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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.

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Domestic Altercation at Home of Pevely Police Chief

26 Dec

According to a police report, the JeffCo sheriff’s department was called to the home of Pevely police chief Charles A. Moutray by his wife on the night of November 17, 2018 after a domestic altercation. The responding officer completed a probable cause statement against the chief for 4th degree domestic assault, but no arrest was made and the county prosecutor later decided not to press charges.

The physical incidents described in the report focused on Moutray’s wife’s attempts to view his cell phone. Moutray, who goes by Tony, is described to have flipped her over his body and off the bed onto the floor, where she struck her head. Later, Moutray is accused of breaking a door in order to unlock it and get to his wife, at which time he dragged her to the ground by her ponytail. He then left the residence before police arrived.

In Moutray’s statement, given to police at a nearby church parking lot, he claims his wife accidentally fell off the bed when reaching for his phone. He also claims he grabbed her by the neck in order to retrieve his phone so he could leave the house.

Domestic assault in the 4th degree is a Class A misdemeanor.

The city of Pevely does not appear to have taken any action in response to this incident, according to a review of minutes of closed sessions of board meetings.

Moutray was one of three Pevely officers involved in a 2016 arrest that led to an excessive force lawsuit and a $300,000 settlement by the city, which was finalized this past September.

 

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.

Pevely’s Side of Cop Beating Suit

12 Nov

I wrote here about a lawsuit filed against the Pevely police over alleged excessive force. The incident was from November 2016 and the suit was filed in January 2017. In it, a man (Robert Golden Jr) alleges he was beaten by Pevely police at a traffic stop for no good reason.

Having acquired the Pevely and Herculaneum police reports on this incident, I can provide the other side of the story. First, I stated in the previous post that dashcam video should be useful in adjudicating this claim. However, the police vehicle used in this incident (an unmarked one) does not have a dash camera. Several other Pevely cars also do not. The department is looking to phase out dash cameras and switch to body cameras for officers.

As the officers tell the story, Golden’s vehicle drew their attention because one of them recognized it from a brief high-speed chase a few months previously. The vehicle is distinctive in that it is a Chevy truck with a lift kit (as preferred by Florida-Georgia Line) and LED brow lighting. The officers turned to follow the vehicle and claimed that it crossed the center line four times and began to drive very slowly (35 in a 45). Golden states that he slowed down to let the close-following vehicle pass him. A stop was initiated.

Golden pulled over, but says that since he saw nothing indicating the people behind him were police, and he saw their guns drawn, he took off again. Pevely police indicate they were in an unmarked car equipped with lights and a siren that has been used for traffic stops in the past without incident. The police were also wearing plain clothes, as they were working that night on a Minor in Possession grant looking for underage drinkers. The police make no mention of their guns being drawn.

The officers state that Golden took off at high speed and continued to swerve. He proceeded into Herculaneum, where a Herky officer was waiting with lights flashing. Golden says he pulled over to seek assistance, but the Pevely officers say he pulled over abruptly in a way that had his vehicle pointing at the Herky car’s driver door, giving Golden “a distinct tactical advantage” and creating a “very grave and dangerous situation.” As such, the Herky officer drew his gun, a fact agreed to by all, and Pevely police initiated a “dynamic approach” to the vehicle.

Pevely police claim that Golden refused to exit the vehicle, so they yanked him down from his lifted cab to the ground and he sustained an abrasion on his cheek (this is the only injury visible on booking photos). They say he would not put his hands behind his back, so they forcibly pulled them back and cuffed him. This included an officer placing a knee in his back and placing a gun against his head, at which time his resistance stopped. [This is when Golden alleged that other abuse, including kicks and head slams into the ground, occurred.] Meanwhile other officers broke the passenger window after orders to open it were ignored, opened the door themselves, and removed three passengers without incident.

Two minor charges were all that Pevely filed as a result of this incident:

  • Failed to maintain a single lane of traffic
  • Failed to yield to emergency vehicle

Pevely Cops Facing Three Lawsuits

20 Aug

The Pevely police force has had some issues recently, included accusations of policing for profit and carrying out quotas enacted by the former mayor, “losing” a bunch of city gun money, and just this week being accused of letting an incompetent repo man get away after he damaged a car he wasn’t entitled to repossess (the PD posted and then deleted some comments on the linked Facebook thread). But the city is now facing a lawsuit in an excessive force case, the Leader reported last week, as well as two suits regarding a deadly police chase.

The excessive force lawsuit (full text here) accuses three cops of beating up Robert Golden Jr. after pulling him over in November 2016. The suit says they pulled him over for no reason in an unmarked car on Highway 61 and emerged with guns drawn. Golden, seeing no indication the men with guns were actual officers, drove away and continued on until he saw a Herculaneum officer and then stopped. The Pevely cops pulled up and allegedly immediately began whaling on him and forced him to say “I’m a pussy” several times. Golden was then taken to jail. Nothing illegal was found on him. He was given citations for “Failure to Yield to Emergency Vehicle” and “Failure to Maintain a Single Lane of Traffic.” After being released, Golden went to the hospital for treatment.

Notably, one of the accused in this suit is Tony Moutray, the acting chief of police since October (right before the beating took place). Recently, the city decided to accept applications for a new permanent chief, but some expressed dismay that Moutray was not simply handed the job. Steve Markus and Don Menkhus, who I consider to be the good old boy faction on the council, voted against seeking outside applicants, as did John Norton.

It seems like this suit should be pretty easy to decide  – just look at the dashboard camera footage. It will tell us if anything warranted such rough conduct by the police (and to what extent they actually beat him). If there is no such footage, we have reason to be suspicious. The suit alleges that Moutray yelled out “make sure your cameras are off” to his fellow cops during the beatdown. Many times have we seen rogue cops allege that there just happened to be a malfunction with their camera, or they forgot to turn it on, when alleged misconduct occurred.

Police Chase Suit

Two separate lawsuits arise out of a police chase in 2014 in which two Pevely cops and two Missouri Highway patrolmen engaged in high-speed pursuit with a car that ended up crashing, killing three occupants. It seems that speeding was the only offense the driver of the fleeing car was suspected of, but the cops still pursued him at up to 125 mph and deployed several spike strips. The question is whether all of this dangerous chasing was justified given the minor offense the police were interested in.

The common thread that connects all three of these suits is two officers who are named as defendants in each one: Kyle Weiss and Brian Benjamin. I know Pevely doesn’t have that many police, but to have the same officers accused in each suit would seem to suggest a problem.

Weiss previously got in trouble for releasing non-public information about the (now deceased) son of Pevely regime critic Dave Bewig onto Facebook in August 2014, which is a class A misdemeanor that JeffCo Prosecutor Forrest (Wrist Slap) Wegge apparently chose not to prosecute.

Despite all these issues, Weiss was hired on by the Arnold Police a few months ago. I don’t know what the circumstances of his departure from Pevely were.

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.”

Also:

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.
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