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November 2018 Election Notes

7 Nov

It was another big red GOP win in JeffCo, arguably even bigger than those of the previous eight years, despite the lopsided rejection of Right to Work by county voters in August that Democrat candidates thought would help carry them to some victories. Here are some notes:

-As STL Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum put it, “For the first time probably in Missouri history, Republicans now hold every single state legislative seat in Jefferson County.” This is thanks to Mary Elizabeth Coleman ending Mike Revis’ short tenure as the state rep for district 97 (he won the seat in February) and Mike McGirl breaking the Democrat (and JeffCo resident) stranglehold on the 118th district seat. A minority of the district resides in Washington County, as does McGirl, but JeffCo voters went for party over county in choosing him over DeSoto resident Barbara Marco. Also interesting – Marco’s treasurer was DeSoto city councilman Clay Henry.

-In countywide races, victorious GOP candidates averaged 58% of the vote. New county clerk Ken Waller, however, only squeaked by with a mere 51.5%. This suggests that a fair number of Republicans did not vote for him (approximately 7,000, it looks like), but not enough to help opponent and incumbent Randy Holman overcome the red wave.

-Her 32-year incumbency, Democrat affiliation, and pay increase lawsuit against the taxpayers were not enough to keep collector Beth Mahn from winning a 9th term with 52.7% of the vote, the only Democrat in the county to win yesterday.

-One race where money did not seem to matter was the county executive race, where Democrat Jeff Roorda outspent victorious Republican Dennis Gannon by about $46,000 to $21,000 (as of eight days before the election). Yet Gannon won the race by about the same margin as other countywide GOP candidates. I thought Roorda would have been more competitive. But I said the same thing in 2014 when he lost a Senate race to Paul Wieland.

-In another such race, Waller edged Holman while underperforming other Republicans even though he outspent his opponent by $128,000 (!) to $5,000 (again as of eight days out). That was almost a Beto O’Rourke-level of investment return for those who gave to Waller. Holman had about $10,000 in the bank as of that last report; perhaps he should have spent a little more of it.

-In addition to the county legislative delegation being entirely GOP, the county council is now entirely GOP, with lone Dem Dan Darian losing his race. With Waller’s divisive presence out of the way, it will be interesting to see what Gannon and the new council can do. Hopefully they will deliver on measures to improve economic growth and the business climate in our county.

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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.

 

 

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).

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.

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