(The following is my column from this week's Newton County News.)
It is not too often that Missourians jump at the opportunity to be taxed, but that has happened every time the sales tax for soil and water conservation and parks has been put before voters.
The tax was first approved in the 1980s, and then renewed by the voters twice more, each time by overwhelming margins.
As far as soil and water conservation is concerned, that money has been used at the local level through county boards, which supervise water and soil conservation projects and help local farmers.
The money has been distributed through local bodies such as the Newton County Soil and Water Conservation District Board, and from all reports, the efforts of that body as well as other local boards across the state have been successful.
But we are talking about a lot of money, so naturally, we have politicians who want to take that money out of the hands of local boards and put it in Jefferson City.
That effort is moving full speed ahead, with the help of a consulting company
hired by state Soil and Water Conservation Director Bill Foster. That company, Business Improvement Solutions, has several connections to disgraced former Rep. Nathan Cooper, R-Cape Girardeau, who is currently spending his time in a federal prison.
The state paid Business Improvement Solutions $24,475, slightly less than the $25,000 which would have required the job to go out for bids. The resulting study, complete with numerous grammatical errors, appears to recommend stripping local soil and conservation district boards of their power and centralizing the operation in Jefferson City.
Business Improvement Solutions, a limited liability company, was registered with the secretary of state's office April 27, 2007, with Nathan Cooper as its registered agent. A quick check of corporation records indicates no changes have been recorded. Cooper is also listed as the organizer for the business.
The Business Improvement Solutions study lists 1917 William Street, Cape Girardeau MO 63703 as the company's address...the same address as Nathan Cooper's immigration law practice. A website is listed at the top of the study cover letter, www.bisholdings.com, but it does not appear to be accessible. Google offers a cached photo of the contact page from the site, taken June 15, 2008. A Google search of Business Improvement Solutions, Cape Girardeau turns up only that page, two pages involving the Soil and Water Conservation study, and two mentions in The Turner Report.
I called the phone number listed on the study for Business Improvement Solutions, and it turned out to be a fax number.
The name listed on the study is Ron Randen, project manager, Business Improvement Solutions. In an article in the Aug. 30, 2007, Cape Girardeau Southeast Missourian, reporter Rudi Keller talked with Randen:
In the motion filed with the court, Cooper described his proposed voyage as a business trip on behalf of Business Improvement Solutions LLC, a company he created in April. Cooper's connection with the company was not mentioned in the court filing. Cooper's partner in the company said he wasn't aware Cooper was planning the trip.
"He organized the company for us a few months ago," said Ronald Randen of Gideon, Mo. "It never really got started. It was just in a dormant mode.
Except, of course, for the recent addition of $24,475 in taxpayer money.
Since I originally wrote about Business Improvement Solutions, it has come under the scrutiny of the Missouri secretary of state’s office, which has given the corporation until Oct. 26 to file correct information or be dissolved.
Soil and Water Conservation sources at the state level told me earlier this week they will present evidence at a news conference later this month which will show Department of Natural Resources Director Doyle Childers and Foster rigged the bidding specs so that only Business Improvement Solutions would be able to receive the contract for the study.
The same sources indicate they have documented evidence that will be presented at this news conference, which suggests Business Improvement Solutions was told what the contents of the study needed to be…even before the work had been done.
Hopefully, the media will jump all over this brazen attempt to take control of hundreds of thousands of dollars out of local hands.