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A Tale of Two Cities’ Responses

21 Jan

Both Byrnes Mill and Hillsboro have had to face issues of police misconduct in recent months. The responses of their respective political leadership could not have been more different. Let’s compare.

-In both cases, officers privately approached city leadership to report the misconduct. In Byrnes Mill, the leaders ignored the officers. In Hillsboro, the mayor reacted right away.

-Hillsboro requested that the competent, trusted, impartial JeffCo Sheriff conduct an investigation. Byrnes Mill requested that the not-impartial, not trusted Arnold police department, which has a history of attacking accusers and denying allegations, do an investigation, but only after the officers took their concerns public.

-The Hillsboro report was released within a few days by the sheriff. The Arnold investigation took weeks, and Byrnes Mill only released a short summary. They say they are going to ask a county judge what information they can release from the full report, which really makes no sense and appears to be a delay tactic. Byrnes Mill has apparently still gotten no order from a judge, over three months later.

-The Hillsboro report included a thorough review of the problems within the PD. The Byrnes Mill report was narrowly focused on the allegations in the no-confidence letter. Can you imagine what the sheriff would find if he investigated Byrnes Mill?

-Also within a few days, the Hillsboro chief resigned and an officer was fired. In Byrnes Mill, the officer who was the subject of the no-confidence vote, Roger Ide, was eventually separated from the department, and the police chief was shunted over to a cushy PR job. Four of the eight officers who signed the no-confidence letter have also left the department, one way or another. Byrnes Mill then secretly installed a buddy of the Arnold police chief as its new chief.

-Hillsboro allowed an officer from the sheriff’s department to serve as its temporary chief, and is at least open to the idea of turning policing over to the sheriff for good, although the weak resignation of the Hillsboro mayor probably kills the chances of that happening. Byrnes Mill reportedly had a few Arnold officers help out, and you will have to pry the BMPD out of the cold, dead hands of city leadership, despite a series of embarrassing failures over the past decade.

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August Primary Election Vignettes

30 Jul

Here are some notes I would like to put out there before election day on August 7.

How Much Harmony?

The ability of county government to function harmoniously will increase greatly in 2019, when a new county executive takes the helm and Ken Waller’s reign is over. However, if elected county clerk I still think he could cause havoc, since the clerk is in the chain of approval for government payments. He could decide to gum up payments he doesn’t like, for example payments to lawyers trying to defend the county against the politician pay raise lawsuit. Never mind the hurdles he could place in front of candidates he opposes as county election authority. Given his poor record as executive, I see no reason to entrust Waller with another county office.

This paragraph from the Post-Dispatch’s endorsement in the St. Louis county executive race is eerily, wholly applicable to Waller (minus the energy and enthusiasm part):

Rarely before has regional politics witnessed the levels of vitriol and dysfunction that seem to follow St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger wherever he goes. His admirable energy and enthusiasm too often come packaged with an off-putting, confrontational demeanor. The county and region can no longer afford the abrasive style and questionable ethics that Stenger brings to the table.

Prosecutor Candidate’s DeSoto Role

From what I have seen and heard, GOP prosecutor candidate Mark Bishop, who is city attorney for DeSoto, is involved to a high degree in what happens there, more so than one would expect a city attorney to be. City attorney is supposed to be an advisory role, but my discussions indicate that he had a hand the departure of multiple police personnel. This lawsuit by former officer Mike McMunn sheds some light. This involvement probably explains why a number of former DeSoto officers openly support Bishop’s opponent in the primary, Trisha Stefanski. Given that DeSoto has been embroiled in chaos in the past few months, Bishop’s association with the city might give voters pause.

Some have also criticized Bishop for Facebook posts he has made from local courts, sometimes in his role as city prosecutor, making fun of the attire of defendants, some of whom may lack the time or money to dress up nicely for court. His personal Facebook page has recently been made largely private, so you can’t look them up, but here’s a screenshot of one post:

bishop-court

Late Bloomer

Jason Fulbright joined the GOP race for county collector in May (along with Lisa Brewer Short) during the late enrollment period made necessary when the sole GOP candidate dropped out after filing had closed. But he’s been rather slow to kick off his campaign:

  • He updated his “office sought” with the Missouri Ethics Commission in late June.
  • He wrote a Facebook post kicking off his campaign about two weeks ago.
  • His signs have started to pop up around the county only in the past 1-2 weeks, that I have seen.
  • His April-June campaign finance report shows that he raised or spent less than $500. He did spend money in mid-to-late July on signs and mailers.

It may be true that most people don’t start paying attention to elections until the last few weeks, but then again, others have already sent in their absentee ballots. Part of a campaign’s purpose is to show voters that you are a committed candidate, and in the primary, to prove that you are the person best suited to beat the candidate of the other party. In this case, that person is 32-year Democrat incumbent Beth Mahn, who has recently sued the taxpayers and hired an insider to a job in her office in record speed. I think GOP voters want to know that their candidate will go all out to win this particular race in November. Short, his opponent, started campaigning over a year ago.

We will see how Fulbright’s late campaign works out. He does have name recognition in the high-population northern part of the county due to his service on the Arnold city council and previous bid for state representative.

Interesting House Race

The race for the GOP nomination for the House seat in the 97th district is worth watching. Democrat Mike Revis won the seat in a February special election and will defend it in November against the winner of this primary. Two of the candidates, Mary Elizabeth Coleman and Phil Amato, are former Arnold city council members, and the third, David Linton, is the guy who Revis beat in February. Coleman has the most money, as well as endorsements from state senator Paul Wieland, congresswoman Ann Wagner, and…Arnold mayor Ron Counts.

In a uniony district such as this, here is how the candidates have declared on Prop A (the right to work ballot item, where a yes vote is for RTW):

 

April 2018 Election Recap

8 Apr

Let’s look at some of the headlines from the local elections held a few days ago.

Taxes: Six of nine tax measures succeeded in all.

The property tax for the county sheriff passed in a big way, with 64% of the vote. A sales tax hike for police passed in Hillsboro with 71% of the vote.

Byrnes Mill went 1 for 2 on tax hikes after going 0 for 3 last year (with two close losses). This time, a road maintenance tax won by 31 votes and a transportation tax failed by six votes. Will the city try the failed tax proposal again in a future election?

Antonia Fire’s 35-cent property tax proposal failed by 56-44%, after a 50-cent tax lost by the same margin in November. This time 2,100 people voted, versus 1,489 last time. Will the district try again in a future election? Maybe 25 cents next time?

A tax for a Hillsboro library failed for the third time in recent years, with 64% voting against a property tax proposal. Will they try again in a future election?

Despite all the turmoil in city government with firings, resignations, and lawsuits, DeSoto’s Prop P park and stormwater tax passed with 67% of the vote.

DeSoto: Some shake-up took place, as one city council member who was serving as mayor, Larry Sanders, was knocked off, and one school board member (recently fired as city manager) who was previously appointed to the board to fill a vacancy, David Dews, failed to win a full term.

Pevely: Big turnover, as three incumbents, all part of the faction that wanted to fire acting police chief Tony Moutray, were defeated. One, Rick Arnold, also facing an n-word controversy, lost to a write-in candidate.

Arnold: Two incumbent councilmen won close races. In ward 4, Gary Plunk beat Randy Hoselton by three votes. In Ward 3, Vern Sullivan beat Rod Mullins by 12 votes. Sullivan was assisted by a third candidate, William Denman, who received 62 votes, which would have been more than enough to put Mullins over the top. Denman also played spoiler in the mayor race last year, when incumbent Ron Counts beat councilman Phil Amato by 176 votes while Denman got 276 votes. It’s almost like Denman entered these races for that specific purpose…

Denman’s name has popped up in Arnold before in association with a shady political group called Citizens For a Better Arnold (CFABA) that used outside money to push candidates who supported red light cameras. Early on, CFABA supported Amato, but later on Counts moved over to the dark side, and Amato recently broke with the Counts regime (and with the Democratic party, he claims). It is all rather shadowy.

Also in Arnold, he who I like to call the Critchlow candidate, Jim Chellew, was predictably voted onto the Fox school board.

Long List of April Tax Measures

17 Mar

Local elections will take place on April 3, and the 15% or so of voters who bother to show will be faced with many tax hike proposals, just like we were a year ago. Here is a full list from the county website:

  • Sheriff’s Office: 35-cent property tax increase for pay increases for deputies, as well as training and equipping. This is motivated by the fact that a number of deputies have left for higher pay elsewhere. I know may people who oppose all tax increases who see the need for this tax and support it.
  • Hillsboro library: 28-cent property tax increase to fund a new Hillsboro branch of the Jefferson County Library. Efforts to establish this branch failed in 2012 and 2014.
  • Hillsboro: 1/2 cent sales tax for police.
  • Arnold: increase in business license fees in order to triple its revenue from this source to pay for police and improve streets and parks. This is after trying and failing to increase sales taxes in 2015. This seems to be part of a general strategy to increase the burdens on Arnold businesses.
  • Northwest R-1: a bond issue for various facility improvements. While taxes will not go up under this measure, it would prevent a tax from expiring in about 2034.
  • Byrnes Mill: two 1/2-cent sales taxes, one for capital improvements and one for transportation. This is down from the three taxes the city tried and failed to pass a year ago. One sales tax lost on a tie then, and another lost by three votes. Again the city blames SB5, which stopped the city’s policing for profit ticket-writing strategy, for the need for new revenue.
  • DeSoto: 1/2-cent sales tax for storm water control and parks.
  • Antonia Fire: 35-cent property tax for staffing, training, and equipment. This is less than the 50-cent tax the district tried and failed to pass in November, which lost 56-44%.

I went ahead and created a chart of April tax measures voted on and passed in each of the past 5 years, for comparison. This does not include the Prop V vehicle tax votes that each local entity held over the past couple of elections.

tax vote chart

Sweeney Rebuked by MO Appeals Court

4 Jan

Robert Sweeney, who serves as attorney for multiple local government entities, including the cities of Arnold and Byrnes Mill, and who appears frequently in these pages, has once again achieved that combination of malfeasance and incompetence that he is known for. This time, his client was the Northeast Public Sewer District (NEPSD) of Jefferson County. In this case, the Appeals Court for the Eastern District of Missouri slammed Sweeney for filing a “frivolous appeal” and awarded legal costs to his opponent as a punishment.

Case Background

  • NEPSD took an easement on the property of one William Feucht of Fenton by condemnation and paid him $570 (Sweeney has experience with land taking – Arnold used eminent domain against a number of people and businesses to help a private developer build Arnold Commons. This led to long legal proceedings and surely big legal bills).
  • Feucht sued and won a jury trial that awarded him $11,500 for the property.
  • Sweeney appealed the verdict on the sole grounds that Feucht’s service in the Marines, which was mentioned during the trial, was irrelevant and prejudiced the jury.

The Decision

Now here is where the incompetence comes in. In order to appeal on certain grounds, you have to present that argument in the original case. If you don’t object to something at the time, you can’t complain about it later.

The reason Feucht’s service came up was that he was an accountant in the Marine Corps. He claimed at trial that this was part of his qualifications for being able to to state that his land was worth more than NEPSD gave him credit for.

Before evidence was presented at the trial, Sweeney made vague statements like (paraphrasing) “I may object to one or two slides” and “I don’t know what relevance this Marine thing is.” But when Feucht testified on his qualifications, and when he entered his Marine meritorious promotion certificate into evidence, Sweeney did not object. He also never motioned for a new trial. So he lost any right to appeal based on this issue.

And here we turn to the malfeasance. The court states that, even if Sweeney was able to appeal the mention of military service, he would have lost on the merits. The Sweeney Law Firm, actually represented by Bob’s daughter Allison on the appeal, claimed the discussion of Feucht’s military service was “extensive.” The court rejected this claim, pointing out that only a few lines of testimony on the subject were offered. And the court stated that being an accountant was highly relevant and central to Feucht’s ability to claim that he knew what his land was worth.

Penalty

Because of the blatant frivolity of this appeal, the court took the drastic step of forcing Sweeney to pay Feucht’s legal expenses (and he can’t get NEPSD to pay the money for him). But since Feucht was representing himself in front of the appeals court, and thus had few costs, he only got $350. Note: Sweeney lost to a guy representing himself! (Feucht did have an attorney for the original trial and early on in the appeals process.)

Here are some excerpts from the unanimous opinion of the three-judge panel hearing the case (link to the full opinion here):

 

sweeney-sewer1

And this:

sweeney-sewer2

Devoid of merit…failed to take basic steps…bad faith…careless attitude…no prospect of success…lack of professional effort.

These are damning words.

I have long theorized that Sweeney files meritless cases for two reasons: 1) he knows most people can’t afford to fight him in court, and 2) to inflate his legal bills. Both reasons appear to apply here, though the first did not work out for Sweeney. In addition to the $350 levied by the court, NEPSD should demand that Sweeney pay back his legal fees for this appeal.

With Sweeney’s history of failure (see links below), local government entities need to ask themselves why they continue to employ the Sweeney Law Firm, or in the case of Arnold, give him a big raise. It is clearly not in the best interest of these entities or the taxpayers to pay money to a lawyer that continues to litigate and lose weak cases.

Here is a list of Sweeney clients:

  • Arnold
  • Byrnes Mill
  • North Jefferson Ambulance
  • Public Water Supply District No. 13 (Lake Tishomingo)
  • Northeast Public Sewer District
  • City of Iberia, Missouri
  • Jefferson County 911 Dispatch
  • Washington County 911 Dispatch
  • Big River Ambulance District
  • Bismarck Fire Protection Association
  • Saline Valley Fire Protection District
  • Potosi Fire Protection District
  • DeSoto Rural Fire Protection District
  • Glaize Creek Public Sewer District

Sweeney Lowlights

Here are some Sweeney greatest hits:

  • His poor ballot language forced a tax revote
  • He kicked a candidate off the ballot and lost the resulting lawsuit, so new ballots had to be printed
  • He advised Arnold to deny a councilwoman’s request to see a city hall visitor log. The state attorney general intervened with a hard rebuke and threatened a lawsuit against the city.

Arnold Mayor Rewards His Ally Sweeney

18 Oct

This post has been on my back burner for quite some time, as it dates back to June, but better late than never, I say.

One of the first acts of Arnold mayor Ron Counts after he won re-election in April was to reward one of his biggest allies, city attorney Bob Sweeney, with a pay hike. Sweeney has done a lot, while zigzagging across ethical lines, to keep the Counts regime in power and to quash opposition, and I guess it was time to thank him (hmm, why not do it before the election)? On June 1, Counts asked the city council to give Sweeney a 40% pay raise, from $100/hour to $140/hour, and the pliant council unanimously agreed.

Here is how Counts justified the move to the Leader:

“One thing I have learned about Bob that sets him apart from anyone I can think of, as far as having an attorney, is Bob really loves our city. You can hire an attorney and usually they’re just hired guns, but this guy (Sweeney) is for real. He grew up in the city and raised his family here. He has a long history with the city and he truly cares about the city and wants it to be a success. I think when you get these kinds of people who do a good job for you, you need to do what you can to keep them.”

I guess that’s why he lives in Crestwood? I think what Sweeney loves about Arnold is that the city gives him lots of money and power. And when Counts says Sweeney does a good job, he means a good job of covering for Counts and his cronies.

Here is the information that city administrator Bryan Richison gave the council concerning hourly rates for area city attorneys:

atty fee table1

From this, you would say, yeah, Arnold is way at the bottom of the list, and even with the $40 raise, they are still low. But you have to remember that, like a car salesman, Sweeney makes it up on volume. Here’s his formula:

low hourly rate X lots of hours billed = $$lots of cash$$

While he’s not billing the city $200,000 or more like he was a decade ago, as you will see below, he is still making plenty of money despite his low hourly rate. I did a comparison of the annual city attorney payments made by Arnold to other area cities of similar populations. This kind of data was not presented to the council. Here’s what I found:

atty fee table2

The green row shows where Arnold is now. The city’s attorney expenditures are in line with similarly-sized cities, even with Arnold’s low hourly rate, and maybe even on the low end when divided by population (Arnold is the 2nd biggest city on this list). But if we take Arnold’s 2015 and 2016 spending on attorney’s fees and increase it by 40% to estimate the impact of the pay raise (the first row, in red), we see that Arnold shoots to the top of the list when you average the two years together and divide by each city’s population (“$/person avg” column). This is what Arnold taxpayers can expect going forward. Also note that Arnold’s median income is much lower than the other cities mentioned.

Retainer Option

You can see in the next to last column that three cities on the list pay a retainer fee to their city attorneys (Creve Coeur, Webster Groves, Manchester). The retainer is a monthly set fee that covers basic city attorney duties. If work needs to be done that is outside the scope of the retainer, that work is billed at the hourly fee listed in column two. Services that generally fall under the retainer include attendance at council and board meetings, consultations with the mayor, council members, and department heads, and review of documents.

It seems like Arnold could save some money by going the retainer route, given the apparently high number of hours billed by Sweeney. But Arnold probably won’t do that if it is not advantageous for Sweeney’s bottom line.

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.

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