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?

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.

Doors Thrown Open on Arnold Backroom Deals in Campaign Spat

25 Jan

If corruption in Arnold becomes so bad that the Leader is forced to write about it, you know it’s serious stuff.

Years of good old boy, backscratching, crony politics broke wide open today as the wary detente of Mayor Ron Counts and Councilman Phil Amato exploded publicly. As the filing deadline for April’s mayoral election approached, Counts filed complaints with the state Attorney General and the Missouri Ethics Commission over a deal that Amato supposedly offered him, which would have kept Amato out of the mayor’s race. This is what Amato wanted, according to Counts and as reported in the Leader:

  • Choose a certain person as the next Public Works director, thus eschewing an open, fair, hiring process oriented towards picking the best candidate and instead elevating a probable Amato crony.
  • Choose a certain person as the next Parks and Rec director, thus eschewing an open, fair, hiring process oriented towards picking the best candidate and instead elevating a probable Amato crony.
  • Force Bob Shockey out as police chief.
  • Give Amato an “unspecified benefit.”

Amato does not deny the first two, says that he merely wants to know when Shockey will finally leave, and claims that the benefit is “maybe a dinner.” I fully endorse the third item, and I suspect the fourth is a special deal for a Amato developer pal or something a bit more substantial than a meal at Applebee’s.

I fully suspect that, had Amato and Counts been able to come to an agreement (perhaps by dropping item 3), this deal would have been signed, sealed, and delivered, and Amato would have happily gone back to the council. Instead, here we are.

Smoking Gun Not a Secret

Amato also released what he claimed was a “smoking gun” that would have stayed secret had Counts accepted the deal. Amato said it was the city that ordered Ameren to shut off the electricity to flood-threatened areas of Arnold last December during the historic Meramec River flooding. This decision led to many flooded basements, as homeowners could no longer operate their sump pumps.

Counts denies this, and states that it was a consensus decision. I wrote about this back in February. Here is the statement I got from Ameren on this issue:

ameren-flood-response-feb-16

I think in the end, it had to be the city that made the order, while Ameren was free to advise. The real question, as I wrote in the article linked above, was which homes to shut off. It was clear that Arnold selected way too many homes to cut power to, 530 of them, when in the end only about 150 homes saw major damage. From statements, it appears that Arnold was working off of flood estimates that were two feet too high and not in line with what anybody was actually forecasting in the days before the flood. This would explain why the number of homes which had power shut off was so excessive. It was Counts and Shockey that were spouting the incorrect flood forecasts.

On an interesting flood note, residents complained that their manholes were not pumped out, and this contributed to the backups. The city said, hey, it’s not our sewer system, we sold it to Missouri American Water. The city heavily campaigned for this sale (while Amato voted against it as a city councilman) and tacked on an illegal tax. The city government got a bunch of money, and the residents got sewage-filled basements.

Shockey and Sweeney

Where there is corruption in Arnold, Shockey and city attorney Bob Sweeney cannot be far behind. It was Shockey who arranged to pay his son-in-law to attend police academy, steered city purchases to his personal businesses, interfered in the 2013 mayoral election on behalf of Counts with a frivolous, baseless discrimination lawsuit, and extracted a $70,000 payout from the city via that lawsuit. And here we are again with Shockey weighing in on the mayoral election on behalf of Counts.

Sweeney has interfered in Arnold elections by selectively booting candidates from the ballot based on their ideology, been grossly overpaid for years by running up billable hours, shilled for red light camera company American Traffic Solutions, and given bad legal advice.

Amato states that Counts doesn’t really do much, and that Shockey and Sweeney run the city. It has been true over the years that certain city officials won’t do much without consulting Sweeney, and that Shockey is pulling a lot of strings to advance his own interests. Here are their responses to Amato in the Leader:

sweeney shockey amato.png

Sad to hear that Shockey won’t retire, but if you face no accountability, why not hang around and suck up a paycheck? And I suspect Amato’s “vendetta” is just that he finally got sick of Shockey’s mooching off of the city.

It is clear that Sweeney and Shockey like the status quo in Arnold, and will be fighting to maintain it in this campaign. It will be interesting to monitor the campaign contributions that the two candidates receive.

Who to Back?

On one hand, I think good people in Arnold should back the third candidate for mayor, William Denman, who I know nothing about, only to get rid of Counts and Amato, who is running for mayor instead of for re-election to the council. But, given that Amato seems ready to get rid of Shockey and Sweeney, perhaps we should support him. Achieving those two goals alone would be enough to Make Arnold Great Again.

More importantly, given the sheer number of figurative bodies that are buried in Arnold City Hall, here’s hoping that the campaign stays nasty, and that Amato and Counts reveal some more secrets about Arnold city operations between now and April 4.

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.

Cardona Reacts to Court Dispute Story

19 Jan

The Post-Dispatch had a column on the 11th about a JeffCo couple, the owners of Persimmon Ridge Winery, having trouble with redneck hoosier neighbors infringing on their property and denying them access to easements. I posted this article on Facebook, and it drew a couple of comments, including one from Jefferson County judge Troy Cardona, who is handling one of the court cases mentioned in the article.

cardona-land-post

That seems a bit grumpy to me, and that libel threat is completely baseless and irresponsible. Where’s the supposedly libelous statement? Besides, most of us have jobs, and can’t just come sit in a courtroom all day. This is how the P-D article described the case Cardona is presiding over:

In 2014, they had problems with another landowner, whose property abuts Sheppard Drive, the main access to Persimmon Ridge Winery. The winery has a clear legal easement on the road, but Edward Manley III, according to court records, kept messing with it. He’d put rocks on the easement, fill in a drainage ditch to make the road flood, or dig on the back side of the road to make it less stable. Suedkamp [a winery owner] took him to court and won.

But Manley did not fix the damage. In June of this year he was ordered by Cardona to pay $15,ooo and move his crap by July 1, but he has done none of this, according to the article. Here’s what Casenet says:

manley case.jpg

A garnishment was placed on Manley, but this says it was delayed because Manley is bankrupt. But then on December 29, a Satisfaction of Judgment was filed, which would suggest the money was paid. I’m not sure what’s going on here. I contacted an owner of the winery, but got no response as of yet. But this has dragged on for over two years, and this is only one of the problem neighbors the winery is dealing with. According to a Facebook post, the winery owners will be appearing at a county council meeting soon, presumably to request some kind of assistance in dealing with these issues. I hope there’s something that can be done.

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