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Roorda to Run For County Exec

6 Oct

Before I begin, I thought I would point out that Jeff Roorda has been blocked on Wikipedia for trying to edit his own page to make himself look better.

One might have thought that after losing two elections in a row in rightward-moving Jefferson County (2014 and 2016), Jeff Roorda’s political career was over (at least as a Democrat). But Roorda, a former state representative and current business manager for the St. Louis Police Union, has decided to give it another shot, this time with a run for county executive in 2018.

Roorda is in an odd position. He has spent the last three years focused entirely on St. Louis issues, but wants to lead Jefferson County. He has also spent the last three years stoking divisions, but claims he can work with the county council in a harmonious manner. His ability to stir up controversy is rewarded with book sales and CNN appearances, but it is not useful in governing.

In the Leader this week, Roorda mentions the current “bitter fighting” that takes places between the council and the current executive, Ken Waller, who is not seeking another term (at least not in that position). He is right about that. But would Roorda be better? Waller at least put on a genial face in public (which has been enough to fool the Leader) while carrying out his skullduggery behind closed doors. But Roorda is open with his harsh remarks and aggressive behavior. I don’t see how that will bring about good relationships.

Loyal Democrat

In an interview with former House speaker Tim Jones on 97.1 FM, Roorda said that the Democratic party has gone too far with this Black Lives Matter stuff and become what he considers to be anti-police. He says that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton hurt JeffCo Democrats because of this, and that this issue is what gave Donald Trump the victory last year.

Since protecting police from any scrutiny or oversight is his main issue, I was expecting Roorda to come out and endorse Trump in the last election, but he did not. He refused to endorse Clinton in a Leader candidate questionnaire. I was even thinking that Roorda might opportunistically try to switch parties. He regularly runs as a conservative, pro-life, pro-gun candidate. I thought he might go with the JeffCo flow and try to increase his chances of victory with a switch to the GOP, but he has not done so.

Negativity

Roorda claims to be friends with his presumable GOP opponent in the race, recently-resigned state House representative John McCaherty, and says the race will be clean and issue-based. But given Roorda’s history of harsh attacks and questionable claims, I don’t think that will last.

Wild Card

Roorda is disliked by many in the city, particularly on the left, for his various controversial actions. He has said that if he wins this race he will resign from the police union. Therefore, many in the city will be pulling for him to win in order to be rid of him. But will that turn into concrete support, given in a way that won’t alienate JeffCo voters?

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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.

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.

April 4 Ballot Chock Full ‘O Taxes

19 Mar

April 15 is usually thought of as tax day, since that’s the deadline for filing your federal income taxes. But tax day in Jefferson County might come 11 days early this year. There are many tax proposals on the municipal election ballot. Obviously, each of these taxes only pertains to people living within the boundaries of the listed political entity. Let’s take a look at the proposals:

We will start with Byrnes Mill, which is swinging for the fences with three tax increases, one property tax hike of 40 cents per $100 valuation and two half-cent sales taxes.

byrnestax

Byrnes Mill’s current tax rates are as follows:

  • Property tax:
    • 40.35 cents per $100  – so they want to DOUBLE it. If passed, Byrnes Mill would go from second lowest to second highest property tax among cities in the county, behind Pevely’s 88.77 cents.
  • Sales tax:
    • 8.35% – total sales tax (including state, county, ambulance district, etc). If Props R and I both pass, Byrnes Mill would have the highest total sales tax rate in the county outside of a special taxing district (CID, TDD).

Byrnes Mill makes its case for the tax hikes here. The property tax is intended for police, and requires 2/3 approval to pass (this could be intended to make up for lost traffic ticket revenue thanks to SB5).

Jefferson County Library

The library is requesting a 8 cent increase in its 20 cents/$100 property tax. The library makes it case here. Districts like to forecast dire scenarios if tax proposals fail, and the library does that here, stating that one of its three locations could need to close in 5 years.

Windsor School District

This is one of those “no new tax” bond issues that keeps the tax levy the same, but extends it for additional years in the future, in this case 8 years for a $14.75 million bond issue. The district makes it case for the proposition here. The Leader reports that Windsor voters passed bond issues in 1998, 2001, 2006, and 2011.

Hillsboro School District

Another “no new tax” bond issue, this one for $12 million. Here is their campaign literature. Bond issues require a 4/7 majority for approval.

Festus School District

Festus is looking to convert 35 cents/$100 of debt service levy (which has an expiration date) to operating levy (which is permanent). Festus’ overall property tax rate, lowest among JeffCo school districts, would remain at $3.7407/$100 valuation. Plans for the tax proceeds are found here. Festus did something very similar just two years ago (page 3); it passed by a wide margin.

Rockwood and Meramec school districts, which cover small pieces of JeffCo, also have “no new tax” bond measures on the ballot for $95 million and $11.75 million, respectively. Rockwood voters passed a $68 million no tax bond issue just two years ago.

Festus Fireworks

Increase the business license fee on sellers of fireworks and firecrackers from one hundred and forty dollars ($140.00) plus three percent (3%) of the gross receipts to one thousand, five hundred dollars ($1,500)?

$1,500 minus $140 equals $1,360. By my calculations, $1,360 is 3% of $45,333. So if a fireworks stand in Festus brings in less than that amount, this is an increase in cost. It could just be a simplification rather than a revenue raiser.

Rock Fire

I talked about this a bit here. Rock Fire wants to increase its property tax by 50 cents/$100 valuation. Rock Fire’s current levy is 76.32 cents per $100, so this is a large increase. Rock Fire has the 10th lowest tax levy of 14 JeffCo fire districts (though Rock also has a sales tax); if this measure passes Rock would be 3rd highest. Rock Fire is pushing this really hard through mailers and door-to-door visits by firefighters. Here is their Facebook page, and here is the letter the chief sent out. A Facebook page called Whole Truth is examining with a critical eye Rock Fire’s claims that it needs more revenue.

Saline Valley Fire

Saline is asking for a 25 cents per $100 valuation increase in its property tax. Saline already has by far the highest property tax among fire districts in the county, at $1.575 per $100. The next highest is Cedar Hill Fire at $1.3826, and the majority of JeffCo fire districts levy less than $1. Saline does not have a sales tax, however.(Note: Saline Valley is the product of the merger of two fire districts. In 2008, by a simple majority, voters approved this merger. I think we need to see some more mergers). I was unable to find any campaign materials for this tax online.

I have not mentioned all of the local Proposition V listings on the ballot. These props, which every entity in the county is trying to pass, allows them to keep collecting sales taxes on private and out-of-state vehicle purchases. All Prop V votes to date in the county have passed.

Low Turnout, High Taxes

By my count, there are 13 tax proposals on county ballots this year, not counting Prop V. In 2015 there were 15 tax props, 12 of which were successful. In 2016 four of six were successful. Republicans have taken over most county elected offices, but in the nonpartisan local districts, tax hikes are still being requested quite frequently.

Turnout for the last two April elections was about 15%. In addition to these tax measures, city council, school board, and fire/ambulance board seats get filled in April. The candidates that get elected are the ones that put these taxes on the ballot. With the low turnout, it is city employees, teachers, firemen, and paramedics who make the difference in these races with their endorsements and their votes. Then you end up in a situation where the pocketbooks of residents are a secondary priority. With all these tax votes, as well as school board elections in two districts (Fox and Grandview) where employees have been investigated by the FBI for wrongdoing, it behooves JeffCo residents to go vote on April 4.

Roorda Embattled as Cop Union Manager

19 Feb

Having been knocked out of the political game due to Jefferson County’s rapid shift from a blue to a red county, Jeff Roorda is now facing heavy criticism in his role as business manager for the St. Louis Police Officers Association (SLPOA), where he is the de facto spokesman for metro area police and the go-to guy for cable news shows looking for a controversial commentator. Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger puts it starkly in this latest column: The Fire Roorda bandwagon grows — St. Louis cops deserve a better voice.

The latest round of criticism of Roorda includes the mayoral candidate that was endorsed by SLPOA, Lyda Krewson, calling on the union to fire him. Criticism of Roorda has been heavy since the Michael Brown incident in Ferguson, an event which Roorda parlayed into two books and countless cable news appearances, during which he aims not for common ground but for provocation (this is probably why he keeps getting invited back). This role, which I imagine many in Jefferson County support, did not help him overcome the local GOP wave, as he lost a state Senate race in 2014 and a Jefferson County council race in 2016.

Krewson’s call and Messenger’s column were prompted by this Facebook post by Roorda about St. Louis mayor candidate Tishaura Jones (who is currently second to Krewson in the polls):

roorda-post-tishaura

Krewson, the only white candidate in the race with a shot to win, is late to the game among those running for mayor in denouncing Roorda. He was a major topic at a late January mayoral debate, where Krewson was booed after she denounced Roorda’s various comments but would not call for his firing (which she now has).

The primary election is on March 7, and the Democrat nominee will be rubber-stamped to victory on April 4. Will Roorda last that long in his current job?

roorda-cooper

I love this photo.

Shoving Suit

Roorda has a problem on another front as well. He is being sued over a 2015 incident at a packed, heated St. Louis board of aldermen committee hearing when he allegedly shoved a female as he made his way to the front of the room (see video, which is open to interpretation, at the above link). The plaintiff is asking for $500,000.

House Bills Sponsored by JeffCo Reps

15 Jan

The Missouri legislative session is underway, and with GOP supermajorities in both houses and a GOP governor, we should expect a lot of big items to be passed in the next few months. I’m going to take a look here at what bills our local representatives are pushing. I will look at the activities of the two state senators that cover Jefferson County in a separate post.

Shane Roden, R, 111th district, Cedar Hill –  He has a bill allowing adult motorcycle riders to go helmetless if they have proof of health insurance (motorcycle helmet freedom is a big issue with him) and another bill concerning firefighters and cancer and hazardous duty. On another interesting note, he is cosponsoring a medical marijuana measure. Roden is a paramedic and firefighter.

John McCaherty, R, 97th, High Ridge – He also has a motorcycle helmet law, but it requires everyone under 21 to wear a helmet, while Roden’s bill only requires helmets for those under 18. McCaherty has a bill regarding custody of in vitro human embryos and one about school library media services programs. He is co-sponsoring a bill to add crimes against police to the hate crimes law.

Rob Vescovo, R, 112th, Arnold – He is the most active local rep as it pertains to bill filing, and has several significant bills. One would require public entities to issue bonds via public sale, or competitive bidding. I wrote here about a state auditor’s report that stated that this change would save Missouri taxpayers millions of dollars by forcing the financial companies that work with public entities to get the best deal on bonds.

Another Vescovo bill would prevent political subdivisions from giving preferential treatment to unionized companies in public construction projects (aka project labor agreements, which drive up costs to taxpayers). This bill was introduced last year but did not come to a vote.

Another bill requires written contracts for school superintendents and assistant superintendents, and limits the amount of  severance pay that these officials can receive. This will stop the outrageous payouts to disgraced superintendents like Fox’s Dianne Critchlow.

Vescovo is also co-sponsoring the hate crimes against police bill, and is cosponsoring a bill to modify rules about expert witness testimony at trial (implementing the Daubert standard).

Dan Shaul, R, 113th, Imperial – No bills at this time.

Becky Ruth, R, 114th, Festus – She is trying again this year to create a Waterways Trust Fund to divert money to ports. She also wants to add two new genetics diseases to newborn screening requirements (she has added other diseases in the past) and add a teacher to the State Board of Education. Finally, she has a bill to create a tax deductible First-time Home Buyer Savings Account. Ruth is a former teacher and a current realtor.

Elaine Gannon, R, 115th, DeSoto – She is sponsoring a resolution urging the creation of a Joachim Creek Joint Task Force to battle repeated flooding in DeSoto, and she has a bill making some minor adds to high school equivalency degree testing programs. Gannon is a former teacher.

Ben Harris, D, 118th, Hillsboro – No bills at this time.

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.

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