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Pevely-Style Actions Shot Down by Area Judges

26 Apr

Two recent court rulings should prompt Pevely to change some practices that would now appear to be unlawful. The practices are charging money for redaction of material for open records requests and limiting what can be said in the public comment portion of board meetings.

Sunshine Law Overcharging

First, in January, a St. Louis County judge said that the county prosecutor could not charge fees to a Sunshine Law requestor for the time it took to segregate open (releasable) records from closed records. The government body has to do this free of charge (they can still charge for finding and copying documents).

Pevely is in the habit, when receiving certain records requests, of demanding a payment of $125 dollars up front so the city attorney, Sean Westhoff of Duggan & Westhoff in Imperial, can separate open from closed records. In one instance, this review was merely of minutes of closed sessions of board of aldermen meetings to “redact the personally identifiable personnel information.” That requires an attorney?! In another instance, Pevely claimed that attorney fees were needed to provide a copy of a lawsuit settlement and the results of closed session roll call votes. Again, no attorney is needed for this; all of this material is clearly a public record under Missouri law. Is the city trying to thwart the Sunshine Law, or merely taking bad advice from another bad JeffCo municipal lawyer?

Pevely’s actions are quite similar to what happened in the St. Louis County lawsuit. The decision there only impacts that county though. But if someone were to sue Pevely over this, they might have a good case. But government entities often rely on the fact that most people have neither the money or inclination to pursue such a lawsuit. Pevely should stop charging exorbitant legal fees for Sunshine requests.

Public Comment Censoring

In University City, a resident spoke during public comment to call for the censure of the mayor. The mayor flipped out, had the police remove the man, and banned him from future meetings. A federal judge responded:

In her order on Tuesday, District Judge Audrey Fleissig also ordered the city to pay Roberts’ lawyer fees and costs totaling $3,060, according to the consent decree.

Fleissig also ordered that the city “cease making a public statement at city council meetings that personal attacks on councilmembers will be ruled out of order” and “cease making a public statement at city council meetings that councilmembers’ motives may not be called into question.”


The decision also calls for the city to “develop, implement, and enforce a written policy prohibiting content-based restrictions on speech during the public comment period at city council meetings.”

In Pevely, the city demands that only topics on the meeting agenda can be mentioned in public comments. But how are residents supposed to air their concerns about issues that the city has not deemed important enough to put on the agenda? The public comment section is a way for residents to publicly raise concerns that all city officials may not be aware of (sometimes certain officials like to withhold information). This policy is just a way to censor comment. The city does allow you to request to be added to the meeting agenda, but this requires action days in advance of the meeting, creating hurdles to being heard.

The Fox School District also has a very restrictive comment policy. Not only do they limit the public to speaking on agenda items, they don’t allow the mention of specific employees (so you can’t say “the superintendent gave her son a scholarship” after your emails to the board go unanswered) and they ban non-residents from commenting. In addition, they demand a “specific outline” in advance of what you want to say. They can use this to decide to shunt you off into a closed session, ensuring that other residents can’t hear what you have to say.

In light of Judge Fleissig’s ruling, both of these entities need to reconsider their draconian public comment policies. I hear that a change may be coming in Pevely, which would be a good thing.

April 2017 Election Results

4 Apr

Headlines (results here):

  • Ron Counts re-elected as Arnold mayor by 177 votes over Phil Amato. Candidate William Denman, probably a stalking horse, gets 276 votes. Fulbright, Owens, Hood, and Cooley win council seats (all but Hood are incumbents). With these results, and with Amato off the council, the Counts-Shockey-Sweeney cabal is only strengthened.
  • All three Byrnes Mill tax hikes fail (one ended in a tie, which means it failed by one vote).
  • Pevely alderman candidate Linda Hahn wins Ward 2 by one vote; Steph Haas re-elected as mayor.
  • Rock Fire’s large tax increase wins with 52% of the vote.
  • Fox school board incumbent Dawn Mullins wins while Vern Sullivan loses. Steve Holloway returns to the council after a one-year absence, while Scott Stewart also won a seat. Stewart joins Carole Yount and Sherry Poppen as part of the Jim Chellew clique on the board. Chellew was once Fox superintendent and was a mentor to a young Dianne Salsman Brown Critchlow (who indicated her support for Stewart on Facebook).
  • Jefferson County Library tax hike wins.
  • In the “every vote matters” category, along with Hahn and the BM tax, there was a tie for the second director seat at Valle Ambulance District between Steven Bergner and Nathan Myers.

Pevely Lost $3,000 in Gun Money

18 Nov

At the September 19, 2016 board of aldermen meeting, Pevely mayor Steph Haas announced (at the 8:55 mark of the video) that, when the city’s police department bought new guns (Glocks) in 2014, instead of trading back the old guns (Sig Sauers – sounds like a downgrade to me), these were sold to city police officers. The cops were able to pay $235 to purchase their used duty Sig Sauer weapons and take personal ownership of them.

However, the process was handled quite poorly (whether intentionally or through incompetence) by former Pevely police officer Kevin Sullivan, who now works for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. The money, much of it in cash, went missing. Sullivan claims he gave it to former city clerk Bill Hanks, but Sullivan did not get a receipt or any proof that this handover took place.

In July 2015 (three months after Haas was elected), attorney Tom Duggan, on behalf of the city, wrote to Jefferson County prosecutor Forrest Wegge (the guy who is utterly failing to prosecute Dianne Critchlow) and asked him to request that the Missouri Highway Patrol (MHP) investigate the case. Wegge did so, and the MHP conducted an investigation. Here’s the request letter:

In total, the city bought 27 Sigs, and had 26 Glocks to sell or trade in. The trade-in value of the 26 Glocks was $6,170. In Duggan’s letter, he claims that the money missing included $2,615 in cash and $2,820 in checks (three guns were not yet paid for), which adds up to the $5,435 Sullivan says he collected. It is not clear to me what happened with the apparently unsold guns.

The MHP investigation, which ended in October 2015, was a dead end, as the investigator claimed to be unable to determine who was responsible, Sullivan or Hanks (although no bank or other records were pulled as part of the investigation). In her announcement, Haas said that $2,174 in checks had been reissued by officers (the original checks that Sullivan collected were never deposited or cashed) to the city. This amount is $646 short of the original amount of checks collected. Haas also said that two guns were turned in to the city (this would account for $470 of that $646, if the turned-in guns were originally paid for by check). However, the cash payments were being written off, because nobody knows where the money ended up. So the city is out over $3,000. Haas stated that Wegge was declining to prosecute anyone related to this case (that is starting to sound familiar).

If you ask me, this is all on officer Sullivan. He did a poor job of keeping track of who paid him, he collected a bunch of cash, and, if he actually did give the money to Hanks (who would not have been the correct person to give the money to anyway), he did not get any type of receipt. The question is, did Sullivan pocket the money himself, or was there a scheme in which he refunded the money to the officers so they could all get free guns? Both of these possibilities were posed to Sullivan in his interview with MHP and he denied them both. Here’s the final MHP report:

Hasty Departures

Both Sullivan and Hanks left the city abruptly right before the Duggan letter was sent, according to Leader reports at the time. Sullivan went “on vacation” June 16, 2015 and started his new job at the Sheriff’s Office on July 6, in another example of police forces passing on their questionable employees to other agencies. Hanks resigned from the city on June 9. Around this time, many closed sessions of the board of aldermen were being held, but nobody was commenting on what was taking place.

At the time, Hanks said he left for personal reasons, but in his MHP interview he said it was a forced resignation. He said Duggan and city administrator Dickie Brown accused him of copying personnel records for personal use, and he quit in order to “stay out of the politics.” It sounds like the city, instead of trying to find and punish the thief and get the money back, preferred to just wash its hands of the matter by forcing both suspects out of their jobs.

In the report, Hanks admits he engaged in a “high school prank that went wrong” when he was 18 and ended up with a theft charge. In his interview, Sullivan volunteered, unprompted, that Hanks “could not walk through the police station unescorted” because of the theft charge. He also volunteered, unprompted, that Hanks was forced to resign from the city. It sounds to me like Sullivan thought he found himself a patsy. He could pocket the money and blame it on the guy who had been charged with theft.

Hanks volunteered in his interview that he heard Sullivan was forced to resign because he covered up an assault by one officer on another officer. Between that, the gun mess, and Pevely’s revenue-oriented traffic ticketing, it sounds like recently-retired police chief Ron Weeks was not running a very tight ship as he bade his time until he became eligible for a LAGERS pension after the city joined the program.

Misuse of Information

What Haas failed to mention at the board meeting was that there was another infraction that MHP investigated. This was an August 2014 release of non-public police information onto Facebook, as mentioned on page 2 of the Duggan letter. The information concerned the son of Dave Bewig, the impeached former alderman and foe of Mayor Haas.

Office Kyle Weiss was fingered as the culprit during the investigation, and he admitted his guilt to MHP. As you can see in the MHP report above, this is a class A misdemeanor. However, no charges have been filed by Wegge against Weiss.

It should be noted that Weiss received a Missouri Medal of Valor in December 2014 after exchanging gunfire with and killing a wanted fugitive who had previously wounded two police officers in October 2013. But it does not appear that he acted with valor when he misused official information.

Some April 5 Election Endorsements

31 Mar

Yeah, I know, we just voted a couple of weeks ago, but it is time to vote again in the low-turnout municipal elections. But these elections are important. There are many tax increases on the ballot, along with local politicians, some who like to raise taxes, raise spending, and file or allow the settlement of lawsuits against local cities. With that in mind, I would like to offer some endorsement. In some cases, I will provide the reasoning behind my endorsement.

Fox School Board

  • Michael Booker – understands that Fox needs to regain the public’s trust
  • Not Dan Kroupa

Arnold City Council

  • Ward 1 – EJ Fleischmann
  • Ward 2 – John Brazeal – will provide an independent, critical voice for transparency and good decision making in city government
  • Ward 3 – two bad choices

Antonia Fire

  • Preston Haglin – fiscal responsibility

JeffCo Health Dept

  • Preston Haglin – fiscal responsibility, limited government

Pevely Board of Aldermen

  • Ward 1 – Erin Kasten
  • Ward 2 – Linda Hahn

Rock Fire

  • Cathy Woolridge

Hillsboro School Board

  • 3 year term:- Dennis Bradley – to hold the administration accountable

Rock Ambulance

  • Charles Groeteke

Pevely Settlement Raises Questions

3 Mar

Pevely mayor Stephanie Haas filed a lawsuit against the city, shortly after being elected, over her firing as city clerk in late 2014. Well, that lawsuit has been settled for $80,000 $85,000, which is a pretty good sum for this type of suit. The Arnold lawsuits of the past few years have generally settled in the $50,000 range, and a recent suit in Byrnes Mill went for only $35,000. Of course, in cases like this, when the plaintiff is buddies with the board/council, it is easier to get a good settlement. In another example, Arnold police chief Bob Shockey just got $70,000 from Arnold over a bogus lawsuit.

But there is something fishy going on in the Pevely case. It may just be the latest in a long series of ignorance-based Sunshine Law violations, but I’m not sure. I asked the city what the roll call vote was when the board of aldermen approved this settlement, assuming that there is no way this suit can be settled without board approval. I mean, who else has the power to act on behalf of the city? Not the mayor, who is the plaintiff in the suit. Plus, part of the settlement was that the board has to pass a motion requiring city officials to take Missouri Municipal League training. How could that be forced onto the board without its agreement?

But the city tells me there was no vote! Actually, all the city would say to me was “we have no record of a vote.” This leads me to believe that they think the board vote falls under the confidentiality agreement of the settlement, and that they can’t share it (which would be a complete violation of the Sunshine Law apparent to any layperson). They would neither confirm nor deny to me that a vote took place. But city administrator Dickie Brown did say to me, when I protested, “come back with a court order” as if there was something to uncover.

I sent a Sunshine complaint to the state attorney general, and apparently Pevely told them that there was no vote. And as it is not the job of the Sunshine people to make sure Pevely settles lawsuits in a lawful manner, there was not much they could do for me.

The reason I am interested in the roll call vote is that there is a chance it came out 4-2, given the way votes often go in Pevely. Keep in mind that this settlement took place 6 weeks or so after Dave Bewig was impeached. Had he still been on the board, the settlement vote could have come out 3-3, which would have meant no settlement. Was the impeachment a necessary move to allow the sweet settlement to take place? I don’t allege that that is why it took place, only that the timing is very fishy, and Pevely is not giving us answers.

Unfortunately, it seems that it might take a lawyer to get to the bottom of this, and I have no money for that. Someday I need to start a foundation that will help citizens sue their municipal governments when they are not following the law, which happens quite often, due to the proliferation of clueless or corrupt officials and third-rate city attorneys.

Of course, if anyone wants to send me some inside information on this, I welcome it at Anonymity is guaranteed.

Pevely Moves to Boot Bewig from Ballot

30 Jan

On December 7, the Pevely board of alderman impeached one of its own, Dave Bewig, for a variety of offenses. At the time, there was nothing preventing an impeached official from running for office again. So, one week later, the board passed a long revision of its impeachment ordinance (old version here) that included a provision that an elected officeholder that is impeached will never be eligible to hold, regain, or serve in elected office in Pevely.

However, Bewig went ahead and filed to run for the board of alderman for ward 2 in the April election. Three days ago, the city filed a lawsuit in the 23rd circuit court to have Bewig removed from the ballot (the case is City of Pevely vs. Wes Wagner, et al).

It seems that Bewig’s hopes center on the idea that he was impeached before the ordinance was passed, so it does not apply to him. However, they did pass the ordinance before the election filing period began, so I am thinking Pevely will win this, but we will see.

If Bewig is removed from the ballot, there will still be plenty of candidates. Incumbent Ed Walters, Linda Hahn, and Dan Hall are all registered to run for the ward 2 seat.

More Bad Moves from Pevely Mayor

29 Oct

In June, I wrote about new Pevely mayor Steph Haas and how I thought she was making ill-advised moves. In suing the city* for wrongful termination and trying to impeach an alderman, she came across as vindictive and self-serving. I thought these were perhaps rookie mistakes. But with some other recent decisions, she now definitely appears to be vindictive and self-serving.

The first move, according to the October 29 Leader, is to attempt to limit residents’ comments at public meetings to items that are on the current agenda or were on the last agenda (a move that it is not clear to me she has the power to make unilaterally). She says “we need to keep the city on task.” This restriction cuts off an important method for residents to bring issues to the attention of their city government. People can raise issues about street plowing, water problems, wasteful spending, etc. Sure, you say that residents can just call or email their aldermen, but as we saw with the Fox school board, there is no guarantee those emails will be read or those calls returned. By raising issues publicly at the meeting, it goes on the record, and elected officials cannot deny they know the issues exist.

Remember last year, when the board moved to restrict public comment to the end of the meeting (after all votes had been taken)? Residents went to Elliot Davis to complain. Will those residents, many who are Haas supporters, speak up this time around? Not as of yet, apparently. Haas already removed the ability to comment at board workshops.

Haas’ other move was to attempt to have park board member Dan Hall removed due to alleged inappropriate behavior towards an alderman. Russ Shackelford offered such a motion at the October 19 meeting, but no other alderman seconded the motion. This fact, in addition to alderman Don Menkhus’s remarks against the restrictions on public comment, suggest Haas is walking out on a limb all by herself on these issues. Menkhus is normally Haas’ ally.

It is time for Haas to stop with the power plays and get on with cleaning up the mess that Pevely government still finds itself in.

* Note on Haas’ suit against the city: after originally representing herself, Haas recently hired an attorney, Jeremy Hollingshead of St. Louis.

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