Friday, February 27, 2015

Silver Lining in a Funnel Cloud Preview now available as an e-book

With the impending release of the audits for the Joplin R-8 School District and the City of Joplin, I thought it would be an opportune time to revisit how we got to the position where we are today.

My book, Silver Lining in a Funnel Cloud: How Greed and Corruption Destroyed the Joplin Tornado Recovery, which will be published a few weeks after the release of the city audit, details the story of Joplin from the tornado to the present and eventually will be in the neighborhood of 300 to 400 pages and will offer information on everything from the firing of Mark Roar, the collapse of Wallace-Bajjali, the ups and downs of C. J. Huff to the release of the audits, including the untimely death of State Auditor Thomas Schweich.

Using sources ranging from videos, recordings (secret and otherwise), government documents, court records, and interviews, I have done my best to tell the story of how Joplin's recovery changed from being the feel good story for the ages to a cautionary tale of how not to let dreams and ambitions outweigh necessity.

As of a few moments ago, the preview edition, the first 10 chapters of the book and approximately 100 pages, depending on your reader, is available in an e-book format from Amazon Kindle. This is the edition that was released to a select few readers a week ago.

The chapters include the following:

Chapter One- The tornado hits and this chapter takes three of Joplin's leaders, City Manager Mark Rohr, Superinrendent C. J. Huff and Assistant Superintendent Angie Besendorfer through the tornado and the period right after it.

Chapter Two- Mark Rohr's first press conference at 5:30 a.m. Monday, May 23, background on how Rohr arrived at this point in his career, C. J. Huff is interviewed by Fox News' Greta Van Susteren in his first brush with fame; Huff tries Disaster Recovery for Dummies as he tries to figure out what to do.

Chapter Three- David Wallace of Wallace-Bajjali learns about the tornado; Mayor Mike Woolston sees the town he knows totally changed and two schools he attended destroyed;. Woolston, Rohr, Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce President Rob O'Brian and the beginning of the Citizen Advisory Recovery Team (CART).

Chapter Four- Angie Besendorfer begins to dream of what the Joplin R-8 School District can become; Besendorfer's background, including Lamar and her turbulent time as superintendent of the Reeds Spring School District, her arrival in Joplin and losing the superintendent job to C. J. Huff

Chapter Five- C. J. Huff announces there will be school, how the R-8 Board of Education behaved during that time. Huff and Besendorfer threaten to fire anyone staff member who talks to the media.

Chapter Six- Barack Obama and the Westboro Baptist Church arrive in Joplin, the Joplin Tornado Memorial Service; Mark Rohr delivers a speech at the Moment of Silence and turns people's thoughts from death toward recovery.

Chapter Seven- How Bright Futures came into being. details on C. J. Huff's background that led him to begin Bright Futures, one major claim about Bright Futures that simply is not true; how C. J. Huff worked to bring up the Joplin High School graduation rate.

Chapter Eight- How Bright Futures USA hijacked Joplin Tornado recovery funds and how Ron Richard and the Joplin legislative team helped it do so; Angie Besendorfer makes it possible for school to start on time, the truth about how the MODOT building became the administration building for Joplin R-8, how R-8 officials decided to tear down a perfectly good two-year-old middle school that could have been reopened in time for the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year.

Chapter Nine- David Wallace comes to Joplin, CART takes over, Wallace pushes for Joplin to hire a master developer, Mike Woolston and Jane Cage go to Waco to examine Wallace-Bajjali projects. Councilman Ben Rosenberg offers the only opposition to the hiring of the master developer

Chapter Ten-  David Wallace unveils his $794 million plan, what Missouri Southern State University President Bruce Speck was doing while other leaders were making their presence known after the tornado and how one of Speck's wildest ideas became a keystone in David Wallace's plan.

Million dollar lawsuit filed against Joplin R-8 School District

Less than a week before the Joplin R-8 School District settled a sexual harassment lawsuit, it was already facing another one.

A million dollar lawsuit filed February 10 in Jasper County Circuit Court claims Kathy Dukes reported to human resources director Tina Smith (pictured) that her supervisor, Herbie Coleman Jr., was sexually harassing and stalking her.

Six days later, Smith took decisive action, placing the alleged victim, Dukes, on paid administrative leave.

A month later, despite a notice that said Dukes' complaint had been confirmed, Smith pressured Dukes into quitting, holding the threat of a bad job reference over her head.

Smith and Superintendent C. J. Huff signed a document (shown to the left) in which Dukes swore not to sue for sexual harassment in return for a "neutral job reference" and four weeks of severance pay.

Dukes, a utility worker, and Coleman, her supervisor, "began a relationship as a result of an indication by Mr. Coleman that he was separated from his wife and was going through a divorce," according to the petition.

Dukes discovered that Coleman was not getting divorced, so she ended the relationship and asked Coleman "not to communicate with her outside of work.

After the relationship ended, Dukes said, she "began to suffer from multiple incidents of stalking and harassment at the hands of Herbie Coleman where he would stalk her after hours and harass her while at work about who she was with and where she had been after working hours,:

Dukes claims that Coleman went "as far as harassing her present boyfriend by sending him letters with false negative information about the plaintiff in an effort to break up the relationship between the plaintiff and her present boyfriend."

After a fellow employee told her she should talk to someone about the harassment, Dukes scheduled an appointment with Smith on December 13, 2013.

During that interview, Dukes told her story and played recordings of the harassing calls from Coleman, according to the petition. Smith said she would begin an investigation.

Six days later, Dukes was placed on administrative leave for allegations of misconduct.

On Monday, January 13, 2014, during what is described as an "uncomfortable meeting" between Smith and Dukes, "Ms. Smith, by way of pressure and coercion, talked Ms. Dukes into signing a mutual separation agreement and release."

During the meeting, Smith asked Dukes if she had looked for work and "don't you think it would be best if you found another place to work," adding "no one wants to work with you any more."

Smith also gave Dukes a letter in which she said her investigation indicated Coleman had violated board policy. "An investigation of the grievance has been completed and the district finds adequate substantiation exists to support an infraction of board policy.

"At Joplin Schools, we are committed to providing a learning and working environment that is free from harassment and discrimination. All participants in the educational process are expected to follow policies and administrative procedures of the district. Subsequently, the district has responded with the appropriate actionable measures."

Dukes signed the "mutual separation agreement" in which she "hereby releases and forever discharges the Joplin Schools Board of Education, its employees, its affiliates and subsidiaries, together with their respective directors, officers, agents, employees, and board of director, from any and all claims or other causes of action she may have against them relating to or arising out of Doris Kathrine Dukes' employment with Schol, including, but not limited to any claim of sexual harassment, or hostile work environment, or retaliation related to filing sexual harassment complaints, or any other cause of action related to her employment or her separation of employment, Missouri Statutes or Federal Constitution.

"The Joplin Schools hereby agrees to accept her resignation and will provide a neutral letter of reference consistent with policy. As and for additional consideration, the Joplin Schools shall pay the amount of $2,820.80 representing four weeks' pay less all required withholdings.

"As and for additional consideration herein, Doris Kathrine Dukes, hereby voluntarily resigns from her employment with the Joplin Schools, effective this date, January 14, 2014."

Count I of the lawsuit alleges wrongful discharge and violation of public policy and asks for $1 million in punitive damages.

Dukes, who is represented by William G. Weber of the Evenson, Carlin, Cooper, and Weber LLC firm in Pineville, is asking for a jury trial.

In the district's response to the lawsuit, lawyer Karl Blanchard asks that the lawsuit be dismissed because it "fails to state a cause of action" on which either relief or pnnitive damages can be awarded.

If the lawsuit is not dismissed, Blanchard says, the district is asking permission to have all of Dukes' last 20 years of work records provided.

Earlier this week, Judge David Dally officially dismissed another lawsuit in which former custodial supervisor George Morris, who said he had been sexually harassed by buildings project director Mike Johnson, was fired. The amount the district had to pay to settle the lawsuit has not been revealed.

C. J Huff to hold press conference as audit is officially released

A few moments ago, Joplin R-8 Superintendent C. J. Huff revealed to staff how he is going to handle the release of the state audit of the school district on Tuesday.

Originally, a 5 p.m. meeting had been scheduled for that day with State Auditor Thomas Schweich revealing the contents of the audit. With Schweich's death Thursday, plans changed and now the audit will be released to the public on the state auditor's website.

Huff, shown in protective gear as he awaits the fallout from the audit, told staff that he plans to answer all of the public's questions:

I just got off the phone with the State Auditor's Office. As it stands right now we will receive the final draft, embargoed audit results on Monday. The results will be posted on Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. on the State Auditor's website.

Joplin Schools will also post the audit results at 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning on our district website. A press conference will be held at 10 a.m. as well. A location for the press conference will be determined on Monday. We are also tentatively planning a community event Tuesday evening to give patrons the opportunity to ask questions regarding the report. Time and location regarding the community event will be determined on Monday as well.

As they deal with the tragic loss of Auditor Schweich, we continue to work closely with the staff of the State Auditor's Office and will keep you apprised of any changes or new information.

Thanks and have a great weekend!

Joplin R-8 audit will be released Tuesday; no public meeting will be held

The Joplin R-8 School District state audit will be released on Tuesday as planned, but there will be no public meeting, according to a news release issued moments ago.

The release, from Spence Jackson, communications director at the state auditor's office reads as follows:

We will release the audit of the Joplin School District on Tuesday as planned but without a public presentation. Thank you, in advance, for understanding this necessary change in plans.

The change in plans came after the death of State Auditor Thomas Schweich on Thursday.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Joplin officials send disapproving message to KOAM reporter's bosses

E-mails obtained by KOAM through a Sunshine Law request show that city officials were not at all pleased with reporter Jordan Aubey's coverage of the $5 million dollar loan from Springfield-based trucking company Prime to former Joplin master developer Wallace-Bajjali.

After Aubey's first report indicated that the city of Joplin may owe money to Prime, public information officer Lynn Onstot sent a February 10 e-mail to Aubey's newsroom bosses, News director Kristi Spencer and news assignment editor Stephanie Marsh, complaining about the veteran reporter's coverage:

Kristi and Stephanie,

City Manager Sam Anselm asked that I forward this to you so you are aware of the occurrence.

I was not present during the interview, however the story that ran did not relate to the original premise of Jordan's request about seeking Prime as a potential developer for Joplin. The story did run was inaccurate and misleading, as Sam's clarification states below. In light of this, and prior incidents similar to this, Sam noted that he will begin recording the interviews he conducts with Jordan.

The city works hard to provide accurate and timely information to the public via news media, as well as other resources, so we appreciate your willingness to help us achieve this goal as we move forward.

Anselm approved the Onstot message to Aubey's bosses, writing "Sounds good," after she sent it to the city manager for his approval.

Aubey's original story had mentioned that Prime could come after the City of Joplin for what it was owed, something which both Anselm and Mayor Michael Seibert told KOAM and the Joplin Globe, which has played a wait-and-see what Jordan Aubey comes up with and then knock it down approach, was not going to happen.

In Aubey's second report on the Joplin/Prime situation, Prime's attorney, Richard Walters, indicated that a lawsuit was indeed a possibility. City officials are in overdrive trying to make sure that does not happen.

The city's approach now appears to be to wait it out until Aubey and KOAM stop running stories or the public loses interest.

In an e-mail, dated February 9, Anselm says simply, "This, too, shall pass."

In his latest report, Aubey reveals that the city has already paid Prime $1 million.

Video- Prayer service held for Schweich in Jefferson City

This video from Fox 4 in Kansas City was taken during a prayer service at the state capitol after the death today of State Auditor Thomas Schweich.

New radio ad launched today: We will squash Schweich like the bug that he is

The advertisement doesn't make any difference now but a group called Citizens for Fairness launched this radio ad which compares the late State Auditor Thomas Schweich to Mayberry deputy Barney Fife, says he is corrupt, and that he was encouraged to run so Democrats would have an easier candidate to beat in the general election.

Schweich is an obviously weaker opponent against Democrat Chris Koster. Once Schweich obtains the Republican nomination, we will quickly squash him like a bug that he is and put our candidate, Chris Koster in the governor’s mansion.”

Now Schweich's opponent, Rex Sinquefield's puppet, Catherine Hanaway has a clear path to the nomination.

Federal grand jury indicts Joplin couple on child pornography charges

(From the U. S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri)

A Joplin couple are among five persons indicted by a federal grand jury Wednesdayday in four separate and unrelated cases related to the sexual exploitation of children.

“Protecting the most vulnerable members of our society is a top priority of the Department of Justice,” U. S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri Tammy Dickinson said. “We are committed to protecting our children from sexual predators and bringing their abusers to justice. Exploiting and abusing a child to produce pornography – as charged in each of these indictments – carries a tough mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in federal prison without parole.”

USA v. Dickerson
Nicholas James Dickerson, 30, of Branson, Mo., was charged in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Springfield, Mo. Dickerson is employed by the Western Taney County Fire Protection District as an EMT and volunteer firefighter. Dickerson was residing in living quarters at a Branson fire station at the time of the alleged offense.

The federal indictment alleges that Dickerson used a minor to produce child pornography on Feb. 7, 2015. The indictment replaces a federal criminal complaint that was filed against Dickerson on Feb. 19, 2015.

According to an affidavit filed in support of the original criminal complaint, Dickerson sold his iPhone to a Nixa, Mo., business on Feb. 9, 2015. An employee of the business noticed Dickerson deleting images or files from the phone while standing at the counter, the affidavit says, and after the transaction was complete the employee noticed that the “deleted pictures folder” was still present on the screen. The employee saw an image that appeared to be child pornography and alerted the store owner, who contacted law enforcement.

Investigators identified the nine-year-old victim in the image. Dickerson told investigators that he took the photo while sexually abusing the child victim in his living quarters at the fire station, the affidavit says, and that he sexually abused the victim on multiple occasions. Dickerson also told investigators he had shown pornography to the child victim.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ami Harshad Miller. It was investigated by the FBI.

USA v. Britten

Ernest Britten, 36, of Joplin, Mo., and his ex-wife, Kendra Britten, 33, of Miami, Okla., formerly of Joplin, were charged in a two-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Springfield, Mo.

The federal indictment alleges that Ernest and Kendra Britten used a minor to produce child pornography from June 23, 2005, to July 2, 2012. The indictment also charges Ernest and Kendra Britten with receiving child pornography over the Internet from Dec. 27, 2010, to Nov. 10, 2011.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ami Harshad Miller. It was investigated by the Southwest Missouri Cyber Crime Task Force and the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

USA v. Peterson

Michael Douglas Peterson, 32, of Morristown, Tenn., formerly of Barry County, Mo., was charged in a two-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Springfield, Mo. Today’s indictment replaces a federal criminal complaint that was filed against Peterson on Jan. 23, 2015.

The federal indictment alleges that Peterson used a minor victim to produce child pornography from March 1, 2014, to Jan. 21, 2015. Peterson is also charged with using his cell phone during that time to entice the minor, who was younger than 17, to engage in illicit sexual behavior.

According to an affidavit filed in support of the original criminal complaint, Peterson was exchanging nude photos via cell phone and engaging in sexual activity with the 15-year-old victim in Cassville, Mo. A state arrest warrant was issued for Peterson, but he could not be located.

The victim’s mother took her to live in Tennessee. Federal agents later located Peterson in Morristown, Tenn., where he was living with the child victim and her mother. Peterson was arrested and remains in federal custody.

Peterson told federal agents the child victim’s mother allowed him to move into their home and was aware that he and the child victim engaged in sexual intercourse. The child victim, the affidavit says, is pregnant with Peterson’s child. She was taken into protective custody and placed in foster care.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ami Harshad Miller. It was investigated by the Southwest Missouri Cyber Crime Task Force, Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the FBI.

USA v. Hall
Michael Roger Hall, 19, of Kenton, Ohio, was charged in a two-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Springfield, Mo. Today’s indictment replaces a federal criminal complaint that was filed against Hall on Friday, Feb. 20, 2015.

The federal indictment alleges that Hall used a minor to produce child pornography from Dec. 7 to 9, 2014. The indictment also alleges that Hall communicated via the Internet to entice a minor victim to engage in illicit sexual behavior.

According to an affidavit filed in support of the original criminal complaint, Hall was exchanging nude images over the Internet with a 9-year-old victim in Ava, Mo. Hall and the child victim, who began communicating through an application on her Kindle Fire, allegedly discussed meeting for sexual contact.

A law enforcement officer, portraying the identity of the child victim, began communicating with Hall. Hall was arrested on Friday, Feb. 20, 2015, and remains in federal custody.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ami Harshad Miller. It was investigated by the Ava, Mo., Police Department, the Southwest Missouri Cyber Crime Task Force and the FBI.

Dickinson cautioned that the charges contained in this indictment are simply accusations, and not evidence of guilt. Evidence supporting the charges must be presented to a federal trial jury, whose duty is to determine guilt or innocence.

Nixon: Schweich was brilliant, devoted, accomplished public servant

Gov. Jay Nixon today released the following statement upon the death of Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich. The Governor also has ordered flags at all Missouri state facilities to be immediately lowered to half-staff to honor his passing.

“I join all Missourians in mourning the passing of State Auditor Tom Schweich, a brilliant, devoted and accomplished public servant who dedicated his career to making Missouri and the world a better place,” Gov. Nixon said. “From his courageous work to combat the illegal drug trade abroad in Afghanistan to his tireless efforts to protect the interests of taxpayers here in Missouri, Tom Schweich’s exceptional intellect and unwavering dedication to public service left a legacy that will endure for many years to come. The First Lady and I send our most heartfelt condolences to Tom’s wife Kathy and two children, Emilie and Thomas, Jr.”

MO GOP Chairman: I am in utter shock at Schweich's tragic passing

(From the Missouri Republican Party)

Missouri Republican Party Chairman John Hancock released the following statement on the passing of State Auditor Tom Schweich:
“I am in utter shock at the news of Tom Schweich’s tragic passing. Tom will be remembered as a tenacious, energetic, effective elected official who worked tirelessly on behalf of the citizens of this state and this nation. I ask all Missourians to join me in praying for Tom’s family.”