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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.

Bills Sponsored by JeffCo Senators

16 Jan

After checking up on Jefferson County’s state representatives in my last post, I will now examine what bills our state senators have put forth in this new legislative session.

Gary Romine, R, 3rd district, Farmington – Romine’s district covers the southern part of the county, roughly south of a line from Dittmer to Festus (map here). The district also covers Iron, Reynolds, St. Francois, Ste. Genevieve, and Washington counties. He has a lot of bills. I will hit the highlights.

One bill of Romine’s I will call the Bob Shockey bill. Here’s a description:

Currently, under the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), a practice is unlawful when the protected trait is a contributing factor in the decision to discriminate. This act changes that standard to a motivating factor standard. The plaintiffs in employment and age discrimination cases have the burden of proving these standards.

Recall that Arnold police chief Bob Shockey sued the city back in 2013. His goals were to 1) damage the mayoral campaigns of incumbent Ron Counts’ opponents, and 2) make some money for himself. He claimed that he was being discriminated against, and listed all the ways he was supposedly being bullied. But to sue for discrimination you have to be part of a protected class, and the only one Shockey qualifies for was being over age 40, so he tacked that claim onto his suit with no evidence that it was the reason for his treatment.

Anyway, under Romine’s bill, Shockey would have to prove that his age was the motivating factor for his treatment (not incompetence). That is a much higher legal bar, I submit that Shockey would not have gotten his bogus $70,000 settlement had this law been in affect three years ago. This is not to say that I think Shockey had anything to do with Romine’s interest in this issue.

Romine also has a bill regarding high school equivalency degree exams that appears to be similar to what Rep. Gannon proposed over in the House. It would waive the test-taking fee for first-timers. He has another bill just like Gannon’s, this one urging the creation of the Joachim Creek Joint Task Force to fight flooding in DeSoto.

Another bill, reported here, would rename the new Jay Nixon State Park. Romine doesn’t like Nixon allowing a park to be named after himself, and he think the money to buy the park, which was intended for lead belt restoration and remediation, was misused.

Other bills of Romine’s eliminate property taxes for disabled veterans, modify the crime of animal trespass, prohibit two-way communications devices in jails, change bingo regulations, modify titling for junk cars, and modify employer arbitration agreements.

romine

Romine family at inauguration

Paul Wieland, R, 22nd district, Imperial – Wieland covers the bulk of Jefferson County, and no other counties. One of his bills would allow a pregnant woman to enroll in a health insurance program at any time, not just during open enrollment periods. Another bill would allow life insurance companies to exclude coverage for suicide within the first year after the plan was issued. Wieland is an insurance agent.

Another bill repeals provisions of law that require the licensing and taxation of peddlers by counties.

Finally, Wieland is again proposing to repeal the death penalty in Missouri, in line with his Catholic pro-life views. He has tried this the past two years. Last year this bill made it out of committee but did not get a vote on the Senate floor.

wieland

Wieland family at inauguration

Who Will Replace Boyer on the County Council?

13 Jan

Jefferson County Councilman Bob Boyer, a Republican from the Arnold-area district 3, was elected in November to be the next county assessor. While other officials elected in November are taking office now, Boyer will not do so until September 1, so that the current assessor can complete the biennial reassessment cycle that is currently underway.

According to the county charter, section 12.3.4, it is up to the council to fill a vacancy on the council. One would think that the county executive would make the appointment in such a situation, but that is not the case. He would do so if a county office, like treasurer, became vacant, but not for a council vacancy. Boyer’s term expires after the November 2018 election, so the person the council chooses to replace him would serve for about a year before having to decide whether to run for re-election (assuming this appointment will take place in late summer/early fall).

Since the council, minus Boyer, consists of 4 Republicans and 2 Democrats, we can assume that a Republican will be appointed to the seat (sorry, Phil Amato). But who might that person be? Let’s engage in some wild speculation by looking at Republicans who have recently run for Arnold-area elected office:

EJ Fleischmann – Current Ward 1 city councilman in Arnold, elected in April 2016. He is active in local GOP politics and has ties to state Representative Dan Shaul and state Senator Paul Wieland. These ties make him a serious competitor for this seat. He is young, at only 24 years of age. Odds of being appointed: 3/2

Jason Fulbright – The other Arnold Ward 1 city councilman in Arnold. He was first elected in April 2013 (unopposed). He ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination for state representative against Shaul in 2014, but won the Arnold township GOP committeeman position. Last year he was elected to the water board for the Arnold area (after that board painted the water tower blue). His party connections are growing, but I don’t think he lines up as well as Fleischmann ideologically with those who will make the appointment. He is currently signed up to run for re-election to the Arnold council in April. Odds: 4/1 He has ruled out being appointed to this seat

Dan Smith – He lost to Democrat Jeff Roorda in the 2012 race for state representative in District 113. He currently serves on the county Planning and Zoning Commission. But most importantly, he served on the Fox School Board from 2008-2014, while disgraced former Fox superintendent Dianne Critchlow was stealing from the district. Here’s what I wrote when he was appointed to P&Z:

Anybody who has served on the Fox school board over the past six years is, in my mind, automatically disqualified for any elected or appointed office, because it was the board that allowed all of this to happen, through a combination of neglect, naivete, or coziness with Critchlow.

I cannot fathom that the Jefferson County Council would actually appoint this guy to join them. Given that Critchlow has yet to experience any repercussions for her actions, I think the uproar among county residents would be quite significant if Smith was entrusted with another public office. But he still has friends in GOP circles, as indicated by his appointment to P&Z. Odds: 12/1

Phil Hendrickson – He challenged Boyer in the 2014 GOP primary for county council, losing 58-42%. He serves on the Jefferson County Code Commission. Odds: 20/1

Anybody else?

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