehired. So what is good for the ruling regimes is good for Sweeney, so he probably wants to help quash this.

Arnold has a history of poor investigating. They hired out to a private individual to do an investigation of what I believe were politically-motivated harassment allegations in 2013. The results of this investigation were, as I wrote, shockingly shoddy. The council originally refused to pay for the abomination, but again, after an election, the new cronies came in and handed over the cash.

In an interesting coincidence, one or more officers in 2007 wrote an anonymous letter making allegations against Arnold police department officers, including the chief. While denying all the allegations, the city (and Sweeney) went after a former officer that they claimed wrote the letter, even filing a lawsuit against her (07JE-CC01259 – CITY OF ARNOLD ET AL V SONIA ADAMS). Some of the allegations in the suit involved the guy who is still chief of the Arnold police, Robert Shockey, selling items from his personal business to the city. I exposed this activity in 2014 (the above incident was before my time), leading to a front-page story in the Post-Dispatch. This provides reason to believe that other denials by the city of Arnold were lies. And so now we have the city of Arnold investigating another incident of officers making credible claims of wrongdoing against their leadership. And you wonder why people are skeptical of this arrangement? Arnold has experience in dismissing accusations it does not like and then retaliating against whistleblowers.

Byrnes Mill does too, allegedly. In 2014, former interim chief Michael Smith filed a lawsuit alleging that he was fired after refusing orders from then city administrator Larry Perney (now with Manchester) to fix tickets, enforce ticket quotas, and not do checkpoints. Smith was suspended and told to resign the very day he reported these accusations to Bob Sweeney. Smith was awarded a settlement by the city. It should be noted that Smith pled guilty to wire fraud this year but got no jail time. Yet nothing changes in city hall. It is a regular den of thieves.

It should also be noted that Sweeney has a brother who is an Arnold cop.

Willful Ignorance Among City Leaders

I would like to highlight a couple of statements that show how ridiculous city leaders are. In the Leader article, it mentions that deputy city clerk Tracy McAfee resigned from the city. Mayor Rob Kiczenski says he does not know why. But I understand McAfee submitted a resignation letter to the city, laying out in detail what her complaints were. So Kiczenski is seemingly lying.

Here is a comment that alderman Bob Prado made on Facebook:

prado comment1prado comment2

Here’s the thing. This was written on about September 8, two weeks after the board voted to have Arnold do its investigation. Yet in desperation to deny the accusations, Prado is still peddling the idiocy that the letter could be a forgery or fabrication. He also acts like he is sticking up for the eight officers, when in fact his board is aiding and abetting the retaliation against them.

Advance the Attack

Back to my original analogy, now is the time for the valiant officers, and other right-minded city employees, to tell their tales publicly. Let us know what is going on behind the curtains through all these scandals. You don’t have to necessarily identify yourself – you can speak anonymously (I can help). This story needs continued attention if it is going to lead to change in Byrnes Mill, whether through the ballot box or outside intervention. Otherwise, things will just return to the status quo, like they did after previous scandals in the city and police department.

Former DeSoto Mayor Under Investigation for Assault

20 Sep

Update: I am informed that the case has been handed off to the St. Charles County prosecutor (as was the Critchlow case).

As I reported on Facebook and Twitter the other day, Rich McCane, the mayor of DeSoto who resigned on August 30 with a bizarre statement, is under investigation for assault of a city employee, according to a police report and several sources. I am choosing not to name the employee at this time. The case is being considered for prosecution.

According to the police report from the JeffCo sheriff’s office, the incident took place on the afternoon of August 23 on a parking lot on Vineland School Road in DeSoto. This is where the DeSoto school district central office and Vineland Elementary School are located.

Seven days later, McCane resigned. Here is the rather cryptic statement he issued:

“I have supported an environment of transparency and accountability because I believe that with that foundation, our newly hired leaders will have the best chance for success,” he said, also referring to the city’s recent hiring of Police Chief Jeff McCreary. “Unfortunately, that transparency and accountability has led to outside investigations which have upset some involved with government.

“During my tenure I have received mailings, threats and false allegations directed at me and my family, intended to intimidate me and undermine my reputation. Those things in combination with my workload have been a burden.”

In hindsight, perhaps we now know what the “outside investigation” is, as well as what he calls the “false allegations.” (As an aside, I would say that transparency is sorely lacking in the city, and that accountability is rather limited.)

A note of explanation: in DeSoto’s city manager style of government, the mayor is chosen by the city council from among its members. In such a system, the mayor has little power while the city manager has a great deal of authority to run the city. Conversely, the rest of the county’s cities have an elected mayor with more power and a city administrator with less power.

Family Ties

As always in JeffCo, there is a relevant family connection. McCane’s wife works for the county prosecutor’s office. Therefore, one would think that they would pass this case on to another county’s prosecutor. But we’ll see.

Many Departures

Here is a list of employees who have left DeSoto recently, either by firing or resignation:

  • City manager David Dews, fired
  • Police chief Rick Draper, who resigned, came back later as a detective, then left again
  • Police chief Joe Edwards, resigned after serving for about four months
  • Mayor Rich McCane
  • About six other police officers

 

Local Lawyer and GOP Fixture Involved in Three Big Lawsuits

23 Aug

Update 10-14: Good has withdrawn from the opioid case, which was transferred to federal court.

Derrick Good is a JeffCo lawyer with the Thurman law firm in Hillsboro and a fixture on the county GOP Central Committee, whose revenge play I wrote about recently. He is a friend of county executive Ken Waller, who appointed Good to seats on the Hillsboro school board and the county Port Authority. Good has donated $500 to Waller during the current election cycle, and the Leader in 2016 quoted Waller saying that Good was one of his campaign managers. Good is currently involved as an attorney in three major lawsuits that I would like to outline today.

Hillsboro Sand Mine

In April 2018, a proposal to build a sand mine near Hillsboro caused great alarm among area residents, who were concerned about the impact of the 259-acre project on the largely residential area. Opposition quickly mobilized, packing the county planning and zoning hearing on the project. The P&Z board voted 7-0 in June to recommend denial of rezoning for the project. At another packed meeting, the county council voted 6-0 to deny the proposal.

But now, the companies behind the sand mine are suing the county (case 18JE-CC00529, St. Peter Sand Company et al vs. JeffCo). The lawsuit is pursuant to the companies’ rights under Chapter 536 of state law, which allows for judicial review of decisions like this one. The companies can argue that the county’s denial of the project was arbitrary and not based on solid evidence. I wrote here about a lawsuit in which a man sued the county successfully, partially on Chapter 536 grounds, after his proposal to build a mini-storage and boat/RV storage facility was denied. The judge ordered the county to approve the zoning changes for the project. So the possibility exists that the sand mine could be approved by the judge and go forward despite huge public opposition.

Good is the sole attorney for the companies bringing this lawsuit. As I mentioned above, he serves on the county Port Authority, as president no less. The sand from this mine, intended for use in fracking as part of oil and gas drilling, would almost certainly be shipped through the port on its way to the oil and gas fields. I think that’s an interesting connection.

Multi-County Opioid Lawsuit

Jefferson County joined a lawsuit against 49 opioid manufacturers and distributors this month, along with nine other counties, accusing them of causing the opioid crisis and demanding money to pay for the costs of battling it (case 1822-CC10883, JeffCo et al vs. Purdue Pharma et al). The law firm leading the suit – Carey, Danis, and Lowe out of Clayton – says they approached Good about having JeffCo participate because they saw him in court one day and were impressed. I suspect, though, that they knew he had the right political connections.

So Good set up a meeting between Waller and the law firm, as Waller tells the Leader. Waller then decided on his own accord, without consulting the county council, that the county would join the lawsuit. Now Good stands to receive attorney fees if the lawsuit is successful. It is likely that lots of money will be handed over here, either by verdict or settlement, so Waller’s unilateral decision stands to be profitable for Good.

Politician Pay Lawsuit

I have written about this one extensively (case 16JE-CC00004, King vs JeffCo). Good was co-chairman of the charter committee that wrote the county charter and presented it to voters in 2008, ushering in our current form of government. But on the last day of 2015, Good filed a lawsuit against the county on behalf of former Democrat elected official Bruce King, saying that the charter was unclear and being interpreted incorrectly in a way that caused county elected officials to be underpaid and asking for that to be remedied retroactively. A few weeks later the plaintiff added another attorney, Kevin Roberts of the Roberts Wooten Zimmer firm in Hillsboro. The two are naturally seeking attorneys’ fees as part of the suit.

In a Leader article at the time, King says the suit was not his idea, and that he was recruited by Good and Roberts to be the named plaintiff.  A couple of weeks after the suit was filed, a flood of local officials, including Waller, joined the quest for additional salary and benefits. The suit could cost the county $1.2 million dollars in extra pay if successful.

While Waller and other elected officials have failed to coherently defend the lawsuit when confronted on camera by Fox 2’s Elliott Davis, Good has put forward at least a plausible defense of the lawsuit online. It is long, and you can read it here. An excerpt:

Despite discussions and attempts to reach a resolution, nothing happened. There is a simple question that needs an answer, what does the language mean. I as a Charter Commission member believe that the language was written as it is to make sure our officeholders did not take a pay cut, were paid at least what someone in an equivalent office in a first class non-charter county made. However, in order to keep salaries from running away we capped it at no greater than 10% more than the equivalent position. There was a desire to pay those positions well so that quality people would be attracted to running.

 

 

Leader Too Quick to Pat Own Back

19 Aug

In the August 9 Leader, Pat Martin wrote a column about how the much-maligned press saves taxpayers money, according to researchers. He then proceeded to pat the paper’s figurative back with a bold “you’re welcome.” But both generally and in the specific example cited in the study, I don’t think the paper is owed many thank-you cards.

I believe in the general result of the study, which says that local news outlets are needed to keep an eye on elected officials and let them know that they can’t get away with shenanigans. I am reminded of this paragraph from Pat Gauen in the Post-Dispatch:

When I started as a reporter at the old Collinsville Herald, many Metro East communities had local newspapers. Some of the best, like mine, held government accountable at the grass-roots level. My investigations included a questionable city bond issue, slacking street repair crews, deficiencies in the fire department, and Medicaid fraud at a local pharmacy.

The specific issue cited in the study was negotiated bond sales by local governmental entities, which cost the taxpayers more in interest than sales that are put up for a bid. However, as I wrote in 2013, all of the school districts in JeffCo were using negotiated bond sales, according to a state auditor’s report. So in this instance, having a local paper did not save taxpayers any money on bond issues.

In fact, it was local state representative and current House majority leader Rob Vescovo who put an end to this practice by passing legislation (as part of SB 111) in 2017 requiring cities and school districts to use competitive bidding on bond issues. So in this instance he is the one who deserves some thanks for saving us money.

Another item Martin mentions from the study is that areas without newspapers have higher government wages, the theory being that administrators will raise their pay if nobody is there to alert the public. But we had a newspaper when Dianne Critchlow was raking in $260,000 per year as head of the Fox school district, so it clearly didn’t harm her earning potential. I think the whole Critchlow scandal offers an example of the Leader showing up after the fact, after the whistle has already been blown, rather than doing any investigating that uncovered wrongdoing. And even when they did show up, the paper refused to ask hard questions about the Critchlow regime, instead printing puff pieces on departing assistant superintendents.

Another example of lax oversight, I think, is in the case of county executive Ken Waller. I have compared him several times to St. Louis County executive Steve Stenger, whose unethical, combative, vindictive behavior is covered extensively by the St. Louis media. If the big city media had more interest in JeffCo (they used to have a JeffCo beat writer at the Post-Dispatch; another casualty of declining revenues, I guess), I think Waller would receive a lot more negative press. But the Leader usually just writes down what he says. In a column purporting to trace the genesis of the Waller-council feud, the paper even forgot about the politician pay raise lawsuit, which is really where the relationship blew up. On the editorial side of things, the paper even endorsed Waller in his race for county clerk (will they do so in November, though?). As for the pay lawsuit, it has been Elliott Davis from Fox 2 who is putting the pressure on participating politicians. Occasionally, local issues do rise up enough to meet the interest of the STL media, fortunately.

In short, I appreciate the need for a local watchdog media, but I don’t think we have it here. I try to do what I can, but I am just one guy who does this on the side (though I appreciate your tips, and I have found that exposing wrongdoing begets even more tips). The Leader employs several reporters to do this work and has a much larger audience. One reporter, Nate Anton, did some great work uncovering Margie Sammons’ misconduct at Rock Ambulance (which I relied upon here), leading to her forced departure, but he was subsequently sent packing by the paper. When the Leader starts uncovering wrongdoing, rather than reacting to it, I will be first in line to offer pats on the back.

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