Wednesday, August 31, 2011

News-Leader editorial: Secure FEMA funding for Joplin

In an editorial in today's edition, the Springfield News-Leader says FEMA funding for Joplin must be secured:

The latest, Hurricane Irene, has brought billions of dollars in damage along the East Coast. The people, towns and businesses there are suffering and must be helped. But it should not be necessary to raise doubts and slow efforts in one area in critical need in order to aid another area of the country in critical need. Washington must increase funding for FEMA to be sure all needs are being met. Surely, they can come to agreement in the face of deadly tornadoes, destructive hurricanes and overwhelming amounts of water.

Steelman: I would defund EPA

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

5:41: Stories from the Joplin Tornado now on

The tornado book Carthage Press Managing Editor John Hacker and I put together this summer, 5:41: Stories from the Joplin Tornado, has a page on as of today.

The book, which became available on its e-store Saturday, can be pre-ordered today and will be available later this week on Amazon. The cost is $19.95.

The following description comes from the Amazon page:

At 5:41 p.m. May 22, 2011, the deadliest single tornado to hit the United States in 50 years tore its way through Joplin, Missouri. By the time it completed its murderous course, 160 lives were lost, and those who survived have stories they can tell for the rest of their lives.

Two veteran southwest Missouri reporters, Randy Turner and John Hacker, share some of those stories in 5:41. The book features photos taken by Hacker within moments of the deadly tornado and details about some of the horrific moments that came to symbolize May 22, 2011, in Joplin, Missouri.

The book includes the following: -First person stories of the horrors of the tornado -Photographs taken moments after 5:41 -The obituaries of those who died May 22 or later from injuries received in the tornado -Details from three hospitals that served the community well, including one that was hit by the tornado -The nightmarish experiences of those who had just graduated from Joplin High School moments before the tornado destroyed the building. -The outpouring of volunteering that made Joplin stand for hope in the days after May 22. -The complete text of the Joplin Tornado Memorial Service held at Missouri Southern State University, including the speeches by President Barack Obama, Gov. Jay Nixon, and Rev. Aaron Brown -The final National Weather Service report -The heroes who gave their lives to save others This book offers a revealing look at the day that changed Joplin, Missouri, forever.

MODOT spends $5 million for repairs in Joplin following tornado

Department of Labor video: How Joplin handles housing discrimination issues after tornado

Video shows how Americorps organized volunteers after Joplin tornado

Audio: Sarah Steelman calls for more tax cuts for the wealthy

Schweich: Post-Dispatch needs to apologize; I love Joplin

A St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial accusing State Auditor Thomas Schweich of caring more about his budget than about Joplin residents recovering from the May 22 tornado struck a wrong chord with Schweich.

The editorial included this passage:

In a nutshell: The governor is wrong to cut the auditor's budget to pay for rebuilding the devastation caused by the Joplin tornado.

That's right. Mr. Schweich wants the court and the public to believe that his budget is more important than helping a city rebuild from one of the worst natural disasters in our state's history.

Mr. Schweich, were he granting interviews, probably would take issue with that characterization, but that's what his lawsuit does.

Schweich offers his response in the accompanying video.

Read more:

Billy Long issues statement on redirecting of FEMA funds from Joplin to Hurricane Irene area

Seventh District Congressman Billy Long issued the following statement concerning FEMA's decision to divert money originally intended for Joplin tornado recovery to areas affected by Hurricane Irene:

“My thoughts and prayers go out to those on the East Coast that were affected by this hurricane. Those of us in Southwest Missouri know just how devastating a natural disaster can be. My staff and I have been in constant contact with FEMA to ensure that FEMA keeps its promise that they would see the rebuilding of Joplin through.”

Running of the Bulls to benefit St. Mary's Elementary School

A Running of the Bulls has been scheduled 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15, to benefit St. Mary's Elementary School in Joplin.

The following news release was issued by the event organizers:

Prepare yourself for an intense run down Main Street Joplin! Next Third Thursday the fearless Mo-Kan Roller Girls and Northwest Arkansas Roller Girls will gear up and roll down main street prepared to take down anyone in their way. The event will start in front of Club 609 at 7:00 on Thursday September 15th. All participants will need to wear red and white. The cost of entry is $10 with all proceeds benefiting St. Mary's Elementary School.Contact us for more information.

Stouffer: Nixon did wrong thing by steering money toward tornado-stricken Joplin

In his latest report, Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, sides with State Auditor Thomas Schweich, who is suing Gov. Jay Nixon for diverting money from other state funds to pay for Joplin tornado recovery.

The state auditor has been looking into withholds the governor has been making in Missouri’s budget, and has found some troubling results. To understand what this means, it is important to know the history of why governors withhold funds in our state and the division of powers between the branches of government.

So far, the governor has withheld $170 million from the state’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget. The budget year started on July 1, 2011, and will end on June 30, 2012. A number of withholds were made when the governor signed the budget bills back in June, several weeks before the 2012 fiscal year even began. These withholds keep us from spending more money than we bring in — a unique concept in state government as compared to those in Washington, D.C. — because we have to have a balanced budget.

In his report, the auditor studied the accounting and legal basis for withholding $170 million from the Fiscal Year 2012 budget. Most of this funding came from education, senior health programs and children’s services. The audit found nothing in the Missouri Constitution to justify withholding this money. It is the Legislature’s job to have the final decision on where funds should be spent if adequate funds are on hand.

The governor says the money needed to be withheld because of the cost of cleanup in Joplin, after the deadly tornado that tore through that community in May. No one is questioning the severity of the damage and lives lost, but there are other ways to fund emergencies, without ignoring the normal process to handle the state’s spending.

The state constitution clearly states that the governor is allowed to make withholdings if revenues fall short of what was projected by the Legislature. However, the state budget director could not come up with any justification for withholding the $170 million. Moreover, the withholdings came nearly a month before the start of the current fiscal year. Since paying for disaster clean up can take years, there is plenty of time to assess what is needed, without trimming money now.

When actual revenues are less than revenue estimates, the state constitution allows withholding money, but not for unappropriated costs related to disasters. But, there are ways to pay for disasters without moving money around. For instance, there was a $159 million surplus in Fiscal Year 2011. Tapping into the Rainy Day Fund is also an option; it was designed specifically for this purpose.

The state auditor’s findings are very complete and very thorough. I hope folks will look at them and pay close attention. We do not want to set a precedent where any governor, in the future, negates the work of the Missouri General Assembly, for whatever reason. If that becomes the case, why even have a Legislature? You can read the full audit by clicking here.

Some of these questions will likely be asked during the upcoming special session. My hope is that lawmakers will take a serious look at what is happening, especially given the budget for the next fiscal year. We must continue to make the tough decisions, and I will continue to serve as a fiscally conservative watchdog of your taxpayer dollars.

City of Joplin to provide information about building assistance program

(From the City of Joplin)

As Joplin residents continue their recovery from the May 22 tornado, and begin the rebuilding process, City officials will provide information about various incentives and assistance programs that may help them in this next phase.

“There are a variety of resources that our citizens may be able to utilize in their home repairs and rebuilding,” said City Manager Mark Rohr. “We have researched different means that could provide low interest rates on loans, opportunities to receive building materials through these programs, and ways to provide assistance for families who qualify as well as developing partnerships with various local, regional and national entities.”

Because of the different qualifications these programs entail, the City of Joplin will provide a matrix depicting the various scenarios and the opportunities that correlate with specific guidelines. This information will be announced early next week, along with the contact information for each program.

“These programs offer various types of assistance, and each citizen’s circumstances will vary,” said Rohr. “It will be important for property owners to review the options and determine if there are opportunities that could provide resources for their rebuilding.”

The City encourages residents to watch for more specific information about building incentives in the near future. Announcements will be made through the news media and also be posted on the City’s website at . Throughout the recovery phase, as more tools are developed to help rebuilding efforts, the City will make those details available through these same methods.

Joplin tornado, other natural disasters could drive up insurance prices worldwide


KY3 report: FEMA money pledged to Joplin going to Hurricane Irene


Bad news for Joplin, disaster areas: FEMA almost out of money

CNN reports some bad news for Joplin and other areas that have been hit by disasters: FEMA is almost out of money:

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate said Monday that the agency's fund has fallen to less than $800 million. With less that $1 billion on hand, the agency is only authorized to pay for emergency repairs. That means that long-term projects, like rebuilding roads, schools and other damaged structures in the tornado-ravaged southeastern states and Joplin, Mo., will have to wait.

While individuals eligible for assistance from those earlier storms will continue to get their checks, FEMA will put other spending on hold in order to have enough cash on hand for new emergencies like Hurricane Irene.

Fugate said he hopes to resume funding those long-term projects at some point, but that Congress will have to appropriate additional funds for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 in order to do so.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Post-Dispatch editorial on Facebook Law: More communication needed with students, not less

Add the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to the list of newspapers who are belatedly editorializing against the Missouri Facebook Law.

That law, which was blocked by a Cole County Circuit Court judge Friday, would have prevented teachers and students from communicating through Facebook or other social networking sites.

The Post-Dispatch, another of the newspapers who never wrote anything about the Facebook provision of the Amy Hestir Davis Student Protection Act until it had already been signed by Gov. Jay Nixon, now sees plenty wrong with it:

The primary element of the new law requires more reporting by school districts, so that potential abusers in schools, few though they may be, are rooted out rather than hidden away.

But those elements aren't what folks are talking about. It's section 162.069, which requires Missouri school districts to develop a policy limiting contact between students and teachers on social media that cannot be monitored by somebody else. That means, most likely, that a teacher can have a Facebook page, but he can't receive direct messages from students unless either the school district or parents, or both, have access to those messages.

In short, the bill's wording prevents good teachers from using new technology to improve communication with their students because of the deviance of a few. It might even keep teachers who are parents from talking to their children using Facebook.
The primary element of the new law requires more reporting by school districts, so that potential abusers in schools, few though they may be, are rooted out rather than hidden away.

But those elements aren't what folks are talking about. It's section 162.069, which requires Missouri school districts to develop a policy limiting contact between students and teachers on social media that cannot be monitored by somebody else. That means, most likely, that a teacher can have a Facebook page, but he can't receive direct messages from students unless either the school district or parents, or both, have access to those messages.

In short, the bill's wording prevents good teachers from using new technology to improve communication with their students because of the deviance of a few. It might even keep teachers who are parents from talking to their children using Facebook.

KOAM interview: FEMA director explains effect of Hurricane Irene on Joplin tornado recovery effort

Tornado survivor ready to get back to work as Carl Junction bus driver

McCaskill discuss effect of Hurricane Irene on FEMA funding for Joplin

Nixon defends withholding state funds to pay for Joplin tornado recovery

Chapman University summer magazine features article on Will Norton

The Chapman University Summer Magazine includes my feature on Will Norton, who had intended to study filmmaking at the school before his death in the May 22 Joplin Tornado. The link will take you to the magazine and the article is on pages 12 and 13.

The feature includes my interviews with Will's father, Mark Norton, and his Joplin High School classmate Becky Cooper, as well as Chapman University officials, and Chapman students who had already grown to know Will through social media.

Chapman University holds memorial service for Will Norton

He never spent a day attending Chapman University, but Joplin High School graduate and May 22 tornado victim Will Norton will always be considered a part of the school.

Chapman held a memorial service Thursday for Norton, who had planned to attend the school this fall:

Mark Norton said it was comforting to know his son had such an impact.

Clips from Will's videos played during the service, and some students handed out gray wristbands inscribed with, "In Memory of Will Norton."

Chapman President Jim Doti said he had followed Will's story closely, and read from his application essay during the service, speaking of the need to take lessons from his life.

"We need to do everything we can to keep that spirit alive – his life, his spirit, and that incredible smile," Doti said.

Trisha Norton, Will's mother, still can't get herself to drive on the street where Will was last seen, though her house is just three blocks away. But the other day, a friend drove by and reported that bunches of flowers had been placed at the site where the tornado took her son. Though she's comforted by very little these days, she said that made her happy.

"We didn't know, but it was like he was trying to fit a whole life into 18 years," Trisha Norton said. "Live your life like Will."

(Orange County Register photo)


Stories on the late Will Norton and his impact can be found in the new book, 5:41: Stories from the Joplin Tornado, which is available at this link.

FEMA delays payments to Joplin tornado area to cover costs of Hurricane Irene

Today's Washington Post features coverage of FEMA's decision to delay payments for Joplin tornado recovery to cover costs of Hurricane Irene:

FEMA said Sunday it will still pay people eligible for individual storm assistance and some states recouping emergency response costs from previous disasters, but it will restrict payments for older, longer-term public rebuilding and mitigation projects to ensure the solvency of the federal disaster relief fund.

The decision affects projects tied to spring tornadoes and other disasters dating back several years and “prioritizes the immediate, urgent needs of survivors and states when preparing for or responding to a disaster,” said FEMA spokeswoman Rachel Racusen.

5:41: Stories from the Joplin Tornado is available at this link.

One hundred days after tornado: Joplin is bouncing back quickly

Today's Springfield News-Leader offers a look at the rapid recovery of Joplin, 100 days after the May 22 tornado:

Bells for classes at local public schools rang in time on Aug. 17, even after nine of the town's19 schools, including its only high school, were destroyed or severely damaged by the tornado.

Two Walgreens stores, one of which was flattened, reopened Aug. 22. The drugstore chain set a new record of 83 days for completing the construction of any store.

St. Louis-based Mercy Health System has announced it will build a new hospital by 2014, after its St. John's Regional Medical Center took a direct hit from the twister.

As of Aug. 25, Joplin had issued 192 residential permits to rebuild and 2,092 permits for home repair, according to city spokeswoman Lynn Onstot. The city has also issued 73 commercial rebuild permits.

Mayor Mike Woolston says he could not be more proud.

"Our folks didn't wait for the help to get started," he said, noting governmental assistance was crucial but crediting self-help for the rapid recovery. "It's the way the community responds that sets the tone," Woolston said.
Our book, 5:41: Stories from the Joplin Tornado is available online.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Globe editorializes against Facebook Bill

The Joplin Globe editorialized against Sen. Jane Cunningham's Facebook Bill in its Sunday edition:

The social networking provisions would hurt teachers who are just trying to find new ways to engage students.

Just as troubling is the restriction on First Amendment rights.

“The breadth of the prohibition is staggering,” Beetem wrote in his order on Friday.

No matter what line of business you are in these days, you communicate with customers and clients via some form of online networking.

Why should teachers be any different?

Transcript of Gov. Nixon's remarks at Joplin Schools Opening Day ceremony

Governor's remarks at Joplin R-VIII School District event

Thank you Dr. Huff . President Micklethwaite.

Good morning! It's great to be here for the start of a new school year in Joplin, Missouri - the toughest town on God's green earth.

Less than three months ago, I stood on this very same stage, in this very same spot, for a Memorial service. That was one week after the tornado had struck.

What you have accomplished in the 85 days since then, is astonishing - far beyond what anyone would have thought possible. Except maybe one person.

When C.J. Huff told me back in May that you were going to start school on time, I sincerely wanted to believe him. Well, he's a man on a mission, and a man of his word.

He says you're expecting 92 percent of the students to return this year. That's a great number -for any school district in America.

And we all know that this wouldn't have been possible without each and every one of you here this morning. Whether you are a principal or a parent, a secretary or a science teacher, a coach or a civic leader, a cheerleader or a trumpet player - your determination, sweat and optimism were crucial to this mission.

It's a testament to Joplin's commitment to its schools and its children. It reflects the strength of our partnership, which has brought every possible resource to bear to help Joplin recover and rebuild. And we're not done yet.

You are helping the healing process for this community, because going back to school means getting back to normal.

So today is a milestone, and a cause for celebration.

We're celebrating the fact that life in Joplin is not a tornado emergency anymore.

We're celebrating the mountains Joplin has moved - literally - in just 85 days.

Mountains of what Joplin used-to-be have been moved to make way for the Joplin, soon-to-be.

It's exciting to see the "Now Hiring" signs popping up along Range Line Road.

And it's great seeing all the cleared lots, just waiting for new houses and families to come back and rebuild their neighborhoods.

A lot of progress has been made, and we're not stopping now. Not 'til every ounce of rubble is out of here.

This hasn't been an easy time. Some of you lost your homes and possessions. Some of you lost friends and family members.

Getting ready for school has meant putting your needs and emotions second, and the needs of your students first. Because you have to be strong for them.

They'll be looking to you every day - for reassurance, for guidance and for discipline.

Some days they'll need a shoulder to cry on; other days, they'll need a firm hand to keep them on track. And as we all know, students rise to meet our expectations.

Today is also a celebration of the mountains you will move in the next month, and the next year, and the next decade. Because much remains to be done in our schools.

We want Joplin schools to be the pacesetter, to lead the statewide push to move all Missouri public schools into the nation's Top Ten by 2020.

We need to educate our children for the challenges of global citizenship in the 21st Century; to rebuild a strong and competitive economy; and to reclaim America's place as one of the most innovative, well-educated and prosperous nations on earth.

Our goal is nothing short of excellence - and together, we will make it happen in Missouri, starting right here in Joplin.

Right now, you are the glue holding things together in the wake of so much loss. In about 19 minutes, 14,000 people were made homeless. Thousands lost their jobs; hundreds lost businesses. A hundred and sixty people lost their lives.

But Joplin didn't lose its faith, or its heart, or its soul.

The schools are the heart and soul of Joplin. In a very real way, you are the key to the future of this community: to its stability, its growth, its prosperity.

When the schools come back, stronger and better than ever, more families will want to stay and raise their kids here. Families like Leanne and Randy Ford and their two sons: Duncan, who's 15, and Grayson, who's 17.

The tornado destroyed their home, all their belongings, and Randy's dental office. In those first chaotic weeks, they did some soul-searching. They thought about moving to Carthage, or Webb City, or even to the West Coast.

In the end, they knew there's no place like home, no place like Joplin.

When families like the Fords stay and rebuild, businesses stay and rebuild. Family-owned businesses like Jim Bob's Steak and Ribs have already started.

I visited the Gambles at the end of June, to let them know the state stood ready to help local business owners rebuild, so they can start rehiring folks so eager to get back to work.

And while we were standing there, looking at the spot where the restaurant once stood, the mailman walked up. He handed them their mail. And then he asked them if they knew where his bass was.

The mailman had caught a big old bass and had it mounted. His wife didn't consider it home decor, so he hung it on the trophy wall at Jim Bob's.

The Gambles actually found that bass in the rubble, and promised it would have a place of honor as soon as they reopen.

I tell that story because it says so much about the kind of friendly, close-knit community Joplin is. The eyes of the world are on Joplin once again this week, and there's a lot of wonderful things for folks to see.

They'll see the transformation of a big, empty box into a sleek, high-tech high school. Thanks to the generosity of people all over the world, Joplin will be getting twenty-two hundred new laptops - one for every high school student.

They'll see hundreds of little kids marching down the halls at Cecil Floyd, Duequesne and Emerson elementary, with brand new backpacks stuffed with donated school supplies.

They'll also see the best of the human spirit in action. They'll see what people with common sense can accomplish when they put the common good before self-interest. And they'll see the unstoppable forces of tenacity and teamwork.

And what an outstanding team we've got here in the Joplin schools.

Educating our children is a high calling, and those who answer the call are heroes in my book. Public schools have always been, and will always be, a beacon of hope and opportunity for all.

No one is turned away. Some children come to school hungry or homeless. Some bear the burdens of poverty and neglect.

But when a child of want, and a child of wealth, walk through Joplin's schoolhouse doors, they enter as equals - both precious in the sight of their Creator.

We must work together to help each child fulfill the promise God has placed in them, and to carry out the sacred trust He has placed in us.

Here in Joplin, we are a team. The team includes everyone in this auditorium, and thousands more. It includes the legions of carpenters and masons, electricians and plumbers who worked around-the-clock to get the walls up, the lights on, and the water running in every school.

It includes scores of business that dug deep for cash, football gear, books - whatever it took to get Joplin schools open for business, even if their own businesses were still struggling to get back on their feet.

The team includes the doctors and nurses, technicians and cooks who have pledged to stay and care for this community until a new hospital is built.

The team includes every family and every student, whether they're living in a FEMA trailer or a house upon a hill. And it includes the hundreds of churches and thousands of pilgrims still making their way to Joplin.

More than a thousand Boy Scouts from across the Midwest put in 10,000 hours in Joplin's schools a couple weeks ago: painting playground equipment, spreading mulch and picking up debris. The temperature hit one hundred and six that day.

A fifth-grade teacher drove down from Central Michigan - 850 miles each way - to help unpack and assemble furniture at the new high school, before her own school was back in session. There are hundreds more stories like these.

Disasters happen every day around the globe. So what is it about Joplin that draws people so powerfully?

I'll tell you what it is. The people of Joplin never acted like victims. Not one; not ever.

Yes, a terrible tragedy occurred, and the losses were staggering.

And you stepped up with courage, determination and true grit. You started looking for opportunities to make Joplin even better.

As great as the needs were - and will be - you never took it for granted that the world owed you something. You know that the only way to get anything in life is to work hard for it. And you worked hard for it.

You put your shoulders to the wheel and haven't stopped. If you did, you might collapse. So don't. School starts the day after tomorrow!

When the world sees so many positive, tangible signs of what your hard work has accomplished, it inspires confidence.

Folks can see that an hour spent in Joplin makes a difference in Joplin; that a dollar planted in Joplin, blooms in Joplin. That makes them want to be part of Joplin's comeback story.

And finally, I think what draws folks to Joplin is that you have made it so easy to help you.

You're organized. You're energized. And you never forget to count your blessings. This is how all good parents raise their children,.and all good shepherds raise their flocks.

I know you want the lessons the children learn in class this year to stay in their heads as long as possible. You want your students to use their Joplin education as a springboard to their dreams - whether they want to be doctors or dancers, engineers or entrepreneurs.

This year, you are teaching them life lessons, by the example you have set.

You are showing them that from great adversity, great blessings flow.

You're showing them that when you get knocked down, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep on going.

You're showing them that hard work really can turn dreams into reality.

And I guarantee you: those lessons will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Not in their heads, in their hearts.

There's a lot of uncertainty in this life. We can't control the weather. We don't know when the first kid will be able to dive into the swimming pool at Cunningham Park, or when the first new house will be finished.

We don't even know how many children will show up at the right schools - or the wrong schools - on Wednesday.

We can't see the future, but one thing is clear. Brick-by-brick and board-by-board, Joplin is rising:
• one life;
• one house;
• one business;
• and one school at a time.

The spirit of Joplin, Missouri can move mountains. Just watch us. Thank you.

PoliticMo video: Nixon says Facebook Bill struck a nerve with teachers

FEMA cuts disaster aid money to Joplin to pay for Hurricane Irene

A chapter-by-chapter rundown on 5:41: Stories from the Joplin Tornado

5:41: Stories from the Joplin Tornado became available online last night at its e-store. Readers can also buy it through Amazon and will be available shortly after that from other online retailers.

The first shipment of books for local stores will arrive in about a week to 10 days.

The book highlights the reporting and photography abilities of my co-author, Carthage Press and former Joplin Daily Managing Editor John Hacker and my reporting and essays, but it also includes a significant amount of information about the May 22 tornado that forever changed life in Joplin, Missouri.

Following is a chapter-by-chapter rundown of what is included in 5:41:


Chapter One- Surviving- John Hacker's on-the-scene reporting minutes after the tornado.

Chapter Two- 45 Seconds- Kelly Maddy's tornado experience

Chapter Three- Armageddon at the Hospital- Emergency room doctor Kevin Kitka's details of the tornado at St. John's.

Chapter Four- Death, Destruction Hit Joplin, Missouri- My essay on the morning after in Joplin

Chapter Five- Nightmare at Freeman- Carthage artist and Lamar native Kristin Huke offers an eyewitness account of May 22 at Freeman Hospital.

Chapter Six- Fire Chief Was a Hero- John's story on Joplin Fire Chief Mitch Randles

Chapter Seven- Death at the Full Gospel Church- My story on the tragic death of Ozark Christian College student Natalia Puebla, one of four people killed at the Full Gospel Church.

Chapter Eight- God Was With Me- Melissa Rainey-Campbell's survival story

Chapter Nine- Back to the Country For Me- Diamond High School graduate Gary Harrall made a momentous decision after his Joplin home was destroyed.

Chapter 10- Laela's Story- Former Joplin Daily reporter Kaylea Hutson's interview with Joplin High School sophomore Laela Zaidi, whose family lost its home, but whose doctor parents continued working to help those who were injured.

Chapter 11- Sarcoxie Soldier Saved Lives at Wal-Mart- John's story on Jeffrey Price, one of the heroes at the 15th Street Wal-Mart

Chapter 12- A Survivor's Story- Rhonda Hatfield's tale of returning home to a nightmare moments after the Joplin High School graduation

Chapter 13- McCune-Brooks Deals with Disaster- John offers a look at one of the overlooked stories of the tornado, the yeoman work done by those at McCune-Brooks Hospital in Carthage, which had to take much of the traffic that normally would be going to St. John's.

Chaper 14- Code Black- My story of life and death in the 15th Street Wal-Mart.

Chapter 15- Missouri Southern Tested After Tornado- John takes a look at how Missouri Southern State University stepped up after the tornado.

Chapter 16- Hall's Half Hour- Michael R. Sharp takes a unique look at the entire tornado as an act of the devil, but at the same time reaffirms the faith of the people of Joplin.

Chapter 17- A Graduation Day I Will Never Forget- It was a day that certainly will stand out for one of my former South Middle School students, Lacy Heiskell, who offers her first person account.

Chapter 18- In An Instant, Everything Was Gone- Iris Fountain tells how her family survived the tornado.

Chapter 19- An Incredible Ride- The first person account of a Freeman Hospital maintenance worker

Chapter 20- The Day That Changed Everything- Joplin High School student Shaney Delzell waits out the tornado at Wal-Mart.

Chapter 21- The Voice of Joplin- My story on the incredible work done by Zimmer Radio which helped hold the community together in the time right after the tornado and since.

Chapter 22- Lucky to Have a Home- Joplin High School freshman Denton Williams' final year at East Middle School was cut short, but he and his family made it through.

Chapter 23- Life of Will Norton celebrated- My coverage of the memorial service for Will Norton, who died shortly after graduating from Joplin High School

Chapter 24- The Story That Affected Me for Life- Shanti Navarre's tornado story, which includes thoughts about the death of her daughter Cheyla's friend, Will Norton

Chapter 25- Tornado Victim was a Shooting Star- My look at Will Norton's YouTube fame and his death

Chapter 26- How Will Norton Led Me to Joplin- Rose Fogarty tells the story of coming from St. Louis to help with tornado recovery and the formation of the St. Lou Crew for Joplin

Chapter 27- Tornado Ends School Year for Most Inspirational Teacher- My feature on former East Middle School teacher Andrea Thomas, who was scheduled to be named Most Inspirational Teacher at East Middle School, but the ceremony was never held...and she lost her home in the tornado

Chapter 28- Calm in the Storm- That same teacher, Andrea Thomas tells the story of how faith helped her and her husband Joe survive.

Chapter 29- Joplin Forever Changed Our Hearts- Tanya Snedden, a volunteer from Harrisonville, writes about her experiences.

Chapter 30- Joplin's Apocalypse Now- My trip through Duquesne and the apartments behind Wal-Mart, including my conversation with the father of Pizza Hut hero Chris Lucas.

Chapter 31- The Volunteer Spirt- Stephen and Della Bergen of Samaritan's Purse tell their tornado stories to John.

Chapter 32- A Return to East Middle School- My return to my tornado-damaged school

Chapter 33- Finding "Hi" in My Joplin Classroom" A special gift survives the tornado.

Chapter 34- The School Year That Never Ended- East Middle School students come to the Fourth Street Bowl three weeks after the tornado for a final get-together, but the belongings of many students remained unclaimed

Chapter 35- The transcript of Rev. Aaron Brown's speech at the Joplin Tornado Memorial Service

Chapter 36- The transcript of Gov. Jay Nixon's memorial service speech

Chapter 37- The transcript of President Barack Obama's memorial service speech

Chapter 38- The official National Weather Service report on the Joplin Tornado

Chapter 39- In Memory of Lives Lost- The obituaries of those who were killed in the Joplin Tornado

Jane Cunningham: A lot of sexual relationships start with "How do I do this math problem?"

In her zeal to save the Facebook portion of her Amy Hestir Davis Student Protection Act, Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, keeps hammering relentlessly on the idea that children have to be protected from all teachers:

"A lot of sexual relationships start with the most innocent text message: 'How do I do this math problem?' or 'I'm going to be late for practice,'" said Cunningham.

It apparently has never occurred to Mrs. Cunningham that more than 99 percent of the messages that begin with "How do I do this math problem?" end with help on how to do the math problem.

In the paranoid paradise in which Mrs. Cunningham exists, there is no possibility that a conversation that starts with "I'm going to be late to practice," almost always ends with a response like "OK."

So to stop the minuscule percentage of teachers who bring shame to all of us, Mrs. Cunningham's Facebook Bill stops all outside communication between teachers and students. The bill has also been interpreted to ban phone messages, texting, and e-mail. A Cole County Circuit Court judge granted an injunction against SB 54 Friday, stopped the bill from going into effect today (Sunday). Gov. Jay Nixon has asked the legislature to remove the social networking portion of the bill when it meets in special session next month.

And that is exactly what the legislature should do.

It is time to scrap the entire social networking portion of SB 54 and replace it with some measures that might actually help achieve the goal Mrs. Cunningham says she wants- to protect Missouri children.

Though Missouri took strong steps toward getting predators out of the classroom in the mid-90s, we continue to have teachers who cross the line with students receiving slaps on the wrist thanks to prosecuting attorneys and judges who don't take the crimes seriously. Stiffen the penalties for these violations and enforce them.

Mandate training for teachers in responsibly using social networking sites and other communications with students and also the signs to look for when fellow faculty members may be abusing their positions.

Make absolutely sure that students receive training in what is improper online or offline conduct, not just from classroom teachers, but from all adults.

Teachers should be held accountable for their online behavior and that is not just for sexual transgressions with students. We also have an obligation to maintain professional standards. If we fail to live up to those standards, there should be consequences.

These can come, however, without the necessity of Mrs. Cunningham's full frontal assault on the First Amendment rights of teachers and students. What Mrs. Cunningham continues to do with the outlandish statements she keeps making in response to criticism of her bill is the process that she began when she filed the legislation in the first place- planting the idea that all teachers should be feared as potential perverts. And this comes at a time when Missouri's children desperately need the positive role models that hard working, dedicated teachers can provide.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

5:41: Stories from the Joplin Tornado now available online

As of about 10 minutes ago, 5:41: Stories from the Joplin Tornado, written by Carthage Press Managing Editor John Hacker and me, is available online.

The book features Hacker's photographs, many taken in the moments just after the EF-5 tornado ripped through Joplin Sunday, May 22.

Other features, in addition to the stories we wrote, are first-person accounts from many of those who were in the tornado and those who came to help this city recover in the days afterward. We also included the complete text of the Joplin Tornado Memorial Service at Missouri Southern State University, the final report of the National Weather Service, and obituaries of those who died either that day or from injuries suffered during the tornado.

I will post more information later tonight.

Jane Cunningham: Everyone else is wrong about my bill except for me

Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, is sticking to her line that the Facebook portion of her SB 54 has been misunderstood by those opposing it.

In other words, it is everyone else who has the problem and not Mrs. Cunningham.

Mrs. Cunningham's news release is printed below:

Today, Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, issued the following statement regarding SB 54, otherwise known as the “Amy Hestir Student Protection Act,” which was passed by the General Assembly on May 12 and signed by the governor on July 14. The measure was drafted to prevent sexual abuse of children in public schools.

“Senate Bill 54 was vital to protecting school students from sexual predators in our public school classrooms. Unfortunately, while constitutional, a small section of the bill relating to communications policies between students and educators or other school personnel has led to confusion in how it is to be implemented. We welcome the opportunity to clarify and remove any ambiguity in the law during September's special session. My office has been working with education stakeholders and teachers' groups across the state for some time and I am prepared to work with my colleagues to introduce and pass compromise language both protecting our students online, while enabling our teachers to continue to use technology as a teaching tool.”

“Studies show that Missouri ranked 11th nationally for educators losing their license for sexual misconduct. The Amy Hestir Student Protection Act will help prevent the sexual abuse of children by ending the practice of teachers with a history of sexual misconduct from moving from school district to district, without their prior record following them. I am confident we will build on this success that was endorsed by all education and teachers' groups and passed unanimously in both the House and Senate to develop strong, but reasonable strategies to protect our students from online abuses.”

Joplin Forest Park Baptist Church members sing "God Bless America" at Chiefs game

U. S. Army Corps of Engineers member talks about helping with Joplin Tornado recovery

Despite city of Lamar statement, Turner Report 2007 post on businessman was accurate

While Texas businessman Evan R. Daniels, who has been promoting a plan to bring hundreds of jobs to Lamar, appears obsessed with The Turner Report (He talked about it extensively at a recent news conference in Lamar.), he has yet to show that any part of my 2007 reporting on his business background is inaccurate, nor have Lamar city officials, who have invested a considerable amount of money in Daniels for the past four years and do not yet have anything to show for it.

This is what I wrote in 2007. The city of Lamar's statement can be found in the previous Turner Report post:

The city of Lamar, still attempting to jumpstart its economy after the 2007 closing of O'Sullivan Industries, received a jolt of hope from the news that Gulf Street Partners bought the old O'Sullivan building and is planning on leasing the facility to Polymer- Wood Technologies, which will hire up to 400 to 500 workers eventually.

City officials should be careful not to go overboard in what it gives Evan R. Daniels, who heads both Gulf Street Partners and Polymer-Wood Technologies. Daniels has a history of making big promises and then failing to deliver.

This was first noted in the Nov. 4, 2007 Turner Report. This is what I wrote:

Lamar residents, still reeling from the closing of O'Sullivan Industries earlier this year, were thrilled recently when it was announced that Dallas-based Polymer-Wood Technologies would take over a portion of the O'Sullivan plant and hire up to 475 workers over an extended period of time.
However, court documents indicate that the last company managed by Polymer-Wood Technologies CEO Evan R. Daniels, Trio Industries, ended up in bankruptcy with disappointed folks in Greenville, Miss, and Kalamazoo, Michigan, who had counted on manufacturing jobs that had been promised to them.
And in documents filed Oct. 13, 2005, in U. S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Daniels' former partner, Robert E. Gyemant, accused Daniels of "theft of corporate property, unjust enrichment, misappropriation of trade secrets and tortious interference," with Trio after the two partners had a falling out.
A description of Daniels' plans for Lamar was featured in an Oct. 24, 2007 Lamar Democrat article written by Richard Cooper:

"Area I of the redevelopment project will renovate an existing 518,000 square foot building bounded by Gulf and 21st Streets to create a state-of-the-art fully automated wooden door manufacturing facility to be occupied by Polymer-Wood Technologies of Dallas, Texas. Evan Daniels, CEO of Polymer-Wood Technologies, was present at the meeting and indicated that he intended to move his principal manufacturing and distribution point to Lamar. According to Daniels, his operation (also known as Gorilla Door) should eventually create 475 new jobs, although that number will be phased in over several months as the transfer is made. Polymer-Wood Technologies will lease its operational space from SEA. Area I is scheduled to begin and be completed in 2008. Total developer cost is estimated at approximately $41,460,000."

According to Melissa Dunson's article in the Joplin Globe, the Dallas company's plans hinge on receiving tax credits made possible by the passage of the economic package sponsored by Rep. Ron Richard, R-Joplin:

"Evan Daniels, president and chief executive officer of Polymer-Wood Technologies, emphasized that the deal was hinging on the economic incentives, but Lamar Mayor Keith Divine said the plan has approval from all the needed groups and he thinks every member of the City Council realizes how crucial the new business is.

“ 'Right now this means everything to us,' Divine said of the pending sale. 'Things haven’t been very good here for business for the last three or four years, pretty much since (O’Sullivan) declared bankruptcy. I think just about everybody (on the council) realizes the criticality of this thing going through.'

"Divine said he’s pleased with Polymer-Wood’s business plan not only because it gets the company into Lamar quickly, but because there’s planned growth in the region.

“ 'There’s plans for as many as four other spec buildings between now and 2016,' he said."


Evan Daniels' previous business, Trio Industries, manufactured doors, counter tops, and vanities, ran into considerable financial problems, according to court documents.
Trio borrowed $108,000 from Charter Capital Management on Aug. 22, 2005, at a time when Daniels was still company president, and never repaid the money. Last month, U. S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlen ordered Trio to pay 785,778.90, plus turn over millions of shares it had promised as collateral on the loan.

Charter Capital was not the only company Trio promised a cut of the company, according to documents filed in U. S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. In 2003, it had borrowed up to $1 million from Merit Capital. According to the petition:

"Desperate for money, Trio Industries Management borrowed hundreds of thousands of dollars from Merit Capital, but has flatly refused to repay the money."
ShareSleuth, a website featuring business news, also did some digging into Trio Industries, and found the company also left a lot of unpaid debts over the years before it finally declared bankruptcy this year. This passage comes from Sharesleuth's Oct. 26, 2006, edition:

"Trio went public in 2004 through a reverse merger with a shell company. Its stock trades infrequently, and in low volumes. The most recent trade was Oct. 13, at a price of $3.50 a share, according to

"Trio acquired an idled carpet plant in Greenville, Miss., earlier this year, according to news outlets in that region, and said it would spend $3.5 million to convert the factory to a coating center.

"Sharesleuth’s investigation turned up several questions about Trio and its prospective value. Lawsuits filed in city, state and federal court in Dallas over the past few years show that Trio has been sued repeatedly for nonpayment of debts. The suits include efforts to collect delinquent payments for office furniture and temporary staffing. The latter case was filed in February.

"In its biggest pending case, Trio is fighting a creditor who is claiming the rights to 30 million shares of stock that were pledged as collateral for a loan and represent a majority stake in the business.

"Sharesleuth also found that two of Trio’s top executives have previously run afoul of securities regulators. And the company’s former president said in an affidavit in March in one court case that he went to the SEC with concerns that Trio was deceiving investors.

"Trio did not respond to questions submitted by Sharesleuth.

"Trio’s chairman, Robert E. Gyemant, previously was charged by the SEC with insider trading. The agency alleged in 1982 that Gyemant and two other directors of a San Francisco-clothing chain sold stock ahead of that company’s bankruptcy filing. Gyemant settled the charges without admitting or denying guilt, and agreed to a permanent injunction barring future violations.

"Trio’s vice president and secretary, Brian N. Johanson, was disciplined by securities regulators in California and Virginia in the late 1990s in connection with the unregistered sale of stock in two other small companies.

"California regulators issued a cease-and-desist order against him.Virginia regulators assessed a $79,000 penalty against Johanson and a $224,000 penalty against his company, BLB Financial Inc. of Solana Beach, Calif. They agreed to waive the penalties if all of the investors in the state who bought shares from Johanson’s firm got their money back.

"At the same time that Trio is trying to get its Mississippi plant up and running, it is working to block a New York financier who says he is entitled to 30 million shares of stock it pledged as collateral for a loan it did not repay on time.

"The suit claims that Trio, in August 2005, was willing to pay $8,000 in interest, plus 200,000 shares of stock, for a one-month loan of $100,000. Trio also agreed to put up the 30 million shares in the company as a guarantee. Trio said in court filings that it was unaware its financier was a convicted felon. The company added that the lender, Beryl Zyskind, blocked its attempts to repay the loan so that he could claim the collateral.

"In an unusual legal maneuver, Gyemant sought a temporary restraining order in January against his own company, asking a judge to block any transfer of shares to Zyskind or his company, Charter Capital Resources Inc. Gyemant argued that he would be harmed financially and his majority stake “eviscerated’’ if Zyskind gained full control of the stock, which the filing described as nearly 65 percent of Trio’s outstanding shares. The judge granted the request and ordered Trio to cancel the stock certificate. The case has since been transferred to federal court, where Trio and Charter Resources continue to trade accusations."

The ShareSleuth article had the following information about Evan R. Daniels:

"Evan R. Daniels, Trio’s former president and one of the creators of its original powder-coating technology, said in his affidavit in one of the lawsuits that he asked Gyemant to resign after witnessing him 'lie and deceive investors.' Instead, Daniels said, Gyemant changed company bank accounts, held meetings without him, stopped paying him and told others that Daniels was responsible for all of the problems at the company.

"Daniels said in the affidavit that he reported the situation to the SEC’s district office in Fort Worth. He said its representatives advised him to resign from all positions with Trio and related entities, and to turn in his 7.2 million shares of Trio’s common stock so he would not be 'considered a co-conspirator in the actions of Mr. Gyemant.' "

“ 'I was, at that time, the single largest investor and shareholder within the entire Trio Industries group of companies,' Daniels said in his filing. 'Every available dollar that I inherited or earned was in the companies as capital or loans.'

"Gyemant, who had also worked with Daniels at a California company called Modular Office Solutions, which was founded by Daniels, responded to Daniels' charges by accusing him of theft of corporate property and stealing trade secrets.

City of Lamar statement: Turner Report hindered economic development in city

O'Sullivan Industries, after a rapid fade in its last few years went out of business, costing the Lamar area hundreds of jobs. According to a statement issued this week by the city of Lamar, many of those jobs would already be replaced had it not been for The Turner Report.

The comments were included in a statement of support for Evan R. Daniels, a Texas businessman, who has been saying for more than two years that he plans to locate a business in the old O'Sullivan facilities.

The city of Lamar's statement was included in news release issued by Daniels Friday.

The news release and the city's statement are printed below:

Polymer-Wood Technologies, Inc. today released an official statement from the city government of Lamar, Missouri regarding its investigations into the career and business history of Evan R. Daniels, Polymer-Wood's CEO. The City of Lamar has been actively engaged with Mr. Daniels and other Polymer-Wood executives since 2009 to locate the company's new manufacturing headquarters in Lamar, a move that could result in the creation of up to 295 direct and 165 indirect jobs across the local area in the first 24 months, according to a recent independent economic impact report.

As a result of the importance of this potential move to the local economy, the City of Lamar provided financial assistance to Polymer-Wood, and undertook an extensive process of due diligence prior to doing so. Polymer-Wood proposes to manufacture fire-rated interior passageway commercial doors for domestic and international markets.

According to the statement issued by the city, its investigation found that "issues regarding Mr. Daniels were resolved in such a way that would not cast any negative light on Mr. Daniels' character," and that "that Polymer-Wood Technologies, Inc. presents the City of Lamar and the surrounding area with a very attractive economic development opportunity."

"The support of the City of Lamar is important to us, especially in terms of its recognition of the potential of Polymer-Wood to positively impact the local community for the long term with our robust business model," said Evan R. Daniels, president and CEO at Polymer-Wood. "Along with the anticipated approval of our participation in the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, it enables us to accelerate the development of the company. Our next step is to work within the EB-5 program to secure investment from foreign nationals seeking to make investments into the US economy for the purpose of economic development."

As part of its EB-5 application process, Polymer-Wood was supported by both Democrat and Republican U.S. Senators from Missouri and other state and local officials, who submitted letters requesting the company's application be expedited by USCIS. This expedited approval procedure not only resulted in a quicker review of Polymer-Wood's application, but also holds the potential to bring new jobs to Lamar and surrounding counties faster. The company is now working with EB5 partners, to secure $30 million in investment from foreign investors authorized to invest through the program.

Text of the full letter from the City of Lamar is included below.

Statement from the City of Lamar, Missouri

RE: Evan R. Daniels

The City of Lamar has been actively engaged with Evan R. Daniels, President and Chief Executive Officer of Polymer-Wood Technologies, Inc. since 2009 in an effort to locate the company's new manufacturing headquarters in Lamar to occupy the former O'Sullivan Industries plant. During this process, members of the city of government, Mr. Daniels, and members of his team have invested countless hours in an effort to see this project to completion. Admittedly, progress has been slow and may appear to someone outside of the process that progress has been non-existent at times. Mr. Daniels' efforts have been hampered by economic issues which have been weighing on the economies of this area, our country, and the world for the past three years. Unfortunately, there is nothing that we can do to resolve these issues except to be patient.

However, there have been other factors which have hampered Mr. Daniels' ability to locate his business to Lamar. I am speaking primarily about negative information relating to Mr. Daniels' personal history and relationship with Trio Industries. This negative information has mostly been produced by a local source, The Turner Report -- an internet blog written by Mr. Randy Turner. Mr. Turner is a resident of Joplin, MO, a school teacher, and former employee of the Lamar Democrat. While I am certainly supportive of Mr. Turner's rights to speak freely through his blog, I feel that it is in the best interest to correct the misinformation that is presented on the blog relative to Mr. Daniels past. We do live in a world where information that may be presented for our local residents is quickly picked up by readers half a world away. This has been the case with this information regarding Mr. Daniels, and unfortunately, it is now hindering the economic development goals of the City of Lamar.

The City of Lamar did provide financial incentives to Polymer-Wood Technologies, Inc. upon its purchase of the O'Sullivan facility in an effort to bring jobs and stimulate the local economy. As part of that process, we did perform significant due diligence on Mr. Daniels and Polymer-Wood Technologies, Inc. I would like to address a few specific issues raised by The Turner Report regarding Mr. Daniels and to also present the information that we considered to refute these claims.

There was a considerable amount of litigation involving Trio Industries. Mr. Daniels' role in the events leading to the litigation was a question that was considered. There were three primary lawsuits referenced. One of the suits involved Trio and Charter Capital Management. This suit involved a loan transaction from August 2005. Mr. Daniels provided a letter from Trio indicating that he was no longer with the company effective May 2005. Mr. Daniels was no longer employed by Trio and was not associated with the events that resulted in this particular suit.

A second lawsuit involved Trio Industries and Merit Capital. Court records were reviewed concerning this lawsuit. Ultimately, the lawsuit was not pursued by the plaintiff, Merit Capital. On March 19, 2009, prior to the City of Lamar finalizing any deal with Mr. Daniels, the case was administratively closed by the judge. The case is now officially closed and any further claims are barred.

A final lawsuit was filed against Trio Industries by an investor, Robert Margolin in 2004. Mr. Margolin did settle this lawsuit with Trio Industries CEO, Robert Gyemant. Despite this lawsuit, Mr. Margolin did go on to write a letter of recommendation for Mr. Daniels in November 2007 again well in advance of any agreements between the City of Lamar and Mr. Daniels. This letter went a long way in resolving any questions regarding Mr. Daniels' character.

While we do know from independent third party sources that the above issues regarding Mr. Daniels were resolved in such a way that would not cast any negative light on Mr. Daniels' character, there were other accusations made by former Trio Industries CEO, Robert Gyemant, against Mr. Daniels. A background search on Mr. Daniels revealed that there were never any formal complaints made against Mr. Daniels by Mr. Gyemant. It was apparent to city officials that the claims made by Gyemant against Daniels were mere finger-pointing and made in an attempt to distract Trio investors from the serious problems facing the company after Mr. Daniels' departure.

It is intended that this letter will accomplish the goal of addressing any negative information concerning Mr. Daniels. It is also hoped that local and area residents are confident that city officials did their homework regarding Mr. Daniels. It is the belief of this office that Polymer-Wood Technologies, Inc. presents the City of Lamar and the surrounding area with a very attractive economic development opportunity. We look forward to the jobs and overall economic revitalization that we believe that this project can bring with it.

Crowell: Special legislative session offers something for every special interest

In his latest Crowell Connection, Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, says the upcoming special session is a grab bag of goodies for special interests.

A special session has been called for the special interests starting Tuesday, September 6th, 2011. The General Assembly usually meets January through May, but for extraordinary reasons, the Governor or General Assembly can call itself into session to pass what it deems as legislation that cannot wait until January. In this case, September’s special session is nothing more than an effort to get right with fat cat campaign contributors at your expense, the Missouri taxpayer. We cannot rebuild levees in Southeast Missouri or make farmers whole who lost everything in this year’s flood, but the politicians in Jefferson City want you to send $360 million in Aerotropolis tax credits to St. Louis. There is literally something in the Governor’s special session call for every special interest, but nothing for the Missourians who have lost everything due to recent disasters across our state.

Senate and House Leadership spent the month of July in a backroom in St. Louis cutting a deal that is short on economic development, short on tax credit reform, but long on government handouts to special interests, creating a larger budget deficit that prevents us from funding priorities like education. And Governor Nixon has yielded to this deal, endorsed it, and is doing his part to see to it that this September will be the “Special Interests First, Taxpayers Last” month by authorizing a special session to:

· Give $360 million to developers for Aerotropolis with no taxpayer protections to get their money back if Aerotropolis does not create the jobs promised;

· Exempt the construction of Data Centers from paying state and local sales taxes on utilities, machinery, and equipment;

· Provide $10 million dollars a year to attract a billion dollar sports industry to host events in Missouri;

· Reward those who avoided paying their taxes by giving amnesty to their wrongdoing; and

· Take money from the poor and disabled via the Circuit Breaker Property Tax Relief at $55.8 million a year or $847.5 million over 15 years to pay for these new giveaways.

This deal that Senate and House Leadership cut behind closed doors, in a non-transparent inside job, and is now being pushed to be passed in special session, must not be allowed to pass. Let me be clear, there is a path to do right by the Missouri taxpayer and I will fight to amend Leaderships’ bill to this end. But if we are to succeed, it will take you demanding that the Jefferson City politicians put you first instead of their campaign donors. It is my hope that together we are successful.

In this series we have been discussing the possibility of this special session, what is wrong with Leaderships’ back-room deal, what special interest provisions must be eliminated, and how we move forward with an economic development bill that puts Missouri first, not connected special interests and lobbyists. There are several issues at play; the past few weeks we have discussed Aerotropolis tax credits, Historic Preservation tax credits and Low Income Housing tax credits. As the special session approaches, we will continue to discuss all of these issues and the changes that must be made to Leaderships’ back-room deal. You will probably learn more then you want to know, but it is vital that you know what is going on with your hard-earned tax dollars in Jefferson City.

To understand Leaderships’ bill, we must look at the smoke and mirror savings House and Senate Leadership are claiming in their bill. To be able to give to their campaign contributing developers, they take the money from the Senior Citizen Property Tax Credit. Known as Circuit Breaker Property tax relief, this tax credit gives certain senior citizens and disabled individuals who rent a $750-a-year credit when they file their taxes. In 2011, Missouri gave out $55.8 million dollars in this tax credit to individuals who rented their homes. Over the next 15 years, budget experts expect Missouri to spend $847.5 million for the Circuit Breaker tax credit for renters. Leaderships’ bill ends this tax credit.

In my opinion, it does not make sense to give $55.8 million a year in property tax relief to people who do not pay property tax. But it is even more ridiculous to give this money to developers in new tax credits while Missouri has failed to fully fund the foundation formula in 2012 by $177 million for K -12 education. This is why Leaderships’ bill that gives the “savings” from ending the Circuit Breaker tax credit for renters to campaign contributors through Aerotropolis tax credits, Low Income Housing tax credits, and Historic Preservation tax credits is absurd and must not be allowed.

I believe now is the time to make fundamental positive reforms to Missouri’s tax credits system to protect taxpayers’ money. We should subject awarding tax credits to a transparent process, where your representatives will have the chance to look at all the things we spend your tax dollars on and prioritize accordingly. In Missouri, the method by which we set Missouri’s priorities is through the appropriation process. Here we ask each of the state’s expenses to stand in line before your representatives in the General Assembly; requiring them to demonstrate why, with limited resources, they should be funded over others. By making tax credits subject to the appropriations process, all state expenditures would now stand in line and prevent them from playing favorites by allowing those who receive tax credits to cut to the front of the appropriations line.

Now is the time for government to live within its means, not spend money it does not have by authorizing giveaway tax credits not tied to performance. Together we have an opportunity to do right by the Missouri taxpayer but it will take you, the bosses of the politicians, to demand the right legislation is passed in this special session. This can be done by taking back our state government and holding Senate and House Leadership accountable; shining a bright light on the problems with their back-room deal and watching them scatter like cockroaches from their current position. Again, I need your help holding these politicians accountable. They are counting on your silence. I will continue in the coming weeks to examine further the issues and changes needed for a “Taxpayer First Special Session.”

Hartzler: It's time for the Senate to get on board

In her weekly newsletter, Fourth District Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler bemoans the fact that the Senate won't go along with the bills the House has been passing.

Congress is in the middle of its August work time in the district, with the D.C. session set to resume in September. I’ve been thinking this might be a good time to bring you up to date on some of the legislation the House of Representatives has moved forward during the year’s first eight months.

One of the first major bills passed by the U.S. House was the repeal of the government health care takeover – delivering on a promise endorsed by most Missourians. Unfortunately, the Senate refused to follow suit and left us with an expensive health care program that fails to make good on a pledge to make quality health care more affordable. On a positive note, a federal appeals court in Georgia recently became the latest court to strike down all or parts of the law on constitutional grounds. There is no doubt this troublesome law will soon end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The House passed Cut, Cap and Balance – a bill that included immediate spending cuts to reduce the deficit by half next year, enforceable caps that bring spending into line with the average amount of spending since World War II, and ensured that a Balanced Budget Amendment would have to be passed before the debt limit could be raised again. This rational proposal would have met the parameters laid down by Standard & Poor’s rating service and prevented the downgrading of our credit rating. Unfortunately, as with health care, the House acted while the Senate failed to act. In this case, the Senate tabled this common sense, realistic approach to America’s budget problems. It is my view that America has a right to know where our Senators stand on issues involving spending discipline. By not allowing a vote on this proposal, Senate leadership opted not to listen to the people and failed to respect the people who are demanding that Washington live within its means.

I am particularly pleased with a money-saving House bill that was given a vote in the Senate and passed that chamber. It’s the repeal of the job-destroying 1099 information reporting requirements in the government takeover of health care. Eliminating this costly provision saves taxpayers $24.7 billion in tax increases and spares honest citizens the headaches that come with red tape compliance. This provision that was tacked onto the health care takeover legislation made a bad law even worse. Fortunately, we have repealed this burden.

There are a couple more pieces of legislation that have been put on the shelf by Senate leadership – legislation I co-sponsored that would undoubtedly aid Missourians and other Americans who are suffering from skyrocketing gas prices that are eating into household incomes. The House voted to repeal President Obama’s off-shore drilling ban on energy exploration by requiring oil and gas leasing in the areas with the most prospective oil and gas resources. The House also passed legislation to establish a domestic oil and natural gas production goal. Missourians and Americans from throughout this country need a break from high gas prices. One of the best ways of achieving this goal is to use the energy resources our country is blessed with and to stop depending so much on foreign countries for our oil.

With lawmakers getting the chance to return home to hear from the people who elected them, we can only hope that the fall will usher in a new spirit of cooperation in which the Senate embraces the good judgment of the House and puts America on course to a stronger, healthier economy.

Joplin Citizens Tornado Recovery team prioritizes community input

(From the City of Joplin)

After meeting with citizens and gathering their ideas and comments through meetings and internet websites, the Citizens Advisory Recovery Team has prioritized the input into a booklet entitled “Recovery Themes: Citizens Preferences and Comments”.

This information is now available on the City’s website at It can also be found at or As the community moves forward in the rebuilding phase the CART encourages all citizens to get involved.

Citizens can also go to to provide their comments on the CART’s forum site.

The Citizens Advisory Recovery Team is made up of four (4) groups, each focused on recovery issues in one of the following areas: Infrastructure + Environment, Housing + Neighborhood Planning, Schools + Community Facilities, and Economic Development.

City of Joplin defines demolition to include removal of foundations

(From the City of Joplin)

Now that the demolition of tornado-damaged structures is well underway, City officials want to be sure residential property owners understand one important detail: Demolition may still apply to you!

“It’s easy to think that demolition only means tearing down wrecked houses,” said Joplin City Manager Mark Rohr. “But if you have any concrete on your property such as slabs, basements, footings, crawl spaces or driveways that aren’t going to be reused; we need you to get that removed now as well. There are more than a thousand lots still out there that have some type of foundation or concrete left behind and we’ve got to get these lots cleared, if applicable, so that rebuilding in these areas can move forward.”

The good news – especially for those who do not yet have a clean lot – is that there is free help to get even heavy, bulky concrete removed, Rohr added. Residents can enlist the help of a Voluntary Organization Demolition Team (VODT) to remove structures and/or concrete at no cost to the property owner. Residents will be required to sign a Right-of-Entry (ROE) form to allow the voluntary agency access to their property. Any ROE that has been previously signed – like for debris removal – is not valid for this phase.

To take advantage of the help from a VODT, residents can call the Volunteer Reception Center at 417-625-3558 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. These teams are led by skilled volunteers from organizations that specialize in helping disaster survivors.

The VODT is just one of three demolition options the city unveiled a few weeks ago. The other options include: (1) Do-It-Yourself, which includes using insurance or other funds to hire a professional, certified contractor; (2) Be subject to City action that declares the property a dangerous structure. In this last option, the City will have the structure demolished, then charge the property owner for the actual cost of demolition and removal by assessing a tax lien on the property. The City prefers utilizing the VODT or doing-it-yourself, rather than removal by the City.

All demolitions – no matter how they are done or by whom – still require a demolition permit from the City of Joplin. The permits are free until Dec. 31, 2011 and are available from the Joplin Building Division on the 4th floor of Joplin City Hall, 602 S. Main Street. If the VODT does the demolition, that organization will secure the demo permit on behalf of the property owner.

Those individuals who are doing the demolition themselves can push the resulting debris to the public right-of-way for the city to pick up. However, any private contractor doing a demolition must haul the debris to a proper landfill.

The City will soon have to establish a deadline date for the demolition and removal of foundations to occur or to notify the City of a demolition agreement or a plan to rebuild on the existing foundation. This is an essential step in rebuilding the City.

State auditor sues Nixon over withholding funds to pay for Joplin tornado recovery

State Auditor Thomas Schweich filed a legal challenge Friday to Gov. Jay Nixon's decision to withhold money from various state departments to pay for Joplin tornado recovery and other state disasters. The following news release was issued by the auditor's office:

State Auditor Tom Schweich announced today his office has filed a lawsuit in Cole County Circuit Court asserting Gov. Jay Nixon violated the Missouri Constitution and failed to utilize established accounting principles when he withheld more than $170 million from state agencies, programs and educational institutions prior to the start of the current fiscal year.

In June, the state auditor's office announced the commencement of a regularly scheduled audit of the Missouri governor's office. As veteran auditors (who have served multiple administrations) reviewed general accounting and fiscal practices of the governor's office, they also reviewed the governor's accounting procedures and alleged legal authority for more than $170 million in withheld appropriated funds. On August 19, the state auditor's office sent a letter to the governor expressing serious concerns about the legality and financial basis for his withholds. The letter noted that neither the governor nor any budget official could provide any supporting data (spreadsheets, ledger books, cash balance sheets, projections, studies, analyses or any other data) to support the withholdings. The auditor's office found the withholds to be contrary to the express language of Missouri Constitution as the governor made the withholdings prior to start of the current fiscal year. The Missouri Constitution states the governor can only make withholds based on current fiscal year revenue data, at which time there was none.

The withholds were made from appropriated funds for: Parents as Teachers, Bright Flight Scholarships, Medicaid, community colleges and state universities, veterinary student loans, the Missouri Film Office, community intervention programs, Area Agencies on Aging (funding partially restored), domestic violence grants (funding partially restored), children's treatment services, the judiciary, trade zone facilities, regional port authorities, math and science tutoring, the Scholars and Fine Arts Academy, the Missouri Lottery, the Missouri Department of Transportation, the Missouri Federal and State Technology Partnership Program (MOFAST), MOHELA Projects, the Missouri State Penitentiary (MSP) Remediation, marine maintenance facility, civil detention and legal fees, Alzheimer's grants, Access Missouri Scholarship, crisis care services (funding partially restored), the Missouri Research and Education Network (MOREnet), the Office of Child Advocate, Boonville Readiness Center, community development corporations, transportation, early grade literacy, industry training, local air pollution control, eating disorders staff & expenses, mediation and firefighter training.

The auditor also noted that the governor withheld funds from the Republican controlled legislature and the Republican auditor, but did not cut funds for his own office or any Democrat statewide elected official.

"Our state has recently experienced natural disasters of historic proportion," Auditor Schweich said. "There is no dispute that the victims of the tornadoes and floods must be fully compensated for their tragic losses. But the process must be legal and transparent. There are many legal and transparent ways to do this."

Auditor Schweich noted that litigation was a last resort to resolve the withholding issue.

"Our office does not like litigation. We prefer matters to be resolved by dialogue," Auditor Schweich said. "I recommended the governor work with the legislature on this issue. Instead of correcting his actions and working with the legislature, the governor has said, 'the auditor is wrong.' These withholding are critical as they will result in programs ending and jobs being lost."

The suit filed today alleges:

Gov. Nixon's withholds were unconstitutional. The governor withheld more than $170 million dollars prior to the start of the current fiscal year without any projections or accounting data of any kind as noted in a report released last week by the state auditor's office (Report No. 2011-43). Article IV, Section 27 of the Missouri Constitution grants the governor the ability to withhold funds only when actual revenues are less than the revenue estimates. At the time of the governor's withholdings there were no actual revenues. Interestingly, revenues for the first month of the 2012 fiscal year, July 2011, actually increased .6 percent over 2010 revenues for the same period.

Gov. Nixon's withholds violate the separation of powers. When he withheld more than $170 million dollars from state programs, the governor violated Article III, Sections 1 and 36, and Article IV, Sections 23, 24, 25, 26 and 27 of the Missouri Constitution, infringing upon the power of the General Assembly to specify the distinct amount and purpose of each appropriation when withheld funds are unilaterally diverted and reallocated.

Gov. Nixon's withholds were arbitrary and capricious. The governor withheld more than $170 million dollars from more than 45 different state programs and agencies. Article IV, Sections 24, 25, 26 and 27 of the Missouri Constitution states the governor must manage the budget in a responsible manner and with discussion with the state legislature. The state auditor's report found that Gov. Nixon's withholds were made without any backing data from ledgers, spreadsheets, Microsoft Excel documents, cash balance sheets or any other generally accepted accounting tool.

"The governor has no excuse to violate the Missouri Constitution," Auditor Schweich said. "He has the same obligation of transparency and accountability as any other elected official."

As the auditor's office believes it is important for the court resolve to this very important matter, that state auditor's office will make no further comment on the litigation unless its position is unfairly or inaccurately characterized.

In Joplin, human spirit prevails after tornado destruction


Friday, August 26, 2011

Nixon to legislators: Repeal the Facebook portion of SB 54

(From the governor's office)

Gov. Jay Nixon today announced that he will ask the General Assembly to repeal specific provisions concerning teacher-student communications that were included in Senate Bill 54, which was passed unanimously by both the House of Representatives and the Senate earlier this year. The Governor will ask the General Assembly to repeal these specific provisions during the special session that begins Sept. 6. In addition, Gov. Nixon will seek input from various stakeholders, including parents and classroom teachers.

"First and foremost, our top concern and priority is and always will be protecting children across Missouri, and making sure students receive the quality education they need and deserve," Gov. Nixon said. "In a digital world, we must recognize that social media can be an important tool for teaching and learning. At the same time, we must be vigilant about threats posed to students through the Internet and other means. Because of confusion and concern among educators, students and families over this specific provision of Senate Bill 54, I will ask the General Assembly to repeal that particular section, while preserving other vital protections included in the bill. In addition, I will be asking for input on this issue from teachers, parents and other stakeholders."

Specifically, Gov. Nixon will ask the General Assembly to repeal statute 162.069, sections 1 through 4, which require school districts to adopt by Jan. 1, 2012, a policy on student-teacher communications and which specifically addresses electronic communications between school employees and students. Under the state constitution, the Governor can add an item to the call for a special session by issuing a proclamation once the session has convened.

Senate Bill 54, known as the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, includes a number of additional provisions that protect students from sexual misconduct and will not be included in this addition to the special session call. Those provisions include:

Requiring disclosure of substantiated allegations of sexual misconduct by a former employee of a school to a public school that inquires about potentially hiring the employee;
Requiring that reports of sexual misconduct by a teacher or employee be forwarded to the Department of Social Services within 24 hours for an investigation;
Requiring annual background checks of teachers
Requiring immediate suspension of school employees upon substantiation of sexual misconduct;
Banning registered sex offenders from running for and serving on school boards;
Requiring school districts to include training on the signs of sexual abuse in employee training;
Establishing that crimes relating to sexual misconduct are a basis for discipline and the revocation of teachers' licenses; and
Creating a Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children ("Erin's Law").
Senate Bill 54 passed unanimously in both the House of Representatives and the Senate during the regular legislative session. Numerous groups testified in support of the bill, including the Missouri National Education Association, the Missouri State Teachers Association, the Missouri School Boards Association, the School Administrators Coalition, Missouri Eagle Forum, Cooperating School Districts of Greater Kansas City and the Partnership for Children.

"Although this legislation included a number of vital provisions, it's clear this one particular section is causing substantial confusion and concern among teachers, students and families," Gov. Nixon said. "For that reason, it's important that we repeal this specific language during the upcoming special session, while we continue to work together to ensure the safety and protection of Missouri's children."

NEA: School districts should decide social networking policy

The differences between MSTA and MNEA are spelled out in this news video which was released before Cole County Circuit Court Judge Jon Beetem issued a preliminary injunction barring the Facebook portion of Sen. Jane Cunningham's SB 54 from going into effect Sunday.

The video also features quotes from Mrs. Cunningham:

MSTA: Injunction offers time to discuss, debate the Facebook Bill

(From Missouri State Teachers Association)

Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem granted MSTA's request for a preliminary injunction this morning.

Judge Beetem found that based upon the evidence, teachers in Missouri use social media as one of their primary forms of communication.

Judge Beetem stated that the law "clearly prohibits communication between family members and their teacher parents using these types of sites. The Court finds that the statute would have a chilling effect on speech."

The judge also ordered that under this ruling teachers cannot be disciplined or suffer adverse consequences for using non-work related social media.

"This gives everyone time to debate and discuss the issue to come to a proper resolution rather than rushing to piece together language that doesn't resolve the concerns of educators or allow time for teacher input," said MSTA Legal Counsel, Gail McCray.

Judge Beetem has issued the injunction to be effective for 180 days. It will expire on February 20, 2012 and will allow a trial before the statute is implemented.

Judge on Jane Cunningham's Facebook Bill: The breadth of the prohibition is staggering

Citing a "chilling effect" and "immediate and irreparable harm" on teachers, Cole County Circuit Court Judge Jon Beetem granted a temporary injunction today preventing the implementation of the Facebook prohibitions of Jane Cunningham's SB 54.

"Even if a complete ban on certain forms of communication between certain individuals could be construed as content neutral and only a reasonable restriction on 'time, place and manner,' the breadth of the prohibition is staggering," Judge Beetem writes.

Beetem said the evidence offered at Thursday's hearing indicated "social networking is extensively used by educators. If is often the primary, if not sole manner, of communications between the plaintiffs and their former students."

The problem of teachers who have family members who are students was also addressed by Judge Beetem. "It clearly prohibits communication between family members and their teacher parents using these types of sites. The Court finds that the statute would have a chilling effect on speech."

That chilling effect and the "immediate and irreparable harm" were sufficient reasons for the injunction, Beetem wrote.

Oct. 14 court hearing scheduled on Missouri Facebook Law

Sen. Jane Cunningham's Facebook Law will not go into effect Sunday as scheduled, but the wrangling over the anti-teacher legislation will continue.

Online Cole County Circuit Court records indicate an Oct. 14 hearing has been scheduled to discuss the scheduling of MSTA's lawsuit against the social networking provisions of SB 54.

Before that hearing, the Missouri Legislature, at the direction of Gov. Jay Nixon, will once again tackle the bill.

In the meantime, the preliminary injunction granted today will last until Feb. 20, 2012, or until the matter is settled in court.

Any teacher who violates the Facebook portion of the bill "will not be subject to any discipline or other adverse consequence if this order should be dissolved or overturned, for any violation of 162.069.4 RSMo which may occur from August 28,2011, through the termination of this order."

NEA: We're happy with court's ruling on Facebook Law, but we don't want the courts involved

Continuing with their we'd rather make deals with Jane Cunningham than rely on the courts stance, Missouri NEA issued the following statement after today's announcement that a preliminary injunction had been granted against Mrs. Cunningham's Facebook Bill:

We are pleased that Governor Nixon and the court agree with our members that this portion of the new law needs to be fixed. Missouri NEA will continue to work with legislators and the other education organizations to find a long-term solution that goes well beyond the 180 day time frame outlined in this morning's court decision. The problematic language in SB54 needs to be addressed by the General Assembly -- and not by the courts -- because that allows educators, school districts and the students we serve to be a part of the solution.

The injunction, it should be noted, came as a result of legal action filed by Missouri's other teacher organization, MSTA.