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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.

May Legislative Update

8 May
  • Sen. Gary Romine (R, 3rd district, Farmington) has been under heavy criticism for his role sponsoring SB43, a bill to change the legal standard in discrimination lawsuits from “contributing factor” to “motivating factor” (a higher bar to clear). This would prevent frivolous suits like the one filed by Arnold police chief Bob Shockey. Romine is under fire because a business he owns is being sued for discrimination. But this law would even not affect his case; since the suit is already in progress, it would proceed under the current rules. And people who are actually discriminated against can still win lawsuits under SB43, their claims just have to have some merit to them. Remember how Dianne Critchlow has threatened to sue the Fox district now that feckless prosecutors have let her off the hook? I guarantee her suit will include a baseless gender discrimination claim if it is filed under the current standard. As a business owner, Romine knows about the issues Missouri has with frivolous lawsuits, and is trying to address the problem. The House would need to approve this bill this week in order to send it to the governor.

Romine: “Rather than seeing this bill for what it is — one of the most significant economic development measures to come along in years — the media has been more interested in eliciting the opinions of trial attorneys, SB 43’s only real opposition and a group of people who generally stand to lose from any significant progress on the tort reform front.”

  • Sen. Paul Wieland (R, 22nd, Imperial) briefly held up the passage of HB 130, the bill to allow rideshare services like Uber to operate statewide. He thought, misguidedly in my opinion, that Uber drivers would drop their personal auto insurance since Uber provides coverage while you are working. He had other concerns as well. But three weeks later, Wieland’s concerns were satisfied and the bill was passed and signed into law.

“I just wanted to make sure we protect the public and we keep the number of uninsured motorists to a minimum and I believe this bill will do that,” Wieland told The Missouri Times Thursday.

  • Rep. Rob Vescovo (R, 112th, Arnold) was the House sponsor of SB 182, which eliminates project labor agreements in public construction projects. This bill, which has passed both houses, ends requirements that non-union contractors pay union wages and stops local governments from giving preferential treatment to union contractors. This bill will reduce the cost to taxpayers of public projects. Reps. Vescovo, Shaul, and John McCaherty (R, 97th, High Ridge) voted yes; Reps. Elaine Gannon (R, 115th, DeSoto), Becky Ruth (R, 114th, Festus), and Ben Harris (D, 118th, Hillsboro) voted no; and Roden voted present (weak).

“Some would say it’s an anti-union legislation, and I disagree,” Vescovo said after the House adjourned for the week. “I would say it’s pro-worker and it allows the other 86 percent of the workforce to bid on projects and work on projects without being signatory. That’s very important.”

  • Rep. Dan Shaul (R, 113th, Imperial) ticked off teachers, according to the Leader,  with his vote for HB634, which would allow for the expansion of charter schools in the state. Shaul also serves on the Windsor school board. Charters currently exist only in St. Louis and Kansas City. Teachers claimed Shaul has a conflict of interest, which I don’t buy. Some teachers turned their back on Shaul as he was sworn in for another term at the April 12 board meeting, which is quite juvenile. It doesn’t look like this bill will get a Senate vote. McCaherty, Roden, and Vescovo also voted yes on this bill.

“I would disagree with the assumption that my vote on HB 634 was a conflict of interest,” Shaul said. “The vote I took on 634 was to ensure that all kids throughout the state of Missouri have the same opportunity that kids (who) go to Windsor have.”

  • Along with SB43, other much-needed legal reforms have been advancing through the legislature, and our county reps have voted for them along party lines. However, Rep. Shane Roden (R, 111th, Cedar Hill) voted no on HB460, which would limit out-of-state plaintiffs who bring their cases in St. Louis in hopes of winning big verdicts. This is why you hear all those ads from lawyers about talcum powder and cancer on the radio or see them on billboards. Those plaintiffs don’t even live here.
  • Sen. Romine took to the Senate floor during debate over the budget to offer an amendment to fully fund the state’s foundation formula for education for the first time. It was a bit unusual to do this on the floor after the Appropriations Committee already put the budget bill together, and it caused a split between Senate leadership and some GOP senators as the amendment passed. Romine voted yes on this, Wieland voted no. The House also voted to fully fund the formula.
  • The issue of whether to join a prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) has been roiling county government here for months, but such a plan is also advancing at the legislature, and if it passes it would make the JeffCo debate moot. The House and Senate will be going to a conference committee to iron out their differences, but with only one week left, it seems unlikely this will get done. In the House, representatives McCaherty, Roden, and Vescovo voted no on the PDMP bill, HB 90, as did Sen. Wieland.

April 2017 Election Results

4 Apr

Headlines (results here):

  • Ron Counts re-elected as Arnold mayor by 177 votes over Phil Amato. Candidate William Denman, probably a stalking horse, gets 276 votes. Fulbright, Owens, Hood, and Cooley win council seats (all but Hood are incumbents). With these results, and with Amato off the council, the Counts-Shockey-Sweeney cabal is only strengthened.
  • All three Byrnes Mill tax hikes fail (one ended in a tie, which means it failed by one vote).
  • Pevely alderman candidate Linda Hahn wins Ward 2 by one vote; Steph Haas re-elected as mayor.
  • Rock Fire’s large tax increase wins with 52% of the vote.
  • Fox school board incumbent Dawn Mullins wins while Vern Sullivan loses. Steve Holloway returns to the council after a one-year absence, while Scott Stewart also won a seat. Stewart joins Carole Yount and Sherry Poppen as part of the Jim Chellew clique on the board. Chellew was once Fox superintendent and was a mentor to a young Dianne Salsman Brown Critchlow (who indicated her support for Stewart on Facebook).
  • Jefferson County Library tax hike wins.
  • In the “every vote matters” category, along with Hahn and the BM tax, there was a tie for the second director seat at Valle Ambulance District between Steven Bergner and Nathan Myers.

Sweeney Screws Up Again

27 Mar

Oh man, the laughs were loud and side-splitting in my household when I belatedly saw this little tidbit. It turns out that the Saline Valley Fire Protection District, which got a tax hike passed in August of 2016, has to go before the voters again for a redo. Why?

Because their attorney, Bob Sweeney, f’ed up the ballot language!!!

According to the Leader, who limited this story to its West Side edition in February, the State Auditor’s office ruled that the tax initiative from 2016 only applied to that year. Here is the 2016 language:

Shall the board of directors of the Saline Valley Fire Protection District of Jefferson County, Missouri be authorized to levy an additional operating tax of not more than twenty-five cents ($0.25) on the one hundred dollars ($100.00) assessed valuation to provide funds for the support of the District, with the levy increase to be effective for taxes imposed in 2016?

That last sentence does seem a bit awkward. We see tax increases on the ballot left and right in these parts, especially on the upcoming April 4 ballot, and the other entities don’t have this problem. Couldn’t Sweeney just have copy and pasted some language? Why did he put the year in there like that?

Here’s a delicious excerpt from the Leader article:

saline sweeney

Rebuke! So now Saline has to spend $5,474 to hold another election. That money should come out of the district’s payments to Sweeney, but the board probably won’t make such a common sense move. That amount is surprisingly low to me, considering that Sweeney’s decision to illegally kick a candidate off the ballot in the North Jefferson Ambulance District cost that entity $20,000 in extra election costs.

This is more evidence of my repeated assertion that Sweeney, who serves as attorney for a multitude of local entities, including the cities of Arnold and Byrnes Mill, is, in addition to being ethically bankrupt, just not a very good lawyer. Since municipal law is almost all he does, you would think he could handle something simple like this. Now if only these entities would realize he’s a bad lawyer and get rid of him…

More Arnold Mayor Drama

One person who seems to have belatedly realized that Sweeney is no good is Arnold city councilman and mayoral candidate Phil Amato, who correctly stated in January that Sweeney and police chief Robert Shockey are the ones running the city. Amato is the latest in a line of Arnold council members, including Ken Moss, Cricky Lang, and Sandra Kownacki, to apparently come around to the realization that things are rotten in Arnold. I suspect, though, that part of Amato’s epiphany is politically motivated.

Now, the Leader reports that Amato has filed a complaint against Sweeney with the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel (OCDC) of the state Supreme Court (I understand this is not the first complaint against Sweeney filed there). Amato says Sweeney violated attorney-client privilege as it relates to the election deal that Amato offered Counts. I don’t know if this particular complaint is legitimate, but if you have to get Al Capone for tax evasion, or get OJ for robbery, that’s good enough for me.

The Leader also reports that the bogus Missouri Election Commission (MEC) claim Counts filed against Amato for the election deal offer was dismissed by MEC for being out of its jurisdiction. Sadly, there is only one week left in this contentious Arnold mayor election campaign. With events like this, I wish it would drag on for months.

Rock Fire Tax and Arnold Giveaways

13 Mar

The Rock Community Fire Protection District is proposing a property tax hike of 50 cents per $100 in valuation, a big increase over its current 77.6 cent rate (on top of sales and personal property taxes). I plan to get into the larger issue in another post, but at this time I want to talk about one cited reason this tax is being proposed.

Here is a letter that Rock Fire sent out to residents of the district. I didn’t think government entities could campaign for their own tax hike, but here it is, paid for by the district.

Paragraph four talks about a rollback of their property tax over time, then says “this, combined with the redirection of public tax dollars to various TIF projects, has forced us to take serious measures in order to meet budgetary shortfalls.”

What do they refer to? Well, for one, in October 2015, Arnold made a deal with Anheuser-Busch for the expansion of the can production plant in Arnold. As part of the one-sided deal, Arnold agreed to a 100% tax abatement for 20 years, meaning that the can plant won’t have to pay any property or personal property taxes on the new buildings and equipment that come with the project.

Now, this doesn’t really affect Arnold, since the city makes most of its money through sales taxes. But this really puts the screws to other government entities that are also affected by this project and do rely on property taxes, like Rock Fire, which stands to lose over $2 million over the life of the abatement, while incurring additional responsibilities to provide fire coverage for the can plant. The deal also includes no payments in lieu of taxes (pilot), something that Rock Fire attorney Frank Vatterott called “highly unusual.” The city has the power to make these deals without consulting any of the other affected districts, and in this case, without informing them until a month before the deal was ratified.

Fox school district CFO John Brazeal had some harsh words for the city of Arnold (note that, when Fox asks for a tax hike in a couple of years – they are laying the groundwork now – they will undoubtedly cite this same project as justification):

“It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.” (Thomas Sowell)

Compare the Arnold, MO deal to the Jacksonville, FL deal, both projects currently in progress.

Arnold: $150M project ($20M building + $130M equipment) with a 100% tax abatement of $19.96M over a 20-year term, including $12.72M of school taxes. This on the heels of Arnold’s 2012 project of $88M having a 100% tax abatement of $14.53M over a 20-year term, including $9.59M of school taxes.

Jacksonville: $170M project ($40M building + $130M equipment) with a 75% tax abatement of city taxes totalling $12.0M over a 12-year term. All other property taxes, including 100% of school taxes) to be paid by Metal Container.

Team Jacksonville = smart. Team Arnold = @#$%!

Incredibly, Team Arnold’s starting offer was 100% abatement. This deal was announced in December 2014 following a council approval that took place somewhere other than an open meeting.

It takes no special skill and no special strategy to end up empty handed. Nothing for the emergency services. Nothing for the school students. Not even cheaper beer prices.

It is true that Florida law contains some restrictions on the ability to give away the farm like Arnold did, but still.

On top of the current deal is the 2012 can plant deal that Brazeal mentions above. I’m not sure what that deal cost Rock Fire, but estimating from the amount it costs Fox, it is probably about $1.5 million.

Mayor’s race note: Arnold councilman and candidate for mayor Phil Amato was the only councilman to vote against the can plant deal.

Kroenke TIF Also Hurts Fire District

Another corporate giveaway that is draining Rock Fire’s coffers is the tax increment financing (TIF) that was passed for Arnold Commons in 2005. The project was undertaken by a company called THF Realty, which is run by none other than this guy:

e_stanely_kroenke

Stan Kroenke

The project also included eminent domain land seizures.

Rock Fire paid over $600,000 of its tax receipts towards the TIF debt from 2008-2012, according to a 2014 Leader article, but then stopped because Rock Ambulance was not paying in. They say they don’t have to since they did not sign off on the agreement. Rock Fire thought this was not fair, and stopped paying until the city filed suit against Rock Ambulance. This lawsuit, filed in 2014, is still being adjudicated. When the suit was filed, Rock Fire paid another $400,000 towards the TIF debt, and continues to keep paying. Under the TIF terms, Rock Fire and Rock Ambulance are supposed to pay half of the sales tax money they get from the development back to the TIF.

So here we see another of the negative side effects that these poorly-negotiated, poorly thought out corporate giveaways have on us.

Arnold Considering Lower Land Requirement for Chickens

18 Feb

Thanks in part to local residents who organized via Facebook, the city of Arnold is considering relaxing its current rules on lot size needed for keeping chickens in the city limits, but at the same time tightening other rules. Currently, an Arnoldian must have one acre of land to have chickens, and the city will come do an inspection, but there are no coop regulations.

animal-1842264_1280

via Pixabay.com

 

The city staff presented a “rough preliminary draft” of a new chicken ordinance at the February 8 work session (video here, chicken discussion starts at the 37 minute mark). Community development director Mary Holden basically said she was throwing this proposal out there to start the discussion and get input from the council, so I won’t blame her too much for the egregious parts of it, although it should be noted that most of the proposals are on the restrictive side compared to other cities in the area.

I don’t have a copy of the full proposal, but the highlights include:

  • minimum of 1/2 acre required
  • 4 bird limit
  • written permission from neighbors required
  • setbacks – 15′ from the property line, 50′ from buildings
  • coop rules – at the meeting they said the rules were similar to what Ellisville and Brentwood have – this would be at least 3-4 square feet per bird in the coop and at least 10 square feet per bird in the outdoor enclosure

The requirement to get permission from the neighbors is clearly an overreach, and one councilman (it is hard to tell who is speaking in the videos) made this point. What other activities on one’s own property require permission from the neighbors? Ellisville has a notification requirement, Glendale requires permission, and Webster Groves lets neighbors comment on the application, but most do not require this. (List of local chicken ordinances here).

Land requirements vary in the area, from 7,500 square feet up to 3-5 acres. I think there’s no reason someone with a regular single-family residential lot should not be able to keep chickens. Some places, like the City of St. Louis have that rule, and for others, 7,500 square feet approximates to the low end of the range of normal-sized lots.

The number of birds that local cities allow ranges from about 4-8, so again the Arnold proposal is on the restrictive side. It is hardly worth it to keep chickens if you only have 4, considering you get 5-6 eggs per week per hen. That’s hardly enough for breakfast for two people. Arnold should allow at least 6 birds, I’d say.

For setbacks, 10 feet from the property line seems to be the most common requirement locally, so Arnold’s proposal is again on the restrictive side.

Arnold council members are going to give their input to city staff, who will come up with another draft proposal. If you live in Arnold and are interested in this issue, now is the time to call your councilman.

Doors Thrown Open on Arnold Backroom Deals in Campaign Spat

25 Jan

If corruption in Arnold becomes so bad that the Leader is forced to write about it, you know it’s serious stuff.

Years of good old boy, backscratching, crony politics broke wide open today as the wary detente of Mayor Ron Counts and Councilman Phil Amato exploded publicly. As the filing deadline for April’s mayoral election approached, Counts filed complaints with the state Attorney General and the Missouri Ethics Commission over a deal that Amato supposedly offered him, which would have kept Amato out of the mayor’s race. This is what Amato wanted, according to Counts and as reported in the Leader:

  • Choose a certain person as the next Public Works director, thus eschewing an open, fair, hiring process oriented towards picking the best candidate and instead elevating a probable Amato crony.
  • Choose a certain person as the next Parks and Rec director, thus eschewing an open, fair, hiring process oriented towards picking the best candidate and instead elevating a probable Amato crony.
  • Force Bob Shockey out as police chief.
  • Give Amato an “unspecified benefit.”

Amato does not deny the first two, says that he merely wants to know when Shockey will finally leave, and claims that the benefit is “maybe a dinner.” I fully endorse the third item, and I suspect the fourth is a special deal for a Amato developer pal or something a bit more substantial than a meal at Applebee’s.

I fully suspect that, had Amato and Counts been able to come to an agreement (perhaps by dropping item 3), this deal would have been signed, sealed, and delivered, and Amato would have happily gone back to the council. Instead, here we are.

Smoking Gun Not a Secret

Amato also released what he claimed was a “smoking gun” that would have stayed secret had Counts accepted the deal. Amato said it was the city that ordered Ameren to shut off the electricity to flood-threatened areas of Arnold last December during the historic Meramec River flooding. This decision led to many flooded basements, as homeowners could no longer operate their sump pumps.

Counts denies this, and states that it was a consensus decision. I wrote about this back in February. Here is the statement I got from Ameren on this issue:

ameren-flood-response-feb-16

I think in the end, it had to be the city that made the order, while Ameren was free to advise. The real question, as I wrote in the article linked above, was which homes to shut off. It was clear that Arnold selected way too many homes to cut power to, 530 of them, when in the end only about 150 homes saw major damage. From statements, it appears that Arnold was working off of flood estimates that were two feet too high and not in line with what anybody was actually forecasting in the days before the flood. This would explain why the number of homes which had power shut off was so excessive. It was Counts and Shockey that were spouting the incorrect flood forecasts.

On an interesting flood note, residents complained that their manholes were not pumped out, and this contributed to the backups. The city said, hey, it’s not our sewer system, we sold it to Missouri American Water. The city heavily campaigned for this sale (while Amato voted against it as a city councilman) and tacked on an illegal tax. The city government got a bunch of money, and the residents got sewage-filled basements.

Shockey and Sweeney

Where there is corruption in Arnold, Shockey and city attorney Bob Sweeney cannot be far behind. It was Shockey who arranged to pay his son-in-law to attend police academy, steered city purchases to his personal businesses, interfered in the 2013 mayoral election on behalf of Counts with a frivolous, baseless discrimination lawsuit, and extracted a $70,000 payout from the city via that lawsuit. And here we are again with Shockey weighing in on the mayoral election on behalf of Counts.

Sweeney has interfered in Arnold elections by selectively booting candidates from the ballot based on their ideology, been grossly overpaid for years by running up billable hours, shilled for red light camera company American Traffic Solutions, and given bad legal advice.

Amato states that Counts doesn’t really do much, and that Shockey and Sweeney run the city. It has been true over the years that certain city officials won’t do much without consulting Sweeney, and that Shockey is pulling a lot of strings to advance his own interests. Here are their responses to Amato in the Leader:

sweeney shockey amato.png

Sad to hear that Shockey won’t retire, but if you face no accountability, why not hang around and suck up a paycheck? And I suspect Amato’s “vendetta” is just that he finally got sick of Shockey’s mooching off of the city.

It is clear that Sweeney and Shockey like the status quo in Arnold, and will be fighting to maintain it in this campaign. It will be interesting to monitor the campaign contributions that the two candidates receive.

Who to Back?

On one hand, I think good people in Arnold should back the third candidate for mayor, William Denman, who I know nothing about, only to get rid of Counts and Amato, who is running for mayor instead of for re-election to the council. But, given that Amato seems ready to get rid of Shockey and Sweeney, perhaps we should support him. Achieving those two goals alone would be enough to Make Arnold Great Again.

More importantly, given the sheer number of figurative bodies that are buried in Arnold City Hall, here’s hoping that the campaign stays nasty, and that Amato and Counts reveal some more secrets about Arnold city operations between now and April 4.

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