Thursday, June 30, 2022

Parson signs state operating budget bills

(From Gov. Mike Parson)

Today, Governor Mike Parson signed Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) state operating budget bills, approving historic investments in Missouri's infrastructure, communities, workforce, education systems, public safety resources, and public services.

"We want to thank all of the legislators who helped pass this historic budget that cements our state's strong financial position and provides tremendous opportunities for Missourians, both today and tomorrow," Governor Parson said. "Informed by the needs of Missourians all across the state, we have once again passed a balanced and conservative budget that benefits every Missourian."

"With record revenues, strong economic performance, and significant sums of Missourians' federal tax dollars returning to our state, this session we met the moment and approved strategic investments that will serve generations of Missourians," Governor Parson continued.

The Missouri FY23 state operating budget is approximately $47.5 billion, including $12.5 billion in general revenue. Additionally, Governor Parson issued 32 line-item vetoes, totaling nearly $644 million. To view the complete list of budget vetoes, click here.

During his 2022 State of the State Address, Governor Parson asked the General Assembly to invest in infrastructure projects all across the state, from the hardest routes to fund in rural areas to underserved communities in urban areas. The FY23 budget bills include hundreds of millions of dollars for critical infrastructure projects:$608 million for investments in drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure;
$356.5 million for broadband expansion projects;
$160 million for efficient and innovative transportation projects across the state;
$100 million for rural route repair projects;
$75 million for the Transportation Cost-Share program;
$8.5 million for rural health telehealth access; and
$12.9 million for public transit.

For future Missourians to have the best possible outcomes, Governor Parson understands that the state must take action today. To accomplish this, he knows that workforce development and education initiatives must work together. The FY23 budget prioritizes investments in both education and workforce development systems to skill up Missourians: $3.6 billion to again fully fund the K-12 Foundation Formula;
$460.1 million for capital improvement projects at public higher education institutions;
$429.5 million to strengthen the state's child care and early childhood education network;
$328.4 million to fully fund school transportation needs;
$75 million to develop new shovel-ready industrial sites;
$51.6 million core funding increase for state four-year higher education institutions;
$31.5 million for the third year of MoExcels projects and employer-driven workforce training investments;
$30 million for Missouri One Start to assist employers, train and upskill workers, and upgrade training infrastructure;
$21.8 million to partner with schools districts to increase baseline K-12 educator pay to $38,000 per year;
$20 million to upgrade and improve Missouri's 57 area career centers;
$16 million for the Missouri Technology Corporation to promote entrepreneurship and innovation;
$10 million for higher education agricultural innovation in education workforce programs;
$10 million for MoExcels program projects at private non-profit institutions;
$9.1 million for Missouri One Start;
$7 million for dual credit and enrollment scholarships;
$6 million for A+ schools program; and
$500,000 for Jobs for America's Graduates.

While the past few years have been hard on Missouri communities, there are now opportunities for once in a lifetime investments that strengthen the future success of every community: rural, urban, and suburban. Governor Parson called on lawmakers to fund projects that improve the health, safety, and economic well-being of communities across the state, and the FY23 budget answers that call:$955 million for provider rate standardization and to improve MO HealthNet program integrity and access to care for vulnerable Missourians;
$148.7 million for community provider capital improvements and to expand services to underserved populations;
$104.7 million for a new public safety crime lab that will assist local law enforcement agencies;
$100 million for Community Development and Revitalization grants;
$94.9 million to invest in new small businesses;
$78.6 million for the construction of a new multidisciplinary state health lab;
$50 million for developmental disability and behavioral health services;
$30 million for local tourism asset development;
$30 million for a first responders grant program;
$30.5 million to implement the 988 Crisis Hotline;

$29.2 million for Area Agencies on Aging;
$24 million for services for victims of crime;
$12.8 million for substance use response grants for local governments;
$5.8 million for Missouri Autism Centers;
$4.4 million for 911 dispatch centers;
$2.5 million for the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program to help combat the opioid crisis;
$1 million for law enforcement academy scholarships;
$550,000 for crisis counseling services for law enforcement officers; and
$420,000 for Youth Behavioral Health Liaisons.

In order to increase opportunities for Missourians' success, state government must also look to continually improve the services it provides to citizens. This year, Governor Parson is approving needed upgrades and investments in state government: $500 million extraordinary payment to the Missouri State Employee Retirement System;
$228 million to continue state employee pay raises provided in the 2022 Supplemental Budget Bill;
$126.1 million to develop and modernize online government services;
$100 million to accelerate the repayment of outstanding bond debt, a $148 million saving to taxpayers;
$34.8 million for a state employee retirement savings incentive, up to a $75 match per month;
$27.3 million to modernize the child support system;
$16.8 million for MO HealthNet eligibility redeterminations; and
$7 million to update the Division of Youth Services Case Management system.

"This past session was often obstructed by petty infighting and personal political interests, but common sense prevailed," Governor Parson said. "We applaud members of the General Assembly for capitalizing on this opportunity and prioritizing the continued success of our state."

To view the FY23 state operating budget bills, click here.

Jacob Williams named South Middle School principal


(From Joplin Schools)

Joplin Schools is pleased to announce Jacob Williams as principal of South Middle School. Williams has served as assistant principal at Joplin High School since 2019.

"I am humbled by this opportunity to serve the students, faculty and staff at South Middle School," said Williams. 

"I look forward to being a part of an already hard working and successful team of educators. South Middle School has a long-standing tradition of pride in student excellence, and it is a privilege to now be a part of that tradition."

Beginning his career in Joplin Schools 12 years ago, Williams has taught physical education at North and East middle schools, coached multiple sports and was a part of the boys basketball, track and field, volleyball and cross country programs.

Williams served as Joplin High School's 11th grade principal from 2019 to 2021 and as 12th grade principal from 2021-2022. He also served as assistant athletic director for two years.

Williams earned a Bachelor of Science in Education at Missouri Southern State University, followed by a Master of Education in educational leadership and an educational specialist in educational leadership from William Woods University. He is currently pursuing a doctorate in educational leadership.

"We are excited about Mr. Williams' appointment to be the next principal at South Middle School, said Joplin Schools Superintendent Kerry Sachetta.

"Jacob brings experience as a teacher, middle school athletic director and high school assistant principal to help South Middle School reach its goals for continual school improvement. His skill set is a very good match to be able to work with the staff at South Middle School. Their work together will offer our students outstanding educational experiences and opportunities."

In his new role, Williams will succeed Chris Mitchell.

The remaining assistant principals at JHS are Kacy Dorton, Mark LaTurner and Holly Yust. Williams' replacement has not been named.

Joplin receives $3 million in federal funds for streetscaping project

(From the City of Joplin)

The City of Joplin and federal representatives are looking to finish a final phase of a multi-year effort to complete streetscaping with funding from the Consolidated Appropriations Act, of 2022.

United States Representative Billy Long included this project that focuses on Main Street sidewalks for the area of 8th Street to 15th Street. This seven-block stretch is the remaining stretch unfinished since work on Main Street’s original streetscaping project in 2008 and the disaster recovery efforts were completed in 2018.

“Downtown is the core of any community and serves as a magnet for a mixed-use of commercial and residential development, and Joplin is a great example of this,” said Joplin Mayor Doug Lawson. 

“With help from Congressman Long, the streetscaping project on Main Street is poised to take a big step forward following an award of funds from the budget. More funding is necessary for the final phase to be possible.”

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2022 made funding available for “grants for the Economic Development Initiative for the purposes of Community Project Funding/Congressionally Directed Spending” (PL 117-103) (the Act). Awards through the Act are provided by Congressional members and administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The opportunity for federal funds was made available through the legislative process and the project meets the guidelines and criteria to receive federal funds.

"I am thrilled to have contributed to the revitalization efforts on Main Street," said Congressman Long. "This critical investment into our community will have a lasting impact on downtown Joplin's burgeoning hub of commerce and residential development for years to come."

Long secured partial funding of $3 million for the Main Street project which is estimated at a total cost of $6 million. Additional funds from the City would be needed to move forward on the project.

“Commercial corridors of this magnitude are significant for a community,” said City Manager Nick Edwards. “Joplin has been well known for Route 66 since the mid-1900s, and we continue to see thousands of visitors to our city because of this historic highway. To have this stretch completed would be a huge boost to downtown and our community. I want to thank Representative Long and his District Director, Michael Ussery, for their support for Joplin.”

State Auditor: State's special discount for large retailers cost state $141 million

(From State Auditor Nicole Galloway)

A report issued today by State Auditor Nicole Galloway is again highlighting a sales tax discount that primarily benefits the state's largest retailers by rewarding them for paying their sales and use taxes on time. 

In Fiscal Year 2021, Missouri retailers used this discount -- the most generous in the nation -- to keep more than $141 million that could otherwise have gone to services for Missourians at the state and local level.

Auditor Galloway has highlighted the corporate giveaway in her audits of the Missouri Department of Revenue (DOR) sales and use tax for several years. As she has done before, she is urging legislators to evaluate the necessity of a timely sales tax discount or consider implementing a cap on the amount.

"Missouri's discount gives the biggest benefits to the wealthiest retailers just for turning over sales tax paid by consumers," Auditor Galloway said. "Ordinary citizens don't get a discount for paying taxes on time. The lack of a cap on this handout to big business means millions of dollars lost that could be used to fix streets, pay law enforcement, and improve the lives of Missourians. It's just common sense."

The audit found the 2 percent discount given to retailers for timely paying the sales and use tax they owe is the most generous such discount in the country. In fiscal year 2021, businesses using the discount retained approximately $141 million in sales and use tax that was paid by consumers.

Unlike most of the other 26 states that offer a discount for timely payment, Missouri has no cap on the discount it gives. The audit said if Missouri had applied a cap of $1,000 per month (the highest cap used by any contiguous state) for fiscal year 2021, it would have only impacted businesses with monthly taxable sales of approximately $606,000 or more and resulted in approximately $82.6 million in additional state and local sales tax revenue.

The audit also found that the DOR is not required to report, and does not routinely report, the amount of timely discounts retained by businesses to the General Assembly, local governments impacted, or the general public. 

The audit recommends that state legislators consider changes to current state laws to require the DOR annually report the reduction of state revenue related to the timely discount to the General Assembly, applicable political subdivisions, and the general public.

The complete audit of the DOR sales and use tax can be found here.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Joplin R-8 Board to meet in special session

The Joplin R-8 Board of Education will meet in special session 4 p.m. Thursday at the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, 320 E. 4th, with the following agenda:

A. Call to Order
1. Roll Call

B. Pledge of Allegiance 

C. Approval of Agenda

D. Health Plan Stop Loss Carrier Renewal

E. Renewal of Insurance Coverage: (Property, Liability, and Workers Compensation for 2022-2023)

F. Renewal of Insurance Cyber Insurance for 2022-2023)


1. Health Care Plan Design FY 2023
2. CBSS Programs in the District
3. Strategic Plan
4. Draft Plans from Departments for 2022-2023
a. Technology
b. Long-Range Facilities
c. Communications
d. Classified Professional Development
e. Certified Professioal Development, Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Plan
f. Teacher Evaluation Tool Review
g. Principal Evaluation Tool - brief overview

H. Break

I. Review of District Documentation

J. BOE Members Focus Exercise

K. Communications Plan from Superintendent

L. New Legislation

M. Adjourn

Parson signs bill making it a crime for homeless to sleep on state-owned land

By Rebecca Rivas

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed sweeping legislation Wednesday making it a Class C misdemeanor for people experiencing homelessness to sleep on state-owned land.

The law prevents some federal and state funds from being used to construct affordable housing, instead redirecting that money towards constructing temporary camps that provide substance abuse and mental health treatment.


It also allows the Missouri attorney general to sue local governments that don’t enforce laws and orders on unauthorized public camping, sleeping or obstructions of sidewalks — and threatens the loss of all state and federal funding for housing and homelessness if they don’t abide by such bans.

It goes into effect on Aug. 28.

Hundreds of homeless service providers and organizations opposed the bill this spring, saying that it criminalizes people who have to sleep outside because they have no better options.

Rep. Bruce DeGroot, Chesterfield Republican who sponsored the House bill, said the legislation might not be “perfect,” but homelessness in Missouri was too dire to wait another year.

“This is truly just the first step,” he told The Independent in May, shortly after the legislative session ended for the year. “I want to get to the point where we have clean quality places for homeless people to live and try to get back in society.”


Now service providers and cities are scrambling to understand what the legislation means, what benchmarks they have to meet and who is going to be in charge of enforcement.

“There’s been no clarity or guiding information issued from the governor’s office or from any state agencies at this point,” said Sarah Owsley, director of policy and advocacy for Empower Missouri, which advocates on behalf of low-income residents. “We have reached out to [Missouri Housing Development Commission] staff, who also similarly don’t seem to really understand it.”

Part of Missouri officials’ lack of understanding of how to implement the law, Owsley contends, stems from the fact that the legislation originated from a template bill written by a conservative think-tank in Austin, Texas, called the Cicero Institute.

The Texas group is staunchly opposed to the federal Housing First model, which prioritizes permanent, affordable housing as a solution to homelessness.

A handful of states have introduced or passed Cicero’s model bill. But Missouri is the first state to get language passed that prevents state and federal funds for homeless services to be used on permanent housing.

Missouri will be the test to see how the federal government responds to a direct attack on the Housing First initiative — the worst case scenario, advocates fear, being that Missouri loses federal funding.

Empower Missouri and their partners across the state have been talking to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for months, trying to get answers on exactly what federal money would be off limits for permanent housing — and whether the measure would put Missouri out of compliance with the Housing First requirements, jeopardizing federal funding.

Not getting answers, the National Coalition for Housing Justice sent a letter on June 27 to HUD representatives, asking for the department’s general counsel to issue a public statement on the legislation.

“If this bill becomes law, it may violate federal law and threaten local HUD grantees from obtaining millions of dollars in federal housing funding,” the letter states.

That could include the $365 million in funding for homeless services and permanent housing that HUD announced on June 22, with a set-aside of $54.5 million specifically for rural communities.

HUD representatives have yet to respond to the letter.

The measure passed as an amendment onto a larger bill only two days before the legislative session ended, shocking many advocates who had been tracking the Senate bill and its House companion that had not gotten much traction.

Now some are hoping Missouri’s congressional delegation will elevate their concerns regarding the federal government’s response to the bill.

Congresswoman Cori Bush, D-St. Louis, vowed to work together with local groups and HUD on getting clarity.

“As someone who has been unhoused, I know that fines, tickets, and jail time will not make it easier for unhoused people to afford homes or retain employment but will further devastate our communities,” Bush said in a statement to The Independent.

She also denounced the Republican legislation as a “cruel attempt to strip federal funding away from the construction of permanent housing units.”

Given the lack of affordable housing during and after the pandemic, criminalizing people who have been forced to sleep outside is “cruel and unusual punishment,” said Joel Ferber, director of advocacy for Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, a law firm that represents low-income clients.

“There are a lot of lawyers who are trying to figure out what this all means,” Ferber said, “but it will come down to the municipalities’ decisions on how the law applies.”

Among the many questions is whether the measure automatically imposes a public sleeping ban on local governments — including St. Louis, Kansas City and many other cities — that don’t currently have bans on the books.

And some question whether local enforcement of the law will potentially infringe on Missourians’ constitutional rights.

In the 2018 Boise v. Martin case, the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Ninth District ruled that people cannot be punished for sleeping outside on public property in the absence of adequate alternatives.

Lee Camp, staff attorney with the St. Louis nonprofit law firm ArchCity Defenders, said attorneys and advocates statewide will be working to nail down the number of available beds on a specific night. And if there aren’t enough beds, Camp said, any citation or jail time will violate that Boise precedent.

“We will use and assess every potential tool that we have in our toolbox as lawyers and advocates,” Camp said in response to the governor signing the bill. “And litigation is certainly one of those tools that we will have to explore at this point.”

Schmitt: Contraception not prohibited under Missouri abortion ban

By Tessa Weinberg and Allison Kite

After at least one hospital system in Missouri stopped providing emergency contraception because of ambiguity in the state’s abortion ban, Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office clarified Wednesday that contraception is not prohibited under state law.

“Missouri law does not prohibit the use or provision of Plan B, or contraception,” said Chris Nuelle, a spokesman for Schmitt.

The Kansas City Star first reported late Tuesday night that Saint Luke’s Health System in Kansas City was no longer providing emergency contraception, citing the “ambiguous” nature of Missouri’s trigger ban. Following Schmitt’s comments Wednesday, the health system released a statement saying it would resume providing them to its patients.

“However, the ambiguity of the law and the uncertainty even among state officials about what this law prohibits continues to cause grave concern and will require careful monitoring,” the statement says. “This is especially true because the penalty for violation of the statue includes the criminal prosecution of health care providers whose sole focus is to provide medically necessary care for their patients.”

Later Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Mike Parson reiterated that the recently-enacted ban on abortions has not changed the legality of contraceptives, and wrote on Twitter that, “Contraceptives are not abortions and are not affected by the Right to Life of the Unborn Child Act.”

Meanwhile, University Health, Kansas City’s safety net hospital and the teaching hospital associated with the University of Missouri-Kansas City, continued offering IUDs and emergency contraceptives, like the Plan B pill, the system’s spokeswoman, Leslie Carto, said in a statement before Schmitt’s office’s announcement.

Nearly all abortions are now illegal in Missouri after Schmitt issued an opinion kicking off a trigger ban on the procedure lawmakers passed in 2019. There are no exceptions for rape or incest under the law, and abortions are only permitted in the case of a medical emergency, such as to save the patient’s life.

Health care providers who violate the state’s ban on abortions can be guilty of a class B felony, which can result in five to 15 years in prison, and have their medical license suspended or revoked.

Since a leaked draft of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision was made public, questions have swirled about what the overturn of Roe v. Wade could mean for access to contraceptives. Emergency contraception is used to prevent pregnancy after intercourse and is often offered to victims of sexual assault.

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, requested Wednesday Schmitt issue an official opinion on whether patients can be prosecuted for using contraception under Missouri’s trigger law.

“In the absence of state guidance, however, there is a real danger a politically ambitious or ideologically motivated prosecutor could file malicious criminal charges over contraception use,” Quade said in a statement Wednesday.

In her request, Quade also asked Schmitt whether his office intends to independently prosecute allegations of illegal abortions, pursue charges against providers that prescribe “any such medicines or devices for the purposes of preventing a pregnancy” and whether a pregnant person will be exempt from being charged for inducing an illegal abortion.

The Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis, which up until Friday had been the state’s last remaining abortion provider, has repeatedly stressed that birth control is still permitted in Missouri.

“If you are a patient in need of contraception, STI testing and treatment, if you are a trans individual, our doors are open and we will continue to make sure that Planned Parenthood is a welcoming place for all people,” Yamelsie Rodríguez, president and CEO of Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, said during a press conference Friday.

Planned Parenthood Great Plains will continue to offer emergency contraceptives in its health centers in Missouri and Kansas, Anamarie Rebori Simmons, a spokeswoman for the provider said, adding: “We believe an announcement like the one made by a major area health system, risks leading other providers to restrict access to Plan B and other emergency contraceptives.”

On Tuesday, Parson told reporters the state health department was evaluating whether the newly-enacted trigger ban applies to contraceptives, according to St. Louis Public Radio.

“The Department of Health will make those clarifications for us,” Parson told St. Louis Public Radio. “I think they’re in the process of making that clarification so everybody knows how we’re going to read that.”

A spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last year, state lawmakers unsuccessfully attempted to bar certain forms of contraceptives from being paid for through the state’s Medicaid program and have signaled another push may be up for discussion in a post-Roe world.

Miami man pleads guilty to multiple meth, firearms violations

(From the U. S. Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma)

A man who was arrested three times since 2019 for methamphetamine and firearms violations pleaded guilty Monday in federal court, announced U.S. Attorney Clint Johnson.

Richard Alan Stewart, 50, of Miami, pleaded guilty to three counts of Felon in Possession of Firearms and Ammunition; three counts of Possession of Methamphetamine with Intent to Distribute; Carrying a Firearm During and in Relation to a Drug Trafficking Crime; Carrying, Using, and Brandishing a Firearm During and in Relation to a Drug Trafficking Crime; and Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime.

Stewart, a convicted felon, brandished or possessed firearms on at least three different occasions along with methamphetamine that he intended to sell.

On Nov. 13, 2019, an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper stopped Stewart for a traffic violation. The trooper conducted a search of the car which revealed zip-lock bags of methamphetamine and pills along with a Spike’s Tactical multi-caliber semi-automatic rifle, which is an AR 15. Later, a search was conducted at Stewart’s home where law enforcement discovered 92 grams of methamphetamine.

On March 18, 2021, task force officers conducted a search of Stewart’s residence based on a tip that Stewart continued to traffic large quantities of methamphetamine. When officers confronted Stewart in the home, he drew a stolen Smith & Wesson .380 caliber pistol and pointed it at them. Officers forcibly removed the gun from Stewart’s hand and arrested him. During the search, officers found the following items:

-one black bag containing a large amount of methamphetamine, a loaded Smith

& Wesson .45 caliber revolver, digital scales, and a baggie with yellow pills;

-one black bag with bundles of U.S. Currency totaling $39,350;

-one Heritage .22 caliber revolver

-two additional bags of methamphetamine

-glass pipes

-additional U.S. currency

In total, officers located 1.4 kilograms of methamphetamine.

Finally, on May 17, 2021, Grove City Police officer pulled Stewart over for a traffic violation and conducted a search of the vehicle, which revealed 670 grams of methamphetamine, a glass pipe, a Ruger EC9s 9mm caliber pistol, and seven rounds of ammunition.

In total, law enforcement recovered five illegally-obtained firearms, ammunition, more than 2 kilograms of methamphetamine, and more than $40,000 from the investigation.

Stewart did not cooperate with law enforcement during the investigations. Stewart faces a 17-year sentence for the possession and brandishing of firearms charges and an additional 10 year sentence for distribution of controlled substances. Once sentenced, Stewart will serve a minimum of 27 years in federal prison.

This case was prosecuted as part of Operation Pullin Chains, an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, Drug Enforcement Administration, Oklahoma Highway Patrol, 13th District Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force, and Grove City Police Department conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyle M. McWaters is prosecuting the case.

SkyWest Airlines to continue Chicago, Denver flights from Joplin Regional Airport

(From the City of Joplin)

Joplin City officials are pleased to announce that air service with SkyWest Airlines operated by United Express will continue to offer a dual hub service plan for Joplin throughout 2022.

The service will include a daily nonstop flight to Chicago in the morning with an evening nonstop return arrival. In addition, five days a week travelers can fly to and from Denver. This nonstop afternoon service is available Thursday through Monday.


Earlier this year SkyWest Airlines notified the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) that the airline intended to terminate United Express service at Joplin, MO, and 28 other United Express communities. The decision was not driven by any failure in the USDOT’s Essential Air Service Program (EAS) or the communities. The ongoing national pilot shortage was noted, resulting in service cuts by all U.S. airlines.

Following this announcement, City management worked with their airline consultant Mike Mooney from Volaire Aviation Consulting and SkyWest officials to determine a solution for Joplin area travelers reliant on air service.


“Air service is essential for our community, and drives economic growth and opportunities,” said Nick Edwards, City Manager. “We are pleased to say that Joplin residents can be confident in booking flights for the rest of 2022.”

Travelers can visit or or other travel websites to book flights from Joplin Regional Airport, where parking is free.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Tony Robyn named Joplin assistant city manager

(From the City of Joplin)

Joplin City Manager Nick Edwards is pleased to announce that Tony Robyn has accepted the position of Assistant City Manager. 

Robyn worked at the City from 2012 to 2017, and was promoted from the Disaster Recovery Coordinator to the Assistant Director of Development, Planning and Neighborhood Services. 

He returns to the City following other leadership positions in Joplin including his current position of Executive Director of MOKAN Economic Partnership. In this role, he managed and directed collaboration among communities, industries, businesses, and leaders within a seven-county region.

Edwards noted Robyn’s experience in multiple organizations as an asset to the City. “Generally, every discussion about moving the City forward has touched on the need for capacity, additional staffing, and responding to current challenges in the community. 

During the interview process, Tony was seen as the candidate that can best help the City proactively respond to the challenges and improve service to the community. His previous experience with the City, most notably the tornado recovery assignments, and his work with economic development projects will help ensure we can take advantage of the many opportunities that I believe are headed our way.”

Robyn moved to Joplin in 2002 with the National Audubon Society and worked with community advocates and leaders to build the Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center in Joplin. 

During his work with this environmental asset, he was promoted twice within the Audubon Society and served as Vice President and Regional Director when he left and joined he City for his recovery role. Prior to Joplin’s positions, he worked in the Parks and Recreation Department in Kansas City, Mo., where he served in management positions in botanical, zoological, and environmental areas within the organization.


“This is a huge honor to continue to serve Joplin in this new capacity,” said Robyn. “While still working alongside colleagues and our community partners, I’m excited to be rejoining the city team and in continuing the growth of our community we've called home for over 20 years.”

Robyn is a Certified Economic Developer and serves on several boards and commissions. He is Vice President of Joplin Industrial Development Authority, Board Chair of Joplin Workshops, Inc., and a member of Harry S. Truman Coordinating Council, Missouri Economic Development Council, and Hawthorne Foundation.

Robyn will begin working with the City on Monday, July 18. He and his wife have one daughter and reside in Joplin.

Nixa state representative convicted of COVID-19 fraud, separate fraud scheme

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

A Missouri state representative was convicted by a federal trial jury today for a nearly $900,000 COVID-19 fraud scheme, as well as a separate $200,000 fraud scheme in which she made false claims about a fake stem cell treatment marketed through her clinics in southern Missouri, and for illegally providing prescription drugs to clients of those clinics.

“This is an elected official who stole money from the public, a purported humanitarian who cheated and lied to her patients, and a medical professional who illegally distributed drugs,” said U.S. Attorney Teresa Moore. 

“She violated her position of trust to selfishly enrich herself at the expense of others. But a jury of her peers, in a unanimous verdict, saw through her smokescreen of excuses and ridiculous claims, and now she will be held accountable for her criminal behavior.”

Patricia “Tricia” Ashton Derges, 64, of Nixa, Mo., was found guilty of 10 counts of wire fraud, 10 counts of distributing drugs over the internet without a valid prescription, and two counts of making false statements to a federal law enforcement agent.

Derges was elected in November 2020 as a Missouri state representative in District 140 (Christian County). Derges, who is not a physician but is licensed as an assistant physician, operates three for-profit Ozark Valley Medical Clinic locations in Springfield, Ozark, and Branson, Mo. Derges also operates the non-profit corporation Lift Up Someone Today, Inc., with a medical and dental clinic in Springfield.

“Derges betrayed the confidence entrusted in her as both an elected lawmaker and an assistant physician,” Charles Dayoub, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Kansas City. “She took advantage of a global pandemic to benefit herself financially with complete disregard, not only to her constituents, but to the oath she took as a health care professional to do no harm. Today’s verdict, decided by a jury of her peers, is a direct message to those who wish to profit on the backs of others: the FBI will vigorously pursue any individual who abuses their position of power and the trust of Missourians for their own gain.”

“By putting personal profit before the health and welfare of her constituents, this official egregiously violated the duties of her position as an elected public servant,” said Curt L. Muller, Special Agent in Charge with the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). “HHS-OIG will not tolerate any attempts to defraud federal health care programs, particularly those that steal from essential taxpayer funds and endanger public health.”

COVID-19 Fraud Scheme

Derges was convicted of three counts of wire fraud related to her attempt to fraudulently receive nearly $900,000 in CARES Act funds. Derges actually was awarded $296,574 in CARES Act funds for Lift Up, although Lift Up did not provide any COVID-19 testing services to its patients. In fact, Lift Up’s medical clinic closed at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and remained closed from March to June 2020.

Derges sought CARES Act funding for COVID-19 testing that had been provided, and already paid for, at her for-profit Ozark Valley Medical Clinic. Derges requested reimbursement for $379,294 in COVID-19 testing and related expenses, and future funding in the amount of $503,350. In total, Derges applied for $882,644 from the CARES Act Relief Fund on Lift Up’s behalf.

Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March 2020, which provided $150 billion to states, tribal governments, and units of local government. Missouri was allocated approximately $2.3 billion. Missouri allocated approximately $34 million in CARES Act funds to Greene County. 

To administer the CARES Act funds it received, the Greene County Commission created the CARES Act Relief Fund to “promote recovery by funding programs and services that support the needs of those impacted by the COVID-19 public health emergency.” 

An advisory council of 30 citizen volunteers was appointed to review funding requests and make funding recommendations to the Greene County Commission.

Derges claimed in her application to the Greene County CARES Act Relief Fund that Lift Up provided COVID-19 testing and she sought reimbursement for “COVID-19 eligible expenses” that Lift Up had incurred. To support her claim, Derges provided invoices totaling $296,574 from Dynamic DNA for more than 3,000 COVID-19 laboratory tests. Derges submitted the Dynamic DNA invoices as Lift Up expenditures, although they were actually for testing done at Derges’s for-profit Ozark Valley Medical Clinic.

Lift Up, a non-profit charity, and Ozark Valley Medical Clinic, a for-profit corporation, are separate legal entities. Ozark Valley Medical Center had already received payment from its clients of approximately $517,000 for these COVID-19 tests. Ozark Valley Medical Center charged clients, patients, or their patients’ employers approximately $167 per sample for its COVID-19 testing services. Derges concealed from Greene County that these COVID-19 tests had already been paid for by other payors.

In December 2020, the Greene County Commission awarded Lift Up $296,574 in CARES Act funding based upon Lift Up’s fraudulent application and the Dynamic DNA invoices Derges had submitted. Derges deposited the check into Lift Up’s bank account, then transferred the funds into Ozark Valley Medical Center’s bank account.

Derges provided several more invoices from Dynamic DNA to Greene County later in December 2020 to further support her application for Lift Up, although the invoices were actually for testing done for clients at Ozark Valley Medical Center, raising the total to $589,143 for 6,177 COVID-19 tests. Derges concealed from Greene County that Ozark Valley Medical Center already had been paid approximately $1 million by clients, patients, or their patients’ employers, for these COVID-19 tests.

Stem Cell Fraud Scheme

Derges also was convicted of seven counts of wire fraud related to a nearly $200,000 fraud scheme, which lasted from December 2018 to May 2020. Derges marketed a stem cell treatment that actually utilized amniotic fluid that did not contain any stem cells. The federal indictment charged her with defrauding four specific victims, each of whom testified during the trial.

Derges exclusively obtained amniotic fluid, which she marketed under the name Regenerative Biologics, from the University of Utah. Derges advertised Ozark Valley Medical Clinic as a “Leader in … Regenerative Medicine,” including stem cells, and marketed her “stem cell” practice through seminars, media interviews, and social media. Derges made similar claims in personal consultations.

In fact, however, the amniotic fluid Derges administered to her patients did not contain mesenchymal stem cells, or any other stem cells. The amniotic fluid she obtained from the University of Utah was a sterile filtered amniotic fluid allograft (a tissue graft comprised of human amniotic membrane and amniotic fluid components derived from placental tissue). The amniotic fluid allograft was “acellular,” meaning it did not contain any cells, including stem cells.

Despite being told that the University of Utah’s amniotic fluid allograft was “acellular” and did not contain mesenchymal stem cells, Derges continued to tell her patients and the public that the amniotic fluid allograft contained stem cells.

Derges administered amniotic fluid, which she falsely claimed contained stem cells, to patients who suffered from, among other things, tissue damage, kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Lyme disease, and urinary incontinence. In an April 11, 2020, Facebook post Derges wrote of amniotic fluid allograft: “This amazing treatment stands to provide a potential cure for COVID-19 patients that is safe and natural.”

The University of Utah sold its amniotic fluid allograft to Derges for approximately $244 per milliliter and $438 for two milliliters. Derges charged her patients $950 to $1,450 per milliliter. In total, Derges’s patients paid her approximately $191,815 for amniotic fluid that did not contain stem cells.

Controlled Substances Act

Derges also was convicted of 10 counts of distributing Oxycodone and Adderall over the internet without valid prescriptions. The indictment alleges that Derges, without conducting in-person medical evaluations of the patients, wrote electronic prescriptions for Oxycodone and Adderall for patients and transmitted them to pharmacies over the internet.

Because none of the assistant physicians whom Derges employed at Ozark Valley Medical Clinic could prescribe Schedule II controlled substances, it was the standard practice of the assistant physicians to see a patient and later communicate to Derges the controlled substances they wanted her to prescribe to their patients. Derges, without conducting an in-person medical evaluation of the patients as required by federal law, wrote electronic prescriptions for the patients and transmitted the prescriptions over the internet to pharmacies.

False Statements

Derges also was convicted of two counts of making false statements to federal agents investigating this case in May 2020.

Derges told agents that the amniotic fluid allograft that she used in her practice contained mesenchymal stem cells, which she knew was false. Derges also told federal agents that she had not treated a patient for urinary incontinence with amniotic fluid allograft, which she knew was false.

Assistant Physician

Derges is not a physician but is licensed as an assistant physician. An assistant physician is a mid-level medical professional in the state of Missouri. Under Missouri law, medical school graduates who have not been accepted into a residency program but have passed Step 1 and Step 2 of the United States Medical Licensing Examination may apply to become an assistant physician. State law mandates that assistant physicians practice pursuant to a collaborative practice arrangement with a licensed physician.

Derges obtained her medical degree from the Caribbean Medical University of Curacao in May 2014 but was not accepted into a post-graduate residency program. Derges was licensed as an assistant physician by the state of Missouri on Sept. 8, 2017.

Following the presentation of evidence, the jury in the U.S. District Court in Springfield, Mo., deliberated for about six hours over two days before returning guilty verdicts on all counts to U.S. District Judge Brian C. Wimes, ending a trial that began Monday, June 13.

Under federal statutes, Derges is subject to a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison without parole on each of the 10 wire fraud counts and on each of the 10 drug distribution counts, and a sentence of up to five years in federal prison without parole on each of the two false statements counts. 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.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Shannon Kempf and Supervisory Assistant U.S. Attorney Randall D. Eggert. It was investigated by the FBI, Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General, the DEA and the Missouri Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.

Watch live- January 6 Committee Hearing


Monday, June 27, 2022

Neosho superintendent: I wouldn't be surprised if A. G.'s (harassment) goes away after election

By Tessa Weinberg

In 2018, a rash of students were dying by suicide in southwest Missouri. The Neosho School District wasn’t immune.

“We were averaging about a suicide-and-a-half a year,” said Jim Cummins, the district superintendent. “And we knew that that couldn’t continue.”

The district of roughly 4,600 students launched “a full frontal assault” to address the issue, Cummins said. They hired a director of counseling services and convened a monthly meeting of parents, staff and community members to find solutions.

A major part of the district’s efforts also included implementing social emotional learning, an academic concept that aims to bolster kids’ social and emotional skills, like self-efficacy and grit.

By asking students questions like, “How often did you remain calm, even when someone was bothering you or saying bad things?” and “How clearly were you able to describe your feelings?” and assessing students’ responses in conjunction with other metrics, like their grades, attendance and discipline, the district aimed to take a pulse on how well it was building up its students, helping them develop their self-esteem and their ability to persevere in the face of inevitable challenges.

The district didn’t experience another student who died by suicide until recently — the first in nearly four years, Cummins said.

Now those same surveys have landed in Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s crosshairs.

At the urging of a Georgia-based legal nonprofit, Schmitt issued seven subpoenas to school districts — including Neosho — and a civil investigative demand to an education consultant demanding more information about the surveys.

His office called the surveys “invasive” and alleged they include “personal and otherwise unnecessary questions about their parents’ political views and income, and questions about their sexuality, as well as racially motivated or leading questions.”

The subpoenas followed months of behind-the-scenes discussions between the attorney general’s office and the Southeastern Legal Foundation, according to emails obtained by The Independent through an open records request.

Schmitt’s office first reached out to the nonprofit organization in September 2021 to inquire about its federal lawsuit against Springfield Public Schools alleging mandatory racial equity training violated two district employees’ First Amendment rights.

Over the next eight months, the attorney general’s office and the Southeastern Legal Foundation were in periodic contact, with the foundation passing along letters, including one sent to Gov. Mike Parson’s office, and holding calls to “touch base.”

One phone conference was scheduled for the morning of March 10 — three hours before the nonprofit filed an open records request with the Missouri School Boards’ Association (MSBA).

Five days later Schmitt sued MSBA over alleged Sunshine Law violations.

A little over a month after that on April 19, the Southeastern Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit of its own against MSBA over alleged Sunshine Law violations — with some of the lines in the lawsuit nearly identical to language from the attorney general’s own lawsuit.

Kimberly Hermann, the foundation’s general counsel, sent a note to Jay Atkins, general counsel in the attorney general’s office, that morning with a copy of a news release announcing the lawsuit.

“Thanks Kim, I appreciate the head’s up,” Atkins wrote back. “I saw when it went up on Just the News. Good luck!!”

Chris Nuelle, Schmitt’s spokesman, did not clarify the office’s interest in reaching out to the foundation, and said in a statement that the foundation “has brought credible concerns of several parent groups to our office on several occasions, and we take those parental concerns seriously.”

Schmitt has made transparency in schools and challenging school mask mandates a focus of his office and campaign for U.S. Senate over the past year.

With the foundation’s focus on parental and student rights, Hermann said it’s not uncommon for attorneys general to reach out “when we litigate in their state on issues that are important to them.”

Hermann said the March 10 call was to confirm with Schmitt’s office whether a 1988 opinion still reflected their legal conclusion that MSBA is subject to the Sunshine Law, “and both lawsuits rely on that publicly available reasoning.”

“The Missouri Attorney General’s office did not advise SLF on its records request or lawsuit against MSBA,” Hermann said. “SLF sent similar records requests to school board associations in other states, but MSBA is the only state association that has refused to provide the requested records.”

Chuck Hatfield, an attorney representing MSBA in both lawsuits from Schmitt and the foundation, said “one of them is simply following on the heels of the other.”

“Somebody’s cheating off of somebody else’s paper in this whole thing,” Hatfield said. “Their allegations are the same. They’re clearly coordinating one way or the other.”

Meanwhile, school districts facing the subpoenas say the surveys don’t contain the incendiary questions Schmitt portrayed. They’re used for a variety of reasons, from ensuring students’ feedback is heard firsthand to being incorporated to comply with state accountability measures set by the state education department.

“Quite frankly, it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars, because we’re having to take taxpayer dollars to pay the attorneys to represent us against the attorney general of our state,” Cummins said. “And we’re not the first school that’s had to do that over the last year.”

Role of surveys

Like critical race theory, social emotional learning has become a specter that some parents and conservative groups have seized on nationwide.

The Southeastern Legal Foundation, which describes its mission on its website as advocating “for limited government, individual liberties, and the free enterprise system,” called social emotional learning “thinly disguised political indoctrination” in its May letter to Schmitt urging for an investigation into surveys allegedly used in the Webster Groves School District.

In Florida, more than 50 math textbooks were rejected for containing elements of social emotional learning and the state has ended its participation in programs that assessed youth risk factors, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Like the recent focus they’ve received in Missouri, student surveys and the third-party companies administering them have been the subject of scrutiny at school board meetings across the country from Nebraska to Georgia.

The foundation’s May letter to Schmitt focused on surveys in the Webster Groves School District, and examples appeared to include a mix of surveys created by students, outside surveys and ones administered by the district.

But the questions other subpoenaed districts included in surveys which have been posted online largely don’t touch on those topics.

“The survey did not ask students about their parents’ political beliefs, income levels or racial biases, as suggested in the Attorney General’s press release,” said Ryan Burns, a spokeswoman for the Jefferson City School District.

Instead, the district’s surveys focused on students’ emotions, asking questions like: “Do you have a teacher or other adult from school who you can count on to help you no matter what?”

Other districts’ surveys were similar in scope, with Lee’s Summit also touching on questions on race in its climate and equity survey for 6th to 12th grade students, like: “At your school, how often are you encouraged to think more deeply about race-related topics?”

Including student feedback in decisions related to schools’ culture and climate is a key component of the district’s strategic plan, and the district’s equity plan “is also foundationally grounded in building dignity and belonging for all young people and adults in our school community,” said Katy Bergen, Lee’s Summit spokeswoman.

Cummins noted supporting the social emotional well-being of students was also one of the major uses schools were approved to spend emergency federal relief funds on, and he said “we’re not ashamed of the questions we asked.”

Surveys also play a role in how schools are evaluated by the state under the Missouri School Improvement Plan 6. Since the plan’s first version, a survey tool called the Advance Questionnaire has been used as part of the process, said Mallory McGowin, a spokeswoman for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Updated to reflect current research, the current version now awards schools two points out of the 100 available for incorporating a survey of their choice to assess ​​school culture and climate by soliciting feedback, including from students.

“Positive school climate and culture are critical to building a foundation of trust and strong learning environments,” McGowin said, stressing that schools should consult with their attorneys to ensure they’re complying with federal privacy laws.

Evan Rhinesmith, director of research and evaluation at Saint Louis University’s Policy Research in Missouri Education Center, said soliciting feedback from students, parents and the broader community, is a new direction for Missouri that’s gained resonance amid the pandemic.

“Schools are getting much more attune with that aspect of wanting to make sure that they are being supportive, and recognizing just ‘Hey, there was a lot that happened…” Rhinesmith said, “and the best way to ensure that we’re able to recover academically from some of those things that we have experienced over the last two years now, is to make sure that we’re helping kids feel prepared to handle everything else that happens in the school day.’”

Asked about schools using surveys to meet state accountability and improvement measures, Schmitt’s spokesman said: “We’re not aware of any requirement that invasive and racially charged surveys be administered to students — that’s why we sent these subpoenas, to get to the bottom of these surveys and to see how school districts are using the data gleaned from these surveys.”

In Neosho, “the development of ‘soft skills’ has been a consistent request in parent feedback,” and Cummins said the surveys hadn’t faced pushback when they were issued. But Schmitt’s subpoenas have forced the district to squelch rumors in an area where things like critical race theory are “a non-issue” in a deeply conservative area of the state, he said.

To Cummins, Schmitt “is trying to single handedly weed out the pool of educators,” who get caught in political issues rather than getting to focus on serving students. Cummins wouldn’t speculate on the motivations behind the subpoenas, but noted Schmitt is running in a competitive GOP primary for Missouri’s open U.S. Senate seat, that is set to take place in August.

“I’ll let people make their own conclusion about why the AG is doing what he’s doing, and I would suggest that if they want to know, we’ll see what happens in August,” Cummins said. “And I wouldn’t be surprised if in August all this stuff doesn’t go away.”

Jasper R-5 staff members to carry concealed weapons

Some Jasper R-5 School District employees will undergo training and carry concealed weapons following a decision by the R-5 Board of Education last week.

"Unfortunately, we live in a world in which violence is present in places we don't expect," Superintendent Eric Findley said in an e-mail message to district employees.

Findley was superintendent in the High Point School District when it authorized selected employees to carry concealed weapons. Jasper will use Shield Solutions LLC, West Plains, the same firm Findley used at High Point, to train employees. The district will bear the cost for the training.

During the meeting, board members approved another security measure, adding "decorative" fencing on the campus as "an additional detractent for potential people walking onto campus without permission."

(Note: The teacher depicted in the stock photo does not work for the Jasper R-5 School District.)

Friday, June 24, 2022

Billy Long on Roe v Wade decision: I hope we never look back

(From Seventh District Congressman Billy Long)

Congressman Billy Long issued the following statement after the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

"Today, the Supreme Court made the right decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health,” Congressman Long said. 

“Six justices correctly overturned one of the worst decisions in Supreme Court history. Roe v. Wade has no basis in Constitutional law and forced the states to accept the barbaric practice of abortion. 

I’ve never understand how a civilized society could possibly condone the killing of an innocent child in their mother’s womb. This is simply unconscionable to me and was for 49 years.

I am thrilled the State of Missouri has now outlawed all abortions in the state, in accordance with our “Trigger Law” to ban abortion immediately after Roe was overturned. Now I hope that we never look back.”

Miami man sentenced for assaulting, paralyzing Vo-Tech classmate

(From the U. S. Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma)

A man was sentenced Friday in federal court for a 2017 attack in which he picked up a fellow student and slammed the student’s head onto the ground, leaving him paralyzed, announced U.S. Attorney Clint Johnson.

U.S. District Judge Gregory K. Frizzell sentenced Jace Christian Williams, 23, of Miami, Oklahoma, to 51 months in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release. Judge Frizzell will determine restitution at an Aug. 26 hearing.

Prosecutors had argued for a ten year federal prison sentence, which is an upward departure from the federal sentencing guidelines. Prosecutors stated that both the extreme nature of Williams’ criminal conduct and the victim’s resulting physical and mental suffering warranted the departure.

“Jace Williams’ intentional, violent attack has forever changed the life of the victim in this case,” said U.S. Attorney Clint Johnson. “His egregious actions are inexcusable. This type of criminal conduct cannot and will not be tolerated.”

"In a cowardly attack, Mr. Williams blindsided and paralyzed a fellow student, then remorselessly bragged about his crime," said FBI Oklahoma City Special Agent in Charge Edward J. Gray. "We hope that today's sentence serves as a warning for other individuals who think they can harm their fellow citizens without facing any repercussions."

In February, a federal jury found Williams guilty of maiming in Indian Country and assault resulting in serious bodily injury in Indian Country.

The victim and defendant attended the same technical school in Afton and knew one another prior to the incident. In the days leading up to the crime, Williams repeatedly expressed anger toward the victim because he felt the victim had interfered and ruined Williams’ chances of having a sexual encounter with two women. Williams went as far as to tell one student that he would to make sure the victim couldn’t “use his arms or legs for five months.”

On Nov. 3, 2017, a classmate drove Williams and two friends to E. 200 Rd in Afton, in order to watch an unrelated fight between two different men. After arriving, the driver remained in his truck, scrolling through his phone. Other students, including the victim, also drove to the location in order to watch the fight.

While the victim and other students assembled in a circle waiting for the fight to begin, multiple witnesses from different vantage points saw Williams suddenly attack the victim from behind.

In a maneuver similar to what is commonly referred to as a “suplex”, Williams wrapped his arms around the victim’s body, lifted him backward and slammed him head-first onto the ground. While the victim was on his stomach on the ground, Williams proceeded to spat on the victim and repeatedly punch him in the back.

Williams’ two friends then returned to the truck and told the driver Williams had jumped the victim and that it was bad. Soon after, Williams returned to the truck, breathing heavily, and demanded the driver take him home. The driver testified that Williams ripped off his own shirt and bragged that what he had done to the victim was “fun” and that he wanted to do it again. The driver said he feared the defendant at that point and complied.

A witness to the crime called 911 and waited for paramedics to arrive. The victim was transported to a hospital in Joplin, Missouri. The victim sustained a C6-7 fracture-subluxation with bilateral locked facets and paralysis. As a result of the injuries inflicted by Williams, the victim is a quadriplegic.

The crime occurred within the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation reservation. The FBI and Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Richard M. Cella and Brandon A. Skates prosecuted the case.