Tag Archives: byrnes mill

Byrnes Mill Has County’s Most Confiscatory Court

29 Nov

Update: It has been pointed out to me that both Byrnes Mill and Hillsboro have the same municipal judge: Colby Smith-Hynes.

Following up on my post about JeffCo police ticketing and search practices, here I will delve into the county’s various municipal courts (St. Louis County’s municipal courts have become controversial since the Michael Brown shooting). The state makes available data on number of cases and fine collections. This data is for fiscal year 2013. Here is my table (click to enlarge):

2013 Municipal Court Data for Jefferson County, MO.

2013 Municipal Court Data for Jefferson County, MO.

I ordered the data here by fines per person (based on 2010 population of persons ages 16+), and you can see that Byrnes Mill, notorious for its aggressive policing, leads the #2 city, Hillsboro, by more than a 2-to-1 margin. Byrnes Mill was also first in cases per person; Hillsboro was again second. You may recall that Byrnes Mill was first in arrests per person in the police stats I presented. Hillsboro was second in percentage of stops in which a ticket was issued. I have not heard of any reputation that the Hillsboro police have, similar to what Pevely and Byrnes Mill have, but perhaps one is needed, given these numbers.

Pevely was fourth in both fines per person and cases per person. Pevely was first in stops per person and ticketing percentage in the police stats. I should note that I reported in January that Pevely brought in $548,000 in ticket revenue in calendar year 2013, according to records from the city. The city’s fiscal year also runs from January to December, so I’m not sure what the discrepancy is between my data and the state’s data. Maybe something to do with when tickets are written versus when the money is collected. My numbers indicate Pevely brought in $262,000 in 2012, and budgeted for $425,000 in revenue this year.

It is interesting to compare Hillsboro and Byrnes Mill to Herculaneum, since they have similar populations. Herculaneum is near the bottom of the list in both of my measures. What’s up with that?

It is not clear to me why Kimmswick needs police or a court, if they are issuing no citations.

More on Byrnes Mill

This Show-Me Institute story outlines the eight cities in St. Louis County that derive the highest percentages of their budgets from court fines. The fines per person in the Show-Me article are per all residents, while the numbers in my table above are per residents over the age of 15. Using the article’s measure, Byrnes Mill’s fines-per-person number is $159.45.

Another important number highlighted in the article is percent of city revenue derived from traffic fines. The Mack’s Creek Law says this number should not exceed 30%. All eight of the STL county cities identified exceed that, and the overage should be directed to schools, but this law is not strongly enforced. The article notes that municipal court revenue numbers don’t differentiate between traffic and non-traffic fines; only the former count towards the Mack’s Creek limit.

Here is Byrnes Mill’s budget for 2012-13. The city’s fiscal year runs from July through June. Assuming that the ‘2012’ column is the 2011-12 budget, and the ‘2013’ column is the 2012-13 budget, we see that Byrnes Mill projected that municipal court fees would be 31.1% and 30.6% of total revenue in the two years, respectively; by far the city’s biggest moneymaker. We don’t know what percentage of this is from traffic fines (as opposed to non-traffic offenses), but it is surely high enough that the state auditor should investigate. The auditor is looking into St. Louis area municipal courts in the wake of Ferguson.

Courts in several outlying counties made the auditor’s list of 10 courts to audit, so the chances are decent that Byrnes Mill could make the cut next year if more courts are audited. The article says that “The list was a mix of cities with the highest number of traffic stops per capita, those that generated the most complaints on the auditor’s hotline, and those that raised the biggest concerns with elected officials.” That hotline number is 1-800-347-8597, by the way, and the office’s email address is moaudit@auditor.mo.gov.

Notice also that the budgeted income from the municipal court in 2012-13 was $340,000, but the table above indicates that the city brought in $443,433, which is about 33% more than budgeted.

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JeffCo Police Review

30 Sep

I have updated the table to add each department’s ticketing percentage.

Since police departments in St. Louis County are under the microscope in the aftermath of events in Ferguson, I thought I would take a look at police departments here in Jefferson County. One way we can do that is through the state attorney general’s office and its vehicle stops reports.

The “Disparity Index” measures the likelihood that drivers of a given race or ethnic group are stopped based on their proportion of the residential population age 16 and over. Values greater than 1 indicate over-representation and values less that 1 indicate under-representation in traffic stops. Here’s what those numbers are for JeffCo departments:

 Disparity index for black drivers, 2013

  • Arnold                     9.22
  • Byrnes Mill            4.52
  • Crystal City            1.74
  • DeSoto                    1.77
  • Festus                     1.02
  • Herculaneum        3.20
  • Hillsboro                0.56
  • JeffCo Sheriff        2.81
  • Kimmswick            No data
  • Olympian Village  No data
  • Pevely                      4.75

Statewide, the disparity index for black drivers in 2013 was 1.59. Arnold gets hurt because its black population is only 0.5%, but blacks made up 5% of stops. Arnold’s full report is here, and it breaks down reasons for stops and goes into searches as well. Arnold’s search rates, the percentage of stops during which searches were conducted, were as follows. The Hispanic rates were based on a total of only 10 stops of Hispanic drivers in all of 2013.

2013 search rate:       White – 4.5%, Black – 10%, Hispanic – 80%    (percentage of people stopped who were searched)

Contraband hit rate: White – 20.5%, Black – 16.7%, Hispanic – 0% (percentage of searches that found contraband)

Arrest rate:                  White – 3.6%, Black – 8.1%, Hispanic – 60%   (percentage of stops that led to arrests)

For comparison, here are Ferguson’s stats (Ferguson is 63% black):

2013 search rate:        White – 6.9%, Black – 12.1%, Hispanic – 4.6% (based on 22 stops)

Contraband hit rate:  White – 34%, Black – 21.7%, Hispanic – 0%

Arrest rate:                   White – 5.3%, Black – 10.4%, Hispanic – 4.6%

Tickets and Arrests

I also looked at the number of stops and arrests for each city. This table includes traffic stops in 2013, population of those 16 years of age and older in each city, and the number of arrests in 2013 (as I understand it, these are only arrests that occur during traffic stops). I divided stops and arrests by the population to acquire rates of stops and arrests per person, to get an idea of how aggressive each department is in pulling people over, and how much crime they are encountering.

Jefferson County MO Police Stats 2013 (data from MO AG's office)

Jefferson County MO Police Stats 2013 (data from MO AG’s office)

As you can see, Pevely had the highest rate of stops, which is not surprising given Pevely’s ticket-happy reputation. Herculaneum was really high, too. Byrnes Mill was perhaps lower than one might have expected, with its reputation. As for arrests, Byrnes Mill had the highest rate. That city’s AG report indicates only one DWI arrest, which is interesting given that the city seems to hold a lot of DWI checkpoints. The number one arrest charge there was “property offense.” I’m not sure how one gets arrested for a property offense on a traffic stop (“outstanding warrant” is a separate charge). Interestingly, the entities with the most total arrests, the Sheriff’s Office and Arnold, had only six and five property offense arrests, respectively.

Update: Pevely also led the way in percentage of stops that resulted in tickets, with 94%. You probably aren’t getting away with a warning in Pevely, or Hillsboro, which ticketed 92% of the time in 2013. Crystal City, De Soto, Festus, and Herculaneum all gave tickets about half the time.

There is also some data from the state on JeffCo’s municipal courts. I hope to take a look at those numbers in a future post.

Byrnes Mill Corruption Focus Shifts

14 Jul

The Byrnes Mill police department is in the news again. I chronicled its previous problems here. While past allegations focused solely on the PD, this time a lawsuit by the (most recently) fired chief alleges that it is the city that is pulling the corrupt strings, says the Post-Dispatch:

A former police chief says he lost his job because he reported “fixed” traffic tickets and falsified court documents to a prosecutor and elected officials, and alleges he was ordered to enforce ticket quotas.

The former chief, Michael Smith, made the claims in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday against the city, Mayor Susan Gibson and City Administrator Larry Perney.

Here is the full lawsuit. The Post-Dispatch continues:

Smith claims Perney ordered him not to conduct sobriety or safety checkpoints, not to ticket certain unidentified people and to make sure his officers issued “a minimum traffic ticket quota of 250 to 270 traffic tickets per month,” the suit says.

Hopefully, as this suit progresses, the identities of these “unidentified people” who were not to be ticketed are revealed. That would be juicy. The suit also alleges that the police were ordered to ignore drug crimes.

Blowing the Whistle

Smith says he reported the alleged wrongdoing to several people, including [city attorney Bob] Sweeney, Alderwoman Sharon Ippolito and Alderman Robert Prado, and to the Jefferson County prosecutor’s office.

Now, reporting corruption to Bob Sweeney is like a mid-level North Korean bureaucrat reporting government impropriety to Kim Jong-Un: The problem won’t get addressed, and the person reporting it will be punished. Over the course of about two weeks, Smith, who was merely an interim chief, says he reported his concerns, in chronological order, to Prado, Perney, Ippolito, and Gibson, with no apparent result. Five days after contacting the mayor, Smith talked to Sweeney. That very day, he was suspended with pay and told to resign. From the suit:

On or about March 10, 2014, at the office of City Attorney Bob Sweeney, Mayor Susan Gibson informed Plaintiff that it was improper for him to investigate Defendant City Administrator Perney or to speak with Board Members Prado and Ippolito. Defendant Mayor informed Plaintiff that he was suspended with pay until further notice and that she would accept his letter of resignation.

Smith declined. Gibson and Perney then told city police officers that they could not contact their own chief. They really seem to be opposed to communication at Byrnes Mill city hall. The next day, the board fired Smith. The mayor then took to the Leader newspaper to smear Smith. This is similar to what the city of Arnold did to both former city councilman Ken Moss and city council candidate Shaun Missey when it went after them. Such media attacks must be part of the Bob Sweeney playbook. Note that both Moss and Missey won settlements in the $50,000 range from Arnold as a result of the city’s antics.

Also in the Sweeney playbook is displays of bluster:

City Attorney Bob Sweeney said Friday that he was “confident the allegations will not be proven and the process will vindicate the defendants.”

Despite his assurances, I expect that Smith will walk away with a settlement, too, after which Sweeney will explain that the settlement is not an admission of guilt, and that he wanted to fight in court, but the city’s insurance company ordered the settlement.

City administrator Perney talks to KMOV 4’s Russell Kinsaul in this report. Perney laughably says “there’s no corruption, and that the city has “a great government,” which will also inspire chuckles. In the report, Kinsaul speculates that this suit will damage the city’s reputation, but that is incorrect, because the city’s reputation can’t get any worse.

Who’s The Boss?

What is also remarkable about this suit, if true, is the extent to which the city, specifically Perney, controls the police department. Police chiefs normally control their departments, so to have the city administrator making all these decisions, and the chief allowing it, is noteworthy. The question of city control of the police is highlighted as well in this note in the minutes of the June 4 board meeting (page 4):

Mayor Gibson made the Board aware that she and Administrator Perney are conducting monthly meetings with all Officers in the Police Department.

Is current chief Dougherty OK with this? It seems like an infringement on his territory to me. What is taking place in these meetings?

Suit Involving Byrnes Mill Police Chief Dismissed

22 Oct

Update: As was pointed out in the comments, and can be seen here, Amanda Blake died in early June.

I, alone among local correspondents, reported back in March about the lawsuit filed by officer Amanda Blake against the city of Bolivar, Missouri, in which she alleged sex discrimination. This suit is relevant to us because the then-chief of the Bolivar police, Charles Michael Seibert, was hired early this year to be chief in Byrnes Mill. Well, to provide an update, the suit was dismissed at the request of the plaintiff in August, according to Casenet. I don’t know if this means there was a settlement; nothing of the sort has been reported in the Bolivar newspaper that I can find. This kind of thing can take some time to hit the newspaper, though. It could also mean that Blake gave up on her suit.

Continued Confusion over Candidate Taxes

15 Apr

The issue of personal property tax payments of local political candidates has popped up again, this time in Crystal City. The day after the election (interesting timing), former councilwoman Debbie McKenna* told the mayor and city administrator, according to the Leader, that re-elected councilman Larry Rice should not have been on the ballot, since he hadn’t paid his 2012 personal property taxes (PPT). Rice later resigned, but he claimed this was due to a scheduling conflict with a new job.

This follows a case in Pevely, back in January, in which candidate JR Graham was removed from the ballot for non-payment of PPT. And of course there were the incidents in Arnold and the North Jefferson County Ambulance District (NJCAD) that I’ve written about.

But here is where a distinction arises. If you search on the JeffCo website for the personal property tax records of a random Arnold resident – say, Bill Moritz – you find this breakdown of the charges (click to enlarge):

arnold ppt bodies 2012

You can see that, next to the city of Arnold line item, it says 0.0%. Prior to 2012, this line item was not found on Arnold PPT bills (at least going back to 2008). This is consistent with Arnold finance director Deborah Lewis’ statement that Arnold gets no direct money from PPT payments (city attorney Bob Sweeney’s claim was that Arnold gets money from the Road and Bridge line item; maybe he should have talked to Lewis).

In Crystal City, however, you see this:

Crystal City PPT bodies

Crystal City PPT bodies

Crystal City does have a PPT line item. Pevely does as well:

Pevely PPT bodies

Pevely PPT bodies

Recall also that incumbent mayor and re-election candidate Susan Gibson from Byrnes Mill (also served by Bob Sweeney) paid her PPT late but was not removed from the ballot. Byrnes Mill gets PPT money:

Byrnes Mill PPT bodies

Byrnes Mill PPT bodies

Finally, recall that NJCAD candidate Ron Woehrle was removed from the ballot over PPT. NJCAD does get PPT money:

NJCAD PPT bodies

NJCAD PPT bodies

However, the circuit court ruled that Woehrle’s removal from the ballot was unlawful, and he was reinstated. The ruling noted that RSMo 115.305 (“This subchapter shall not apply to candidates for special district offices, township offices in township organization counties, or city, town and village offices…”) trumps RSMo 115.342 (“Any person who files as a candidate for election to a public office shall be disqualified from participation in the election for which the candidate has filed if such person is delinquent in the payment of any state income taxes, personal property taxes…”). This ruling would seem to indicate that it doesn’t matter if an entity has a PPT line item; it still can’t eliminate a candidate for non-payment of PPT. But then there’s this statute, RSMo 115.346:

Notwithstanding any other provisions of law to the contrary, no person shall be certified as a candidate for a municipal office, nor shall such person’s name appear on the ballot as a candidate for such office, who shall be in arrears for any unpaid city taxes or municipal user fees on the last day to file a declaration of candidacy for the office.

It appears to be the argument of some, according to the Leader (April 11 issue), that the city line item in the PPT counts as a “city tax.” Under this reasoning, a Crystal City, Pevely, or Byrnes Mill candidate who was late in paying PPT would be in violation of 115.346, but a late-paying Arnold candidate would not be. (At this point, I am surprised Arnold doesn’t levy PPT, and I hope I’m not giving the council there any ideas.)

What is not clear is the enforcement mechanism for 115.346. The PPT statute, 115.342, says that the MO Department of Revenue is the enforcing agency, and they will get involved if a complaint is filed. 115.346 does not say who or how it is to be enforced. Presumably, it is the city clerk. But as Crystal City administrator Jason Eisenbeis made clear, city policies on this matter can vary or be incomplete. In Arnold and Byrnes Mill, for example, enforcement depends on whether you are a crony or not. 

But here’s another wrinkle. The infamous memo (or, to Leader readers, the “I’ve never heard of that” memo) that Bob Sweeney circulated in 2011 (and repudiated in 2013) to justify keeping Randy Crisler and Bill Moritz on the ballot was written by a Kevin O’Keefe. I assume it is this person, “St. Louis Best Lawyers Municipal Law Lawyer of the Year” for 2012. The memo discusses 115.342 and 115.346. He never in the memo discusses the subject of municipalities that levy PPT (assuming Sweeney passed along the memo in full). This despite the fact that several St. Louis County municipalities also levy PPT (see page 8). This leads me to believe that he does not consider these PPT levies to be a municipal tax. This is a supportable position, because it is the counties that assess, bill, collect, and penalize non-payment of these taxes. The cities just sit back and accept their cut. Thus, one could legitimately call PPT a county tax, not a municipal one, even in the cases of Crystal City, Pevely, and Byrnes Mill.

I think it will require some litigation, legislative clarification, or an Attorney General opinion to clear this up (which is part of why I wish we’d seen legal challenges in Arnold or Pevely). Since cities usually seem to want to avoid lawsuits (Arnold being an occasional exception), it would seem that the prudent thing to do would be to not eliminate candidates for non-payment of PPT. Furthermore, since elections and the ballot are so integral to our democracy, in an ambiguous situation such as this, it is better to let the voters decide if they are willing to elect a candidate that is late on his/her PPT.

*McKenna also said in her letter that it was the clerk’s duty to determine that a potential candidate is not a felon. This is a clear reference to RSMo 115.350. I am confident that the 115.305 exemption also applies to this statute, and thus that McKenna is incorrect (also see O’Keefe memo above).

New Byrnes Mill Police Chief Subject of Discrimination Lawsuit

6 Mar

I found out a few weeks ago that the city of Byrnes Mill hired Bob Sweeney to be its city attorney. I opined then that the council must not be familiar with Google, because a quick search would have let them know this was a bad move (unless they want to get in on his hijinks).

On a related note, Byrnes Mill just hired a new police chief, C. Michael Seibert. I wonder, when the mayor and aldermen did so, if they were aware that a policewoman from Bolivar, Missouri, where he served as chief until June 2011, filed an Missouri Commission on Human Rights (MCHR) complaint, and then filed a lawsuit, against the city of Bolivar due to alleged discrimination by her superiors at the police department there. The complaints portray a department that from the top down was hostile to Amanda Blake, the only female officer in the department. The case, in the process of being tried in Polk County, is Amanda Blake vs. City of Bolivar, case number 12PO-CC00015. A status review hearing is set for March 14.

When reading the Leader article about Seibert’s hiring, I thought it was odd that “he retired from his job in Bolivar when a new mayor was elected.” I’m not sure why that in itself would require an unforced resignation. Furthermore, he didn’t resign to retire, but to become a mere deputy sheriff in Polk County. It turns out he announced his resignation (in April 2011) about six weeks before Blake filed her MCHR complaint against the Bolivar police. She was fired in November 2010. Maybe the complaint and the resignation are related. Coverage in the Bolivar paper (for which I paid $1 to access) does not suggest any link, and is favorable to the chief.

Seibert does have some strong points on his resume, including being named 2007 Outstanding Missouri Police Chief and serving as treasurer of the Missouri Police Chiefs Association. However, the allegations in the complaint and lawsuit are troubling. I have to believe the subject of this lawsuit came up during Seibert’s job interview. I don’t know if there are any lady cops in Byrnes Mill, but if there are, they have to be a bit unsettled if they know about this lawsuit.

Note: Byrnes Mill isn’t the only city in Jefferson County that employs a police chief that is the subject of a discrimination lawsuit. The other one’s last name rhymes with ‘hockey’ and he is the chief of a city that’s name rhymes with ‘carnold.’

Sweeney Offers a Weak Justification

4 Feb

I have been asking during the past two weeks, as I have discussed the ballot-access shenanigans perpetrated by Bob Sweeney, what his justification is for such blatant political opportunism. I figured he would cite some change in law that explained why his tax-delinquent cronies could stay on the ballot in 2011, but his non-cronies had to be removed from the ballot in 2013. Well, thanks to Arnold Patch, we have his answer:

“We recently learned that a portion of the personal property tax, specifically the road and bridge line item, goes to the city,” Sweeney said. “It is in effect a city tax [Shaun] Missey owed that we did not get.”

Patch asked Sweeney if he was aware of the city receiving taxes from the road and bridge fund in 2011. Sweeney said, “At the time, I didn’t know anything about city taxes coming from the road and bridge line item.”

So it was a mere oversight. A very convenient oversight. If this is true, this is at least the second time Sweeney has provided poor-quality legal services to the city of Arnold, the first being his flawed Sunshine Law advice that prompted the threat of a lawsuit from the Missouri Attorney General in June 2012. These instances call into question Sweeney’s capabilities, and provide grounds for his termination. The City of Arnold clearly can’t trust his legal advice.

Sweeney’s attempted justification does not explain why, despite the clear reading of the statute in question, the city clerk, instead of the state Department of Revenue, made the decision to ax Shaun Missey from the ballot (if in fact the law does apply to municipalities). He could be trying to rely in RSMo 115.346, which covers late municipal tax payments, but makes no mention of who the enforcing authority is. But his claim that the personal property tax is a municipal tax is weak. Couldn’t one claim that a candidate must be investigated to determine if he is current on his state and federal income taxes, as surely some of that money makes it back to Arnold?

Can’t we also assume that Byrnes Mill receives road and bridge money from the personal property tax? Because the mayor there is being allowed to run for re-election, despite paying her 2012 personal property taxes late. Also, what money does the North Jefferson County Ambulance District get from the personal property tax, since Sweeney had a candidate removed from the ballot there, too?

Sweeney has more explaining to do, hopefully before a judge, as Missey is exploring taking legal action.

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