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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.

Critchlow was Reckless, But Prosecutors Feckless

19 Jan

Once again, an area prosecutor has declined to bring charges against disgraced former Fox C-6 superintendent Dianne Critchlow for her use of taxpayer funds as her personal piggy bank. This time it was St. Charles County prosecutor Tim Lohmar, who took over the case from JeffCo Prosecutor Wafflin’ (Forrest) Wegge, who first looked at the case, but then later decided to recuse himself.

Though none of us believe our justice system is perfect, we like to think, in the case of egregious offenses against the public trust, that people will be held accountable, and that those in powerful positions will be held to a higher standard. We trust that the many checks and balances that exist in our system will not let someone who commits public offenses get away with it.

But the system has failed here.

“The review of the investigation is now concluded,” Lohmar said in a statement, “with a finding that there were no violations of the criminal laws of the State of Missouri, and consequently, no criminal charges will be filed.”

Well hell’s bells. What does a superintendent have to do to get some jail time? Lohmar could not find any law that Critchlow had broken? I refuse to believe that our legal code is so inadequate that a prosecutor, who, as the saying goes, could indict a ham sandwich, could not find reason to charge Critchlow with anything. Back in June I, admittedly not a lawyer, perused the statutes and found several infractions that I think apply to Critchlow:

  • Felony stealing (B felony if over $25,000 stolen – multiple counts possible here)
  • Official misconduct (misdemeanor)
  • Fraudulent use of a credit device (felony if over $500 stolen within 30 days)
  • Fraudulent use of facsimile signature or seal (felony, 2-10 years jail). I’m not sure if this applies. We know she made unauthorized use of facsimile signatures on her contracts, but did she do so on “a public security or an instrument of payment?”
  • Tampering with physical evidence – felony in this case. Fox CFO John Brazeal said that several district employees destroyed electronic records and that former CFO Mark McCutchen shredded documents. Did Dianne do this or order others to do so?
  • Probably something securities related, having to do with the misuse of bond proceeeds that Brazeal reported in August 2014. While it noted the district’s failures in bond issuance, the auditor’s report did not mention anything about how bond proceeds were used.

A Review of the Audit

Let me pull a few of the more damning findings out of the state audit report on the Fox school district, via the Post-Dispatch, to see what kind of actions that Lohmar found to be not worthy of charges:

  • She manipulated her own salary without board approval, the audit states, by drawing up contract adjustments and signing them with the board’s electronic signature to net about $20,000 over two years beyond what the school board had agreed to pay her. Her husband received about $89,000 in compensation that was never approved and wrongly paid.
  • Over two years ending in 2014, she racked up about $100,000 in questionable expenses on three school district credit cards for things such as iTunes gift cards, shampoo, watches, wedding gifts and a garlic press.
  • Critchlow’s two sons were awarded about $7,000 collectively in scholarship money through three district scholarship programs that she personally oversaw.
  • Logging equipment was purchased on Amazon and sent to Critchlow’s home. She and her husband were trying to start a land and timber improvement/sales company.

But hey, nothing to see here. Carry on. No laws were broken. The former superintendent at St. Joseph, Dan Colgan, has to wonder why he ended up in jail for his theft. Maybe they just have better prosecutors over on that side of the state.

State Auditor Nicole Galloway stands by her office’s audit findings:

My office stands by the facts included in the independent audit report. The former superintendent used taxpayer dollars to personally benefit herself and a select few individuals close to her at the expense of the students, families and staff of the Fox School District. Whether those facts rise to the level of a criminal prosecution is at the sole discretion of the prosecuting attorney.

Too bad we can’t rely on our prosecutors.

Critchlow to Sue?

Critchlow’s lawyer, Brandy Barth, said they’re now going to sue:

Barth said Critchlow plans to file a lawsuit. Critchlow is no longer working “because of the defamation,” Barth said. “She couldn’t get hired to do anything.”

(Note: she was working for international education conglomerate Pearson before this blog made that news public.)

Now, normally I would laugh at this. Filing a lawsuit would open up Critchlow to discovery. She would have to answer questions under oath about her actions as superintendent. She would not want to do that, and as such, a lawsuit would be too risky.

However, such a lawsuit would be filed against Fox school district. The board there has not given us any indication they would want to fight this. I have little doubt that they would roll over and quickly agree to a settlement with Critchlow to make this go away. I predict such a settlement would be in the $50-100,000 range.

Any More Hope?

The only possible avenue remaining for justice here is the state attorney general. I’m not sure if the AG can act in this situation; if not, then Critchlow is free to spend her ill-gotten gains as she sees fit with no fear of legal repercussions. If that is the case, it is indeed a sad day in Missouri.

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?

2016 APR Rankings and School Poverty Rates

7 Jan

I am a bit behind here on posting the results of local schools in the 2016 Missouri Annual Performance Report (APR) rankings, which came out in November. So you may have already read about this. In order to add a little value, I am including the percentage of students in each district eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, which is the proxy for poverty rate generally used in the education business (income eligibility table here – it’s a Texas link but the numbers are the same). This will give us an indication of how poverty plays into the JeffCo school rankings.

For review, APR is a method of ranking schools in Missouri that takes into account test scores (and their changes over time), graduation rates, attendance, and college/career readiness. Here is my table:

2016-apr-table

The top three districts in the county for APR are unchanged this year, except that Windsor is tied for 2nd instead of being in 3rd place. Jefferson continues to improve, moving up to 4th this year while Northwest remains 5th. Hillsboro and Dunklin are slowly getting better. Sunrise and Desoto had bounce-back years, returning to their score from two years ago after big drops last year. Crystal City is stagnant, and Grandview dropped big; the district went from 4th in the county last year to 8th this year.

For statewide comparison, the Post-Dispatch reports that “about 67 percent of districts in the state got at least a 90 percent score, which is similar to last year.”

Free/Reduced Lunch Rates

There is definitely a correlation between APR score and free lunch rate in JeffCo; the five districts with the highest free lunch rates occupy the bottom five spots in the rankings, though not in order. Dunklin has the highest free lunch rate at 55.9%, followed by Sunrise and Desoto (which has the lowest APR). The statewide percentage of students eligible is 51.7%. Free lunch rates and other data are available here.

Interestingly, Festus, the best district in the county by the APR and MAP measures, has only the fifth-lowest free lunch rate. Facts like this show that a district can overcome a higher poverty rate, at least to some extent. The lowest free lunch rate is at Fox, at 32.6%, 23 percent less than at Dunklin.

JeffCo Year Ahead

1 Jan

Greetings and Happy New Year. Thank you for checking out this blog on occasion. I thought I would list some of the topics that I’m sure will be discussed on these pages in the coming year.

  • We should get an idea this year whether there will be any justice for Dianne Critchlow, or whether she will walk away scot-free after pillaging the Fox school district. The St. Charles County prosecutor is currently reviewing the case.
  • The detente between Arnold mayor Ron Counts and councilman Phil Amato seems to be over, and they may face off in the April mayoral election. Will police chief Bob Shockey interfere again on Counts’ behalf (he sued Counts’ opponents last time around)? Will Amato have his campaign office inside the Arnold Food Pantry (cans for votes?)? Will someone young jump into the race?
  • It should be a very exciting legislative session starting this week. With Jay Nixon out of the way, the GOP supermajorities can pass right to work and other union bills as well as some need legal reforms without having to worry that Senator Gary Romine (GOP, 3rd district, Farmington), who represents southern JeffCo, will fail to support veto override votes. As usual, I will cover our JeffCo delegation in Jeff City as nobody else does.
  • Speaking of which, I’m sure other issues will arise where I will have to fill the vacuum left by the Leader when it refuses to cover them properly or at all. But it’s a service I am happy to provide.

Let me know in the comments if there are other events you are looking forward to this year, and as always, I welcome your news tips.

 

Grandview Needs to Take Next Step in Response to Scandal

23 Dec

The Leader has reported that the Grandview R-2 school district has put business manager Angela Huskey on unpaid administrative leave after finding that “internal fiscal control procedures were not properly followed.” This was found as a result of a special audit ordered by the district on October 20 after initial suspicions arose. The district will spend up to $80,000 for the audit.

However, the school board needs to take the next step and ask for an audit from the state auditor. Such an audit would be comprehensive, unbiased, professional, and transparent to taxpayers. Will the current special audit, being performed by longtime auditor of the Fox district Dan Jones and Associates, even be released to the public? The discussion between Jones and the Grandview board that took place on December 15 was conducted in a closed session. Taxpayers need to be sure that whatever wrongdoing took place at Grandview is aired publicly, not concealed in closed session. The audit will serve as the basis for any potential criminal prosecution (even if the county prosecutor slow rolls such prosecution). A state audit will tell us how well the district is managing taxpayer dollars and recommend improved procedures. One person cannot steal or misappropriate large sums of money from a school district (if that’s what happened here) without other people failing to exercise the required checks and balances. Who else is culpable? I do not believe that “we are already doing an audit” is a valid excuse not to get a state audit, because they are not the same.

You may recall that, back when the Fox scandal broke, the school board initially resisted calls by myself, Rich Simpson, and others for a state audit. They said, nah, let’s give Fox CFO John Brazeal a chance to investigate.” But soon, Brazeal said a state audit was needed, and the Fox board asked the state auditor to investigate, which he agreed to do. This is from the intro to the final audit report:

The Fox C-6 School District was selected for an audit in part due to a written audit request by the Fox C-6 Board of Education (Board), in addition to phone calls received outlining concerns, and news articles detailing questionable practices by former Superintendent Dr. Dianne Critchlow.

Because the auditor accepted the audit request from Fox, the district did not have to pay for the audit, so cost cannot be used as an excuse not to do this.

Call to Action

This is where the people of the Grandview district come in. Contact your school board members and the state auditor and ask for a state audit. Ask your school board members if they will represent the taxpayers or cover for the administration. Forward the articles from the Leader to the state auditor. Let’s make sure that we get to the bottom of what has happened at Grandview.

State Auditor contact info:
(800) 347-8597
moaudit@auditor.mo.gov

Grandview school board member contact info can be found at this link.

Unpaid Leave

Do you think that Rep. Rob Vescovo’s Critchlow Law is to thank for the fact that Huskey is on unpaid leave instead of paid leave? Perhaps it is, but she’s also a lowly business manager. Paid leave is often reserved for senior administrators.

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