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Municipal Election Notes, 2019 Edition

8 Apr

A few observations on last week’s voting:

School Bonds: While there were many school propositions on the ballot, Fox and Grandview had the only bond issues (as opposed to straight tax levy hikes). These proposals required approval by 4/7 of the voters, or 57.14 percent, as per state law. While Grandview barely cleared this threshold, Fox did not, and so its Prop S failed, although it did get over 50%. I am not sure that many realized that the 4/7 requirement was in place – there was some early excitement among Fox fans (and sadness among Prop S opponents) when the vote totals initially came in.

In some cases, a 2/3 vote is required for bond issues. According to MuniBondAdvisor:

A four-sevenths majority is required for general-obligation bond issues submitted at regular elections in April, in August primaries (in even numbered years) and in November general elections (in even numbered years). At all other elections, a two-thirds majority is required.

I guess the idea is to encourage government entities to hold these votes during higher-turnout voting dates, although with only 17% turnout in JeffCo, April elections don’t get much interest from voters.

In any event, expect Fox to come back with another bond proposal. They will lower the dollar value (this one was worth $70 million) and perhaps add some other tweaks in an attempt to make the proposal more palatable. They will say that the fact that a majority of Fox voters were for Prop S gives them the moral authority to try again.

911 tax: The vote to retain a 1/4-cent sales tax for JeffCo 911 passed big, with 70% of the vote, despite vocal opposition by state senator Paul Wieland, a Republican. The Southern Missouri Conservative Fund also sent a mailer opposing the tax. This political action committee got all its money this cycle ($7,000) from…Wieland’s campaign account. The mailer also weighed in on the race for JeffCo Health Board, with the main interest of denying re-election to John Scullin, who is also chairman of the 911 dispatch board. This effort was successful.

I am not totally sure everyone understood that 911 does not provide ambulances and fire trucks, but merely does the dispatching (which is important, of course).

The big question of this campaign was: is this a tax increase or not? The 911 people said no. A 1/4-cent sales tax for 911 was passed in 2009 with a 10-year sunset provision, meaning that it was going to go away unless the 911 proposition passed at this election. So your taxes would have gone down had nothing happened or had the vote failed (911 has another 1/4-cent sales tax besides this one). Therefore I believe that this is, in fact, a tax increase.

Byrnes Mill: I have long begged for some competition for the inept group that runs Byrnes Mill, but beyond a close race for mayor in 2017, there has not been much of it. This year, however, saw challengers for mayor and two board of aldermen seats.

However, the mayor’s race was not much of a contrast. You had the incumbent, Rob Kiczenski, who has been in BM government long enough that he should have known the city PD was a raging dumpster fire (as we saw last fall), taking on Gary Dougherty, who as police chief presided over said dumpster fire. Kiczenski won the race with 62% of the vote.

The two contested board races were not close, either, as both incumbents (who were also willfully ignorant about the state of the PD) cruised to re-election.

Hillsboro Mayor: Buddy Russell remarkably won a write-in campaign with 71% in a three-way race for Hillsboro mayor. One of the people he defeated was former mayor Dennis Bradley, who in his previous stint was accused of assaulting a sheriff’s deputy, after which he resigned. During the campaign he was accused of stealing an opponent’s sign. Russell will have to oversee the rebuilding of the city police after it was found earlier this year to be in poor, poor shape, and the previous mayor, Joe Phillips, weakly resigned when he got criticized over even considering turning policing over to the county sheriff.

Fox C-6 School Board: As usual, the Dianne Critchlow supported/associated (and also teachers’ union endorsed) candidates won, Judy Smith and Carole Yount.

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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.

Leader Too Quick to Pat Own Back

19 Aug

In the August 9 Leader, Pat Martin wrote a column about how the much-maligned press saves taxpayers money, according to researchers. He then proceeded to pat the paper’s figurative back with a bold “you’re welcome.” But both generally and in the specific example cited in the study, I don’t think the paper is owed many thank-you cards.

I believe in the general result of the study, which says that local news outlets are needed to keep an eye on elected officials and let them know that they can’t get away with shenanigans. I am reminded of this paragraph from Pat Gauen in the Post-Dispatch:

When I started as a reporter at the old Collinsville Herald, many Metro East communities had local newspapers. Some of the best, like mine, held government accountable at the grass-roots level. My investigations included a questionable city bond issue, slacking street repair crews, deficiencies in the fire department, and Medicaid fraud at a local pharmacy.

The specific issue cited in the study was negotiated bond sales by local governmental entities, which cost the taxpayers more in interest than sales that are put up for a bid. However, as I wrote in 2013, all of the school districts in JeffCo were using negotiated bond sales, according to a state auditor’s report. So in this instance, having a local paper did not save taxpayers any money on bond issues.

In fact, it was local state representative and current House majority leader Rob Vescovo who put an end to this practice by passing legislation (as part of SB 111) in 2017 requiring cities and school districts to use competitive bidding on bond issues. So in this instance he is the one who deserves some thanks for saving us money.

Another item Martin mentions from the study is that areas without newspapers have higher government wages, the theory being that administrators will raise their pay if nobody is there to alert the public. But we had a newspaper when Dianne Critchlow was raking in $260,000 per year as head of the Fox school district, so it clearly didn’t harm her earning potential. I think the whole Critchlow scandal offers an example of the Leader showing up after the fact, after the whistle has already been blown, rather than doing any investigating that uncovered wrongdoing. And even when they did show up, the paper refused to ask hard questions about the Critchlow regime, instead printing puff pieces on departing assistant superintendents.

Another example of lax oversight, I think, is in the case of county executive Ken Waller. I have compared him several times to St. Louis County executive Steve Stenger, whose unethical, combative, vindictive behavior is covered extensively by the St. Louis media. If the big city media had more interest in JeffCo (they used to have a JeffCo beat writer at the Post-Dispatch; another casualty of declining revenues, I guess), I think Waller would receive a lot more negative press. But the Leader usually just writes down what he says. In a column purporting to trace the genesis of the Waller-council feud, the paper even forgot about the politician pay raise lawsuit, which is really where the relationship blew up. On the editorial side of things, the paper even endorsed Waller in his race for county clerk (will they do so in November, though?). As for the pay lawsuit, it has been Elliott Davis from Fox 2 who is putting the pressure on participating politicians. Occasionally, local issues do rise up enough to meet the interest of the STL media, fortunately.

In short, I appreciate the need for a local watchdog media, but I don’t think we have it here. I try to do what I can, but I am just one guy who does this on the side (though I appreciate your tips, and I have found that exposing wrongdoing begets even more tips). The Leader employs several reporters to do this work and has a much larger audience. One reporter, Nate Anton, did some great work uncovering Margie Sammons’ misconduct at Rock Ambulance (which I relied upon here), leading to her forced departure, but he was subsequently sent packing by the paper. When the Leader starts uncovering wrongdoing, rather than reacting to it, I will be first in line to offer pats on the back.

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.

Fox Board Candidate Chellew’s Critchlow Connections Persist

4 Mar

Former Fox superintendent Jim Chellew is the latest in a line of Friends of Dianne Critchlow to run for Fox School Board since she resigned in disgrace in 2014 after news of her massive theft from the district emerged. He is running in the April 3 election. Chellew, in fact, is the one who got Critchlow the superintendent job. As the Leader put it:

When Chellew decided to retire in 2005, he championed Dianne Brown (Critchlow) as his successor. She was hired at $135,217, a salary that nearly doubled in nine years.

Chellew said at the time:

“She will be the finest superintendent the Fox district has ever had, and I sincerely mean that,” he said. “She is one of the brightest individuals I’ve ever worked with and the most talented. I believe the best for Fox is yet to come.”

Not only that, but she was the only applicant for the job, which was only advertised in the district. It’s like everyone else knew the fix was in and didn’t even bother to apply.

Some might say, well, he didn’t know she would go on to defraud the district. But I find it unlikely that Critchlow was a woman of morality, ethics, and virtue right up until the moment she decided to hatch a wide-ranging conspiracy to rob the district blind.

Furthermore, Chellew’s support for Critchlow did not end when she assumed the superintendent job. In 2011 he attempted to persuade district critic Rich Simpson, he who caused the Fox scandal to be uncovered, to stop speaking out against the district. When that failed, Chellew apparently blabbed to Critchlow. We know this because Chellew was cited in the cease and desist letter that Critchlow got the district’s law firm to send to Simpson (and three other district critics) threatening them with lawsuits if they continued to use their free speech rights to criticize school district administrators. From the letter sent to Simpson:

“As an additional example, you approached a former Superintendent of the District in a public setting. Among other things, you informed him that it was your intention to see that two of the District’s administrators were fired.”

Simpson recounted that conversation here. In the post, he states that Chellew also said “he was the one that put Dianne in her position as superintendent and that he would fight to make sure that she didn’t get fired.”

Would Critchlow still be superintendent today if Simpson had listened to Chellew?

This activity seems to belie the politician non-answer Chellew gave on Facebook when questioned by Simpson and myself about his Critchlow connections and whether he would attempt to recover any of her illicit gains:

chellew-fb

Still Supporters

It is also interesting to see who is pledging their support for Chellew’s campaign:

brengle-jc

Brengle, a retired Fox assistant principal, was one of the people caught leaving nasty anonymous comments on the Topix web page targeting Simpson and other Fox critics.

didi-fb

And there’s the big kahuna herself, Dianne (Critchlow) Salsman, expressing her public support for Chellew.

Why It Matters

Some might say about this issue, “who cares, time to move on.” But the thing is, Critchlow’s attorney has threatened to sue the school district, claiming she is the victim. This is from January 2017:

“It is time for the public’s and the media’s outrage to focus on the true wrongdoers – the people who lied to and deceived them, humiliated and embarrassed Fox C-6 School District, and defamed an innocent, life-long public servant,” Barth said in the statement. “We intend to hold all of the responsible parties accountable in a court of law.”

I realize that statement will cause a lot of you to laugh and/or puke. This is, however, a serious threat. These days, lawsuits against local government entities are not heard in the courtroom, they are settled in the boardroom. Look at the many lawsuits the city of Arnold has been party to, or look at how the Pevely mayor scored herself a big settlement from the city. In these examples, cushy relationships between elected and appointed officials allowed for paydays that would have been unlikely had a judge been involved

So what happens if a bunch of Critchlow pals make it to the school board? Will they give her a big settlement? That is why this issue is so important.

Answers Needed

People generally seem to think Chellew did a good job as Fox superintendent. Here is what the Leader said:

He did a great job mending fences, got tax issues passed to pay for major facility upgrades and generally restored sanity and confidence.

Winning a tax hike being, I guess, the modern measure of superintendent success (will he support another Fox tax hike?). That and not stealing. But even with that being the case, the Critchlow issue is a cloud over him.

Chellew so far refuses to comment on his Critchlow ties. At the very least, he needs to tell us if he thinks she did anything wrong, or if instead he agrees with Dianne’s lawyer that she is a totally innocent victim. He also needs to denounce any support for his campaign from her or her cronies. Finally, he really should admit he made a large mistake in making her superintendent. Then he can put the Critchlow issue behind him.

JeffCo School APR Scores 2017; Sunrise Rises, Followed by Fox

19 Nov

Once again, the state has released the yearly Annual Performance Report (APR) scores for each Missouri school district, and once again I will compile scores for the districts in Jefferson County. Here is my report from last year. The state has also released the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) scores; these tell us how students did on the subject standardized tests. I will look at the MAP numbers in a separate post.

Here is a table of this year’s APR data:

2017 apr table.jpg

 

As you can see, Sunrise R-9 school district made a big jump, from 89% all the way up to a perfect 100%, one of eight area districts to achieve this score. Sunrise is a K-8 district near Desoto that is considering expanding to K-12. From what I can tell by looking at the raw data (which is hard to find and a bit hard to decipher), Sunrise’s increased score is entirely due to improved performance on the science portion of the state standardized test. Sunrise went from 64% proficient or advanced in that subject last year to 76% this year. As you see from the chart, Sunrise also saw a big jump in APR score from 2015 to 2016.

In other news, Fox jumped ahead of Festus, who led the ratings each of the past three years. This year, the difference between Fox and Festus is one point on the 140-point scale. Jefferson, who was 4th last year, also jumped ahead of Festus by half a point. Fox’s score went up four points from last year.

Desoto, which has been rocked by the controversial departure of a principal and two resignations from the school board and is facing a state audit, came in last place in the county for the third year in a row. For comparison, a score of 70% or more is required to be considered fully accredited; Desoto scored an 87.1%.

As the Post-Dispatch explains, “Missouri’s Annual Performance Reports score school districts on measures such as academics, college and career readiness, student attendance and graduation rates.”

Action Alert: Last Sliver of Hope for Critchlow Justice

8 Oct

I know I’ve been posting a lot of Critchlow stuff lately, but I can’t help it when material keeps coming up. Here, I will give you an action item to pursue if you are so inclined.

When JeffCo Prosecutor Forrest (Wrist Slap) Wegge punted the Dianne Critchlow Fox theft case to the feds, it went to the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri to decide on federal prosecution, assisted by an FBI investigation. As you recall, the feckless Feds announced their decision not to prosecute in November of 2016.

But now there is a new boss at the Eagleton Courthouse. As is customary when a new president takes office, the US Attorney has been replaced. The new one, Jeffrey Jensen, was appointed by President Trump and sworn in on Friday. Jensen is a former FBI agent and accountant, a resume that would seem ideal for prosecuting crimes like these.

So I am thinking maybe, just maybe, we can get Jensen to reopen the case and right a horrendous wrong. But we need to make him aware of this need. Therefore, I am asking everyone to call his office. The number is 314-539-2200. If you use Twitter, you can contact them here.

 

Here are some talking points:

  • The Missouri state auditor says Critchlow misappropriated over $200,000 of taxpayer money to directly benefit herself and her family.
  • Her wrongdoing cost the Fox school district up to $1.1 million.
  • She used district credit cards for personal spending, fraudulently increased her own salary, and awarded scholarships to her own children.
  • She led a reign of terror, rewarding her cronies financially while threatening the jobs of anyone who questioned her.
  • This violation of the trust of taxpayers at the expense of school children cannot be allowed to go unpunished.
  • The local investigation into this matter was tainted by conflict of interest.

This is very likely the last chance to get any justice in the Critchlow case, and it is a slim one. The federal statute of limitations is generally five years, so charges should still be possible. Thank you for your assistance, and if you get any feedback when you call, let me know.

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