Monday, February 29, 2016

Some thoughts about my 15th birthday

I don't know of many people who rank their second birthday among the best they ever had.

Most people have no memory of their second birthday, but I do, because I was eight years old at the time.

I am sure I had cake and ice cream because I have had that delicious combination on each of my birthdays and even on the years when I have not had a birthday. What I remember most about the birthday were two gifts I received- copies of the Sporting News and Baseball Digest.

My dad picked me up a copy of the Sporting News a few months earlier during one of the towns he stopped in as he drove a truck for Neosho Nurseries. Back then, it was called the Bible of Baseball and even then during the off-season the Sporting News concentrated on our national pastime.

After my second birthday, I began reading the Sporting News every week and eventually my parents bought a subscription. I also continued reading Baseball Digest for years.

Yes, I am one of those whose birthday landed on February 29. I was supposed to be born March 10, but there was so much to do that I arrived a week and a half ahead of time. Since that time, I have had scores of people tell me how unlucky I am to only have a birthday once every four years.

I have never looked at it that way.

It never fails as a topic of conversation and people always ask me whether I celebrate on February 28 or March 1 the years when I do not have a birthday. I always tell them I celebrate all 365 days  the other three years, therefore it is always a disappointment when Leap Year comes around.

Of course, that's not true, but I never tire of telling people that.

Nor did I ever tire of my students giving me a hard time about being older than their teacher. And now when I have finally reached my 15th birthday and few eighth graders would be able to tell me that any more, I am no longer in the classroom.

Another of my jokes will be gone in four more years, when I can no longer talk about having to wait to be able to get a driver's license. Thankfully, I can go on telling people I cannot receive Social Security until I turn 248.

My 15th birthday was a quiet one. I received a few phone calls, some e-mails, and a few hundred Facebook messages. That is one of the wonderful things about Facebook. It enables us to reconnect with people from all phases of our lives. I have Facebook friends who were with me when I celebrated my fourth birthday as an East Newton High School student, my fifth birthday as a Crowder College student, my seventh birthday as the editor of the Lamar Democrat and my 10th birthday as editor of the Carthage Press.

I was in my first year of teaching at Diamond Middle School when I turned 11 and in my first year of teaching at Joplin South Middle School when I turned 12.

When most people celebrate their 15th birthday, they spend time thinking about getting their driver's permit, graduating from high school, going to college, and becoming an adult.

When you only have a birthday once every four years, you should have already completed those tasks and are probably beginning to wind things down by the time you turn 15.

I am nowhere near ready for that. At this point, I feel like I could return to the classroom for another 10 or 15 years, keep writing for far longer than that, and in the back of my mind, the part that keeps deluding me, I still think I could step on a baseball field and hit line drives all day long, though running them out is a whole different matter. Fielding wouldn't make a difference. It would be almost impossible for me to bend over and catch ground balls, but then again, I never could catch ground balls even when it was easy for me to bend over.

So thanks to all of you who were kind enough to wish me a happy birthday. In four more years, I can drive and in 12 more years I will be able to vote.

And not to alarm anyone, but in just 80 years, I am not ruling out running for president. You may think it is a joke, but this year has convinced me jokes can be elected.

Newman doesn't expect hearing for bill preventing abusers from possessing guns

(From Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis)

As I was driving home last week reflecting on session, I was looking forward to some much needed downtime. I had mentioned to several friends during the week that it was only a matter of time before we experienced another horrible mass national shooting. I was thankful it hadn't yet happened.

And then I heard the news: Hesston, Kansas, not far from where I graduated college at Emporia State University in my home state. It took several hours before we learned exactly how many had been shot. That evening safe at home I could think of nothing else. But finally I had to shut down my laptop and the television to forceably distract myself and to just breathe.

Gun violence is not immune to any zip code. It is not immune to any of us, anywhere. Four people died with 14 injured in Hesston only 90 minutes after the gunman was served with a restraining order which said: “He placed me in a chokehold from behind. “I couldn’t breathe. He is an alcoholic, violent, depressed. It’s my belief he is in desperate need of medical & psychological help!”

The time after when a restraining order is issued is considering the most dangerous for a victim. However most states, including Missouri and Kansas, have no law to remove firearms from an abuser under a protective order or even one with a convicted felony. I have filed HB1595, which prohibit abusers and convicted felons from possessing guns --but for the second straight year, do not expect Speaker Todd Richardson to allow it to even have a public hearing.

Nationwide polling shows over 80% of us agree that abusers and violent criminals should not have firearms. The majority of gun owners and NRA members also agree. Common sense, right?

Prohibiting guns from those already known to be dangerous - a simple measure that would have saved 18 families in Kansas from devasting trauma. It's a simple easy measure that could save lives in Missouri.

Federal grand jury indicts Springfield women for tax fraud conspiracy

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

Three Springfield, Mo., women have been indicted for their roles in a nearly $300,000 tax fraud conspiracy.

Nancy L. Walker, 54, Carolyn Alice Cobb, 54, and Clementine Lockett, 41, all of Springfield, were charged in a 25-count indictment returned under seal by a federal grand jury in Springfield on Feb. 23, 2016. That indictment was unsealed and made public upon the arrest and initial court appearance of Lockett on Friday, Feb. 26, 2016. Lockett remains in federal custody pending a detention hearing on Wednesday, March 2, 2016. Cobb is in state custody on an unrelated case and Walker remains a fugitive.

The federal indictment alleges that Walker, Cobb and Lockett participated in a tax fraud conspiracy from January 2010 to April 23, 2013. The conspiracy allegedly netted at least $297,173 in fraudulently-obtained tax refunds.

According to the indictment, Walker, Cobb and Lockett used the names and Social Security numbers of other persons to electronically file false and fraudulent federal income tax returns. Additionally, Walker allegedly used stolen identities to electronically file other false and fraudulent federal income tax returns. Conspirators used fictitious W-2 information, listing employers who did not employ the individual listed on the federal income tax return, and reporting wages not earned and employment taxes not withheld from the individual. Further, several of these false and fraudulent federal income tax returns included fictitious education-related expenses, which the individuals did not incur and were not entitled to deduct as credits.

Refunds received from the fraudulent returns were deposited into bank accounts controlled by Walker and Cobb, among others, or deposited onto prepaid debit cards, the indictment says.

Conspirators concealed and attempted to conceal the existence of the conspiracy by failing to accurately list the person(s) who prepared the false and fraudulent federal income tax returns, using nominee bank accounts to receive the refund deposits and providing false and misleading statements to law enforcement when questioned about their roles and actions in the conspiracy.

In addition to the conspiracy, Walker is charged with three counts of identity theft and 15 counts of making false claims. Cobb and Lockett are each charged with Walker in two false claims counts.

Walker is also charged with six counts of stealing public money. Cobb is charged with her in one of those counts.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Casey Clark. It was investigated by IRS-Criminal Investigation.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

My 15th birthday specials on e-books, new book previews

I can't say that I am looking forward to my 15th birthday, but I thought I might as well turn the tables and give my readers a few presents.

From now through Tuesday, March 1, most of my e-books will be on sale at greatly reduced prices, including the following:

Silver Lining in a Funnel Cloud, normally $9.99, reduced to $6.99-  This book details the story of the Joplin Tornado and how city officials and the Joplin R-8 School District dealt with it, detailing the activities of such people as former City Manager Mark Rohr, con artist David Wallace of Wallace Bajjali, and former Joplin R-8 Superintendent C. J. Huff.

Let Teachers Teach, normally $9.99, reduced to $3.99- This is a collection of some of my writings on education and teaching.

No Child Left Alive, normally $9.99, reduced to $3.99. As regular readers know, this is the novel that got me fired as a teacher in the Joplin R-8 School District. It has received the lowest reviews possible from frequent Joplin Globe columnists Anson Burlingame and Geoff Caldwell, which means it has something going for it.

Scars from the Tornado, normally $9.99, reduced to $3.99. This book features the Joplin Tornado story as written by students and by me. The students tell their tornado stories and reveal what happened during our first year having school in a warehouse on the far end of the district.

Small Town News, normally $4.99, reduced to $2.99- My first novel is a fictionalized version of the events of October 31, 2001 when the Bank of Diamond was robbed and Diamond R-4 Superintendent Greg Smith vanished. Smith's body was found 10 days later in a pond just outside of Diamond. This mystery explores the story through the eyes of intrusive media members who descend upon a small town.

C. J. Huff and the Assassination of a Teacher's Character, normally $9.99, now $2.99- This book actually received a negative review from a reader who said, "Randy Turner is an idiot with a vendetta against the Joplin School system and CJ Huff. Anything of his is purely biased and exaggerated." I found that to be strange, since I did not write one word of this book. It is the transcript of my May 23, 2013 termination hearing. And I will repeat something I have said in the past- If my hearing had been televised on Jet 14, I would still be teaching and C. J. Huff and Bud Sexson would never have stayed employed as long as they did. The transcript also shows an incredible amount of information that the Joplin Globe neglected to mention in its coverage.

The Best of Sports Talk, normally $9.99, now $2.99- For those who have been introduced to my writing through the Turner Report, many are not aware of the kind of writing I did during my 22 years as a reporter for southwest Missouri newspapers. About 30 percent of my work was sports coverage and from 1986 through 1999, I wrote more than 1,000 Sports Talk columns, which were usually features on athletes, games, and everything else about sports. This book includes more than 45 features on athletes and coaches from Carthage, Lamar, Joplin, Webb City, Carl Junction, Diamond, Jasper, Lockwood, Seneca, and elsewhere.

Spirit of Hope: The Year After the Joplin Tornado, normally $9.99, now $5.99. This follow-up, co-authored with Carthage Press Managing Editor John Hacker features Joplin Tornado stories and photos and stories from the year following leading up to, and including, the one-year anniversary observance.

In addition to the e-book specials, I am offering a subscription special. Those who take monthly or yearly subscriptions to the Turner Report/Inside Joplin (plus current subscribers) will receive a free preview, tentatively scheduled for April, of the new book John Hacker and I are doing, which has the working title 5:41: Five Years Later. The book will feature new Joplin Tornado stories, a return to some of the stories from the original 5:41, Spirit of Hope, and Scars from the Tornado, never before seen photos and documents from important moments in the tornado recovery. You can subscribe for one year or for a month by using the buttons below, or you can send money for a one-year subscription to 2306 E. 8th, Apt. G, Joplin, MO 64801. Please make sure to include an e-mail address, since the preview will be in e-book format.

Those who appreciate the alternative news source provided by the Turner Report, Inside Joplin, and Inside Joplin Obituaries can also use the option of making a direct contribution of any amount by using the "donate" button below.


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Saturday, February 27, 2016

Billy Long: I will defend our federal lands for hunters

(From Seventh District Congressman Billy Long)

From the day my grandpa, “Cowpaw,” took me fishing for the first time; I’ve been hooked on the outdoors. From that first trip, to the all-night bass tournament I entered at Cape Fair on Table Rock Lake at age 16, to my ice fishing trip on Lake Minnetonka a few weeks ago, I’ve been an avid fisherman my whole life. My experiences are certainly not unique to someone that’s grown up in the Ozarks. It’s second nature for me to fight in Washington for Southwest Missouri’s, and America’s, natural beauties so that they will be available for future outdoor enthusiasts.

Safari Club International presents their Federal Legislator of the Year Award to one Member of Congress each year. I was recently honored to receive this award for 2015 due to my efforts to defend the recreational hobbies and rights of America’s sportsmen and sportswomen. Not only do these hobbyists deserve their freedoms defended due to making up a major part of America’s social fabric, but because of their economic impact as well.

The most recent annual U.S. Fish & Wildlife data for Missouri found that nearly 1.3 million sportsmen and women spent $1.67 billion on their hobbies in 2011, which generated more than $400 million in overall tax revenues and supported 28,895 jobs. To put this in perspective, this is more money spent annually in Missouri than is spent on cattle – our state’s third highest grossing agricultural commodity. Additionally, Missouri’s 1.3 million sportsmen and women could fill the Cardinals, Chiefs, and Royals stadiums more than eight times over, and support more Missourian jobs than the combined employment of Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Mercy Hospital – two of our state’s three largest employers.

With my vote this February, the House of Representatives passed the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act, which will enhance opportunities for these recreational hobbies and improve wildlife monitoring at the federal level. This bill to defend the rights of American sportsmen and women will remove federal roadblocks that impede their ability to hunt, fish, or shoot firearms on certain public lands.

Namely, some measures in the SHARE Act will require Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service lands – with the exception of National Parks and Wildlife Refuges – to accommodate recreational hunting, fishing, and shooting. In the place of outdated advisory methods, this bill establishes the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council Advisory Committee to better inform the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture on habitat conservation, hunting, and recreational shooting trends.

The SHARE Act also permanently bans the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating ammunition and fishing tackle based on their lead contents. It will increase state level authorities for funding shooting ranges on public lands and encourages federal, state, and local government coordination to maintain them. Moreover, it also protects farmers from federal law misinterpretations and creates increased considerations for outdoor recreation activities when adding new lands to the National Wildlife Refuge System.

As shown in my support for the SHARE Act, I place a high priority on working to protect America’s wildlife and natural resources. But, we must not forget that in addition to conservation concerns, our nation’s sportsmen and women represent a very engaged and prosperous segment of the overall U.S. economy and social fabric. Going forward, I will continue defending our federal lands for present and future outdoor hobbyists’ to appreciate just as I did growing up in the Ozarks.

Six years in Washington and Billy Long can't recognize lobbyists

The people handling financial disclosure reports for Seventh District Congressman Billy Long seem to have a hard time recognizing lobbyists.

Long's quarterly disclosure report, filed in January with the Federal Election Commission, features six instances in which the job of contributors could not be identified.

The six were labeled "information requested." Five of them were lobbyists and the sixth was an auctioneer. The five lobbyists contributed $5,500 to Long.

Long and/or his staff was unable to identify the occupations of the following contributors:

*Jeffrey Kimball- Kimball is the head of Jeffrey J. Kimball and Associates, a lobbying firm that represents medical and pharmaceutical interests. $2,000

*Tim McGivern- McGivern, a former lobbyist for AT&T, now works for the Ogilvy Group, which represents Ameren, AFLAC, AstraZeneca, AT&T, Pfizer, and Verizon.

*Daniel McCarthy- McCarthy lobbies for the Ingram Group, which represents energy interests. He was a former aide in the George W. Bush White House and a former Anheuser-Busch execuive. $1,000

*Christopher Giblin- You would think Long would definitely recognize this lobbyist who works for Ogilvy Government Relations, a firm that represents the Poker Player Alliance, AFLAC, AT&Tand Pfizer, among other clients. $1,000

*Tiffany Moore- Moore was recognized last year as the Government Relations Group's Lobbyist of the Year. $1,000

Long's report included plenty of donors that were instantly recognizable, including the following:

Windstream Corporation $2,000
Hunton & Williams (law firm that helps companies outsource jobs) $1,000
Fluor Corporation $1,500
National Beer Wholesalers $2,500
Anthem Insuracne $3,000
United Health Group, Inc. $2,500
Cerner $3,500
Dealers Election Action Committee $5,000
Honeywell $3,000
McDonald's $1,000
Boeing $10,000
Charter Communications $1,000
Auto Care Association $1,000
XCel Energy $1,000
United Technologies $1,000
Burns and McDonnell $1,000
Amgen $2,000
Biotechnology Industry Organization $3,500
Verizon $4,000
Exelon Corp. $2,000
Vertex Pharmaceuticals $1,000
National Cable and Telecommunication $3,500
Marathon Petroleum $2,500
National Emergency Medicine $3,500
Enterprise Holdings $5,000
Boeing $3,000
Bryan Cave $2,750
Koch Industries $500
BSNF Railway $2,000

Connect2Culture sends questionable survey to R-8 Board candidates

Candidates for the Joplin R-8 Board of Education received surveys earlier this month from Connect2Culture that claim to be totally non-partisan, but then again you have to consider the source.

The questions were sent by Connect2Culture President and CFO Clifford Wert, the former head of the Joplin Progress Committee, representing a board that, according to its website, includes former R-8 Superintendent C. J. Huff among its members.

Wert, a resident of the Webb City R-7 School District, was the first citizen to question Interim Superintendent Norm Ridder at his introductory press conference, asking him about his leadership philosophy, seeming to want to know if he was going to go about running the district with the same policies as Huff.

In the message to the candidates, Wert notes that IRS regulations do not allow Connect2Culture, a 501c3 organization to endorse candidates, which raises the question of what would be the purpose of collecting the information.

501c3 groups are allowed to provide information as long as it has done in a non-partisan fashion, but this seems to be another way for the former Joplin Progress Committee members, who are already pouring money into the board of education campaign to spread the word about which candidates they should support.

This could easily be done through use of the intertwining organizations that have attempted to push through their vision of what Joplin should be no matter what the costs, including Citizens Advisory Recovery Team and Bright Futures Joplin.

The text of Wert's message is printed below:

I am writing to you in my role as President and CFO of Connect2Culture. We view the upcoming April election to be crucial to Joplin’s future and to our ongoing efforts of growing the cultural offerings for our City and its citizens, especially our succeeding generations represented by our children and students.

The views of all candidates are extremely important to the Board of Connect2Culture and the constituency of those who support our efforts and pay attention to our various forms of communication. As a 501c3, Connect2Culture cannot and will not endorse any one candidate over another.

Therefore, we request your written response to the following questions. Please remit those responses directly back to me and copy our Community Arts Director, Emily Frankoski, who is copied on this email by March 7, 2016.

1. State your vision for student participation through the Joplin Schools in the varied aspects of cultural arts in Joplin.

2. Are you supportive of the School-Community Partnership proposed by Connect2Culture at the November 2014 School Board meeting? If yes, why? If no, why not? Please explain/elaborate.

3. How do you see the Joplin Schools partnering with Connect2Culture’s efforts to establish an Arts, Entertainment, Education, and Historic District from 7th to 10th Streets from Joplin to Wall Avenues?

4. What other open-end comments regarding cultural arts in Joplin would you like to make?

Thank you for your desire to serve our community and its students. We look forward to receipt of your reply. If you would like to meet with me personally to garner additional information that would potentially assist in your response, please reply to this email and we’ll coordinate a date and time.

Clifford Wert

What purpose could this letter have other than to provide information that could influence voters?

If merger falls through, Empire will have to pay $53 million to Canadian company

A number of risks associated with the proposed merger between Joplin-based Empire District Electric Company and Algonquin were spelled out in a Form 10-K report filed Friday with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The SEC requires these reports so investors can know about potential risks and buried toward the end of the report is a mention that if the merger falls apart for some reason, Empire District Electric Company will have to pay $53 million to Liberty Utilities, the U. S. branch of Canadian-based Algonquin.

That would seem to be the kind of poison pill designed to force stockholders to approve the deal.

The risks associated with the merger are printed below:

Empire and its subsidiaries will be subject to business uncertainties and contractual restrictions while the Merger is pending that could adversely affect our financial results.

Uncertainty about the effect of the Merger on employees or vendors and others may have an adverse effect on us. Although we intend to take steps designed to reduce any adverse effects, these uncertainties may impair Empire and its subsidiaries' ability to attract, retain and motivate key personnel until the Merger is completed, and could cause vendors and others that deal with us to seek to change existing business relationships. Employee retention and recruitment may be particularly challenging prior to the completion of the Merger, as current employees and prospective employees may experience uncertainty about their future roles with the combined company. If, despite our retention and recruiting efforts, key employees depart or fail to accept employment with Empire or its subsidiaries due to the uncertainty and difficulty of integration or a desire not to remain with the combined company, our business operations and financial results could be adversely affected.

We expect that matters relating to the Merger, including cooperation with APUC's financing and integration-related issues will place a significant burden on management, employees and internal resources, which could otherwise have been devoted to other business opportunities. The diversion of management time on Merger-related issues could materially affect our financial results.

In addition, the Merger Agreement restricts Empire and its subsidiaries, without Liberty's prior written consent, from taking specified actions until the Merger occurs or the Merger Agreement is terminated, including, without limitation: (i) making certain material acquisitions and dispositions of assets or businesses; (ii) making any capital expenditures in excess of specified amounts; (iii) incurring indebtedness, subject to certain exceptions; (iv) issuing equity or equity equivalents; and (v) paying quarterly cash dividends in excess of current levels. These restrictions may prevent us from pursuing otherwise attractive business opportunities and making other changes to our business prior to consummation of the Merger or termination of the Merger Agreement.

Failure to complete the Merger could negatively impact Empire and/or the market price of our common stock.
There can be no assurance that the Merger will occur. Failure to complete the Merger may negatively impact the future trading price of our common stock. If the Merger is not completed, the market price of our common stock may decline to the extent that the current market price of our common stock reflects a market assumption that there is a high probability that the Merger will be completed. Additionally, if the Merger is not completed, we will have incurred significant costs, as well as the diversion of the time and attention of management. A failure to complete the Merger may also result in negative publicity, litigation against Empire or our directors and officers, and a negative impression of us in the investment community. The occurrence of any of these events individually or in combination could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition, results of operations and our stock price.

Empire and Liberty may be unable to obtain the required shareholder, governmental, regulatory, and other consents and approvals required to complete the Merger or, in order to receive such consents or approvals, the governmental or regulatory entities may impose restrictions or conditions that could cause a termination of the Merger Agreement.

The closing of the Merger is subject to certain conditions, including, among others, (i) approval of Empire shareholders representing a majority of the outstanding shares of Empire common stock, (ii) expiration or termination of the applicable Hart-Scott-Rodino Act waiting period and receipt of all required regulatory approvals and consents, including from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, the Arkansas Public Service Commission, the Kansas Corporation Commission, the Missouri Public Service Commission, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which approvals and consents shall not, individually or in the aggregate, have or be reasonably likely to have a material adverse effect on the business, properties, financial condition or results of operations of Liberty Utilities Co. and its subsidiaries (including for such purpose, Empire and its subsidiaries), taken as a whole, (iii) the absence of any law or judgment that prevents, makes illegal or prohibits the closing of the Merger, (iv) the absence of any material adverse effect with respect to Empire and (v) subject to certain exceptions, the accuracy of the representations and warranties of, and compliance with covenants by, each of the parties to the Merger Agreement. The shareholder, governmental, regulatory, and other consents and approvals required to consummate the Merger may not be obtained at all, or may not be obtained on the proposed terms and schedules as contemplated by the parties. A substantial delay in obtaining the required shareholder, governmental, regulatory, and other consents and approvals or the imposition of unfavorable terms, conditions or restrictions contained in such approvals or consents could prevent or delay the completion of the Merger. Additionally, if certain closing conditions are not satisfied prior to the outside date specified in the Merger Agreement, either Empire or Liberty could be permitted to terminate the Merger Agreement and not consummate the Merger.

In the event that the Merger Agreement is terminated prior to the completion of the Merger, we could incur significant transaction costs that could materially impact our financial performance and results of operations.

In connection with entering into the Merger Agreement, Empire has incurred approximately $0.2 million of transaction costs as of December 31, 2015. We expect that the total transaction costs will be approximately $15 to $17 million, with approximately 50% payable in 2016 (assuming a 2017 closing date), of which approximately $4.5 million will be incurred in the first quarter of 2016. The Merger Agreement provides that upon termination of the Merger Agreement under certain specified circumstances, we will be required to pay Liberty a termination fee of $53.0 million. Any fees due as a result of termination could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations, financial condition, and our stock price.

Potential future litigation against Empire and our directors challenging the Merger may prevent the Merger from being completed within the anticipated timeframe.

Empire and/or our directors may potentially be named as defendants in lawsuits filed on behalf of public shareholders challenging the Merger and potentially seeking, among other things, to enjoin the defendants from consummating the Merger on the agreed-upon terms. We will incur significant transaction costs, including legal, filing, printing, and other costs relating to any litigation. If a plaintiff in a potential lawsuit or any other litigation that may be filed is successful in obtaining an injunction prohibiting the parties from completing the Merger on the terms contemplated by the Merger Agreement, the injunction will cause us to incur significant expense and may prevent the completion of the Merger in the expected timeframe or altogether.

Ron Richard co-sponsors bill to allow Empire District Electric to set its own rates

Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin is co-sponsoring a bill that would allow Empire District Electric Company and other utility companies to set their own rates.

The bill, SB 1028, would keep the companies from having to go through the formality of sending a rate increase request to the Public Service Commission and allowing public comment on the proposals.

Since it has been a rare occasion when the Public Service Commission has stopped a rate increase, the main purpose of this legislation appears to be to allow Empire District Electric Company, Ameren, and Kansas City Power and Light to be able to raise their rates immediately rather than allowing customers to have their say.

While the bill's sponsor, Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, represents a district that includes Kansas City Power and Light and Richard represents a district that includes Empire District Electric Company, both of them also represent the customers of those utilities.

The difference appears to be that Richard receives far more money from the utility companies than he does from the customers who can ill afford continuous rate hikes and who cannot afford to use their money to pad their senator's campaign account.

Missouri Ethics Commission records show that Richard received $16,500 during the last three months of 2015 from the utilities- $11,500 from Ameren and $5,000 from Empire.

Since October 1, 2013, the senator has received $20,500 from Ameren, $15,000 from Empire District Electric Company, and $11,000 from Kansas City Power and Light, for a total of $46,500.

Is it any wonder that Richard was so adamant recently that no bills would be debated in the Senate that would put any limits on campaign contributions?

Under the limits that were in effect in 2007 when Richard and his fellow legislators overruled the will of the people and tossed out contribution limits, the most any of the companies could have given to Richard over the two-year period would have been $1,300.

The question also remains- why is there a need for Richard to collect campaign money when he is in the last two years of his final term? His campaign account is set up for a supposed statewide race for an unnamed office in 2020, but the odds against that happening are prohibitive.

And no one believes anyone is giving money to Ron Richard so he can run for an office four years from now.

The bill's sponsor, Silvey, the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy, and the Environment Committee, received $10,500 from the three companies during the last three months of 2015, $5,000 from Ameren, $3,000 from Empire District Electric Company, and $2,500 from Kansas City Power and Light.

During the previous two years, Silvey's campaign reports show he received a total of $10,000 from the companies, $7,000 from the local KCPL, $2,500 from Ameren, and $500 from Empire District Electric Company.

Another co-sponsor of the bill, Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, vice-chairman of the Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy, and the Environment Committee, has received $19,500 from the three companies over the past two years with $17,500 coming from Ameren and $2,000 from Empire. Emery built a close relationship with Ameren during his time as head of the House Energy Committee, when he helped shepherd Ameren-approved bills through the committee.

Emery was recently quoted as saying he looks upon lobbyists as extra staff members who can provide research and information on prospective bills.

In 2015, Emery received $371.02 in gifts from his "staff members" from Ameren, including five meals and $250 worth of St. Louis Cardinals' tickets.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Empire District Electric: Sale/merger will lower profits for 2016

(From Empire District Electric Company)

The Empire District Electric Company announced today that the Company expects full-year 2016 earnings to be an estimated $0.10 to $0.12 per share lower than the guidance provided on February 4, 2016, reflecting the impact of transaction costs that will be associated with the Agreement and Plan of Merger with Liberty Utilities, a subsidiary of Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp. 

 Empire expects to incur total transaction costs of approximately $15 to $17 million, with approximately 50% payable in 2016 (assuming a 2017 closing date), of which approximately $4.5 million will be incurred in the first quarter of 2016. The Company’s original weather normalized range of $1.38 to $1.54 per share assumed 30-year average weather, overall system energy growth of less than 1%, an October 1, 2016 effective date for the pending Missouri rate case at the filed amount of $33.4 million, and increased operating costs, driven by costs related to its Riverton combined cycle project.

The Company’s updated 2016 weather normalized earnings guidance range, including the effects of the merger transaction, is $1.26 to $1.44 per share. Other factors that may impact earnings include variations in customer growth and usage projections, unanticipated or unplanned events that may impact operating and maintenance costs and the impact of actual rate case results or transaction costs differing from our assumptions. The effects of assumptions and other factors evaluated for the purpose of providing guidance are not necessarily independent of one another, and the combination of effects can cause individual impacts smaller or larger than the indicated guidance range.

As stated in our February 9, 2016 news release, Empire’s customers’ rates will remain unaffected by the transaction.

Based in Joplin, Missouri, The Empire District Electric Company (NYSE:EDE) is an investor-owned, regulated utility providing electric, natural gas (through its wholly owned subsidiary, The Empire District Gas Company) and water service, with approximately 218,000 customers in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. A subsidiary of the Company also provides fiber optic services.

Tom Flanigan files for Jasper County Commission

Term-limited Rep. Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage, filed for Eastern District Jasper County Commissioner today.

Flanigan is the fourth candidate to file for the seat, along with Jim Lessy, Gayle Cline,abd Dale Dintaman.

The incumbent, Jim Honey, has said he will not seek re-election.

Others who have filed for office include the following:

Assessor- Connie Hoover

Treasurer- Denise Rohr

Western District County Commissioner- Darieus Adams

Public Administrator- Angie Casavecchia

Sheriff- Randee Kaiser

Joplin NEA endorses Martucci, Musser, Sloan for R-8 Board of Education

(From Joplin NEA)

The JNEA BoE candidate interview committee has chosen the following three candidates to endorse for the April BoE elections:

3 year- Jennifer Martucci 
2 year- Lori Musser 
1 year- Chris Sloan

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Suspect in Joplin woman's murder has lengthy criminal history in Missouri, Oklahoma

James Warren Henneha, arrested earlier this week and charged with first degree murder in connection with the January 22 death of his girlfriend, Tonya Crawford, 38,Joplin, has a lengthy criminal background in Missouri and Oklahoma, including charges of assault and making meth.

An emergency protection order was issued against him by an Oklahoma court 10 years ago.

It was in Oklahoma where Henneha, 36, was arrested and returned to Joplin to stand trial for allegedly strangling Crawford. He is being held in the Jasper County Jail with bond set at $100,000, including $25,000 cash.

Oklahoma court records show Henneha pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a controlled dangerous substance (methamphetamine) on April 3, 2002. A charge of endeavoring to manufacture methamphetamine was dropped as part of a plea bargain. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with all but one year suspended. He spent that year in the Alfalfa County Jail.

Henneha's brush with the law did not steer him in the right direction. Court records show he was again charged with drug-related crimes in Alfalfa County on June 27, 2003. He pleaded guilty to theft of anhydrous ammonia, which is used in meth production, as well as a related charge. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison, with all but the first five years suspended. Henneha's sentence began October 2, 2003, but his five year sentence ended one year and nine months later when he was placed on probation on June 28, 2005.

On October 3, 2006, an emergency protection order was issued against Henneha by an Alfalfa County judge keeping him from coming anywhere near a woman and her daughter.

A motion was filed on June 18, 2007, to revoke Henneha's probation, but the motion was dismissed November 28, 2007, according to court records.

Henneha entered a guilty plea November 21, 2013, in Barton County Circuit Court to a misdemeanor charge of assault in the third degree. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

The Jasper County Sheriff's Department arrested Henneha August 15, 2014, for driving while intoxicated.

Joplin Police Department records show Henneha was arrested January 15, 2016, and November 22, 2014 for driving while suspended and May 21, 2015 for possession of drug paraphernalia.

Principals vote 13-2 to allow Joplin to enter Central Ozark Conference

Only one more obstacle stands in the way of Joplin being accepted into the Central Ozark Conference.

The conference's principals voted 13-2 earlier this month to admit Joplin, which would enter the COC as its biggest school.

The only votes cast against Joplin came from Republic and Bolivar.

If conference superintendents approve, Joplin will be part of the conference's large school division joining Branson, Carl Junction, Neosho, Nixa, Ozark, Republic, Webb City, and Willard.

Currently, Nixa is the biggest school in the conference, but its enrollment is 500 less than Joplin's.

Former Christian County sheriff sentenced for stealing, money laundering

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

The former sheriff of Christian County, Mo., was sentenced in federal court today for embezzling county funds and for his role in laundering the proceeds of a political supporter’s investment fraud scheme.

Joseph “Joey” Edward Kyle, 54, of Ozark, Mo., was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Beth Phillips to one year and one day in federal prison. The court also ordered Kyle to pay $50,290 in restitution to Christian County and forfeit to the government a money judgment of $71,640, representing the proceeds he received from his criminal conduct. Kyle must disclose and surrender any and all property that was purchased with county funds, including firearms, ammunition, vehicles, equipment, preserved food (meals-ready-to-eat) and other supplies.

On May 20, 2015, Kyle pleaded guilty to one count of embezzling from Christian County and one count of participating in a money-laundering conspiracy. As required under the terms of his plea agreement, Kyle resigned his office as sheriff of Christian County, to which he was elected in 2008 and reelected in 2012.

Christian County Embezzlement

Kyle admitted that he embezzled $50,290 from Christian County. Kyle submitted 22 fraudulent invoices and purchase orders to the county for goods and services that were never provided between Jan. 1, 2011, and Oct. 14, 2014.

Kyle submitted those requisitions on behalf of EDI Plus, LLC, in Nixa, Mo. EDI was awarded a contract by the county to provide equipment – including firearms and ammunition – for the sheriff’s department from 2011 to 2014. Kyle received cash from EDI for his personal use then submitted fraudulent requisitions for goods and services purportedly supplied by EDI. In reality, no goods or services were provided; instead, these requisitions repaid EDI for the money Kyle personally received.

Pretrial Diversion Agreement: Stephen R. Eidson

Stephen R. Eidson, the owner of EDI, has not been charged in relation to Kyle’s theft of public funds but has entered into a pretrial diversion agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Eidson acknowledged his role aiding and abetting Kyle in the fraud scheme in which Christian County taxpayers repaid EDI for the personal funds that he had provided to Kyle. In return, Eidson obtained the continued business of the Christian County Sheriff’s Department.

Under the terms of the pretrial diversion agreement, Eidson must surrender his federal firearms license no later than June 30, 2016. He may not become a federal firearms licensee at any point in the future and may not reapply for licensure. Eidson also must publicly apologize for the theft of public funds and complete 100 hours of community service within Christian County.

Prosecution shall be deferred for one year, provided Eidson abides by the conditions and the requirements of the pretrial diversion agreement. If Eidson violates the conditions of the agreement, the U.S. Attorney may initiate prosecution for the theft of public funds.

Money Laundering Conspiracy

Kyle also admitted that he received $21,350 from another person, identified as “Subject #2” in court documents, for his role in promoting an investment fraud scheme.

According to the plea agreement, Subject #2 owned and operated various companies and, from January 2008 to October 2014, engaged in an investment fraud scheme. Subject #2 solicited Kyle to assist him as a promoter of the scheme, to take advantage of the authority and prestige of Kyle’s position as county sheriff. Kyle referred potential investors, distributed promotional materials, served as a personal reference and recommended that victims invest money in Subject #2’s companies.

In order to persuade potential investors, Subject #2 falsely informed them that Kyle had personally invested funds and that Kyle had assembled an investment group, comprised of deputy sheriffs and others, to invest in Subject #2’s companies. In reality, Kyle did not invest his personal funds in Subject #2’s companies. Instead, Subject #2 gave Kyle 50,000 shares in one of his companies, which Subject #2 normally sold to investors at the rate of one dollar per share.

Kyle founded Five Rivers Management, LLC, purportedly as a law enforcement training company in 2011. He deposited the money he received from Subject #2 into the company’s bank account in order to conceal the source and nature of the payments, and to make them appear to be receipts from Kyle’s law enforcement training company. Subject #2 also made a $3,000 contribution, using victim investor funds, to Kyle’s political campaign on July 1, 2012.

Between June 2012 and January 2014, Subject #2 received investment funds totaling approximately $952,670. At the time he promoted the investment fraud scheme, Kyle states that he believed Subject #2’s companies were legitimately engaged in efforts to bring their products to market. However, Kyle admitted the United States could prove that he knew checks written to Five Rivers were the proceeds of some form of unlawful activity. Further, Kyle acknowledged that, at the very least, he deliberately closed his eyes to the fraud, which should have been obvious to him.

This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys James J. Kelleher and Steven M. Mohlhenrich. It was investigated by the FBI, IRS-Criminal Investigation and the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

High school student charged with possessing machine guns

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

A Tarkio R-1 High School student who brought a loaded semi-automatic pistol to school earlier this month, causing the school to be locked down, has been charged in federal court with illegally possessing two machine guns that were found at his residence.

Michael T. Knoth, 19, of Tarkio, Mo., was charged with two counts of possessing a machine gun in a criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Mo., on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016. Knoth, who has been in state custody since his arrest on Feb. 11, 2016, was transferred to federal custody today for his initial court appearance. Knoth remains in federal custody pending a detention hearing.

According to an affidavit filed in support of the federal criminal complaint, Knoth – who came to school on Feb. 11, 2016, wearing military-style clothing, boots and ballistic body armor – reportedly displayed a fully loaded magazine to another student that day. That student alerted a teacher, and the school contacted the Tarkio, Mo., Police Department. School officials then discovered a loaded Glock 9mm semi-automatic pistol in Knoth’s backpack, along with six loaded 9mm pistol magazines, three loaded .223- or .556-caliber magazines, a spring-assisted knife, a seatbelt cutter and a window punch.

Knoth was arrested and handcuffed. The school was placed on lockdown.

Investigators searched Knoth’s vehicle, which was parked in the school parking lot. They found two loaded 9mm magazines and 15 loaded .223/.556-caliber magazines.

Investigators also searched Knoth’s home. During a search of the southwest bedroom, investigators found a loaded machine gun in the closet, an AR-style .223/.556 pistol, containing no visible serial numbers or manufacturer stamp. They found a second machine gun, an UZI-style 9mm firearm (unknown manufacture), in the dresser. Investigators found a receipt from M&A Parts, Inc., which listed various firearm parts, including an M16 LPK part kit with auto sear. (An auto sear is a device used to turn a semi-automatic rifle into a fully automatic rifle.) Investigators also found numerous rounds of ammunition and numerous loaded .223/.556 and 9mm magazines throughout the residence.

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

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph M. Marquez. It was investigated by the Tarkio, Mo., Police Department, the Atchison County, Mo., Sheriff’s Department, the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Former Progress Committee members backing Gaarder for R-8 Board

The Joplin Progress Committee disbanded as a political committee last year, but its members are apparently still working to choose the candidates who will best represent their interests on the Joplin R-8 Board of Education.

Judging from the 40-days-before-election report she filed Monday with the Missouri Ethics Commission, members of the former Progress Committee are backing retired teacher Mary Gaarder for a three-year term.

Gaarder is one of four candidates, along with incumbent Jennifer Martucci, Empire District Electric attorney Sharrock Dermott, and Melissa Rodgers, running for two three-year seats.

Gaarder raised $2,050, with the biggest amount, $800, coming from her own pocket.

Otherwise, she received money from three contributors who were listed, all of whom were connected with the Progress Committee- $250 from Michael Pence, who is also serving as Gaarder's campaign treasurer, $150 from Abbey Title Company owner Barbara Hicklin, and $150 from Dorothy Willcoxon. Pence and Hicklin contributed to the Progress Committee, as did Willcoxon's husband, Robert.

Pence, Hicklin, and Willcoxon all backed efforts last summer by C. J. Huff and former board member Mike Landis to take the selection of replacements for board members out of the hands of the people's elected representatives last summer and hand the choices to the Jasper County Commission.

The three were among 65 people, including more than a dozen Progress Committee members and R-8 Board member Lynda Banwart, who signed petitions asking the County Commission to appoint replacements for Lane Roberts, Randy Steele, and Mike Landis. (Landis also signed the petition.)

Willcoxon also serves on the board of Bright Futures Joplin., As noted earlier in the Turner Report, Bright Futures Joplin, which recently was cut loose by the R-8 Board, has been vetting school board candidates.

Gaarder also received $600 from unnamed sources, listed in the category of those who contributed $100 or less.

Greitens: We must kill the snakes

(From Eric Greitens, Republican candidate for governor)

Tomorrow will mark one year since Tom Schweich committed suicide. We continue to remember Tom, reflect on his honorable service, and also share our good thoughts and prayers with his family and his loved ones.

Every suicide is tragic. Family members lose a loved one; and in Tom’s case the people of Missouri also lost a hardworking, honest public servant.

In the days before his suicide, Tom was subject to ruthless attacks by one of his political opponents. Here’s the radio ad that they were running:
“...Tom Schweich, like him? No. Is he a weak candidate for Governor? Absolutely, just look at him. He could be easily confused for the deputy Sheriff of Mayberry, but more importantly he could be manipulated. That’s why Senator Claire McCaskill and President Obama enlisted my help to meddle in another Republican primary with Schweich as our pawn. You see, Schweich and McCaskill are tied at the hip. Schweich even gave money to McCaskill’s campaign. Schweich is an obviously weaker opponent against Democrat Chris Koster. Once Schweich obtains the Republican nomination we will quickly squash him like the little bug he is and put our candidate Chris Koster in the Governors’ mansion.”

Tom was attacked for looking funny? People don’t like him? They are going to squash him like a bug?

It’s disgusting. It’s shameful.

And yet. Still, today, people refuse to take responsibility for what they did a year ago. Still today, anonymous people and their political allies launch the most vile attacks against political opponents, and justify it by flippantly saying, “well, it’s just politics.”

There is, obviously, something wrong with politics, and there is something particularly, deeply, disturbingly, wrong here in Missouri.

I’ve never been in politics before, but even in the brief time that I’ve been running for Governor, I’ve been exposed to some of the worst people I’ve ever known. Liars, cowards, sociopaths. They are often deeply broken and disturbed people, who—like criminals who prey on the innocent—take their pleasure and make their living by victimizing honest people. They are drawn to politics as vultures flock to rotting meat—and they feed off the carcasses of vice. Every lie makes them money. Every fake website, fake Facebook account that spouts falsehoods makes them cash. They pay kids to follow you (and your spouse) around with a camera, and they often pay those same kids to shout questions at you—and in this they profit. They engage in the lowest of tactics, the most slanderous lies—and all the while their bank balances rise.

They stand in such stark contrast to the honest people who make up most of Missouri, that it takes a leap of imagination for normal people to even understand how crooked many people in the business of politics are. They are corrupt in ways that I didn’t know people could be corrupt.

At Lincoln Days last year, Tom was being followed by a “tracker,” a kid paid to stick a camera in his face wherever he went. At the same time, his opponents were broadcasting the horrible radio ads to tens of thousands of people. And, at the same time, Tom believed there was a vicious campaign underway to slur his name by secretly insulting a religion. And that’s just the obvious stuff that was happening.

It’s hard for a normal person to imagine that that is supposed to be a normal day in politics.

It’s natural to get angry about this. I was once angry about it myself. People attack you, and then hide, “well, it wasn’t me, it was people I hired”—behind excuses so lame they’re almost comical. And if the lies once made me angry, the cowardice behind it all is just disappointing.

So what do we do? Do we throw up our hands and say, “It’s just politics?” Do we fight fire with fire, and begin to lie and cheat and engage in anonymous attacks, and in the process of trying to beat the wicked become them? Obviously we shouldn’t do either, and we don’t have to.

In Resilience, I wrote to a buddy of mine who was struggling. I was writing about what can be changed and what must be accepted, and I quoted him something along these lines:

You can’t say that there shouldn’t be snakes in the world. There are snakes. You have to live with that. But if you see a snake in your kid’s bed, you kill it. That’s not saying no to snakes, it’s saying no to that situation. So you accept what must be accepted, without allowing your acceptance to justify inaction in the face of evil.

I’ve come to two conclusions. The first is that the most vicious punishment for the pathetic people who lower themselves like slime to slander, is that they have to live with themselves. They can hire people to praise them, slip cash to people who will tell ‘em—like drug dealers pushing dope on kids—it’s ok, everybody does it. They can spend money to have other people tell them comforting lies. But I believe that, deep down, they know the truth about themselves, and they see it staring back at them in the rotted, bloated, self-serving soul in the mirror. And even if they don’t see it, I believe that a just God does.

The second conclusion has to do with our duty: we can, we must—and we will—kill the snakes.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Complete video- Bernie Sanders rally in Kansas City

Federal grand jury indicts Duenweg sex offender on child pornography charge

A 9:30 a.m. Monday, February 29, hearing is scheduled for a Duenweg man who is charged with receiving child pornography.

A federal grand jury handed down the indictment against Paul L. Sipeer Tuesday. He was initially arrested on the charge January 27. At that time, the following news release was issued by the U. S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri:

A registered sex offender in Duenweg, Mo., has been charged in federal court with paying to watch online sex shows with children in the Philippines.

Paul L. Sipeer, 65, of Duenweg, was charged in a criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Springfield, Mo., on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. The complaint charges Sipeer with receiving child pornography over the Internet. Sipeer had his initial court appearance today and remains in federal custody pending a detention hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016.

Sipeer is a registered sex offender with a 1992 conviction for sexual abuse in the first degree involving the physical harm of a 7-year-old child.

According to an affidavit filed in support of the federal criminal complaint, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents learned that Sipeer was conducting online money transfers between $10 and $20 several times a month during the summer of 2015 to individuals in the Philippines.

Money transfers, conducted through Western Union and MoneyGram, are often used to send funds to pay for sexual performances by children in the Philippines. In prior investigations conducted by HSI, small amounts of money, typically between $5 and $100, are often sent to individuals in the Philippines. In return, the recipients would have young children perform sexual acts on webcams for the senders. Often the senders would send additional payments for continued and/or repeat performances.

Upon further investigation, the affidavit says, agents learned that Sipeer had making money transfers to various individuals in the Philippines since January 2013, in amounts ranging up to $480.

On Jan. 26, 2016, law enforcement officers contacted Sipeer at his residence. According to the affidavit, Sipeer told the officers he sent money to the Philippines to pay for “sex shows.” Sipeer said he has sent approximately $1,200 to the Philippines in total.

Sipeer consented to a search of his residence, including his computer. Officers located images of child pornography during a preview of Sipeer’s computer.

Depositions scheduled for Joplin R-8 officials in class trip lawsuit

Lawyers for a woman who is suing North Middle School Principal Brandon Eggleston and Interim Superintendent Norm Ridder over a field trip to Victory Ministries and Sports Complex in May, will get their crack at questioning R-8 officials next week.

Documents filed today in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri indicate the videotaped depositions will be taken beginning 8:30 a.m. Friday, March 4, at the offices of the law firm representing the district, Blanchard, Robertson, Mitchell, and Carter P. C. The notice leaves an option to take the deposition at a different time if next Friday is inconvenient.

The notice does not name specific school officials, but requires the district "to designate, and fully prepare, one or more officers, directors, managing agents, or other persons with the most knowledge concerning the following designated matters; or other persons who consent to testify on behalf of the Joplin School District,"

The topics for the questioning are spelled out in the documents:

1. The history of trips by students from schools in Defendant Joplin School District to Victory Ministry and Sports Complex (hereinafter “Victory”) and its predecessor entity (believed to be “The Bridge”), including the number of such trips, the dates of such trips, the schools and classes involved in such trips, the faculty involved in arranging and chaperoning such trips, and related information.

2. The activities that took place (including but not limited to religious activities such as group prayers and worship), as known to the Joplin School District, on each of the trips identified in No. 1.

3. The planning and conducting of the trip to Victory that is the subject matter of Plaintiffs’ First Amended Complaint, including the identity and actions of all persons involved in (1) the decision-making process that led to the trip; (2) making all arrangements relating to the trip; (3) processing paperwork and payment; and, (4) chaperoning the students and otherwise participating in the trip itself .

4. Defendant’s policies or practices, from 2005 to present, with regard to school trips to venues that are operated for the purpose of promoting a particular religion or religious viewpoint.

5. The role played by each individual involved in the decision to send students to Victory as alleged in Plaintiffs’ First Amended Complaint.

6. Any and all complaints received by the Joplin School District or any of the defendants, or their agents or employees, with regard to possible or alleged Establishment Clause or religious freedom violations, issues involving religion in the school environment, etc., from 2010 to present.

7. Communications, written or otherwise, between any Victory (or any of its agents or representatives) and the Joplin School District (or any of its agents or representatives) or the other individual defendants, relating in any way to the subject of trips (or possible trips) by students to Victory.

8. The subject matter of interrogatories propounded to the defendants in this case.

9. All documents requested by Plaintiffs pursuant to Rule 34 or produced by Defendants in response to such requests.

The situation that brought about the lawsuit was explained as follows:

On or about May 8, 2015, a class field trip of students from North Middle was taken, during regular school hours, to a facility owned and operated by a Christian ministry. The facility in question is known as Victory Ministries and Sports Complex, and is located in Joplin, Missouri.

Victory Ministries and Sports Complex (hereinafter “Victory”) is a Christian facility that operates for three stated purposes that are expressed on its web site: “Exalt Jesus,” and “Expand the Kingdom of God,” and “Equip the Body of Christ.”

The same web page states Victory’s goals, which include: “Keep Jesus central in everything we do,” and “Have God-honoring entertainment,” and other religious goals. Christian imagery is prominent at the Victory facility. Most, if not all signs that include the “Victory” name at the facility utilize a Christian cross as the “t” in the word “Victory.”

A large banner that exalts Jesus is visible at the Victory gym. The banner, which states “Jesus is worthy of it all!” is placed high on the wall of the gym, above approximately ten other banners, many of which also contain religious messages. One banner, for example, reads “ Worship” whereas another states: “Hope. The confident expectation that what God has promised is true.”

Prior to the field trip, permission slips were sent home to parents for the school field trip to Victory. Doe child I was given a permission slip for Plaintiff Jane Doe to sign. The permission slip for parents to sign in order to allow students to attend the field trip expressly stated that parents understand that their children may be invited to Bible studies and local churches while at Victory. The same permission slip, in paragraph number 6, required parents to allow their child to participate in “worship services, Bible studies or any other activities that may pertain to the Christian faith.”

On May 5, 2015, an email was sent by American Humanist Association (“AHA”), a Washington, D.C. nonprofit organization, to Defendants Huff and Eggleston warning them that a North Middle School parent had raised concerns about the planned field trip and pointing out that the trip would violate the Establishment Clause. That same day, Defendant Huff responded to AHA’s email with an email of his own denying that the trip violated the Establishment Clause but admitting that the permission slip was inappropriately worded.

Also that same day, in response to Defendant Huff’s email, the AHA sent a second email to Defendants, drawing specific attention to the religious nature of the Victory operation and warning that the field trip would result in litigation.

Defendants did not respond to said email, and in fact, the trip was conducted on or about May 8. Doe child I did not participate in the field trip, which was conducted during an ordinary school day. Plaintiff Jane Doe, faced with the choice of an unconstitutional field trip or no school for her child for the day, kept Doe child I out of school. As such, Doe child I was denied a full day of academics due to Defendants’ actions. If Doe child I had participated in the field trip, Doe child I would have been exposed to Christian messages that directly contradict the religious beliefs of Plaintiff Jane Doe and Doe child I.

The field trip has given the impression to a reasonable observer that the public school endorses Christianity. Doe child I was put in the position of having to choose to attend a religious school-sponsored event or forgo participation entirely. Public school resources, including paid personnel time and other resources, which were paid for by tax monies, were expended in planning and conducting the field trip to Victory.

The lawsuit asks for a permanent injunction against any further trips to Victory Sports Complex or any other religious-based venues, a judgement that Huff and Eggleston have violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and damages and punitive damages against Huff and Eggleston for violating the children's constitutional rights.

The woman is being allowed to file the lawsuit as Jane Doe after a ruling by Judge Douglas Harpool. Her attorney argued that she might be subjected to retaliation if people knew who she was.

Former Superintendent C. J. Huff was initially named as a defendant, but after he "retired," his replacement, Norm Ridder, was substituted.

Teacher charged with receiving child pornography

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

A former Lebanon Junior High School teacher has been indicted by a federal grand jury for receiving child pornography over the Internet.

Evert Henry, 41, of Lebanon, Mo., was charged in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Springfield, Mo., on Monday, Feb. 23, 2016.

Henry was a teacher in the Lebanon R-3 School District at the junior high school during the time of the alleged offense. The indictment alleges that Henry received child pornography over the Internet from Jan. 1, 2011, to Jan. 13, 2016.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney James J. Kelleher. It was investigated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Lebanon, Mo., Police Department.

Ridder: Our greatest need is teacher retention

The Joplin R-8 Board of Education approved the first reading of a strategic plan designed to guide the district through the next five years.

The plan addresses many of the problems that multiplied in the district during the years that former Superintendent C. J. Huff and Assistant Superintendent Angie Besendorfer were in charge, including the wholesale departure of teachers, lack of discipline, and a focus that was more on central administration than the classroom.

Interim Superintendent Norm Ridder revealed the plan during Tuesday night's board meeting, saying, "Our greatest need is teacher retention." The problem, Ridder noted, is not salary, though the district fell behind other area schools during the Huff years.

"It's not just the salary; it's the culture." A teacher survey scheduled to begin Thursday will help determine the approach the district takes to addressing the retention problem.

The strategic plan, which was constructed after interviews and surveys with staff, students, and the public, focuses on "student readiness," "learner support," and making education "effective and efficient."

"Everything is focused on the classroom," Ridder said. The plan is geared to providing students with what they need to succeed physically, socially, and academically.

Behavior problems are also addressed.

The most important thing to ensure the plan's success, Ridder said is that everything in it is measurable.

The strategic plan will be placed on the district website. It will come up for its final reading at the Tuesday, March 29, board meeting.

Unnamed donors give $1,675 to Sharrock Dermott

The first campaign finance disclosure report for the Joplin R-8 Board of Education election has been filed and raises more questions than it answers about those who are paying the freight for the candidate's campaign.

Empire District Electric Company Director of Legal Services Sharrock Dermott has raised $2,625, but the 40-days-before-election report only tells where $950 of the money comes from.

According to the report, which was filed Monday with the Missouri Ethics Commission, Dermott has four named contributors:

-$300 from Henry Robertson, retired
-$250 from Barbara Majzoub, homemaker
-$250 from Virginia Laas, retired
$250 from Dermott himself

The remainder of Dermott's contributions, $1,675 is listed in the category of "Total Amount of Contributions Given Less Than $100."

Oftentimes these kinds of donations are made at fundraisers for candidates, but Dermott lists no contributions in that category.

Dermott's financial report is similar to ones filed during the 2014 Board of Education race by former Board President Jeff Flowers, as noted in this passage from the March 31, 2014 Turner Report:

At this point in the campaign, including the $723.06 the Joplin Progress Committee gave to his campaign last week, Jeff Flowers has received $3,368.06. He has not provided a name for any of his contributors, except for Judy Priddy, who gave $200. In addition to the $1,723.06 he has received from the secretive Joplin Progress Committee, Flowers has listed no names for $1,435 in contributions.

Dermott has already topped Flowers' amount of money received from unnamed contributions.

While the law does not require candidates to list contributors who give less than $100, many candidates in school or municipal elections do so.

Dermott's report shows that he has spent $93.66, with $88 going for stamps and $5.66 for envelopes.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Times article explores Missouri background of Ted Cruz campaign manager

Longtime Turner Report readers are familiar with the name of Ted Cruz' campaign manager, Jeff Roe.

With the Cruz campaign under attack for alleged dirty tricks, the New York Times examined the background of Jeff Roe in an article posted earlier today.

Included was his role in the events that led to the suicide of Missouri State Auditor Thomas Schweich:

But as Mr. Roe prepared to manage his first presidential bid for Mr. Cruz last February, he faced new scrutiny at home. Days after he ran a radio ad mocking the physical appearance of Tom Schweich, a candidate in Missouri’s Republican primary for governor, by comparing him to Barney Fife, Mr. Schweich committed suicide.

Peers said Mr. Schweich had faced many demons; he also thought the chairman of the state’s Republican Party had falsely spread word that he was Jewish. But some Missouri leaders viewed the ad as a last straw, casting Mr. Roe as the avatar of a toxic campaign culture.

“Politics has gone so hideously wrong,” John C. Danforth, the state’s former three-term United States senator, said as he eulogized Mr. Schweich.

Mr. Roe has expressed condolences to Mr. Schweich’s family and horror at the death, but he betrayed little regret for the ad itself.

“I live in the windshield,” he told The New Republic. “I don’t live in the rearview mirror.”

Roe was one of the many Missouri political bloggers who have come and gone in the 13 years since the Turner Report started and one of the many controversies noted in the Times article was an attack he wrote when he was running his blog The Source in 2006.

The post resulted in a lawsuit against Roe, which was covered by the Turner Report, including the following post on January 23, 2010, when the case was dismissed:

Judge Nancy L. Schneider granted summary judgment in favor of Republican political operative Jeff Roe Thursday ending a libel suit filed against Roe three years ago by St. Charles County Commissioner Joe Brazil.

According to St. Charles County online court documents, Judge Schneider ruled that Brazil, as a public figure "has submitted no substantial evidence or no genuine issue of material fact concerning actual malice."

On the second count of Brazil's lawsuit, which alleged he had been injured by what Roe wrote in August 2006 on his blog, The Source, the judge ruled that Brazil had not provided evidence showing he had lost anything other than attorney fees.

Brazil filed the initial libel suit against Roe in March 2007, as detailed in the March 30, 2007 Turner Report. Brazil took the action after Roe attacked him in two posts on "The Source" blog just before the August 2006 State Senate primary, which was won by Brazil's opponent, Scott Rupp.

The first attack, printed Aug. 1, 2006, accused Brazil of being drunk and partying loudly. On Aug. 4, Roe printed the post Brazil found the most egregious, which Roe removed from his blog months after the lawsuit was filed:

According to, in 1982, Brazil was attempting to pull off a senior class prank at McCluer North High School in Florissant, Missouri. Brazil plan was to deposit thousands of pounds of sand into the school’s faculty parking lot. Brazil even owned a dump truck that could be used to aid in the prank.
After quite a few beers, Brazil and his buddies loaded up the dump truck with sand and drove to the school. One of Brazil’s friends, Norval Pierce sat on top of the bed of the truck while Brazil dumped the sand. Brazil drove slowly while dumping, attempting to adequately spread the sand in the parking lot. As Brazil was driving, the truck jumped forward, throwing Pierce through the frame of the truck. Not realizing what had happened, Brazil continued to drive while drunk and dumping sand. Brazil proceeded to crush Pierce under the truck.
So now we have another instance of Brazil’s irresponsibility and not owning up to his mistakes. What else do we need to know Joe?

Roe's version of the story was disputed, not only by Brazil, but by others, including the Florissant police officer who made the stop and said no alcohol was involved, that it was just an accident, according to the O'Fallon Watchdog website.

Hartzler: It would be foolish to close Guantanamo

(From Fourth District Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler)

Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) today released the following statement responding to President Obama’s announcement of a plan to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba:

“It would be foolish to close Guantanamo. Despite the President’s attempt to engineer a plan, the fact remains this facility is the best site for holding terrorists. It is a secure detainment facility away from our backyard and ensures those terrorists there do not return to the fight against us. As it has done consistently in bipartisan fashion in the past, I expect Congress to affirm the law and reject any attempt to close Guantanamo or transfer terrorist detainees to the United States.”

The President’s announcement comes on the same day as a former Guantanamo detainee was arrested in Spain as part of a jihadist cell seeking to recruit fighters for the Islamic State. The report can be found here.

Congresswoman Hartzler led a Congressional Delegation to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in February of 2015 to see first-hand the detainee operations, examine the facilities, and get information on the transfer of detainees from the facility.

Watch the Joplin R-8 Board of Education meeting live at 7 p.m.

CJ woman takes teen's phone, posts nude photos on her Facebook

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

A Carl Junction, Mo., woman pleaded guilty in federal court today to possessing child pornography after she posted nude photos of a 15-year-old victim on the victim’s Facebook page.

Michelle Renee McCoy, 49, of Carl Junction, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge David P. Rush to possessing child pornography.

According to today’s plea agreement, McCoy took an iPhone 5C from the 15-year-old victim after an argument on March 28, 2014. The victim was contacted by her cousin on May 14, 2014, to let her know that there were nude pictures of her on her Facebook page. Multiple friends and family members called the victim regarding the nude photos they saw on her Facebook page. The images, which portrayed the victim in a variety of sexually explicit poses, had been taken when she was 14 or 15 and saved on her iPhone.

The victim was unable to log into her account as the password had been changed. The victim was able to shut down the account after resetting her password.

Carl Junction police officers contacted McCoy, who admitted she had the victim’s iPhone but refused to give the phone to law enforcement. Officers later received a search warrant for McCoy’s residence and seized an Apple MacBook Pro laptop, an Apple iPad and three Apple iPhones, including the victim’s phone.

Investigators learned that, two weeks before taking away the victim’s iPhone, McCoy had asked to see her phone so she could run an update on it. McCoy discovered the nude photos of the victim on the victim’s phone and sent them to her own iPhone 5S, where she saved them to her camera roll. Investigators found the child pornography images on McCoy’s iPhone and on McCoy’s MacBook Pro laptop. They also discovered that the victim’s phone had been backed up to McCoy’s laptop less than 15 minutes after police officers had been at McCoy’s residence and asked her for the phone.

McCoy’s daughter told law enforcement officers that McCoy had shown her the nude pictures of the victim that were on her cell phone. She said McCoy was showing the pictures at a family gathering. McCoy also told her daughter that she had the pictures on her laptop. After the photos were posted on Facebook, McCoy told her daughter that she had posted the pictures and changed the victim’s Facebook password so she would not be able to take them down.

Under federal statutes, McCoy is subject to a sentence of up to 10 years in federal prison without parole. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.

McCoy must forfeit to the government the Apple iPhone and Apple MacBook Pro laptop that were used to commit the offense.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ami Harshad Miller. It was investigated by the Republic, Mo., Police Department, the Carl Junction, Mo., Police Department, and the Southwest Missouri Cybercrime Task Force.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Huff, Landis attempting to regain control of Joplin R-8 Board

 C. J. Huff is reportedly spending more time working on Joplin R-8 School District business than he did when he actually had a job here.

Some of those from Huff's administrative team have continued to keep him informed of everything that is going on under Interim Superintendent Norm Ridder, occasionally meeting with Huff and/or former R-8 board member Mike Landis in public and in private.

Huff and Landis have also reportedly been vetting R-8 Board candidates.

And word has been received at the Turner Report, that Huff, using surrogates, since he and the board members are not allowed to say bad things about each other as part of the terms in his buyout agreement, intends to attack current board member and April candidate Jennifer Martucci with the same "snob" attacks and hints that she is a racist that failed miserably when he posted them on Facebook before last year's election. (Huff has removed those remarks from his Facebook page.)

Huff's old supporters from the now-disbanded Joplin Progress Committee continue to back his play. Connect2Culture, a group headed by former Committee leader Clifford Wert, a retired banker, has also been checking out board candidates. Huff is a board member of Connect2Culture.

Bright Futures Joplin, which appears on the verge of being eased out of the school district, has also been questioning candidates.

Another leader of JPC, Jerrod Hogan, is reportedly involved in directing the campaign of one of the board candidates. (More information about that will be provided in the near future.)

With four candidates to be elected, Huff would need to win three seats to regain control of the board, with those three joining incumbent Lynda Banwart to provide the majority.

Winning two seats would leave the board in a deadlock. It is not clear at this point if some candidates might not lean toward either side.

Even if Huff is successful, it is not clear what his endgame is. Does he hold out hopes that the board will come to him as the perfect replacement for Ridder or choose some Huff puppet who will bring back Bright Futures in the way Huff envisioned it and keep the rest of his pet programs and people?

It could also be an attempt for Huff to get back at the women board members, Martucci and Debbie Fort, who paved the way for his departure. His personal attacks on Martucci on his Facebook and against both Martucci and Fort during board meetings had people wondering whether Huff had become unhinged during the spring months of 2015.

Huff was playing games with the construction of the board of education even before his "retirement" took effect. Huff and Landis did their best to prevent newly-elected board member Jeff Koch from being sworn in.

After that unsuccessful effort, Huff and Landis were involved in a plot to make sure that the Jasper County Commission, not the locally elected board of education, would appoint the replacement for former Joplin Police Chief Lane Roberts, who was elected, but was unable to serve after being appointed Missouri Director of Public Safety.

Though R-8 voters sent the message loud and clear when they elected Roberts knowing full well he would not be able to serve, to make sure incumbent Board President Anne Sharp was not re-elected, Landis and Randy Steele made sure the people who had been chosen by the board to make a difference- Fort, Koch, and Martucci, would not be able to get a fourth vote by resigning and making sure the Commission would choose the replacements.

The plan was revealed in e-mail messages between Huff, Landis, and Jasper County Associate Commissioner Darieus Adams, which were discovered by the Turner Report as a result of a Snnshine Law request. The following was printed in the June 20 Turner Report:

In a June 3 e-mail from Landis to (Presiding Commissioner John)Bartosh and (Prosecuting Attorney Dean) Dankelson, the former board member writes, "We voted in April to accept Lane Roberts' resignation from the Joplin BOE. Thanks, Michael D. Landis." From that e-mail, it appears that Landis had sent Dankelson word that he, Randy Steele, and Roberts had resigned and that he wanted the County Commission to appoint replacements and that the prosecuting attorney had questions about Roberts' resignation.

Dankleson responded the following day in a message that is headed "Subject: Document May 28, 2015," and was sent to Bartosh, as well as Landis:

Would you be able to provide an affidavit to the commission confirming your intent to resign from the Joplin School Board effective May 28 and that you have no intent to withdraw that resignation? I am assuming from this e-mail you have no intent to withdraw it.

Since the Sunshine Law request pertained only to documents received or sent by the three county commissioners, it did not include Landis' original e-mail to Dankelson.

That same day, the Commission received petitions containing 65 signatures asking it to appoint new board members, with the signers including Landis, board member Lynda Banwart, and numerous contributors to the Joplin Progress Committee.

As noted in the June 15 Turner Report, Landis contacted Commissioner Darieus Adams on May 27, the night before he submitted his resignation:

Documents obtained through a Sunshine Law request to the Commission show that on May 27, one day after Randy Steele resigned, Superintendent C. J. Huff, obviously aware that Landis was planning on resigning as well, called the Missouri School Boards Association (MSBA) to find out what was necessary to get the Jasper County Commission to appoint replacement board members.

Susan Goldammer, senior director, employment and labor relations for the MSBA, e-mailed the information to Huff, "Any vacancy occurring in the board shall be filled by the remaining members of the board, except that if there are more than two vacancies at any one time, the county commission, upon receiving written notice of the vacancies shall fill the vacancies by appointment."

Goldammer was unaware that anything was in the works.

"As you can see, it takes three or more vacancies for the county commission to get involved. That has only happened once since I have been at MSBA. The Board will need to fill these two," she said, referring to Randy Steele and Lane Roberts.

Huff forwarded Goldammer's e-mail to Landis at 12:36 p.m. May 27. At 9:38 p.m., Landis forwarded the e-mail to Commissioner Darieus Adams.

Landis resigned the next day, setting the stage for the Commissioners to appoint Gary Nodler, Ron Gatz, and Sallie Beard.

From all appearances, C. J. Huff has never stopped meddling in Joplin R-8 business since he "retired." He has continued to show up at important district events, including last week's announcement of funding for the early childhood center. He is often accompanied by Landis.

And while Huff has not attended R-8 Board meetings, Landis has been at nearly every regular board meeting since his resignation.

Sources have told the Turner Report that Huff still cannot bring himself to acknowledge that he has done anything wrong, either in his management of the school district or in his public dealings with Fort and Martucci.

He also has indicated he does not understand why people continue to believe the horrible things that have been written about him in the Turner Report, since everyone knows the author of this blog is just a "disgruntled former employee."

That description would seem to more accurately describe Huff.