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Perry Says She Has No Conflict, But Here’s Exhibit A

17 Jun

The Missouri Attorney General, in response to a complaint, wrote to county council and Jefferson R7 school board member Tracey Perry stating that she has a conflict of interest in holding those two positions. Legally, the AG stated that she effectively resigned from the board when she joined the council. They gave her 30 days to respond to this, and Perry says she is going to fight the ruling.

Perry also claims in an interview that she has no conflict of interest. That would only arise, she says, if three or more R7 board vacancies arose at once and the county executive had to make appointments to fill them, as happened in Hillsboro R3 recently. She would recuse herself in that event, she says.

But I say she does have a conflict of interest, and here is Exhibit A to prove it.

Zoning Proposal

In March 2019, the county planning and zoning commission (P&Z) and subsequently the county council considered a rezoning request from an applicant wanting to build a mini-storage and RV storage business on Highway 61, across the road from Plattin Primary School in the R7 district. Here’s the location:

r7 storage proposed site

As a councilwoman, Perry participated in the final decision on whether this proposal would be allowed to proceed or not. And as a board member, she heard in detail what R7 leadership thought of the idea. This is from the complaint filed with the AG (emphases mine):

During the March 2019 Jefferson R-VII School Board Meeting, a discussion item was brought up by School Board Member Wayne Surratt, who noted that Ms. Perry could not comment due to her position on the County Council to avoid a conflict of interest. The discussion was the position of the Jefferson R-VII Board of Education and the upcoming County Council vote regarding the rezoning of the property directly across from Plattin Elementary. The recommendation of the Board was to support Ms. Perry and vote against the rezoning of the property directly across Plattin Elementary. Several points were made to the concern for student safety and traffic increase near the school.

Ms. Perry voted with the School Board’s recommendation to defeat the proposed rezoning. Ms. Perry was later publicly thanked by Mr. Wayne Surratt on his Facebook account named ‘Smart Development for R7.’ He posted, “Thank you councilwoman Tracey Harris Perry for representing our interests tonight at the county council meeting. The rezoning was defeated. It was slightly confusing as a positive, so the measure passed on a 5-1-1 vote, but the measure was a denial. There will not be a mini storage or RV storage on that site. Win one for the community!”

In addition to the discussion at that meeting, superintendent Clint Johnston (who Perry helped place on administrative leave) and Surratt (Perry’s crony in that matter) spoke out against this proposal at the March 14 P&Z meeting, as reported in the Leader. Surratt also voiced his disapproval for the project at the March 25 county council meeting. In addition, councilman Brian Haskins, the only person to vote for the rezoning, stated at the council meeting that he walked the property with Perry. At the council meeting, Perry introduced the resolution (page 5) to deny the rezoning request and moved to bring the resolution to a vote. And she voted against the project. So we know that Perry was involved in discussions about this project, knew the project well, knew full well how the school district felt about it, and helped vote it down.

Therein Lies the Conflict

What we don’t know, and what is impossible to tease out, is whether Perry voted against the zoning proposal with the county’s interests in mind or R7’s (or her own political concerns with each constituency). This is the definition of a conflict of interest.

She might argue that A) everyone else except Haskins voted against it too, or B) the county’s and school district’s interests were the same in this situation. But those points are irrelevant. I pulled this from Wikipedia:

“A conflict of interest is a set of circumstances that creates a risk that professional judgement or actions regarding a primary interest will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest.”

In this case, we don’t know if Perry’s primary interest (which in this case should have been her role as councilwoman) was unduly influenced by her secondary interest (her role as R7 board member) as it pertains to this issue. It is easy to make the argument that this project would be good for the county but bad for the school (from the administration’s perspective). I think the county needs this kind of business, especially the RV storage part of it. Haskins and the representative of the project, Dan Govero, made the points that the proximity of this site to the interstate is ideal for this type of business, that traffic going in and out of the business would not occur at the same times as school traffic, and that this use will generate less traffic than other uses, including even housing. I think R7 doesn’t like this business because 1) they’d rather have nice open land next to them, 2) barring that, they’d rather have expensive houses that would generate big property taxes, and/or 3) they think a storage business is trashy.

Perry’s Response

In an interview with KJFF Radio that contained hubris, diversions, and claims of victimhood, Perry addressed the zoning issue. I will transcribe her response for you (emphases mine):

For example, we had someone that wanted to come up and put some storage units in R7 area. The school board made a comment that they wanted to talk about it, well the school board is not in control of planning and zoning and changing and that property. If it was the school board’s property they wanted to put up a storage unit, that’d be a different story. The only problem in that situation is they cannot present to me any information about what they feel is right or wrong if it’s already gone up in front of a planning and zoning committee because I can’t hear evidence that they may present in a hearing that may come up in front of the county council so I would have to leave the room, and just let them know I can’t hear this information. I can only hear this information before any petition has been filed or before it goes up to planning and zoning, so it’s a matter really of education, so it’s not necessarily a conflict, it’s just that I have to abstain, they wouldn’t make any decisions at the school level to wanna change any of that stuff.

This is 100% BS, because Perry did hear what the superintendent and school board thought about the project. She was at the March school board meeting where this was discussed (which took place AFTER the P&Z meeting, by the way), and she didn’t leave the room. And it is highly likely that she knows about Johnston and Surratt speaking at the P&Z meeting. Furthermore, she says in the interview that if a conflict were to arise, she could just abstain. She didn’t abstain here. She voted. She failed her own ethical test.

This just shows her total lack of self-awareness as it related to the incompatibility of her two offices. She also explains in the interview that she’s going to explain to the AG why they are wrong to say she must leave the school board. She says in the interview that the ruling doesn’t apply because Jefferson County has a charter government now, and not the old county commission system. As if the AG doesn’t know that? As if she knows better than the experts in Missouri law?

Who knows how long this process will drag out, but I think it is safe to say that Perry will soon be off of the R7 school board, one way or another.

 

 

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Tax Hike Haskins and His Park Proposal

7 Jun

Jefferson County councilman Brian Haskins (1st District, GOP) has unveiled a plan to ask voters to raise taxes in the county to fund a 650% 550% increase in the budget of the county Parks Department, according to the May 16 Leader. This appears to be all in the name of building a recreation center in the lightly populated west part of the county (he talks about building other parks, but it is clear that the rec center is his main goal). His 3/8-cent sales tax would increase the county parks budget from $1 million per year to $6.5 million, with another $2.5 million going to JeffCo municipalities to use for their parks. Of note, Haskins did not ask the cities if they want this tax, although we know that JeffCo city politicians will never turn down a tax hike.

Haskins uses a bit of false equivalency and false math to argue for parks. First he compares expenditures by cities on their parks to what JeffCo, an unincorporated county, spends. He says Farmington spends $189 per person while JeffCo spends $4. Let’s compare:

Farmington population: 18,500

Unincorporated JeffCo population: 158,000 (approximate)

I’m not sure where he gets the $189 number, but presumably his park calculations for Farmington include expenditures on the Civic Complex there, which is projected to lose $1.4 million in 2019. The subject of unprofitability of rec centers came up at a council meeting when this topic was discussed (with Arnold getting a mention for its money loser), but Haskins rejected the idea that rec centers need to operate in the black, since we don’t ask roads or libraries to turn a profit.

If JeffCo spent $189 per person, our parks budget would be $30 million. Is that what Haskins wants?

How Many Parks?

Haskins also states the canard that JeffCo only has two playgrounds and 1.5 miles of trails. Anyone who lives here knows that is preposterous. I know what he is doing; he is citing only those playgrounds/trails that belong to the county government. But guess what? JeffCo also has the following:

  • Two state historic sites and a state park (not counting Dunklin’s grave)
  • Several state parks just outside our border
  • Parks in nearly every municipality in the county, with trails and playgrounds.
  • Several conservation areas (like Glassberg, Labarque Creek, Valley View)
  • Many schools with playgrounds

All of these are available to residents of unincorporated JeffCo. To say that these don’t count, and so we have to hike taxes to build county-operated parks, is bogus.

I will also note that Eureka has a rec center. It is 15 minutes away from High Ridge, 20 from Cedar Hill. A JeffCo family can join it for $65 per month. Fenton and Arnold also have rec centers that are not far away from the northwest area of the county where Haskins wants to build his own version.

So Many Taxes

Taxes are going up every year around here. There have been from 4 to 12 tax hike proposals on April ballots in recent years across the county. And most of these tax hikes pass because the people that benefit most (e.g. fire fighters and teachers) show up to vote while few others do. The county is talking about building a new jail and courthouse that will require funding. We can’t be passing giant tax hikes at the same time so Haskins can have a rec center in a lightly-populated part of the county.

In an editorial, the Leader took the predictable position that the council should just let the people vote. But we are not a direct democracy. We elect representatives to (hopefully) make good decisions for us. They should reject this bad idea, not punt it to the ballot. Besides, JeffCo voters have been making some poor decisions lately as it relates to tax hikes. Let’s not give them (us?) another chance.

Waller’s Sunshine Scheme Falls Flat, but Cost Big Bucks

3 Mar

The Attorney General’s Sunshine Law lawsuit against Jefferson County councilwoman Renee Reuter, a stunt that appears to have been engineered by former county executive Ken Waller, has ended with a dismissal, meaning that Reuter has not been found to have done wrong. But Waller cost county taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars over (another) attack on his political enemies.

The suit began a year ago and alleged that Reuter told county council administrative assistant Pat Schlette to delete some emails containing legal invoices in violation of the Sunshine law. The legal invoices were for work to defend the council against frivolous lawsuits filed by, or joined by, Ken Waller, including the infamous politician pay raise lawsuit.

But the simple fact is that the documents were not destroyed and they were delivered to the requestor. How can you sue someone for a Sunshine violation under these circumstances? Even if the emails were removed from one person’s computer, anyone who uses email at work knows that deleting an email from your computer does not destroy it forever – it gets backed up in the system. Reuter did not want people going in and getting the legal bills off of the admin’s computer.

Initial Instigator

Documents reveal that the party that filed the initial sunshine request in July 2017 was an attorney from the Thurman Law Firm. A different attorney from this law firm, Derrick Good, is Waller’s #1 crony and is representing the politicians who brought the politician pay case. So this request was probably an attempt to acquire information to gain an advantage in that lawsuit, in conjunction with Waller’s strategy to prevent the council from spending money to defend against Waller’s lawsuits so he could win by default. It appears that this request might have been the inception of Waller’s ploy to claim that he didn’t have to pay the bills because the law firm started work before the council passed the necessary ordinances. The city had to get its own attorney because the county counselor at the time, Tony Dorsett, whose job it was to represent the entire county, was a stooge of Waller and was antagonistic to the council.

There was a question over whether the county had to release the detailed legal bills, or whether they were closed records. But in November 2017, the bills were released to Thurman Law Firm and others who later requested them (Erin Kasten and a Leader reporter).

Then, on December 15, 2017, Waller wrote a letter to JeffCo prosecutor Forrest Wegge in which he requested an investigation and prosecution of Reuter for destruction of public records. Waller admitted in the January 3 Leader that he also contacted the AG but that his request was denied. It is not clear if Waller contacted the AG separately, or if Wegge passed Waller’s letter up to him. Waller says he had nothing to do with the subsequent sunshine lawsuit by the AG, but the Sunshine lawsuit was filed just one month after Waller wrote to Wegge. So it seems highly likely that the letter from Waller led directly to the lawsuit.

Who Should Pay

An article in the February 28 Leader says that is is not clear who will pay Reuter’s legal bills, which are over $92,000 for this case. However, the council has shown that it wants to pay them with tax money. The council voted on December 28 to approve a resolution to direct the county to pay. New county executive Dennis Gannon says he has not taken a stand on the issue. Since the lawsuit was bogus and was instigated by Waller, I see no reason that Reuter should have to pay out of her own pocket to defend herself. We can’t allow people like Waller to go after the finances of their enemies.

Should the executive and council decide to pay the bills, watch to see if Waller tries to block it. As county clerk, he has a role in the county’s bill-paying process, so I can see him trying to interfere.

The ideal situation would be for Waller to pay for Reuter’s legal fees from his campaign finance account, from which Waller spent $144,000 in 2018 to win the election for county clerk. Right now he only has about $9,000 on hand, but I’m sure that account will be replenished quickly.

November 2018 Election Notes

7 Nov

It was another big red GOP win in JeffCo, arguably even bigger than those of the previous eight years, despite the lopsided rejection of Right to Work by county voters in August that Democrat candidates thought would help carry them to some victories. Here are some notes:

-As STL Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum put it, “For the first time probably in Missouri history, Republicans now hold every single state legislative seat in Jefferson County.” This is thanks to Mary Elizabeth Coleman ending Mike Revis’ short tenure as the state rep for district 97 (he won the seat in February) and Mike McGirl breaking the Democrat (and JeffCo resident) stranglehold on the 118th district seat. A minority of the district resides in Washington County, as does McGirl, but JeffCo voters went for party over county in choosing him over DeSoto resident Barbara Marco. Also interesting – Marco’s treasurer was DeSoto city councilman Clay Henry.

-In countywide races, victorious GOP candidates averaged 58% of the vote. New county clerk Ken Waller, however, only squeaked by with a mere 51.5%. This suggests that a fair number of Republicans did not vote for him (approximately 7,000, it looks like), but not enough to help opponent and incumbent Randy Holman overcome the red wave.

-Her 32-year incumbency, Democrat affiliation, and pay increase lawsuit against the taxpayers were not enough to keep collector Beth Mahn from winning a 9th term with 52.7% of the vote, the only Democrat in the county to win yesterday.

-One race where money did not seem to matter was the county executive race, where Democrat Jeff Roorda outspent victorious Republican Dennis Gannon by about $46,000 to $21,000 (as of eight days before the election). Yet Gannon won the race by about the same margin as other countywide GOP candidates. I thought Roorda would have been more competitive. But I said the same thing in 2014 when he lost a Senate race to Paul Wieland.

-In another such race, Waller edged Holman while underperforming other Republicans even though he outspent his opponent by $128,000 (!) to $5,000 (again as of eight days out). That was almost a Beto O’Rourke-level of investment return for those who gave to Waller. Holman had about $10,000 in the bank as of that last report; perhaps he should have spent a little more of it.

-In addition to the county legislative delegation being entirely GOP, the county council is now entirely GOP, with lone Dem Dan Darian losing his race. With Waller’s divisive presence out of the way, it will be interesting to see what Gannon and the new council can do. Hopefully they will deliver on measures to improve economic growth and the business climate in our county.

JeffCo GOP Establishment Goes 1 for 3 in Revenge Play

10 Aug

George and Janet Engelbach, who are Mr. and Mrs. GOP Establishment in the county (he dresses up like Lincoln at the national GOP convention), issued their usual set of endorsements for the August GOP primary. As longtime deans of the party machine, one would not expect them to advocate for the defeat of incumbent GOP officials. After all, Ronald Reagan’s famous 11th commandment was “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” However, in three separate races this year, they did endorse challengers. This piqued my interest.

janet tweet 2018-1

(An irony is that they claim to endorse PROVEN LEADERS but they endorse abysmal leader Ken Waller. Another irony is that they claim to endorse TRUE REPUBLICANS but threw their support behind recent Democrat Ed Page for judge).

The three endorsements of challengers are in the middle column, in the offices of Circuit Clerk, Council District 1, and Council District 7. One would think that, for them to go so far as to recommend throwing the incumbent candidates (circuit clerk Mike Reuter and councilmen Don Bickowski and Jim Terry) out of office, there must be some good reason. Those candidates must have done something bad. But no, it comes down to mere revenge, as I found out in this Twitter exchange. Here’s the key tweet:

janet tweet 2018-3

The council person she refers to is George. Let’s review a little history:

A Little History

  • 2010 – Charles Groeteke wins the GOP nomination (unchallenged) and the general election to become the first county councilman for district 4 under the new charter.
  • 2012 – George Engelbach challenges Groeteke in the primary, beats him by 4 votes, goes on to become the new councilman.
  • 2016 – Groeteke returns to challenge Engelbach in the primary and beats him by almost 400 votes, goes on to regain the council seat, which he retains to this day.

Groeteke is part of the Jefferson County Pachyderms, a group that focuses on civic engagement and voter education. It has become a sort of alternate faction in the county GOP. Members of the Pachyderms include Groeteke, Reuter (and his wife, Renee, who is on the county council), Bickowski, and Terry.

The Engelbachs, on the other hand, are part of the JeffCo Republican Central Committee, a group that is elected during the August primaries whose supposed goal is to elect good Republican leaders. We can take the Engelbach endorsements, more or less, as the official picks of the central committee. But the committee majority seems to be more interested in preserving its own control, as seen in 2012 when they rigged the local caucus after it appeared Ron Paul supporters would win the day, and when they got nailed with an ethics violation in 2013 for laundering money that was used to send out mailers on behalf of the establishment’s preferred committee candidates.

Back to Today

So, as you see, the Engelbachs started a tit-for-tat series of primary challenges against an incumbent councilman. Yet, they were so mad about 2016 that they tried to get revenge in 2018 against the three incumbent Pachyderms who they blame for helping Groeteke win back the council seat.

However, Reuter and Terry defeated their challengers (Laurie Laiben and Christian Taylor). Bickowski, on the other hand, lost to challenger Brian Haskins, so the Engelbachs have that result to celebrate.

The questions that remain are: will the Engelbachs endorse Reuter and Terry in November (probably; endorsing avowed Democrats is probably a bridge too far), and will George challenge Groeteke in 2020 (probably not, he’s getting rather old).

August Primary Election Listicles

28 Jul

Here are some lists that are relevant to the August 7 primary election. Number 4 will shock you! All of these lists refer only to candidates that are facing a competitive primary. If they have no opponent, it doesn’t make much difference.

Candidates Involved in the Politician Pay Lawsuit

  • Ken Waller, GOP candidate for clerk and current county executive – he joined the pay raise lawsuit, which was filed in December 2015, in January 2017, and dropped out as a plaintiff in June 2017 under public pressure. However, he continued to try to thwart the county council’s attempts to pay attorneys to defend the taxpayers against the money grab.

Candidates Who Took the Penknife Pledge Not to Sue Taxpayers

  • Jeremy Day, GOP candidate for clerk
  • Lisa “Brewer” Short, GOP candidate for collector
  • Eric Robinson, GOP candidate for auditor
  • Terry Varner, GOP candidate for county council district 5
  • Charles Huey, Democratic candidate for auditor
  • Christian Taylor, GOP candidate for county council district 7

While the lawsuit would not pertain to council members, it is good to see the two council candidates above express their support for the anti-lawsuit cause.

The pledge is still available for candidates to sign. Get the form at the link above.

Former Democrats Running as Republicans

You can judge whether these party switches are legitimate or opportunistic.

  • Mark Bishop, candidate for prosecutor, ran for the same office as a Democrat in 2006.
  • Phil Amato, candidate for 97th district state representative, ran for county council as a Democrat in 2010.
  • Ed Page, candidate for Associate Circuit Judge Division 11, is a longtime member of the county Democratic Central Committee.
  • Joe Rathert, candidate for Circuit Judge Division 1, ran for the same seat as a Democrat two years ago.
  • Gary Stout, candidate for county executive, ran for the same office as a Democrat four years ago. The county GOP tried to kick him, but none of the aforementioned candidates, off the ballot.

Budget “Crisis” Was a Total Nothingburger

11 Jun

County executive Ken Waller, a Republican, went to the microphone Thursday to inform the unquestioning St. Louis media that there was a budget crisis in Jefferson County and that a shutdown was imminent. In fact, there were merely two typos in some account numbers, something that was easily fixed. This is all part of a six-month fight by Waller, who is trying to stop the county council from cutting spending. Instead of accepting political defeat after a veto-proof majority of the council opposed him, Waller decided to freak everybody out with a #fakenews shutdown threat. This is another sign of the abysmal leadership Waller has provided in his 7.5 years as executive.

waller-pc

Back Story

As I wrote in January, the council passed an amended version of the 2018 budget Waller proposed. However, Waller’s ally Tony Dorsett, the county counselor who has announced he is resigning effective June 22, used some tortured analysis of the county charter to say that Waller could just ignore the council’s budget until January 1 and then implement his own budget. However, the council is also required to pass an ordinance to implement the budget. But Dorsett waved his hand and said this was not necessary.

Meanwhile, the council, as is its right, moved to amend Waller’s budget again to make its desired changes, while also passing the implementation ordinance. The main changes the council desired, totaling about $130,000 in reductions, were:

  • Cutting the county’s contribution to the Economic Development Corporation (which doesn’t do much, from what I can tell) in half,
  • Cutting the salary budget of the counselor’s office, and
  • Cutting the salary budget of the county auditor’s office.

Waller argues that the latter two cuts are retribution for those officials’ refusal to approve the payment of the county council’s legal bills in its efforts to fight the politician pay lawsuit, in which several current and former elected officials (including Waller, who has since withdrawn from the suit), sued the taxpayers to get more money for themselves. And that may be true or not, but the council has the right to take steps to stop those in county government who want to play games. The council says the cuts were not punitive and were made to reallocate the money to other purposes (county bus, legal fees, employee pay raise).

Quick Fix

Waller called for an emergency council meeting for June 8, the day after his press conference. He placed an item on the agenda to rescind the ordinance that the council passed over his veto, thus eliminating the council’s budget cuts. At the meeting, the council amended the item to reiterate its previous cuts, making the following corrections (by a 6-1 vote) to two account numbers:

account strings

This hardly seems like a crisis. When county auditor Richard Carter III resigned on Wednesday over this issue, he said “the account strings are all wrong.” That seems to be an epic overreaction, especially since the auditor’s office knew exactly what accounts the council meant, judging from this February memo:

strings memo auditor.jpg

Again, seems like a pretty minor thing. So when Carter told the Leader “oh, we can’t transfer money between accounts because some of the accounts do not exist,” he knew exactly what the council’s intent was.

Word is that Carter already had another job lined up when he resigned, so maybe his departure was not all about taking an ethical stand. His term was to end in January, and he was not running for re-election.

I would also not look at Dorsett’s resignation as some kind of moral move. He has been providing legal cover for Waller for years; why stop now? Waller recently tried to appoint him to the county municipal judge job, but the council refused to go along. Dorsett presumably would have been out the door in January, also, when Waller’s term (mercifully) concludes.

Why Go Nuclear?

The question is, why would Waller get everyone all spun up about a fake shutdown threat? It just makes the county government look bad. He may think it only makes the council look bad, but he has plenty of stink attached to himself. I’m seeing many comments saying “the whole idea of charter government was a mistake.” It seems like he just wants to damage candidates ahead of November’s election, even though this will only help Democrats. I can’t imagine it will help his own run for county clerk.

Unfortunately, bringing in the St. Louis media for his press conference accomplished Waller’s goal of inciting mass hysteria. The big city outlets, who do not follow JeffCo affairs, had no idea of the back story, and took Waller’s scaremongering at face value, spreading the erroneous fears throughout the region and causing unnecessary alarm to county employees who feared they would miss out on pay.

But we have seen this before. Waller sued the council last March after they passed an ordinance that gave them the power to remove people from county boards. A judge eventually threw out Waller’s suit after the county spent big bucks on legal fees. Waller also removed his frequent foe, councilwoman Renee Reuter, from the East-West Gateway board after she resisted his attempts to gut the county’s budget for legal fees to fight Waller-associated lawsuits against the county.

Waller is accustomed to getting his way, and if he doesn’t, he lashes out with no regards for the consequences. And that is why Waller set off a fake news budget crisis over two typos.

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