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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.

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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.

DeSoto Should Turn Policing Over to the Sheriff

15 Jul

This will be a rather unpopular opinion in some circles, but here goes. Herculaneum last month solicited a proposal for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO) to take over policing in the city, but the city rejected the offer without much discussion (which I think was a mistake). Now, with the current chaos in DeSoto, the city will consider the idea of turning things over to the sheriff. Given the high level of public attachment to the idea of having a local police force, and a general reluctance to give up control, the city will probably reject the idea. However, DeSoto would be better off going with the sheriff.

Here are the main reasons:

Pay. With its passage of Prop P, JCSO has taken care, for the forseeable future, of the officer pay problem that is facing most police departments. They will be able to attract a sufficient number of qualified applicants to field a complete contingent of officers. If DeSoto decides to maintain its own PD, they will have to raise revenue in order to increase police salaries. The city claims it will be able to reassign $200,000 of general fund money away from parks to police when money from its recently-passed parks and stormwater tax starts rolling in, but that assumes that the city will refrain from spending 1/3 of the estimated $600,000 proceeds from the tax each year on new projects and instead use it for park maintenance and salaries, which seems unlikely.

So while it is possible that a proposal from the JCSO will cost more than DeSoto’s current police budget ($975,000 plus $260,000 for dispatching), one has to factor in the additional spending DeSoto must do to bring its department up to standard and raise salaries. Note also that, even if the DeSoto PD goes away, the city will be able to keep its own municipal court and receive ticket revenue.

Training and Experience. A number of recent departures have gutted the DeSoto PD of its experienced leaders. The department has no chief, no detective, and only one sergeant. As Sheriff Dave Marshak indicated in his note, the PD is not up to date on policies and procedures, creating increased risk of liability. The lack of an experienced detective mean victims of violent crimes are less likely to receive justice. The sheriff indicated that, even with the needed money, it would take a long time to bring the PD up to acceptable standards. This is not a knock on the officers in DeSoto, just a consequence of high turnover and low budgets.

Leadership. While they do not seem to recognize this, city leadership is largely responsible for the current issues at DeSoto. In discussions, I have heard blame directed at several different people in city government, and there are others not currently in government who caused problems in their day. What are the chances of this leadership changing any time soon? I have my doubts. There has been some turnover lately, but it does not seem to me like enough has changed to warrant confidence that the city can turn things around and stop driving police officers out of the department.

Misconceptions

I have heard a number of misconceptions from the public in Herculaneum and DeSoto relating to a sheriff switch that I would like to address.

Deputies will have to come all the way from Hillsboro. First of all, deputies don’t sit in Hillsboro waiting for calls, they are out on the roads in whichever of the three zones in the county they are assigned to. Second, the Herky proposal included officers assigned exclusively to the city. The DeSoto proposal will undoubtedly include the same provision.

The JCSO would be spread too thin. If the JCSO takes over policing in DeSoto, the city will pay for the privilege. The JCSO will be able to use this money to hire more officers. Maybe even officers from DeSoto. Therefore, both the city and the unincorporated county will have a sufficient number of deputies on patrol.

Response times are too long. It is true that in the past, due to salary issues, the JCSO did not have enough deputies, and therefore it would take a long time for deputies to respond to low-priority calls. However, with the passage of Prop P, JeffCo has begun hiring many new deputies, even though the tax hasn’t kicked in yet. According to a Facebook post today, the JCSO will be at full strength in two weeks for the first time in 20 years. Response times in the unincorporated county will be improving. And this would be a moot point for DeSoto anyway, since it would have its own dedicated deputies, as I said above.

Probably Not Gonna Happen

In the end, DeSoto will almost surely keep its own police department and its own dispatchers. That is the politically smart choice, because that’s what the vocal contingent of DeSoto residents seems to want. And councilman Clayton Henry has a double conflict of interest in keeping the PD (his wife’s dispatcher job and city ammo purchases from his business). But I think this decision will lead to the city simply muddling along for the next several years or more. I also predict that the city will take this outcry of approval for a hometown police department as an opportunity to propose a tax hike for law enforcement. So get ready for that. However, city leadership will change little, so it is quite possible that good cops will continue to depart from the city at a high rate.

Suggestions for Next DeSoto Council Meeting

12 Jul

At the DeSoto city council meeting Tuesday night, which was belatedly moved to the gym at Vineland Elementary, the council voted on a deal to reimburse the county sheriff’s office for supervising the DeSoto police department for the short term. This is after the city police chief, Joe Edwards, resigned last week. The residents of the city also had the chance to make their feelings known during the comment portion of the meeting. Here’s a TV news report on the proceedings.

The next meeting, on July 16, will also be held at the gym. Before that meeting occurs, I have some advice for the city.

1. Have more than one microphone. There was a mic at a podium to the right side of the council table where speakers would stand, but nothing at the council table. So when the council was going through its motions and votes, nobody could hear anything. This led to a bit of an uproar when the council was voting on the temporary contract with the sheriff. Some in the crowd were mad that voting was happening before public comment, but others were mad they couldn’t hear what the council was doing. The sole microphone was attached to a portable speaker that was stashed in the corner. Move that speaker out and turn it up next time.

2. Don’t let the city attorney run the show. I have been to meetings of several county bodies, but have never seen the attorney (in this case, Mark Bishop, who is running for county prosecutor) play such an active role. He got up to introduce the contract to the council, and even “strongly urged” the council to approve it. Meanwhile the city manager didn’t speak at all. When the aforementioned uproar took place, Bishop was the guy trying to get the crowd to quiet down. The mayor spoke at the beginning and the end, but he’s gotta take charge and put Bishop, who is being sued by a recently-resigned Desoto officer, in the corner.

3. Talk about the actual problems with the city and police department. At the beginning of the meeting, Mayor Rich McCane gave some extended remarks in which he blamed Ferguson, Senate Bill 5 (which stopped cities from making excessive profits from writing tickets), wages, and other things for the current problems with the police department. He only vaguely referred to “internal issues” during his talk, but managed once again to whinge about the thwarted annexation of the Union Pacific property, from which he hoped to gain new revenue. Conversely, during the public comment time, residents spoke about leadership being the main problem. Several relatives of former cops spoke, saying expressly that money was not the issue. The two biggest applause lines of the night were:

  • “We need a change in leadership” and
  • “The chief (Edwards) destroyed the department”

DeSoto operates under a ridiculous “absolutely no comment” rule when it comes to personnel, which they claim is due to state law, but I believe they are going overboard. There is no reason a longtime city manager should get fired, like David Dews did, and the city provides absolutely no reasoning whatsoever. The people who paid for Dews’ big severance deserved to know what happened, and in the current situation, the people also deserve straight talk. If city leaders were as worried about ethics as they were about total silence on personnel issues, then they wouldn’t be in this mess right now.

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.

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

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