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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.

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.

May Legislative Update

8 May
  • Sen. Gary Romine (R, 3rd district, Farmington) has been under heavy criticism for his role sponsoring SB43, a bill to change the legal standard in discrimination lawsuits from “contributing factor” to “motivating factor” (a higher bar to clear). This would prevent frivolous suits like the one filed by Arnold police chief Bob Shockey. Romine is under fire because a business he owns is being sued for discrimination. But this law would even not affect his case; since the suit is already in progress, it would proceed under the current rules. And people who are actually discriminated against can still win lawsuits under SB43, their claims just have to have some merit to them. Remember how Dianne Critchlow has threatened to sue the Fox district now that feckless prosecutors have let her off the hook? I guarantee her suit will include a baseless gender discrimination claim if it is filed under the current standard. As a business owner, Romine knows about the issues Missouri has with frivolous lawsuits, and is trying to address the problem. The House would need to approve this bill this week in order to send it to the governor.

Romine: “Rather than seeing this bill for what it is — one of the most significant economic development measures to come along in years — the media has been more interested in eliciting the opinions of trial attorneys, SB 43’s only real opposition and a group of people who generally stand to lose from any significant progress on the tort reform front.”

  • Sen. Paul Wieland (R, 22nd, Imperial) briefly held up the passage of HB 130, the bill to allow rideshare services like Uber to operate statewide. He thought, misguidedly in my opinion, that Uber drivers would drop their personal auto insurance since Uber provides coverage while you are working. He had other concerns as well. But three weeks later, Wieland’s concerns were satisfied and the bill was passed and signed into law.

“I just wanted to make sure we protect the public and we keep the number of uninsured motorists to a minimum and I believe this bill will do that,” Wieland told The Missouri Times Thursday.

  • Rep. Rob Vescovo (R, 112th, Arnold) was the House sponsor of SB 182, which eliminates project labor agreements in public construction projects. This bill, which has passed both houses, ends requirements that non-union contractors pay union wages and stops local governments from giving preferential treatment to union contractors. This bill will reduce the cost to taxpayers of public projects. Reps. Vescovo, Shaul, and John McCaherty (R, 97th, High Ridge) voted yes; Reps. Elaine Gannon (R, 115th, DeSoto), Becky Ruth (R, 114th, Festus), and Ben Harris (D, 118th, Hillsboro) voted no; and Roden voted present (weak).

“Some would say it’s an anti-union legislation, and I disagree,” Vescovo said after the House adjourned for the week. “I would say it’s pro-worker and it allows the other 86 percent of the workforce to bid on projects and work on projects without being signatory. That’s very important.”

  • Rep. Dan Shaul (R, 113th, Imperial) ticked off teachers, according to the Leader,  with his vote for HB634, which would allow for the expansion of charter schools in the state. Shaul also serves on the Windsor school board. Charters currently exist only in St. Louis and Kansas City. Teachers claimed Shaul has a conflict of interest, which I don’t buy. Some teachers turned their back on Shaul as he was sworn in for another term at the April 12 board meeting, which is quite juvenile. It doesn’t look like this bill will get a Senate vote. McCaherty, Roden, and Vescovo also voted yes on this bill.

“I would disagree with the assumption that my vote on HB 634 was a conflict of interest,” Shaul said. “The vote I took on 634 was to ensure that all kids throughout the state of Missouri have the same opportunity that kids (who) go to Windsor have.”

  • Along with SB43, other much-needed legal reforms have been advancing through the legislature, and our county reps have voted for them along party lines. However, Rep. Shane Roden (R, 111th, Cedar Hill) voted no on HB460, which would limit out-of-state plaintiffs who bring their cases in St. Louis in hopes of winning big verdicts. This is why you hear all those ads from lawyers about talcum powder and cancer on the radio or see them on billboards. Those plaintiffs don’t even live here.
  • Sen. Romine took to the Senate floor during debate over the budget to offer an amendment to fully fund the state’s foundation formula for education for the first time. It was a bit unusual to do this on the floor after the Appropriations Committee already put the budget bill together, and it caused a split between Senate leadership and some GOP senators as the amendment passed. Romine voted yes on this, Wieland voted no. The House also voted to fully fund the formula.
  • The issue of whether to join a prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) has been roiling county government here for months, but such a plan is also advancing at the legislature, and if it passes it would make the JeffCo debate moot. The House and Senate will be going to a conference committee to iron out their differences, but with only one week left, it seems unlikely this will get done. In the House, representatives McCaherty, Roden, and Vescovo voted no on the PDMP bill, HB 90, as did Sen. Wieland.

Heroin and Foster Care in Jefferson County

4 Mar

A number of recent news articles have appeared recently on the area’s heroin/opioid epidemic and specifically how it impacts the foster care system. Jefferson County in particular is affected by the combination of heroin use and a lack of foster homes. According to a KSDK report, there are 350 children in foster care in the county that can’t be placed with family members, but only 60 foster homes.

A recent Post-Dispatch article, accompanied by a stark front-page photo of two addicts shooting up in their kitchen, provided this chart of local heroin death rates:

heroin-rates

While STL City has far and away the worst problem, Jefferson and Franklin have the next highest rates among area counties.

Another P-D article highlighted the effects of heroin on the foster system in the region:

“We are in desperate need of more foster parents for the first time in a decade and a half,” said Melanie Scheetz, executive director of the Foster and Adoptive Care Coalition of St. Louis. “We need them for both newborns and older children.”

This article states that the number of JeffCo kids in foster care has increased by 20 percent in the past five years, while STL City and County have gone up by about 30 percent.

This graphic, also from the P-D, shows birth rates by county of children with opioid withdrawal symptoms:heroin-births

JeffCo is not in the top ten in the state in this statistic, and our 8.68 per 1,000 rate is lower than what is seen in Franklin, Washington, and St. Francois Counties, but higher than Ste. Genevieve and St. Louis Counties.

Local Response

Judge Darrell Missey, who sees foster care trends firsthand in his courtroom, helped start a group called Fostering Hope, and he is highlighted in this KSDK news report (definitely watch the video). This group helps spread the word about the need for more foster parents and lets churches and other groups know what they can do to help.

missey

Jefferson County Judge Darrell Missey

First Baptist Church in Arnold has started a One Less Orphan ministry. The goals of this program are to recruit, train, and support foster and adoptive parents.

The Jefferson County Foster Children’s Fund helps support foster children and parents by providing events and donations.

House Bills Sponsored by JeffCo Reps

15 Jan

The Missouri legislative session is underway, and with GOP supermajorities in both houses and a GOP governor, we should expect a lot of big items to be passed in the next few months. I’m going to take a look here at what bills our local representatives are pushing. I will look at the activities of the two state senators that cover Jefferson County in a separate post.

Shane Roden, R, 111th district, Cedar Hill –  He has a bill allowing adult motorcycle riders to go helmetless if they have proof of health insurance (motorcycle helmet freedom is a big issue with him) and another bill concerning firefighters and cancer and hazardous duty. On another interesting note, he is cosponsoring a medical marijuana measure. Roden is a paramedic and firefighter.

John McCaherty, R, 97th, High Ridge – He also has a motorcycle helmet law, but it requires everyone under 21 to wear a helmet, while Roden’s bill only requires helmets for those under 18. McCaherty has a bill regarding custody of in vitro human embryos and one about school library media services programs. He is co-sponsoring a bill to add crimes against police to the hate crimes law.

Rob Vescovo, R, 112th, Arnold – He is the most active local rep as it pertains to bill filing, and has several significant bills. One would require public entities to issue bonds via public sale, or competitive bidding. I wrote here about a state auditor’s report that stated that this change would save Missouri taxpayers millions of dollars by forcing the financial companies that work with public entities to get the best deal on bonds.

Another Vescovo bill would prevent political subdivisions from giving preferential treatment to unionized companies in public construction projects (aka project labor agreements, which drive up costs to taxpayers). This bill was introduced last year but did not come to a vote.

Another bill requires written contracts for school superintendents and assistant superintendents, and limits the amount of  severance pay that these officials can receive. This will stop the outrageous payouts to disgraced superintendents like Fox’s Dianne Critchlow.

Vescovo is also co-sponsoring the hate crimes against police bill, and is cosponsoring a bill to modify rules about expert witness testimony at trial (implementing the Daubert standard).

Dan Shaul, R, 113th, Imperial – No bills at this time.

Becky Ruth, R, 114th, Festus – She is trying again this year to create a Waterways Trust Fund to divert money to ports. She also wants to add two new genetics diseases to newborn screening requirements (she has added other diseases in the past) and add a teacher to the State Board of Education. Finally, she has a bill to create a tax deductible First-time Home Buyer Savings Account. Ruth is a former teacher and a current realtor.

Elaine Gannon, R, 115th, DeSoto – She is sponsoring a resolution urging the creation of a Joachim Creek Joint Task Force to battle repeated flooding in DeSoto, and she has a bill making some minor adds to high school equivalency degree testing programs. Gannon is a former teacher.

Ben Harris, D, 118th, Hillsboro – No bills at this time.

Former Arnold Pastor Pleads Guilty to Burglary of Parishioners, and Related Events

8 Aug

A former pastor of a church formerly located in Arnold plead guilty in February and was sentenced to probation in April for breaking into the home of a church member to steal prescription opiods, according to court documents. On top of that, this story takes a number of twists and turns that I will lay out in this post.

skiles

Mug shot from JeffCo Sheriff, via Mobile Patrol app.

The pastor’s name is Tom Skiles, and the church was SOS Church, which was located on JeffCo Boulevard but has since moved out of Arnold. Skiles led the church for 10 years (he got some attention in 2009 for a series of MMA-themed sermons). The relocation of the church in April 2014 to Rockwood Summit High School (RSHS) was prompted by a court judgment against the church after it fell behind by over $23,000 in rent to its landlord, according to court documents. Casenet indicates that this judgment has yet to be paid by Skiles and/or the church.

Several former members of the church are convinced that the reason SOS could not pay its rent is because Skiles stole money from the church for personal use, based on extravagant spending they witnessed. However, these allegations do not appear to have been brought to police.

However, Skiles has violated his probation with separate arrests for DWI and drug possession. The process of revoking his probation is underway in county court.

Timeline of Events

  • March 2014 – Skiles breaks into home of parishioners; relocation of church announced*
  • late March 2014 – SOS Church announces that Skiles is “taking a little break which is well deserved”*
  • April 2014 – Church relocates to RSHS*
  • May 2014 – Burglary harges filed against Skiles in Jefferson County court
  • June 2014 – Lawsuit filed against church for unpaid rent
  • July 2014 – Skiles arrested
  • April 2015 – Judge rules for landlord in lawsuit, orders payment of $24,943
  • October 2015 – New lead pastors announced at SOS – Skiles’ brother and his wife*
  • December 2015 – New name announced for SOS Church – Endurance Church
  • February 2016 – Skiles pleads guilty to break in
  • April 2016 – Skiles sentenced to five years probation
  • July 2016 – Skiles arrested for DWI and marijuana possession in separate events, motion to revoke probation filed

* These events are portrayed on social media as positive happenings; it seems that the true reasoning behind the events was concealed from or downplayed to church members.

Unreported

Now, one would expect “pastor steals from his flock” to be journalistic red meat, sure to merit mention in the papers, but to my knowledge the Leader has not reported on these events, despite being tipped off by former SOS members. This is especially strange given the sometimes mundane crimes the Leader does report on.

It was also stated by the county prosecutor in Skiles’ criminal case that he was picked up by the Festus PD in early 2016 for DWI but was allowed to go home uncharged. Recall that the Festus PD also let the city judge get away with a potential DWI in 2004, as I wrote about here. How common is this in Festus?

Might these examples of special treatment have something to do with the fact that Skiles’ aunt is the wife of JeffCo sheriff Glenn Boyer?

There is a feeling among the former SOS members I talked to that Skiles has gotten away with a lot. We will have to watch his probation revocation proceedings to see if this continues. In addition, the mug shot above was taken after the marijuana arrest on July 1 – no charges have been filed for this incident as of yet.

JeffCo Sheriff Asset Seizures Spike in 2015

23 Jun

Asset forfeiture is an issue that has been in the news lately. This occurs when law enforcement agencies take property from people suspected of a crime. “Suspected” is the key word here because often, no criminal conviction is required. The Washington Post did a big series on this in 2014:

Mandrel Stuart, a 35-year-old African American owner of a small barbecue restaurant in Staunton, Va., was stunned when police took $17,550 from him during a stop in 2012 for a minor traffic infraction on Interstate 66 in Fairfax. He rejected a settlement with the government for half of his money and demanded a jury trial. He eventually got his money back but lost his business because he didn’t have the cash to pay his overhead.

The Institute for Justice gave Missouri a B+ for its asset forfeiture laws, with these reasons:

  • Conviction required, but low bar to connect property to the crime
  • Poor protections for innocent third-party property owners
  • No forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement [this takes away police incentives to take money under questionable justification]

However, if law enforcement agencies cooperate with federal agencies to seize property, they can get around state laws, and they then get to share the seized proceeds with the federal government. The state auditor releases an annual list of property seized under both federal programs and under state law. Jefferson County was ranked quite high in both listings in 2015.

Federal Seizures

According to the auditor’s report, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO) ranked 2nd in the state in 2015 in “Total Value of Items Seized and Turned Over to the Federal Forfeiture System,” with a total of $1,760,410. JCSO received $118,696 that year through equitable sharing. For comparison, JeffCo is the 7th largest county in the state by population (counting the city of St. Louis as a county). St. Louis and Kansas City are the only Missouri cities that have more people than JeffCo. Keep in mind, too that the JCSO only covers the unincorporated part of the county. The number one asset seizer in Missouri was the Phelps County Prosecutor’s Office (Rolla is here), which took $2,227,153 and got to keep $119,684. Here are totals from some other entities, for comparison:

  • St. Louis city: $88,786 turned over to feds; $489,271 in received funds
  • St. Louis County: $217,150; $1,226,624
  • Jackson County: $0; $85,480
  • Kansas City: $1,937; $432,422

I’m not sure how these entities brought in so much money while sending little to none to the feds. It may be that some of the receipts came from seizures in 2014, and it just took a long time for payment to be made. The latter three agencies turned over more money to the feds in 2014 than in 2015.

In total, Missouri law enforcement agencies turned $8,438,434 to the feds, meaning that JeffCo made up 21% of the state’s total. In 2014, JeffCo turned over only $9,088, a mere 0.1% of the state’s total. Why the big increase? We don’t have specifics on these cases, so we don’t know how much money was seized from individuals not convicted of any crimes, but it is something the JCSO, which has exhibited a limited respect for the Constitution, should answer for. Are they trying to bring in extra money to get around limits placed by the county council? In 2013, $131,223 was turned over to the feds, and JCSO received $138,608.

Also of note, the city of Arnold’s seizures were $0 in 2015, compared to $1,388,828 turned over to the feds in 2014.

State Seizures

The statue auditor also released a report on asset seizures performed under state law, which as a reminder, requires a criminal conviction. In 2015, Jefferson County reported $232,812 in seizures, ranking 7th in the state, behind Franklin, Jackson, Phelps (which had over $2 million), St. Charles, and St. Louis counties and St. Louis City. JeffCo made up 4% of the state’s $6 million total. Of JeffCo’s total seizures, $46,097 was returned to the property owner.

County prosecutors, who are responsible for reporting this state seizure data to the state auditor, are required to report the following information: date, time, and place of the seizure; property seized; estimated value of the property seized; person(s) from whom the property was seized; criminal charges filed; and disposition of the seizure/forfeiture, and disposition of criminal actions. Like all of the large-seizure entities, JeffCo reporting nearly all of the required data, except for two items – charges filed and disposition of charges. JeffCo reported what charges were filed for only 12 of its 35 seizure cases, and the disposition of charges in only 15 cases. This would suggest that perhaps JeffCo should be returning more money to property owners, if it isn’t filing charges, as state law requires.

Of the $6 million that was seized in under state law, over half was transferred to a federal agency, including over half of the money seized in JeffCo. It is not clear to me why that is done. One would think that if a federal agency was involved that the items would have been seized under the federal rules, not the state rules.

In 2014, JeffCo seized only $69,629 under state law. So in 2015, the JCSO seized a lot more money, through both programs, than in 2014.

Negative Correlation with Meth Busts

One might think that an increase in asset seizures might occur if there was an increase in meth lab busts. But, in fact, those are on the decline. Here are recent meth lab bust numbers for JeffCo:

  • 2013 – 223
  • 2014 – 205
  • 2015 – 127
  • 2016 (Jan – Apr) – 22

What About JCMEG?

In 2013, Jefferson County Municipal Enforcement Group (JCMEG) – a multi-jurisdictional drug task force based in Jefferson County- was one of seven entities that did not file the required reports with the state despite being involved in seizures.

In 2014, Aaron Malin from Show-Me Cannabis tried to find out what was happening with the JCMEG. He submitted a Sunshine request, but did not receive a very helpful response from the organization.

In 2014 and 2015, JCMEG filed the required information, but reported no assets seized and turned over to the federal government. The state seizure reports give one number for the county – it is not broken down between JCSO and JCMEG.

New Sheriff in Town

In November, JeffCo voters will be electing a new sheriff for the first time since 1992, as Glenn Boyer is retiring. One Democrat, current 2nd in command Steve Meinberg, and three Republicans, current JCSO employees Dave Marshak and Ron Arnhart and Madison County Sheriff 2nd in command Sean Cooper, are running to replace him. What do these candidates think about asset forfeiture in cases where no charges have been brought and no conviction won? Perhaps you should ask them if you see them on the campaign trail. And ask the three candidates who currently work in the JCSO what happened in 2015 to make seizures increase so significantly.

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