Heroin and Foster Care in Jefferson County

4 Mar

A number of recent news articles have appeared recently on the area’s heroin/opioid epidemic and specifically how it impacts the foster care system. Jefferson County in particular is affected by the combination of heroin use and a lack of foster homes. According to a KSDK report, there are 350 children in foster care in the county that can’t be placed with family members, but only 60 foster homes.

A recent Post-Dispatch article, accompanied by a stark front-page photo of two addicts shooting up in their kitchen, provided this chart of local heroin death rates:

heroin-rates

While STL City has far and away the worst problem, Jefferson and Franklin have the next highest rates among area counties.

Another P-D article highlighted the effects of heroin on the foster system in the region:

“We are in desperate need of more foster parents for the first time in a decade and a half,” said Melanie Scheetz, executive director of the Foster and Adoptive Care Coalition of St. Louis. “We need them for both newborns and older children.”

This article states that the number of JeffCo kids in foster care has increased by 20 percent in the past five years, while STL City and County have gone up by about 30 percent.

This graphic, also from the P-D, shows birth rates by county of children with opioid withdrawal symptoms:heroin-births

JeffCo is not in the top ten in the state in this statistic, and our 8.68 per 1,000 rate is lower than what is seen in Franklin, Washington, and St. Francois Counties, but higher than Ste. Genevieve and St. Louis Counties.

Local Response

Judge Darrell Missey, who sees foster care trends firsthand in his courtroom, helped start a group called Fostering Hope, and he is highlighted in this KSDK news report (definitely watch the video). This group helps spread the word about the need for more foster parents and lets churches and other groups know what they can do to help.

missey

Jefferson County Judge Darrell Missey

First Baptist Church in Arnold has started a One Less Orphan ministry. The goals of this program are to recruit, train, and support foster and adoptive parents.

The Jefferson County Foster Children’s Fund helps support foster children and parents by providing events and donations.

Kasten Port Snort Continues; Wieland Weighs In

26 Feb

As I wrote about recently, county councilman/school board member/city administrator Jim Kasten was denied reappointment to the county Port Authority board in December over concerns that serving multiple entities as he does constitutes a conflict of interest. The idea is that situations may arise where the interests of one body are not aligned with those of another. This issue came up again at the January 23 county council meeting, but more on that later.

State senator Paul Wieland introduced a bill on February 21 that directly addresses this issue – SB449. Here is the summary of the bill:

This act specifies that no member of a board of port authority commissioners shall be an employee or independent contractor of a city or county.

Kasten is the city administrator for Herculaneum, and as such this bill would prevent him from being appointed to the JeffCo Port board. Here’s what Wieland said in his weekly newsletter:

“Growing and expanding Missouri Ports are one of my highest priorities. Having had the opportunities to visit ports across our state and nation, I am convinced that limiting the conflict of interest of policies [sic] insiders and bureaucrats will allow Port Authority Boards to make decisions and react to market conditions quicker. The fastest growing and most efficient ports are ones without these conflicts,” said Senator Wieland. “I was impressed by the acumen of our county council that they too recently voted down a nomination to our Jefferson county port authority because they recognized the conflict by having a city administrator reappointed to the board.”

If SB 449 were to become law, it would remove the temptation for future county executives to attempt to appoint any career bureaucrats.

I don’t suspect this bill will go anywhere this session, but it sends a message. Not only one in support of the county council, but in rebuke of county executive Ken Waller, who nominated Kasten for reappointment and continues to support him.

Port Vote Discussed

Several individuals, including some family members, spoke in favor of Kasten being reappointed at the January 23 meeting. A few regular critics of Pevely government showed up to support the council’s decision to not reappoint, as did lawyer Stan Schnaare, who has been involved in several politically-connected legal actions in the county and ran for judge as a Republican in 2012.

Kasten himself also spoke. According to the meeting minutes, “he explained his anger at the December 27th meeting stemmed from sadness and fear, that his feelings were hurt that not one Councilmember called to confer about the appointment and he is now fearful there is no relationship with the people he serves with on the Council.” He stated his desire to stay on the port authority. However, it sounds like this question will not be reopened for consideration.

Waller also mentioned his disapproval for how the vote was handled, and presumably he means how Kasten was not informed beforehand. The council has done this type of thing a few times in the past, and while I agree with them on the principle of this issue, I also agree that council members probably shouldn’t blindside nominees when they are voting against their appointment or reappointment to a board position.

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.

Arnold Considering Lower Land Requirement for Chickens

18 Feb

Thanks in part to local residents who organized via Facebook, the city of Arnold is considering relaxing its current rules on lot size needed for keeping chickens in the city limits, but at the same time tightening other rules. Currently, an Arnoldian must have one acre of land to have chickens, and the city will come do an inspection, but there are no coop regulations.

animal-1842264_1280

via Pixabay.com

 

The city staff presented a “rough preliminary draft” of a new chicken ordinance at the February 8 work session (video here, chicken discussion starts at the 37 minute mark). Community development director Mary Holden basically said she was throwing this proposal out there to start the discussion and get input from the council, so I won’t blame her too much for the egregious parts of it, although it should be noted that most of the proposals are on the restrictive side compared to other cities in the area.

I don’t have a copy of the full proposal, but the highlights include:

  • minimum of 1/2 acre required
  • 4 bird limit
  • written permission from neighbors required
  • setbacks – 15′ from the property line, 50′ from buildings
  • coop rules – at the meeting they said the rules were similar to what Ellisville and Brentwood have – this would be at least 3-4 square feet per bird in the coop and at least 10 square feet per bird in the outdoor enclosure

The requirement to get permission from the neighbors is clearly an overreach, and one councilman (it is hard to tell who is speaking in the videos) made this point. What other activities on one’s own property require permission from the neighbors? Ellisville has a notification requirement, Glendale requires permission, and Webster Groves lets neighbors comment on the application, but most do not require this. (List of local chicken ordinances here).

Land requirements vary in the area, from 7,500 square feet up to 3-5 acres. I think there’s no reason someone with a regular single-family residential lot should not be able to keep chickens. Some places, like the City of St. Louis have that rule, and for others, 7,500 square feet approximates to the low end of the range of normal-sized lots.

The number of birds that local cities allow ranges from about 4-8, so again the Arnold proposal is on the restrictive side. It is hardly worth it to keep chickens if you only have 4, considering you get 5-6 eggs per week per hen. That’s hardly enough for breakfast for two people. Arnold should allow at least 6 birds, I’d say.

For setbacks, 10 feet from the property line seems to be the most common requirement locally, so Arnold’s proposal is again on the restrictive side.

Arnold council members are going to give their input to city staff, who will come up with another draft proposal. If you live in Arnold and are interested in this issue, now is the time to call your councilman.

JeffCo Senators Miffed at Governor

7 Feb

Both of the state senators that represent parts of Jefferson County expressed displeasure with Governor Eric Greitens, a fellow Republican, last week.

First, in a spat that got a lot of attention, Greitens ventured over to the Capitol when it looked like the Senate was going to fail to block a pay raise for elected officials that was recommended by a citizen panel. The raises take effect unless the legislature blocks them by a 2/3 vote in each house. So Greitens called GOP senators who were considering a no vote (no to blocking the raise) or a recusal into the office he was occupying to attempt to convince them to stop the pay raise. Senator Paul Wieland, who later said he was leaning towards a no vote at the time, was one who met with the governor. Wieland said the meeting was tense and that the governor tried to intimidate him.

In the end, Wieland and another senator voted no on the issue, but the pay raise was successfully blocked. Afterwards, Greitens took to Facebook to express his displeasure:

greitens-fb

(see the rest of the post here)

On Sunday, Wieland appeared on the TV show “This Week in Missouri Politics” to give his side of the story. He stated that he “does not respond well to pressure;” that he didn’t want to give in because he thought the governor would come back on the next issue and try to twist his arm again. He said he went from leaning towards support for the pay raise before the meeting to being firmly in favor of it after the meeting, because of the governor’s strong attempt to get him to change his vote.

In explaining his position, Wieland said he opposed pay raises the past three years, but that this raise was only 2% for legislators, who now make about $36,000 per year plus $104 per day for expenses. The legislative session lasts from the beginning of January through mid-May, plus a few days of veto session in September. The raise would have given them about $1,800 more in pay and raised per diem to $150. Wieland said that to attract good people to serve in the government, the pay has to keep up.

Wieland said he met with the governor the day after the pay raise vote, and that they are committed to working together going forward.

The Other Senator

Senator Gary Romine was not happy about Greitens’ budget address:

Specifically, Romine did not like the governor’s reference to “career politicians” (a term Greitens uses a lot) in the legislature causing the current Missouri budget crisis. Romine stated that there are no career politicians in the legislature due to term limits, and that the executive and legislative branches are a team and need to respect each other.

All in all, I know the legislative majority is glad to have a GOP governor now, so he can sign the bills they pass rather than veto them. And I think it is good that we have a governor that is engaged with legislators, as opposed to previous governor Jay Nixon’s aloofness. I also think it is good that the governor and legislature are not completely in lockstep; they need to keep each other accountable so bad bills don’t get passed (insert liberal objections here). Greitens clearly feels that passing a pay raise would have been horrible optics amid the state’s current budget situation. There may be more tense moments going forward, but I think legislative-executive relations will be fine and productive.

RTW Roll Call

3 Feb

The Missouri Legislature has passed right to work and sent it to the governor’s desk, where it is sure to be signed. Below I will record the votes of the JeffCo legislative contingent on right to work bills (HB 91 and SB 19). There are no surprises here; everyone voted as expected.

Senators

Wieland – No

Romine – No

Representatives

Gannon – No

Harris – No

McCaherty – No

Roden – No

Ruth – No

Shaul – Yes

Vescovo – Yes

Wagner Resigns as County Clerk; Who to Replace Him?

30 Jan

Wes Wagner has turned in his resignation as Jefferson County Clerk, where his main duties are running elections, issuing licenses, and serving as recording secretary for the County Council. He will leave his post on the last day of February, presumably to spend more time with his family and whatnot. It had not been anticipated that he was going to run for re-election in 2018.

Who will county executive Ken Waller choose to replace Wagner? Thanks to a quirk in the county charter, Waller has to choose another Democrat to fill the spot. I presume that Waller, a Republican, will not want to choose a young, up-and-coming Democrat who has a good chance to win election to the seat in his/her own right. Instead, Waller may look to a seasoned Democrat who was recently turned out of county office in the county GOP wave of the past 7 years. Or he could tap someone who currently works in the clerk’s office. Given the state of local politics, the appointee is sure to be an underdog in 2018 as a Democrat, so maybe Waller will find a 2-year placeholder that won’t want to run again. Or the person could switch parties and run as a Republican. Here are some possibilities (I have no inside info on these names):

Dorothy Stafford – She served as county auditor for 20 years before being defeated in 2014. She tried to get back in the game in 2016 by running for county treasurer, but was unsuccessful. She doesn’t seem to be ready to retire.

Bruce King – County public administrator for 14 years before being knocked off in 2012. He is currently suing the county, claiming based on language in the charter that he should have been paid more money his last two years of service. I think he is carrying water for other current and former elected officials who don’t want to put their name on a lawsuit demanding more money from taxpayers.

Jeannie Goff – She is currently Wagner’s chief of staff in the clerk’s office. Perhaps the odds-on favorite, since she knows the job, and Wagner might put in a good word for her with Waller, who may listen.

Tim Meadows – Former state representative, ran unsuccessfully for county council in 2012. Currently serves on the county Port Authority board.

Ben Harris – Current state representative for the 118th district in the south part of the county. He has a lonely existence as the only rural Democrat in the state House of Representatives. He will be term-limited out of the House in 2018, so he might be up for switching from a part-time to a full-time political job for the next two years. He’s only 40, though, perhaps too young for the criteria I outlined above.

Any other possibilities?

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