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Recall Effort Launched Against Jefferson County Executive

12 Jun

Unlike many levels of government, the Jefferson County Charter allows for the recall (or removal from office) of county elected officials upon the collection of a specified number of voter signatures followed by a public vote. For the first time, a recall effort has been launched in the county, directed at county executive Ken Waller, a Republican who has clashed repeatedly with the GOP-majority county council.

The reasons for the recall effort are laid out in the petition notice:

 

Reason one is the politician pay lawsuit that he is a part of. Reason two is his alleged role in the Health Department end-around of the council to pass a prescription drug monitoring plan. Reason three is his behavior towards citizens at council meetings and other public forums, and the sending of cease and desist letters.

According to the charter, petition organizers have six months to collect a number of signatures equal to 20% of the people who voted in the last gubernatorial election, which comes out to a requirement for 21,167 signatures. If this threshold is met, a vote would be held at the next election or a special election on whether or not to recall him, and a simple majority would be needed to remove Waller from office.

Waller was elected to his second term as county executive in 2014. I don’t believe he has announced whether or not he plans to run again in 2018, though he did try to land another job recently. He has $63,000 in his campaign account, but he also has a possible GOP primary challenger in state representative John McCaherty.

Here is an online version of the petition. The legality of an online signature is in question, so this may be more of an interest-gathering effort. If this petition interests you, best to sign a petition in person. I’m sure we’ll be seeing the petition at major county events this summer.

JeffCo Health Department Does Stealth End Run on PDMP

4 Jun

The Leader‘s Peggy Bess had a good column last week about the lack of openness exhibited by the Fox and DeSoto school boards in response to recent controversies. I think she should add the Jefferson County Health Department (JCHD) to this list for its sneaky passage of a prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) ordinance on May 25, after the county council rejected such a proposal in April.

While it is true that the Health board has discussed PDMP at its meetings since August of last year, this was in the context of pushing the county council and city councils in the county to pass it. And Health board meetings are quite opaque anyway, as the JCHD does not post agendas or minutes on its website (with the exception of four meeting minutes from late 2015-early 2016) or even list meeting dates and times or who is on the board. [I am told by board president John Scullin that the JCHD will now start posting agendas and minutes.] The most information you can find about JCHD governance is on a state of Missouri web site.

The JCHD relied on a state law that gives health departments the right to make rules “to enhance the public health” to justify its own passage of a legislative ordinance.

“For the health, safety and welfare of the county, (the Health Department) can enact ordinances. It’s not used very often, but they can do it,” said county executive Ken Waller.

However, in early May (after the county council vote) the JCHD director, Kelley Vollmar, seemed to dismiss such a strategy in a comment to the Leader:

As an independent agency, we have the authority to create our own ordinances. But traditionally, independent health departments have been very respectful of county governments and the mandate that they have representing the people. I’m not sure that this is an area where we want to strike out on our own.

But all that went out the window after a special meeting of the JCHD board on May 15 at which Ken Waller appeared. Since JCHD only gives notice about its meetings via postings on the doors to its two facilities and via emails to the Leader, few people would have known about this meeting, where PDMP was the only item discussed. It was at the JCHD board’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting ten days later on May 25 that the ordinance was passed. But the county council was not aware that this vote was going to take place. Waller could have announced the upcoming vote at the May 22 county council meeting, but he kept silent on the issue, instead issuing a veiled threat that he had a press release coming out about councilman Bob Boyer (this press release was promised last week but did not happen). Waller clearly wanted the passage of PDMP to be a surprise, and as such he deprived county residents of the chance to have their say.

Speaking generally, the JCHD board should have been more transparent in this. But when the board was planning to use a rarely used provision of law to counteract the decision of the people’s elected representatives, they had an extra duty to inform the public in advance. But they did not do so, because they did not want publicity or scrutiny.

PDMP Evidence in Illinois

The arguments in JeffCo in support of PDMP were mostly along the lines of “it’s the right thing to do” and “every other state does it.” Not a lot of evidence. Here is a recent article from across the river in Illinois, which has a PDMP, that is interesting:

mad_opi

Hmm. Illinois had a jump in opioid deaths in 2015, while Missouri did not, says the CDC. That year, Missouri was 22nd in the nation in opioid overdose deaths, which is a lot lower than you would expect after hearing the “only state without a PDMP” cry. Here’s another noteworthy item from the CDC:

PDMPs are promising tools for health care providers to see patients’ prescribing histories to inform their prescribing decisions. However, a PDMP is only useful to health care providers if they check the system before prescribing. Some states have implemented polices that require providers to check a state PDMP prior to prescribing certain controlled substances and in certain circumstances, and these policies have significant potential for ensuring that the utility and promise of PDMPs are maximized.

The St. Louis-area PDMP that JeffCo is joining does not require doctors to consult the database when issuing prescriptions, which seems to me to defeat the whole purpose of the database. The PDMP bill that has passed the state House several times is also optional for doctors.

Conflicts with Charter?

There is some question whether the Missouri statute in question here, RSMo 192.300, which gives health departments power to pass ordinances, applies to a charter county like JeffCo. The charter bestows all legislative power in the county upon the council. This question would have to be tested in court, though. Given that the county is currently spending a lot of money defending against lawsuits in which Waller is a plaintiff, the council may not want to incur more legal bills. But, to quote Scullin, the JCHD board president, “there is more than one way to skin a cat.” Perhaps the council can find other ways to fight back.

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?

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