Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Federal grand jury investigating claims Blunt client bilked District of Columbia out of tens of millions

In the Feb. 18 Turner Report, I noted that Maximus, Inc., the latest client of the governor's brother, lobbyist Andrew Blunt, is under investigation by a federal grand jury in Washington, D. C.

The information came from the company's filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. As you might expect, the version filed with the SEC sugarcoats some of the allegations against the firm, which is currently doing business with the city of Kansas City, St. Louis public schools, and is bidding for the state contract for Medicaid information systems.

An article in the May 3, 2006, Washington Times paints a different picture:

Federal authorities have begun a criminal investigation of Maximus Inc. in the wake of a lawsuit claiming that the Reston-based consulting giant overcharged the government tens of millions of dollars while working for the District's foster care agency, unsealed court records and other official files show.
The investigation follows a federal False Claims Act lawsuit that says Maximus lacked proper documentation for most of the more than $30 million in Medicaid claims the company prepared for the D.C. government, starting in 1999.

The article noted claims that were made in a lawsuit filed by former company official Benjamin Turner:

According to Mr. Turner, Maximus was hired to help the city recoup federal Medicaid funds for services for foster children in the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA).
Under the deal, Maximus pocketed 10 cents of every Medicaid dollar it helped the city recoup, eventually netting the company more than $3 million for at least $30 million in Medicaid claims it prepared, according to the lawsuit.
Mr. Turner, who says in the lawsuit that he worked on the billing project, says the Medicaid billing was "grounded in fraud."
"After obtaining confirmation that such services were not performed through a CFSA computer search, and in the majority of instances after contacting the social workers who confirmed the services were not performed, Maximus nevertheless created files that indicated services were performed and used such information to demand Medicaid pay for services not rendered," the lawsuit states.

Combest: Obvious Ag Department bureaucrats lied to Highway Patrol

In a post today, blogger John Combest notes that the worst thing about the Missouri Highway Patrol report on sexual harassment charges against former Agriculture Director Fred Ferrell is that it was obvious some department bureaucrats played fast and loose with the truth:

The most disturbing thing about the Highway Patrol report, other than the bile-inducing visual it creates of an old man’s slobber on a young woman’s cheek, is the fact that some people interviewed for the report obviously lied to the investigators. As you read the report, you can tell that some of the patronage employees weren’t as smart as they thought they were with their CYA stories. You can picture one of Ferrell’s sycophantic bag handlers in his cubicle plotting a double-jump, not knowing that the lawmen are playing chess, not checkers. Checkmate!

Blunt releases memo sent to former ag director

In the Columbia Tribune Political Blog, Jason Rosenbaum releases the text of the memo Governor Matt Blunt sent to former Ag Director Fred Ferrell after a Highway Patrol report determined Ferrell had acted inappropriately toward women:

At the completion of the investigation, Lt. Vislay was able to substantiate that you did, in fact, make an inappropriate comment to Ms. Elder. This finding was based on the statements of eyewitnesses. His investigation also revealed additional acts of inappropriate conduct directed toward women employed by the Department and that you have created and/or allowed an atmosphere to exist at the Department in which women do not feel they have the same employment opportunities as men.

The governor also said:

As the Department Director, your actions reflect not only on the Department of Agriculture, but on my office and state government in general. Therefore, I expect that you will adhere to the highest standards of conduct in the future.

Blunt appoints another big contributor to key position

Governor Matt Blunt appointed the Donald Ross, 63, the president of Enterprise Rent-a-Car to the seven-members Appellate Judicial Commission today. The appointment did not create much of a fuss since few pay attention to the committee, which submits three nominees any time a vacancy occurs on the state Supreme Court or on one of the three regional appellate courts.

Blunt gave the following endorsement of his nominee, according to an Associated Press article:

"He's somebody who understands business and how important it is to have a fair legal system for businesses to thrive and grow and employ more Missourians," Blunt said. "Don understands that judges should be people that try to interpret the law and adjudicate the cases, not people that legislate from the bench."

Blunt failed to mention another key credential that appears to be weighed every time he makes an appointment- Ross contributed the maximum amount to the governor's campaign in 2003, 2004, and 2005, a total of $5,575, while people listing connections to Enterprise Rent-a-Car contributed just under $20,000 to the governor in 2004 alone.

National blog addressed Missouri sexual harassment scandal

National blog Wonkette offered its take on the scandal surrounding the dismissal of Agriculture Director Fred Ferrell:

Agriculture Director Fred Ferrell was allowed to stay on the job even though everybody knew he was humping on his female employees, who did not care for this behavior.
"This is the most bungled cover-up by a Republican administration since Watergate," said Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia.
Governor Matt Blunt let Ferrell pay a $70,000 sex-harassment settlement payment out of ag department funds.
Ferrell said his assistant, Christine Roark, "was not the brightest tool in the shed but that she was his ‘show dog.'"

It is amazing how public officials never learn to address a problem head on, take care of it, and put it behind them. It's always the cover ups that create the biggest problems.

Governor defends handling of sexual harassment case

During a news conference today, Governor Matt Blunt explained his reasoning for keeping Agriculture Director Fred Ferrell on the job for nine months after a Highway Patrol investigation indicated Ferrell had considerable problems with his attitude and treatment of women:

Blunt said he had decided in May to reinstate Ferrell on the understanding he would apologize, take sensitivity training and help the state resolve the matter to Elder's satisfaction. "When it became clear that the offended employee was not satisfied and that we were not going to settle the matter, it was necessary to ask for and accept his resignation," Blunt said Wednesday.

In other words, mistreatment of women is not a firing offense, but doing it in such a way that it brings embarrassment to the governor is.

Steelman blocks effort to buy off former Agriculture Department employee

An apparent attempt to buy off Heather Elder, the woman who leveled sexual harassment complaints against former Agriculture Director Fred Ferrell, was blocked by State Treasurer Sarah Steelman.

After stopping payment on a $70,000 check from the Agriculture Department to Mrs. Elder, Mrs. Steelman has filed a Sunshine Law request for all documents relating to the payoff:

"There are serious issues that are very troublesome in this case," Steelman said. "The Office of Administration has subcontracted with the Department of Agriculture to certify that their own payments are proper, thereby eliminating all checks and balances on their spending. This system, in this case, has allowed the director of a department accused of sexual harassment to authorize payment of tax dollars to the victim in a secret agreement with no transparency to the taxpayers. That is just wrong."

Ferrell resigned earlier this week.

Testimony at hearing: MSU professor says all good social workers must have gay sex at some point

What is has to do with social work, I fail to understand, but a Missouri State University student testifying Tuesday at the hearing for the Emily Brooker Intellectual Diversity Act said one of her professors claimed that a good social worker "must engage in a homosexual act at some point."

The act, which is being proposed by Rep. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, and is co-sponsored by Marilyn Ruestman, R-Joplin, calls for requiring "each public institution to report annually to the general assembly detailing the steps the institution is taking to ensure intellectual diversity and the free exchange of ideas." It is named for the MSU student who sued the university after a professor required students to write state legislators asking them to support adoption rights for gays.

The House Higher Education Committee approved the legislation by a 5-3 margin.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

News-Leader editorial: Term limits need to be changed

An editorial in today's Springfield News-Leader supports Rep. Gayle Kingery's House Joint Resolution which would amend term limits to allow a legislator to spend 16 years in either the House or Senate rather than eight years in each, which is allowed under the term limit law put into place by Missouri voters.
Kingery, a Poplar Bluff Republican, quite correctly points out that term limits places too much power in the hands of lobbyists who have been there forever and know the inner workings of the legislature, and the governor:

If we had our druthers — and (Rep. B. J.) Marsh, R-Springfield, agrees with us — we would get rid of term limits entirely. That's what we argued for last fall as university leaders explained to us the difficulty of having to re-educate the General Assembly every couple of years.
But Kingery is right that his bill is more palatable to the substantial number of voters who still believe in term limits. At the very least, it's a step in the right direction and should be passed by the House and Senate.

I wrote columns blasting the idea of term limits when it was first brought before Missouri voters and I have seen nothing since the law was passed to make me change my mind. The whole idea is that voters are too stupid to turn out bad legislators so an artificial law will do it for them.
I doubt if this resolution will go anywhere, but our legislators have had no qualms in the past about overriding the will of the voters. For instance, voters rejected a measure to allow Missourians to carry concealed weapons, but the General Assembly went right ahead and did it anyway.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Devil's Messenger on sale at Hastings

As of approximately 5 p.m. today, my second novel Devil's Messenger is on sale at Hastings in Joplin. Five copies were put on the shelves at that time and more will arrive later as the time grows closer for the 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, April 21, signing.

The book is on sale at three locations in Joplin- Hastings, the Changing Hands Book Shop and Always Buying Books. It is also available at Pat's Books in Carthage, and at the Lamar Democrat office in Lamar. More sites will be added in the near future, and more signings will be scheduled in late spring and during the summer.

The book also can be purchased directly from me. Send me an e-mail at for more information. It is available from several internet outlets, including, Barnes and Noble,, and the publisher I-Universe.

The novel is a combination horror story/murder mystery about a teenage girl who communicates with her murdered father through Instant Messenger.

Highway Patrol report left no doubt Ferrell was trouble

The fact that it took a year after he received a Missouri Highway Patrol report on sexual harassment allegations against Agriculture Director Fred Ferrell to fire him casts doubt on the judgment of Governor Matt Blunt.

Not only did former office worker Heather Elder accuse Ferrell of sexually harassing her, but statements made by Ferrell to Patrol investigators left no doubt that he was a 19th century throwback in a 21st century position.

The complete report is featured on the Fired Up Missouri blog. In the interview, Ferrell was asked about Mrs. Elder's allegations that he had referred to a female who had once worked in his office as a "show dog," and about his comments about how Mrs. Elder should enter a wet t-shirt contest:

"I asked Mr. Ferrell if he had ever made statements around the office that could be construed as derogatory toward women. More specifically, I asked him if he ever referred to the lades in the office as "Princess" or ''Beautiful girl". Mr. Ferrell could not recall if he had ever made statements of this nature. In addition, I asked him if he ever referred to anyone as his, "show dog", or if he recalled a comment concerning a woman's inability to balance a checkbook. Mr. Ferrell advised that the term, "show dog", in regard to women, is a term of endearment. He advised that he often called his wife a "show dog", and conveyed a story how the term was used by his grandfather when he was younger. The story described a statement Mr. Ferrell's grandfather made about Mrs. Ferrell. The statement concerned Mrs. Ferrell being, "A 'show dog' (attractive), but can she hunt?" In regard to the checkbook comment, Mr. Ferrell advised he could have made that statement.

The report continues:

At this point of the interview, I asked Mr. Ferrell if he recalled a conversation concerning "jeans and more specifically, comments concerning a wet t-shirt contest at the office. Mr. Ferrell explained that he initially was not in favor of employees wearing blue jeans to work and he used the wet t-shirt comment as an analogy to illustrate the lack of professional image these "dress down" days project. He indicated that he did make the comment, and he did direct them toward Ms. Elder. He advised that he asked Ms. Elder what she thought of the idea and if she would enter the contest. He stressed that he never intended the statement to be taken negatively

Mrs. Elder was not the only woman interviewed by the Patrol who thought Ferrell's behavior was inappropriate. Former employee Misti Preston told the Patrol:

Ms. Preston stated that she had observed Ferrell kiss women on the cheek, hug them in an office atmosphere, and place his hand around their waists. Ms. Preston stated that Ferrell behaved this way to everyone, under all circumstances, and that people in the office had deemed this behavior a problem. Ms. Preston stated that when Ferrell would enter a room she would go to the opposite side of the room in order to avoid him. Ms. Preston didn't feel like Ferrell's behavior was sexual and therefore, didn't report it. Ms. Preston stated that Ferrell would act the same way when his wife was present, and she felt that this was just the way he was. Ms. Preston stated that the behavior was common throughout the office and that everyone witnessed the physical contact and improper comments. Ferrell made it known to Ms. Preston that he felt a woman's place was in the kitchen and she heard from others that Ferrell stated that some women were not pretty enough to man the Department of Agriculture booth.

GateHouse Media to release fourth quarter results March 9

GateHouse Media, Inc., owner of The Carthage Press, Joplin Daily, Neosho Daily News, and The Big Nickel in this area, will release its fourth quarter results Friday, March 9, according to a company news release.
A conference call is scheduled for 9 a.m. that day and can be accessed by calling 800-811-0667.

Hearing set for Emily Brooker Act

A bill inspired by the difficulties faced by a Missouri State University student who claimed her social work professor forced his students to lobby state legislators on behalf of gay adoption will have its public hearing 5 p.m. Tuesday before the House Higher Education Committee.

HB 213, the Emily Brooker Intellectual Diversity Act, is sponsored by Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, and co-sponsored by Marilyn Ruestman, R-Joplin. It calls for requiring "each public institution to report annually to the general assembly detailing the steps the institution is taking to ensure intellectual diversity and the free exchange of ideas."

The bill says:

The report required in this subsection shall address the specific measures taken by the institution to ensure and promote intellectual diversity and academic freedom. The report may include steps taken by the institution to:

(a) Conduct a study to assess the current state of intellectual diversity on its campus;

(b) Incorporate intellectual diversity into institution statements, grievance procedures, and activities on diversity;

(c) Encourage a balanced variety of campus-wide panels and speakers and annually publish the names of panelists and speakers;

(d) Establish clear campus policies that ensure that hecklers or threats of violence do not prevent speakers from speaking;

(e) Include intellectual diversity concerns in the institution's guidelines on teaching and program development;

(f) Include intellectual diversity issues in student course evaluations;

(g) Develop hiring, tenure, and promotion policies that protect individuals against viewpoint discrimination and track any reported grievances in that regard;

(h) Establish clear campus policies to ensure freedom of the press for students and report any incidents of student newspaper thefts or destruction;

(i) Establish clear campus policies to prohibit viewpoint discrimination in the distribution of student fee funds;

(j) Develop methods for disseminating best practices to ensure that conflicts between personal beliefs and classroom assignments that may contradict such beliefs can be resolved in a manner that achieves educational objectives without requiring a student to act against his or her conscience;

(k) Eliminate any speech codes that restrict the freedom of speech; or

(l) Create an institutional ombudsman on intellectual diversity.

(2) The report shall be distributed to the members of the general assembly no later than December thirty-first of each year, beginning in 2008.

(3) The report shall be posted on each public higher education institution's web site.

Information on Miss Brooker's lawsuit was featured in the Oct. 31 Turner Report. The university reached a settlement, which was featured in the Nov. 21 Turner Report.

Blunt fires ag director after negative publicity surfaces

In the administration of Missouri Governor Matt Blunt, it is apparently okay for a cabinet official to sexually harass his female long as the publicity doesn't get too far out of hand.
The governor finally cut his losses and fired Agriculture Director Fred Ferrell today. The following news release was issued:

JEFFERSON CITY–Gov. Matt Blunt today requested the resignation of Fred Ferrell. Ferrell resigned his position as Director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture effective immediately.

"When I first learned of this inappropriate behavior, I believed that through an apology, discipline, significant sensitivity training and a fine, it might be possible for the Director to continue in his position. Prior to this week, it was the general belief that the issues involving the Missouri Agriculture Director were being resolved in a manner consistent with the goals of all parties involved with these very disappointing events. It has now become apparent that he can no longer lead the department effectively and I have today asked for and accepted his resignation," said Blunt.

The governor accepted Ferrell’s resignation and announced that Deputy Director Matt Boatright will serve as Interim Director. A search for a new director will begin immediately

As noted earlier today in The Turner Report, the agriculture director was under pressure from female legislators who obtained a controversial Highway Patrol report compiled months earlier at the governor's request, which left no doubt that Ferrell was not treating the females in his employ with any respect.

The female legislators issued the following statement:

"We find it incomprehensible that you decided to reinstate a Departmental Director who refers to his secretary as a "show dog," who stated that he hires women "based on their pretty face, not what is in their minds," who wanted to arrange a "wet t-shirt contest" for his women employees, and who told male employees in the Department that "a woman could not be in a position of management above other men." It is therefore incumbent on you to come forward now and justify your action empowering this sort of predatory sexual behavior, as well as your decision to commit tens of thousands of state taxpayers' dollars in an attempt to keep those same taxpayers from learning the truth about what you knew this behavior to be."

It appears that the unfavorable publicity, not the lack of respect for human beings, is what ultimately cost Fred Ferrell his job. The Ferrell case seems to send the message that any sin is forgivable in the Blunt administration, except for embarrassing the governor.

Additional charges filed in Memorial Middle School shooting case

Two additional charges have been filed against accused Memorial Middle School shooter Thomas Gregory White.
White, 14, formerly a seventh grader at the school, faces a second count of assault and unlawful use of a weapon. He had already been charged with assault, armed criminal action, and attempted escape.
White's preliminary hearing, originally scheduled for today, has been pushed back until Monday, March 5, in Jasper County Circuit Court. He is being tried as an adult. White entered the school with a gun Oct. 27 and fired one shot at the ceiling. After that, the gun jammed.

Women legislators ask Blunt to explain why he kept sexist agriculture secretary

The controversy surrounding Missouri Secretary of Agriculture Fred Ferrell does not appear to have any chance of subsiding any time soon.
Seven female legislators, in a letter released Sunday on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Political Fix blog, are asking for Governor Matt Blunt to explain why he kept Ferrell in office even after reviewing a Highway Patrol report that indicated that Ferrell was sexist and guilty of at least verbal sexual harassment of female employees:

"We find it incomprehensible that you decided to reinstate a Departmental Director who refers to his secretary as a "show dog," who stated that he hires women "based on their pretty face, not what is in their minds," who wanted to arrange a "wet t-shirt contest" for his women employees, and who told male employees in the Department that "a woman could not be in a position of management above other men." It is therefore incumbent on you to come forward now and justify your action empowering this sort of predatory sexual behavior, as well as your decision to commit tens of thousands of state taxpayers' dollars in an attempt to keep those same taxpayers from learning the truth about what you knew this behavior to be."

Times editorial criticizes firing of U. S. attorneys

The firing of a large number of U. S. attorneys, including H. E. Cummins III of Arkansas, is criticized in an editorial in today's New York Times:

The firing of H. E. Cummins III is raising as many questions as Ms. Lam’s. Mr. Cummins, one of the most distinguished lawyers in Arkansas, is respected by Republicans and Democrats alike. But he was forced out to make room for J. Timothy Griffin, a former Karl Rove deputy with thin legal experience who did opposition research for the Republican National Committee. (Mr. Griffin recently bowed to the inevitable and said he will not try for a permanent appointment. But he remains in office indefinitely.)

The editorial notes:

The Justice Department concedes that Mr. Cummins was doing a good job in Little Rock. An obvious question is whether the administration was more interested in his successor’s skills in opposition political research — let’s not forget that Arkansas has been lucrative fodder for Republicans in the past — in time for the 2008 elections.

Of course, another coincidence (?) is that Cummins was fired as he was in the middle of a probe into the awarding of lucrative license fee offices in Missouri.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Strip club murder trial to begin March 19 in Texas

Opening statements in the trial of Richard Lee Tabler, 27, who is charged with four counts of murder in connection with the November 2004 murders of two owners and two dancers of the Teazers strip club in Killeen, Texas, is scheduled for March 19 in Bell County District Court.
Jury selection in the case began Feb. 19 and could take a while. Tabler faces the death penalty so potential jurors not only had to fill out lengthy questionnaires, but each has to undergo questioning for 45 to 90 minutes, according to an article in the Killeen Daily Herald.

The other man charged with murder in the case, 2004 East Newton High School graduate Timothy Doan Payne, will stand trial at the conclusion of the Tabler trial.

Post-Dispatch feature touches on 1901 lynchings in Pierce City

A St. Louis man's efforts to find out more about his family's history led him to a bleak part of southwest Missouri history.
In a feature in today's St. Louis Post-Dispatch, reporter Phillip O'Connor examines Charles Brown's quest to find his ancestors and how it led him to information about lynchings of African Americans in Pierce City:

The 1901 attack in Pierce City was just one of many instances across the country in which white mobs drove black people from their land. Brown said he knew there were family connections to Pierce City, but Cobb and other family members had been buried 50 miles away in Springfield. He had no idea, until reading a series in the Monett Times, that three black men had been lynched and his ancestors forced to abandon their home at gunpoint. Brown thinks his elders might have sought to shield him from the indignities the family suffered.

Fired U. S. attorney had received glowing reports

Six of the eight U. S. attorneys fired recently by the Bush Administration had received glowing reports on their job performance.
That number includes Bud Cummins of Arkansas, according to an article in today's New York Times:

One of the most glowing evaluations was given to H. E. Cummins III of Arkansas, who was asked to leave last summer. Mr. Cummins was replaced temporarily by J. Timothy Griffin, a military and civilian prosecutor who also had close ties to Karl Rove, the senior White House political adviser. Mr. Griffin has since withdrawn his name from consideration as Mr. Cummins's permanent successor. A report dated Jan. 23-27, 2006, said, "United States Attorney Cummins was very competent and highly regarded by the federal, judiciary, law enforcement and civil client agencies." It said Mr. Cummins's office had a "well-managed" antiterrorism program and "very successful" counternarcotics efforts.

Many of the fired attorneys were conducting investigations into possible wrongdoing by Republican officials. Cummins was in the middle of his investigation of the awarding of Missouri license fee offices when he was fired.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Magazine: Copeland withholds public documents from reporter

Land Line, a national magazine for independent truckers, says Newton County Sheriff Ken Copeland refused to turn over a use of force report or the department's policy for taser usage to a reporter working on a story of a Tennessee trucker who claims an off-duty officer treated him brutally during an incident at a Petro in Joplin.

The officer, Steve Cathers, who now works for the Jasper County Sheriff's Department, offered a different version of his encounter with Larry Works, saying in a probable cause affidavit that Works became belligerent and assaulted him. Cathers did not mention using a taser.

Copeland declined to confirm how many times Larry was Tased and said that would be noted in the deputy’s use of force report. The Sheriff's department has a policy for use of Taser guns, but Copeland declined to describe or reveal the policy and wouldn't show Land Line the use of force report. "I don't want to try a case in a magazine before it gets to court," Copeland said.

Works' preliminary hearing on a charge of assaulting a police officer is scheduled for March 8 in Newton County Circuit Court.

Reed's Spring students suspended for protesting teacher's removal

Darin at The Branson Missouri blog features a fascinating post about a handful of Reed's Spring students who were suspended for protesting the removal of teacher Mike Collins from the classroom:

The demonstration started in the lunch room. 25 students gathered when someone incited the protesters to regroup by the flagpole in front of the building. The principal went outside and gave the students a choice. They were allowed to come inside without being tardy or call their parents to be taken home. Approx 15 (number uncertain) opted for a vacation day. Later in the afternoon three more kids made a protest attempt and were suspended.

The post also includes a revealing look at how the media make decisions on what parts of a story to cover, and offers some thoughtful commentary concerning both journalism and education.

State representative charged with DWI

A 10 a.m. March 27 hearing has been scheduled in Cole County Circuit Court for State Representative Ray Salva,59, D-Independence, who is charged with driving while intoxicated.
According to court records, Salva was arrested Wednesday by the Cole County Sheriff's Department. News accounts indicate he was returning from an event at the capitol when he was stopped.

Former Independent candidate asks for Nodler bill to be described accurately

Former Hickory County Prosecuting Attorney Mike Holzknecht, who ran as an independent candidate against Sen. Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City, says the description on the state website of a bill sponsored by Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, and co-sponsored by Scott, is inaccurate.

SB 409 is designed to make it even more difficult for independent candidates such as Holzknecht, and Nodler's 2006 challenger Kim Wright to mount successful campaigns. Holzknecht, in a letter to Chris Hogerty, who prepared the bill summary on the Senate website, asks if there is room for motivation for the filing of the bill to be placed in the summary.

The description of the bill is as follows:

This act requires independent candidates in general elections to file a written declaration of intent to run for statewide office, Congress, the state Senate, state House of Representatives or Circuit Judge.

The text of Holzknecht's letter to Hogerty is printed below:

Dear Chris,
The Summary for SB 409 indicates only that SB 409 'requires independent candidates in general elections to file a written declaration of candidacy" to run for various offices. Actually, the law already requires such written declaration of candidacy by Independent candidates, but does not require it until approximately 15 weeks before the election in which the candidate will run (i.e., the declaration must be filed by late July for a November election). This time period is almost identical to the period of time allowed party primary candidates to file before the election in which they will run, i.e., an end of March filing deadline for the August primary election.
Therefore, I believe the summary of SB 409 might more fairly and accurately describe SB 409 if it indicated what effect SB 409 would have on existing law in changing the filing deadline for independent candidates, such as: "This Act would change existing law and require Independent candidates to file a Declaration of Candidacy during the legislative session and approximately 7-1/2 months before the election in which they will run, but will not affect the existing filing deadline for political party candidates seeking election in their parties' primary election, which deadline will remain the end of March, approximately four months before that party candidates' primary election."
Also, the "Sponsor" section identifies Sen. Gary Nodler, one of SB 409's sponsors, but fails to include SB 409's co-sponsor, Sen. Delbert Scott, the Chairman of the Committee in which SB 409 was introduced.
Interestingly, both of these incumbent Senators had Independent candidates file against them in 2006, and would have otherwise been unopposed for reelection. Indeed, Senator Scott was actually defeated by his Independent opponent in two of the counties in the senate district, and his Independent opponent amassed 43% of the total vote district-wide, believed to be a record in Missouri history for an Independent candidate for State Senate. I know this because I was the guy who dared to file as an Independent candidate and give the voters a choice from the 20 year incumbent.
Is there a place on these "Current Bill Summaries" for the motivation behind the filing of a bill?
Chris, just thought I'd bring this to your attention in case these summaries are supposed to reflect more fully what effect the bill will really have on the existing law. Because if the bill did only what the current summary says it does, there would be no need for it, since independent candidates are already required to file a written declaration of candidacy.
Very truly yours,
Mike Holzknecht, former Hickory County Prosecuting Attorney, and Independent Candidate for State Senate, 28th District

Nothing changes with Congress: Democrats kissing up to lobbyists for cash

Dreamers expecting a change in the way business is conducted in Washington following the removal of Republicans from power are receiving a heavy dose of reality: The names have changed, but the game remains the same.

Democrats are already working to increase their majority through the same methods they publicly deplored when Republicans were using them. They are romancing lobbyists and special interests with marriage on their mind, according to an article in today's Washington Post:

In the next 10 days alone, Democratic fundraisers will feature the chairmen of the House's financial services panel and the House and Senate tax-writing committees. Senate Democrats also plan a fundraising reception during a major gathering of Native Americans in the capital Tuesday evening, an event hosted by lobbyists and the political action committee for tribal casinos, including those Jack Abramoff was paid to represent.

Apparently, if the other side is doing it, it's evil, but if you are doing it it's the cost of staying in business. Is it any wonder people have little or no faith in politicians?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Column on Reed's Spring topic brings out problems of dealing with unruly students

Sarah Overstreet's column in today's Springfield News-Leader on the woes facing the Reed's Spring School District in connection with its removal of award-winning teacher Mike Collins from the classroom after he swore at two bullies who were picking on disabled students, makes some valid points about the problems teachers have dealing with students who are virtually uncontrollable:

Some at the meeting wondered whether the school district does enough to train teachers to deal with unruly students. Having taught public school myself, I wonder whether in our current world of backboneless administrative backup, there's any amount of training that would prepare a teacher for that. So, decibel three: A lot of us are sick of teachers having to discipline narcissistic, uncontrollable and mean students with the little pack of "appropriate" tools they are given.

While I cannot condone a teacher's use of the F word in the classroom, in this particular situation, if the facts are what have been reported in the media, it would seem a different, lesser punishment might be called for in Collins' case, such as a temporary suspension.

The Collins case and the reaction it has received points out some of the biggest flaws in No Child Left Behind. The out-of-touch politicians on both sides of the aisle who created this law have no clue what teachers and administrators have to deal with in schools these days.

Teachers deal on an everyday basis with students who have no qualms whatsoever about dropping the F word or any other word in a classroom and who do not care about whatever punishment they may be given. In-school suspension, out-of-school suspension, talks with parents, many of whom can't be bothered, everything is tried, but many of these children simply do not care.

What could be the reason for that? The sad thing is the culprits are many- students with drug problems, parents with drug problems, students from broken homes, students who are victims of physical, emotional or sexual abuse, a culture in which the movies that the students watch and much of the music they listen to encourages vulgar language and poor behavior, homes that do not have any books or reading material. That's just the beginning of the list.

Every method is taken to deal with troubled students. If critics could see just how many times, against all odds, teachers and administrators have been successful in turning these young people around, we might stop hearing this nonsense about failing schools. It is a miracle how many of these children are not left behind, thanks to the efforts of teachers, many of whom have been the target of verbal abuse from the same students.

Teachers receive training in how to deal with students who act out, but the methods administrators used to help teachers in the past are sometimes unworkable now. At one time, a principal could solve a problem with two unruly students in a classroom simply by taking one of the students and putting him or her in a different class. What do you do when that number swells to six or seven troublemakers? There is not a teacher in a public school who has not faced this problem. It is remarkable how many students receive a quality education when the battle lines are drawn each day between teachers who are determined to provide a quality education and sullen, resentful students who get their way at home and see no reason why things should be any different at school.

But teachers keep on trying. They realize that despite the ever-growing number of troublemakers, the majority of the students are interested in learning...and dreamers that teachers are, they keep thinking they may be the ones who can reach some of these seemingly unreachable students.

What reward do teachers receive for their trouble? They have to listen to politicians blame them (though they disguise it by directing their venom at these "evil" teacher unions) for everything that is wrong with public education. Public school teachers have to listen to the constant push for educational vouchers, since seemingly all private schools provide a superior education, a myth that has been perpetuated through the deep pockets of people like Dick DeVos of Amway and his All Children Matter group and the Waltons of Wal-Mart fame, as well as the politicians who have been the recipients of that money. When teachers do receive well-earned raises, they are almost always accompanied by requirements that they do even more work than they already do, and that they have to fill out reams of paperwork to prove they have completed that work.

Teachers have to listen to critics complain that they are only in it for the three-month summer vacations or the short hours. If teaching is done right, and in most cases it is, teachers are working far more than the 8 to 3, nine-month schedule of myth. They are sponsoring before-school and after-school activities, taking the time to grade papers, to take classes and attend seminars to improve their work, and doing many more things that self-serving politicians, willing to use the children to fuel their ambitions, completely ignore. It is laughable in Missouri, for instance that legislators, who receive $31,000 a year for 75 days in session try to leave the impression that teachers, who are in session for 180 days a year (counting six days of in-service training) and many of whom receive less than the legislators, are willing to give the impression that teachers do not work enough for their pay. (And yes, I am aware that our legislators work on many other days when they are not in session. You would think the legislators would be aware that teachers do the same thing.)

When good teachers, and apparently Mike Collins is one of the best, make mistakes, everything has to be done to get them back on the right path and keep them in the classroom. The best thing that could be done for Mike Collins and the rest of Missouri's teachers would be for politicians to begin focusing on the underlying problems for student misbehavior and low grades. So many of these things have nothing whatsoever to do with the schools. Unfortunately though, this is not a problem that can be simply solved by the passage of feel-good legislation. This is something that needs total community involvement and until that happens, a good many children will continue to be left behind...despite the best efforts of Missouri's teachers and administrators.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Cameras banned at Memorial Middle School shooter's hearing

When Memorial Middle School shooter Thomas Gregory White's preliminary hearing is held Feb. 26, it will take place without television and still cameras.
Judge Stephen Carlton banned cameras during a hearing today in Jasper County Circuit Court.
The decision was made just two days after White's attorney, Brett Meeker, filed a motion asking that cameras not be allowed. The Joplin Globe had filed a motion Feb. 19, asking Carlton to permit cameras.
White, 14, formerly a seventh grader at Memorial, is charged with assault, armed criminal action, and escape, in connection with the Oct. 9 shooting incident, in which White fired one shot into the ceiling at the school, then was unable to take any more shots after his gun jammed. He is being tried as an adult.

Reed's Spring teacher issue debated on News-Leader forums

The problems in the Reed's Spring School District, including the disciplining of a teacher for using profanity in a classroom setting, are aired in Springfield News-Leader's forums.
It appears that Reed's Spring folks have an incredibly dysfunctional school district.

Bearden bill would require school districts to release administrators' salaries, benefits

Rep. Carl Bearden, R-St. Charles, feels Missourians should be able to view school administrators' salaries on the internet, and while there are parts of his bill with which I do not agree, he is right on the money on his main point.
I would even go further than Bearden. Why not put the salaries of all school employees on the internet? The taxpayers deserve to know what they are paying and to whom.
With this information posted on school district websites, as well as how much is paid for various extra duties, taxpayers would have a better idea of how well, or how poorly, their money is being spent.
I would not limit the idea to schools, however. Why not extend the same policy to any governmental agency, from city to county to state government.
Of course, there are those who oppose the bill:

(Executive Director of the Missouri Council of School Administrators) Gary Sharpe fears the law would be a deterrent when schools are trying to recruit administrators from out of state.
The pool of superintendents in Missouri is already shallow, he said.
"The fact that a certain numbers of people are looking at your salary could be a deterrent to people entering the profession," he said.

I have a hard time believing anyone would pass up a superintendent job in Missouri just because the public knows how much he or she receives in pay and/or benefits. The information is already public, but few have the time or the ability to access it.
Since I am sure one or more of the readers will demand to know: I make approximately $32,000 a year in regular salary and receive an additional $3,000 in Career Ladder money. For the $3,000, I sponsor Quiz Bowl, Journalism Club (including a website, newspaper, programming for JET 14 and an upcoming e-newsletter), serve on South Middle School's Discipline Committee, and head the South Writing Promotion Committee, which annually sponsors an essay contest, a short story contest, and a poetry contest,and participates in other activities designed to foster student interest in writing. Another R-8 requirement for those receiving Career Ladder money is that they attend five hours of departmental meetings or seminars outside of school hours.
It might be the best thing for public schools if the taxpayers knew just how much value they are getting for their money.
I should add that a wide majority of teachers in the Joplin R-8 School District are providing the same kind of services to students to give them every opportunity to succeed.

Hundreds support Reed's Spring teacher

The Reed's Spring teacher who was removed from classroom duties following an incident in which he used profanity in the classroom received strong support during a school board meeting Wednesday night, according to an article in today's Springfield News-Leader:

Collins was suspended at the end of January after he used profanity with two students to try to get them to stop picking on others in his class. He has received formal charging papers outlining a number of alleged misdeeds and has requested a public hearing on the matter.

To give the teacher's supporters an idea of what to expect at the public hearing, both from personal experience and from years of covering similar situations in area schools- these are things that will likely happen:

-The board will sit in stony silence at the hearing as one speaker after another speaks in favor of the teacher. Some board members will act as if they are doing the public a big favor just to have the meeting and that they really have better use for their time.

-The board president most likely will say he or she and the other board members cannot comment on anything because it is a personnel situation and all personnel situations must be handled in closed session. (That, by the way, is not true. Missouri's Open Meetings Law does not mandate a closed session for personnel matters; it simply says a board may go into closed session to discuss the hiring, firing, promoting, or discipline of personnel.)
-Everyone will go home unsatisfied with the experience.
- Except for the opportunity to let off a little steam and show dissatisfaction with the board's decision, nothing will be accomplished.

I have seen a few occasions on which board decisions were reversed, but usually these hearings are an exercise in futility with board members simply going through the motions because they are required to do so by law.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Blogger supports Ruestman bill

Freesoiler, blogging at the Radical Republican website, finds much to admire in Rep. Marilyn Ruestman's Castle Doctrine bill (normally referred to on this blog as the Frontier Justice bill):

This law will protect citizens who use deadly force against an intruder from liability for their actions. Under the current law, you would have to show that you were in imminent fear of death or serious injury in order to justify using force calculated to cause death or serious injury against an intruder. HB 189 removes that requirement by creating the presumption of that fear in certain situations, such as when a person is breaking in to your home. This bill protects citizens from frivolous tort actions brought by criminals and it is high time that Missouri adopted the Castle Doctrine.

Current Missouri law already protects people who need to use deadly force to protect themselves. So far, I have heard Ms. Ruestman claims that this bill is badly needed and that people have been coming to her and demanding that this legislation be passed. So far, absolutely no proof has been given that this bill is craved by anyone other than Ms. Ruestman's friends in the National Rifle Association. Where are the specific cases in which law-abiding citizens have been punished for protecthing their lives. Please tell us of the specific lawsuits that have been brought against laws-abiding, gun-wielding citizens.
Missourians face many problems that need to be addressed by their legislators. Why are they wasting time and taxpayer money dealing with a non-existent problem?

Senator compares Nodler to Wile Coyote

Though I would personally equate Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, with the blustering Yosemite Sam, Sen. Charlie Shields finds our senator resembles another Warner Brothers cartoon character, according to a post on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Political Fix Blog. The comment was referring to Nodler's continued efforts to get Governor Matt Blunt's MOHELA sale approved:

Before hearing floor debate Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, jokingly likened Nodler to the accident-prone cartoon character Wile E. Coyote and state support of Nodler’s plan for MOHELA to Wile’s arch-nemesis, the always-elusive Road Runner. "Every morning you come up with a new plan and open the Acme box just so that it can blow up in your face," said Shields, referring to Nodler’s delicate political dealings with Missouri Right to Life and state higher education officials. Shields then presented Nodler with a cardboard box with Acme Corp. stickers plastered on the side.

Nodler’s reply? "This time, I think it will really work," he said.

(Photo: Sen. Gary Nodler explores a possible alternative method for dealing with independent candidates.)

Oronogo tax prepaper enters guilty plea

A pre-sentence investigation was ordered today for Carrie Shafer, Oronogo, who pleaded guilty to a federal tax fraud charge during a 16-minute hearing today in Springfield.
Ms. Shafer, 38, faced 40 counts of fraud in connection with preparing false tax returns. Judge James England approved the plea bargain agreement, and agreed to allow Ms. Shafer to remain free on bond.

More information about the case can be found in the Feb. 14 Turner Report.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Patterson named principal at Fairview Elementary

Ronna Patterson, a friend from the East Newton High School days, will be the new principal at Fairview Elementary in Carthage, according to an article in today's Carthage Press.
Ms. Patterson has been principal at Pleasant Valley Elementary. Before that, she was an assistant principal at Steadley Elementary, and worked for several years in the East Newton R-6 School District.
The Press article also indicates that Kandy Frazier, assistant principal at Carthage Senior High School, will be promoted to high school principal, replacing Phil Lewis, who is retiring at the end of the current school year.

Memorial Middle School shooter's lawyer wants cameras removed from courtroom

The lawyer for accused Memorial Middle School shooter Thomas Gregory White wants no cameras in the courtroom when his client's preliminary hearing is held Monday, Feb. 26.
Attorney Brett Meeker filed a motion today objecting to a request for cameras in the courtroom.
White, 14, formerly a seventh grader at memorial, is charged with assault, armed criminal action, and escape, in connection with the Oct. 9 shooting incident, in which White fired one shot into the ceiling at the school, then was unable to take any more shots after his gun jammed. He is being tried as an adult.

Frontier justice bill passes House

The Missouri House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed Rep. Marilyn Ruestman's frontier justice bill Monday.
A 143-4 vote moves the Joplin Republican's bill, which allows property owners to use deadly force against intruders, to the Senate. The bill is the chief legislative focus of the National Rifle Association.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Globe fails to mention Scott's conflict of interest

The Joplin Globe's article on Sen. Gary Nodler's crackdown on independent candidates bill, SB 409, left out some important information.
While it rightly noted that Nodler faced opposition from independent candidate Kim Wright in the 2006 election, it failed to mention that the bill's co-sponsor, Sen. Delbert Wright, R-Lowry City, also faced an independent challenge, from Mike Holzknecht, last year.
The article also failed to note that the bill was quickly shepherded through the Senate Financial and Governmental Organizations and Elections Committee...which, not so coincidentally has Scott as its chairman.

In the Joplin Globe article, Nodler smugly notes that the bill received no opposition when its hearing was held Monday before the committee. Perhaps one reason for that has been the failure of news organizations such as the Globe (and the others across the state) to publicize this bill and the way in which it reeks of conflict of interest.

Gary Nodler: champion of equal rights

Until I read the article in the Joplin Globe, I never knew the truth. Then it hit me. Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, is our area's foremost champion of equal rights. As far as Nodler is concerned, there is no way that independent candidates should have such an unfair advantage over Republicans and Democrats when it comes to political campaigns.

That's why Nodler filed SB 409:

Nodler said he believes the bill addresses “an equal-protection issue.”

"The way it is now is an invitation to political mischief and could allow parties to organize phony independent candidates to tilt the outcome of the general election," he said. "There’s less of a chance of that if everyone has to identify themselves at the same time. But the timing is the only difference. It (the bill) changes nothing else on the procedure by which an independent gains a place on the ballot."

We certainly wouldn't want political mischief, would we?

What we have is a senator who was inconvenienced by having to spend part of his political campaign war chest (which he would have preferred to have used by donating it to other campaigns to build up his political capital) to fend off a feisty independent candidate), filing a bill to prevent those same circumstances from occurring again. Then to add insult to injury, the co-sponsor of the bill is Sen. Delbert Scott, who faced a similar independent challenge, and the bill has already had a hearing in a committee chaired by Sen. Scott, while other, more important, bills have languished in the hopper, waiting for a chance to be heard.

That is the definition of political mischief.

Will third time be the charm for the Globe?

The Joplin Globe is promising a story on Sen. Gary Nodler's spiteful bill to put roadblocks in the way of independent candidates. In its "Tomorrow's News Today" e-mail, it was indicated the story will run in the Tuesday edition, but don't get your hopes up.
This is the third time that story has been promised.
Reportedly, Nodler fed up with the newspaper since former investigative reporter Max McCoy wrote about the infamous Northstar Cinema blowup, is not eager to talk with Globe reporters.

Maximus interested in state Medicaid contract

Virginia-based Maximus, Inc., has its eyes on the state of Missouri's Medicaid information management system, according to an item just posted by Howard Beale on the Fired Up Missouri website:

The historical similarities with contracting efforts by Maximus in other states aren't the only link between the contractor which hired Blunt and the Missouri Medicaid Management request for proposal. On the contrary, state documents prove that Maximus has recently shown an affirmative interest in bidding for the Medicaid contract, the costs of which may well range into the hundreds of millions over the course of its lifetime. Attendance records show that representatives of Maximus were among several contracting firms and lobbyists present for a January 10 pre-bid conference for the Medicaid Management Information Systems contract. Bob Snyder and Jan Ruff attended that conference on behalf of Maximus.

As noted in the Feb. 18 Turner Report, Maximus has a long history of creating problems in the states in which it has done business, including ongoing investigations in Washington, D. C. and Illinois.

Maximus also has a long history of hiring people close to those in power, as can be seen in that Turner Report post, which also notes that as of Feb. 12, its lobbyist in Missouri is Andrew Blunt, the governor's brother.

Disgraced Congressmen's PACS donate $42,000 to Graves campaign

Federal Elections Commission documents indicate Sixth District Congressman Sam Graves has received $42,000 in campaign contributions from the political action committees for three controversial, legally-challenged former Republican Congressmen.

Tom DeLay
The largest share of that total, $35,000 came in four contributions from former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's Americans for a Republican Majority PAC. DeLay was indicted by a Texas grand jury in 2005 for conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws, and has been knee-deep in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal and has seen two of his former aides convicted in that case.
FEC documents indicate Graves received $5,000 from the DeLay PAC during the 2006 election cycle, $10,000 in the 2004 cycle, $10,000 in the 2002 cycle, and $10,000 during the 2000 cycle.

Bob Ney

Graves received $5,000 from former Ohio Congressman Bob Ney's American Liberty PAC during the 2004 election cycle, according to FEC documents.
Ney resigned from Congress in November, after pleading guilty Oct. 13 in federal court to charges of conspiracy and making false statements in connection with the Abramoff lobbying scandal.

Randy "Duke" Cunningham
Graves received $2,000 from former California Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham's American Prosperity PAC, with $1,000 coming during the 2004 election cycle, and the other $1,000 coming in the 2000 cycle.
Cunningham resigned from Congress Nov. 28 after pleading guilty to accepting more than $2.4 million in bribes and underreporting his income in 2004. The official charges against Cunningham were conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud, wire fraud, and tax evasion. He is serving an eight-year prison sentence.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Utility officials: Not much can be done about ice storms

Officials with utility companies are telling Missouri lawmakers any changes to prevent the recurrence of the power outages during the recent ice storm will bring sharp increases to customers' bills, according to a Missourinet article:
Utility executives say they called in extra crews which worked long shifts, but progress proved painfully slow. More aggressive tree trimming has been suggested as a way to prevent such widespread outages, but Mike Palmer with Empire District Electric of Joplin says that wouldn't have helped much. Palmer and other executives say heavy ice brought the lines down. He says his engineers calculated that the ice added up to 3,000 pounds of weight on utility poles, which would be like parking a full-size Chevrolet Suburban on each pole. The executives also point out that any increase in preventative measures would drive up electric bills. They say that must be balanced against the desire to prepare for such an unlikely winter storm.

Union withdraws request to organize Tennessee La-Z-Boy plant

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 175 has withdrawn its petition for a vote to unionize the La-Z-Boy plant in Dayton, Tenn.
Workers had approached IBEF about organizing the plant because of concerns about declining wages and benefits.
Putting in a union at a La-Z-Boy plant is never easy as the tactics used the last time an effort was made at the Neosho plant. The National Labor Relations Board ruled that the company used unfair labor practices during its anti-union efforts. The following information was included in the Dec. 7, 2004, Turner Report:

A federal appeals court decision issued this morning cited La-Z-Boy of Neosho for unfair labor practices designed to discourage union organizing.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit partially backed a decision made earlier by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) which said the company unfairly disciplined two employees, John Phillips and Klint Guinn, during a union organizing drive.
The appeals court agreed with the NLRB as far as Phillips was concerned, but said that Guinn had not been unlawfully disciplined.
The Phillips incident occurred on June 16, 2000, when Phillips, a parts inspector, was called to a meeting with supervisors Dave Harris and Wayne Allen. According to the court ruling, they told Phillips that La-Z-Boy had received a complaint from another employee "alleging that Phillips had threatened to reject products from the employee, thereby negatively affecting that employee's pay, if the employee failed to sign a union authorization card."
Phillips said he had not made that threat. Harris testified he and Allen had warned Phillips about a company policy against union solicitation during work hours and then excused him.
Harris's version did not jibe with Phillips' recollections. He said that Harris did not just give him a simple reminder, but told him to "consider this your verbal warning."
The supervisors also created a written record of the conversation, according to the court decision, and e-mailed it to the director of human resources to put in Phillips' file.
The administrative law judge for the NLRB who investigated the case found the e-mails documenting the meetings that were put in Phillips' file and further said the company took that step to discourage union activity.
The judge also found that Phillips had never threatened the other employee, so he determined the company had no justification for the discipline and could not show that it would have done the same thing if Phillips had not been involved with the union.
The second incident involved Guinn, a parts picker, who claimed he was unfairly disciplined for not telling a supervisor he would be gone on Friday, Aug. 11, 2000.
The judge decided in Guinn's favor partially relying on information about tactics La-Z-Boy officials had used in the past to discourage union organizing and noted that Guinn had been "treated differently" from another employee, who was not involved in union activity, but who had committed the same transgression.
Though the NRLB said that Guinn was disciplined solely because of his union activity, the appellate court said it could not be determined that was the sole reason.

New Blunt client focus of grand jury investigation

A Virginia-based company that already has landed contracts with the St. Louis public school system and the city of Kansas City, is hoping to continue to cash in on the state's push toward outsourcing government responsibilities to outside contractors.
In its efforts to improve its opportunities to land those multi-million dollar contracts, Maximus, Inc. hired Andrew Blunt, the governor's brother, as its lobbyist, according to documents filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission Feb. 12.

Though the company's Missouri work has not created any controversy thus far, it has a long record of difficulties, and according to its own annual report, filed Dec. 13 with the Securities and Exchange Commission, it has been targeted in two investigations, one in Washington, D. C. and one in Illinois...and accusations of providing funding to a relative of a top official was among the reasons the company lost its contract to handle New York City's welfare program.

In addition, a 1996 Wisconsin state audit indicated the company billed the state for $400,000 in "questionable and unallowable expenses" and failed to document another $1.6 million it charged to the taxpayers.

Washington D. C. investigation

Maximus described its problems with Medicaid fraud allegations in its annual report:

In October 2004, MAXIMUS received a subpoena from the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice acting through the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. The subpoena requested records pertaining to the Company’s work for the District of Columbia, primarily relating to the preparation and submission of federal Medicaid reimbursement claims on behalf of the District. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is investigating issues pertaining to compliance with the federal laws governing Medicaid claims. We are fully cooperating with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in producing documents in response to the subpoena and making employees available for interviews, and we have conducted an internal review of this matter through independent outside legal counsel. Based on the probable legal costs of the internal review, we recorded a charge of $0.5 million in connection with this matter in the quarter ended December 31, 2005. We are unable to quantify the probability or magnitude of any other expenditure, fine, penalty, or settlement amount we may incur in connection with this matter at this time.

Illinois investigation
The annual report featured the following description of the Illinois investigation:

In June 2005, MAXIMUS received a subpoena pursuant to the Illinois Whistleblower Reward and Protection Act from the Office of the Attorney General of Illinois in connection with a purported whistleblower investigation of potential false claims. The subpoena requested records pertaining to the Company’s work for agencies of the Executive Branch of Illinois State Government. Discussions with the Attorney General’s office have indicated that MAXIMUS was one of nine contractors that received such subpoenas and that the investigation is primarily focused at this time on the procurement and contracting activities of the Illinois Department of Central Management Services. Although there can be no assurance of a favorable outcome and we are unable to quantify the probability or magnitude of any expenditures we may incur in connection with this matter, the Company does not believe that this matter will have a material adverse effect on its financial condition or results of operations, and the Company has not accrued for any loss related to this matter.

Problems in Wisconsin
Maximus' difficulties in Wisconsin occurred after the welfare reform act of 1996. Wisconsin outsourced its Wisconsin Works program to Maximus and it was a disaster from the start.

The September 2004 Washington Monthly included an article examining the program:

In pitching welfare privatization, Maximus had promised to outdo government with "a professional work environment that is more conducive to employee productivity." Michael thought the place was coming unglued. At least two caseworkers were addicted to crack. Another was hospitalized for job-related stress. A Fep with whom he shared an office went off on gambling jags, staying out at a casino all night, then sleeping at her desk. "Baby, I gotta take a little nap," she'd say, locking the door. He wondered if he were just a magnet for misfits, but the memo traffic in the bosses' suite showed a broader turmoil. Leutermann, the office chief, warned one caseworker was "going off the deep end lately," causing "all kinds of problems about his behavior in the bathroom." Another Maximus worker chased his supervisor from his office when she told him to clean up his files. "I am a Marine combat veteran that deals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder," he wrote. "I lost my head." A flirtatious caseworker, rebuffed by a colleague, walked into his cubicle and bit him.

The article indicates the Maximus operation was a hotbed of nepotism:

Maximus encouraged the hiring of family and friends, calling it an effective way to lure and keep talent. As head of the office, Leutermann certainly practiced what he preached. He put his wife, his son, and his niece on the payroll, along with his mistress and his mistress's mother. The gossip about the boss's affair reached the point that Leutermann urged subordinates not to mention it in front of his wife. In a memo labeled "Rumors and Soap Operas," Leutermann wrote: "Our office continues to suffer through a problem of useless, superfluous, and often insidious rumormongering… MAXIMUS does not have time to fixate on this type of drivel." Leutermann's girlfriend, a senior Maximus manager, was pregnant with his child when he hired her; at the time he circulated the memo complaining about rumors, they had an eight-month-old son. The woman who rose to the number-two job in the Maximus office, Paula Lampley, had her son on the payroll, too, until he drew thirty years for reckless homicide.

And to add insult to injury:

The company spent $100,000 of program money on backpacks, coffee mugs, and other promotional fluff. It spent tens of thousands on employee entertainment. It spent $3,000 to take clients roller-skating and $2,600 for professional clowns. Though Maximus later agreed to repay $500,000 to the state and donate another $500,000 to community groups, the true extent of the waste will never be known because the records were in such disarray.

Roadblock in New York

Maximus' deal with the Rudolph Giuliani administration to run New York City's welfare program in 2000 ended in accusations of conflicts of interest. A seven-page memo issued on Dec. 28, 2001, by the city's Department of Investigations indicated Maximus had a hidden financial deal with Commissioner Jason Turner, the man responsible for choosing which company received the contract to run the welfare operation, and received information to help it make the winning bid. The conflicts were outlined in a 2003 investigation by the New York weekly, The Village Voice:

Investigators discovered a previously undisclosed financial tie between Turner and Maximus, according to the report. The problem was serious enough to jeopardize federal funding for the contracts, investigators wrote. They were right. Months later, after city officials wrestled with the findings, Maximus was eased out of its city deals. Sources said the probe may also have cost Turner a high-profile job in Washington.

The conflict, in brief, was this: A top Maximus manager, while negotiating with Turner in early 1999 for city business, had simultaneously agreed to provide financial backing for a $50,000-a-year education contract with Milwaukee's public schools won by Turner's wife, Angela.

The Milwaukee project was rooted in the same conservative philosophy that guided the welfare-to-work schemes that had made Turner a national figure when he headed Wisconsin's workfare program. It called for the Center for Self Sufficiency—a for-profit company founded and owned by Turner and later headed by his wife—to provide counseling on sex abstinence to students in Milwaukee's schools. The contract required, however, that matching funds be contributed by a third party. Investigators learned that after being approached by Angela Turner about participating, Maximus had pledged to contribute up to $60,000 over a two- to three-year period, the report said.

The new finding was even more problematic because the Maximus aide who spoke to Angela Turner about the project was George Leutermann, at the time a vice president and head of the company's welfare reform division. Leutermann had already publicly acknowledged another embarrassing episode involving the Turners, whom he had known for years from welfare and job programs in Wisconsin: After a separate talk with Angela Turner, he had hired her father as a Maximus consultant. This too occurred at the same time he was negotiating with Jason Turner in New York.

Fired prosecutors had received positive job evaluations

The scandal involving the Bush administration's decision to fire seven U. S. attorneys continues to grow.
The attorneys, for the most part, had been involved in investigations of alleged wrongdoing by GOP elected officials, including Bud Cummins of Arkansas, who was asked to resign during the time he was investigating Missouri's license fee office scandal.
According to today's Washington Post, six of the seven prosecutors, including Cummins, had received positive job evaluations:

Five of the dismissed prosecutors -- Bogden, Charlton, Cummins, Iglesias and McKay -- told reporters that they were not given any reason for their firings and had not been told of any performance problems. Only one of the fired prosecutors, Ryan in San Francisco, faced substantive complaints about turnover or other management-related issues, officials said.

U. S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had named a close associate of Karl Rove, former Arizona Attorney General J. Grant Woods, to replace Cummins. Woods asked this week to be removed from consideration.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Changes made in Turner Report links

The links list on the right-hand side of The Turner Report has been revamped, with several of the old standby links eliminated. Gone from the list are the following:

Yahoo News, Granny Geek, Ozarks Angel, Unwise and Untimely, Lonely are the Brave, Seneca News-Dispatch, Seneca Forums, the original KC Buzz Blog, the original Room 210 News, Street Talk, Wildcat Central, and the Original Wildcat Central.

Replacing those sites are the new sites for KC Buzz Blog and Room 210 News, plus Joplin R-8 School District, Branson Blue Hair, Springfield, 417 Magazine, Area 417, Southwest Regional News Service, and the MySpace blog which I have been primarily using for items more related to my teaching job and my fiction writing.

If you have any suggestions for additions, please let me know.

Springfield blog offers more on how state decisions have contributed to child abuse

The Thinking Things blog, written by a Springfield medical health clinician, has done much to reveal some of the ways in which the state government's disastrous decisions regarding Medicaid have damaged the lives of the most helpless Missourians.
The author's most recent post continues in that vein, offering more tales that scream for something to be done.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Potential jurors face extensive questioning in Texas strip club murder case

As noted earlier in The Turner Report, juror selection began earlier this week in the trial of Richard Lee Tabler, who is charged with the 2004 murders of two owners and two dancers at a Killeen, Texas, strip club.
After Tabler stands trial, his alleged accomplice in the killings, 2004 East Newton High School graduate Timothy Doan Payne, will be tried. More information about the jury selection in the Tabler case can be found in this Killeen Daily Herald article.

O'Sullivan Industries pays Lamar city utility bill

O'Sullivan Industries met its Thursday deadline to pay its nearly quarter of a million dollar utility bill, according to an article in this morning's Joplin Globe.
I haven't seen the print edition of today's Globe, but it is interesting that speculation about the company's inability to pay the bill, grouped with the background information about the company's cutting of its employees' pay and benefits was included among the newspaper's top stories both on the Internet and in the print edition Thursday, while the good news that the payment has been made is relegated to the business section, much lower on the Globe's homepage today.

Globe: Convicted killer could receive third trial

Death row inmate Gary Black may receive a third trial following a Missouri Supreme Court hearing Thursday.
Jasper County Circuit Court Judge Jon Dermott's decision to reject repeated attempts by Black to fire his lawyers and defend himself were cited in the argument before the Supreme Court.
Black has been convicted twice of the racially-motivated 1998 murder of Missouri Southern student-athlete Jason Johnson. More information about that case can be found in the Sept. 22, 2005, Turner Report.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Neosho family featured in Christian Chronicle

Randy and Pam Cope's work with children overseas is the subject of an article in Christian Chronicle.

The Neosho couple's Touch of Life Ministries was featured last Friday on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

KOAM report to feature story on Christina Freeman organ donations

The 5, 6, and 10 p.m. reports on KOAM today are scheduled to include a feature by reporter Doreen Scanlon on the good that organ donations from the late Christina Freeman, a drunk driving victim, did for two people.
Ms. Freeman's heart was placed in a 50-year-old woman and her liver was transplanted into a 20-year-old man.
Ms. Freeman, a Joplin High School student athlete, was a passenger in a car driven by Cory Simmons, 18, Joplin, when she was killed in a one-car accident. Simmons pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter
Under the terms of his plea agreement, Simmons was sentenced to seven years in prison, then placed on supervised probation for five years. He served 120 days of shock time.
After his release, he was required to pay $150 a month to the Christina Freeman Scholarship Fund.

Deadline for O'Sullivan utility payment is today

Beleaguered O'Sullivan Industries has another deadline for paying its utilities bill to the city of Lamar.
An article by Melissa Dunson in today's Joplin Globe indicates the company owes $245,000:

(City Manager Lynn) Calton said that if O’Sullivan does not pay its bill today, he would inform Mayor Keith Divine on Friday morning, and that he (Divine) most likely would call a special meeting of the City Council to discuss the possibility of shutting off the plant’s power. "If they don’t pay, we're not just going to trot out there and pull the big plug," Calton said. "On an important issue like this, we’d need to call a meeting. Hopefully, we won’t have to deal with that."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Feb. 21 plea set in Shafer case

A plea hearing for a former tax preparer has been scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 21 at U. S. District Court in Springfield.
Carrie A. Shafer, 38, Oronogo, is charged with 40 counts of tax fraud. She was indicted by a federal grand jury in September.
Ms. Shafer is charged with preparing fraudulent income tax returns for customers during 2003 and 2004. The indictment came 17 months after a federal judge ordered Ms. Shafer to stop preparing tax returns.
According to court documents filed in 2005, Ms. Shafer had been preparing tax returns full-time since 2002, with most of her customers living in Missouri, though she had some in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.
"Since at least September 2003, Shafer has been preparing original and amended federal income tax returns for tax years 2000-2003 that claim fictitious or inflated itemized deductions for various expenses, including medical and dental expenses, charitable contributions, and unreimbursed employee business expenses."
With one customers, court documents said, "Shafer also claimed an inflated child-care expense credit based on child-care services that Shafer knew had never actually been provided to, or paid for by, the customer."
Because of these and other machinations, court documents indicate, Ms. Shafer's customers received tax refunds to which they were not entitled.
"In addition to preparing fraudulent tax returns, Shafer has encouraged at least one of her customers to provide false information to the IRS at an examination meeting," the court documents said.

April 21 signing set for Devil's Messenger

The first Joplin signing for my second novel, Devil's Messenger, is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, April 21, at Hastings. The book should be on the shelves at Hastings by the end of next week.

Currently, it is available locally at Changing Hands Book Shop and Always Buying Books in Joplin, Pat's Books in Carthage, and at the Lamar Democrat office in Lamar.

I will have more information about the book and the signing in later posts.

Times editorial: Ban leadership funds

Today's New York Times features an editorial calling for an end to the so-called "leadership" PACS established by members of Congress to sock away more money from lobbyists:

Critics in Congress know the free-flowing PACs, as the next big scandal waiting in the wings, should be banned under campaign finance law. The leaders of the House Democratic campaign committee, in fact, have already canceled the committee’s annual ski weekend for lobbyists. Members should follow suit and ban the grossly misnamed leadership PACs as a step toward serious campaign finance reform. "Only a moron would sell a vote for a $2,000 contribution," said one typical House member preoccupied with fund-raising. The comment unfortunately raises the question of what more tempting price might eventually emerge.

The June 27, 2006, Turner Report featured information on how Seventh District Congressman Roy Blunt uses his "Rely on Your Beliefs" PAC to squeeze money out of lobbyists:

Seventh District Congressman Roy Blunt appears to have no concerns about calls for reform in Washington. D. C. Documents filed with the Federal Election Commission by the congressman's Rely on Your Beliefs PAC showed that out of $45,500 in individual contributions the PAC received in May, more than $40,000 came from lobbyists.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Champion lobbyist gifts scaled down

The unnamed lobbyist who was listed as giving $371.53 in meals, food, and beverage to Sen. Norma Champion on Jan. 18 has been removed from the disclosure statement on the Missouri Ethics Commission website.
That lowers Ms. Champion's total from $479.41 in January to $107.88. The $107.88 came from one lobbyist, Greg N. Johnston of the Missouri Health Care Association, in the form of two $53.88 meals on Jan. 29.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Jury selection begins in Texas strip club murder trial

Jury selection began today in the trial of Richard Tabler, Killeen, Texas, one of two men charged with the November 2004 murders of two strip club owners and two dancers.
After his trial is completed, his alleged accomplice, Timothy Doan Payne, a 2004 graduate of East Newton High School and a former soldier at Fort Hood, faces trial. The death penalty is on the table for Tabler. Payne will receive life in prison if convicted.

Joplin fire chief rejects Florida position

Joplin Fire Chief Gary Trulson turned down an offer to become fire chief with the South Walton Fire District in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., according to an article in today's Walton Sun:

After the first candidate, Reedy Creek Fire District fire chief Ray Colburn said, "no thanks"; candidate number two, Gary Trulson, won't be coming to South Walton either.
South Walton Fire District Fire Board Chairman Maurice Gilbert said after unsuccessful discussions with Joplin, Mo., fire chief Trulson, the district will head in a new direction.

Metal detectors proposed for state capitol

An Associated Press story early last week reported Governor Matt Blunt's public safety director Mark James wants metal detectors at the state capitol building.
Under James' plan, members of the general public would have to go through the detectors while lobbyists would receive electronic cards that would permit them to enter through any door at will:

Under the proposal, most doors to the Missouri Capitol would be locked. State employees, media, lobbyists and vendors who work in the Capitol could receive electronic cards that would allow them to enter any door. But all others would be directed to the Capitol's south entrance, where people would pass through one of three metal detectors and send their purses and briefcases through one of two X-ray machines, James said. School children in sixth grade and under on scheduled field trips would not be subject to the screenings.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Goodman, Champion tops among area senators in receiving gifts from lobbyists

Sen. Norma Champion has a good head start on the 2007 legislative session. With only one month gone, the veteran Springfield Republican has already taken in more in lobbyists' gifts, $479.41, than she did during the first seven months of 2006.

Ms. Champion received gifts from only two lobbyists...with the name of one not included on the report for some reason, as of this morning. It indicated she received $371.53 in meals, food, and beverage from this lobbyist on Jan. 18.

Sen. Jack Goodman, R-Mount Vernon, received $372.60, topped by $201.34 in meals, food, and beverage from Brad Thielemier, lobbyist for the Missouri State Troopers Association and $129 in "other" from Catherine Barrie, a lobbyist for the Missouri Bar Association. Those two lobbyists accounted for all of Goodman's gifts. He also received two other meals totaling $20 from Thielemier, both on Jan. 18, and two meals from Ms. Barrie totaling $22.26, both on Jan. 31.

Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, received $229.84 in gifts during January, according to the Ethics Commission documents, topped by $137.39 in meals, food, and beverage Jan. 3 from Patricia Strader, lobbyist for Empire District Electric Company. Nodler received $52.45 for two meals, one on Jan. 10 and the other on Jan. 31 from David C. Hale, lobbyist for the Missouri Hospital Association, and $40 for "printing and publication" from Gary Kremer, lobbyist for the State Historical Society of Missouri.

Sen. Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City, received $132.58 in gifts, topped by a $40 gift from Kimberly Johnson, lobbyist for United Parcel Service.

Each of the four area senators received more gifts than they did in January 2006, with Goodman up from $88.90 to $372.60, Ms. Champion from $83.70 to $479.41, Nodler from $154.40 to $229.84, and Scott from $107.45 to $132.58.

Lobbyists find ways to get around new rules

It should not surprise anyone, but lobbyists and politicians have already found ways to get around new U. S. House laws designed to curb their influence and restore at least a little bit of faith in the political process.
An article in today's New York Times details just how this is being done:

In just the last two months, lawmakers invited lobbyists to help pay for a catalog of outings: lavish birthday parties in a lawmaker’s honor ($1,000 a lobbyist), martinis and margaritas at Washington restaurants (at least $1,000), a California wine-tasting tour (all donors welcome), hunting and fishing trips (typically $5,000), weekend golf tournaments ($2,500 and up), a Presidents' Day weekend at Disney World ($5,000), parties in South Beach in Miami ($5,000), concerts by the Who or Bob Seger ($2,500 for two seats), and even Broadway shows like "Mary Poppins" and "The Drowsy Chaperone" (also $2,500 for two).
The lobbyists and their employers typically end up paying for the events, but within the new rules.
Instead of picking up the lawmaker’s tab, lobbyists pay a political fund-raising committee set up by the lawmaker. In turn, the committee pays the legislator's way

As you might expect, the article contains many quotes from elected officials who have no problem whatsoever with these shenanigans.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Former independent candidate addresses Nodler bill

Kim Wright, Joplin, who lost in her quixotic independent bid to win the 32nd District State Senate seat from Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, is speaking out against Nodler's spiteful legislation that would place even more obstacles in the path of independent candidate.
In an op-ed piece in the Sunday Joplin Globe, Ms. Wright says:

Independents do not have the status or support of an organized party. Often Independent candidates choose to run at the request of local voters who want a voice in their government. Sometimes they run in response to having undesirable candidates in the two major parties. Senate Bill 409 will likely limit voter choices in upcoming elections.

As far as I can tell, Ms. Wright's letter is the first mention the Joplin Globe has had of this legislation.

Hunter, Ruestman tops in receiving lobbyist gifts

An examination of lobbyist reports for Joplin-area representatives shows Joplin Republicans Steve Hunter and Marilyn Ruestman topping the list in receiving gifts, but it appears the two are headed in different directions.
While Hunter, as usual, topped the list with $385.05 during January, it was still far below the $1,007.63 he compiled in January 2006.
Ms. Ruestman, on the other hand, received more gifts, to the tune of $270.83 than she received during all of 2006, when she picked up $214.82 worth, according to Missouri Ethics Commission documents.
Two representatives, Hunter and Ron Richard, R-Joplin, received less than last January, though in Richard's case, it was only a few dollars. Other area legislators Kevin Wilson, R-Neosho, Bryan Stevenson, R-Webb City, and Ed Emery, R-Lamar, were ahead of last January's totals.

Steve Hunter- The largest gift on Hunter's list, $84 for entertainment, came from University of Missouri lobbyist Martin Oetting. Hunter also received two meals totaling $65 from Travis Brown, whose client list includes AT&T and voucher supporter K12. Though Hunter is employed by the business lobbying group Associated Industries of Missouri, he still received two meals totaling $40.51 from AIM lobbyist Jim Kistler.

Marilyn Ruestman- Ms. Ruestman's $270.83 in gifts was topped by $243.37 in meals, food, and beverage Jan. 3 from Patricia L. Strader, lobbyist for Empire District Electric Company.

Ron Richard- Richard's total was down slightly, from $225.18 in 2006 to $210.32 this year, including meals from seven lobbyists, with none of them totaling more than $50.

Ed Emery- Emery received $58.70 worth of meals, food, and beverage, up from $26.50 in January 2006. None of Emery's meals were for more than $15.50.

Bryan Stevenson- Stevenson recorded $120.93, up from $82.09 last year. Most of that total, $107.16, came from Chris Liese, lobbyist for many clients, including the city of Jolpin, Eagle Picher, St. John's, and Isle of Capri Casinos. The other $13.77, came from former Rep. Gary Marble, R-Neosho, president of Associated Industries of Missouri.

Kevin Wilson- Wilson, who had only $48.03 at this point last year, was up to $165.67 in January, with $140 in entertainment from MU lobbyist Oetting.