Archive for November 2007

Vincent—not e-mail but junk mail

November 27, 2007

Gov. Matt Blunt recently tapped Missouri Department of Revenue head, Trish Vincent, as his chief of staff, after letting Ed Martin go in “…you’re doing a heckuva of a job, Brownie…” style.
The e-mail debacle aside, Vincent is the one who brought you more junk mail—slick fliers with your vehicle renewal notices beginning last year. It’s the story the Headliner published Sept. 20, 2006.
Under Vincent’s leadership the DOR launched the private-public partnership with Imagitas, Inc., a subsidiary of Pitney Bowes, to print motor vehicle renewal forms at no cost to the state in exchange for the right to advertise to millions of people in Missouri.
It was all done to save money—about a half million in 2006 out of a $86-million budget, she said.
But the move did not go unnoticed by some astute consumers, resenting the state selling their addresses to the direct-marketing firm and thereby violating the federal Drivers’ Privacy Protection Act. Missouri is one of a number of states participating in a class-action suit against Pitney-Bowes.
A quick Google of Imagitas found this news story from 2006.
“Pitney Bowes has changed course radically in trying to defend one of its companies, Imagitas. Imagitas, facing a national class action suit for violation of driver’s privacy rights in six states, has now withdrawn a motion for summary judgment that claimed they had not violated the law. They have announced that, instead, they will file a motion for a multi-district litigation (MDL) to handle the violations of the Drivers’ Privacy Protection Act (DPPA). A violation of the DPPA invokes a penalty of $2500 per incident.
“We estimate that Pitney Bowes has affected about 22 million people by this violation,” said Norwood “Woody” Wilner of the Jacksonville-based trial firm Spohrer Wilner, and lead attorney in the class action suit against Imagitas. Wilner’s comments were made during a meeting of lead plaintiff lawyers from the six states where the Pitney Bowes Company did business. Imagitas targeted drivers in six states: Florida, Ohio, Missouri, Michigan, New York and Minnesota with commercial solicitations in envelopes containing vehicle registration.
Wilner, who lead the first successful tobacco litigation, says the arrogance of a company to ignore privacy laws reminds him the early days of tobacco litigation. “Despite explicit Federal Law, we have a company who is trying to work the system. This is unacceptable in the age of privacy,” said Wilner. “The DPPA was created to protect drivers from privacy invasion. Pitney Bowes has reversed course after their lawyers worked with the court to set a hearing date in February.”
Wilner, a native of Miami Beach, Florida, became internationally famous for his successful campaign against the tobacco industry. Mr. Wilner and his team won the groundbreaking case, Carter v. Brown and Williamson, which resulted in the first verdict against the tobacco industry to be affirmed on appeal, involving both the Florida Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court.”
Since that time, Missouri has come on board.
A news report from the Boston Business Journal titled: “Pitney Bowes’ unit faces suit over junk mail info” had this to say in part:
“ ‘It’s a real win-win for the state of Missouri,” said Maura Browning, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Revenue.
Aside from the lawsuits, Browning said the only complaints the state has received came from some insurance agents who were miffed when they saw ads for State Farm insurance included with the auto registration information.”
One of those “miffed” insurance agents was Ozark’s Teresa Christensen.
“I was rather insulted by it,” the Shelter Insurance agent said. “This is a taxpayer supported entity of the government. It looked like the state was endorsing that particular company and some people will take it that way.”
And, in spite of what the DOR and Imagitas say, the states involved in this scheme are selling residents’ personal information to a direct marketing firm for profit and getting a cut of the action.


Gadfly and the Sunshine gang

November 16, 2007

It was a refreshing discussion at Evangel University Nov. 15 when the Gadfly joined members of the Springfield media and James Klahr, from the AG’s office, to discuss the practical applications of the Sunshine Law. David Burton with the University of Missouri Extension Office and the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists deserve praise for providing the opportunity to learn about the law, discuss its importance and to air frustrations over its flaws.

Klahr gave an overview of the state’s open records law that is often misunderstood, under utilized and sometimes plainly and purposefully ignored. Tony Messenger, editorial page editor for the Springfield News-Leader, expounded on his e-mail odyssey with the governor’s office that will surely set straight any misconceptions that e-mail communications among government officials are off limits to the public. And Ron Davis, senior producer with KSPR,  shared his many, many years of experience in digging for and reporting on news in southwest Missouri. He drove home the point that journalists must turn the page to find the story.

The three local panelists are glaring examples of what’s needed to hold government accountable and what is all too often missing. While Christian County resident (Gadfly) Ernie O’Gaffney takes hit after hit by the status quo in this county, he is evidence that one person can make a difference. The public is better served when people like him take a stand.
But his experience is also evidence that the Sunshine Law is not easily enforced and when the public, which includes the media, run up against cranky public officials, often the only recourse is to sue. His litigation languishes still—since March—with the AG’s office. That makes it easy for officials to break the law and watch while nothing ever happens.

But what was more important about last night’s seminar is that the room was full of student journalists who may have heard for the first time how important it is to hold government accountable. Davis made it clear that journalists cannot expected to be liked by the folks they cover and that it isn’t in anyone’s interest to sidle up and drink at the trough of government gruel—PR.

Without oversight, which is the main job of the press, even the best of intentions can go haywire.
Secondly, there were a number of local residents there who are struggling to hold their officials accountable and needed the pep talk to assure them they’re on the right side of tracks.

Three important points came from the discussion:
• The Sunshine Law is for everyone, not just the media
• The Sunshine Law needs teeth to discourage noncompliance
• And, as Davis put it, public officials are people like you and me. Most want to do a good job and are willing to comply with that and all the other laws; they should be respected for their public service. Scrutiny simply helps them attain that nobility.

Ozark football, parade suggestion for congestion

November 14, 2007

Ozark will be all agog Saturday, Nov. 17, with the annual Christmas Parade at 6 p.m. just following the 1:30 p.m. football game between the Tigers, 8-4 and Lee Summit West, 12-0.

The winner of that game will play for the Class 4 high school championship in the Edward Jones Dome at St. Louis at 3:15 p.m. Nov. 23 against either Parkway Central, 11-1 or Vaschon 9-2—both teams are from the St. Louis area. According to information from the Ozark High School, the school counted 4,000 paid receipts for the quarter-final game Monday night. There were cars parked everywhere–some where cars shouldn’t be parked at all.

This semi-final game will draw as many or more and rest assured, unless it is Ozark leading by four touchdowns in the fourth quarter, no one will exit the field early. The Tigers recently proved twice what baseball legend Yogi Bera always knew: “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.”

The traffic situation may be one for the record books when you couple the game with the Christmas Parade that draws visitors to Ozark early in the afternoon. But no one really needs to be anywhere else Saturday afternoon anyway. Paraders will stage behind the former Fasco plant; the location was changed from the junior high school parking lot to accommodate the sporting event.

Should the Tigers make the kill, half the town will evaporate six days later to watch the championship game in St. Louis .  We wish it so.

It took a village to reveal this miscreant

November 9, 2007

In answer to a local taxpayer’s inquiry into Speaker of the House Rod Jetton’s sly move to accommodate the developer Bob Plaster, who’s been politically linked with Jetton and presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Jetton issued an e-mail yesterday—not only to him, but to many others.

Again, taking a page out of the overused “Blame the Messenger Handbook for Politicians,” it is not what Jetton did that was wrong, it was that the media reported it — just to be mean. Funny how none of the elected representatives who have to answer for Jetton’s abuse of power had an inkling of what he had done.

Jetton should be assured that the media are concerned about how Missouri “boring” statutes define creating a village—but perhaps he should be concerned how his betrayal of trust defines his political future. Read the double-talk for yourself, and remember the bill he refers to was an omnibus bill that was nearly 300 pages. Jetton does not deny or explain why he added the language that changes state law or why he kept it a secret.

Below is the e-mail,  the ‘lawmaker’ doth protest too much, methinks.

Thank you for taking the time to contact my office. I’d like to take the time to explain several things.

I have not said anything publicly about the issue because I do not believe the media is concerned about how Missouri statutes define creating a village, but rather they are attempting to fuel a fight between two Republicans. I am not being critical of them because they choose to write about conflicts instead of boring statute changes; actually it is probably what they feel more readers would be interested in.

I do feel, however, that it does not help anyone, myself, or Rep. Woods, or more importantly the party to spur a disagreement and make accusations towards one another in the press. I have talked to Rep. Woods personally about this and I do not believe we need to air our differences or recollections about how this law was changed in the paper. This is the main reason why I have not commented in the paper.

Since that time the News Leader has said several unflattering things about me in order to provoke me into talking about this in their paper. Each time I have kept my silence and each time they have written even more farfetched and baseless accusations against me. Given the speculation they have made I can understand your concern over the issue, and this is why I want to take a brief moment of your time and explain the issue.

First, the information regarding my involvement in the village law change is somewhat inaccurate. Yes, I was asked my opinion about the proposed law change defining how villages are started in Missouri, and I had no problem with it. I really didn’t think it would be a big deal. Unfortunately, in Dennis’s area it has been a big deal and he has received a huge amount of criticism from several Stone County voters who apparently are against new developments.

I really hadn’t followed the bill closely because no real opposition to the bill emerged. However, given the way the issue was portrayed in the paper I have taken the time to go back over the details of the changes to the village law and the timeline of events.

The paper reported the change was done without anyone’s knowledge and that it took place at the “11th hour” with no time for anyone to read or examine it. However, anyone willing to do a little research can see that law was changed in committee on April 17th not on the House floor as was reported. The full bill containing the change was then passed out of committee on April 24th. After that it was distributed and placed on the House Calendar for 20 days before it was finally brought up for debate.
During debate on the floor the bill was amended in other areas 50 times and debated for a total of 3 hours, however the provision pertaining to the village law was never addressed and remained the same as that from the committee version passed 20 days earlier. At any time during debate any member could have brought up the provision discussed it or attempted to change it, but no opposition emerged. The whole House by a 50-vote margin then approved the bill.

Because there were differences between the House and Senate versions the bill was sent to a conference committee on May 16th. The conference committee had possession of the bill and discussed it for 2 days before agreeing to a compromise to work out the differences. Finally, on the last day of session the compromise bill was presented to both chambers and passed 123 to 31 in the House and 29 to 4 in the Senate. The provision pertaining to the village law remained unchanged throughout that process as well.

So this change was added to the bill in committee on April 17th then debated through three House votes and two Senate votes over a one month period before final passage. It was a small change in a big bill so it is easy to see why nobody would ask about it, and I am sure the other legislators, like me, did not seem to think it was a significant change.

I hope this timeline helps clarify more accurately how the change was made and the actual amount of time the legislature and any members had to review the law itself and offer a revision. I would encourage anyone who is interested to research the process and see for themselves.

In addition to an accurate timeline of the bill I think it is also important to take a closer look at what I believe the change in law means for private property rights in Missouri. Before this law was changed, previous court opinions said our laws pertaining to how to create a village were vague and open to different interpretations. For instance, when I was a County Commissioner in Bollinger County we saw a great deal of growth in our county and from 1990 to 2000 we actually saw a 25% increase in our total population, the largest in Southeast Missouri. Growing this fast made it tough on our county government to keep pace with the services we needed to offer. I encouraged any small community to incorporate and form a village because it would allow them to obtain state and federal grants that could be used for roads, public water and sewer systems, and other infrastructure. Any growing community needs those things, so more villages in Southeast Missouri meant better things for the area. Defining in state law what a village is, and the exact process for forming one was the right thing to do.

Improving an area and developing property almost always brings in a few more people. Those increases in population are what brings in more taxes, which usually allows the streets to be better, the water to be cleaner, and the trash to be picked up more regularly. This is why your more populated areas usually have nicer roads, better water and sewer facilities, as well as more options for phone, power, and Internet capabilities. In rural areas where I come from, the roads are rougher, water and sewer are rarely available and even trash service can be difficult to obtain. What people need to realize is a community can develop and progress and still preserve the things we love about the area.

In Stone County there are some who aren’t interested in more development, which is probably the reason they are so adamantly against the change. While I am not familiar with their situation I do know there are many other areas in the state that need and are actively working towards more development and would welcome new investments into their area.

Keep in mind a small village still has to provide services when they reach 100 residents. There were really only two main changes in the new law. The first defined what a “village” is. Before this bill, the definition of a village could only be found in case law. SB 22 also changed the requirements for petitioning to become a village. The requirement went from 15% of people who voted in the last gubernatorial election to 15% of registered voters in the particular area that wants to become a village. This could increase the number of people who have to sign a petition to become a village because many times there are fewer people that vote in Governor Elections than are registered voters.

Now let’s discuss the issue of local control. After the newspaper articles I have had 123 Southwest Missouri residents contact me about this issue. Not all of them were upset about the village law itself. Most were upset with me because of the way the newspaper inaccurately reported how the change was made. They understandably thought it looked shady. However, there were letters from those who did not want any developments in their area and most of those letters ended with this statement, “Now this man can do anything he wants with his property”.

I do not have a problem with that because I am a conservative Republican who has always stood firm for private property rights. Letting people do what they want with their property is something I believe in. That is why folks like me move to the country. We want to get away from city ordinances and rules about what we can or cannot do with our land. The way I read the law allowing a few citizens to start their village is about as close to local control as you can get. There are some commissioners in the state, probably from the bigger counties, who want the power to decide who and how things are developed in their county. Sometimes that can be a good thing, but sometimes it can cross the line of protecting private property rights.

I do not know the history and the situation surrounding the opposition to developments in Stone County, but I assume there are several questions people are asking. Is the proposed development bad for the area? Are the commissioners getting political heat from prospective voters? Are their rival developers who do not want any completion and have influence with the commissioners? Do they just not like Bob Plaster because he does what he wants on his land and did not treat them the way he should? I do not know the answers to those questions, I only know we made a small change to a law that was unclear and the only place in the state it has been a problem so far is Stone County.

Not responding to the accusations the Springfield News Leader made against me has probably hurt my reputation in Southwest Missouri, but disparaging a fellow caucus member in public is not good for anybody. I realize there may be differences of opinion about how to define and start a village, but some of the things others have said about me are not true.

Again I thank you for taking the time to write my office with your concerns.

Rod Jetton

From football to kickin’ around in the sunshine

November 8, 2007

The Ozark community rejoiced in a nail-biter of a football game last night when the Tigers beat Union in OT by a two-point conversion. That brings the Tigers to the quarter finals Monday night in Ozark against Carthage. To borrow a quote from Bill Shankly:
“Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that.”
Good luck to the Ozark Tigers and we hope to see them advance to the finals.
Now to less serious business. The Gadfly will lend his experiences to a panel discussion on the Sunshine Law later this month with esteemed colleagues in media. I am not sure why the event is presented as “the practical use of Missouri’s Sunshine law,” unless that means to enforce it, you have to practically be a lawyer, play one on TV, or have enough discretionary money on hand to hire one to sue and still be able to retire someday.

Many, not all, public officials snub their noses at the law and rather than give up what might be inconvenient, challenge the public’s right to know and suffer insignificant consequences. They, some close to home, cry foul when a citizen exercises his or her right to sue and then the officials complain about having to retain counsel to defend themselves.
Please. Stop the madness. Obey the law—we ask so little from you.

Anyway, here it is from the horses mouth:

Sunshine Law topic of media panel discussion Nov. 15 at Evangel

SPRINGFIELD, MO. — “Practical Use of the Sunshine Law” will be the topic of a media panel discussion starting at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 15, in Room 102 of Trask Hall (aka Academic Building 2) on the campus of Evangel University in Springfield.

The event is free and open to the public.

The Southwest Missouri PRO Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, in conjunction with the pre-law club and the Society of Collegiate Journalists at Evangel, are jointly hosting this panel discussion to focus attention on the practical use of Missouri’s Sunshine Law.

Panelists include Ron Carrier, chief counsel for the Missouri attorney general in southwest Missouri; Tony Messenger, Springfield News-Leader editorial page editor; Ron Davis, KSPR senior news producer; and Ernie O’Gaffney, Christian County resident.

The program will include a 30-minute overview of the Sunshine Law and then an open panel discussion about the pros and cons of the Sunshine Law, ways to use the law effectively, examples of how the law can be used and some things that might be changed to improve the law.

Parking is available on the east side of the campus, facing Glenstone, and signs will be posted pointing visitors toward Trask Hall.

For more information about the program or the panelists, contact either David Burton, president of the local SPJ Chapter at (417) 862-9284 or Melinda Booze, journalism/communication instructor at Evangel (417) 865-2815.

Grubaugh and Brown : A whisper of compromise

November 5, 2007

Presiding County Commission John Grubuagh spoke in little more than a whisper this morning when telling County Clerk Kay Brown he “wanted to work with her.” But the message was loud and clear anyway. He would provide the clerk with originals of permanent records and copies of working files.
Seeing this as at least a partial victory in her efforts to have control over the county’s records of which she is legal custodian, Brown seemed satisfied. This latest development that came on the heels of a ruling Oct. 29 that dismissed O’Gaffney’s writ of mandamus that if successful, would have forced Grubaugh to give up the records to Brown.
Western Commissioner Bill Barnett held true to his opinion that the clerk should have all the records upstairs in her office and the commission could work from copies. He also made an interesting notation saying that former County Clerk Junior Combs kept the commission’s original records with him and provided the commission copies.
Brown requested an inventory list and it appeared as though the documents would begin to migrate to the clerk’s office immediately. She said she needed all the records prior to February of this year.  If there was a mention of a timetable, it was inaudible. But time will tell how satisfied Brown is with the new found cooperation.
Brown could have re-filed the writ and may have been successful; and, she could still take legal action if this “compromise” as she termed it, does not continue. “It must continue,” she said.

Custody battle

November 2, 2007

Presiding Christian County Commissioner put County Clerk Kay Brown on Monday’s agenda at 9:15 a.m. Brown she says she isn’t sure what the discussion will entail.
Speculators might agree that it has something to do with Judge Craig Carter’s recent dismissal of Ernest O’Gaffney’s writ of mandamus filed against the county. The legal maneuver, if successful, would force the commission to cede custody of the county records to the custodian of records pursuant to state statute. Novel thought.
Grubaugh claimed “a complete win” in the recent ruling. It was, at least, a partial win for Grubaugh, who for some inexplicable reason is fighting with Brown over the records. The judge dismissed the case during this proceeding not because the clerk wasn’t entitled to the records, but because O’Gaffney had no legal standing to file the claim. Why? Because he could show no damages.
Could the county clerk re-file the case?  Could Brown and Grubaugh share custody? What about visitation rights? Stay tuned.

The County Commission agenda is provided below:

The Christian County Courthouse, Rm. 100,  Nov. 5


8:45 a.m.        Motion/Vote
Re:  Independent Auditor

9:00 a.m.        Tom Lawson, Payroll Clerk
Re:  CERF Pension Plan Update

9:15 a.m.        Kay Brown, County Clerk
Re: County Records

9:30 a.m.        Dodee Matthews – Ozark Parks and Recreation
Re:  Greenways Trail

10:00 a.m.        John Housley
Re:  Acquiring Right of Way

11:00 a.m.        Trevor Croley
Re:  Cox Health Plans Renewal

12:00 noon        OACAC Luncheon/Board Meeting

2:00–4:30 p.m.    Work/Study Session
Re:  2008 Budget