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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.

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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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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

Quick Reaction to Desoto Shakeup

25 Oct

Huge news in Desoto, where the school district is already reeling, facing a state audit after a questionable firing of a principal and having two recent resignations from the school board. Now the city is looking for two top officials, as the police chief, Rick Draper, resigned Friday and the city manager, David Dews, was fired on Monday. Dews was, incidentally, appointed last month to fill one of the school board seats.

It sounds like Draper’s unhappiness was due to low pay for city police officers, and apparently the city was not interested in giving cops the pay the chief requested for them. Now Draper is going to go work at the Mahn Funeral Home and run for city council, he told the Leader. The city won’t say why Dews was fired.

Here are some of my thoughts:

  • The city needs to tell us why they fired Dews. They can’t hide behind “personnel decisions.” That is often used as a fig leaf to be secretive when it is not necessary. If you are going to fire your top administrator, you have to say why. Given everything we have seen around here lately, we have to ask: was there wrongdoing? Or was this just a power play?
  • Now is not the time to be approving any tax hikes from the city or the school district, if they are going to run things this way. The city will be asking for a 1/2-cent sales tax hike for parks next April.
  • Maybe the intrepid parents of the school district who did such a great job collecting signatures for the state audit of the district should have another go round and get an audit of the city. They could go around to all the same people who signed the initial petition and have them sign again.
  • Perhaps we have a job opening here that is good enough for (Whinin’) Ken Waller, the outgoing (in 2018) county executive who sued the county asking for more salary. Dews was making over $111,000 as city manager, which seems quite excessive for a city of 6,500 people. Waller is only making about $81,000 now as exec, and we know he was unhappy with that paltry sum. He tried to get the Festus city administrator job in April, but was unsuccessful.

Byrnes Mill City Admin Moves On

11 Jul

The Byrnes Mill city administrator, Larry Perney, was hired by Manchester as their city administrator and took over that job back in April, reports the Post-Dispatch.

Manchester must be one of those places where they don’t have Google. Surely, if they had known what a mess Byrnes Mill is, they wouldn’t have hired someone from Byrnes Mill to run their city, right? Right? Perney was named in a lawsuit against the city in 2014:

A former police chief says he lost his job because he reported “fixed” traffic tickets and falsified court documents to a prosecutor and elected officials, and alleges he was ordered to enforce ticket quotas.

The suit was settled for a relatively small amount of money in 2015. The Post-Dispatch noted that:

Byrnes Mill, a northwestern Jefferson County town of about 2,800 along Highway 30, has long held a reputation as a speed trap with tough enforcement of traffic laws.

Byrnes Mill cried hard against SB 5 two years ago, which limited the amount of money cities could reap from traffic tickets. This law forced Byrnes Mill to cut back on ticketing and lower its traffic fines. The city has had lots of trouble with its police department in recent years, with chiefs being fired and officers going to jail. Mike Smith, the chief who filed the aforementioned lawsuit, is under federal indictment for stealing in the line of duty.

New Administrator

Byrnes Mill, recently rejected by voters in its attempt to enact three tax hikes, has decided to give its city clerk, Debbie LaVenture, the additional duties of the city administrator. While I can applaud the idea of cutting the payroll of a city government, I wonder about Byrnes Mill not wanting to bring in outside eyes. I look at the recent theft case at the Grandview school district, which by many accounts resulted from giving too much unchecked power to one person. The BM city council does not appear to be all that interested in oversight, judging from events of the past few years, just like the Grandview and Fox school boards were not paying attention leading up to their scandals. Continue to keep an eye on Byrnes Mill, especially at election time, because they will probably try again to raise taxes.

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