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County Purchasing Evidence Building; Could be Used by City PDs

16 Apr

On April 8 the Jefferson County Council approved the purchase of a building in Pevely to be used by the Sheriff’s Office for evidence storage. The Sheriff is running out of space for evidence storage, and new laws and litigation require police to keep evidence for longer time periods than before, while being sure to maintain the integrity of the evidence for use at trial. So the need for space to store evidence will only increase.

The building the county is buying is on Mason Circle Drive, off of Highway 61/67 just north of Highway Z. The purchase price was $780,000, and it is about 10,000 square feet on 3 acres.

new evidence bldg

Municipal Option

The Sheriff is considering the option of allowing municipal police departments in the county to use Sheriff services for evidence storage. Handling of evidence has been a major area of concern among local police agencies. The Sheriff investigated the police in Hillsboro and DeSoto within the past year after problems arose in both cities, and found problems such as unsecured, unlabeled, and missing evidence, lack of training, and water leaks and mold in evidence rooms.

When new police chief Frank Selvaggio took over in Byrnes Mill after poor practices were revealed there, he found drugs and weapons that were not packaged and labeled correctly, as well as a rape kit without a case number to identify it. He also discovered a lack of proper officer training in evidence procedures.

And this is just the police departments that have been investigated or released information on their own. Who knows what evidence situation we would find in other JeffCo police departments?

The Proposal

The Sheriff would charge a monthly fee to participating police departments, and require them to follow JeffCo policies and procedures. Selvaggio mentioned at the March 6 Byrnes Mill Board of Aldermen meeting that the proposal would cost that city an estimated $220 per month. The board indicated that it would be interested in participating.

Sheriff Dave Marshak indicates that the Sheriff’s Office would not pursue this plan unless it is cost-effective for his office and there is room for the additional evidence (the new property does have room for expansion). This idea is still in the phase of assessing the potential interest from the cities and the ability for the Sheriff’s Office to offer the service on top of its own responsibilities, and will move to the next phase later this year when the Sheriff takes possession of the new evidence building and completes necessary modifications.

If adopted, a shared evidence facility would be another great step forward in improving municipal policing in our county, along with the changes that have been forced in DeSoto, Byrnes Mill, and Hillsboro. This would contribute greatly to the ability of crime victims in the county to achieve justice by improving the ability to successfully prosecute criminals.

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Better Together JeffCo Proposal

17 Mar

The STL region is all atwitter about the Better Together proposal, which suggests a merger of the city of St. Louis and unincorporated St. Louis County, as well as consolidating some of the functions of the municipalities of the county. The plan is to vote on this statewide in 2020 in order to make changes to the state constitution to enable the new governing structure. Overall, I am in favor of this proposal because there is indeed too much duplication of functions in the area, along with uneven quality of service, and significant savings could be found by streamlining – if they actually go through with getting rid of unnecessary employees and offices. This would also reduce the instances of cities competing with each other with tax breaks to get Walmarts and other businesses to come to their specific areas.

The duplication is most visible is the existence of so many small, corrupt and/or incompetent municipal police departments within STL County. In addition, the city of St. Louis is a basket case and governance there can only be improved through this proposal.

How About Here?

Along the same lines, I would like to lay out a proposal for Better Together JeffCo. I believe there are a number of functions in this county that could be merged to save money and stem the constant tax increases that we have been seeing. A lot of people crow about “local control,” but in small jurisdictions that too often leads to a lack of candidates for election to boards, which leads to uncontested elections, which leads to unaccountable politicians, which often leads to abuses, bad decisions, unethical actions, and even criminal wrongdoing.

The wave of revelations of incompetence and wrongdoing in local police departments in DeSoto, Hillsboro, Byrnes Mill, and Pevely provide further evidence that my proposal is needed. Despite all of the shocking deficiencies that have been uncovered, each city has refused to shut down its police department. This doesn’t just affect finances, it affects the administration of justice, as innocent people get assaulted by unqualified police officers, incompetent chiefs chase away good cops, and guilty people go free due to shoddy evidence storage. As you can imagine, police issues are a big part of my proposal, which is as follows:

Elements of the Plan

-Merge all 911 dispatch into one entity. The majority of the county is on the same system, but Crystal City, Pevely, Festus, and DeSoto do their own police dispatching and Festus does its own fire dispatch. According to the state tax table, CC and DeSoto pay the 1/2-cent 911 sales tax, even though they have their own dispatchers. Festus and Pevely residents would start paying the tax, but the cities would save money by cutting their own dispatch services.

-Merge Pevely and Herculaneum. While Pevely is a constant source of drama and dischord, Herculaneum is a relative bastion of calm. I hardly ever write about events there, because there is not much to report. At the same time, Herculaneum looked into turning its policing over to the county sheriff last year due to its desperate financial situation (but foolishly declined). Herky is using Pevely’s jail and was using Pevely for dispatch before switching to the county 911 system. It is hard to see how Herky, with the loss of Doe Run, can afford to sustain its police. By merging the cities, they can pool resources, and the additional population will dilute the Pevely craziness, so you may end up with one functional, solvent city with reduced drama. These two cities already share a school district.

-Merge Festus and Crystal City. Come on now, we know that this split is ridiculous. I mean, the Walmart is shared by the two cities, and half the time you don’t know which of the two cities you are in. This would prevent things like Crystal City having its own separate water system instead of joining in with Festus and Herculaneum. In 2013 there was a discussion of merging the two cities fire departments into a fire district, but it went nowhere. This proposal could also include merging the school districts.

-Merge fire and ambulance districts. There are currently 7 ambulance and 18 fire districts (including municipal ones) in the county.

Maps from Jefferson County Data Book

Most of the time, from what I have seen, when there is an ambulance somewhere, you will also see a fire truck. Or you will see trucks from multiple districts at the same incident. In addition, there are places like Highway M where you have a Rock ambulance district building within a mile of one Antonia firehouse and within two miles of another one. If these entities would share facilities, we would not need to build so many of them. This would also allow for fewer administrators and officers. We are seeing requests for fire and ambulance tax increases nearly every election. Mergers would save money and reduce the need for tax hikes. The boundaries don’t line up perfectly, but I think you could have each ambulance district absorb the fire districts within it.

-Get rid of municipal police departments except for Arnold, Festus/CC, and Pevely/Herky (assuming the latter two pairs are merged as per above). The other cities would turn their policing over to the county sheriff. The small departments in the county have shown us that they don’t have the ethics, standards, training, or finances to survive on their own. Turning their duties over to the county will bring about economies of scale, eliminating unnecessary chiefs, streamlining training, fleet management, equipment, and distribution of officers around the county. The other cities would pay the sheriff’s office for service, but would likely pay less than what it would take to get their departments up to snuff.

Here is a paragraph on policing from the Better Together executive summary (page 7) that provides an idea of the costs of duplicative services:

POLICING – Today, there are 55 separate police departments covering St. Louis City and County. $468 million was spent on policing the area in 2015, or $355.20 per capita. Costs in cities such as Indianapolis, IN ($242.02 per capita) and Louisville, KY ($257.06 per capita) depict substantial savings in areas with one unified police department. Beyond the cost is the inconsistent quality of service. 75% of the departments in our region lack accreditation.

-Dissolve Byrnes Mill. This idea needs to happen on its own merits, since the city is a mess with a long line of problems with its police department. It is also questionable whether the city has sufficient revenue to stay solvent now that its ability to fund itself with traffic tickets has been curbed.

-Merge the libraries. In addition to the JeffCo library with its three branches (Arnold, Windsor, Northwest), there are libraries in Festus, DeSoto, Herculaneum, and Crystal City. The Herky library is open for very limited hours. The Festus and CC libraries are only two miles apart. DeSoto is looking to almost double the property tax for its library at the April 2 election. Hillsboro has been

Let’s bring all of these libraries under the county library system. That way they could share books, materials, and resources. We could close the Crystal City or Festus location and make the other ones branch libraries, all open to anyone in the county. Residents of Hillsboro have been trying on-and-off for almost 20 years to get their own branch. With this proposal, they would at least have access to libraries in nearby cities. This proposal would require getting rid of the library taxes in the cities that have them, but then extending the county library property tax to the entire county. A branch would probably be needed somewhere between Hillsboro and Cedar Hill to make it fair to residents in that part of the county.

Let me know what you think of this proposal, or if there are other functions that should be included in the merger.

Hillsboro is Latest County Police Department in Disarray

17 Jan

You may recall that back in July 2018 the county sheriff revealed in a report that the DeSoto police department was wholly incompetent, with insufficient training, leadership, policies, and equipment. Well, we have just learned that Hillsboro is in the same predicament.

The sheriff was called on to investigate the Hillsboro PD last week for the initial purpose of looking into theft. It turns out that there was allegedly some falsifying of time sheets leading to unearned pay. Hillsboro police chief Steve Hutt resigned and another officer was fired, but this was only the tip of the iceberg.

The sheriff’s department found a variety of shocking failures in Hillsboro. The report can be read here. The findings include:

  • One officer was not trained on his weapon, and failed qualification for it, but was still allowed to work.
  • Officers were given two weeks of on the job training before being allowed to work solo, versus the standard of 12 weeks in most departments.
  • Hillsboro lacked policies for basic police functions.
  • Officers lacked any documented training on equipment or policies.
  • Pornography was found in at headquarters and in police cars.

Handling of evidence was another huge problem. Evidence was sitting around, unsecured and unlabeled, including sex crimes evidence, and thus unable to be used in prosecution. Other evidence, including heroin, was missing. There was mold in the evidence fridge. Additionally, felony and crash reports were not completed, again making prosecution and insurance claims impossible.

Because of all this, on Friday the 11th, when the biggest snowstorm in five years was bearing down on our region, the JeffCo Sheriff had to take time to train Hillsboro officers on policies (use of force, discharge of weapons, pursuits) and weapons, and do firearm qualifications testing, while repairing and maintaining Hillsboro’s decrepit firearms.

In addition, Hillsboro was doing the bare minimum of background checks on police officers before hiring them. It sounds like they basically just checked CaseNet for convictions. They had no idea what past violations or personal issues these applicants had.

So, Hillsboro residents, think of all this before you panic about losing your police department, or lament for the officers who could lose their jobs. Your city is in a dangerous place. Officers or residents could be hurt or killed, crimes could fail to be solved and prosecuted, and your city could be hit with massive lawsuits if an untrained officer with no policy guidance shoots and kills a suspect or innocent bystander.

The JeffCo Sheriff’s Department will lead the Hillsboro PD for the immediate future. Hillsboro will have to decide whether to attempt to fix all these problems, or to turn policing over to the county. I tried to argue here that DeSoto should have taken the latter option, but no, residents there clung hard to the ideal of a local police force. Hopefully Hillsboro leaders will resist this uninformed impulse and let the better resourced, better trained, more capable county sheriff take over, and disband the Hillsboro PD. As Sheriff Dave Marshak said, “everyone in our county deserves a competent professional police force.”

 

Police Purge at Byrnes Mill

9 Jan

In addition to the child molester in its ranks, Ryan Shomaker, the Byrnes Mill police department has parted ways with a number of other officers through firing and resignation in recent months in the wake of the big no-confidence incident that began in August 2018.

Back then, eight city police officers submitted a letter of no confidence, alleging certain offenses by Lt. Roger Ide. The Arnold PD was chosen to investigate, and its report synopsis is here.

In the aftermath, Police Chief Gary Dougherty was shunted over to the newly-created, cushy Director of Community Relations position. Ide was fired, but so was Kevin Schroeder, the guy who wrote the no-confidence letter. What kind of message does that send? Fire the guy causing a bunch of problems, but then simultaneously fire the guy who blew the whistle, who organized the letter after city officials ignored his privately-expressed concerns.

Here is the list of other signees of the letter. Those that are no longer with the BMPD, according to the city, are struck through. I do not know if these individuals (other than the first one) were fired, resigned, or forced to resign:

Cpl. James Iken – resigned

Jamie Mayberry

Mike Stivers

Justin Robinson

Chris Hancock (updated)

Jason Holt

Bradley Tritch

As you see, only half of those who spoke out have retained their jobs.

How Now?

I find it interesting that new BM police chief Frank Selvaggio is the one who turned the Shomaker case over to the JeffCo Sheriff. Selvaggio just took over as chief in late October. Shomaker had been abusing the kid, while serving as a reserve police officer, for over four years. How did the fact of this abuse escape all of the previous BM chiefs, but was immediately found out by Selvaggio? Were the other chiefs just that blind? Seriously, Shomaker “separated” from the BMPD only six days after Selvaggio arrived.

Update: A Leader article states that the BMPD came into contact with Shomaker’s victim on October 30 for an unrelated manner, at which time he reported the abuse.

 

Potential Byrnes Mill Solutions

26 Oct

I would like to propose three possible solutions for the residents of Byrnes Mill to pursue if they are interested in ending the constant parade of scandals and mismanagement in their city. That seems to be a rather large if, considering how long this has been allowed to go on, but I will offer these options anyway.

Run for Office

Year after year we see Byrnes Mill aldermen run for re-election unopposed. People can’t vote the bums out if there are no other options. Here is what happened in recent election years, as best as I am able to determine:

  • 2018: Three incumbents ran unopposed.
  • 2017: Three incumbents ran unopposed. The then-mayor, Susan Gibson, actually had an opponent, who she only beat by 17 votes.
  • 2016: Three incumbents ran unopposed (two incumbents).
  • 2015: Three candidates ran unopposed. There was competition in the mayor’s race, and Gibson won big.
  • 2014: Three incumbents ran unopposed (two incumbents). Jim McBroom originally had an opponent, but for some reason he was not on the April ballot.

You get the picture. The regime also apparently prefers to fill vacancies by appointment after officials leave in the middle of their term, instead allowing voters to select new blood. Three current aldermen and the mayor got their jobs in such a manner.

Byrnes Mill board members need election opponents. There will actually be four board members and the mayor up for re-election this coming April. Knock them out. The candidate filing period will be in December and January. But if you decide to file, make sure you have your ducks in order, because the city will investigate every possible reason to kick you off the ballot.

Get a State Audit

While it is true that the city recently started doing an annual financial audit after years of not doing them, what Byrnes Mill really needs is a state audit, as was done on the Fox school district and is now being done on the DeSoto school district. Instead of just looking at balance sheets, the state auditor looks at “financial accountability, waste, opportunities for fraud, and whether government organizations and programs are achieving their purposes and operating economically and efficiently.” Does this sound like something Byrnes Mill needs? The Fox audit uncovered the depths of disgraced former superintendent Dianne Critchlow’s theft from the district. An audit of Byrnes Mill would perhaps bring to light things that the city prefers to keep hidden.

As part of the audit process, the auditor’s office will meet with local residents and ask for their input about what areas to look into. Before the DeSoto audit started, such a meeting was held, and it was closed with only a certain group of residents present, so that nosy school officials could not check out who was airing the district’s dirty laundry.

Through the petition process, BM residents can force an audit without the city’s consent. The process is as follows:

  • Submit an audit request form, which lays out the public’s concerns. While the concerns are confidential, the name of the person who sent for the form is public record, so beware of retaliation.
  • The auditor’s office will use that form to come up with a cost estimate for the audit (the city has to pay for it). The auditor will then provide signature forms.
  • For Byrnes Mill, only 274 signatures from city residents who are registered voters would need to be collected to force an audit, according to my calculations (15% of 1,823, the number of people from Byrnes Mill who voted in the 2016 race for governor). That seems to me to be eminently doable.
  • The person that submits the signatures to the auditor must also be a resident. The name of this person and all of those who sign is a public record.
  • The county clerk will verify that people who signed the petition are eligible. At this point, the city goes on the list of entities to be audited.

This would require a small group of committed individuals to organize the process and go out and collect the signatures. Be sure you collect more than enough signatures, in case some get thrown out. Again, make sure you follow the rules to the letter to make sure the process gets completed successfully.

Disincorporate the City

The nuclear option would be the disincorporation of the city. It would then become an unincorporated part of the county. To make this happen, residents would have to collect approximately 708 signatures (25% of the city’s 2,832 registered voters). When the signatures are certified, the county places a disincorporation question on the ballot, and a majority vote in the city would be needed to pass it. (Recent example here).

This is a legitimate option because the city seems to have trouble collecting enough revenue. For years the city used traffic tickets to bolster its bottom line, but SB5 a few years ago put a 20% cap on the amount of city revenue that could come from that source (over the city’s vociferous objections). Periodically, the city talks about trying to annex land, like the High Ridge Walmart, in order to seize the sales tax revenue. Lately, the city has turned to tax hikes. Three measures (two sales tax, one property tax) were shot down in 2017, in a welcome sign of life from BM voters. They tried again with the sales taxes in 2018, and one of the two passed.

So, BM residents, you have a few options if you want to clean up your city. I hope you will seriously consider them.

Former DeSoto Mayor Under Investigation for Assault

20 Sep

Update: I am informed that the case has been handed off to the St. Charles County prosecutor (as was the Critchlow case).

As I reported on Facebook and Twitter the other day, Rich McCane, the mayor of DeSoto who resigned on August 30 with a bizarre statement, is under investigation for assault of a city employee, according to a police report and several sources. I am choosing not to name the employee at this time. The case is being considered for prosecution.

According to the police report from the JeffCo sheriff’s office, the incident took place on the afternoon of August 23 on a parking lot on Vineland School Road in DeSoto. This is where the DeSoto school district central office and Vineland Elementary School are located.

Seven days later, McCane resigned. Here is the rather cryptic statement he issued:

“I have supported an environment of transparency and accountability because I believe that with that foundation, our newly hired leaders will have the best chance for success,” he said, also referring to the city’s recent hiring of Police Chief Jeff McCreary. “Unfortunately, that transparency and accountability has led to outside investigations which have upset some involved with government.

“During my tenure I have received mailings, threats and false allegations directed at me and my family, intended to intimidate me and undermine my reputation. Those things in combination with my workload have been a burden.”

In hindsight, perhaps we now know what the “outside investigation” is, as well as what he calls the “false allegations.” (As an aside, I would say that transparency is sorely lacking in the city, and that accountability is rather limited.)

A note of explanation: in DeSoto’s city manager style of government, the mayor is chosen by the city council from among its members. In such a system, the mayor has little power while the city manager has a great deal of authority to run the city. Conversely, the rest of the county’s cities have an elected mayor with more power and a city administrator with less power.

Family Ties

As always in JeffCo, there is a relevant family connection. McCane’s wife works for the county prosecutor’s office. Therefore, one would think that they would pass this case on to another county’s prosecutor. But we’ll see.

Many Departures

Here is a list of employees who have left DeSoto recently, either by firing or resignation:

  • City manager David Dews, fired
  • Police chief Rick Draper, who resigned, came back later as a detective, then left again
  • Police chief Joe Edwards, resigned after serving for about four months
  • Mayor Rich McCane
  • About six other police officers

 

Weird Cemetery Suit in Herky

23 Jul

I would like to highlight a bizarre lawsuit involving Herculaneum Cemetery, which is around the corner from Kade’s Playground there. The suit was filed way back in January of 2017, but I don’t think anyone has written about it. It is still ongoing in the courts and also involves the city and the police.

IMG_20180520_163832557

Part of the lawsuit alleges excessive use of force by police. Another part of it alleges mismanagement of the cemetery.

Excessive Force

The plaintiff, Christina Pryor, has family members buried in the cemetery, and had complained to the city and others several times about the upkeep and finances of the cemetery. A dispute then arose over whether or not a decorative lantern could be placed on a grave. It was a question of alleged arbitrary enforcement of cemetery rules. The situation escalated to the point that police were called. The suit alleges that Herculaneum police chief Mark Tulgetske arrived in an aggressive manner, chest bumped and yelled at the plaintiff, and told her to leave. She says she responded “I am, dumbass” at which time the chief allegedly yanked her out of her car, twisted her around by the arm, and handcuffed and arrested her with another officer’s assistance, causing great pain and injuries that required surgery.

Pryor was charged with peace disturbance and resisting arrest, but the judge threw out the former charge and Pryor was acquitted after twenty minutes of jury deliberation on the latter charge.

Cemetery Mismanagement

The suit states that the cemetery, which was founded just over 100 years ago, was set up to be operated by an independent organization, known as a “benevolent corporation.” But the suit alleges that the city became the de facto owner of the cemetery in about 2009. The city hall phone number and address were listed as the points of contact for the cemetery. The couple living next to the cemetery, Ken and Edith Chailland, allegedly served as caretakers of the cemetery and accepted payments for burial plots; there are questions of the accounting for this money. They were the ones who argued with the plaintiff about the lantern, leading to the incident with the police chief.

The suit alleges that a new cemetery board was formed in 2016 that stopped the alleged misconduct. But the mayor, Bill Haggard, is still listed as the contact person (along with his cell number) on the city website. He is the chairman of the new cemetery board. Here’s what he said in 2016:

Although the cemetery is named for the city, Haggard said it isn’t city property.

“The city doesn’t own it, and the city doesn’t want to own it,” he said.

Another question about the cemetery is whether it is endowed, meaning that money exists to care for the cemetery in perpetuity. The lawsuit alleges that the cemetery is not, since it does not meet the state requirements for registration and having a trust fund. Nonendowed cemeteries are supposed to make it clear up front to plot purchasers that they are not endowed, but the suit alleges that the Herky Cemetery did not do so.

Big Lawyer

One noteworthy aspect of this case is that the plaintiff’s attorney is W. Bevis Schock, who is kind of a big-time lawyer in St. Louis. He is a hero to us all in that he argued the case that led to the state Supreme Court ruling that red-light cameras (like the ones Arnold used) are illegal. He has also handled a number of lawsuits against lying cops and prosecutors.

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