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Better Together JeffCo Proposal

17 Mar

The STL region is all atwitter about the Better Together proposal, which suggests a merger of the city of St. Louis and unincorporated St. Louis County, as well as consolidating some of the functions of the municipalities of the county. The plan is to vote on this statewide in 2020 in order to make changes to the state constitution to enable the new governing structure. Overall, I am in favor of this proposal because there is indeed too much duplication of functions in the area, along with uneven quality of service, and significant savings could be found by streamlining – if they actually go through with getting rid of unnecessary employees and offices. This would also reduce the instances of cities competing with each other with tax breaks to get Walmarts and other businesses to come to their specific areas.

The duplication is most visible is the existence of so many small, corrupt and/or incompetent municipal police departments within STL County. In addition, the city of St. Louis is a basket case and governance there can only be improved through this proposal.

How About Here?

Along the same lines, I would like to lay out a proposal for Better Together JeffCo. I believe there are a number of functions in this county that could be merged to save money and stem the constant tax increases that we have been seeing. A lot of people crow about “local control,” but in small jurisdictions that too often leads to a lack of candidates for election to boards, which leads to uncontested elections, which leads to unaccountable politicians, which often leads to abuses, bad decisions, unethical actions, and even criminal wrongdoing.

The wave of revelations of incompetence and wrongdoing in local police departments in DeSoto, Hillsboro, Byrnes Mill, and Pevely provide further evidence that my proposal is needed. Despite all of the shocking deficiencies that have been uncovered, each city has refused to shut down its police department. This doesn’t just affect finances, it affects the administration of justice, as innocent people get assaulted by unqualified police officers, incompetent chiefs chase away good cops, and guilty people go free due to shoddy evidence storage. As you can imagine, police issues are a big part of my proposal, which is as follows:

Elements of the Plan

-Merge all 911 dispatch into one entity. The majority of the county is on the same system, but Crystal City, Pevely, Festus, and DeSoto do their own police dispatching and Festus does its own fire dispatch. According to the state tax table, CC and DeSoto pay the 1/2-cent 911 sales tax, even though they have their own dispatchers. Festus and Pevely residents would start paying the tax, but the cities would save money by cutting their own dispatch services.

-Merge Pevely and Herculaneum. While Pevely is a constant source of drama and dischord, Herculaneum is a relative bastion of calm. I hardly ever write about events there, because there is not much to report. At the same time, Herculaneum looked into turning its policing over to the county sheriff last year due to its desperate financial situation (but foolishly declined). Herky is using Pevely’s jail and was using Pevely for dispatch before switching to the county 911 system. It is hard to see how Herky, with the loss of Doe Run, can afford to sustain its police. By merging the cities, they can pool resources, and the additional population will dilute the Pevely craziness, so you may end up with one functional, solvent city with reduced drama. These two cities already share a school district.

-Merge Festus and Crystal City. Come on now, we know that this split is ridiculous. I mean, the Walmart is shared by the two cities, and half the time you don’t know which of the two cities you are in. This would prevent things like Crystal City having its own separate water system instead of joining in with Festus and Herculaneum. In 2013 there was a discussion of merging the two cities fire departments into a fire district, but it went nowhere. This proposal could also include merging the school districts.

-Merge fire and ambulance districts. There are currently 7 ambulance and 18 fire districts (including municipal ones) in the county.

Maps from Jefferson County Data Book

Most of the time, from what I have seen, when there is an ambulance somewhere, you will also see a fire truck. Or you will see trucks from multiple districts at the same incident. In addition, there are places like Highway M where you have a Rock ambulance district building within a mile of one Antonia firehouse and within two miles of another one. If these entities would share facilities, we would not need to build so many of them. This would also allow for fewer administrators and officers. We are seeing requests for fire and ambulance tax increases nearly every election. Mergers would save money and reduce the need for tax hikes. The boundaries don’t line up perfectly, but I think you could have each ambulance district absorb the fire districts within it.

-Get rid of municipal police departments except for Arnold, Festus/CC, and Pevely/Herky (assuming the latter two pairs are merged as per above). The other cities would turn their policing over to the county sheriff. The small departments in the county have shown us that they don’t have the ethics, standards, training, or finances to survive on their own. Turning their duties over to the county will bring about economies of scale, eliminating unnecessary chiefs, streamlining training, fleet management, equipment, and distribution of officers around the county. The other cities would pay the sheriff’s office for service, but would likely pay less than what it would take to get their departments up to snuff.

Here is a paragraph on policing from the Better Together executive summary (page 7) that provides an idea of the costs of duplicative services:

POLICING – Today, there are 55 separate police departments covering St. Louis City and County. $468 million was spent on policing the area in 2015, or $355.20 per capita. Costs in cities such as Indianapolis, IN ($242.02 per capita) and Louisville, KY ($257.06 per capita) depict substantial savings in areas with one unified police department. Beyond the cost is the inconsistent quality of service. 75% of the departments in our region lack accreditation.

-Dissolve Byrnes Mill. This idea needs to happen on its own merits, since the city is a mess with a long line of problems with its police department. It is also questionable whether the city has sufficient revenue to stay solvent now that its ability to fund itself with traffic tickets has been curbed.

-Merge the libraries. In addition to the JeffCo library with its three branches (Arnold, Windsor, Northwest), there are libraries in Festus, DeSoto, Herculaneum, and Crystal City. The Herky library is open for very limited hours. The Festus and CC libraries are only two miles apart. DeSoto is looking to almost double the property tax for its library at the April 2 election. Hillsboro has been

Let’s bring all of these libraries under the county library system. That way they could share books, materials, and resources. We could close the Crystal City or Festus location and make the other ones branch libraries, all open to anyone in the county. Residents of Hillsboro have been trying on-and-off for almost 20 years to get their own branch. With this proposal, they would at least have access to libraries in nearby cities. This proposal would require getting rid of the library taxes in the cities that have them, but then extending the county library property tax to the entire county. A branch would probably be needed somewhere between Hillsboro and Cedar Hill to make it fair to residents in that part of the county.

Let me know what you think of this proposal, or if there are other functions that should be included in the merger.

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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.

Candidates Involved in Politician Pay Lawsuit

30 Oct

Here is a list of candidates appearing on your November ballot that are involved in the politician pay raise lawsuit in which they are seeking increased pay and pensions from JeffCo taxpayers:

  • Ken Waller, GOP candidate for county clerk – he has dropped out of the lawsuit, but worked hard as county executive to prevent the county council from paying the legal bills to fight the lawsuit. As county clerk, he could continue to interfere in the payments. Elliot Davis videos here and here.
  • Randy Holman, Democrat candidate for county clerk (incumbent). Elliott Davis video here.
  • Beth Mahn, Democrat candidate for county collector (incumbent). Elliott Davis video here.
  • Dorothy Stafford, Democrat candidate for circuit clerk (she was county auditor for 10 years).

Former DeSoto Mayor Under Investigation for Assault

20 Sep

Update: I am informed that the case has been handed off to the St. Charles County prosecutor (as was the Critchlow case).

As I reported on Facebook and Twitter the other day, Rich McCane, the mayor of DeSoto who resigned on August 30 with a bizarre statement, is under investigation for assault of a city employee, according to a police report and several sources. I am choosing not to name the employee at this time. The case is being considered for prosecution.

According to the police report from the JeffCo sheriff’s office, the incident took place on the afternoon of August 23 on a parking lot on Vineland School Road in DeSoto. This is where the DeSoto school district central office and Vineland Elementary School are located.

Seven days later, McCane resigned. Here is the rather cryptic statement he issued:

“I have supported an environment of transparency and accountability because I believe that with that foundation, our newly hired leaders will have the best chance for success,” he said, also referring to the city’s recent hiring of Police Chief Jeff McCreary. “Unfortunately, that transparency and accountability has led to outside investigations which have upset some involved with government.

“During my tenure I have received mailings, threats and false allegations directed at me and my family, intended to intimidate me and undermine my reputation. Those things in combination with my workload have been a burden.”

In hindsight, perhaps we now know what the “outside investigation” is, as well as what he calls the “false allegations.” (As an aside, I would say that transparency is sorely lacking in the city, and that accountability is rather limited.)

A note of explanation: in DeSoto’s city manager style of government, the mayor is chosen by the city council from among its members. In such a system, the mayor has little power while the city manager has a great deal of authority to run the city. Conversely, the rest of the county’s cities have an elected mayor with more power and a city administrator with less power.

Family Ties

As always in JeffCo, there is a relevant family connection. McCane’s wife works for the county prosecutor’s office. Therefore, one would think that they would pass this case on to another county’s prosecutor. But we’ll see.

Many Departures

Here is a list of employees who have left DeSoto recently, either by firing or resignation:

  • City manager David Dews, fired
  • Police chief Rick Draper, who resigned, came back later as a detective, then left again
  • Police chief Joe Edwards, resigned after serving for about four months
  • Mayor Rich McCane
  • About six other police officers

 

Local Lawyer and GOP Fixture Involved in Three Big Lawsuits

23 Aug

Update 10-14: Good has withdrawn from the opioid case, which was transferred to federal court.

Derrick Good is a JeffCo lawyer with the Thurman law firm in Hillsboro and a fixture on the county GOP Central Committee, whose revenge play I wrote about recently. He is a friend of county executive Ken Waller, who appointed Good to seats on the Hillsboro school board and the county Port Authority. Good has donated $500 to Waller during the current election cycle, and the Leader in 2016 quoted Waller saying that Good was one of his campaign managers. Good is currently involved as an attorney in three major lawsuits that I would like to outline today.

Hillsboro Sand Mine

In April 2018, a proposal to build a sand mine near Hillsboro caused great alarm among area residents, who were concerned about the impact of the 259-acre project on the largely residential area. Opposition quickly mobilized, packing the county planning and zoning hearing on the project. The P&Z board voted 7-0 in June to recommend denial of rezoning for the project. At another packed meeting, the county council voted 6-0 to deny the proposal.

But now, the companies behind the sand mine are suing the county (case 18JE-CC00529, St. Peter Sand Company et al vs. JeffCo). The lawsuit is pursuant to the companies’ rights under Chapter 536 of state law, which allows for judicial review of decisions like this one. The companies can argue that the county’s denial of the project was arbitrary and not based on solid evidence. I wrote here about a lawsuit in which a man sued the county successfully, partially on Chapter 536 grounds, after his proposal to build a mini-storage and boat/RV storage facility was denied. The judge ordered the county to approve the zoning changes for the project. So the possibility exists that the sand mine could be approved by the judge and go forward despite huge public opposition.

Good is the sole attorney for the companies bringing this lawsuit. As I mentioned above, he serves on the county Port Authority, as president no less. The sand from this mine, intended for use in fracking as part of oil and gas drilling, would almost certainly be shipped through the port on its way to the oil and gas fields. I think that’s an interesting connection.

Multi-County Opioid Lawsuit

Jefferson County joined a lawsuit against 49 opioid manufacturers and distributors this month, along with nine other counties, accusing them of causing the opioid crisis and demanding money to pay for the costs of battling it (case 1822-CC10883, JeffCo et al vs. Purdue Pharma et al). The law firm leading the suit – Carey, Danis, and Lowe out of Clayton – says they approached Good about having JeffCo participate because they saw him in court one day and were impressed. I suspect, though, that they knew he had the right political connections.

So Good set up a meeting between Waller and the law firm, as Waller tells the Leader. Waller then decided on his own accord, without consulting the county council, that the county would join the lawsuit. Now Good stands to receive attorney fees if the lawsuit is successful. It is likely that lots of money will be handed over here, either by verdict or settlement, so Waller’s unilateral decision stands to be profitable for Good.

Politician Pay Lawsuit

I have written about this one extensively (case 16JE-CC00004, King vs JeffCo). Good was co-chairman of the charter committee that wrote the county charter and presented it to voters in 2008, ushering in our current form of government. But on the last day of 2015, Good filed a lawsuit against the county on behalf of former Democrat elected official Bruce King, saying that the charter was unclear and being interpreted incorrectly in a way that caused county elected officials to be underpaid and asking for that to be remedied retroactively. A few weeks later the plaintiff added another attorney, Kevin Roberts of the Roberts Wooten Zimmer firm in Hillsboro. The two are naturally seeking attorneys’ fees as part of the suit.

In a Leader article at the time, King says the suit was not his idea, and that he was recruited by Good and Roberts to be the named plaintiff.  A couple of weeks after the suit was filed, a flood of local officials, including Waller, joined the quest for additional salary and benefits. The suit could cost the county $1.2 million dollars in extra pay if successful.

While Waller and other elected officials have failed to coherently defend the lawsuit when confronted on camera by Fox 2’s Elliott Davis, Good has put forward at least a plausible defense of the lawsuit online. It is long, and you can read it here. An excerpt:

Despite discussions and attempts to reach a resolution, nothing happened. There is a simple question that needs an answer, what does the language mean. I as a Charter Commission member believe that the language was written as it is to make sure our officeholders did not take a pay cut, were paid at least what someone in an equivalent office in a first class non-charter county made. However, in order to keep salaries from running away we capped it at no greater than 10% more than the equivalent position. There was a desire to pay those positions well so that quality people would be attracted to running.

 

 

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.

Weird Cemetery Suit in Herky

23 Jul

I would like to highlight a bizarre lawsuit involving Herculaneum Cemetery, which is around the corner from Kade’s Playground there. The suit was filed way back in January of 2017, but I don’t think anyone has written about it. It is still ongoing in the courts and also involves the city and the police.

IMG_20180520_163832557

Part of the lawsuit alleges excessive use of force by police. Another part of it alleges mismanagement of the cemetery.

Excessive Force

The plaintiff, Christina Pryor, has family members buried in the cemetery, and had complained to the city and others several times about the upkeep and finances of the cemetery. A dispute then arose over whether or not a decorative lantern could be placed on a grave. It was a question of alleged arbitrary enforcement of cemetery rules. The situation escalated to the point that police were called. The suit alleges that Herculaneum police chief Mark Tulgetske arrived in an aggressive manner, chest bumped and yelled at the plaintiff, and told her to leave. She says she responded “I am, dumbass” at which time the chief allegedly yanked her out of her car, twisted her around by the arm, and handcuffed and arrested her with another officer’s assistance, causing great pain and injuries that required surgery.

Pryor was charged with peace disturbance and resisting arrest, but the judge threw out the former charge and Pryor was acquitted after twenty minutes of jury deliberation on the latter charge.

Cemetery Mismanagement

The suit states that the cemetery, which was founded just over 100 years ago, was set up to be operated by an independent organization, known as a “benevolent corporation.” But the suit alleges that the city became the de facto owner of the cemetery in about 2009. The city hall phone number and address were listed as the points of contact for the cemetery. The couple living next to the cemetery, Ken and Edith Chailland, allegedly served as caretakers of the cemetery and accepted payments for burial plots; there are questions of the accounting for this money. They were the ones who argued with the plaintiff about the lantern, leading to the incident with the police chief.

The suit alleges that a new cemetery board was formed in 2016 that stopped the alleged misconduct. But the mayor, Bill Haggard, is still listed as the contact person (along with his cell number) on the city website. He is the chairman of the new cemetery board. Here’s what he said in 2016:

Although the cemetery is named for the city, Haggard said it isn’t city property.

“The city doesn’t own it, and the city doesn’t want to own it,” he said.

Another question about the cemetery is whether it is endowed, meaning that money exists to care for the cemetery in perpetuity. The lawsuit alleges that the cemetery is not, since it does not meet the state requirements for registration and having a trust fund. Nonendowed cemeteries are supposed to make it clear up front to plot purchasers that they are not endowed, but the suit alleges that the Herky Cemetery did not do so.

Big Lawyer

One noteworthy aspect of this case is that the plaintiff’s attorney is W. Bevis Schock, who is kind of a big-time lawyer in St. Louis. He is a hero to us all in that he argued the case that led to the state Supreme Court ruling that red-light cameras (like the ones Arnold used) are illegal. He has also handled a number of lawsuits against lying cops and prosecutors.

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