April 26, 2015

Missouri Auditor: governor’s office still paying for employees, travel from other agencies, can’t justify float trip

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s office is still paying for its employees and their travel expenses out of the budgets of other state agencies, despite measures taken by the legislature meant to end those practices. That’s one of the findings of the state auditor’s office, in its review of Nixon’s office’s practices from July 2011 through June of 2014.

Jay Nixon (photo credit UPI)

Jay Nixon (photo credit UPI)

It also says the governor’s office also paid with taxpayer dollars for a float trip that the auditor says did not appear necessary to the operation of the office.

The report says 14 state agencies funded all or part of the salaries and travel costs for six of the governor’s office and mansion employees, totaling about $948,000. Additionally, the Department of Public Safety paid about $85,000 for 49 flights for governor’s office personnel, and several state agencies paid other costs for the governor’s office and mansion adding up to about $732,000.

$374,960 of that came from the Department of Economic Development.

The auditor’s office was critical of this practice the last time it reviewed Nixon’s office, and the state legislature in 2012 added wording to the enacting language of the state budget meant to prevent most state agencies from paying for governor’s office staff or travel expenses.

The auditor’s office found that in August, 2011, Governor Nixon, First Lady Georganne Nixon, and four employees of the Governor’s Office went on a 1-day float trip costing at least $1,300. It says the Deputy Chief of Staff said the purpose of the trip was to promote tourism, but the auditor’s office says there was no documentation supporting the business purpose of the trip and questions whether it was an effective means of marketing Missouri.

To the section of the audit regarding travel, which included the float trip, the governor’s office responded, “The office follows state travel policy. On occasion, circumstances require some deviations from the policy, but efforts to ensure the most cost-effective means are implemented. The office will continue to ensure that such instances are appropriately handled.”

The audit says state laws regarding the use of state resources by the governor’s office for political and personal purposes are “ambiguous and contradictory,” and called on the office to push for legislation clarifying them. It also suggested the office quit the use of state resources for anything other than state business either permanently or until the laws are clarified.

The audit found that some governor’s office employees received raises beyond those received by other state employees, and suggested the governor’s office quit that practice. It also calls on the governor’s office to develop a written employee manual; that same recommendation was made in the previous audit.

The audit says capital asset records for the governor’s office and the mansion are “incomplete and inaccurate,” and said annual physical inventories of mansion assets have not been performed. It also says the costs of mansion events sponsored by outside entities are not compared to the amounts billed, and says the governor’s office did not document information to support the business purposes and costs of food served at events hosted by the governor, as required by state policy.

See the complete audit report at the State Auditor’s website.

Missouri Congressional delegation campaigns to ditch the EPA’s “Waters of the U.S.” rule

Some of Missouri’s Congressional delegation are fighting to get the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Waters of the U.S.” rule withdrawn. West-central Missouri Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler and East-central Missouri Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer are co-sponsors of a bill targeting rule that backers say protects the nation’s water resources.

presser picAccording to the EPA’s website, the federal government does not have authority on new types of water such as mud puddles, regulating groundwater or expanding jurisdiction over ditches. Luetkemeyer and Hartzler disagree, and said the rule expands the jurisdiction of the federal government over waters like ditches, flood plains, man-made ponds, and mud puddles.

Hartzler agrees the nation’s water supply must be kept safe, but says, “We need to make sure that we do it in a way that works with states and local governments to ensure this happens and isn’t a federal land grab,” said Hartzler. “This is certainly very, very concerning. This violates the balance of power that has been working for years between federal jurisdiction, state and local jurisdiction to ensure that Americans have a clean water supply.”

Luetkemeyer believes that the rule was implemented illegally. “This was something they bureaucratically just did as a fiat rather than as a worked on rule that allowed everyone to have some input and everyone could live or work with,” said Luetkemeyer.

According to the EPA’s website, input from the agriculture community shaped the proposal.

Harry Thompson with the Missouri Farm Bureau says the rule also effects the nation’s food supply and where children play, among other things.

“Unless you live in a concrete jungle and don’t have any concern about where your food comes from, this is an issue that should concern everyone,” said Thompson.

The legislation would also require the EPA go back to the drawing board with local and state officials to develop a new rule.

Missouri Senate leader pulls support for key piece of chamber’s budget proposal

The plan to lump together the budgets of three state agencies and let them divide up their money has lost a key supporter.

Senate President Tom Dempsey

Senate President Tom Dempsey

House and Senate lawmakers were supposed to begin public negotiations Wednesday. The holdup has been the proposal of Senate Budget Chairman Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) to lump together most of the money for the Departments of Health, Mental Health, and Social Services into two pools, reduce the increases the House proposed for those agencies by 4 to 6 percent, and let them decide where in their programs to put money.

Senate President Tom Dempsey (R-St. Charles) says he can no longer support that.

“If you don’t have a willing participant in the governor’s office I think it makes it very hard to trim in the areas that Kurt and we would like to see greater efficiency,” said Dempsey. “What would happen potentially is the governor would make cuts in areas that are very harmful to the people that we are trying to serve.”

Without Dempsey’s support, Schaefer’s position to negotiate with House budget leaders is significantly weaker.

Republicans want to get the budget to the governor by the end of next week, so that if he vetoes or withholds proposed spending, the legislature will have time to consider an override.

Tom Schweich suicide investigation continues, no motive found

The investigation into the death of Missouri auditor Tom Schweich is not over. Police in Clayton say they all the evidence, including gun residue findings and an autopsy, says Schweich died by his own hand, but they still aren’t ready to say why.

Clayton Police Detectives Don Bass (left) and Tom Bosch

Clayton Police Detectives Don Bass (left) and Tom Bosch

Investigators said Tuesday they had that day confiscated Schweich’s work computer that he used in St. Louis, and today confiscate his work computer from Jefferson City, as they continue looking for evidence of a motive for his suicide February 26 at his home in Clayton.

So far Detective Tom Bass says investigators have already searched data from two cell phones, a laptop, and a mainframe computer, for evidence of that motive.

“None was found,” said Bass.

Nor, say police, can they confirm the existence of a whispering campaign that friends and family have told investigators and media that Schweich believed was being conducted against him. Schweich believed Missouri GOP Chairman John Hancock was telling people Schweich was Jewish – something Schweich believed was intended to hurt him in his race for governor.

“We found only one person with firsthand knowledge, and that was David Humphreys, whose already made an affidavit statement that he’s released to the press,” said Detective Tom Bosch. “He reaffirmed that affidavit when he talked to us.”

Humphreys’ affidavit said Hancock had told him Schweich was Jewish in November, but later said he had the date wrong in his original statement and said the conversation had actually taken place in September. The change in the date is significant because Hancock has said he had mistakenly thought Schweich was Jewish and might have said so, but said that stopped after Schweich corrected him in November. Hancock has denied he ever mentioned Schweich’s faith in an effort to hurt him politically or in fundraising.

Clayton police talked to Hancock.

“He denied making any statements,” Bosch said.

Clayton Police also released a 40-page report that details their investigation into the events leading up to and following Schweich’s death. Police write that in an interview, Jack Danforth aide Martha Fitz said Schweich was, “Fierce and confrontational,” in a phone conversation just before his death, when she told him that he should not attempt to expose the alleged whispering campaign. Schweich, she said, ended his part in that call by saying, “I’m going to kill myself,” and dropping the phone.

Police say Schweich’s wife Kathy told them she saw him squatting down with a gun box and thought he would “probably just point the gun at himself and not pull the trigger.” It was while her back was turned that she heard a shot.

Schweich had talked to family about killing himself before, Bass said.

“It was something that, according to his wife, he had mentioned off and on for several years,” Bass said.

Detectives say the family still believes the whispering campaign was the chief issue on Schweich’s mind at the time of his death.

Kathy Schweich told investigators she believed he acted spontaneously when he killed himself, according to the report. Fitz, it says, told investigators, “Clearly he felt like he was alone.”

Galloway ready to be ‘watchdog’ as Missouri auditor, will run in ’18 (VIDEO)

Missouri’s next auditor says she has what it takes to be the state’s top fiscal watchdog. Governor Jay Nixon (D) has announced Boone County Treasurer Nicole Galloway will be sworn into that office April 27.1

“Known for her professionalism, intelligence and integrity, Nicole Galloway is a tough, energetic, and fair-minded auditor who will be an outstanding watchdog for taxpayers,” Nixon said upon announcing his choice.

Galloway said her background as a Certified Public Accountant and A Certified Fraud Examiner will benefit the office.

“I have audited Fortune 500 companies both domestically and internationally, shining a light on the inner workings of large, complex organizations to ensure efficiency, effectiveness and accountability,” said Galloway.

Galloway told reporters she does intend to run in 2018, to remain in the auditor’s office.

“I wouldn’t have accepted this position if this wasn’t something that I was committed to,” Galloway said.