December 21, 2007

Praise for Fish & Ships

Chuck MacNab, the editor and publisher of, had some kind words to say about our latest Fish & Ships show. The last show can be heard by going to the O'Fallon Watchdog and clicking on the link to the December 18, 2007 broadcast. Chuck wrote:

  • Rick Fischer and Lyn Schipper comment on issues facing the City of O'Fallon and more briefly, St Charles County and Wentzville. They lay out some of the reasons why residential taxes are skyrocketing. If you are a residential taxpayer living in St Charles County, Missouri (Maybe the same things are going on in Lincoln County or your area if you aren't!) it's well worth your time to listen to this sound clip and hear what these well informed people have to say. offers conservatives a place to read about and discuss traditional conservative values principles and issues. Chuck and the other members of the St. Charles County Republican Club are working to take back their party and, unlike other partisan groups, the Republican Club is more than willing to point out the abuse and corruption in our system no matter what party is involved. While I may not agree with them on some issues, I know they are fighting for what they believe is best for the country rather than what is best for the Republican party. Politicians in both parties would serve themselves well by visiting to remind them of the issues and thoughts of some of the people they claim to represent.

December 20, 2007

Judicial hellholes and legislating fairness

I haven't been able to post the last couple of days because I have been involved in a jury trial in St. Charles County. It was a civil case and I represented the defendant. While catching up on the news I ran across an article entitled "Counties no longer judicial hellholes." The story is in regard to the Illinois counties of Madison and St. Clair being dropped from the list of "judicial hellholes" put out by the pro-business American Tort Reform Association (ATRA). (The story incorrectly reports that these counties were considered anti-plaintiff. In fact, they were considered anti-defendant, which is what the ATRA considers a judicial hellhole.) Tort reform supporters love to talk about judicial hellholes, the McDonald's coffee case, sleazy trial attorneys and how all of these things have conspired to ruin the good old American way. The tort reform campaign has been very successful as laws have been passed across the nation in an attempt to make the court system "fair" for everyone.

Are there places where juries are more likely to side with a plaintiff and give larger sums of money? Absolutely, and every lawyer who is filing a claim for a plaintiff should and does try to file in this venue. These "judicial hellholes" are usually located in lower income areas close to major cities and the juries are often unfair to businesses. In addition, these juries will sometimes award damages far in excess of what most of us would think was reasonable.

Talk of "judicial hellholes" usually ends here. However, if there are places where juries are more favorable to plaintiffs wouldn't it be logical that there are venues which are more favorable to defendants? Of course there are although this is the part you do not read or hear about. These anti-plaintiff counties are often located in areas with wealthier suburbs or in conservative rural areas. While the media loves to report about the judge who sued because the cleaner lost his pants, what we don't read about is the guy who doesn't get anything despite legitimate and very real losses.

Big business, the media and the medical profession have convinced us these anti-plaintiff "judicial hellholes" are what we should strive for to have a "fair" system. Thus, while logic and common sense would indicate that we have three different venues; pro-plaintiff, pro-defendant and fair, the solutions offered by tort reform is limited to curbing the excesses of pro-plaintiff venues. The campaign for tort reform has been so successful that we actively seek out candidates who are willing to take rights away from us and pass laws telling us what "fair" means. While we applaud their right thinking ways, big business is putting money in their pockets.

If we really wanted a system that is "fair" a good place to start would be to expand the area from which we select jurors. Rather than have pro-plaintiff city jurors and pro-defendant suburban jurors restricted by the boundaries of their respective counties we could expand the areas in which each serves to bring a better cross section of society to each area. Tort reformers don't like this solution because they have been successful in taking away choices from jurors and restrictions on plaintiffs. The limitations they have placed on jurors are, of course, anti-plaintiff restrictions that work to put the brakes on "run away juries" but also restrict even the most anti-plaintiff juries in a case where they may stray from there usual "fair" verdicts.

Just as big business does not want true tort reform neither do trial lawyers. While I am unsure of the numbers I am confident that more cases end up in pro-defendant venues then those which are pro-plaintiff. However, lawyers are willing to go along with this system in hopes of getting that one case with real damages, a defendant with lots of money or insurance and a favorable venue for plaintiffs. As a result, the fight has nothing to do with justice but instead it revolves around the almighty dollar.

The tort reform PR campaign has worked and lawyers hear the language of tort reformers every time we pick a jury. However, when you ask these jurors if they know anyone who received an excessive verdict you rarely hear them answer yes. Many of them do, however, know someone they believe was treated unfairly by an insurance company or who wasn't fairly compensated for their injuries. And we all know every tort reformer is a rear ender away from a different view on what is fair.

December 17, 2007

Fish & Ships

On tomorrow's show Lyn Schipper and I will be talking about;

You can hear the show every Tuesday starting at approximately 9:00 AM until 9:15 on KFAV, 99.9. If you can't hear the show live you can go to the O'Fallon Watchdog later this week to listen to the show. We won't be on next Tuesday (Christmas) so I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas and we will be back in 2008.

December 16, 2007

Lee Enterprises; Where your advertising dollars buy you more than just ads

Lee Enterprises is the owner of the two major newspapers in the St. Louis Metropolitan area, The Suburban Journals and the Post-Dispatch. In St. Charles County these papers became pawns for the builders and developers who poured in their advertising dollars. Things haven't changed much. As exhibit A, I offer the following column with my remarks in red. The remarks relate to the accuracy of the article and not to the accuracy of statements or quotes by any individuals.

Council votes to vacate Koch Road (Wrong. See below.)

By Elizabeth Perry, Saturday, December 15, 2007 12:27

The O'Fallon City Council voted 6-2 Wednesday to vacate Old Koch Road, a stretch of land that is currently under fierce legal dispute in the city. ( The council voted to refer the case to planning & zoning to discuss the possibility of vacating Koch Road.) The dissenting votes came from Councilmen Jeff Yelich, Ward 3, and Daniel Christoff, Ward 1. Yelich said he voted against the measure to vacate the already vacated stretch of road because it is currently under litigation. "I thought we should stay out of it until St. Charles County and the courts have decided the appeal," Christoff said. "I don't want to be a target of another lawsuit."

City Attorney Kevin O'Keefe said it was illegal for St. Charles County to have the road vacated because it was up to the city of O'Fallon to vacate the road. O'Keefe then said his comments were "off the record.""I don't want to get in the middle of their dispute. I want to see that we do all what is possible to bring peace to the homeowners," O'Keefe said. O'Keefe said he wanted to ensure the homeowners who purchased houses built on the vacated road would not be forced to move.

The original Koch Road was vacated in 2006 after developer Hyland Green, LLC, asked the St. Charles County Council to approve vacating the road, declaring it "useless." (Wrong on two points. First, the vacation of Koch Road did not happen until February of 2007. The writer of this story, Elizabeth Perry, wrote a story a couple of weeks ago in which she made this same "mistake." I called her at that time and explained that the road was not vacated, if at all, until 2007 and why this was crucial to the story. Perry told me she had relied on a previous story in the paper written by another reporter that included the incorrect date. I followed up the conversation by emailing Perry more information. No one is claiming Koch Road was vacated in 2006 and this fact is easily verified by a review of the records. The reason the date is crucial is that the road was torn out in 2006 and O'Fallon issued building permits in 2006. However, the Journal has never reported the illegal removal of the road by the builder or that O'Fallon issued building permits to build on a public road before it was vacated. Of course, it is easier to avoid these subjects if you simply fail to report the true date the road was vacated. The second mistake in this sentence regards the statement that Hyland Green, the developer, asked the County to vacate the road. The request to vacate the road was made by 12 residents and Hyland Green could not make the request under the law.) The developer built another road, also called Koch Road, to replace it as part of the Hyland Green subdivision. Hyland Green sold a large portion of Hyland Green subdivision to Chesterfield-based McBride & Son Homes. McBride built four homes on the old Koch Road site, but McBride was forced to stop building when neighbors sued to have the land turned back into a road, based on the legal argument that St. Charles County had no right to vacate the road. ( Wrong. McBride continued to build houses after the lawsuit was filed and only stopped once O'Fallon was forced to stop issuing building permits, which was about 14 months after the suit was filed.) The neighbors won their lawsuit when St. Charles County Circuit Judge Lucy Rauch ruled the road was vacated illegally. St. Charles County is appealing the decision.

McBride also is suing the city because it stopped issuing building permits after Rauch's decision. (I was unable to file any pending suit by McBride & Sons against O'Fallon as indicated in the article.) Homeowners who bought houses built on the disputed road filed a lawsuit against McBride, claiming they were not informed of the precarious legal status of their homes. (The homeowners were not told their homes were built on a public right of way.)

Most of the mistakes noted above can be attributed to sloppy reporting. Very sloppy reporting. From the headline to the last line, an uniformed reader remained uninformed and, after reading the article, misinformed. However, this was not simply sloppy reporting.

When I spoke to Ms. Perry after her first article and explained the story was incorrect, I asked if the Journal would be filing a correction. Having dealt with the Journal before I knew how they handle mistakes in their reporting, intentional or not. They ignore them. However, I did not expect a reporter to print facts she knew were not true as Perry did. Of course, the Journal won't be reporting the real story here about McBride & Sons illegally destroying a public road with O'Fallons help. The best we can hope for is that the Journal simply stops spreading misinformation.

December 15, 2007

Do O'Fallon officials want the truth?

On November 8, 2007 the City of O'Fallon held a workshop to discuss Koch Road. Koch Road was illegally torn out by a developer and the builder, McBride & Sons, then used our right of way to build houses. The City of O'Fallon was a willing partner in the illegal destruction of the road and the subsequent building of homes. I set out in detail the facts of this case in a post on November 13, 2007.

I was told by O'Fallon councilman Dan Christoff that the City was going to explain its role in the illegal use and destruction of the road at the November 8 workshop. As I watched the workshop at home the City Engineer, Steve Bender, provided the council , the mayor and the citizens a complete fabrication of what really happened. Bender's story was not only false but it was a clear attempt to cover up the role City Administrator Bob Lowery played in this fiasco. Bender's story went unchallenged so I sent an email to the mayor and council members regarding what really happened. Much of what I posted back on November 13 originated in that email. After the workshop ended I turned off the council meeting.

Later that night I learned that one of the residents whose home was built on a public right of way, addressed the board at citizens comments. The resident attempted to ask the city questions regarding why O'Fallon issued building permits for homes on a public road. The mayor told the resident she would not answer the questions but she would have some comments at the end. When the citizen's comments were completed Mayor Donna Morrow went on one of the most unprofessional, immature and just plain silliest rants I have ever seen. And it was directed at me.

I was not at the meeting and my name was not mentioned by the resident who spoke or anyone else at the meeting prior to the mayor's diatribe. However, the mayor's comments accused me of misrepresenting the facts and claimed I was a harm to the residents of O'Fallon. During Morrow's rant she even said "Mr. Fischer I'm calling you out" and invited me to come up to address the council. Unfortunately. I didn't learn of the Mayor's "challenge" in time so I was unable to accept her invitation.

The next morning I called and emailed the mayor regarding her inappropriate and untruthful comments the night before. I have watched meetings in which citizens were stopped in mid sentence from discussing city business because they mentioned a person by name yet here we have the mayor publicly attacking a resident. It should also be noted that Morrow actually appointed me as special counsel back in 2005 to investigate corruption, however, Morrow did a complete 180 on many of her campaign promises which eventually led to my resignation. In addition, Morrow's "misstatements" of facts are well known by those who have dealt with her and at one point the council unanimously reprimanded her for "less than complete and less than precise" accounts of her actions and accused Morrow of "unchecked executive power." Despite this history, the last time I spoke at a meeting, June 14, 2007, I praised the mayor for some of the actions she was taking.

In any event, Morrow's bravado at the council meeting quickly disappeared when I offered to meet with her to discuss her public attack against me. Since Morrow lacked the courage to speak with me directly she had her assistant, Carl Maus, call me. Maus told me I was more than welcome to appear at the next meeting to discuss Koch Road and the mayor's comments. I explained to Maus and the mayor (by email) that I would be more than willing to address the council on Koch Road but that I didn't think public comments was the appropriate forum to discuss Morrow's personal attack. Morrow, however, refuses to speak with me.

December 13, 2007 was the first meeting of the council since Morrow's public meltdown but I was out of town and unable to attend. However, I don't want the mayor to think I am declining her offer to speak to the council. Therefore, since Morrow won't speak to me I am making this public offer to the mayor and the council and I think this will be much more productive than childish name calling:
  • Rather than speak at public comments I will appear before the mayor and council to discuss what happened on Koch Road. I will allow the mayor, the council members, Bob Lowery, Steve Bender, the city attorney and any interested individuals to question me regarding my claims as to O'Fallon's role with Koch Road. I assume the members of the council and the mayor would want to see the documents and hear the facts which support my allegations of serious misconduct on the part of O'Fallon officials. In return all that I ask is the opportunity to ask questions of city officials as well. Of course, we would need to avoid the personal attacks and, instead, focus on the issues.

Workshops in O'Fallon often provide much more give and take between the council and those who speak so my request is nothing extraordinary. In addition, this will allow the mayor an opportunity to publicly back up her allegations that I have misrepresented the facts regarding Koch Road. When Morrow ran for mayor she listed as one of her top issues to "Make sure employees are responsive to residents." Here is your chance to follow through on one of your promises mayor. Shall we pick a date?

December 12, 2007

Top ten "explanations" Jetton supported Village law

Rod Jetton is still working on making up a story on why he slipped a provision into a lengthy bill which made it easier to become a Village in Missouri. Of course, the real reason is he wanted to help out a wealthy businessman/developer, Robert Plaster, but he can't admit that. However, in a Wake Up Call exclusive, we have been provided a list of other "explanations" Jetton is considering. Drum roll please:

10."I thought it meant the Village People could get back together."

9. "No one ever said 'it takes a county to raise a child,' stupid."

8. "Mr. Plaster said I could come over and play anytime and he might even make me sheriff."

7. "Too many idiots; not enough villages."

6. "Like I knew someone would start paying attention."

5. "It's part of my wealthy developer outreach program."

4. "Amnesia; yeah, yeah I got amnesia."

3. "Can't you people take a joke."

2. "Two words; financial security."

1. "I asked Blunt not to sign it but he deleted my email."

Wake Up Call Headlines-3rd Edition

Headline: Teens In Custody For Tossing Feces Into Store
Wake Up Call Headline: Store advises shoppers to bring fans

Headline: Baseball drug results coming Thursday
Wake Up Headline: Players hat sizes expected to decrease in 2008

Headline: PSC weighs changing policies on private meetings with utilities
Wake Up Headline: PSC debates whether to be ethical

Headline: Morrison asks for independent investigation of allegations in sex scandal
Wake Up Headline: Kansas AG delays the inevitable

Headline: Jetton: 'Village law' was rural outreach
Wake Up Headline: Jetton: Do you think they'll buy this one?

Headline: Coming soon A new columnist for St. Charles County
Wake Up Headline: Post discovers humans in St. Charles County

December 11, 2007

Fish & Ships

Due to the ice storm and a scheduling conflict we were not able to do the show today, however, we will be back next Tuesday morning on KFAV, 99.9. You can find many of our old shows by going to the O'Fallon Watchdog. There is also a link on the Watchdog to email us if you have any comments or suggestions for the show. We would appreciate any input.

Questions remain on Cooper case

A few weeks ago in a post about the Nathan Cooper case, I raised the question as to whether Cooper could be providing the feds with information on other matters under investigation. Yesterday, after several delays, Cooper was finally sentenced. Back in August, both the US Attorney, Jim Crowe, and Cooper's lawyer stated that sentencing guidelines indicated Cooper would serve 30 to 37 months, however, Cooper was only sentenced to 15 months. With good behaviour, Cooper may only serve 13 months.

So what happened? Cooper cooperated in a sting operation which led to the indictment of Omega "Meg" Paulite of Seattle, however, those charges were later dropped. In addition, Cooper's cooperation on this sting was known back in August when both attorneys indicated Cooper was likely to face a 30 to 37 month sentence and Cooper's cooperation was factored into their prediction. Why then did the Judge only sentence Cooper to 15 months?

Speculation centers around 32 letters that were mailed to the Judge prior to sentencing requesting leniency for Cooper. These letters have been sealed by the court. This is not required but is the practice of the Eastern District according to Jim Crowe, the prosecuter in the Cooper case. In a recent case out of the District Court in East St. Louis dealing with a prominent St. Louis crimnal defense attorney, Frank Fabbri , letters written on his behalf were not sealed and some of the actual letters were made available by the Riverfront Times. Keeping the letters sealed in Cooper's case, especially when he received what appears to be a favorable sentence, only leads to further speculation of favoritism for an elected official.

Another troubling aspect of this case is that the feds allowed Cooper to be re elected to the Missouri House of Representatives after he was caught. Randy Turner, of the Turner Report, asks; "Why did the federal government allow the residents of Cooper's Cape Girardeau district to elect a criminal?" Great question. Turner points out that if it was because of the sting on Paulite the feds wasted their time since the charges against her were quickly dropped. According to Crowe, the case was delayed because of the investigation into the Blunt Administration's handling of fee offices, however, once again nothing came of this investigation either.

Maybe Cooper provided the feds with information on some matter we are unaware of and, if so, this might explain the strange way his case was handled. If so we should learn about this at a later date, however, if this is all there is we deserve answers now.

December 10, 2007

Favoritism O'Fallon Style

Back on November 6, 2007, I posted about O'Fallon City Administrator Bob Lowery's statement that O'Fallon followed a "read and delete" policy in regard to emails. I followed up on my original post with another story questioning why Attorney General Jay Nixon was not investigating O'Fallon's policy since he was investigating Governor Blunt for the same actions. Since it appears as if nothing is going to be done I decided to find out if O'Fallon had changed the "read and delete" policy. Therefore, on November 29, 2007 I sent Mr. Lowery an email which stated;
  • Can you provide me information regarding the city's email retention policy? Is the city still following a "read and delete" policy? If so are the deleted emails retained on the hard drive and are steps being made to retrieve these emails? Thanks

In response Lowery wrote;

  • Send your request to our city clerk for the most expedient response. I would not want to delay your request. Following proper channels avoids mishandling requests even between old acquaintances. I'm sure you understand we must treat everyone the same. I'm sensitive we avoid the appearance of special treatment.

Lowery and I have known each other for years, however, we are certainly not friends and no one would mistake my request to him as a request for special treatment. In addition, my request was not for documents, which would go the city clerk, but instead was a request from an O'Fallon resident regarding city policy. In any event, I forwarded my request on the city clerk who, as expected, responded as follows;

  • I do not set the City policies and do not have any public records which are responsive to your request. Therefore, at his time I do not have any information to provide to you.

I then forwarded the clerk's response back to Lowery and again requested he respond to my questions. Lowery did not respond so I emailed him a second time to which he wrote back:

  • I believe I directed you to contact our city clerk, Pam Smith, for all FOIR’s. If you are not receiving adequate responses from her please let me know. Since I do not handle these types of requests personally I do not wish the appearance of showing favoritism. Frankly, you’re the only person who contacts me directly for such matters. Old acquaintances aside I believe it would be more appropriate for you to follow proper channels just as any other citizen. I know you understand this as I’ve heard you quoted on this issue many times in the past.

Lowery is well aware I am not making a FOIR (Freedom of Information Request) but instead am simply requesting him to clarify O'Fallon's policy regarding retention of emails. One would think that the O'Fallon residents, who pay Mr. Lowery his salary, would be entitled to this information, however, Lowery apparently does not share this belief.

Instead, in an attempt to avoid answering the question, Lowery makes up his own question (that this is a FOIR request) to which he indicates he cannot respond. However, Lowery was not satisfied with just ignoring my questions, therefore, he attempts to paint his refusal to answer the question as a noble act; i.e. treating everyone the same, does not want any appearance of favoritism. Of course, Lowery has not required builders and developers to follow "proper channels" but instead he has met them in person to discuss city policies relating to building and developing. In fact, Lowery has found the time to intercede on behalf of builders/developers when staff tried to correctly enforce the law against them.

In O'Fallon, this is not known as favoritism but instead is known as business as usual. What a shame our elected representatives refuse to do anything about this.

December 06, 2007

Blunt needs to enforce law not examine it

In a story from Prime Buzz, Governor Matt Blunt has indicated he agrees with the decision by Jeff Davis to remove himself from the case involving the sale of Aquila. Blunt stated:
  • Chairman Davis had only one option: to recuse himself from this case. The accusations of contact between him and utility executives raise very serious questions about whether this issue is being decided fairly and impartially. Missourians deserve total trust in the members of the commission and I am calling on the PSC to immediately examine their policies on conflicts of interest including inappropriate contact with executives in cases before the commission.

Rather than call on the PSC to "examine their policies on conflict of interest" why doesn't the Governor simply enforce the ones which already exist. Here are a few to start with:

  • Executive branch employees shall conduct
    the business of state government in a manner
    which inspires public confidence and trust.
  • Employees shall avoid any interest or
    activity which improperly influences, or
    gives the appearance of improperly influencing,
    the conduct of their official duties.
  • This code is not intended to fully prescribe
    the proper conduct of employees and
    the failure to prohibit an employee action in
    this code does not constitute approval of the
  • It is improper for any person interested in
    a case before the commission to attempt to
    sway the judgment of the commission by
    undertaking, directly or indirectly, outside
    the hearing process to bring pressure or influence
    to bear upon the commission, its staff or
    the presiding officer assigned to the proceeding.
  • Requests for expeditious treatment of matters
    pending with the commission are improper except when filed with the secretary
    and copies served upon all other parties.
  • No member of the commission, presiding
    officer or employee of the commission shall
    invite or knowingly entertain any prohibited
    ex parte communication, or make any such
    communication to any party or counsel or
    agent of a party, or any other person who s/he
    has reason to know may transmit that communication
    to a party or party’s agent.

The email sent by Richard Green, Aquila’s chief executive officer, to the company’s board stated that Jeff Davis, chairman of the Missouri Public Service Commission, was willing “to move quickly to get the transaction approved.” And that “In a nutshell, Chairman Davis indicated his support for the transaction and wants to get it across the line as quickly as possible.” Davis denies this and claims all he said to Green during a private meeting was that the case would be decided based on the facts presented and that he would not prejudge the matter. Green now contends what he meant was that Davis had offered to pursue the case in a process that would proceed in “a forthright way.”

First, why would Davis need to have a private meeting with Green to tell him he was going to do his job? However, even if we were to believe this story, the private meeting was an ex parte communication which is prohibited. In addition, even Green's new story that Davis agreed to pursue the case in a "forthright way" is in violation of the code of conduct which prohibits any requests for expeditious treatment which are not properly filed.

It is time our elected representatives quit "examining" the law instead of enforcing it. However, public officials may want to examine their responsibilities to the citizens they claim to serve before we examine their job performance. That is one examination that will accomplish something.

O'Fallon, Mayor and Wal-Mart make bad neighbors

Wal-Mart has asked the City of O'Fallon for permission to increase the size of its existing store by 75,000 square feet. Part of the plan would pave over the existing detention basin, thus, requiring a new detention basin to be built. In anticipation of this THF purchased a home in a private residential neighborhood to tear down and use for the new detention basin. (THF's chairman is Stan Kroenke, who married into the Walton family. The company does much of the development work across the country for Wal-Mart.) However, the neighborhood in which the home is located is not in O'Fallon but instead is in unincorporated St. Charles County.

To help Wal-Mart out O'Fallon is proposing to voluntary annex this one piece of land and allow it to be used for a detention basin. Not surprisingly, the residents of the neighborhood oppose O'Fallon's plan and at the last meeting of the council many of the residents voiced their displeasure with the plan.

Now one might think the use of property, zoned residential, for a commercial purpose would require a change of zoning and a zoning change would require a public hearing and due process. In fact, this argument was made to the council by an attorney representing the residents, apparently to no avail. However, O'Fallon has never allowed legalities to stand in the way of helping out a developer. In fact, Mayor Donna Morrow quickly dismissed the concerns of the "non-residents" who dared to speak out against the plan.

When Morrow ran for office she was known as the "pipeline lady" because of her fight over a pipeline which ran through her neighborhood. Morrow the candidate promised Morrow the Mayor would stand up to the developers and builders who controlled O'Fallon. However, Morrow settled a civil lawsuit she had with her builder over the pipeline and she has long since forgotten her campaign promises. Thus, her lack of concern for the legality of this plan and the effect it may have on "non-residents" is not a surprise to those who supported her. However, we hope you understand this unneighborly conduct is not limited to you, we have to live with it.

Blunt needs to clean house at PSC

The Missouri Public Service Commission's (PSC) Mission Statement states that it will:

  • ensure that Missourians receive safe and reliable utility services at just, reasonable and affordable rates;
  • support economic development through either traditional rate of return regulation or competition, as required by law;
  • establish standards so that competition will maintain or improve the quality of services provided to Missourians;
  • provide the public the information they need to make educated utility choices;
  • provide an efficient regulatory process that is responsive to all parties, and perform our duties ethically and professionally.

Cases filed before the PSC are decided by 5 commissioners who are appointed by the Governor. The commissioners, who are supposed to be fair and impartial, preside over hearings which are conducted much like a trial. The Office of the Public Counsel represents the interests of the general public in the hearing and other interested parties are allowed to intervene.

The PSC is currently considering a purchase of Aquila Inc by Great Plains Energy Inc. for 1.7 billion. Critics contend the purchase could cost Aquila's electric customers up to 400 million over the next 5 years. After the hearing is conducted the commissioners will decide whether to approve the sale.

During the hearing an email was made public from Richard Green, Aquila’s chief executive officer, to the company’s board. The email claimed that Jeff Davis, chairman of the Missouri Public Service Commission, was willing “to move quickly to get the transaction approved.” Green also wrote that “In a nutshell, Chairman Davis indicated his support for the transaction and wants to get it across the line as quickly as possible.” Green initially said the email was correct but has since changed his story and now claims he meant that Davis offered to pursue the case in a manner that would proceed in “a forthright way.” Davis claims he told Green the case would be decided on the facts and he would not prejudge the matter.

However, Davis did not deny meeting with Green before the case was even filed with the PSC and Davis has announced he is recusing himself from the case. However, Public Counsel Lewis Mills is asking that the case be dismissed in that 4 of the 5 commissioners met privately with Aquila.

Mr. Davis, who is a lawyer, clearly knew that any meeting with a company that would be coming before him was improper no matter what was said. Therefore, removing him and any other members of the commission who met with Aquila should just be a start. Any members who met with Aquila should be removed from the commission immediately and an investigation conducted as to whether this has happened in the past. The state also needs to seek sanctions against these individuals for a clear violation of there ethical obligations including criminal charges if warranted.

This type of behaviour is why the public has such a lack of trust in public officials. Removing them from this case is simply not sufficient nor will the typical response of a "resignation" suffice. It is time we start holding our public officials accountable. Anything less is a victory for the unethical and corrupt people who have turned public service into personal gain.

December 05, 2007

Did Blunt forget the company line?

Henry Herschel, Governor Blunt's general counsel, left his job Tuesday after he was appointed as an Administrative Law Judge by Blunt. Jessica Robinson, a spokeswoman for Blunt, stated that Herschel's departure was not requested by Blunt. This comes just a couple of weeks after Blunt's chief of staff, Ed Martin, resigned to "spend more time with his family." Herschel and Martin just happened to be at the center of the ongoing controversy regarding the Blunt administration's deletion of public records and firing of Scott Eckersley, the staff attorney who raised concerns about the deletion of emails.

Of course, no one believes that Martin and Herschel left voluntarily, however, you would think Blunt would remember the "official" story. Apparently not from the following quote which appeared in the CDT Politics Blog:

"It’s a big animal state government, so I imagine that my answer is yes,” Blunt said, when asked whether there would be further staff changes in the next couple of months. “We’re going to continue to find the right people for the right jobs. We are not a status quo administration by any means. We’re always trying to find out who’s the best person to fill this position or that position. With 60,000 state employees… there will be changes within state government.”

The question of whether there would be further staff changes in the next couple of months implies that Herschel and Martin did not leave on their own and Blunt's answer confirms that. I know this is one of those lies we are all supposed to accept but the least Blunt could do is play along.

December 04, 2007

Builders looking for handouts in Wentzville

The reason builders and developers put so much money into local politics is because of the control municipalities have over new developments. A new development can impact roads, water, sewers, existing home values, schools, police and fire service among other things.. Thus, local governments enact zoning laws, building codes and other laws to require builders to take at least some responsibility for their impact on the existing residents. To lesson the impact of these restrictions, builders and developers pour money into local elections in hopes of having a favorable board or council, often at the expense of the residents. This tug of war between the taxpayers and builders/developers continues on with the latest battleground in Wentzville.

An article in the O'Fallon Journal today discusses a proposal to increase Wentzville's water and sewer connection fees that has come under attack by those in the home building industry. Wentzville officials state the increase is needed to keep the city's waste water fund self-sustaining. Tap on fees are assessed to a builder who wants to connect new homes to the City's services. Builders claim that an increase in this charge will further slow down an already bad housing market. However, if the money is not paid through new construction it will be passed on to the taxpayers of Wentzville, one of many subsidies we pay for new developments.

Builders/developers and their political lackeys will argue that new construction pays for itself, however, Wentzville need only look to O'Fallon to see the fallacy of this argument. Of course, this doesn't mean that Wentzville will follow through on the increase for the connection fees. If you want to know what to expect follow the money.

December 03, 2007

Fish & Ships

On tomorrow's show Lyn Schipper and I will be talking about;

  • Mizzou
  • An update on the Megan Meier case
  • Mass transit for St. Charles County
  • The Dixie Chicks latest cause

You can hear the show every Tuesday starting at approximately 9:00 AM until 9:15 on KFAV, 99.9. If you can't hear the show live you can go to the O'Fallon Watchdog later this week to listen to the show.

Warning, prolonged exposure to Fish & Ships may cause you to question authority.

There ought to be a law

With the announcement today by St. Charles County Prosecutor Jack Banas that no charges will be filed in the Megan Meier case, the public outcry over this case will now focus on passing new laws to cover this type of situation. If the ordinances passed by Dardenne Prairie and Florissant or any indication, we are wasting time and money on this issue. So what can be done? A good place to start is by looking at the facts of the Megan Meier case.

Megan Meier case: According to Banas an 18 year old employee (Ashley Grills) of the mother (Lori Drew) of one of Megan Meier's friends created a fake MySpace account to find out what Megan was saying about Drew's daughter. The account was set up by Grills, with Drew's knowledge, in the name of Josh Evans, a 16 year old boy new to the area. Drew, her daughter, Grills and another teenager had access to the account. The fake Josh and Megan became Internet friends with the permission of Megan's parents. At some point Josh turned on Megan and started sending mean messages to her. Megan replied to these messages by sending back mean messages to Josh. One of the last messages received by Megan said something like "the world would be a better place without you." Banas stated this message was sent by Grills. Megan, who was 13 at the time, committed suicide sometime after receiving the last message and her parents contend the messages sent from the fake Josh are, at least partially, to blame. 6 weeks after Megan's death her parents found out that Josh was not real and that Lori Drew was involved in setting up the account.. The Meyers went public with this information about one year later.

Current Laws: Banas reviewed laws regarding stalking (565.225), harassment (565.090) and child endangerment (568.045 and 568.050) in deciding whether to bring charges in this case. According to an article in the Suburban Journal, Banas said that he concluded that the intent of those who created the fake MySpace account did not meet the criminal threshold. Many who have called for new laws claim that the existing laws do not cover Internet harassment. However, the stalking statute makes specific mention of electronic communications while the child endangerment law covers any "acts" that create a substantial risk to the life, body, or health of a child. The harassment law covers "written communications" except as to those provisions directly related to telephone harassment. It should also be noted that Banas did not claim that charges were not brought because this was on the Internet but that there wasn't the requisite intent, Banas did, however, state that the harassment law could use some work.

What were the wrongful acts: Before drafting a new law, it is important to look at what wrongful acts you are trying to criminalize. I think the main anger here (some of which may not, in fact, be true in this case) is that an adult created a fake person to communicate with a minor in a mean and manipulative way. However, we can't outlaw meanness so any action should be focused on the contact between an adult and a minor. And in that regard most parents don't want adults contacting their children without the approval of a parent.

What can be done: Is MySpace really your space? In Missouri we allow people to put their name on a no call list to keep solicitors from calling their home. We also restrict people from coming on to your property through trespassing laws. Maybe we can incorporate these ideas to protect minors on the Internet. Any minor would be required to post a "no adults allowed" sign on their profile or account. Contact with minors by adults would then only be allowed with the permission of a parent or guardian and the adult making the contact would have the burden of proving this consent. However, permission to contact the minor is invalid if it is obtained through false information. We could then provide for civil penalties or criminal sanctions depending on the conduct of the adult.

Of course, the most important aspect of any law is parental oversight. However, I think such a law addresses the concerns many have regarding children on the Internet without going to far. Let me know what you think.

December 02, 2007

No charges in Megan Meyer case

Fox 2 News is reporting that St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney Jack Banas will announce tomorrow that no charges will be filed in regard to the Megan Meier case. Banas' announcement will no doubt lead to more calls for new laws. Dardenne Prairie and Florissant have already passed new ordinances in response to this case and O'Fallon, St. Charles County and other state and local governments are expected to follow.

December 01, 2007

Blunt puts politics before the law....again.

Governor Blunt has decided once again to ignore the law. An article in the Post-Dispatch's Political Fix reported that the date has passed for Governor Blunt to set a special election in February to fill the vacancy in the 18th District. The 18th District House seat was vacated when Tom Dempsey was elected to the State Senate in September of 2007. February 5, 2008 is the date of the Missouri presidential primary and Blunt set this date for 3 other special elections to fill House vacancies.

Under Missouri law the Governor shall call for an election "without delay" to fill the vacancy. The February date was a logical choice for the special election but it now appears as if the seat will remain open until the regular November 2008 election. The Post article indicates that a Blunt spokeswomen stated "(Blunt) has yet to decide whether to call a special election for a later date or to leave the House seat empty until the next full two-year term is filled in the November election." The spokeswomen, Jessica Robinson, said she didn't know why Blunt did not set the special election in February.

Of course, the rest of us know why Blunt put off the special election; politics. One of the possible contenders for the seat on the Democrats side is former County Sheriff and St. Charles City Police Chief Tim Swope. Swope, who was elected Sheriff as a Republican, recently switched sides and would be a formidable Democratic candidate in this Republican county. By putting off the election until November, which is the presidential election, Republicans can be assured of high voter turnout and a possible Democratic ticket headed by Hillary Clinton, not exactly a favorite in St. Charles County.

Apparently, Blunt still hasn't figured out that the laws of this state apply to him. The law requires that an election shall be set without delay and it makes no mention of any exceptions, much less pure political motives, to delay the election. However, the article in the Post claims there is precedent for not scheduling a special election until the November general election because former Governor Mel Carnahan did this in 1998.

Precedent? Precedent is something done or said that may serve as an example or rule to authorize or justify a subsequent act of the same or an analogous kind. Use of the word precedent implies some legal justification. This is another of those situations in which we apply a different standard to politicians. For example, you won't get very far if you steal a car and tell the police "there is precedent for this, my neighbor Barney stole a car back in 98 and he's still driving it."

The fact that Carnahan broke the law does not justify Blunt's action, it just confirms that Democrats break the law as well. We have this silly law about filling an open House seat "without delay" because of something called representative democracy. The residents of the 18th District should demand no less.