Archive | Byrnes Mill RSS feed for this section

Potential Byrnes Mill Solutions

26 Oct

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

Run for Office

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

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

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

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

Get a State Audit

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

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

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

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

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

Disincorporate the City

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

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

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

Advertisements

Byrnes Mill Investigation Update

19 Oct

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

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

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

Arnold: Questionable Choice

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

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

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

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

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

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

Willful Ignorance Among City Leaders

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

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

prado comment1prado comment2

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

Advance the Attack

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

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

Byrnes Mill City Admin Moves On

11 Jul

The Byrnes Mill city administrator, Larry Perney, was hired by Manchester as their city administrator and took over that job back in April, reports the Post-Dispatch.

Manchester must be one of those places where they don’t have Google. Surely, if they had known what a mess Byrnes Mill is, they wouldn’t have hired someone from Byrnes Mill to run their city, right? Right? Perney was named in a lawsuit against the city in 2014:

A former police chief says he lost his job because he reported “fixed” traffic tickets and falsified court documents to a prosecutor and elected officials, and alleges he was ordered to enforce ticket quotas.

The suit was settled for a relatively small amount of money in 2015. The Post-Dispatch noted that:

Byrnes Mill, a northwestern Jefferson County town of about 2,800 along Highway 30, has long held a reputation as a speed trap with tough enforcement of traffic laws.

Byrnes Mill cried hard against SB 5 two years ago, which limited the amount of money cities could reap from traffic tickets. This law forced Byrnes Mill to cut back on ticketing and lower its traffic fines. The city has had lots of trouble with its police department in recent years, with chiefs being fired and officers going to jail. Mike Smith, the chief who filed the aforementioned lawsuit, is under federal indictment for stealing in the line of duty.

New Administrator

Byrnes Mill, recently rejected by voters in its attempt to enact three tax hikes, has decided to give its city clerk, Debbie LaVenture, the additional duties of the city administrator. While I can applaud the idea of cutting the payroll of a city government, I wonder about Byrnes Mill not wanting to bring in outside eyes. I look at the recent theft case at the Grandview school district, which by many accounts resulted from giving too much unchecked power to one person. The BM city council does not appear to be all that interested in oversight, judging from events of the past few years, just like the Grandview and Fox school boards were not paying attention leading up to their scandals. Continue to keep an eye on Byrnes Mill, especially at election time, because they will probably try again to raise taxes.

Ethics Questions Again for Local Attorney

15 Jun

A JeffCo lawyer who serves as judge for the once-predatory Byrnes Mill court, Colby Smith-Hynes, is accused of unethical conduct in a family law case where he was representing his wife (and employee of his law firm) April regarding her kids from a previous marriage. This conduct allegedly includes his firm forging a signature and fraudulently notarizing it, which allowed Smith-Hynes to represent his wife’s ex-husband (Sean) for a several-month period without his knowledge, even though the ex-husband is actually siding against April and with the long-deceived biological father in this case (Steve) in a drawn-out paternity/custody case.

The notary for the Smith-Hynes Law Firm has received a cautionary letter from the Missouri Secretary of State over this incident, and the state Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel is investigating. While Colby was ordered to withdraw from this case, since he might be a witness, the only other lawyer at his law firm, Matt Stone, has taken over these duties. Stone has moved to quash a request that the original signed, notarized document be produced in court.

After the ex-husband found out about the unwanted representation, he put an end to it. After that, with his position damaged, Smith-Hynes lashed out in lawyerly fashion with unwarranted filings, including an order of protection against Steve, depriving him of contact with his own son, and a motion for contempt claiming Sean is behind on child support payments. These filings are intended to delay the proceedings, increase legal costs, and inflict stress. Meanwhile, April continues to receive child support payments, and a teenage boy continues to live in limbo.

These parties are simultaneously battling in small claims court. Sean’s wife, Shannyn, was forced to pay taxes on the loan forgiveness of a vehicle that April took ownership of when divorcing Sean but then lost to default and repossession. The IRS does not recognize divorce settlements, so Sean (and therefore Shannyn) were stuck with the $1,400 debt when April did not pay. Now she has to sue April to get it back. Colby is representing her on this case. A search of Casenet and PACER (the federal courts database) reveals that the Smith-Hynes’ have run into a lot of trouble with paying their debts over the years.

Past Issues

Smith-Hynes serves as municipal judge for the two formerly most confiscatory cities in the county when it comes to charging high fees for traffic tickets, Byrnes Mill and Hillsboro. The legislature passed SB5 in 2015, and this law has since forced ticket reforms and fee reduction. In his judicial capacity, Smith-Hynes was found to have double billed the two cities in 2012-2014 for some travel expenses for the annual municipal judge party/conference at Lake of the Ozarks. After my investigation, he reimbursed Byrnes Mill almost $400, calling it an “oversight.”

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.
%d bloggers like this: