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Municipal Election Notes, 2019 Edition

8 Apr

A few observations on last week’s voting:

School Bonds: While there were many school propositions on the ballot, Fox and Grandview had the only bond issues (as opposed to straight tax levy hikes). These proposals required approval by 4/7 of the voters, or 57.14 percent, as per state law. While Grandview barely cleared this threshold, Fox did not, and so its Prop S failed, although it did get over 50%. I am not sure that many realized that the 4/7 requirement was in place – there was some early excitement among Fox fans (and sadness among Prop S opponents) when the vote totals initially came in.

In some cases, a 2/3 vote is required for bond issues. According to MuniBondAdvisor:

A four-sevenths majority is required for general-obligation bond issues submitted at regular elections in April, in August primaries (in even numbered years) and in November general elections (in even numbered years). At all other elections, a two-thirds majority is required.

I guess the idea is to encourage government entities to hold these votes during higher-turnout voting dates, although with only 17% turnout in JeffCo, April elections don’t get much interest from voters.

In any event, expect Fox to come back with another bond proposal. They will lower the dollar value (this one was worth $70 million) and perhaps add some other tweaks in an attempt to make the proposal more palatable. They will say that the fact that a majority of Fox voters were for Prop S gives them the moral authority to try again.

911 tax: The vote to retain a 1/4-cent sales tax for JeffCo 911 passed big, with 70% of the vote, despite vocal opposition by state senator Paul Wieland, a Republican. The Southern Missouri Conservative Fund also sent a mailer opposing the tax. This political action committee got all its money this cycle ($7,000) from…Wieland’s campaign account. The mailer also weighed in on the race for JeffCo Health Board, with the main interest of denying re-election to John Scullin, who is also chairman of the 911 dispatch board. This effort was successful.

I am not totally sure everyone understood that 911 does not provide ambulances and fire trucks, but merely does the dispatching (which is important, of course).

The big question of this campaign was: is this a tax increase or not? The 911 people said no. A 1/4-cent sales tax for 911 was passed in 2009 with a 10-year sunset provision, meaning that it was going to go away unless the 911 proposition passed at this election. So your taxes would have gone down had nothing happened or had the vote failed (911 has another 1/4-cent sales tax besides this one). Therefore I believe that this is, in fact, a tax increase.

Byrnes Mill: I have long begged for some competition for the inept group that runs Byrnes Mill, but beyond a close race for mayor in 2017, there has not been much of it. This year, however, saw challengers for mayor and two board of aldermen seats.

However, the mayor’s race was not much of a contrast. You had the incumbent, Rob Kiczenski, who has been in BM government long enough that he should have known the city PD was a raging dumpster fire (as we saw last fall), taking on Gary Dougherty, who as police chief presided over said dumpster fire. Kiczenski won the race with 62% of the vote.

The two contested board races were not close, either, as both incumbents (who were also willfully ignorant about the state of the PD) cruised to re-election.

Hillsboro Mayor: Buddy Russell remarkably won a write-in campaign with 71% in a three-way race for Hillsboro mayor. One of the people he defeated was former mayor Dennis Bradley, who in his previous stint was accused of assaulting a sheriff’s deputy, after which he resigned. During the campaign he was accused of stealing an opponent’s sign. Russell will have to oversee the rebuilding of the city police after it was found earlier this year to be in poor, poor shape, and the previous mayor, Joe Phillips, weakly resigned when he got criticized over even considering turning policing over to the county sheriff.

Fox C-6 School Board: As usual, the Dianne Critchlow supported/associated (and also teachers’ union endorsed) candidates won, Judy Smith and Carole Yount.

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Better Together JeffCo Proposal

17 Mar

The STL region is all atwitter about the Better Together proposal, which suggests a merger of the city of St. Louis and unincorporated St. Louis County, as well as consolidating some of the functions of the municipalities of the county. The plan is to vote on this statewide in 2020 in order to make changes to the state constitution to enable the new governing structure. Overall, I am in favor of this proposal because there is indeed too much duplication of functions in the area, along with uneven quality of service, and significant savings could be found by streamlining – if they actually go through with getting rid of unnecessary employees and offices. This would also reduce the instances of cities competing with each other with tax breaks to get Walmarts and other businesses to come to their specific areas.

The duplication is most visible is the existence of so many small, corrupt and/or incompetent municipal police departments within STL County. In addition, the city of St. Louis is a basket case and governance there can only be improved through this proposal.

How About Here?

Along the same lines, I would like to lay out a proposal for Better Together JeffCo. I believe there are a number of functions in this county that could be merged to save money and stem the constant tax increases that we have been seeing. A lot of people crow about “local control,” but in small jurisdictions that too often leads to a lack of candidates for election to boards, which leads to uncontested elections, which leads to unaccountable politicians, which often leads to abuses, bad decisions, unethical actions, and even criminal wrongdoing.

The wave of revelations of incompetence and wrongdoing in local police departments in DeSoto, Hillsboro, Byrnes Mill, and Pevely provide further evidence that my proposal is needed. Despite all of the shocking deficiencies that have been uncovered, each city has refused to shut down its police department. This doesn’t just affect finances, it affects the administration of justice, as innocent people get assaulted by unqualified police officers, incompetent chiefs chase away good cops, and guilty people go free due to shoddy evidence storage. As you can imagine, police issues are a big part of my proposal, which is as follows:

Elements of the Plan

-Merge all 911 dispatch into one entity. The majority of the county is on the same system, but Crystal City, Pevely, Festus, and DeSoto do their own police dispatching and Festus does its own fire dispatch. According to the state tax table, CC and DeSoto pay the 1/2-cent 911 sales tax, even though they have their own dispatchers. Festus and Pevely residents would start paying the tax, but the cities would save money by cutting their own dispatch services.

-Merge Pevely and Herculaneum. While Pevely is a constant source of drama and dischord, Herculaneum is a relative bastion of calm. I hardly ever write about events there, because there is not much to report. At the same time, Herculaneum looked into turning its policing over to the county sheriff last year due to its desperate financial situation (but foolishly declined). Herky is using Pevely’s jail and was using Pevely for dispatch before switching to the county 911 system. It is hard to see how Herky, with the loss of Doe Run, can afford to sustain its police. By merging the cities, they can pool resources, and the additional population will dilute the Pevely craziness, so you may end up with one functional, solvent city with reduced drama. These two cities already share a school district.

-Merge Festus and Crystal City. Come on now, we know that this split is ridiculous. I mean, the Walmart is shared by the two cities, and half the time you don’t know which of the two cities you are in. This would prevent things like Crystal City having its own separate water system instead of joining in with Festus and Herculaneum. In 2013 there was a discussion of merging the two cities fire departments into a fire district, but it went nowhere. This proposal could also include merging the school districts.

-Merge fire and ambulance districts. There are currently 7 ambulance and 18 fire districts (including municipal ones) in the county.

Maps from Jefferson County Data Book

Most of the time, from what I have seen, when there is an ambulance somewhere, you will also see a fire truck. Or you will see trucks from multiple districts at the same incident. In addition, there are places like Highway M where you have a Rock ambulance district building within a mile of one Antonia firehouse and within two miles of another one. If these entities would share facilities, we would not need to build so many of them. This would also allow for fewer administrators and officers. We are seeing requests for fire and ambulance tax increases nearly every election. Mergers would save money and reduce the need for tax hikes. The boundaries don’t line up perfectly, but I think you could have each ambulance district absorb the fire districts within it.

-Get rid of municipal police departments except for Arnold, Festus/CC, and Pevely/Herky (assuming the latter two pairs are merged as per above). The other cities would turn their policing over to the county sheriff. The small departments in the county have shown us that they don’t have the ethics, standards, training, or finances to survive on their own. Turning their duties over to the county will bring about economies of scale, eliminating unnecessary chiefs, streamlining training, fleet management, equipment, and distribution of officers around the county. The other cities would pay the sheriff’s office for service, but would likely pay less than what it would take to get their departments up to snuff.

Here is a paragraph on policing from the Better Together executive summary (page 7) that provides an idea of the costs of duplicative services:

POLICING – Today, there are 55 separate police departments covering St. Louis City and County. $468 million was spent on policing the area in 2015, or $355.20 per capita. Costs in cities such as Indianapolis, IN ($242.02 per capita) and Louisville, KY ($257.06 per capita) depict substantial savings in areas with one unified police department. Beyond the cost is the inconsistent quality of service. 75% of the departments in our region lack accreditation.

-Dissolve Byrnes Mill. This idea needs to happen on its own merits, since the city is a mess with a long line of problems with its police department. It is also questionable whether the city has sufficient revenue to stay solvent now that its ability to fund itself with traffic tickets has been curbed.

-Merge the libraries. In addition to the JeffCo library with its three branches (Arnold, Windsor, Northwest), there are libraries in Festus, DeSoto, Herculaneum, and Crystal City. The Herky library is open for very limited hours. The Festus and CC libraries are only two miles apart. DeSoto is looking to almost double the property tax for its library at the April 2 election. Hillsboro has been

Let’s bring all of these libraries under the county library system. That way they could share books, materials, and resources. We could close the Crystal City or Festus location and make the other ones branch libraries, all open to anyone in the county. Residents of Hillsboro have been trying on-and-off for almost 20 years to get their own branch. With this proposal, they would at least have access to libraries in nearby cities. This proposal would require getting rid of the library taxes in the cities that have them, but then extending the county library property tax to the entire county. A branch would probably be needed somewhere between Hillsboro and Cedar Hill to make it fair to residents in that part of the county.

Let me know what you think of this proposal, or if there are other functions that should be included in the merger.

Sheriff Rep on 911 Board

16 May

JeffCo Sheriff Glenn Boyer, who is stepping down from that job after this fall’s election, has also stepped down from the Jefferson County 911 Dispatch Board of Directors, on which he has sat since 1990, according to the May 5 Leader. Undersheriff Steve Meinberg, 2nd in command at the sheriff’s office, was appointed to replace him at the April 25 911 board meeting. He was selected over a couple of individuals who have graced these pages before: former state representative Jeff Roorda and Crystal City administrator Jason Eisenbeis.

Meinberg said “it’s important to be a representative of the Sheriff’s Office on the board because we are the largest user of 911 services.” That begs a question:

Meinberg is running to replace Boyer as sheriff in the November election. There are several GOP challengers, one who will be selected in the August primary to take on Meinberg (primary preview here). If Meinberg loses, one assumes that the new sheriff will appoint his own person to be 2nd in command, and it would be advisable and well within his rights to do so. In that case, will Meinberg step down from the 911 board (his term runs until April 2018)? If it is important for the sheriff’s office to have representation on the board, that is what he will do if he loses the election.

JeffCo 911 Tower Photos

29 Aug

Here are some shots of the new 911 tower on Highway 61/67 in Imperial. This tower is approximately 395 feet tall. You can see it poking up above the trees from I-55 if you look to the east between Barnhart and Imperial. This one was taken from about half a mile away. You can see the tower back behind the trees in the center of the photo (click to enlarge):

Imperial 911 tower

This one is from a quarter mile away.

Imperial 911 tower

 

And here’s a closeup.

Imperial 911 tower

Map of Planned JeffCo 911 Towers

15 Aug

I haven’t seen anyone else do this, so I created a map of the proposed 911 towers planned for our county. Here’s a link to my Google Map, and here’s a jpg. Click to enlarge.

JeffCo 911 tower map

 

Two of the locations are approximate, as I could not find the exact locations. One is at 2050 Blackfoot Drive in Festus, which is closer to De Soto and is labeled as Mohawk Rd on the map. The second is 642 Johnson Road, also in Festus. I put the marker on Johnson Rd, but the exact address did not come up on Google Maps.

We Have an Activist on Our Hands

30 Jan

Two contentious issues that have arisen in JeffCo lately have been the plans for 911 towers and the Pure Pleasure boutique in Pevely. In both cases, local news outlets have found the same person to express the views of the opposition: Ann Moloney, who has been quite active on these issues.
Ann Moloney activist

Here’s KSDK talking to her about 911 in August (left image above), here’s Fox 2 interviewing her in a story about Pure Pleasure (right image above), and here she is on Fox 2 picketing in front of the boutique two weeks ago (despite frequent interactions, Fox keeps spelling her name incorrectly). The Post-Dispatch also chatted with her in Pevely in December 2011. In addition, she made her way to the Letters page in the Leader last week.

As I have stated in my coverage of these issues, I disagree with Moloney on both counts. I think the towers are necessary, and their usefulness outweighs aesthetic concerns (although I disagree with the 911 Board’s decision to pull the plug on their attempts to get local approval for tower locations, which they pretty much knew was unnecessary to begin with, as soon as they ran into opposition). As for Pure Pleasure, I think they have a right to operate and are well within the law.

However, I have to credit her with getting out there and fighting for her views. It is disheartening to see the abuses that occur at the Arnold City Council and at Fox C-6, only to have just one or two people attend and speak at meetings (although that seems to be changing). So good for her for standing up.

Hey, maybe we can convince her to move to Arnold?

JeffCo 911: Never Mind that Permitting Stuff

20 Dec

I have written a couple of times previously on Jefferson County 911’s battle to implement its plan for a new network of communications towers in the county. JeffCo 911 has run into opposition on many of its tower sites, with the County Board of Adjustment denying permits for towers in Dittmer and Barnhart, the County Planning and Zoning Commission offering a “no recommendation” on one in De Soto, and the Arnold P & Z  Commission rejecting a tower there. But now JeffCo 911 is telling us they don’t need approval after all; state law apparently gives them all the authority they need to proceed.

From what I gather in the Leader, JeffCo 911 didn’t request a legal opinion on the matter until it appealed the Arnold tower rejection. The attorneys for both Arnold and 911 (hired especially for this issue because both entities employ Bob Sweeney as their regular attorney, and thus he had a conflict of interest) looked into the issue and concluded 911 can proceed with their towers.

The question here is, how much money, time, and manpower was wasted preparing for all these zoning hearings when they were unnecessary? It is clear from 911 chief Travis Williams that they wanted to do things the nice way, as long as there weren’t any difficulties. From the Leader:

Williams said 911 was trying to appease the county and the cities by going through their zoning process for the towers. “We were trying to be good neighbors, not ramming this down anyone’s throats. But we can’t stop progress and technology moving forward because of a few disgruntled citizens.”

In other words, we didn’t want to ram this down anyone’s throats, but now we are going to. I love his use of the words “appease” and “disgruntled citizens.” 911 had to know damn well that at least some of these towers would face opposition. People get all fired up when you try to build stuff in their backyard. I have been supportive of the tower effort and critical of the NIMBY folks complaining about their view and their property values. But if 911 planned to go through the process just to be nice, and then do an end run if the going got rough, that’s just irresponsible and, as I said, a waste of council members’ and staff members’ time and government entities’ money. And it will tick people off even more.  If it wasn’t their plan, they should have requested this legal opinion at the start of this process, especially since, as Williams said:

“We kind of always suspected from the get-go we have the power to develop the tower because of public safety.”

I agree with Arnold councilwoman Michelle Hohmeier:

“I just have a problem with how 911 handled this. It’s like they tried to play nice, but then said, ‘If you don’t go along, we’ll do it anyway.”

Barnhart tower protester Ann Moloney says she intends to continue her fight, and I suspect the tower opponents in Arnold won’t go away, either.

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