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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of November 9, 2015

Mike Middleton

A long-time University of Missouri administrator and former black student activist was announced as the interim UM System president by the University of Missouri Board of Curators on Thursday.

The university's new top administrator, Mike Middleton, is a law school faculty member who recently retired as deputy chancellor of the Columbia campus.

As a law school student at MU, he was a founder and leader of the Legion of Black Collegians.

Middleton replaces Tim Wolfe who had announced his resignation on Monday.

During the announcement, Middleton said his top priority will be to address the demands made by the protest group Concerned Student 1950.

"I intend to lead this university towards satisfying each and every one of those demands that can be satisfied," Middleton said.

Middleton has 30 years of experience at MU, including serving as deputy chancellor before retiring.

He said he devoted his time at MU to addressing racial inequality, but was discouraged when he heard of the threats to student safety recently made via social media.

"It crossed my mind that my 30-year career here had been a total failure," Middleton said. "But then I recognized how deeply rooted this problem is in our culture." 

He when he was a member of the Legion of Black Collegians, he had delivered to the university administration in 1969 a set of demands similar to those raised during the most recent racial protests.

Middleton told reporters he kept a copy of those 1969 demands on his desk.

Calls arose both within and outside MU for action against two MU employees who tried to block reporters from covering demonstrators after resignation of the university president. 

A video recording of the incident shows MU Greek Life Director Janna Basler and Communications Department Faculty Member Melissa Click blocking access to demonstrators.

In the video, Basler is shown shouting at news photographer Tim Tai to leave the protest and then physically shoving him while he was stringing for ESPN. 

Later in the video, Click asking protesters to help "muscle" off the grounds the person recording the video of the incident, Mark Schierbecker.

"Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here," she says to a group of protesters while pointing at the video photographer.

The demonstration was on public property of the University of Missouri where demonstrators had established a camp with tents and had restricted media access in the past.

Basler subsequently was placed on administrative leave. Click resigned a "courtesy" appointment with the School of Journalism just before a journalism faculty committee was to consider removing her affiliation with the journalism school. She remains an assistant professor at the Communications Department. 

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, called for the dismissal of the two MU employees.

"The conduct of those two in addition to being their own criminal conduct raises substantial monetary liability as well as reputational liability for the University of Missouri, which is just another reason it should not be tolerated," said the candidate for the GOP nomination for attorney general.

Schaefer said the campus is "not a place where faculty members assault other students because somehow they align with one student over another."

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who is running for the GOP nomination for governor, called for an investigation.

"I would immediately, today, begin an investigation. I would have the appropriate authorities at the school call them in and ask them to explain themselves. The video speaks for itself very loudly," Kinder said.

Kinder said disciplinary action must be considered by the university.

Their actions also came under attack from the Missouri Press Association -- the organization of Missouri newspapers.

"The actions and words captured on video of MU students and staff are disappointing to advocates of free speech and the First Amendment," Missouri Press Association President Jim Robertson was quoted as saying in a statement issued by MPA. 

"Public areas on the university campus are public for all individuals and the attempts by some to keep media from documenting the protests show a disturbing misunderstanding of how the First Amendment protects all individuals' rights and freedoms."

Brian Brooks, a former associated dean of the Missouri School of Journalism, emailed that he reported an official federal "racial harassment" violation to the university because of the incident and urged his colleagues to do the same. 

Tai is a journalism student. Schierbecker also is a student who has worked at the student newspaper. Brooks noted that university rules require reporting of harassment.

One day after the incident, Glick issued a written apology through the Communications Department. 

"I regret the language and strategies I used, and sincerely apologize to the MU campus community, and journalists at large, for my behavior," she wrote.

The American Civil Liberties Union said it's members are disappointed with the University of Missouri's request to report hateful speech to the campus police department because it goes against the First Amendment.

ACLU director Jeffrey Mittman said reporting "hateful speech" does "too much and too little" for the university and its students.

Mittman said racial verbal abuse towards a specific person in a threatening or intimidating manner can sometimes be illegal and may require action from authorities.

However, Mittman said no governmental entity has the authority to ban hateful or hurtful speech and discipline against it.

Mittman said racism in institutions and a history of ignoring systematic inequities does require action. He said mistakenly addressing symptoms and doing it in a way that goes against the First Amendment is not an appropriate response.

"Missourians can rightfully expect our public university to establish policies and practices that pro actively educate administrators, faculty, staff and students about the causes of, and solutions to, systematic racism and inequality, and that comports with the right to free speech and expression," Mittman said.

Campus protesters blocking news coverage of their on-campus activities have sparked a statewide debate.

The issue arose when a journalists were blocked from access to an on-campus area where protesters had camped in their campaign to force the resignation of the president of the university.

A news photographer was pushed aside when he sought to photograph the group.

The lieutenant governor said if he was in a position of power at the University of Missouri, he would investigate the circumstances surrounding two staff members who tried to stop a news photographer from doing his job.

The video was filmed after the resignation of UM System President Tim Wolfe.

"I would immediately, today, begin an investigation. I would have the appropriate authorities at the school call them in and ask them to explain themselves. The video speaks for itself very loudly," Kinder said.

Kinder said disciplinary action must be considered by the university.

The video shows MU Greek Life Director Janna Basler shouting at new photographer Tim Tai to leave the protest. Tai was freelancing for ESPN at the time.

A member of the university's Communications Department faculty, Melissa Click, also is shown in the video asking for back up to force reporters off the grounds. 

The actions by two University of Missouri employees to block the efforts of a journalist came under immediate attack from the Missouri Press Association -- the organization of Missour newspapers.

"The actions and words captured on video of MU students and staff are disappointing to advocates of free speech and the First Amendment," Missouri Press Association President Jim Robertson was quoted as saying in a statement issued by MPA. "Public areas on the university campus are public for all individuals and the attempts by some to keep media from documenting the protests show a disturbing misunderstanding of how the First Amendment protects all individuals' rights and freedoms."

The dean of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, David Kurpius, issued a statement that the school was reviewing the appointment of Click's relationship with the school.

Later on Tuesday, November 11, the Journalism School announced Click had resigned her affiliated position with the journalism school.

Brian Brooks, a former associated dean of the Missouri School of Journalism, emailed that he reported an official federal "racial harassment" violation to the university because of the incident and urged his colleagues to do the same.

The police department of MU issued university-wide release asking students to report immediately any time a person witnesses "hateful and/or hurtful" speech, even if not a crime.

In a mass university e-mail sent Tuesday morning, the university police asked people to call a non-emergency police dispatch number with all pertinent details if they encounter hurtful or hateful speech.

The email urged that a person who witnessed such speech to provide to police a description of the person along with a cell-phone photo, if possible.

The email acknowledged, however, that "hateful and hurtful speech are not crimes," but an identified student could be subjected to university disciplinary action.

"While cases of hateful and hurtful speech are not crimes, if the individual(s) identified are students, MU's Office of Student Conduct can take disciplinary action," the police department email warned.

The MU police email came under immediate attack from the the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri.

"No governmental entity has the authority to broadly prohibit 'hurtful' speech-or even undefined 'hateful' speech, or to discipline against it," the ACLU statement proclaimed.

Less than 24 hours after MU police emailed the request to university staff and students, a university student at the Rolla campus was arrested and charged with a felony terrorist act for posting on social media a threat to kill blacks.

Officials ranging from Missouri's governor to legislators said Tim Wolfe's decision to step down as the president of the University of Missouri system was the best choice to allow the institution to move forward.

"Tim Wolfe's resignation was a necessary step toward healing and reconciliation on the University of Missouri campus, and I appreciate his decision to do so," Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said in a statement.

Senate Education Committee Chair David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, said he hopes the environment on the system's flagship campus in Columbia will improve with new leadership.

"Quite honestly, I think with a new president, a new chancellor, that hopefully, the discussions and the climate won't be as bad as they were," Pearce said.

Before Wolfe's resignation, House Higher Education Committee Chair Steve Cookson, R-Poplar Bluff, had said in a statement that Wolfe's actions showed he could no longer lead the system.

"After all this, it has become clear that Mr. Wolfe can no longer effectively lead the University of Missouri system," he said in a statement. "He should show leadership in his final official act and step aside, failing that the University of Missouri system Board of Curators should remove him."

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder took a contrary position, expressing concern for what he termed the "extreme actions" of protesters.

"Our universities cannot be run by individuals' making demands and using extreme actions," Kinder said in a statement. "The Board of Curators is in a place to make informed decisions and govern, and they must be free to do so. Otherwise chaos ensues, and no student is served by that."

Secretary of State Jason Kander announced his office received three initiative petitions to propose a new amendment to the Missouri Constitution that would impose stronger ethical restrictions on government officials.

Among the provisions in the proposed statewide ballot issue are:

The proposed ballot issue petitions were submitted by Brad Ketcher, a former top staffer to Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan.

The proposals are similar to proposals that current Gov. Jay Nixon repeatedly has made to the legislature and recently repeated in an op-ed column.

Stronger ethics provisions have been introduced in the legislature and endorsed by some legislative leaders. But they have stalled from internal disagreements about what to include.

MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin joined the University of Missouri system president in announcing his resignation Monday.

Hours after MU President Tim Wolfe announced his resignation, Loftin emerged from a meeting of the university's Board of Curators to announce that he too was resigning. 

His resignation follows a report by the Columbia Tribune that nine deans on the Columbia campus had written a letter to the University curators calling for Loftin's dismissal -- the same number calling for Loftin's removal as the university reports that there are full deans.

The university's website lists 14 deans, but five are listed as acting or interim -- leaving nine regular deans.

Wolfe, who had been under student attack for a slow response to charges of racial insensitivity on the campus, announced his resignation at the start of a curators' meeting on Monday morning, Nov. 9.

After several hours of a closed-door session by the university's governing board, Loftin emerged to announce he too was resigning. 

While Wolfe's departure came after numerous protests by black students about race issues, the complaints against Loftin were substantially differen.

Loftin had been under attack for caving to legislative pressures to prohibit Planned Parenthood access to campus medical facilities and for cutting off university health care coverage for graduate students -- a decision subsequently reversed.

Loftin said he would "transition" to a new role with the university working in research.

The curators announced no immediate replacement for either Loftin nor Wolfe.

In a unanimous decision, the Missouri Supreme Court held that the state's public records law, the "Sunshine Law," prevails over any legal advice a governmental body might have gotten.

The case, decided Tuesday, Nov. 10, involved a lawsuit alleging that the Robinwood West Improvement District in St. Louis County violated the law requiring public access to government records.

The district had refused access to documents involving a lawsuit settlement.

The circuit court threw out the lawsuit. Legal counsel for the district advised they were not required to disclose under a confidentiality agreement that was part of the settlement.

The court effectively rejected both arguments.

"First, the advice Robinwood received from counsel does not negate Robinwood’s knowledge of its obligations under the Sunshine Law," wrote Judge Richard Teitelman.

Second, the Supreme Court held that the legal requirements for public access to government documents cannot circumvented by an out-of-court settlement.

The law, Teitelman concluded, "expressly provides that 'settlement agreements' are open records unless closed by court order."

The American Civil Liberties of Missouri quickly issued a statement. "Today’s decision will make it difficult for government entities to avoid the consequences of their decisions to violate our public records law," the organization's legal director, Tony Rothert, was quoted as saying. 

The Supreme Court's decision sent the open records violation lawsuit back to the circuit court for review in light of the state high court's ruling.

Former UM System President Tim Wolfe

University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe announced his resignation Monday.

He announced his resignation at the start of a hastily called meeting of the Board of Curators in which he accepted responsibility for not immediately responding to student complaints about racial insensitivity on campus.

"I take full responsibility for this frustration and I take full responsibility for the inaction that has occurred."

Wolfe's resignation came just days after a student threatened to starve himself to death if Wolfe did not leave because of his slow response to a racial slur made to a group of Black students. 

Since then a number other students have joined the protests citing complaints about the university involving race and other issues.

The weekend before Wolfe's resignation, a group of MU football players vowed they would not participate in the next weekend's prime-time game.

Although acknowledging the concerns, Wolfe questioned the tactics.

"This is not, I repeat not, is not the way change should come about. Change comes from listening, learning, caring and conversation."

But Wolfe preceded that comment by extending a recognition to the student whose hunger strike escalated the issue that led to his resignation. 

"We didn't respond or react. We got frustrated with each other. And we forced individuals like Johnathan Butler to take immediate action and unusual steps to effect change," Wolfe acknowledged in his short resignation statement.

"Use my resignation to heal and start talking again," he urged in his resignation statement to the curators.

In it's closed door meeting, the curator's president announced a new diversity effort that includes an official to address diversity issues.

Last Week

MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna

After months with an interim director, the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission announced a permanent replacement Thursday, Nov. 5.

The commission selected Patrick McKenna, the former deputy commissioner for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, a state roughly seven times smaller than Missouri.

"New Hampshire doesn't compare well," McKenna said. "We probably fit right into one of your districts here in the state of Missouri."

Missouri has over 33,000 miles of roadways and more than 10,000 bridges.

In comparison, McKenna said New Hampshire has about 5,000 miles of roads and 2,500 bridges. 

But Missouri Transportation Commission Chair Stephen Miller said this fiscal experience qualifies McKenna to tackle the department's funding problems.

As deputy commissioner, McKenna was the department's chief financial and operations officer.

McKenna also previously served as the chief financial officer for the Office of the Secretary in the U.S. Senate.

"We do have someone coming in that has the fiscal and financial knowledge and experience of a variety of different forms, and he's going to meld with what we're doing with our own 'road to tomorrow' effort in terms of finding innovative and creative ways to fund transportation going forward," Miller said. 

Missouri's Transportation Department repeatedly has warned that it is facing a financial crisis with insufficient revenues to fully maintain the entire state highway system.

According to MoDOT's website, the department's budget was $1.3 billion in 2009, but as of 2014 the budget was only $700 million. In January, MoDOT announced it only has the resources to focus full maintenance an repair on 8,000 miles of Missouri's highway system.

McKenna said New Hampshire faced similar problems. McKenna said New Hampshire's transportation system nearly went bankrupt a decade ago, and the state had not passed a revenue increase in 20 years before a toll rate increase finally passed two years ago. 

"Many of the same problems are faced in New Hampshire as they are in Missouri with regard to the infrastructure," McKenna said. "Not enough money for routine maintenance and upkeep has lead to a declining condition of that very infrastructure that we all count on every day."

McKenna said he doesn't have an answer yet about how he is going to address funding for Missouri's system.

McKenna's first official day will be December 7.

Former Legislative Intern Taylor Hirth testifying to the House Administration Committee

Months after reports of inappropriate activities with college interns led to the resignation of two legislators, tougher policies governing behavior of representatives and House staff was adopted by the House Administration Committee.

But one of the committee's provisions came under attack from one of the few former interns who has gone public about unwanted sexual advances by legislators.

The new House standards, approved Thursday, Nov. 5, require hiring an outside lawyer to investigate a sexual harassment complaint against a representative, mandates annual training of both House staff and members on sexual harassment and prohibits "amorous or romantic relationships" between House staffers or between a House member and a House staffer.

Rep. Michele Kratky, D-St. Louis, cast the only dissenting votes on the three provisions approved by the committee.

Kratky said the standards had not been fully worked through when it came to enforcement mechanisms, the chain of command for reporting incidents and subsequent punishments for wrongdoing.

"We can say 'oh yeah...well it looks good to the public.' Well, no. We need to make sure there is enforcement in it and accountability," she said to reporters after the committee session.

The committee chair, Rep. Mike Leara, R-St. Louis County, said he would hold another committee session before the legislative session to consider changes. But he said it was important to move forward.

The provision criticized by the only former intern to testify to the committee requires that a legislator or staffer immediately report any complaint of sexual harassment to the House official responsible for processing complaints.

Taylor Hirth said she would not have felt comfortable approaching a mandatory reporter about her experiences with sexual harassment in 2010.

Hirth had been an intern for Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, who resigned earlier this year after another of his interns complained of unwelcome sexual advances by the legislator.

"As an intern with experience of unwanted sexual attention from a legislator, I have no desire to talk to anybody who might take our private conversation to anybody else without my consent," she told the committee.

In an interview after the committee hearing, she said the committee was "definitely" out of touch when it came to developing sexual harassment protections for interns.

"I don't think they reached out to any victims when proposing, or when developing their proposals," Hirth said.

Others, however, argued that the House could not allow a situation in which nothing was done when a member or a staffer knew about a sexual harassment complaint.

"The goal of this policy is to ensure that the House takes all complaints seriously," said Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City. Barnes, who is not a member of the Administration Committee, testified as a witness after Hirth spoke.

"I think the goal is to make sure that if a House employee knows something bad is going on, that they report it forward," Barnes said. "And if we set up a situation where there's a House employee is not a mandated reporter, we're undercutting the very goal."

Barnes' argument was echoed by the House chief clerk, Adam Crumbliss. He warned that allowing a House staffer to keep a sexual harassment complaint secret would create an appearance that the House was not taking the issue seriously.

Barnes suggested that non-legislative organizations could establish contacts not covered by the new House mandated reporting rule who could maintain confidentiality for interns seeking advice about complaints.

Crumbliss said private organizations already were working on establishing such a "safe-harbor" network outside of the House organization.

Hirth said after the committee session she planned to help in those efforts.

The new House policies were proposed by House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, based on the recommendations of a task force he established shortly after his election as speaker this spring.

Richardson replaced John Diehl, R-St. Louis County, who resigned after reports of sexually-charged texting with a college intern. 

LeVota resigned this summer after his 2015 intern charged he had subjected her to unwelcome sexual advances and Hirth subsequently went public with reports of similar advances by LeVota when she was his intern in 2010.


Republican gubernatorial candidates at the debate sponsored by Cole County Republicans. Sen. Bob Dixon, Eric Greitens, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, John Brunner and former House Speaker Catherine Hannaway with Sen. Mike Kehoe in the center as moderator.
Republican gubernatorial candidates champion strengths while avoiding attacks at GOP debate. 11/03/2015

Republican candidates for Missouri governor emphasized their own strengths rather than attack their opponents in a debate organized by Cole County Republicans.

Most attacks were reserved for Chris Koster, the leading Democratic gubernatorial candidate. The formal rules for the Tuesday, Nov. 3, discussion prohibited the candidates from making negative attacks against each other.

Former Missouri House Speaker Catherine Hanaway criticized Koster's inaction after the unrest in Ferguson last summer. 

"All the while, our state attorney general, Chris Koster, sat idly by, prosecuting no one for looting, for arson, for rioting."

Two candidates, former businessperson and CEO John Brunner and former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens, emphasized their status as political outsiders who are committed to bringing change to Jefferson City. 

"If you believe that career politicians and political insiders in Jefferson City have failed you and your family and your neighbors, then you have a choice," Greitens said. "You can shut up and take it, or you can decide to do something about it." 

John Brunner emphasized his experience as a business leader.

"The problem about government here is that that they are not subject to competition," Brunner said. "You need to bring somebody who understands competition, efficiency, productivity into government who has that mindset."

But the other three candidates argued their governmental experiences were an advantage.

"The dome at our state Capitol is sort of like a fishbowl and a pressure cooker. With me, you know what you're getting. I've been dome tested. That's where character or corruption are revealed." said  Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield.

Hanaway talked about the experience and knowledge she has gained both as House speaker and later as the U.S. attorney for eastern Missouri.

Lt. Governor Peter Kinder argued that his statewide electoral successes demonstrated he can win elections for Republicans.

Kinder noted the absence of another person from the panel of GOP candidates -- the late State Auditor Tom Schweich. He died of a self-inflicted gun shot to the head after he charged he had been subjected to a whispering campaign and after attack ad mocking his appearance.

"I join him in his call that it is time to end the politics of personal destruction in our state, the idea that you get a bucket of slim to dump on the head of your opponent," Kinder said. "I call on the other candidates to join me and to conduct a campaign that lays facts and fair argument on the table and discusses the issues candidly and honestly and lets the people decide."

The other four candidates did not directly respond to Kinder's challenge.

On policy issues, the candidates cited traditional conservative positions including passage of Right to Work, easing government regulation, liability lawsuit limits and repealing Obamacare.

Missouri ended the first third of the budget year below the revenue growth upon which the legislature and governor had based the budget passed this spring.

The budget was based on a 3.6 percent projected revenue growth.

But figures released by the governor's budget office Tuesday, Nov. 3, found that revenues had grown only 3.05 percent for the first four months of the 2016 fiscal year that began July 1.

In October, revenue collections grew just 0.98 percent compared to October of 2014.

Sales and corporate taxes fell while individual income tax collections rose.

The latest revenue figures come just a few weeks after Gov. Jay Nixon had imposed $48 million in spending cuts citing a court decision that would cost the state $50 million less than the administration had expected in lawsuit settlement payments by the tobacco industry.

A case heard by the Missouri Supreme Court could determine if Missouri's new gun-rights constitutional amendment grants felons the right to carry concealed weapons.

The case heard by the court on Tuesday, Nov. 3, involves a Jefferson County man who had been convicted of felony forgery in 1973, completed probation and subsequently sought to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

In oral arguments before the state high court, William Hill's attorney limited his presentation to a technical issue that would apply only to a limited number of felons. But the written brief submitted to the court includes an argument that would apply to a large number of Missouri felons.

In Hill's case, after successfully completing his probation period in 1975, he was issued a certificate indicating he had, "all the rights and privileges of citizenship."

When Hill applied for a concealed weapon permit in March 2013, his application was denied because of his guilty plea to the felony charge. 

Hill's lawyer argued that the grant of "all the rights" of citizenship includes the right to apply and get a concealed weapons permit. 

That argument would not apply to any probation completed in later years because the law granting full citizenship rights after probation was repealed.

But Hill's lawyer included in the written brief a one-paragraph argument suggesting that the 2014 constitutional amendment may have granted a right to carry concealed weapons to all Missourians, whether convicted of a felony or not.

The amendment removed the phrase in the earlier provision in the Constitution that the right to bear arms did "not justify the wearing of concealed weapons."

"Logically, if inclusion of the phrase denied to a citizen a constitutional right to bear concealed firearms, then removal of the same phrase must now 'grant' to a citizen a constitutional right to bear concealed firearms," Hill's attorney wrote in his brief submitted to the state high court before oral arguments.

"Article I, Section 23, therefore, now appears to declare the existence of a 'new' substantive constitutional right not previously permitted to the citizens of Missouri, to wit: the right to bear concealed firearms," Kevin Whiteley concluded.

However, Whiteley did not raise that argument in his oral arguments to the state Supreme Court nor was he questioned on that point by the judges.

In response to a related question, Jefferson County's attorney said the county did not have a position on the constitutional issues raised concerning the gun-rights constitutional amendment approved by voters last November. 

One week before Hill's case was argued before the state high court, the court heard three other cases concerning whether non-violent felons now have a right to possess weapons because of the constitutional amendment.