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

Twelve St. Louis County communities filed suit to block a law that lowers the limit how much of a city's budget can be financed by municipal court fines.

The lawsuit was filed in Cole County Circuit Court on Thursday, November 19.

It charges that the limits passed by the legislature are unfair because they impose a lower limit for towns in St. Louis County than for the rest of the state. 

Current law imposes a 30 percent limit on how much of a city's budget can be financed by traffic fines.

Under the measure, which will take effect in January, no more than 12.5 percent of the budget of a city in St. Louis County could be financed by municipal traffic fines.

The limit for towns in the rest of the state will be 20 percent. 

"If they had made it 20 percent, like every other county in the state, the other 113 counties, we would not be complaining about that aspect of the bill," said the David Pittinksy, a Philadelphia, Pa. lawyer hired by the cities to represent them in the case.

However, the lawsuit also complains that in addition to cutting city revenues from traffic fines, the new law also imposes additional requirements on municipal courts such as annual audits and additional financial reports.

The lawsuit argues that the law "has imposed staggering unconstitutional unfunded mandates on the St. Louis County municipalities" that will amount to tens of thousands of dollars in costs for the cities. 

The sponsor of the bill imposing the new limits issued a stern attack on the city officials challenging the new law.

"This is a lawsuit against the people and especially the poor and disenfranchised. And what makes it even more stunning is that it's filed by bureaucrats with taxpayer money, I might add, who have turned on the very people they were elected to represent," said Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County.

The limit on how much of a city budget can be financed by traffic fines is termed the "Macks Creek Law" in reference to a now-dissolved central-Missouri community that had gained a national reputation for a speed trap that generated fines that financed most of the town's budget.

Within two years after the initial limits, then 45 percent of a city's budget, were passed in 1995, Macks Creek went bankrupt.

The 19-year-old student who was arrested after posting anonymous threats targeting African-American students and staff at MU has been released on bond, but confined to his parent's home.

Hunter M. Park, who is a student at the University of Missouri's Rolla campus, was tracked down by police after using the anonymous messaging application Yik-Yak to threaten black students and staff.

Park was arrested in his dormitory room in Rolla and taken to Boone County for processing.

Park's bond was set at $10,000 to give him the opportunity to return to his parent's home in Lake St. Louis.

The court ordered that Park must stay in his home while wearing a GPS tracking device, begin psychiatric treatment and is prohibited from accessing the Internet.

Senators throughout the state are asking for Gov. Jay Nixon to suspend accepting Syrian refugees into Missouri and state agencies have little information on the matter.

Department of Elementary and Secondary Education communications coordinator Sarah Potter said they have not received any information regarding Syrian refugees.

Potter said there is a standard process already in place for all refugees that includes the School Impact program.

The program funds impacted school districts so they can provide activities to school-age refugees. These activities include English as a Second Language instruction, parental involvement programs, and after-school tutorials.

Department of Public Safety communications director Mike O'Connell also had no information regarding refugees.

O'Connell said that if state agencies had information or plans regarding refugees, it is not something they would report to the Department of Public Safety.

The Department of Social Services has also not responded for comment regarding its plans for assisting Syrian refugees.

This is the second day members of the Governor's administration have not responded to questions concerning their comment.

-Get the radio stories

Attorney General Chris Koster issued a statement urging the federal government to re-evaluate how refugees will be screen.

But like Gov. Jay Nixon, he did not call for the federal government to stop plans for acceptance of refugees nor that the state refuse to accept Syrian refugees.

The issue initially was raised by Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder who wrote the governor Monday to urge state agencies suspend resettlement of Syrian refugees in Missouri until there are assurance from the federal government that terrorists would not be able to masquerade as refugees.

Just a few hours later, Nixon effectively rejected Kinder's call for stopping any state cooperation. In his statement, noted that screening of refugees is a responsibility of the federal government.

Four hours after Nixon's statement, Koster issued his statement that urged the federal government "to ensure we are preventing terrorists from entering our country."

But like Nixon, Koster did not call for any restrictions from state government in facilitating Syrian refugees into the state.

Eighteen Missouri GOP Senators issued a statement calling on Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon to oppose any federal effort to send refugees from Syria into Missouri.

"We call upon our governor to do his duty and protect the safety and well-being of the citizens of the Show-Me State by opposing this misguided plan," Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, was quoted as saying in the Senate GOP statement.

"We cannot allow poorly vetted individuals to come to our state without an in-depth screening process."

The Senate Republican statement came more than four hours after a similar call was issued by GOP Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder.

Like Kinder, the Senate GOP statement calls for a delay of acceptance of Syrian refugees until the federal government can provide assurance of security.

Jay Nixon's administration has not responded to questions as to plans or discussions there have been with the federal government concerning location of Syrian refugees into Missouri.

Instead, the governor's office issue a two-sentence written statement from the governor that "the screening process for refugees is the responsibility of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security."

In his written statement, Nixon added "I call on our federal partners to implement the strongest possible safeguards to protect our state and nation."

There was no response to an emailed request to the governor's communications director for an interview.

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder sent a letter to Missouri's governor urging Jay Nixon to refuse Syrian refugees being located to Missouri "until the federal government ensures a proper vetting is in place."

Kinder urged Nixon to join the growing number of other states whose governors have sought to delay any resettlement in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks.

"I think it is time for state leaders to stand up and say this must be done and push back, we're seeing it across the country," Kinder said in response to a growing number of state governors who voiced concerns or opposition to moving Syrian refugees in their states.

Shortly after Kinder's letter, Gov. Jay Nixon issued a written statement that refugee screening was a federal issue. "I call on our federal partners to implement the strongest possible safeguards to protect our state and nation."

Kinder, however, questioned whether the federal government was doing enough and said that warranted state action.

"As of today, I don't believe that the federal government can assure us that these Syrian refugees have been vetted. Is there even a functioning government there that can issue legitimate passports. Or are the terrorists, is ISIS, able to print their own passports and call them Syrian passwords? We don't know," Kinder said in an interview.

Initial reports from France indicate that one of the Paris terrorists was a refugee from Syria who used a fake passport to enter into Europe.

Nixon's office did not immediately respond to a request for an interview.

His office also did not respond to written questions as to what the state may be doing to facilitate federal resettlement efforts of Syrians into Missouri or whether there have been discussions on the issue with federal officials.

Last Week

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.