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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.

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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.

Colorful Prosecutor Running for Top Job

23 Jan

Jefferson County assistant prosecutor Thomas Hollingsworth, who works DWI cases, has announced he will run for prosecuting attorney as a Democrat in 2018, according to the January 11 Leader. There are already two declared Republican candidates – Mark Bishop and Trisha Stefanski.

I have a suggestion for Hollingsworth: since he prosecuted Jame Critchlow’s DWI case last year, his campaign slogan should be “I actually put a Critchlow in jail” – you know, unlike his boss, outgoing prosecutor Forrest Wegge (Democrat).

I was on a jury a couple of years ago for a case in which Hollingsworth was the prosecutor. I found him to be an effective and entertaining courtroom operator, and he won the case. You can take a look at him here, addressing the November 13 county council meeting during the public comments about increasing employee health insurance costs.

Summary of the County Budget Battle

21 Jan

A low-key budget battle has been going on in Jefferson County over the past few weeks that temporarily prevented the county from making payments. It began when the GOP-dominated council passed on December 26 an amended version of the budget proposed by Republican county executive Ken Waller.

The main difference between the two budgets appears to be whether to cut spending or dip into reserves to fund some items both sides seem to agree on – an additional 0.5% county employee pay raise, the JeffCo Express bus system Highway 30 route, and the county council’s legal fees. (You can see the council’s budget amendments starting on page 182 at this link.)

But instead of signing or vetoing the council’s budget, Waller ignored it. He did so based on his reading of this county charter provision:

7.2.8. No later than the last day of the fiscal year, the County Council by Ordinance must adopt the proposed budget as the County budget for the ensuing fiscal year. If the Council fails to adopt a budget by this date, the budget proposed by the County Executive is to be deemed approved.

His reasoning (aided by county counselor Tony Dorsett) is this, from a January 5 press release:

The Charter makes it very clear that an “Ordinance” is a bill that is both “enacted by the County Council, and signed by the County Executive….” Accordingly, the bill passed by the County Council on December 26, 2017 (Bill No. 17-1150A2, A3), and which I did not sign, was not enacted prior to the last day of the fiscal year of 2017.

I guess he thinks the council’s budget was wiped away on January 1 in favor of his own, and he doesn’t need to bother to veto it? One could argue that the charter provision that a bill not signed or vetoed becomes law after 20 days is relevant here.

Chalk this up to another poorly written item in the charter, but I think this claim involves some twisting of the language. It says the council has to adopt a budget; nothing is said about the executive in 7.2.8. From a practical perspective, this interpretation would mean that an executive could always get his own budget enacted by simply ignoring and/or vetoing the council’s budget and waiting for January 1 to roll around. Does anyone think that was the intent? This provision seems to merely provide for a backup budget in a case where the council refuses to or is unable to pass a budget by majority vote.

But to add another layer to this, look at the next paragraph in the charter:

7.2.9. To implement the adopted budget, the County Council must adopt in accordance with Missouri Law:

7.2.9.1. An appropriation Ordinance making appropriations by Department, Division or other organizational unit and authorizing a single appropriation for each program or activity;

The council passed this ordinance in the same bill as the budget, which was not signed into law. So one might think the budget for this year is not in effect.

County Checks

I have learned from county officials that Jefferson County did not issue checks the first half of this month due to this confusion over the budget. However, Waller  informed the relevant offices that deal with payments (auditor, clerk, treasurer) early this week that Dorsett’s legal opinion was that Waller’s budget is valid and that payments can proceed. New council chairman Don Bickowski (GOP, District 1) had sent an email to these offices last week stating that the lack of an appropriations ordinance meant payments could not be made, and pointing out that the county charter calls for removal of county officers who spend money that is not duly appropriated.

Questions

This state law, RSMo 50.62, seems to be relevant here:

If at the termination of any fiscal year in counties of classes one and two the appropriations necessary for the support of the government for the ensuing year have not been made, the several amounts appropriated in the last annual appropriation order for the objects and purposes therein specified, so far as they relate to operation and maintenance expenses, are deemed to be reappropriated for the several objects and purposes specified in the appropriation order

In summary, if the council doesn’t pass an appropriations ordinance, the county can continue operating at last year’s spending levels. Is this what Waller is doing?

Also, at the January 8 council meeting (agenda here), Waller proposed an amendment to his budget to allocate money for the aforementioned three items (pay raise, bus, legal fees). It passed, 7-0. It would need to be passed again at the next meeting (Monday) to go into effect. But it isn’t on the agenda. Why not?

Stay tuned.

Kasten Council Resignation Came After AG Conflict Ruling

11 Jan

When former Jefferson County Councilman for District 5 Jim Kasten (Democrat) announced his resignation from the board on October 23, he cited ongoing conflict between the “dysfunctional” council and county executive Ken Waller. He bemoaned the “constant bickering” and expressed dismay that the council did not pass a bill to join a prescription drug monitoring program.

What he did not mention is that he received a letter from the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, dated September 25, 2017, stating that due to his holding of multiple simultaneous offices, he was in violation of conflict of interest provisions, and thus would have to resign from something. This letter came as a result of a citizen complaint to the AG’s office.

Kasten submitted a resignation letter to Waller on September 29, effective December 31. He has since left the council and been replaced by Dan Darian, who was chosen by the county council to complete Kasten’s term.

Multiple Offices

Along with his time on the county council (elected in 2014), Kasten serves:

  • On the Dunklin School Board (elected in 2007)
  • As Herculaneum city administrator (hired in 2008)
  • On the Jefferson County Water Authority (appointed in 2008, part of Herky city admin duties)
  • He was on the Jefferson County Port Authority Board for eight years before being denied reappointment by the county council in December 2016. At that time, his service in multiple positions was cited as a reason to vote down his appointment. After he resigned from the council, Waller again nominated him to the Port board, but the council refused to vote on the nomination at its January 8, 2018 meeting.

The Letter

Here is the letter from the AG’s office:


It cites the “common law prohibition against holding two incompatible public offices,” then goes on to list state Supreme Court precedent and explains how offices that deal with each other, through licensing, taxing, public works, etc. could create a situation where an officeholder finds himself on both sides of an agreement.

According to common law, when an officeholder accepts another incompatible office, he automatically is considered to be resigned from one of them. Missouri uses a last-in-time analysis, and so was already considered to be de jure resigned from the county council. It just had to be made official somehow, which Kasten made happen when he submitted his resignation. The letter points out, though, that actions the council took while he was seated are still valid.

Not Wrongdoing

When Kasten was denied reappointment to the Port board, he responded to the allegations of conflict of interest by demanding that someone point out where he actively acted in a conflicted manner (as I interpret it). But he has it wrong, I think. Conflict of interest isn’t an intentional act of wrongdoing, it is just the inherent circumstance that a person’s judgment and duty could be influenced improperly. It’s like when county prosecutor Forrest Wegge belatedly said he could not take the Dianne Critchlow criminal case because he knows her. The fact that he knows her created a possibility of conflict between the law and his friendship, even if he didn’t actively try to get her off the hook.

In short, nobody says Kasten intentionally committed some wrongdoing, it’s just that he held naturally conflicting interests by holding multiple offices, and so he had to surrender one of them. But he should have admitted this when he resigned from the council.

There are a number of dual office holders in JeffCo, for example, some who sit on a city council and a school board. In the past, there have been men who served on a city council for one city while serving as city administrator for another. Given this ruling, these double-dippers may want to reconsider, though I can’t say for sure that these arrangements are unlawful. And any residents with concerns now know who to turn to with complaints. While serving in elected and appointed positions is a public service (unless you are corrupt or negligent in your duties), serving on multiple boards is not always a good thing.

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