Monday, March 31, 2008

Cooper does in-person research before submitting casino loss limit bill

Two days before Rep. Shannon Cooper, R-Clinton, submitted a bill to remove the loss limits for Missouri casinos, he may have been conducting some in-person research at one of those facilities.
Documents posted minutes ago on the Missouri Ethics Commission website indicate Cooper, whose bill would also limit the opening of new casinos in the state, thus lessening competition for those already here, had $771.17 for "hotel accommodations" paid for by Matthew Clark, lobbyist for Ameristar Hotel and Casino in Kansas City.

HB 2403, introduced by Cooper Feb. 7, though it begins with numerous additions to current law directed toward putting casino money into education, it ends up being the answer to every current state casino owner's wish list.

Three days after Cooper submitted his bill, The Turner Report noted that he has been a big recipient of casino lobbyists' gifts for quite a while:

By all accounts, the performance given by country music legend George Jones June 10, 2007, at the Ameristar Casino in Kansas City was a rousing success and Rep. Shannon Cooper, R-Clinton, had eight tickets to that event, worth $440, courtesy of lobbyist Betsy Morgan.
Though Missouri Ethics Commission documents show that Ms. Morgan's clients who footed the bill for the tickets were the Missouri Beverage Association and the Missouri Railroad Association.
Another of Ms. Morgan's clients, which was not mentioned on the disclosure form, is Ameristar Casinos.
In fact, Shannon Cooper received $1,696.88 in gifts from Ameristar lobbyists William Gamble, Jorgen Schlemeier, Sarah Topp, and Betsy Morgan in 2007.
This might not be such a big deal. After all, each time The Turner Report prints its Hall of Shame listings for legislators who take the most in lobbyists' gifts, there are many who probably are just taking the freebies to be taking the freebies, no matter how distasteful that may be to some of us.
But in this particular instance, Cooper is proposing legislation that will directly benefit Ameristar Casinos.
On Thursday, Cooper filed a bill which would remove the loss limit for casinos and limit competition for casinos currently operating in Missouri. HB 2043 has many items concerning the placement of gambling funds in education, but the key parts of this legislation, mentioned in the last sentence, would give the casino interests everything they want.
In addition to the George Jones tickets, as noted in the Oct. 1, 2007, Turner Report, Sarah Topp paid for a cruise for Cooper and other legislators while they were attending the National Association of State Legislators meeting in Boston.
On May 18, Jorgen Schlemeier paid for $329.23 worth of travel for Cooper, According to the Ethics Commission documents, the cost was split between Ameristar Casinos and four other Gamble & Schlemeier clients.

Cooper collected $1,230.02 in lobbyist gifts in February.

Daily offers strong coverage on Neosho storm damage

The Neosho Daily News has had ample opportunities to display its ability to offer blanket coverage of breaking news- last August's murders of the Micronesian church officials, the Rowan Ford murder case, and recent ice storms among other events.

Chalk up another big plus to Managing Editor John Ford, Publisher Rick Rogers, and the troops for their coverage of a possible tornado that left considerable damage in its wake earlier today.

The Daily has shown a far more effective use of its website during events like this than the Joplin Globe (and speaking of the Globe, if anyone had relied on the area's so-called newspaper of record, they would have had considerably less information, read almost none, about the storm damage).

The coverage included photos and bylined stories by Ford, Rogers, and reporter Todd Higdon.

Ford has a story that appears to be certain to be followed up- Sirens did not sound because no warning was issued:

“Normally, we do not sound the sirens unless there is a tornado warning issued by the weather service,” he said. “They issue a tornado warning any time there are winds over 70 miles an hour. They will generally issue a warning if they recognize rotation, even if they can’t see the tornado, but there are indications that a tornado is involved. Today was a little different thing all around. There was nothing different than we saw with any other storm coming through. We also sound the sirens based on information from qualified storm spotters. And we had storm spotters out during this storm.”

The Daily has shown a consistent ability to handle major events when they hit its coverage area. There are other holes in the newspaper's coverage, but when it comes to breaking events that consume readers' interest, the Daily has carved out a solid reputation over the last several months.

Mr. Snappy loses appeal in sexual harassment case

The Missouri Southern District Court of Appeals today affirmed the jury verdict in favor of a man who says he was harassed by his boss at Friendly Ford in Springfield.
Greene County Circuit Court Judge Mark Fitzsimmons ruled that Chris Ames, a salesman in Friendly Ford's truck department, had accused of his boss, Jay Wise of numerous infractions, including sexual battery and retaliatory discharge:

On December 19, 2005, to December 21, 2005, a trial was held only as to Mr. Ames's claims against Mr. Wise and FFI.(FN5) The evidence at trial showed that while in a supervisory capacity over certain FFI employees, Mr. Wise often engaged in "horseplay" with employees, including Mr. Ames, and would strike them on the ear with a plastic comb, referred to as "Mr. Snappy," which caused a "sharp stinging pain." Further, the evidence showed Mr. Wise also pretended to strike Mr. Ames and other employees in the genitals, oftentimes actually making contact with the person's body. Mr. Ames testified he had been hit in the ear by Mr. Wise; that Mr. Wise had attempted to hit him in the genitals numerous times; and that Mr. Wise had actually made contact with his genitals on at least one occasion. Mr. Ames stated that when he was hit in the genitals it "sometimes" hurt. Mr. Ames also testified that on one occasion Mr. Wise snuck up behind him and "spit a little bit of water and ice down the back of . . ." his shirt. He related that Mr. Wise said something to him that "involved cold and cum and how did [he] like it or something like that." He likewise set out that Mr. Wise's actions made him feel embarrassed, humiliated, and intimidated. He testified that when he would see Mr. Wise approach him he would often try to leave the room or otherwise remove himself from Mr. Wise's presence. He stated he did not tell his girlfriend about being hit in the genitals because he "didn't want her to think any less of [him]" or think "that [he] couldn't handle [him]self." Mr. Wise did not deny at trial that he engaged in such "horseplay," but testified he never intended to hurt or injure anyone.

At the close of the evidence, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Mr. Ames as against Mr. Wise and set actual damages at $65,000.00.

Another court action came as a result of this lawsuit, as noted in the April 8, 2006, Turner Report:

A Springfield man is suing a lawyer whom he claims provided the Joplin Globe and Springfield News-Leader with false information following a civil suit in Greene County Circuit Court.
It's enough to make Mr. Snappy angry.
Mr. Snappy is the comb that jurors were told Jay Wise of Friendly Ford in Springfield used to reprimand employees who got out of line. According to Jeff Lehr's article in the Dec. 23 Joplin Globe, Mark Bodine, the attorney for the plaintiffs, told Lehr that his client, Chris Ames, and others had testified that Wise liked to "thwack" employees on the ears with Mr. Snappy and he also "was fond of striking Ames and other male salesmen in the truck division of the dealership with a backhand to their genitals."
The information in the Globe story, and apparently information in articles printed in the Springfield News-Leader and Springfield Business Journal, came from Bodine, a partner in the Shawnee, Kan., law firm of Bennett, Bodine and Waters, PA. Lehr's article indicates Bodine gave him the information in a telephone interview.
Wise claims that Bodine provided incorrect information in that interview and in the others given to various media outlets. "Throughout 2001 and continuing into 2006, in the course of representing clients," the lawsuit says, "Bodine falsely and maliciously reported to third persons that Wise engaged in unlawful conduct, namely assault and battery with male employees of FFI, (and) had sexually harassed male employees of FFI, had sexually battered male employees of FFI."
Wise says Bodine's statements "exposed (him) to hatred, contempt and ridicule" in Springfield.
"Co-workers, friends and business associates of Wise heard and read the slanderous and defamatory statements when they were published.."
Another problem, Wise said, were statements such as the one given by Bodine to Lehr that Wise had settled with four of the people who were suing him. "Bodine made other false and misleading statements in the press to further embellish the false and defamatory statements and to give the false impression that Wise had settled four civil suits for assault, battery, sexual harassment and sexual battery when in truth and fact he had not."
Wise claims he has lost income, suffered emotional distress, loss of sleep and loss of reputation. He is seeking more than $75,000, according to the lawsuit.

Wise dismissed the lawsuit in May 2006.

Tri-State Business profiles Always Buying Books owner

I was pleased to see that Joplin Tri-State Business, in its most recent edition, profiled Bob Wolfe, owner of Always Buying Books in Joplin.
Local authors love working with Bob because he allows us to sell our books in his store and does not keep a penny out of it. He says he does that to give local authors every chance to succeed, and because having the books in his store and having book signings there brings traffic and increases sales.

My signing for The Turner Report book last fall at Always Buying Books went well and I look forward to working with Bob in the future.

Lockwood native Shorter to coach Webb City girls

Tonight's KSNF and KODE newscasts noted that Carl Junction has fired its boys basketball and wrestling coaches.
It was also noted that Lockwood alumnus Brad Shorter, who has been coaching the girls basketball team, has left on his own to coach the Webb City girls basketball team.
Shorter will replace Walter Resa, who is stepping down after a successful decade-long run, including three district championships. Resa will serve as the assistant coach, replacing Elaine Shewmake, who retired.

Deaths of prominent citizens are page one news

Jimmie Hinson spent 21 1/2 years as pastor of the First Assembly of God Church in Carthage and was a past president of the Carthage Ministerial Alliance. His death, however, did not rate page one in the Sunday Carthage Press.

At a time when newspapers are losing readers right and left, the last thing they should do is ignore local news...and the death of community leaders, past or present, should always be big news. If the deceased is a person who currently holds office, is a key player in the business, cultural, or academic communities then it rates page one coverage because of its immediate effect on the community.

If the person is one who played a major role in decades past, then it is the newspaper's job to remind the community of just who that person was and what his or her contributions were.

The Press cannot be faulted for its lack of local content on the first page of its Sunday edition, but it is embarrassing, on a day when Rev. Hinson's death should have found a place on the front page, for the lead story to be about Carthage Senior High School's Big Man on Campus contest. For those of you who are not familiar with this tradition, high school boys dress up like girls in this competition. The Press ran a story and four photos on the top half of page one. Should it have been covered? Absolutely. The Press is a community newspaper and school activities should be covered, but perhaps this was not the day to have that big of a package on page one. A photo on page one and a reference to an inside package might have been a wiser move.

The rest of page one included a photo and story on the groundbreaking for a Missouri Southern State University building that is being named after longtime Carthage businessman Stephen Beimdiek. I have no complaints about this package. It belongs on page one and deserved the prominence.

The lead story, along with the Big Man on Campus, was reporter John Hacker's story on the prospect of more flooding. Again, it is hard to argue with the importance of this article, considering all this area has been through with flooding over the past several days.

The local content was far better than it has been on many days for The Press, but the neglect of Jimmie Hinson's death was inexcusable.

The disconnect between community newspapers and their readership began when the beancounters decided to charge for obituaries, and then extended it to wedding, anniversary, and engagement announcements. In small communities, these are the big news items, people want to read about them, and if newspapers do not care about what goes on with the people in their communities, why should the people care anything about whether these newspapers continue to exist?

GateHouse loves those niche products

GateHouse Media, like many newspaper companies, is investing as much of its time and effort in niche products and that's the way President and CEO Michael Reed likes it.
At a marketing meeting of the Newspaper Association of America last week, Reed, one of the keynote speakers, explained his thinking:

Reed, meantime, said the industry has to continue to invest in and train its sales force.

“We have gotten increasingly complex compared to 20, 30, 40 years ago when we just put our daily newspaper on the street,” Reed said. “That’s not the case anymore. We have a plethora of niche products, weeklies, monthlies, special sections, and our daily and online products.”

Newspaper sales reps must know the product mixes, the community and the competition and be willing to change. Singleton stressed feet on the streets, while Reed said his company’s strengths lie in knowing the community and integrating the newspaper within that market.

As a result, GateHouse, which largely owns newspapers in small and mid-sized markets, has been able to avoid some of the classified revenues meltdown and cyclical downturn that’s affected its larger counterparts, Reed said

GateHouse Media owns The Carthage Press, Neosho Daily News, Big Nickel, Pittsburg Morning Sun, and all kinds of niche publications and special sections in this area.

Richard may abstain from vote on repealing campaign contribution limits

Rep. Ron Richard, R-Joplin, who claimed a hardship and was allowed to keep $82,000 in excess campaign contributions, will be able to keep another $60,000 if the House votes to repeal contribution limits, but Richard tells Associated Press he might abstain from the vote:

Then the commission added an escape clause: If the Legislature once again repeals contribution limits during its 2008 session, Richard and Icet won't have to refund anything.

Richard, R-Joplin, said he supports repealing the limits again. But when asked whether he had an extra incentive to back the legislation this year, Richard replied that he might abstain from the vote.

"I don't want to have any innuendo that I'm doing it for monetary reasons," Richard said.

None of us would ever think that.

Prospectus filed on same day as American Water asks for 32 percent rate increase for Joplin shows CEO is living high on the hog

It must be great to have a product that people absolutely have to have and a virtual monopoly on it.
Missouri American Water, as the Joplin Globe reported today, has asked for a 32 percent rate increase for Joplin customers, on top of the 64 percent increase it received last year. Of course, the increase has to go before the Missouri Public Service Commission.

Missouri American Water is a subsidiary of American Water, which is about to have its initial public offering at $24 to $26 per share, and filed a prospectus today with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The prospectus offers much information about the company, including the following information about the Joplin operation:

In our Joplin service area in Missouri, our source of water supply is limited. To manage this issue on the demand side, the water use of a large industrial customer has been restricted under an interruptible tariff. Additional wells have and will be developed to address supply and reliability deficiencies.

As always, my favorite part of these documents is finding out just how much the CEOs of these companies make, and this one doesn't disappoint. While Joplin customers, including the poorest residents, are being asked to cover added expenses that are going to make it tough for ends to meet, that won't be a problem for American Water CEO Donald Correll.

Correll, who has headed the company since April 2006, received $1,102,317 in compensation during 2007, including a base salary of $562,059. His perks include having the company pay $480 for his life insurance, $18,000 for his car allowance, $38,109 for a deferred pension plan, $8,067 for a matching 401K contribution, and $5,364 for in travel expenses to industry conferences.

Now that last one might sound like a reasonable expense, since it is important for the CEO of a utility company to keep up with the latest advances, but the $5,364 is not for Correll...but for his wife.

Things get even better with Correll's latest contract, which went into effect as of this month. Correll will now receive a "monthly living allowance" of $10,000 "to cover living expenses incurred by him as a result of his maintaining a residence in the Voorhees, N. J./Philadelphia, Pa., area up to a maximum of $250,000." If Correll closes on the sale of his home in that time, he will be given "a one-time relocation allowance of $350,000."

But just in case things go wrong and American Water's Board of Directors decides to divest itself of Correll, he will have a soft cushion on which to land. According to the prospectus, his severance pay will amount to 18 months of salary, with all benefits included.

Correll stands to make a pretty penny if the IPO goes well. According to the prospectus, he will receive an amount equal to his annual salary as a bonus.

Nevada Daily Mail switches to mornings

The Nevada Daily Mail, a Rust Communications newspaper, switched from an afternoon newspaper to a morning edition at the beginning of March:

Publisher Julie Righter said the change will give readers news earlier in the day, including sports results from the previous evening. Papers will be on vending racks by 6 a.m., she said.
The papers also switched from delivering subscriber copies by carrier to using the mail. The Sunday Herald-Tribune has become a weekend paper and is delivered in the Saturday mail.
The Monday edition of the Fort Scott Tribune has been discontinued. Classified sections of the Nevada and Fort Scott papers have been combined.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Huffington Post item: Wal-Mart limiting expansion

Wal-Mart officials have decided to cut down on construction of Supercenters, according to a recent company announcement. An article by Wal-Mart opponent Al Norman on the Huffington Post notes the company's announcement that it will cancel construction of 45 Supercenters:

Sam Walton explained that his growth strategy was "to saturate a market area by spreading out, then filling in...We became our own competition." He once boasted that Springfield, Missouri, for example, had 40 Wal-Marts within 100 miles. But Wal-Mart has paid a price for competing with itself. Today, the saturation card has been overplayed, and the retailer has been forced to go on a superstore crash diet. While hundreds of sling-shot coalitions have been hurling rocks at this retail Goliath for years, ironically, it is now the giant itself which is reeling from its own self-inflicted excesses.

This has created a wonderful 10 months for anti-Wal-Mart groups in 21 states, who have woken up in their small towns to read that another proposed Wal-Mart superstore has dissolved, as suddenly as the morning mist.

Marionville gunman was son of white supremacist

The Springfield News-Leader reports that the gunman who shot a Good Samaritan to death in Marionville, then shot a police officer, before being killed, was the son of white supremacist Frazier Glenn Miller of Aurora:

His son died during a series of incidents beginning with a traffic crash on Lawrence County ZZ on the west side of Marionville around 1 p.m. Friday.

After the crash between Jesse Miller's sport utility vehicle and a pickup just west of the city limits, Joseph M. Rich, 55, stopped his converted school bus to help the drivers and a woman riding in Miller's vehicle, according to the Missouri Highway Patrol.

Miller pulled a 12-gauge shotgun from his vehicle and shot Rich, the patrol reported.

A few minutes later, Marionville Police officer Andy Clark arrived and ordered Miller to put down his weapon.

Miller then shot and wounded Clark, who returned fire with his AR-15 rifle and killed Miller, the patrol said.

The elder Miller was at the scene of the shootings at ZZ and Western Street for a short time as law enforcement officers swarmed the area Friday afternoon, Seneker said.

"Frazier called up the sheriff's office this morning about recovering his son's car," he said Saturday.

A woman who identified herself as Frazier Glenn Miller's wife said Miller was not available and would have no comment.

"I don't think we want to talk to you," said the woman, who declined to give her first name during a brief telephone conversation.

Frazier Glenn Miller was an unsuccessful candidate for Seventh District Congressman in 2006, with the Democratic, Republican, and Libertarian parties refusing to allow his name to be placed on the ballot. He ran as an independent.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Life of Jason takes over top spot on BlogNetNews list

Southwest Missouri blogs continued to do well in the weekly BlogNetNews poll of most influential state political blogs as Springfield-based Life of Jason took first place.
Alas, that meant The Turner Report, which finished in first place last week had to drop down, so this blog is camped in fourth place for the next seven days.

Other Southwest Missouri blogs placing in the top 20 were Ky3 Political Report in 11th place, Ozarks Politics in 18th place, and Branson, Missouri, at 19th.

The top 10 is:

1. Life of Jason
2. Columbia Tribune Politics Blog
3. Missouri Political News
4. The Turner Report
5. PubDef
6. Tony's Kansas City
7. Blog KC
8. Show Me Progress
9. KC Blue Blog
10. Fired Up Missouri

Former Crowder star named to Milwaukee Bucks all-time team

Alvin Robertson, the last Crowder College basketball player to make the National Basketball Association was honored Friday night at the Milwaukee Bucks-Orlando Magic game as one of the Bucks' 40th anniversary team.

Broncos players face Rod Smith's absence

An article in the Denver Post this week examined the first Denver Bronco workouts in the last decade and a half that did not include long-time wide receiver Rod Smith, who most likely will soon officially announce his retirement. Smith, of course, is the most famous football player to come from Missouri Southern State University:

For the first time in more than a decade, the Broncos were sweating it out in the off-season and Rod Smith was nowhere to be found.

Talk about a rite of passage. By his own count, Smith had shown up for more than 600 workouts over the span of 13 years.

"It's a number somewhere around that, and I'm very happy about it," Smith said late last season.

And now he's gone. And he has taken his work ethic and his no-nonsense approach with him. The leading receiver in Broncos history never spiked the ball after a touchdown, never danced in the end zone and never missed an off-season workout. Not once, not ever.

Technically, Smith hasn't retired, but it seems only a matter of time before the official announcement. He was placed on the reserve/retired list after undergoing hip surgery after the 2007 season.

He has been spotted at Dove Valley a few times, but when his teammates gathered Monday to run and lift, he wasn't among them.

Yes, said Scheffler, it seemed strange.

"I was lucky enough to be right next to Rod in the locker room and kind of soak up everything he had to give," said Scheffler. "So I figured I got two years worth of his knowledge. It's definitely something I cherish.

"It's hard walking in here and him not being here. I know he's still going to be around and he'll always be there to talk with. But at the same time, I definitely feel a loss not having him next to me in the locker room."

Epperson performs at Cardinals exhibition in Springfield

Joplin's Asia'h Epperson performed "God Bless America" during the seventh inning stretch at today's St. Louis Cardinals exhibition game against the Springfield Cardinals at Hammons Stadium.
KSPR's interview with Miss Epperson can be found at this link.

WEHCO Media buys Jefferson City News-Tribune

GateHouse Media's efforts to cap off its Missouri ownings with a newspaper in the state capital came to naught, as the Jefferson City News-Tribune announced Friday it had been sold to WEHCO Media, the Little Rock-based company which owns the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and the Chattanooga Times, newspapers formerly owned by Gannett and the New York Times:

“Being in the state capital was a big plus, and this very stable employment base here was a big plus,” (new owner Walter Hussman Jr.) explained. “The facilities, particularly the new printing press - which is really state-of-the-art and really terrific - was a major plus.

“(And) the fact that it was a family-owned newspaper and we're a family-owned newspaper and would share a lot of the same kind of values with the people who worked here.”

Neither readers nor employees should expect any immediate or wholesale changes, Hussman said.

“They won't see instant changes. They might see gradual changes, over time, but whatever changes they see will be changes that evolve in working with the news staff and management staff here,” he explained. “I think the niche that newspapers have is to be the most complete, well-written, well-presented source of local information that's available.

“From what I see, the Jefferson City paper is already doing that. As long as they do that, I don't see a great threat to newspapers from other media.”

Hussman believes newspapers can “add value for readers” by providing detailed, informative stories.

His publishing philosophy comes from his father - Walter E. Hussman Sr., who died in 1988 - and is shown at the top of the company history link of WEHCO Media's Web page:

“A newspaper has a number of constituencies. Among those are readers, advertisers, employees, creditors, and stockholders. If a newspaper and its publisher always keep those constituencies in that order: readers first, advertisers second, employees third, creditors fourth, and shareholders last, then the newspaper will do well journalistically and financially, and the interests of all constituencies will be well served."

The News-Tribune's staff includes reporter Michelle Brooks, the former Michelle Dixon of Lockwood, who received her first bylines as a high school reporter for The Carthage Press in the early '90s.

Better late than never

It has been several days since the Missouri Ethics Commission issued its ruling that to all intents and purposes allows Rep. Ron Richard, R-Joplin, to keep contributions he received over the limit.
The Joplin Globe, in its Sunday print edition and online now, has a column by Joe Hadsall in which the issue is finally addressed:

Richard said he filed for a hardship in response to the 2006 law’s repeal. Though he wouldn’t say how much, Richard told the Globe on Thursday that he plans to return other over-the-limit donations. But the Commission advised him to keep those donations until the new bill is signed into law.

Legislators are already debating another bill to remove fund-raising limits this year. If passed, it will take effect on Aug. 28, about 10 weeks before the November elections.

“I’ll abstain on that vote,” Richard said. “It’s already passed the Senate. I’ll just let it go the way it goes in the House.”

Nexstar investing heavily in websites

Although they only account for two percent of the company's revenue now, Nexstar Broadcasting is banking heavily on its websites for future growth:

At Nexstar (which operates 50 stations in 29 mid-size markets), Chairman-CEO Perry Sook said that although Web revenues last year accounted for about 2% of revenues, 25% of the bonus compensation that station general managers receive is predicated on how their stations do online. Sook--who joined Wallace on a panel at the TVB event--said that although that's disproportionate, it's a signal of how much emphasis the company is placing on rapidly expanding its Web operations.

Sook said that ultimately, Nexstar is looking to turn itself into a multi-platform "advertising services business," not just a broadcaster.

Nexstar reported $266.8 million in net revenues last year, with $5.1 million in new media. Sook said he expects the 2% from online to double to 4% this year. One reason: a third of the political dollars Nexstar takes in could come from the Web.

Nexstar Broadcasting owns KSNF in Joplin and KSFX in Springfield and manages KODE in Joplin and KOLR in Springfield.

Emery intervenes to protect utility company's investment

Rep. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, is planning to shepherd through legislation that would enable utility giant Aquila to benefit from ignoring zoning laws to build a power plant in the Kansas City area.
According to a Kansas City Star article, Aquila built the $140 million plant in Cass County. The Public Service Commission, in a retroactive decision, approved the construction after it had already been done illegally. An appellate court ruled against Aquila:

Rep. Ed Emery, a Lamar Republican who leads a special utilities committee, said Friday that he had intervened because tearing down “a necessary power plant that cost that much, just to teach somebody a lesson and making customers pay for it, would be just silly.”

Cass County officials and other opponents said the bill would simply allow Aquila to circumvent the law. They also said it showed how cozy Aquila was with politicians and state officials.

An Aquila vice president said company representatives had begun talking with legislators earlier this month after an appeals court decision went against the utility. Emery said he had lunch with company officials on Monday.

“But since I chair the utilities committee, those are the people I’m supposed to be talking to,” Emery said.

The proposed bill would expand the power of the Missouri Public Service Commission by granting the agency new authority to approve a power plant even after construction.

The commission did just that last year with Aquila’s South Harper plant. But on March 4, the Missouri Court of Appeals ruled that the commission “exceeded its authority” by approving a power plant that had already been built.

Obviously, the special interests are aware of who the chairman of the House Utilities Committee is. Missouri Ethics Commission records show Emery received three maximum $325 contributions from utilities sources during the final three months of 2007. Those came from Missouri Public Utilities Alliance, Empire District Electric Company, and of course, Aquila.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Leggett & Platt shareholders to vote on sexual orientation discrimination policy

For the third straight year, shareholders of Carthage-based Fortune 500 company Leggett & Platt will vote on a shareholder-generated sexual orientation discrimination proposal. The vote is scheduled to take place during the annual meeting, 10 a.m. Thursday, May 8, at the Wright Conference Center at Leggett's Carthage facility.

Walden Asset Management, which owns a minority stake in the company, has promoted the proposal, which would prohibit discrimination against gays and lesbians.

The proposal is opposed by company officials, according to the proxy statement filed Thursday with the Securities and Exchange Commission:

We believe the proposed resolution is unnecessary because Leggett is already an equal opportunity employer with a firm and long-standing commitment to preventing discrimination in the workplace. Leggett’s existing anti-discrimination policy states, “We are committed to equal opportunity, and strive to maintain a workplace free of discrimination based on any factors other than the skills and abilities of our applicants and employees. These principles of equal opportunity should be applied in all aspects of employment including: recruiting, hiring, promotion, training, compensation, termination and disciplinary action.”

We are committed to the highest ethical standards, which include assuring equal employment and promotional opportunities free of discrimination on any basis other than merit and performance-related qualifications. Our policies reflect our high standards, and we implement these policies in our business operations through ongoing training.

We believe our employment record supports our commitment to nondiscrimination. In a company with more than 30,000 employees, we are not aware of a single charge of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity filed with any city, state or federal agency, nor has the Company received notice from any customer or supplier that its employment policies or practices jeopardize its relationship with them. In addition, for over twenty years Leggett has provided employees with access to a national hotline for anonymous reporting of discrimination or harassment in the workplace.

We believe our written policies should specifically list only those types of discrimination prohibited by federal law. This approach furthers the Company’s legal compliance efforts by highlighting categories of illegal discrimination and, thus, helps to reduce our compliance costs. We also believe the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to the list would result in increased costs by encouraging frivolous lawsuits.

We believe singling out employees by sexual orientation or gender identity (or any other classification not mandated by federal law) would dilute our policy of prohibiting discrimination in any form and would divert attention from our primary goal of a completely non-discriminatory workplace.

We believe that adding sexual orientation to the list of prohibited forms of discrimination may lead to a more expansive agenda, including the addition of domestic partner benefits at a significant cost to the Company.

Leggett’s shareholders defeated similar proposals made by Walden Asset Management at the Company’s 2006 and 2007 annual meetings by nearly a 3-to-1 margin each year. We believe this overwhelming rejection by shareholders sent a clear message to our Board that Leggett should oppose this unnecessary and costly addition to our nondiscrimination policy.

The shareholders will also vote on the election of 10 directors, the selection of PriceWaterhouse as Leggett's auditor, and the amendment and restatement of the company's flexible stock plan. The board of directors is recommending a yes vote on those three issues.

Leggett & Platt CEO receives 37 percent pay cut

A filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission indicates the CEO of Carthage-based Fortune 500 company Leggett & Platt received a 37 percent pay cut during 2007.
The cut came because the company awarded him two-thirds less in stock options, according to an Associated Press analysis. Don't feel bad for Haffner, however. The cut left him with only $1.9 million in compensation, including a base salary of $800,577.

KSNf/KODE site updates Alaniz bio

The bio page for Tiffany Alaniz has been updated on to reflect her new position in the Nexstar galaxy.
Ms. Alaniz, who formerly was co-anchor with Jim Jackson on KSNF's 6 and 10 p.m. news, as well anchoring First at Five, now is the assistant news editor for KSNF and KODE, assisting Jackson, while continuing to anchor the 5 p.m. program.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Still no Richard story in Joplin Globe

More than a week has passed, but unless I missed it, the Joplin Globe has still run no story on the Missouri Ethics Commission's decision to allow Rep. Ron Richard, R-Joplin, the speaker-in-waiting, to keep more than $80,000 in over-the-limit campaign contributions.
Richard was one of a number of candidates who met with the Commission behind closed doors to claim hardship and ask the Commission to let them keep contributions that were above the limit.
Even if the Globe did not want to handle the story itself, it had the Associated Press version available. As noted in this blog, Richard used a considerable amount of this money to make campaign contributions to his fellow representative during his successful campaign to be anointed heir apparent to Speaker of the House Rod Jetton.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

GateHouse paper to reduce staff with buyouts

The Rockford, Illinois, Register Star plans to reduce its staff by 25 positions through buyouts, according to published reports. The Register Star was purchased by GateHouse Media in 2007:

Managers at the Rockford Register Star say that they'll offer voluntary severance packages to "core newspaper staff" in a move to cut up to 25 of its 409 staff positions.

The newspaper reports on its Web site that president and publisher Fritz Jacobi announced the plan at a staff meeting this afternoon. The newspaper says the buyouts would be the first in its history.

Managers say the severance packages will be offered in all departments and employees will have 21 days to consider if they will apply for a buyout.

Packages will include a one-week-per-year-of-service payout and continuation of medical benefits for that term. The maximum payout would be 26 weeks.

GateHouse Media owns The Carthage Press, Neosho Daily News, Neosho Post, Pittsburg Morning Sun, Aurora Advertiser, Greenfield Vedette, and Big Nickel in this area.

MSSU running back returns to former university to work out for pros

Missouri Southern State University running back Alley Broussard, who finished his collegiate career here by scoring 12 touchdowns for the Lions, returned to his former school, Louisiana State University, to work out for pro scouts, according to an article in the Daily Advertiser of Lafayette, La.:

LSU coach Les Miles said weeks ago during spring practice that Broussard, who left the team last summer before his senior year, was welcome back for Pro Day.

Broussard was a major signee in the class of 2003 out of Acadiana High and gained 389 yards for the Tigers during the 2003 national championship season. He led LSU in rushing in 2004 with 867 yards and set the program's single-game rushing record when he gained 250 yards against Ole Miss.

But Broussard was never the same after undergoing knee surgery prior to the 2005 season. He also got into coach Les Miles' doghouse, and after an up-and-down season in 2006, in which he gained 281 yards in spot duty, Broussard left the team before the 2007 season.

He resurfaced at Division II Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, Mo., and put together a nice season, gaining 892 yards on 165 carries with 12 touchdowns

Former Globe reporter lands position on Wisconsin paper

Former Joplin Globe reporter and blogger Jeremiah Tucker has landed a position with the Sauk Prairie Eagle in Wisconsin:

ucker won four first-place writing awards in statewide competitions during his time at the Globe. He said he looks forward to meeting people in the Sauk Prairie area and telling their stories with the narrative style he has developed as a working reporter.

"My favorite kind of stories to write - and read for that matter - have always involved everyday people and their lives," Tucker said. "I've written about a boy saving his best friend from drowning, a man who began a local campaign to abolish the penny and a guy who jumped into the back of his beloved old pickup truck while it was being stolen."

Eagle editor Todd Krysiak said he believed Tucker would be a good fit, both with the present staff and the greater community.

"Jeremiah comes to the Eagle with a great background in feature writing," Krysiak said. "He is an experienced reporter who will take the kinds of stories our readers have come to expect from us to the next level."

Tucker agreed.

"Many people are under the misconception that the regular dramas that occur in their daily lives aren't newsworthy, which just isn't true," Tucker said. "If you know an interesting local character, know a fascinating bit of local history or something dramatic happens to you then, please, call the paper and tell me. I'd love to write about it."

Retirement Fund places La-Z-Boy on underperformer list

The California Public Employess Retirement System (CalPERS) put La-Z-Boy, one of Neosho's biggest employers, on its Focus List of Underperformers.
According to the CalPERS news release:

La-Z-Boy, Monroe, Michigan, lagged peers by 40.9 percent over the past five years. CalPERS wants the company to declassify its board.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Fox 14 News at 9 makes big gains; KOAM dominates February sweeps, but KSNF has momentum

All four Joplin market television stations showed improvements during the just-concluded February sweeps period.
KFJX, Fox 14's 9 p.m. newscast corralled 15,000 viewers on average during the February Nielsen ratings. Fox 14's total was up six thousand over the November sweeps, showing the power that American Idol-fueled Fox has to lift the ratings of local programming. Of course, you have to remember, American Idol was only on two nights a week during February.
KOAM swept its time periods more than doubling its competitors in most of them as it has done consistently during the last ratings periods.

5:30 to 7 a.m.- KOAM 17,000, KSNF 9,000, KODE 7,000
12 noon- KOAM 17,000, KSNF 7,000 KODE (with All My Children) 5,000
5 p.m.- KOAM 30,000, KSNF 11,000, KODE 10,000
6 p.m.- KOAM 33,000, KSNF 16,000, KODE 14,000
10 p.m.- KOAM 29,000, KSNF 18,000, KODE 12,000

While KOAM swept the time periods, KSNF appears to have picked up a great deal of momentum in its time slots, particularly at 10 p.m. and its Nexstar sister sister, KODE, also gained ground.
The morning shows for all three stations gained viewers compared to the last sweeps period. KODE and KOAM gained 3,000 viewers apiece, while KSNF was up 2,000.

At noon, KOAM was up 4,000 and KSNF 3,000.

At 5 p.m. KODE's viewership was flat, but KSNF was up 2,000 and KOAM 5,000.

The 6 p.m. ratings showed both KODE and KSNF gaining 1,000 viewers, with KOAM losimg 1,000

At 10 p.m. KSNF gained 5,000 viewers and KODE 1,000, while KOAM lost 6,000.

Barbre featured in article

East Newton High School's first graduate to hit the NFL, Allen Barbre, is featured in an article on, a website that covers his team, the Green Bay Packers:

"He showed when he got a chance to play the reason why he was drafted here," offensive line coach James Campen said. "He's a good athlete and has some explosiveness to him. He had a couple on the backside of run plays where he took defenders down 8, 10 yards on drive blocks. There were good things in there."

Yet when Barbre is asked about that outing against Detroit, he doesn't talk about Jackson's run, nor any of his other solid blocks. Though he didn't feel as overwhelmed as the raw Division II prospect he was in training camp six months earlier, even lined up across from a seasoned pro like Detroit's Cory Redding, Barbre wasn't about to say his first extended game action constituted his "arrival" in the pros.

"I think I'd come a long ways from the preseason," said Barbre, drafted in the fourth round out of Missouri Southern State last April. "But I don't really think of one play when I go back to that game. I more or less think of the mistakes I made."

That response says a couple of things about Barbre. First, to him that game last Dec. 30 already is ancient history, hence the positives and negatives in the performance won't matter much as he tries to thrust himself into a full-fledged competition at guard this season. He'll be up against other young but more experienced teammates in Jason Spitz, Daryn Colledge, Junius Coston, and perhaps Tony Palmer, depending on his recovery from a neck injury.

Second, it shows Barbre's focus is less on what happens than what he needs to do to improve, and that's a healthy approach Campen believes will serve him well in his second season as he tries to make up for his lack of game experience and compete for a starting job.

Only Emery faces challenge for House seat

Only one Joplin-area state legislators will have a race this year (barring an entry by an independent candidate).

Linda Marie Crane, D-Greenfield, is challenging Ed Emery, R-Lamar, in the general election for the 126th District.

Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage, is running unopposed in the 127th District. He seeks to replace Steve Hunter, R-Joplin, who is barred by term limits from seeking another term.

Incumbents facing no opposition are: Bryan Stevenson, R-Webb City, 128th District; Ron Richard, R-Joplin, 129th District, Kevin Wilson, R-Neosho, 130th District; and Marilyn Ruestman, R-Joplin, 131st District.

Fan site created for Joplin's Asia'h Epperson

A Canadian reader who discovered The Turner Report through the coverage of Joplin's American Idol contestant Asia'h Epperson, writes to tell me she has started a fan site for the talented singer.

Please check out Asia'H Epperson, the Latest News.

Unless something happens today, most of Joplin area has no choices for state positions

Today is the last day for candidates to file for the August and November elections on the Republican, Democratic, or Libertarian tickets, and it looks like smooth sailing for most of the representatives in the Joplin area.

Those running without opposition at this writing are: Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage, 127th District; Bryan Stevenson, R-Webb City, 128th District; Ron Richard, R-Joplin, 129th District; Kevin Wilson, R-Neosho, 130th District; and Marilyn Ruestman, R-Joplin, 131st District.

Stevenson, Richard, Wilson, and Mrs. Ruestman are incumbents. Flanigan is running for the seat currently held by Steve Hunter, R-Joplin, who cannot run for re-election due to term limits.

The only Joplin area candidate with opposition is Rep. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, 126th District, who is opposed by Linda Marie Crane, D-Greenfield.

Lockdown drills now a part of school life

Lockdown drills are now a part of school life in Joplin, thanks not only to the Memorial Middle School shooting incident in October 2006, but also to school shootings and scares across the United States.
More and more schools are undergoing such drills, a change that is outlined in an article in today's New York Times:

Gone are the days of the traditional fire drill, where students dutifully line up in hallways and proceed to the playground, then return a few minutes later. Now, in a ritual reminiscent of the 1950s, when students ducked under desks and covered their heads in anticipation of nuclear blasts, many schools are preparing for, among other emergencies, bomb threats, hazardous material spills, shelter-in-place preparation (in which students would use schools as shelters if a dirty bomb’s plume were to spread dangerously close) and armed, roaming sociopaths.

“I think it’s really pretty necessary,” said Natalie Wright, a junior honors student at South Brunswick High. “In my old school, we did have an intruder, and we didn’t practice,” she added, recalling how a disgruntled parent had sent her Bronx elementary school into a panic, although no one was hurt.

In the aftermath of recent school shootings, including the one on Feb. 14 at Northern Illinois University in which a gunman killed five people and himself, school administrators and police officers are stepping up emergency preparedness efforts, with many states encouraging schools to practice for the most dire situations.

The information in the Times article does not totally apply to Missouri schools. Fire drills still take place. In fact, the city of Joplin requires schools to have 10 each year, or more than one a month. We also have two tornado drills, as well as two or three lockdown drills.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Neosho Councilman explains 2005 bankruptcy

Neosho City Councilman Matt Persinger offered an explanation of details of his 2005 bankruptcy in a post today on the Neosho Forums website.

Persinger noted problems with his ex-wife and his wife's ex-husband, and tax returns done by the notorious Carrie Shafer of Oronogo, whose fraudulent income tax return service was shut down by the Internal Revenue Services.

The details of Persinger's bankruptcy can be found in the March 7 Turner Report.

MU judges praise Daily's coverage of church shooting

The Neosho Daily News fell short in the competition for GateHouse Newspaper of the Year, but its solid coverage of the tragic murders of four Micronesian church officials during an afternoon service at the First Congregational Church of Neosho was praised by MU judges.
The Daily was the smallest newspaper among the Class 2 finalists. The category was won by the Daily Messenger of Canandaigua, N. Y., with a Missouri newspaper, the Independence Examiner, finishing second.

The judges had the following comments about the Neosho Daily News:

The Daily News is to be commended for its wide-ranging next-day coverage of the tragic shooting at a local church. The stories told readers what happened and captured the sad mood of the community.

• Generally, the front page is inviting and features good entry points for the readers.

Similarities seen in rapid destruction of Long Beach newspaper and slow dismantling of Carthage Press

To anyone who has been around Carthage for the past several years, the tale of the fall of the Long Beach Telegram in California certainly sounds familiar.

A thriving local newspaper is bought by a large chain, which shuts down its printing facilities, shipping them elsewhere, moves the newspaper out of a grand old building in the center of town, and slashes the news coverage, eliminating any pretense at investigative reporting and serving as the public watchdog:

Two years ago, the Press-Telegram quit its home of more than half a century for new digs in a high-rise overlooking the Long Beach harbor. The six-story P-T building at 6th Street and Pine Avenue is apparently destined to become condos. More than a decade earlier, the presses in the building's basement were stilled after MediaNews Group, the P-T's new owner, began printing the paper on the other side of L.A. County to cut costs. Simultaneously, the company began cutting jobs and wages, a downsizing that has continued ever since it bought the paper from Knight Ridder Inc.

Last month, the Denver-based chain announced its latest cost-cutting maneuver: It was combining the P-T with a neighboring daily, the South Bay Daily Breeze. The P-T (circulation: 88,000) will keep its news operation in Long Beach, and the Breeze (circulation: 65,000) will run everything else out of its Torrance headquarters. Between them, the two newspapers will lose 19 jobs, including the P-T's editor and publisher.

The drumbeat from corporate headquarters remains the same: Ad revenue is down, costs are up and the rise of the Internet as a news source makes MediaNews middle management as nervous as cats in the proverbial room full of rocking chairs. Never mind that MediaNews' net income rose 34% in the fourth quarter of 2007, or that the combined circulation of its 57 dailies tops 2.6 million.

Company founder, Vice Chairman and Chief Executive William Dean Singleton has left no doubt about what's important to him in what remains of U.S. daily journalism -- profit margins. In relentlessly cutting "news" from newspapers to maintain profits, he and many of his peers have helped transform an industry. Journalists like Leppard are bought out or laid off, limiting -- or even eliminating -- the newsroom opportunities for mentoring that transforms youthful ambition into thoughtful journalism. The fact that the mistakes of reporters make it into print more frequently these days, and that newspapers increasingly shy away from investigative stories, can be traced to the slash-and-shrink policies of chief executives who vanquish veterans and intimidate greenhorns, all the while adding more "failing" newspapers to their portfolios.

Who knows what the future of The Carthage Press may be, but the word is going around both Carthage and Joplin that its future is bleak and that its days as a daily are likely numbered.

What GateHouse Media is shown so far is that it could take a workable idea like Joplin Daily and destroy it through front office incompetence and neglect, and it can take a formerly successful small daily newspaper like The Carthage Press and thoroughly dismantle it in just a decade.

I suppose Mike Reed and the folks at GateHouse have to do it that way, though. That's the way the big boys play the game.

Eighth grader lands interview with Brown vs. Board of Education lawyer

Raycee Thompson, the co-editor of this year's South Middle School Journalism Club, used those skills during her third quarter civil rights research project in my eighth grade communication arts class, landing an interview with Carl Holmes, one of the attorneys whose research helped the NAACP win the historic Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in 1954.

You can read her interview at this link.

BlogNetNews tabs Turner Report as most influential political blog

BlogNetNews, using its mysterious ratings system, has put The Turner Report back on top of its list of most influential political blogs. This is the second time this blog has been number one.

As usual, southwest Missouri blogs fared well in the ratings with Life of Jason, which has topped the ratings on two or three occasions, placing second, Bus Plunge ninth, KY3 Political Notebook 11th, Ozarks Politics 13th, Branson Missouri 15th, and Desdinova 20th.

I will try to do better about reporting the BlogNetNews ratings from now on, even when The Turner Report is not at the top of the list.

And as always, thanks to the readers for continuing to come to this site. During the first three months of 2008, the number of individual visitors has doubled.

KSNF updates website, except for Alaniz

I am not sure when it happened, but, the website for KSNF and KODE, has updated to show Toni Valliere as the new 6 and 10 p.m. anchor and has a bio for her replacement as Hometown Today host, Stefan Chase, though no picture of Ms. Chase has been put on the site so far.

One area in which the site has not been updated is the description for Tiffany Alaniz, which still lists her as being co-anchor on the 6 and 10 p.m. news.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The death of The Carthage Press?

The strongest indictment of the GateHouse Media way of conducting business has to be what has become of The Carthage Press.

Unless something happens quickly, the staff, for a newspaper that publishes six days a week, will be down to one editor that doesn't write much, one general news reporter, and a sports reporter.

I have already written about the newspaper's elimination of an editorial page (running it only two or three times a week). Though I am a firm believer in a strong, locally-oriented editorial page, I might be able to overlook its absence if local news was running in its place. That, however, is not the case.

Saturday's Press featured a page one written by John Hacker, an event that most likely will happen more and more over the next few weeks and months...if Hacker decides to stay around.

Hacker's knack for covering multiple stories on a daily basis has given The Press the appearance of covering more than it is actually covering. While Hacker has given The Press coverage of statewide issues affecting Carthage and Jasper County, and has added to the newspaper's coverage of Missouri Southern State University, the simple fact is many of the beats that have long been staples of Press coverage have simply vanished.

Now local coverage is considered to be beefed up with the idea of running a "Smile of the Day" on page one. I don't know who has to go out and take those pictures, but it is a waste of time and valuable space.

The Carthage Press has been the ugly stepchild for the company back to the days when American Publishing bought the newspaper from Thomson. (The smaller newspapers in American later became Liberty Group Publishing, and later GateHouse Media.) At that time, the newspaper was making a nice profit off its printing business, had a circulation of more than 5,000, had a five-member news staff and was consistently ranked among the top newspapers in the state in the Missouri Press Association's annual Better Newspaper Contest.

We were able to keep up the news product, even as our printing press was sold for scrap metal and we had to begin shipping our the paper to Neosho to be printed each day. That necessitated deadlines two hours earlier than before so we would not get in the way of the Daily's publication and kept us from getting some late-breaking news stories, but we managed to hold our own.

We continued to do so for the three years or so I worked for American/Liberty and then for a few years after my departure under Ron Graber and Rick Rogers.

In fact, during my last year at the newspaper, The Press, with a staff of John Hacker, Rick Rogers, Jo Ellis, and Ron Graber, took third place in the MPA's Gold Cup competition, losing only to the Kansas City Star and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, with wins in investigative reporting, public service, feature writing, sports coverage, and coverage of young people.

Now, unless John Hacker has the time to do it, there is no investigative reporting, no time for the type of community service projects we did on a regular basis back then, and coverage of young people is primarily limited to the sports page and whatever people supply to the newspaper.

Hopefully, this is just one of those cycles that all newspapers go through, but since the annual report issued by GateHouse Media last week showed the company is still $1.2 billion in debt, I doubt if we are going to see a return to five-member staffs anytime soon. Hopefully, it can be increased to four.

As it stands now, if John Hacker ever decides to move on, and at some point I would imagine he will, there will be no news left in The Press for a community that deserves much better.

Ethics Commission ruling not found in Globe

The news that one of the most powerful politicians in southwest Missouri, Speaker-in-waiting Ron Richard, went before the Missouri Ethics Commission during a closed door session, claimed a hardship, and was allowed to keep more than $80,000 in excess campaign contributions was in the Saturday Springfield News-Leader and appeared Friday in the Kansas City Star and St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The first place it was seen was in the March 20 Turner Report.

Unless it ran as an AP story in the Saturday Globe (I did not see the print copy), the one paper that should have provided its readers with that information, The Joplin Globe, has not done so.

The story was obviously available to the Globe, since it subscribes to Associated Press, but it would have been nice if the Globe editors would have assigned a reporter to get the complete story with the Joplin angle.

Why did Richard have to beg to keep the money when other area politicians, including Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, and Rep. Bryan Stevenson, R-Webb City, did not have to do so, and quickly returned the oversized contributions.

As I noted in the March 20 post, Richard spent nearly $100,000 out of his campaign war chest in the final two days before the Missouri Supreme Court ruling was issued, sprinkling it liberally (a word you would not normally connect with Ron Richard) to numerous House Republican colleagues as he built support for his ultimately successful effort to be the speaker-in-waiting during Rod Jetton's final year.

It appears there may be more politicians than just the 11 mentioned in the first Ethics Commission ruling. It is hard to tell since the Commission, which is supposed to be a beacon of light in our complicated election system, closed the doors on its meetings so we have no way of knowing just what Ron Richard or any of the others said and why they should be treated differently than other elected officials.

Hopefully, some of our upstate media will pick up on this, but it sure would be nice if the hometown paper would do its job and put Ron Richard on the record.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Attorney general candidate criticizes Ethics Commission ruling

I was beginning to wonder if anyone had noticed.

The ruling earlier this week by the Missouri Ethics Commission that 11 candidates, including Speaker-in-waiting Ron Richard, R-Joplin, were granted hardship status by the Missouri Ethics Commission allowing them to hold on to excess contributions they received during the first seven months of 2007, has not been covered by any of the traditional media as far as I can tell.

The idea that 10 legislators and the mayor of St. Charles went behind closed doors to beg to keep the extra money is bad enough, but for the media to ignore the development once their begging paid off is inexcusable.

Perhaps it won't be ignored now that attorney general candidate Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, has ripped the decision. The following news release was issued by the Harris campaign:

Representative Jeff Harris, a Democratic candidate for Attorney General, today issued a statement harshly criticizing the Missouri Ethics Commission ruling, allowing ten Republican House candidates to keep $312,000 in over-the-limit contributions that were ruled unconstitutional by the Missouri Supreme Court.

Harris’ statement follows:

“Once again, we’ve seen Missourians’ interest in public integrity take a back seat to political gamesmanship and the special interests. The Ethics Commission was set up to serve as a public watchdog, but time and time again, it has stood by and watched as politicians and deep-pocketed special interests exploit and skirt campaign finance laws to their advantage. It’s time for this to change. Voters have an absolute right to know where the money in our political system comes from – who is giving to who, and what they expect in return.

“As Missouri’s next Attorney General, I will work with the Ethics Commission to help them tighten the reins on inappropriate activity, but I will also press the commission to do more. I will assign attorneys from the Attorney General’s Office to monitor complaints, to provide input and insight, and to file charges wherever they apply. I also will not hesitate to use my bully pulpit as Attorney General to criticize inaction and wrongheaded decisions by the commission.

“I want to be clear that I am not criticizing the many fine people who work at the Ethics Commission and work hard every day. But Missourians need a strong watchdog who is not afraid to bark or even bite when politicians and special interests violate the public trust. If the Ethics Commission won’t act on its own, then, as Attorney General, I will.”

The Missouri Ethics Commission’s decision was issued on Tuesday. Among those granted hardship by the commission was Representative Ron Richard (R-Joplin) who is expected to be the next Speaker of the House, if Republicans maintain control of the House in November. Richard used the $82,981.39 in over-limit contributions that he received to make contributions to fellow members, helping him secure support for his potential leadership post. Harris noted that Sen. Tom Dempsey’s (R-St. Peters) hardship was not incorrect because his over-limit contributions were raised during a special election that occurred before the Supreme Court's ruling last summer.

Richardson endorses Obama

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a former presidential candidate, has endorsed Barack Obama.
That leaves another former contender, John Edwards, and former Vice President Al Gore as the biggest endorsement possibilities left to Obama or Hillary Clinton:

Richardson, who dropped out of the Democratic race in January, is to appear with Obama on Friday at a campaign event in Portland, Ore., The Associated Press has learned.

The governor's endorsement comes as Obama leads among delegates selected at primaries and caucuses but with national public opinion polling showing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton pulling ahead of him amid controversy over statements by his former pastor.

Richardson has been relentlessly wooed by Obama and Clinton for his endorsement. As a Democratic superdelegate, the governor plays a part in the tight race for nominating votes and could bring other superdelegates to Obama's side. He also has been mentioned as a potential running mate for either candidate.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Speaker-in-waiting Richard, other candidates can keep excess contributions

In a ruling issued Tuesday, the Missouri Ethics Commission says Speaker-in-waiting Ron Richard, R-Joplin, and 10 other candidates will be allowed to keep excess contributions received between January 2007 and July 19, 2007, when the Missouri Supreme Court ruled the law which eliminated the limits was unconstitutional. A few candidates were required to repay the amount, but can hold on to the money until the legislature determines if it is going to abolish contribution limits again. If it does so, the candidates will be allowed to keep the contributions.

The eleven candidates pleaded to keep the money during closed-door sessions with the Ethics Commission, claiming having to give it back would cause a hardship for them.

The ruling allows any candidates who oppose the 11 to file complaints and receive hearings before the Commission if the ruling creates an unfair advantage in a race:

The Orders provided that the candidates shall return to contributors the amount of any contribution received after July 19, 2007 which exceeded the statutory limits, which may not have already been voluntarily returned to said contributors. Also the Commission entered the following orders in any case, the effect of which the candidate shall not be required to refund contributions received before July 19, 2007 which exceed the statutory limits: that if the candidate has an opponent in either the primary or general election in 2008, then unless the candidate chooses to return the amount of excess contributions, the Commission will convene another hearing in these cases and allow any other candidate for the same office to intervene and present evidence and present argument on how to deal with level-playing field issues as set out in the Trout decision.

The 11 candidates were all Republican legislators, except for St. Charles Mayor Patti York. Richard was the only candidate from the Joplin area who asked to keep the money. The Turner Report has noted in the past the actions of area candidates, including Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, and Rep. Bryan Stevenson, R-Webb City, who have returned excess contributions.

The largest amount any candidate was allowed to keep was the $117,400 for Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Peters, a former representative who was elected to the Senate in a special election last year.
That victory was aided by the oversized contributions, including $50,000 from the Regional St. Charles Leadership Fund, $5000 from AT&T Missouri Employees PAC, $3,000 from the Missouri Hospital Association, and $2,000 from the Missouri Health Care Association.

Richard had the second biggest total, $82,981.39. Missouri Ethics Commission disclosure forms show Richard's excess contributions included the following:

-$11,275 from Empire District Electric Company
-$7,200 from the Missouri Bankers Association
-$11,500 from various Leggett & Platt sources, including $5,000 from the parent company
-$10,000 from the Missouri Independent Bankers Association
-$1,275 from Missouri Gaming Company, Riverside
-$1,275 from Harrah's Operating Company, Memphis, Tenn.
-$5,000 from David Humphreys of TAMKO
-$5,000 from Rudy Farber, Neosho
-$1,000 from R. J. Reynolds
-$1,000 from Security Finance Corporation of Spartanburg, S.C.

Richard also picked up eight excessive contributions from registered lobbyists, including $1,000 from Mark Rhoads, $500 from the Penman and Winton Consulting Group, $1,275 from John Bardgett, $1,275 from Bardgett's lobbying firm, $500 from Roy Cagle, $1,000 from the Giddens and Russell Group, $1,000 from James Harris, and $1,000 from Nathan Adams.

Richard's excess contributions, as noted in the Oct. 16, 2007, Turner Report, helped pave the way for him to be elected Sept. 12 as the potential successor to Rod Jetton as speaker of the house. As word of the upcoming Missouri Supreme Court decision circulated around the state capital, Richard made nearly $100,000 in oversized campaign contributions to his fellow legislators, to pave the way for his election:

In the two days before the July 19 decision restoring contribution limits, Richard made 55 contributions of $1,000 or more, with some as high as $3,500, according to his October disclosure report, filed Monday with the Missouri Ethics Commission. In all, the Richard committee contributed $94,270, according to the report. Bob Nance of Excelsior Springs received the $3,500 contribution.

Richard will have to return $300 above the limit that was contributed to him after the July 19 Supreme Court decision.

Richard's opponent in the speaker race, Rep. Allen Icet, R-Wildwood, was another who asked to keep the excess money, according to the Ethics Commission decision. He will be allowed to keep $34,050 if the General Assembly passes a law during this session removing the limits.

Others on the list included:

-Barney Fisher, R-Richards, $2,175
-Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, $31,766.33
-Patti York, St. Charles mayor, $11,725
-Jim Guest, R-King City, $9,600
-T. Scott Muschany, R. St. Louis, $28,550
-Joe Smith, R-St. Charles, $1,625
-Brian Nieves, R-Union, $1,600
-Carson Ross, R-Blue Springs, $2,400

Greenfield woman to oppose Emery in 126th District

As of about an hour ago, Rep. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, has opposition for his 126th District representative seat.
Linda Marie Crane, 58, Greenfield, filed for the Democratic nomination, according to the Missouri Secretary of State's office.
Emery has represented the 126th District since 2003.

Commission ranks Joplin fire chief second among Rochester candidates

No final decision has been made, but Joplin Fire Chief Gary Trulson did not receive the nod from Rochester, Minnesota's Fire Civil Service Commission in his bid to become the city's new fire chief.

The Commission ranked Trulson second out of the three finalists. The City Council will decide on a new fire chief next week and could choose any of the three candidates.

Legitimacy of dropout statistics questioned

Today's New York Times features an article probing the problems with determining the actual high school dropout rates in states:

Like Mississippi, many states use an inflated graduation rate for federal reporting requirements under the No Child Left Behind law and a different one at home. As a result, researchers say, federal figures obscure a dropout epidemic so severe that only about 70 percent of the one million American students who start ninth grade each year graduate four years later.

California, for example, sends to Washington an official graduation rate of 83 percent but reports an estimated 67 percent on a state Web site. Delaware reported 84 percent to the federal government but publicized four lower rates at home.

The multiple rates have many causes. Some states have long obscured their real numbers to avoid embarrassment. Others have only recently developed data-tracking systems that allow them to follow dropouts accurately.

The No Child law is also at fault. The law set ambitious goals, enforced through sanctions, to make every student proficient in math and reading. But it established no national school completion goals.

“I liken N.C.L.B. to a mile race,” said Bob Wise, a former West Virginia governor who is president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, a group that seeks to improve schools. “Under N.C.L.B., students are tested rigorously every tenth of a mile. But nobody keeps track as to whether they cross the finish line.”

Though it is not mentioned in the article, the high dropout rates across the United States are another indication of the problems that are not addressed by the federal No Child Left Behind act.

The act, which is clearly set up to make it appear as though public schools are total failures when it comes to educating our children, relies totally on test scores, but does absolutely nothing to address major problems that affect education, but have nothing whatsoever to do with our schools.

This push to increase test scores and leave no child behind fails to take into consideration some vital factors, such as:

-What can public schools do to help students who have no support structure in their home lives? It is amazing how many students are able to succeed when they have home lives that are hard for most of us to even imagine, lives that include drug usage, alcohol usage, and physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Where are the studies letting us know just how much of an effect the meth epidemic has had on education?

-No Child Left Behind fails to take into consideration the pervasive effect of poverty on neighborhoods and schools. Breaking through that barrier requires a total commitment to improve communities in all areas, not just schools. Until that problem is addressed, teachers and administrators will continue to fight against overwhelming odds.

-While teachers and administrators have a huge impact on children's lives while schools are in session, a support network at home is vital for young people to succeed. So many young people do not have that network, not even because of the reasons listed above, but because some parents do not take the time or the trouble to become involved in their children's education.

The public education system has to take its share of the responsibility in creating dropouts, but as long as shortsighted politicians continue taking the easy way out and laying all of the blame at the schoolhouse door, the steps will never be taken that could help solve this problem.

Vincent: Fee offices have improved in Blunt administration

The photo that accompanies former Director of Revenue Trish Vincent's op-ed piece in today's Springfield News-Leader indicates no unusual growth in the size of her nose. That would be one explanation for the article's content.

A quick check of the calendar shows that April 1 is still 12 days away, so it can't be an April Fool's joke.

With those two possibilities shot down, no rational explanation remains for Ms. Vincent's contention that fee offices have improved under Gov. Matt Blunt's administration.

Ms. Vincent was responding to a News-Leader editorial in which the operation and awarding of the fee offices was criticized:

Gov. Blunt made these license offices run better -- not worse -- and his administration deserves significant credit for making these offices more efficient and accountable to taxpayers while improving customer service.

Ms. Vincent brags about the pilot program under which a handful of license fee offices have been put up for bid. Of course, this pilot program came long after dozens of fee offices were gift-wrapped for Blunt contributors, to be managed by firms set up by Blunt buddies, that last step, one that had never been taken by the governor's predecessors, Democrat or Republican.

I was amused by the portion of Ms. Vincent's article which referred to the plans she and the governor required prospective fee agents to submit in order to be considered for the offices. Unless I missed it, Ms. Vincent has never allowed the public or the media to look at these plans. And you have to wonder about any system in which nearly every good plan submitted came from someone who had contributed to Matt Blunt's campaign.

When Matt Blunt's tenure as governor ends in 10 months, his fee office scandals and his draconian first-year Medicaid cuts are going to be the two lasting legacies of his administration.

No wonder Blunt didn't run for a second term.

Southwest Missouri trooper nominated for national award

Walter L. "Corky" Burr, the Missouri Highway Patrol trooper involved in the arrest of Neosho church shooter Eiken Saimon has been nominated for the Trooper of the Year award by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Burr was one of the team who entered the First Congregational Church of Neosho Aug. 12 following a shooting spree in which four leaders of a Micronesian church which was using the building, including Pastor Kernal Rehobson, were killed.

Blunt files brief favoring death penalty for those who rape children

Gov. Matt Blunt and members of the Missouri General Assembly have filed a brief with the U. S. Supreme Court favoring a Louisiana law that calls for the death penalty for those who rape children.
The following news release was issued this morning by the governor's office:

Gov. Matt Blunt and members of the Missouri General Assembly filed a brief with the U.S Supreme Court today in support of a Louisiana law allowing the death penalty as an appropriate form of punishment for an individual convicted of child rape.
"Violent sex offenses against children are unspeakable crimes, crimes so horrific that they defy comprehension and demand harsh punishment," Gov. Blunt said. "Crimes like these deserve the most serious punishment we can possibly deliver. I strongly support legislation allowing the death penalty for convicted child rapists. As we seek legislation to allow this punishment in Missouri, we have filed a legal brief with the U.S. Supreme Court supporting Louisiana in their fight to better protect innocent children from deviant sexual predators."
Gov. Blunt and members of the Missouri General Assembly filed an amici curiae, or "friends of the court" brief, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to clarify previous rulings that the Eighth Amendment does not prohibit the death penalty for child rapists. The brief also argues that the court should not preclude a national debate on this issue and allow states to form a consensus. The governor’s brief was filed pro bono by Nathan Mammen, formerly of Lamar, with the Kirkland & Ellis law firm in Washington, D.C.
Gov. Blunt is calling on the Missouri General Assembly to send him legislation that adds the sentence of death to forcible rape and forcible sodomy when the victim is younger than 12 years old.

As noted in the March 10 Turner Report, Rep. Bryan Stevenson, R-Webb City, has filed such a bill in the House. A similar bill has been filed in the Senate.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Teenager was the one with the gun

Following is my column for this week's Newton County News:

It won’t be long before the national group that has been supporting Thomas Gregory White begin ripping into the Missouri Supreme Court for its decision to allow Jasper County officials to try White as an adult.

White, you may recall, was 13 years old and a seventh grader at Memorial Middle School in Joplin when he brought an assault rifle into the school, fired a shot into the ceiling and then pointed the weapon at Principal Steve Gilbreth and tried to pull the trigger, according to police accounts. Fortunately, the weapon jammed.

Since that day in October 2006, White, who is now 15, has been sitting in the Jasper County Jail awaiting trial on five charges- two counts of assault and single counts of unlawful use of a weapon, armed criminal action, and attempted escape.

A Jasper County Circuit Court judge ruled White’s trial should take place in adult court and that decision has brought out the national groups that believe all children should be left behind…that is, not tried for any crime in the adult system.

Front and center among White’s proponents has been Justice for Juveniles, an organization that is consistent with its views. You do have to give them credit for that. Not only does it support Thomas Gregory White, whom fate and a jammed weapon prevented from becoming a murderer, according to police accounts, but it also backs the cause of Charles “Andy” Williams, the teenage killer who murdered two at Santee High School in California.

The organization has ripped the Missouri judicial system over and over, not allowing for any point of view that differs from its own. White has been mistreated, he was too young to understand what he was doing, he was bullied at Memorial and teachers and administrators ignored the problem, they allege, so what else was he going to do?

Over and over, Justice for Juveniles members have lamented White’s lack of an education as he awaits trial…though it has been his lawyers who have delayed the process in their ultimately futile attempt to have the case remanded to juvenile court. Nowhere do they mention that despite the fact that White has been in jail for one year and five months, his lawyers did not request a tutor for their client until earlier this month…and Jasper County Circuit Court Judge David Mouton, who has been depicted as a villain by Justice for Juveniles, almost immediately granted the motion.

While I commend Justice for Juveniles for caring about teenagers like Thomas Gregory White and Charles Williams, I appreciate the fact that others are looking out for the Joplin teenagers who do not solve their problems by bringing guns to school…the same students who might well have become victims.

I teach in a Joplin middle school, though not the one that was terrorized by Thomas Gregory White. I remember the fear that students at South Middle School had the day White took his weapon to Memorial. I cannot even imagine what it was like to be at Memorial during those terrifying moments.

On their website, the members of Juveniles for Justice wrote that I had no business being a teacher since my revulsion at what Thomas White did showed that I did not care about children.

On the contrary, I care enough about children that I do not want their lives to be scarred by someone who knew full well, despite his tender age, that you do not bring a gun to a school and open fire.

And a message to Justice for Juveniles: Don’t place the blame on bullies, uncaring teachers, unsympathetic principals, or the evil Jasper County court system for the problems that face Thomas Gregory White.

He was the one with the gun.

News-Leader unveils tribute to Missourians killed in Iraq

On the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq, the Springfield News-Leader has unveiled a tribute to the 89 Missourians who have lost their lives in the war to this point.
The News-Leader has redesigned its website, making it far less cluttered. While I like the changes at first glance, I will reserve judgment on whether these changes improve the site.

McCaskill: Without major changes, No Child Left Behind will not be reauthorized

Withour major changes, the federal No Child Left Behind act will not be reauthorized, Sen. Claire McCaskill said during a forum at Southeast Missouri State University Tuesday:

McCaskill segued into a discussion about the No Child Left Behind Act, criticizing the act for not taking student progress into account, setting arbitrary standards, and causing teachers to feel they have to teach to the test.

"Unless there are major changes, it will not be reauthorized," she said.

Brenda Woemmel, a retired Cape Girardeau School District teacher, said social studies is being "pushed out" as districts focus their attention on tested core subjects.

"If students don't know the history of the country, they won't be able to put things in perspective," Woemmel said.

McCaskill agreed, saying, "I'm worried we're not doing enough world history." She also said she is worried about teachers who are "asked to do so much more than teach." In some areas, she said, teachers are expected to be a child's nutritionist, clothe them, teach them values, be a disciplinarian, and "somewhere down the line" teach math and reading.

Nexstar stock up 24 cents, Saga drops 25 cents

A long, steady streak of falling stock prices for Nexstar Broadcasting came to an end Tuesday as the company's stock was up 24 cents to $6.20 per share at the close of trading.
Nexstar Broadcasting operates KSNF and KODE in Joplin and KSFX and KOLR in Springfield.

Meanwhile, Saga Communications, owner of KOAM and KFJX in the Joplin/Pittsburg market fell 25 cents to $5.33 per share.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

GateHouse Media issues annual report

For those interested in such things, GateHouse Media filed its annual report Monday with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
GateHouse Media owns The Carthage Press, Neosho Daily News, Big Nickel, Neosho Post, Pittsburg Morning Sun, Aurora Advertiser, and hundreds of other publications.

Settlement conference ordered in civil rights lawsuit against Attorney General Nixon

A 9:30 a.m. April 17 settlement conference has been ordered in the lawsuit filed by lawyer Marla Grothoff against Attorney General Jay Nixon. Both sides have been ordered to send someone with settlement authority, according to documents filed today in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri.

The lawsuit has been largely ignored by the traditional media, despite the representation of Nixon by two taxpayer-financed attorneys from the attorney general's office, and the fact that there is enough to case to warrant discussing a settlement. Court records indicate Nixon is being represented by state attorneys Jim McAdams and Gail Vasterlin

Four months have passed since court documents were filed indicating that a settlement had been reached in attorney Marla Grothoff's action against Nixon.

As noted in the Nov. 6 Turner Report, the settlement, the details of which have not been made available, was arrived at that day following a session which was attended by Ms. Grothoff and her attorney Daniel Pingelton, Karen Mitchell, McAdams and Ms. Vasterling of the attorney general's office.

Ms. Grothoff served as an attorney for the Child Support Enforcement Division of the Division of Social Services from 1988 to 2003. When the decision was made to transfer the legal work for that division to the attorney general's office, most of the lawyers were transferred to the attorney general's office, according to Ms. Grothoff's petition, which was originally filed in Boone County Circuit Court, but not Ms. Grothoff.

In her lawsuit, Ms. Grothoff claimed she was discriminated against because she is a quadriplegic with limited use of her hands.
The attorney general denied Ms. Grothoff's claims.

Hearing delayed in Rowan Ford murder case

A pre-trial hearing for the two men accused of the rape and murder of nine-year-old Rowan Ford of Stella, originally scheduled for today, has been delayed until 1 p.m. May 20, according to Barry County Circuit Court records.
David Wesley Spears, 25, Stella, Rowan's stepfather, and Spears' friend, Chris Collings, 32, Wheaton, are charged with first degree murder, forcible rape, and statutory rape.

Memorial Middle School shooter to remain in adult court

Memorial Middle School shooter Thomas Gregory White will be tried in adult court.

The Missouri Supreme Court today quashed the temporary writ of prohibition that had been prevented the case from continuing until White's public defenders could present their case to have their client returned to juvenile court.

The arguments were made Feb. 28 before the Supreme Court, but did not sway the panel.
Links to the arguments that were presented to the court can be found in the Jan. 15 and Feb. 7 Turner Reports.

White, 15, was 13 and a seventh grader at Memorial Middle School in October 2006 when he took an assault rifle to the school, fired the weapon into the ceiling, and then pointed it at Principal Steve Gilbreth and tried to fire it, but the weapon jammed, according to prosecutors.
White is charged with two counts of assault, and single counts of unlawful use of a weapon, armed criminal action, and attempted escape.

(Photo by Ron Graber)