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Missouri Government News for Week of Oct. 23

This week's news summary was prepared by Candyce L. Clifft from reports prepared during the week by staff of Missouri Digital News.

Governor Appoints Missouri's First Black Supreme Court Justice

Gov. Mel Carnahan appointed Missouri's first African-American Supreme Court justice Monday. Carnahan named Judge Ronnie White, 42, from three finalists interviewed for the position.

White was the first and only black appellate judge in the state. He will be the only St. Louis-area resident on the state Supreme Court.

"As I prepare to go to the Missouri Supreme Court, I'm honored, excited, and willing to continue what I've done in the past," White said. "And that is to complete every task I perform in a timely and efficient manner."

White will fill the seat left open by the death of Judge Elwood Thomas. After serving one year on the court, Whilte will be judged in a statewide retention vote Nov. 5, 1996. If he passes through the electorate, he will serve a 12-year term on the bench.

Desegregation Talks Go Nowhere

The Oct. 25 deadline came and went with no settlements in the Kansas City desegregation case. The more than six months of negotiations to end the 18-year-old lawsuit resulted in a deadlock. The case will resume in court in November.

The negotiations began in February with the announcement that the school district and the state had agreed on a state funding level that would sustain the district for the 1995-96 school year. They pledged to continue negotiations to end the case by 1999. The final agreement would provide for the long-term financial and educational security of the public schools.

Governor Mel Carnahan's Chief of Staff, Marc Farinella, said the governor is disappointed in the failed negotiations. [121K WAV file - deseg01]Farinella said the governor had hoped to reach an agreement that would end state desegregation funding.

State officials argue that the district wanted too much money and too many financial guarantees to settle the case. School district supporters said that the two sides came close to an agreement but that election-year politics got in the way. Some supporters hope that a settlement can be reached after next year's political races.

Regardless, Kansas City Mayor Emanuel Cleaver said the city must take an active role in the financial future of the district's schools. Cleaver said he's considering using municipal resources to fund schools. To do this, however, he must win the support of the City Council, and council members are currently not supportive.

Seven Democrats Vying for Missouri House Speaker Post

Democratic members of the Missouri House of Representatives are scheduled to elect their nominee for House speaker on Nov. 9. The seven candidates have been campaigning.

Current speaker, Rep. Bob Griffin, D-Cameron, announced this summer that he would step down at the beginning of the 1996 legislative session. Griffin is being investigated for his ties with gambling companies.

Democrats say they want to get rid of the dark cloud left over the speaker's post by allegations of Griffin's wrondoing. Rep Craig Hosmer, D-Springfield, said, "The person who comes in does need to have incredible integrity."

The seven candidates are: Rep. Gracia Backer, D-New Bloomfield; Rep. Jason Klumb, D-Butler; Rep. Shelia Lumpe, D-University City; rep. Tim Green, D-St. Louis County; Rep. Sam Leake, D-Laddonia; Rep. Phil Smith, D-Louisana; Bill Skaggs, D-Kansas City.

U.S. Congress investigating Possible Cover-up at Columbia VA Hospital

A U.S. House subcommittee began Oct. 25 reviewing management practices at Columbia's Truman Veterans Hospital. The practices may have resulted in an unusual number of patient deaths in 1992.

The hospital is also facing wrongful death claims filed by families of two of the patients who died.

Gordon Christensen is the VA administrator and physician who last January alleged that top hospital officials tried to cover up some 45 deaths in Ward 4 East. All 45 died while under the care of a single nurse. Christensen said he is pleased the families are coming forward with their claims.

"It's another route to getting this thing out in the open, and it will help in getting the problems fixed," Christensen said.

Christensen is scheduled to testify in Washington, D.C., before the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Hospitals and Healthcare. Also testifying are hospital director Tom Carson, Veterans Affairs Secretary Jesse Brown and Inspector General Stephen A.Trodden.

Fate of Missouri Perot Party Rests in California

The fate of Ross Perot's political party in Missouri may be determined by election officials in California.

Perot's top staffer in Missouri said there will be no effort to obtain official standing for the party in Missouri until they see what happens in California. Missouri's United We Stand executive director, Sandy McClure, went to California to help get signatures.

[101K WAV file]McClure said California is a top priority because a national party cannot win without California's 54 electoral votes.

If the party decides to become official in Missouri, they will have plenty of time. The ten thousand signatures needed are not due until August 1996.

Highway Department Seeks Permission to Borrow Money for Unfinished Projects

Missouri's Highway Department plans to ask the legislature for power to borrow money to build roads more quickly. As part of the request, the department is promising to address legislators' complaints about how the department has managed its affairs.

Jim Coleman, public affairs coordinator for the Highway Department, said, "We are changing the way we do business instead of bumbling mass amounts around."

Coleman said the department will be made more efficient by improving its budgeting methods and focusing more on public needs and the best way to address them.

[113K WAV file - Coleman said the department needs to borrow money to fulfill its construction plans.]

An audit by the legislature's Oversight Division charged that the department's 15-year plan, adopted in 1992, did not correspond to goals set by the legislature and that the department amended the program without legislative approval. Total expected construction costs by the department were greater than the projected revenues, according to the audit.

Coleman said the department plans to ask the legislature for the authority to sell bonds to raise money needed to finish projects promised in the 15-year plan. The bonds will be repaid through gas taxes, according to Steve Forsythe, public affairs coordinator for the Highway Department.

Jim Toft, leader of a department task force reviewing operations, said the department will be setting up customer service centers to take phone calls from Missourians about their needs and concerns.