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Sweeney Screws Up Again

27 Mar

Oh man, the laughs were loud and side-splitting in my household when I belatedly saw this little tidbit. It turns out that the Saline Valley Fire Protection District, which got a tax hike passed in August of 2016, has to go before the voters again for a redo. Why?

Because their attorney, Bob Sweeney, f’ed up the ballot language!!!

According to the Leader, who limited this story to its West Side edition in February, the State Auditor’s office ruled that the tax initiative from 2016 only applied to that year. Here is the 2016 language:

Shall the board of directors of the Saline Valley Fire Protection District of Jefferson County, Missouri be authorized to levy an additional operating tax of not more than twenty-five cents ($0.25) on the one hundred dollars ($100.00) assessed valuation to provide funds for the support of the District, with the levy increase to be effective for taxes imposed in 2016?

That last sentence does seem a bit awkward. We see tax increases on the ballot left and right in these parts, especially on the upcoming April 4 ballot, and the other entities don’t have this problem. Couldn’t Sweeney just have copy and pasted some language? Why did he put the year in there like that?

Here’s a delicious excerpt from the Leader article:

saline sweeney

Rebuke! So now Saline has to spend $5,474 to hold another election. That money should come out of the district’s payments to Sweeney, but the board probably won’t make such a common sense move. That amount is surprisingly low to me, considering that Sweeney’s decision to illegally kick a candidate off the ballot in the North Jefferson Ambulance District cost that entity $20,000 in extra election costs.

This is more evidence of my repeated assertion that Sweeney, who serves as attorney for a multitude of local entities, including the cities of Arnold and Byrnes Mill, is, in addition to being ethically bankrupt, just not a very good lawyer. Since municipal law is almost all he does, you would think he could handle something simple like this. Now if only these entities would realize he’s a bad lawyer and get rid of him…

More Arnold Mayor Drama

One person who seems to have belatedly realized that Sweeney is no good is Arnold city councilman and mayoral candidate Phil Amato, who correctly stated in January that Sweeney and police chief Robert Shockey are the ones running the city. Amato is the latest in a line of Arnold council members, including Ken Moss, Cricky Lang, and Sandra Kownacki, to apparently come around to the realization that things are rotten in Arnold. I suspect, though, that part of Amato’s epiphany is politically motivated.

Now, the Leader reports that Amato has filed a complaint against Sweeney with the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel (OCDC) of the state Supreme Court (I understand this is not the first complaint against Sweeney filed there). Amato says Sweeney violated attorney-client privilege as it relates to the election deal that Amato offered Counts. I don’t know if this particular complaint is legitimate, but if you have to get Al Capone for tax evasion, or get OJ for robbery, that’s good enough for me.

The Leader also reports that the bogus Missouri Election Commission (MEC) claim Counts filed against Amato for the election deal offer was dismissed by MEC for being out of its jurisdiction. Sadly, there is only one week left in this contentious Arnold mayor election campaign. With events like this, I wish it would drag on for months.

Plaintiffs Proliferate in Pursuit of Politician Pay

22 Mar

On the last day of 2015, Bruce King, Democrat former elected public administrator for Jefferson County who was defeated for re-election in 2012, filed a lawsuit in Jefferson County court against the county, alleging that the county charter had been misinterpreted and that he was not paid as much money as he should have been. The lawsuit demanded back pay and retroactive credits towards retirement.

At the time, observers including me speculated that King was merely a front man, one who no longer had a political career to protect, who was filing the suit on behalf of other greedy incumbent elected officials. Well that belief has been affirmed, because a slew of current and former county elected officials added their names to the suit in January of this year. Most notable, I would say, is county executive Ken Waller, a Republican, who I hear is actively pursuing another job at this time, with two years left in his term. Here is the rest of the list of new plaintiffs:

  • Mark Abel – Democrat deceased former treasurer. His wife is also on the suit, presumably to collect his posthumous windfall.
  • Chuck Banks – Democrat former county commissioner.
  • Marlene Castle – Democrat former recorder of deeds.
  • Randy Holman – Democrat former assessor and current appointed county clerk (put in place by Waller).
  • Pat Lamping – Democrat former county commissioner.
  • Beth Mahn – Democrat current collector.
  • Linda Nees – Democrat former treasurer.
  • Terry Roesch – Democrat outgoing assessor.
  • Dorothy Stafford – Democrat former auditor.
  • Wes Wagner – Democrat former county clerk, who left in the middle of his term for a private sector job.
  • Steve Farmer – Republican current public administrator.

We must condemn the above officials, all of whom are/were making $70-85,000, who knew when they took their jobs what they would be paid, but are now going to the courts to attempt to extract money from taxpayers, in many cases well after they left office. But let us praise those elected officials (who served prior to 2017) who have apparently chosen not to join this lawsuit (let me know if I missed someone):

  • Richard Carter – Republican current assessor.
  • Debbie Dunnegan – Republican current recorder of deeds.
  • Forrest Wegge – Democrat current prosecutor.
  • Michael Reuter – Republican current circuit court clerk.
  • Howard Wagner – Democrat former circuit court clerk.
  • Glenn Boyer – Democrat former sheriff.
  • Survivors of Ed Kemp, Democrat deceased former county commissioner.

The plaintiffs are citing section 7.7.3.11 of the county charter (page 38), which says that “the annual salary of every elected County Officer is not to be less than the annual salary of the holder of the equivalent office in a first-class non-charter county.” The suit then goes on the cite the salaries of elected officeholders in Boone County (which is where Columbia is). Never mind that there are 13 other first-class non-charter counties they could have chosen to compare with JeffCo.The lawsuit says:

“The clear intent also was to provide that…salaries would be adjusted upward to match those of office holders of the highest paying first class non-charter county.”

Doesn’t sound clear to me at all. In general, this seems like a poorly thought out and drafted provision.

All told, this lawsuit could cost the county over $600,000, according to the Leader. This is in addition to the legal costs, as the county has hired an outside law firm to deal with this case (see page 22).

Speaking of lawyers, local attorney and JeffCo GOP apparatchik Derrick Good is one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys in this case. He even helped write the damn county charter that he is trying to exploit via loophole in true lawyerly fashion. Did he help draft the provision in question? It is sad (sad!) to see several supposed conservatives joining in on this effort to divert taxpayer money to their bank accounts.

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.

Nathan Stewart Update

27 Jan

I can provide updates on the Nathan Stewart situation, in which the now former Jefferson County judge was in a November car crash and suspected by the Highway Patrol of driving while intoxicated. The current Department of Revenue (DOR) case, in which Stewart is challenging the revocation of his drivers license for failing to take a breathalyzer test, has been transferred to Madison County (after having most recently been assigned for almost a month to the woman who defeated Stewart in the November election, Dianna Bartels). This is the county south of St. Francois County, and the courthouse is in Fredericktown. This took place about a week ago; the week before that, JeffCo presiding judge Darrell Missey ordered the case be removed from our county circuit court.

As for the criminal investigation, Steph Watson from the Missouri Office of Prosecution Services (MOPS) has been appointed as special prosecutor. MOPS is an autonomous entity “created to assist prosecuting attorneys in their efforts against criminal activity within the state.” As Watson’s bio says, “Upon appointment, she serves as special assistant prosecutor or special prosecutor in various counties throughout the state.” She will also argue on behalf of the DOR against Stewart. She was appointed by the court on December 5 upon the recommendation of Jefferson County prosecutor Forrest Wegge. No charges have yet been filed, and I’m not sure in which county they would be filed; probably either in Jefferson before being transferred, or directly to Madison County.

Bills Sponsored by JeffCo Senators

16 Jan

After checking up on Jefferson County’s state representatives in my last post, I will now examine what bills our state senators have put forth in this new legislative session.

Gary Romine, R, 3rd district, Farmington – Romine’s district covers the southern part of the county, roughly south of a line from Dittmer to Festus (map here). The district also covers Iron, Reynolds, St. Francois, Ste. Genevieve, and Washington counties. He has a lot of bills. I will hit the highlights.

One bill of Romine’s I will call the Bob Shockey bill. Here’s a description:

Currently, under the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), a practice is unlawful when the protected trait is a contributing factor in the decision to discriminate. This act changes that standard to a motivating factor standard. The plaintiffs in employment and age discrimination cases have the burden of proving these standards.

Recall that Arnold police chief Bob Shockey sued the city back in 2013. His goals were to 1) damage the mayoral campaigns of incumbent Ron Counts’ opponents, and 2) make some money for himself. He claimed that he was being discriminated against, and listed all the ways he was supposedly being bullied. But to sue for discrimination you have to be part of a protected class, and the only one Shockey qualifies for was being over age 40, so he tacked that claim onto his suit with no evidence that it was the reason for his treatment.

Anyway, under Romine’s bill, Shockey would have to prove that his age was the motivating factor for his treatment (not incompetence). That is a much higher legal bar, I submit that Shockey would not have gotten his bogus $70,000 settlement had this law been in affect three years ago. This is not to say that I think Shockey had anything to do with Romine’s interest in this issue.

Romine also has a bill regarding high school equivalency degree exams that appears to be similar to what Rep. Gannon proposed over in the House. It would waive the test-taking fee for first-timers. He has another bill just like Gannon’s, this one urging the creation of the Joachim Creek Joint Task Force to fight flooding in DeSoto.

Another bill, reported here, would rename the new Jay Nixon State Park. Romine doesn’t like Nixon allowing a park to be named after himself, and he think the money to buy the park, which was intended for lead belt restoration and remediation, was misused.

Other bills of Romine’s eliminate property taxes for disabled veterans, modify the crime of animal trespass, prohibit two-way communications devices in jails, change bingo regulations, modify titling for junk cars, and modify employer arbitration agreements.

romine

Romine family at inauguration

Paul Wieland, R, 22nd district, Imperial – Wieland covers the bulk of Jefferson County, and no other counties. One of his bills would allow a pregnant woman to enroll in a health insurance program at any time, not just during open enrollment periods. Another bill would allow life insurance companies to exclude coverage for suicide within the first year after the plan was issued. Wieland is an insurance agent.

Another bill repeals provisions of law that require the licensing and taxation of peddlers by counties.

Finally, Wieland is again proposing to repeal the death penalty in Missouri, in line with his Catholic pro-life views. He has tried this the past two years. Last year this bill made it out of committee but did not get a vote on the Senate floor.

wieland

Wieland family at inauguration

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.

Who Will Replace Boyer on the County Council?

13 Jan

Jefferson County Councilman Bob Boyer, a Republican from the Arnold-area district 3, was elected in November to be the next county assessor. While other officials elected in November are taking office now, Boyer will not do so until September 1, so that the current assessor can complete the biennial reassessment cycle that is currently underway.

According to the county charter, section 12.3.4, it is up to the council to fill a vacancy on the council. One would think that the county executive would make the appointment in such a situation, but that is not the case. He would do so if a county office, like treasurer, became vacant, but not for a council vacancy. Boyer’s term expires after the November 2018 election, so the person the council chooses to replace him would serve for about a year before having to decide whether to run for re-election (assuming this appointment will take place in late summer/early fall).

Since the council, minus Boyer, consists of 4 Republicans and 2 Democrats, we can assume that a Republican will be appointed to the seat (sorry, Phil Amato). But who might that person be? Let’s engage in some wild speculation by looking at Republicans who have recently run for Arnold-area elected office:

EJ Fleischmann – Current Ward 1 city councilman in Arnold, elected in April 2016. He is active in local GOP politics and has ties to state Representative Dan Shaul and state Senator Paul Wieland. These ties make him a serious competitor for this seat. He is young, at only 24 years of age. Odds of being appointed: 3/2

Jason Fulbright – The other Arnold Ward 1 city councilman in Arnold. He was first elected in April 2013 (unopposed). He ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination for state representative against Shaul in 2014, but won the Arnold township GOP committeeman position. Last year he was elected to the water board for the Arnold area (after that board painted the water tower blue). His party connections are growing, but I don’t think he lines up as well as Fleischmann ideologically with those who will make the appointment. He is currently signed up to run for re-election to the Arnold council in April. Odds: 4/1 He has ruled out being appointed to this seat

Dan Smith – He lost to Democrat Jeff Roorda in the 2012 race for state representative in District 113. He currently serves on the county Planning and Zoning Commission. But most importantly, he served on the Fox School Board from 2008-2014, while disgraced former Fox superintendent Dianne Critchlow was stealing from the district. Here’s what I wrote when he was appointed to P&Z:

Anybody who has served on the Fox school board over the past six years is, in my mind, automatically disqualified for any elected or appointed office, because it was the board that allowed all of this to happen, through a combination of neglect, naivete, or coziness with Critchlow.

I cannot fathom that the Jefferson County Council would actually appoint this guy to join them. Given that Critchlow has yet to experience any repercussions for her actions, I think the uproar among county residents would be quite significant if Smith was entrusted with another public office. But he still has friends in GOP circles, as indicated by his appointment to P&Z. Odds: 12/1

Phil Hendrickson – He challenged Boyer in the 2014 GOP primary for county council, losing 58-42%. He serves on the Jefferson County Code Commission. Odds: 20/1

Anybody else?

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