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Wegge Walks Away

18 May

Not surprisingly, Jefferson County Prosecutor Forrest Wegge, a Democrat, has decided not to run for re-election in 2018, according to the Leader. He says the usual stuff about how it’s time to try something new and he’s been thinking about stepping down for a long time. But really, we know what this is about. With the GOP wave sweeping the county, he had little chance of winning again. Add to that his total bungling of the Dianne Critchlow case, which he first punted to the feds after a six-week review, but then only upon getting the case handed back to him did he decide that he should recuse himself due to his friendship with Critchlow. Why on God’s green Earth didn’t he recuse himself the first time around?

Of course, the Leader appeared to accept his explanation for not running again, and did not press him on either of these issues. The Leader has a history of not asking obvious questions about the Critchlow debacle to relevant figures.

Hats in the Ring

Two people have already announced plans to run for the job, both as Republicans.

The first one is Trisha Stefanski, who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination to a county judge position last year. Interestingly, after the primary, she signed on to a newspaper ad (along with Bob Sweeney) which endorsed all of the Democratic candidates for judgeships. She responded to me about this issue here. Stefanski currently works in Wegge’s office. After the Critchlow debacle, though, we may need new blood at the top.

The second announced candidate is Mark Bishop, who ran against Wegge in 2006…as a Democrat. But you see, he’s not switching parties for political expediency, nope, he says the GOP “more closely aligns with my beliefs” now. Bishop is a partner and owner at Wegmann, a well-connected Hillsboro law firm. He formerly worked under St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCullough.

Waller Can’t Defend Pay Lawsuit, PDMP

17 May

Jefferson County Executive Ken Waller has always had difficulty providing a persuasive argument for his preferred policies, instead usually resorting to “because it is best and those who oppose me are dumbheads.” But he had even more difficulty giving a sufficient explanation to Fox 2’s Elliott Davis as to why he’s suing JeffCo taxpayers to get more salary for himself:

Oh, no, you see, it isn’t about getting more money in his pocket! He just wants clarification from the judge! If the judge decides I need more money, what can I do? *chuckles* If that’s the case, then Waller should come out right now and say that he will refuse to accept any extra money if he wins his lawsuit. I mean, if all he wants is a legal clarification, that should be an easy pledge to make and it would put people’s minds at ease that this isn’t about personal enrichment. We’ll be waiting.

PDMP Fails

The proposal for JeffCo to join a multi-county prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) to fight opioid abuse failed at the April 24 council meeting by a 4-3 vote, according to the Leader. The roll call was:

  • Don Bickowski – no
  • Renee Reuter – no
  • Bob Boyer – no
  • Charles Groeteke – no
  • Jim Kasten – yes
  • Dan Stallman – yes
  • Jim Terry – yes

Waller moped afterwards:

“It’s sad that people just don’t do the right thing, and that (allowing the county to join the database) was the right thing to do. The bottom line is that it didn’t pass, and more people are going to die and they’re not going to do anything about it.”

This was the extent of his argument for this bill, along with his single-minded focus on PDMP instead of a multi-pronged approach to the opioid/heroin problem, as was advocated by Boyer. No data, no facts, just demonizing. Waller also suggested he would go to Jefferson City to lobby for a statewide PDMP (which did not pass, but could come up in a special session). I doubt he would win over any votes there, either.

County Exec Waller Wants Greener Pastures

17 Apr

According to the Leader, “The Festus City Council voted 5-3 at Wednesday’s (April 12) meeting to hire Gregory Camp, currently city administrator of Desloge, as the new Festus city administrator.”

According to individuals with knowledge of the hiring process, current Jefferson County Executive Ken Waller (Republican) applied for this position, and was one of the six candidates who received an interview. But he did not prevail in the end. It should be noted that the Festus city admin job will pay Camp $90,000 per year, whereas Waller currently makes about $81,000. We know that Waller wants more money from taxpayers, as evidenced by his participation in a multi-politician lawsuit against the county asking for more pay.

Waller’s second term as executive ends in 2018, but he was apparently looking for an early exit. His time as exec has been marked by conflict with the Republican-led county council, where he has adopted a more moderate, status quo approach to governing. He is currently trying to hector (his preferred leadership approach) the council into joining a prescription drug monitoring program.

Latest Lawsuit

This conflict is made evident by Waller’s recent decision to file another lawsuit, this one against the council over an ordinance it passed over his veto. The ordinance contains a rule that allows the council to replace members of some county boards that miss three meetings in a year. The original version of the bill gave the executive that power. It is the executive that appoints members to these boards while the council votes to confirm his appointments.

I’m not sure that this issue is even ripe for a lawsuit, since we aren’t in a situation where a board member has actually been removed. But it will require both sides of the lawsuit to shell out county money for outside legal representation, since the county’s full-time lawyers can’t participate in an intra-governmental court battle.

Next County Executive

It seems unlikely that Waller will run for another term as executive, though he still has a campaign committee set up for that purpose that has brought in $88,000 in the current election cycle and has $63,000 on hand.

One other Republican has taken a step to run for the seat. 97th district House Representative John McCaherty, Republican from High Ridge, who held the seat for seven years, has changed his campaign committee’s office of intent to county executive, per campaign finance records at the Missouri Ethics Commission:

mccaherty-exec

McCaherty will be subject to term limits next year, and thus unable to run again for the House. Incumbent Republican Paul Wieland will presumably run for reelection to the state Senate seat for northern JeffCo in 2018, so that option is out (though it is rumored that Waller was looking to make a play for it). McCaherty has raised $171,000, but only has $55,000 on hand.

Waller lives in Herculaneum, in House district 114, which is represented by Republican Becky Ruth. She is in her second term, and so could occupy that seat until 2022 if all goes well for her, so that option doesn’t seem open to Waller.

I guess he could always run for secretary of state.

Plaintiffs Proliferate in Pursuit of Politician Pay

22 Mar

On the last day of 2015, Bruce King, Democrat former elected public administrator for Jefferson County who was defeated for re-election in 2012, filed a lawsuit in Jefferson County court against the county, alleging that the county charter had been misinterpreted and that he was not paid as much money as he should have been. The lawsuit demanded back pay and retroactive credits towards retirement.

At the time, observers including me speculated that King was merely a front man, one who no longer had a political career to protect, who was filing the suit on behalf of other greedy incumbent elected officials. Well that belief has been affirmed, because a slew of current and former county elected officials added their names to the suit in January of this year. Most notable, I would say, is county executive Ken Waller, a Republican, who I hear is actively pursuing another job at this time, with two years left in his term. Here is the rest of the list of new plaintiffs:

  • Mark Abel – Democrat deceased former treasurer. His wife is also on the suit, presumably to collect his posthumous windfall.
  • Chuck Banks – Democrat former county commissioner.
  • Marlene Castle – Democrat former recorder of deeds.
  • Randy Holman – Democrat former assessor and current appointed county clerk (put in place by Waller).
  • Pat Lamping – Democrat former county commissioner.
  • Beth Mahn – Democrat current collector.
  • Linda Nees – Democrat former treasurer.
  • Terry Roesch – Democrat outgoing assessor.
  • Dorothy Stafford – Democrat former auditor.
  • Wes Wagner – Democrat former county clerk, who left in the middle of his term for a private sector job.
  • Steve Farmer – Republican current public administrator.

We must condemn the above officials, all of whom are/were making $70-85,000, who knew when they took their jobs what they would be paid, but are now going to the courts to attempt to extract money from taxpayers, in many cases well after they left office. But let us praise those elected officials (who served prior to 2017) who have apparently chosen not to join this lawsuit (let me know if I missed someone):

  • Richard Carter – Republican current assessor.
  • Debbie Dunnegan – Republican current recorder of deeds.
  • Forrest Wegge – Democrat current prosecutor.
  • Michael Reuter – Republican current circuit court clerk.
  • Howard Wagner – Democrat former circuit court clerk.
  • Glenn Boyer – Democrat former sheriff.
  • Survivors of Ed Kemp, Democrat deceased former county commissioner.

The plaintiffs are citing section 7.7.3.11 of the county charter (page 38), which says that “the annual salary of every elected County Officer is not to be less than the annual salary of the holder of the equivalent office in a first-class non-charter county.” The suit then goes on the cite the salaries of elected officeholders in Boone County (which is where Columbia is). Never mind that there are 13 other first-class non-charter counties they could have chosen to compare with JeffCo.The lawsuit says:

“The clear intent also was to provide that…salaries would be adjusted upward to match those of office holders of the highest paying first class non-charter county.”

Doesn’t sound clear to me at all. In general, this seems like a poorly thought out and drafted provision.

All told, this lawsuit could cost the county over $600,000, according to the Leader. This is in addition to the legal costs, as the county has hired an outside law firm to deal with this case (see page 22).

Speaking of lawyers, local attorney and JeffCo GOP apparatchik Derrick Good is one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys in this case. He even helped write the damn county charter that he is trying to exploit via loophole in true lawyerly fashion. Did he help draft the provision in question? It is sad (sad!) to see several supposed conservatives joining in on this effort to divert taxpayer money to their bank accounts.

Wagner Resigns as County Clerk; Who to Replace Him?

30 Jan

Wes Wagner has turned in his resignation as Jefferson County Clerk, where his main duties are running elections, issuing licenses, and serving as recording secretary for the County Council. He will leave his post on the last day of February, presumably to spend more time with his family and whatnot. It had not been anticipated that he was going to run for re-election in 2018.

Who will county executive Ken Waller choose to replace Wagner? Thanks to a quirk in the county charter, Waller has to choose another Democrat to fill the spot. I presume that Waller, a Republican, will not want to choose a young, up-and-coming Democrat who has a good chance to win election to the seat in his/her own right. Instead, Waller may look to a seasoned Democrat who was recently turned out of county office in the county GOP wave of the past 7 years. Or he could tap someone who currently works in the clerk’s office. Given the state of local politics, the appointee is sure to be an underdog in 2018 as a Democrat, so maybe Waller will find a 2-year placeholder that won’t want to run again. Or the person could switch parties and run as a Republican. Here are some possibilities (I have no inside info on these names):

Dorothy Stafford – She served as county auditor for 20 years before being defeated in 2014. She tried to get back in the game in 2016 by running for county treasurer, but was unsuccessful. She doesn’t seem to be ready to retire.

Bruce King – County public administrator for 14 years before being knocked off in 2012. He is currently suing the county, claiming based on language in the charter that he should have been paid more money his last two years of service. I think he is carrying water for other current and former elected officials who don’t want to put their name on a lawsuit demanding more money from taxpayers.

Jeannie Goff – She is currently Wagner’s chief of staff in the clerk’s office. Perhaps the odds-on favorite, since she knows the job, and Wagner might put in a good word for her with Waller, who may listen.

Tim Meadows – Former state representative, ran unsuccessfully for county council in 2012. Currently serves on the county Port Authority board.

Ben Harris – Current state representative for the 118th district in the south part of the county. He has a lonely existence as the only rural Democrat in the state House of Representatives. He will be term-limited out of the House in 2018, so he might be up for switching from a part-time to a full-time political job for the next two years. He’s only 40, though, perhaps too young for the criteria I outlined above.

Any other possibilities?

Nathan Stewart Update

27 Jan

I can provide updates on the Nathan Stewart situation, in which the now former Jefferson County judge was in a November car crash and suspected by the Highway Patrol of driving while intoxicated. The current Department of Revenue (DOR) case, in which Stewart is challenging the revocation of his drivers license for failing to take a breathalyzer test, has been transferred to Madison County (after having most recently been assigned for almost a month to the woman who defeated Stewart in the November election, Dianna Bartels). This is the county south of St. Francois County, and the courthouse is in Fredericktown. This took place about a week ago; the week before that, JeffCo presiding judge Darrell Missey ordered the case be removed from our county circuit court.

As for the criminal investigation, Steph Watson from the Missouri Office of Prosecution Services (MOPS) has been appointed as special prosecutor. MOPS is an autonomous entity “created to assist prosecuting attorneys in their efforts against criminal activity within the state.” As Watson’s bio says, “Upon appointment, she serves as special assistant prosecutor or special prosecutor in various counties throughout the state.” She will also argue on behalf of the DOR against Stewart. She was appointed by the court on December 5 upon the recommendation of Jefferson County prosecutor Forrest Wegge. No charges have yet been filed, and I’m not sure in which county they would be filed; probably either in Jefferson before being transferred, or directly to Madison County.

Cardona Reacts to Court Dispute Story

19 Jan

The Post-Dispatch had a column on the 11th about a JeffCo couple, the owners of Persimmon Ridge Winery, having trouble with redneck hoosier neighbors infringing on their property and denying them access to easements. I posted this article on Facebook, and it drew a couple of comments, including one from Jefferson County judge Troy Cardona, who is handling one of the court cases mentioned in the article.

cardona-land-post

That seems a bit grumpy to me, and that libel threat is completely baseless and irresponsible. Where’s the supposedly libelous statement? Besides, most of us have jobs, and can’t just come sit in a courtroom all day. This is how the P-D article described the case Cardona is presiding over:

In 2014, they had problems with another landowner, whose property abuts Sheppard Drive, the main access to Persimmon Ridge Winery. The winery has a clear legal easement on the road, but Edward Manley III, according to court records, kept messing with it. He’d put rocks on the easement, fill in a drainage ditch to make the road flood, or dig on the back side of the road to make it less stable. Suedkamp [a winery owner] took him to court and won.

But Manley did not fix the damage. In June of this year he was ordered by Cardona to pay $15,ooo and move his crap by July 1, but he has done none of this, according to the article. Here’s what Casenet says:

manley case.jpg

A garnishment was placed on Manley, but this says it was delayed because Manley is bankrupt. But then on December 29, a Satisfaction of Judgment was filed, which would suggest the money was paid. I’m not sure what’s going on here. I contacted an owner of the winery, but got no response as of yet. But this has dragged on for over two years, and this is only one of the problem neighbors the winery is dealing with. According to a Facebook post, the winery owners will be appearing at a county council meeting soon, presumably to request some kind of assistance in dealing with these issues. I hope there’s something that can be done.

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