Tag Archives: personal property tax

Missey Gets Settlement for Illegal Ballot Removal

4 Dec

After illegally being removed from the Arnold city council election ballot in January by city clerk Diane Waller, who played the puppet to city attorney Bob Sweeney’s puppeteer, Shaun Missey filed a federal lawsuit against the city, Waller, and Sweeney. A settlement in the case was reached in November and was just approved and announced. Missey gets $45,000 and Arnold also has to pay court costs and mediation fees. Most of this money comes from MIRMA, the city’s insurer. The city is only out about $2,000.

This surprises me a bit. I thought that, since Missey did not challenge his ballot removal in court (the way Ron Woehrle did, successfully, also against Sweeney, in a race for North Jefferson Ambulance board), that the judge would say he failed to pursue the proper remedy. But I think what is crucial here is not the removal from the ballot, but the media campaign Sweeney launched to defame Missey and defend his own actions. Sweeney’s past hypocrisy on the issue did not help, either.

Sweeney was forced to demean Missey in the media because his previous justifications for the ballot dismissal fell apart. First he cited state law, but in 2011 he passed around a memo that specifically said this law did not apply to municipal elections. He circulated the memo in order to defend Waller’s non-removal of city councilmen Randy Crisler and Bill Moritz from the ballot for –  wait for it – failure to pay personal property taxes. (This is why I say this is all Sweeney’s doing. He told Waller to do one thing in 2011; she wouldn’t have done the exact opposite two years later without his instructions). Then he said “Oh, I just found out that money from the personal property tax road and bridge line item goes to Arnold.” To which the city finance director, Deborah Lewis, said “no.” So that’s when Sweeney came up with his story that Missey was a swindler:

Sweeney said in the memo, “In short, Mr. Missey is apparently engaged in a marginally complex scheme to purposefully defraud the taxing authorities by rotating his vehicles and getting multi-year licenses; therefore, never declaring ownership of a vehicle.”

Sweeney said there is no case law specifically regarding disqualification for purposeful tax avoidance, but added Missey can take the matter to court.

Sweeney’s always happy to have people go to court, because his opponents have to pay out-of-pocket for lawyers, but he gets paid by the city. Cha-ching!

As for hypocrisy, along with Crisler and Moritz, Sweeney also let the name of Byrnes Mill mayor Susan Gibson stay on the ballot in 2013 despite her unpaid taxes.

So these factors combined, I think, to strike fear into Sweeney and the MIRMA folks, so a settlement was reached. Sweeney didn’t even make his usual boast to the Leader, that he had a great case and was just itching to go to trial, but MIRMA said no. Sweeney was not quoted in the article.

So once again, MIRMA is shelling out money to pay for Arnold shenanigans, like it did for Alicia Ott and Susie Boone. MIRMA dropped coverage for Ken Moss over this, which I said at the time made no sense. Perhaps MIRMA needs to think about dropping coverage for other Arnold figures.

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Property Tax Time

2 Dec

Personal and real estate property tax bills arrived in JeffCo mailboxes in recent weeks. Last year these taxes caused a lot of furor for political candidates in various local entities, including Arnold and North Jefferson Ambulance. In light of these incidents, I provide a public service announcement:

If you are a potential candidate for local office who is in favor of liberty and small, open, and ethical government, PAY YOUR TAXES. If you don’t, your candidacy will end prematurely. Pay them right away, and maybe do it in person and get a receipt (funny things happen with the mail sometimes).

However, if you are a potential candidate who is in favor of big spending and cronyism, don’t worry about it. Pay your taxes when you feel like it. There will be no repercussions.

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).

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.

Different Rules for Byrnes Mill?

3 Feb

A check of the Jefferson County assessor’s website reveals that Byrnes Mill mayor Susan Gibson, who is up for re-election, paid her personal property tax (PPT) bill on January 22 of this year (click to enlarge).

Byrnes Mill mayor Susan Gibson's personal property tax account for 2012.

Byrnes Mill mayor Susan Gibson’s personal property tax account for 2012.

January 15 was the filing deadline for candidates for the April 2 election. Therefore, Gibson was in arrears on her PPT at the deadline. Shaun Missey of Arnold, JR Graham of Pevely, and Ron Woehrle of the North Jefferson County Ambulance District (NJCAD) were removed from their respective ballots for this offense. But Gibson is still on the ballot. It needs to be noted that the same city attorney, Bob Sweeney, serves Arnold, Byrnes Mill, and the NJCAD. So why the different treatment for Gibson?

As I have noted previously, Sweeney’s opinion in 2011 was that the law requiring candidates to be current on their property taxes did not apply to municipalities or special districts. In 2011, two of his cronies (Crisler and Moritz) ran for Arnold City Council while in arrears, and were not removed from the ballot. Sweeney apparently changed his mind this year, when Missey and Woehrle just coincidentally don’t share his views on governance. It is my not-a-lawyer opinion that he was correct in 2011, and thus wrong this time around.

Now, January 22 was the day that ballot submissions were due from these various entities to Wes Wagner, the county clerk. I wonder if Sweeney et. al will claim, if this discrepancy ever piques the interest of the media, that she paid her bill before close of business on the 22nd, therefore she was allowed to stay on the ballot. If that is their argument, then I think it will be safe to assume that a little bird told Gibson to get thee to the collector’s office by 5 pm.

In the letter Arnold City Clerk Diane Waller sent to Missey, dated January 18, she said “you are not eligible to be a candidate.” That doesn’t seem to leave any possibility of a post-January 15 reprieve. Missey stated on Facebook that she told him the same thing, January 15 is a drop-dead deadline.

Sweeney might also claim that it was the Byrnes Mill clerk’s failure that kept Gibson on the ballot. He claimed in the January 31 Leader that he “had nothing to do with the investigation [to check Arnold candidates’ eligibility].” He could also say he had nothing to do with the Byrnes Mill clerk’s lack of investigation. I think these were and will be lies. Sweeney instructed Waller in the 2011 memo that it was not her duty to investigate candidates’ tax status. I highly, highly doubt she would adopt a whole new modus operandi without consulting Sweeney. I also doubt she would take a bathroom break without consulting Sweeney, but that’s another story.

If anyone cares to pursue this, I think this could be the smoking gun that blows up this whole racket. Of course, the 2011 memo should serve the same purpose.

Note: On February 1, Gibson’s taxes were listed as unpaid on the county website. I talked to someone at the collector’s office that afternoon, and the official there told me that Gibson’s payment was posted January 22, and that the website was not up to date (for her and for other accounts). They must have updated this record after they talked to me, as it is now current. Perhaps it is simple to update the website when you have the record open in front of you.

JeffCo Politicians and the Personal Property Tax – One Delinquent

18 Dec

In light of the recent uproar in St. Louis County over the hiring of a tax collector who owes over $2,200 in personal property taxes (PPT), I thought I’d do a check to see if any elected officials (note: the collector in STL County was hired, not elected) in our county are late on their payments. The county website makes it pretty easy to find this information. I searched for those who will be holding county executive or council positions next year (i.e. those newly elected plus those elected in 2010), and also the current mayor and city council in Arnold.

Out of these individuals, I found one delinquency: Arnold Ward 4 councilwoman Sandra Kownacki. She owes $244.53 from 2011 on her 2005 Toyota Camry. She hasn’t paid her 2012 PPT yet, but they aren’t due until the end of the year (I haven’t paid mine for this year yet, either). She was several months late paying her 2008 and 2009 PPT as well.

Now, what people choose to do with this information is up to them. Kownacki’s term is up in April, and she has filed to run again. This issue could arise in the race, on the argument that those who spend our tax dollars darn well better pay their own taxes. I vaguely recall that there was a question in Crystal City a year or two ago about whether city employees and/or elected officials should be required to be up-to-date on their taxes. I think Debbie McKenna raised the issue, but I don’t think anything came of it. Other people might argue that, if delinquents want to pay the late fees, they can go ahead and pay after the deadline.

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