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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the politician pay lawsuit, in which several current and former elected officials (including Waller, who has since withdrawn from the suit), sued the taxpayers to get more money for themselves.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, legal fees).

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.

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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.

April 2018 Election Recap

8 Apr

Let’s look at some of the headlines from the local elections held a few days ago.

Taxes: Six of nine tax measures succeeded in all.

The property tax for the county sheriff passed in a big way, with 64% of the vote. A sales tax hike for police passed in Hillsboro with 71% of the vote.

Byrnes Mill went 1 for 2 on tax hikes after going 0 for 3 last year (with two close losses). This time, a road maintenance tax won by 31 votes and a transportation tax failed by six votes. Will the city try the failed tax proposal again in a future election?

Antonia Fire’s 35-cent property tax proposal failed by 56-44%, after a 50-cent tax lost by the same margin in November. This time 2,100 people voted, versus 1,489 last time. Will the district try again in a future election? Maybe 25 cents next time?

A tax for a Hillsboro library failed for the third time in recent years, with 64% voting against a property tax proposal. Will they try again in a future election?

Despite all the turmoil in city government with firings, resignations, and lawsuits, DeSoto’s Prop P park and stormwater tax passed with 67% of the vote.

DeSoto: Some shake-up took place, as one city council member who was serving as mayor, Larry Sanders, was knocked off, and one school board member (recently fired as city manager) who was previously appointed to the board to fill a vacancy, David Dews, failed to win a full term.

Pevely: Big turnover, as three incumbents, all part of the faction that wanted to fire acting police chief Tony Moutray, were defeated. One, Rick Arnold, also facing an n-word controversy, lost to a write-in candidate.

Arnold: Two incumbent councilmen won close races. In ward 4, Gary Plunk beat Randy Hoselton by three votes. In Ward 3, Vern Sullivan beat Rod Mullins by 12 votes. Sullivan was assisted by a third candidate, William Denman, who received 62 votes, which would have been more than enough to put Mullins over the top. Denman also played spoiler in the mayor race last year, when incumbent Ron Counts beat councilman Phil Amato by 176 votes while Denman got 276 votes. It’s almost like Denman entered these races for that specific purpose…

Denman’s name has popped up in Arnold before in association with a shady political group called Citizens For a Better Arnold (CFABA) that used outside money to push candidates who supported red light cameras. Early on, CFABA supported Amato, but later on Counts moved over to the dark side, and Amato recently broke with the Counts regime (and with the Democratic party, he claims). It is all rather shadowy.

Also in Arnold, he who I like to call the Critchlow candidate, Jim Chellew, was predictably voted onto the Fox school board.

Antonia Fire Wants Big Tax Hike but Fails on Transparency

31 Mar

The Antonia Fire District asked for a 50-cent per $100 assessed valuation tax increase in November, which was rejected by a 56-44% vote. Now they are back, asking for a lesser, 35-cent increase on the April 3 ballot. However, while the district is eager to ask for more of your money, its leadership is not eager to share what it does with it.

Here is the page on the Antonia Fire website devoted to board meeting agendas:

antonia web agenda page

Yup, empty. Here is the board meeting minutes page:

antonia web minutes page

Just one entry, from two-and-a-half years ago, presumably chosen to make them look good.

Furthermore, there is no budget page on the site. I know from a Leader article on the tax hike that the district’s current budget is $2.65 million, but that’s all the information I have. I did find that if you use a little Google-fu you can find some old meeting minutes from 2013-14:

antonia google

So these minutes are still uploaded to the site, but no longer featured on the minutes page. Why take them off, and why stop uploading new ones?

Rock Ambulance has some of this information on its site, for comparison.

No Sunshine on the Budget

The district does no better in responding to Sunshine Act requests for copies of the budget. If you request a few years’ worth of budgets, you won’t get them unless you pay money (about $25). That’s not a huge amount, but this information should be on the website, free for all to see. Furthermore, the district might slow-roll your request until after the election. It should literally take the district 20 seconds to attach some files from a folder onto an email and hit send to fulfill such a request.

I feel that, if this district wants more money, its leaders should be transparent about what they are doing and how they are spending. If they aren’t, we should vote no.

As an aside, I would also compare this 35-cent tax request to the Sheriff’s Department 35-cent tax request that will also be on the ballot. Which is needed more?

Long List of April Tax Measures

17 Mar

Local elections will take place on April 3, and the 15% or so of voters who bother to show will be faced with many tax hike proposals, just like we were a year ago. Here is a full list from the county website:

  • Sheriff’s Office: 35-cent property tax increase for pay increases for deputies, as well as training and equipping. This is motivated by the fact that a number of deputies have left for higher pay elsewhere. I know may people who oppose all tax increases who see the need for this tax and support it.
  • Hillsboro library: 28-cent property tax increase to fund a new Hillsboro branch of the Jefferson County Library. Efforts to establish this branch failed in 2012 and 2014.
  • Hillsboro: 1/2 cent sales tax for police.
  • Arnold: increase in business license fees in order to triple its revenue from this source to pay for police and improve streets and parks. This is after trying and failing to increase sales taxes in 2015. This seems to be part of a general strategy to increase the burdens on Arnold businesses.
  • Northwest R-1: a bond issue for various facility improvements. While taxes will not go up under this measure, it would prevent a tax from expiring in about 2034.
  • Byrnes Mill: two 1/2-cent sales taxes, one for capital improvements and one for transportation. This is down from the three taxes the city tried and failed to pass a year ago. One sales tax lost on a tie then, and another lost by three votes. Again the city blames SB5, which stopped the city’s policing for profit ticket-writing strategy, for the need for new revenue.
  • DeSoto: 1/2-cent sales tax for storm water control and parks.
  • Antonia Fire: 35-cent property tax for staffing, training, and equipment. This is less than the 50-cent tax the district tried and failed to pass in November, which lost 56-44%.

I went ahead and created a chart of April tax measures voted on and passed in each of the past 5 years, for comparison. This does not include the Prop V vehicle tax votes that each local entity held over the past couple of elections.

tax vote chart

Fox Board Candidate Chellew’s Critchlow Connections Persist

4 Mar

Former Fox superintendent Jim Chellew is the latest in a line of Friends of Dianne Critchlow to run for Fox School Board since she resigned in disgrace in 2014 after news of her massive theft from the district emerged. He is running in the April 3 election. Chellew, in fact, is the one who got Critchlow the superintendent job. As the Leader put it:

When Chellew decided to retire in 2005, he championed Dianne Brown (Critchlow) as his successor. She was hired at $135,217, a salary that nearly doubled in nine years.

Chellew said at the time:

“She will be the finest superintendent the Fox district has ever had, and I sincerely mean that,” he said. “She is one of the brightest individuals I’ve ever worked with and the most talented. I believe the best for Fox is yet to come.”

Not only that, but she was the only applicant for the job, which was only advertised in the district. It’s like everyone else knew the fix was in and didn’t even bother to apply.

Some might say, well, he didn’t know she would go on to defraud the district. But I find it unlikely that Critchlow was a woman of morality, ethics, and virtue right up until the moment she decided to hatch a wide-ranging conspiracy to rob the district blind.

Furthermore, Chellew’s support for Critchlow did not end when she assumed the superintendent job. In 2011 he attempted to persuade district critic Rich Simpson, he who caused the Fox scandal to be uncovered, to stop speaking out against the district. When that failed, Chellew apparently blabbed to Critchlow. We know this because Chellew was cited in the cease and desist letter that Critchlow got the district’s law firm to send to Simpson (and three other district critics) threatening them with lawsuits if they continued to use their free speech rights to criticize school district administrators. From the letter sent to Simpson:

“As an additional example, you approached a former Superintendent of the District in a public setting. Among other things, you informed him that it was your intention to see that two of the District’s administrators were fired.”

Simpson recounted that conversation here. In the post, he states that Chellew also said “he was the one that put Dianne in her position as superintendent and that he would fight to make sure that she didn’t get fired.”

Would Critchlow still be superintendent today if Simpson had listened to Chellew?

This activity seems to belie the politician non-answer Chellew gave on Facebook when questioned by Simpson and myself about his Critchlow connections and whether he would attempt to recover any of her illicit gains:

chellew-fb

Still Supporters

It is also interesting to see who is pledging their support for Chellew’s campaign:

brengle-jc

Brengle, a retired Fox assistant principal, was one of the people caught leaving nasty anonymous comments on the Topix web page targeting Simpson and other Fox critics.

didi-fb

And there’s the big kahuna herself, Dianne (Critchlow) Salsman, expressing her public support for Chellew.

Why It Matters

Some might say about this issue, “who cares, time to move on.” But the thing is, Critchlow’s attorney has threatened to sue the school district, claiming she is the victim. This is from January 2017:

“It is time for the public’s and the media’s outrage to focus on the true wrongdoers – the people who lied to and deceived them, humiliated and embarrassed Fox C-6 School District, and defamed an innocent, life-long public servant,” Barth said in the statement. “We intend to hold all of the responsible parties accountable in a court of law.”

I realize that statement will cause a lot of you to laugh and/or puke. This is, however, a serious threat. These days, lawsuits against local government entities are not heard in the courtroom, they are settled in the boardroom. Look at the many lawsuits the city of Arnold has been party to, or look at how the Pevely mayor scored herself a big settlement from the city. In these examples, cushy relationships between elected and appointed officials allowed for paydays that would have been unlikely had a judge been involved

So what happens if a bunch of Critchlow pals make it to the school board? Will they give her a big settlement? That is why this issue is so important.

Answers Needed

People generally seem to think Chellew did a good job as Fox superintendent. Here is what the Leader said:

He did a great job mending fences, got tax issues passed to pay for major facility upgrades and generally restored sanity and confidence.

Winning a tax hike being, I guess, the modern measure of superintendent success (will he support another Fox tax hike?). That and not stealing. But even with that being the case, the Critchlow issue is a cloud over him.

Chellew so far refuses to comment on his Critchlow ties. At the very least, he needs to tell us if he thinks she did anything wrong, or if instead he agrees with Dianne’s lawyer that she is a totally innocent victim. He also needs to denounce any support for his campaign from her or her cronies. Finally, he really should admit he made a large mistake in making her superintendent. Then he can put the Critchlow issue behind him.

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