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JeffCo GOP Establishment Goes 1 for 3 in Revenge Play

10 Aug

George and Janet Engelbach, who are Mr. and Mrs. GOP Establishment in the county (he dresses up like Lincoln at the national GOP convention), issued their usual set of endorsements for the August GOP primary. As longtime deans of the party machine, one would not expect them to advocate for the defeat of incumbent GOP officials. After all, Ronald Reagan’s famous 11th commandment was “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” However, in three separate races this year, they did endorse challengers. This piqued my interest.

janet tweet 2018-1

(An irony is that they claim to endorse PROVEN LEADERS but they endorse abysmal leader Ken Waller. Another irony is that they claim to endorse TRUE REPUBLICANS but threw their support behind recent Democrat Ed Page for judge).

The three endorsements of challengers are in the middle column, in the offices of Circuit Clerk, Council District 1, and Council District 7. One would think that, for them to go so far as to recommend throwing the incumbent candidates (circuit clerk Mike Reuter and councilmen Don Bickowski and Jim Terry) out of office, there must be some good reason. Those candidates must have done something bad. But no, it comes down to mere revenge, as I found out in this Twitter exchange. Here’s the key tweet:

janet tweet 2018-3

The council person she refers to is George. Let’s review a little history:

A Little History

  • 2010 – Charles Groeteke wins the GOP nomination (unchallenged) and the general election to become the first county councilman for district 4 under the new charter.
  • 2012 – George Engelbach challenges Groeteke in the primary, beats him by 4 votes, goes on to become the new councilman.
  • 2016 – Groeteke returns to challenge Engelbach in the primary and beats him by almost 400 votes, goes on to regain the council seat, which he retains to this day.

Groeteke is part of the Jefferson County Pachyderms, a group that focuses on civic engagement and voter education. It has become a sort of alternate faction in the county GOP. Members of the Pachyderms include Groeteke, Reuter (and his wife, Renee, who is on the county council), Bickowski, and Terry.

The Engelbachs, on the other hand, are part of the JeffCo Republican Central Committee, a group that is elected during the August primaries whose supposed goal is to elect good Republican leaders. We can take the Engelbach endorsements, more or less, as the official picks of the central committee. But the committee majority seems to be more interested in preserving its own control, as seen in 2012 when they rigged the local caucus after it appeared Ron Paul supporters would win the day, and when they got nailed with an ethics violation in 2013 for laundering money that was used to send out mailers on behalf of the establishment’s preferred committee candidates.

Back to Today

So, as you see, the Engelbachs started a tit-for-tat series of primary challenges against an incumbent councilman. Yet, they were so mad about 2016 that they tried to get revenge in 2018 against the three incumbent Pachyderms who they blame for helping Groeteke win back the council seat.

However, Reuter and Terry defeated their challengers (Laurie Laiben and Christian Taylor). Bickowski, on the other hand, lost to challenger Brian Haskins, so the Engelbachs have that result to celebrate.

The questions that remain are: will the Engelbachs endorse Reuter and Terry in November (probably; endorsing avowed Democrats is probably a bridge too far), and will George challenge Groeteke in 2020 (probably not, he’s getting rather old).

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August Primary Election Vignettes

30 Jul

Here are some notes I would like to put out there before election day on August 7.

How Much Harmony?

The ability of county government to function harmoniously will increase greatly in 2019, when a new county executive takes the helm and Ken Waller’s reign is over. However, if elected county clerk I still think he could cause havoc, since the clerk is in the chain of approval for government payments. He could decide to gum up payments he doesn’t like, for example payments to lawyers trying to defend the county against the politician pay raise lawsuit. Never mind the hurdles he could place in front of candidates he opposes as county election authority. Given his poor record as executive, I see no reason to entrust Waller with another county office.

This paragraph from the Post-Dispatch’s endorsement in the St. Louis county executive race is eerily, wholly applicable to Waller (minus the energy and enthusiasm part):

Rarely before has regional politics witnessed the levels of vitriol and dysfunction that seem to follow St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger wherever he goes. His admirable energy and enthusiasm too often come packaged with an off-putting, confrontational demeanor. The county and region can no longer afford the abrasive style and questionable ethics that Stenger brings to the table.

Prosecutor Candidate’s DeSoto Role

From what I have seen and heard, GOP prosecutor candidate Mark Bishop, who is city attorney for DeSoto, is involved to a high degree in what happens there, more so than one would expect a city attorney to be. City attorney is supposed to be an advisory role, but my discussions indicate that he had a hand the departure of multiple police personnel. This lawsuit by former officer Mike McMunn sheds some light. This involvement probably explains why a number of former DeSoto officers openly support Bishop’s opponent in the primary, Trisha Stefanski. Given that DeSoto has been embroiled in chaos in the past few months, Bishop’s association with the city might give voters pause.

Some have also criticized Bishop for Facebook posts he has made from local courts, sometimes in his role as city prosecutor, making fun of the attire of defendants, some of whom may lack the time or money to dress up nicely for court. His personal Facebook page has recently been made largely private, so you can’t look them up, but here’s a screenshot of one post:

bishop-court

Late Bloomer

Jason Fulbright joined the GOP race for county collector in May (along with Lisa Brewer Short) during the late enrollment period made necessary when the sole GOP candidate dropped out after filing had closed. But he’s been rather slow to kick off his campaign:

  • He updated his “office sought” with the Missouri Ethics Commission in late June.
  • He wrote a Facebook post kicking off his campaign about two weeks ago.
  • His signs have started to pop up around the county only in the past 1-2 weeks, that I have seen.
  • His April-June campaign finance report shows that he raised or spent less than $500. He did spend money in mid-to-late July on signs and mailers.

It may be true that most people don’t start paying attention to elections until the last few weeks, but then again, others have already sent in their absentee ballots. Part of a campaign’s purpose is to show voters that you are a committed candidate, and in the primary, to prove that you are the person best suited to beat the candidate of the other party. In this case, that person is 32-year Democrat incumbent Beth Mahn, who has recently sued the taxpayers and hired an insider to a job in her office in record speed. I think GOP voters want to know that their candidate will go all out to win this particular race in November. Short, his opponent, started campaigning over a year ago.

We will see how Fulbright’s late campaign works out. He does have name recognition in the high-population northern part of the county due to his service on the Arnold city council and previous bid for state representative.

Interesting House Race

The race for the GOP nomination for the House seat in the 97th district is worth watching. Democrat Mike Revis won the seat in a February special election and will defend it in November against the winner of this primary. Two of the candidates, Mary Elizabeth Coleman and Phil Amato, are former Arnold city council members, and the third, David Linton, is the guy who Revis beat in February. Coleman has the most money, as well as endorsements from state senator Paul Wieland, congresswoman Ann Wagner, and…Arnold mayor Ron Counts.

In a uniony district such as this, here is how the candidates have declared on Prop A (the right to work ballot item, where a yes vote is for RTW):

 

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.

Swampy Hire in Hillsboro

30 Jun

You may recall that, as part of Ken Waller’s Shutdown Scare in county government in early June, his consigliere, Tony Dorsett, announced his resignation. This was likely supposed to look like he was taking a moral stand against the evil county council. Dorsett announced his resignation on June 7, effective June 22.

But guess who got hired on to a new county job on June 22? Tony Dorsett. He was hired as an attorney in the county collector’s office, with a salary of $90,000. His old salary was $98,000.

I am told that hiring in the county is normally a several-month process. However, in the case of a Waller crony, the whole process took 8 days from when the job opening was posted, and just happened to conclude with a job offer on the day Dorsett left his other position.

I think it is also noteworthy that the hire took place in the Collector’s office, which is run by Beth Mahn, who is running for her 9th term as collector in November. Mahn is part of the politician pay lawsuit, in which some current and former county elected officials are suing the taxpayers to get higher salaries. She memorably defended the lawsuit in an interview with Fox 2’s Elliott Davis in November.

Waller is a friend of the lawsuit. He dropped out as a plaintiff under public pressure, but led the fight to prevent the county council from defending the taxpayers. So, despite the fact that Waller is a Republican and Mahn is a Democrat, it would not be surprising at all to see one of them hand out a job as a favor to the other.

We must also question the human resources office, which is under the Administration office run by Waller pal David Courtway. The HR office is involved in the hiring process, and no job can be awarded (especially not in 8 days) without their involvement.

The point of this hire is to help a crony, perhaps keep him employed after the election, and to poke the eye of the county council, which is apparently Waller’s main role as county executive. But it gives us some insight into how swampy things are in Hillsboro.

 

Budget “Crisis” Was a Total Nothingburger

11 Jun

County executive Ken Waller, a Republican, went to the microphone Thursday to inform the unquestioning St. Louis media that there was a budget crisis in Jefferson County and that a shutdown was imminent. In fact, there were merely two typos in some account numbers, something that was easily fixed. This is all part of a six-month fight by Waller, who is trying to stop the county council from cutting spending. Instead of accepting political defeat after a veto-proof majority of the council opposed him, Waller decided to freak everybody out with a #fakenews shutdown threat. This is another sign of the abysmal leadership Waller has provided in his 7.5 years as executive.

waller-pc

Back Story

As I wrote in January, the council passed an amended version of the 2018 budget Waller proposed. However, Waller’s ally Tony Dorsett, the county counselor who has announced he is resigning effective June 22, used some tortured analysis of the county charter to say that Waller could just ignore the council’s budget until January 1 and then implement his own budget. However, the council is also required to pass an ordinance to implement the budget. But Dorsett waved his hand and said this was not necessary.

Meanwhile, the council, as is its right, moved to amend Waller’s budget again to make its desired changes, while also passing the implementation ordinance. The main changes the council desired, totaling about $130,000 in reductions, were:

  • Cutting the county’s contribution to the Economic Development Corporation (which doesn’t do much, from what I can tell) in half,
  • Cutting the salary budget of the counselor’s office, and
  • Cutting the salary budget of the county auditor’s office.

Waller argues that the latter two cuts are retribution for those officials’ refusal to approve the payment of the county council’s legal bills in its efforts to fight the politician pay lawsuit, in which several current and former elected officials (including Waller, who has since withdrawn from the suit), sued the taxpayers to get more money for themselves. And that may be true or not, but the council has the right to take steps to stop those in county government who want to play games. The council says the cuts were not punitive and were made to reallocate the money to other purposes (county bus, legal fees, employee pay raise).

Quick Fix

Waller called for an emergency council meeting for June 8, the day after his press conference. He placed an item on the agenda to rescind the ordinance that the council passed over his veto, thus eliminating the council’s budget cuts. At the meeting, the council amended the item to reiterate its previous cuts, making the following corrections (by a 6-1 vote) to two account numbers:

account strings

This hardly seems like a crisis. When county auditor Richard Carter III resigned on Wednesday over this issue, he said “the account strings are all wrong.” That seems to be an epic overreaction, especially since the auditor’s office knew exactly what accounts the council meant, judging from this February memo:

strings memo auditor.jpg

Again, seems like a pretty minor thing. So when Carter told the Leader “oh, we can’t transfer money between accounts because some of the accounts do not exist,” he knew exactly what the council’s intent was.

Word is that Carter already had another job lined up when he resigned, so maybe his departure was not all about taking an ethical stand. His term was to end in January, and he was not running for re-election.

I would also not look at Dorsett’s resignation as some kind of moral move. He has been providing legal cover for Waller for years; why stop now? Waller recently tried to appoint him to the county municipal judge job, but the council refused to go along. Dorsett presumably would have been out the door in January, also, when Waller’s term (mercifully) concludes.

Why Go Nuclear?

The question is, why would Waller get everyone all spun up about a fake shutdown threat? It just makes the county government look bad. He may think it only makes the council look bad, but he has plenty of stink attached to himself. I’m seeing many comments saying “the whole idea of charter government was a mistake.” It seems like he just wants to damage candidates ahead of November’s election, even though this will only help Democrats. I can’t imagine it will help his own run for county clerk.

Unfortunately, bringing in the St. Louis media for his press conference accomplished Waller’s goal of inciting mass hysteria. The big city outlets, who do not follow JeffCo affairs, had no idea of the back story, and took Waller’s scaremongering at face value, spreading the erroneous fears throughout the region and causing unnecessary alarm to county employees who feared they would miss out on pay.

But we have seen this before. Waller sued the council last March after they passed an ordinance that gave them the power to remove people from county boards. A judge eventually threw out Waller’s suit after the county spent big bucks on legal fees. Waller also removed his frequent foe, councilwoman Renee Reuter, from the East-West Gateway board after she resisted his attempts to gut the county’s budget for legal fees to fight Waller-associated lawsuits against the county.

Waller is accustomed to getting his way, and if he doesn’t, he lashes out with no regards for the consequences. And that is why Waller set off a fake news budget crisis over two typos.

JeffCo GOP Responds to Party-Switchers

24 May

As the political tide in Jefferson County has switched from blue to red over the past eight years, local candidates are starting to take notice. Candidates that would have (and in some cases, previously have) filed as Democrats are now assuming the Republican mantle. This includes several sitting judges who were elected as Democrats but are running for re-election in 2018 as members of the GOP.

In one case, the local party organ, the Jefferson County Republican Central Committee (JCRCC) has decided to take a stand. Gary Stout, who ran in the Democrat primary for county executive four years ago (and received only 21% of the vote) is running for the same office on the GOP side this year. So earlier this month the committee decided to send a letter to the county clerk:

The second page of the document is a statement by the part requesting the state party and the legislature to take steps to allow the party to control who runs under its banner.

The second page is necessary because the party really has no leg to stand on in asking for Stout to be removed from the ballot. Under Missouri law, a candidate just has to show up during the filing period, say which office he/she wants to run for and for which party, and pay $50. A candidate does not need to prove that he/she is a loyal or longtime member of the party. Furthermore, voters can vote in whatever primary they want to; Missouri has open primaries.

It is no surprise that the party wants to control who gets to run for office. Going back to the early days of party politics in this country, the party bosses wanted to select who they thought was the correct candidate, based on loyalty, pliability, or other criteria. But in the past 100 years, the pesky voters have taken over the right to choose what candidates win the party nomination, and sometimes they don’t choose the person that the party bosses want them to choose.

The solution here is simple. During the campaign, the party bigwigs can make it widely known that they don’t think Stout is a real Republican. Make your case to the voters, let them decide. Stout probably doesn’t have much of a chance anyway, running against Dennis Gannon, husband of state representative Elaine Gannon. So why go after Stout and not former Democrats like Judge Ed Page or county prosecutor candidate Mark Bishop, both of whom have much greater chances of winning the primary? I’m really not sure what the point of this letter is.

Collector Candidate Saga Raises Suspicions

16 May

Update: Short tells her version of events here.

Lisa Brewer Short announced way back on May 28, 2017 that she intended to run for Jefferson County Collector as a Republican against longtime (8 terms!) incumbent Democrat Beth Mahn in the fall of 2018, according to her Facebook page. When it came time to file as a candidate earlier this year, Short showed up on the first day (Feb. 27). However, she had to withdraw the day after the filing period closed a month later because she states she was blindsided by a requirement for a bonding affidavit that she was not informed about until she filed. But now, a turn of events has allowed her to place her name back on the ballot for the August primary.

A requirement that is unique to candidates for collector and treasurer, officials who handle the county’s money, is that they have to present a signed affidavit from an insurance company saying that they meet the statutory bond requirement for the position, meaning their personal financial and legal history is deemed trustworthy enough that an insurance company will sell them a bond, $750,000 worth in the case of the collector.

Short states that this requirement is not listed on the county clerk’s website, where the requirements to run for office are listed. And this is true, as you can see if you follow the link. The bonding requirement is also not listed as a treasurer requirement. The page does reference the relevant state law, and the bonding requirement is mentioned there, but I don’t see why you wouldn’t list it on the clerk’s page, which gives you the impression it is all-inclusive.

This lack of notice did not give Short enough time to pay off some debt and have that show up on her credit score in order to meet the requirements before the filing deadline, so she withdrew her candidacy, leaving a rather unknown Republican, Julie Zelenda, as the only person left to take on Mahn.

However, Zelenda withdrew from the collector’s race on May 9. This left the GOP ballot devoid of collector candidates. This triggered a state law that says candidate filing must reopen for 5 days in such a situation. Short went to the clerk’s office to re-register as a candidate, having since met the requirements for bonding, but states that she had to spend the whole day making phone calls and being quite persistent to get the clerk’s office to let her register. Here is a news story, posted after filing reopened, indicating that the clerk’s office was not aware of the law about the 5 day filing period. The clerk’s office does mention the bonding requirement in this story (which was posted after Short’s battle).

Beth Mahn is one of the county politicians that is part of the lawsuit demanding that county taxpayers give them extra salary and retirement benefits (see her get confronted by Elliott Davis here). The greedy plaintiffs cite Boone County (where Columbia is) as a county with higher salaries for elected officials that Jefferson County should match. Well, if you go to the Boone County website, they inform potential candidates all about the bonding requirement for collector candidates, and even tell them what company to talk to. So maybe they earn the extra pay there.

Why would the Jefferson County Clerk’s office not be upfront about the bonding requirement? Was it a general failure of their duties, or was it because the current clerk, Randy Holman, and his predecessor, Wes Wagner, wanted to protect Mahn, their fellow Democrat and pay lawsuit plaintiff, by blocking any potential opponents? Short thinks the latter is a distinct possibility.

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