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Wegge Walks Away

18 May

Not surprisingly, Jefferson County Prosecutor Forrest Wegge, a Democrat, has decided not to run for re-election in 2018, according to the Leader. He says the usual stuff about how it’s time to try something new and he’s been thinking about stepping down for a long time. But really, we know what this is about. With the GOP wave sweeping the county, he had little chance of winning again. Add to that his total bungling of the Dianne Critchlow case, which he first punted to the feds after a six-week review, but then only upon getting the case handed back to him did he decide that he should recuse himself due to his friendship with Critchlow. Why on God’s green Earth didn’t he recuse himself the first time around?

Of course, the Leader appeared to accept his explanation for not running again, and did not press him on either of these issues. The Leader has a history of not asking obvious questions about the Critchlow debacle to relevant figures.

Hats in the Ring

Two people have already announced plans to run for the job, both as Republicans.

The first one is Trisha Stefanski, who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination to a county judge position last year. Interestingly, after the primary, she signed on to a newspaper ad (along with Bob Sweeney) which endorsed all of the Democratic candidates for judgeships. She responded to me about this issue here. Stefanski currently works in Wegge’s office. After the Critchlow debacle, though, we may need new blood at the top.

The second announced candidate is Mark Bishop, who ran against Wegge in 2006…as a Democrat. But you see, he’s not switching parties for political expediency, nope, he says the GOP “more closely aligns with my beliefs” now. Bishop is a partner and owner at Wegmann, a well-connected Hillsboro law firm. He formerly worked under St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCullough.

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Doors Thrown Open on Arnold Backroom Deals in Campaign Spat

25 Jan

If corruption in Arnold becomes so bad that the Leader is forced to write about it, you know it’s serious stuff.

Years of good old boy, backscratching, crony politics broke wide open today as the wary detente of Mayor Ron Counts and Councilman Phil Amato exploded publicly. As the filing deadline for April’s mayoral election approached, Counts filed complaints with the state Attorney General and the Missouri Ethics Commission over a deal that Amato supposedly offered him, which would have kept Amato out of the mayor’s race. This is what Amato wanted, according to Counts and as reported in the Leader:

  • Choose a certain person as the next Public Works director, thus eschewing an open, fair, hiring process oriented towards picking the best candidate and instead elevating a probable Amato crony.
  • Choose a certain person as the next Parks and Rec director, thus eschewing an open, fair, hiring process oriented towards picking the best candidate and instead elevating a probable Amato crony.
  • Force Bob Shockey out as police chief.
  • Give Amato an “unspecified benefit.”

Amato does not deny the first two, says that he merely wants to know when Shockey will finally leave, and claims that the benefit is “maybe a dinner.” I fully endorse the third item, and I suspect the fourth is a special deal for a Amato developer pal or something a bit more substantial than a meal at Applebee’s.

I fully suspect that, had Amato and Counts been able to come to an agreement (perhaps by dropping item 3), this deal would have been signed, sealed, and delivered, and Amato would have happily gone back to the council. Instead, here we are.

Smoking Gun Not a Secret

Amato also released what he claimed was a “smoking gun” that would have stayed secret had Counts accepted the deal. Amato said it was the city that ordered Ameren to shut off the electricity to flood-threatened areas of Arnold last December during the historic Meramec River flooding. This decision led to many flooded basements, as homeowners could no longer operate their sump pumps.

Counts denies this, and states that it was a consensus decision. I wrote about this back in February. Here is the statement I got from Ameren on this issue:

ameren-flood-response-feb-16

I think in the end, it had to be the city that made the order, while Ameren was free to advise. The real question, as I wrote in the article linked above, was which homes to shut off. It was clear that Arnold selected way too many homes to cut power to, 530 of them, when in the end only about 150 homes saw major damage. From statements, it appears that Arnold was working off of flood estimates that were two feet too high and not in line with what anybody was actually forecasting in the days before the flood. This would explain why the number of homes which had power shut off was so excessive. It was Counts and Shockey that were spouting the incorrect flood forecasts.

On an interesting flood note, residents complained that their manholes were not pumped out, and this contributed to the backups. The city said, hey, it’s not our sewer system, we sold it to Missouri American Water. The city heavily campaigned for this sale (while Amato voted against it as a city councilman) and tacked on an illegal tax. The city government got a bunch of money, and the residents got sewage-filled basements.

Shockey and Sweeney

Where there is corruption in Arnold, Shockey and city attorney Bob Sweeney cannot be far behind. It was Shockey who arranged to pay his son-in-law to attend police academy, steered city purchases to his personal businesses, interfered in the 2013 mayoral election on behalf of Counts with a frivolous, baseless discrimination lawsuit, and extracted a $70,000 payout from the city via that lawsuit. And here we are again with Shockey weighing in on the mayoral election on behalf of Counts.

Sweeney has interfered in Arnold elections by selectively booting candidates from the ballot based on their ideology, been grossly overpaid for years by running up billable hours, shilled for red light camera company American Traffic Solutions, and given bad legal advice.

Amato states that Counts doesn’t really do much, and that Shockey and Sweeney run the city. It has been true over the years that certain city officials won’t do much without consulting Sweeney, and that Shockey is pulling a lot of strings to advance his own interests. Here are their responses to Amato in the Leader:

sweeney shockey amato.png

Sad to hear that Shockey won’t retire, but if you face no accountability, why not hang around and suck up a paycheck? And I suspect Amato’s “vendetta” is just that he finally got sick of Shockey’s mooching off of the city.

It is clear that Sweeney and Shockey like the status quo in Arnold, and will be fighting to maintain it in this campaign. It will be interesting to monitor the campaign contributions that the two candidates receive.

Who to Back?

On one hand, I think good people in Arnold should back the third candidate for mayor, William Denman, who I know nothing about, only to get rid of Counts and Amato, who is running for mayor instead of for re-election to the council. But, given that Amato seems ready to get rid of Shockey and Sweeney, perhaps we should support him. Achieving those two goals alone would be enough to Make Arnold Great Again.

More importantly, given the sheer number of figurative bodies that are buried in Arnold City Hall, here’s hoping that the campaign stays nasty, and that Amato and Counts reveal some more secrets about Arnold city operations between now and April 4.

JeffCo Year Ahead

1 Jan

Greetings and Happy New Year. Thank you for checking out this blog on occasion. I thought I would list some of the topics that I’m sure will be discussed on these pages in the coming year.

  • We should get an idea this year whether there will be any justice for Dianne Critchlow, or whether she will walk away scot-free after pillaging the Fox school district. The St. Charles County prosecutor is currently reviewing the case.
  • The detente between Arnold mayor Ron Counts and councilman Phil Amato seems to be over, and they may face off in the April mayoral election. Will police chief Bob Shockey interfere again on Counts’ behalf (he sued Counts’ opponents last time around)? Will Amato have his campaign office inside the Arnold Food Pantry (cans for votes?)? Will someone young jump into the race?
  • It should be a very exciting legislative session starting this week. With Jay Nixon out of the way, the GOP supermajorities can pass right to work and other union bills as well as some need legal reforms without having to worry that Senator Gary Romine (GOP, 3rd district, Farmington), who represents southern JeffCo, will fail to support veto override votes. As usual, I will cover our JeffCo delegation in Jeff City as nobody else does.
  • Speaking of which, I’m sure other issues will arise where I will have to fill the vacuum left by the Leader when it refuses to cover them properly or at all. But it’s a service I am happy to provide.

Let me know in the comments if there are other events you are looking forward to this year, and as always, I welcome your news tips.

 

Some Pre-Election Notes

7 Nov

Here are some things I’ve noticed, heading into tomorrow’s election:

-Trisha Stefanski ran as a Republican in the primary for associate circuit judge, division 13, and was unsuccessful. Now she signs on to a supposedly bipartisan Leader ad endorsing all the county Democrat candidates for judge:

judge-ad2

I understand the ideal that we should vote for the person, not the party, in these judge races, but if Stefanski thinks all the Democratic candidates are better, then one wonders why she ran as a Republican?

-I’ve seen a few ads for Democrat house candidate Karen Settlemoir-Berg on Instagram. It is interesting to see local candidates make use (or not) of social media.

-It doesn’t seem proper for sheriff candidates, and the current sheriff, to appear in uniform in their campaign ads:

meiny

This is Democrat candidate Steve Meinberg, with current sheriff Glenn Boyer. I have also seen GOP candidate Dave Marshak in uniform in his ads, but those photos aren’t plastered all over billboards. Meinberg also claims to have the endorsement of most of the sheriff’s office command staff – but do they really support him, or do they fear for their jobs if he wins and they aren’t on board the bandwagon?

Here is Democrat county assessor candidate Todd Melkus in a campaign photo, presumably in his office with his coworkers (he currently works at the assessor’s office). Again, seems rather inappropriate.

melky

-Democrat house candidate Robert Butler continues to talk about the lawsuit he filed against opponent and incumbent Rob Vescovo, even though he lost. I imagine this is not the first frivolous lawsuit Butler, an attorney, has filed.

-The Leader endorsements were an even split, with 7 GOP candidates getting the nod, including all legislature incumbents, and 7 Democrats selected, including 3 of the 4 judge spots.

JeffCo GOP Candidates Support Trump, Dem Candidates Run From Hillary

30 Oct

Update: I am scratching Todd Melkus off this list because, at the end of his spiel, he did state his support for his party’s nominee. My apologies.

This year, it its election guide, the Leader asked the candidates if they support their party’s nominee for president. I think this is a somewhat worthwhile question, unlike some of the other questions they ask (like “should county council seats be nonpartisan?”). The takeaway from this question is that all GOP candidates in the county were happy to state their support for Donald Trump, but that many Democrat candidates would not endorse Hillary Clinton. None of them outright said they would not support her, they merely ducked the question in various ways. Here is a list of county Democratic candidates who would not answer whether or not they support Hillary:

Unclear: Legislature candidate Karen Settlemoir-Berg gave an uncertain answer. One could read it as a Hillary endorsement or a dodge. Read her answer here and judge for yourself.

Rock Ambulance Chief Tries to Push Her Candidates to Victory

27 Oct

In my first post about departed Rock Ambulance chief Margie Sammons, I wrote about how she tried to get rid of a board member who questioned her. Today, I will write about her efforts to support Paul Horn and Charles Groeteke in their failed 2016 race to win seats on the Rock Ambulance board of directors.

Again, I will start with the Leader‘s glossed over mention in passing of Sammons’ incriminating text messages, which were acquired by a reporter via the Sunshine Law:

Other text messages supported former board members Charles Groeteke and Paul Horn, who ran unsuccessfully for election to the board in April.

There were six candidates running for two seats back in April. Groeteke and Frank Kutilek were the incumbents, Horn was a former board member, Christy Gay and Lynne Ruzicka were what I would call the pro-union candidates, and Avery Fortenberry was a guy who unsuccessfully runs for a lot of positions.

There was also a 100% hike in the district’s property tax on the ballot. This proposition failed bigly, garnering only 40% of the vote.

Apparently, Kutilek had lost favor with Sammons, who supported Horn instead, as she indicated in one text message. As before, right click on any image and select “view image” to see a larger version. Sammons’ messages are on the right in black bubbles. These images were turned over by the district in rather poor quality.

txt1-vote

The image at the top is of a ballot, filled out as Sammons suggests beneath it. And she also called for divine assistance:

txt10-vote.jpg

Here, she confirms her dislike of Kutliek, who I am told had begun to question the way things were being run at Rock:

txt11-vote

It seemed like Sammons was more interested in seeing Horn win than even he was. Several times she is seen hectoring him to get out there and campaign. Here she is giving him names to contact for sign locations:

txt5-vote

And again:

txt6-vote

And here she is with more sign advice for Horn, suggesting he work with board chairman Steve Ott:

txt7-vote.jpg

Here, Sammons tells Horn he can “pick up cards.” What kind of cards are these? They could have something to do with the tax hike, or they could be intended to help Horn himself? Why do they need to be kept confidential? And who paid for these cards? The taxpayers?

On a campaign finance note, Horn did not file reports with the county or with the Missouri ethics commission, which means he cannot have spent over $1,000 in total. We know he bought signs, an ad in the Rock fishwrap newspaper, and apparently also an ad in the Leader. I’m not sure how he did all that for under $1,000, though I guess it is perhaps possible.

Here’s an exchange between Sammons and her other preferred candidate, Groeteke, who is now running for county council district 4:

txt9-vote.jpg

So helpful. She is clearly coordinating these efforts from her taxpayer-funded phone and iPad. And some of these exchanges take place during business hours. It seems Sammons is quite likely crossing the line into actively aiding the campaigns of her preferred candidates in an inappropriate manner.

Other messages show her complimenting her candidates’ newspaper ads and obsessing over whether or not the union candidates placed ads. There was a bit of last minute panic, as well, as Sammons worried about the whereabouts of a campaign letter supporting Groeteke and Horn, apparently written by the daughter of recently-resigned board member Don Wieland (and the sister of Senator Paul Wieland). As election day approached, it had not hit voters’ mailboxes:

txt12-vote.jpg

Results

Apparently, the letter did arrive just in time. But in the end, her efforts did not succeed:

txt4-vote.jpg

Here were the results of the election, with the top two vote-getters winning the open board seats:

  • Gay: 2714
  • Ruzicka: 2679
  • Groeteke: 1945
  • Horn: 1637
  • Kutilek: 1258
  • Fortenberry: 1062

Some Good Press

Sammons was able to console herself, though, in May, when former board member Richard Bowers wrote a letter to the Leader to defend her against the questions asked of her after the narcotics license lapse was revealed. She proudly shared this letter with a number of people via text message, reveling in the show of support against the forces that, in her mind, were conspiring against her.

bowers-letter

Here, you can see some of the fruits of the anti-Meyer campaign, along with delusional support of Sammons after she so clearly dropped the ball on the narcotics license. It does not appear from the texts that Sammons was involved in the drafting of this letter, but it clearly reflects her beliefs.

Rock Ambulance Chief Wanted to Oust Board Member

18 Oct

In the Leader‘s coverage of the abrupt “retirement” of Rock Ambulance chief Margie Sammons (which had NOTHING to do with the seizure of her phone and iPad, she claims), the paper glossed over some of the incriminating statements in Sammons’ text messages:

Some of the messages referred to what appeared to be an effort to remove Dan Meyer from the Rock board. He is one of the three remaining members on the board and has been critical of Sammons.

Other text messages supported former board members Charles Groeteke and Paul Horn, who ran unsuccessfully for election to the board in April.

The Leader gave no further information on this, but I will, since it seems rather significant. I have in my hand the Sammons text messages I will save the election stuff for another post and talk today about the move to oust Meyer.

The back story here is that last year it was discovered that, for the 3rd time, Rock Ambulance had let its state narcotics license expire, which is a no-no when you are delivering the type of drugs paramedics do. This happened in early 2015 but was first made public in April 2016. It was discussed at the April 20 Rock board meeting and reported in the April 21 Leader. Board member Dan Meyer was not happy with the coverup and with the failure to take responsibility, and he made this known at the meeting (video here). This seems to have spawned the attempt to get him kicked off the board, along with his general disruption of the rubber-stamp culture on the board (reminiscent of what existed at Fox C-6).

Here are some text messages from former Rock Ambulance board member David Broach to Sammons (Sammons’ messages are on the right in the dark bubbles). This exchange is dated April 28 (right click > view image to see a larger version):

txt4-meyer

April 28 exchange between Sammons and David Broach

The statute in question at the beginning there is this one, RSMo 321.0017. It says:

no employee of any fire protection district or ambulance district shall serve as a member of any fire district or ambulance district board while such person is employed by any fire district or ambulance district

What Sammons and cronies were trying to argue is that, since Meyer is also on the Rock Township Fire board, he is an employee of Rock Fire, and thus can’t also be on the Rock Ambulance board. This is clearly a bastardization of the statute, as evidenced by the fact that Mark Bishop, the attorney for Rock Ambulance who is mentioned in the right column, was apparently not interested in making a move.

Here is an exchange with former board chairman Steve Ott, who resigned as part of the early October mass exodus in which three Rock board members resigned after the chief departed. State Senator Paul Wieland, (R-22nd district), is mentioned here and a few other times in the text messages. His father, Don, was another board member who resigned (the third member to resign was Anita Clark). Here’s Ott on April 26:

txt8-meyer

April 26 exchange between Sammons and Steve Ott

It’s a bit hard to read, and partially cut off, but Ott is reporting that the law does not prevent Meyer from being on both boards. Sammons asks if a law can be quickly passed to make it illegal. So as you see, Sammons wanted to go all the way to Jefferson City to get rid of Meyer. According to a search of the Missouri Legislature web site, no bills to this effect were introduced in the 2016 session.

In the most colorful exchange on the topic, Sammons talked to David Tetrault, CEO of the St. Francois County Ambulance District and a board member of the Region 4 board of the American Ambulance Association (AAA). I presume that Sammons knows him from her time as the 2015 president of the Missouri Ambulance Association (MAA). As you will see, Tetrault got quite worked up, though I’m not sure why this is so important to him (warning: language inappropriate for children):

txt2-meyer.jpg

April 28 exchange between Sammons and David Tetrault, part 1

I highlighted the juicy parts. The YouTube video referenced on the left is the one I linked to above of the April 20 board meeting. Some of the discussion above is about the narcotics license lapse (the stuff about BNDD – the state Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs). You can also see where Sammons wants to get the MAA attorney to push the Meyer issue. Tetrault correctly realizes that whoever files a complaint against Meyer will have their name released, and apparently none of them wanted to take responsibility for the hit job. Here is part 2:

txt3-meyer.jpg

April 28 exchange between Sammons and Tetrault, part 2

Note: some of the messages repeat between columns. It looks like Tetrault was not only working legislators, but also working the Leader to try to get Meyer removed. And in the middle there, it looks like he is employing AAA resources towards this matter. I can’t imagine that AAA bylaws allow this or its leadership supports this.

The Jason White guy mentioned above is apparently the president of the Missouri EMS Agent Corporation (MoEMSAC), which is involved in Medicaid reimbursement for ambulance providers.

As we see here, Chief Sammons was willing to abuse her power, enlist her cronies, and use her taxpayer-provided phone to eliminate a critic because she didn’t like being called out about the narcotics license lapse and didn’t like her iron grip on the district to be threatened. In a future post, I will talk about Sammons’ attempts to help her pals win the 2016 Ambulance board elections.

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