KOMU.com https://www.komu.com/ KOMU.com Target 8 Target 8 en-us Copyright 2020, KOMU.com. All Rights Reserved. Feed content is not avaialble for commercial use. () () Mon, 17 Feb 2020 HH:02:ss GMT Synapse CMS 10 KOMU.com https://www.komu.com/ 144 25 TARGET 8: In final months, Pinnacle was not paying employee's health insurance https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-in-final-months-pinnacle-was-not-paying-employee-s-health-insurance/ https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-in-final-months-pinnacle-was-not-paying-employee-s-health-insurance/ Target 8 Mon, 10 Feb 2020 1:28:16 PM Daniel Perreault, KOMU 8 Reporter TARGET 8: In final months, Pinnacle was not paying employee's health insurance

BOONVILLE - When Pinnacle Regional Hospital in Boonville closed its doors on January 15, its problems were far from over.

At the time, the hospital said it closed because of the "economic hardship of bringing the facility into compliance" with state regulations. 

Former Pinnacle employee Mary Beth Ybarra said she saw the writing on the wall before the closure.

"I knew we wouldn't have any patients on South wing," she said. "So, once I knew the last one was gone in a full 24 hours, I figured, okay, here's where the other shoe is going to drop at."

That same day, two former Pinnacle Regional Hospital nurses filed a class action petition alleging Pinnacle was taking health care premiums out of their paychecks, but not giving that money to Anthem. Anthem would, in turn, provide health insurance for employees. As a result, they were without insurance coverage for months.

According to the lawsuit, Pinnacle acted "without justification, either in a malicious attempt to procure additional monies that it was not entitled to or with reckless disregard for the damage and harm such action would have on Plaintiffs and the Class."

It was not until Ybarra went to a medical appointment elsewhere that she realized she was not covered.

"They had to do a prior authorization through my insurance before they could see me," she said. "They call to tell me that it was showing inactive."

For Ybarra, it did not make sense.

"I'm not sure why I'm inactive, they're taking it out my paycheck every time I get paid," she said. "I called the hospital, and they said it was a glitch in the home office. And then I called Anthem, and they said, 'No, it shows your inactive, and it's been canceled.'"

Vulnerable and liable, Ybarra tried to make sense of the situation. 

"What if I'm walking down the steps and have a heart attack or be at work and have a heart attack?" she said. "Do I just say, 'Oh, well, I'm going to get over this, don't take me anywhere?' I have no insurance."

With or without insurance, some Pinnacle employees needed medical care and medical procedures done. Employees like Ybarra had to pay for it out of their pocket. 

"I just feel sorry for people who, like me, didn't know and had been to the doctor's office or had an X-ray done, and I've got an X-ray bill, a doctor's office bill, lab bills," she said. "They just keep piling up."

Ybarra's story is similar to that of Tiffany Carmichael and Michelle Rice, the two surgical nurses who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Both women sought treatment for medical issues at places they thought were covered by their Anthem plan, but they too were told they had no valid insurance.

On January 3, Pinnacle Regional Hospital Employees started to figure it out.

In response, former Pinnacle Chief Financial Officer Dale Farrell sent out an email to all employees.

"We are aware of the insurance coverage issue with Anthem," he wrote. "Please know that we are working tirelessly with Anthem to resolve this communication issue and are confident it will be resolved quickly."

He went on to say, "We had a telephone conference late last evening with Anthem in which we discussed the terms for reinstatement, we are waiting to hear back for final approval from Anthem."

In an email, Anthem spokesperson Scott Golden said on July 31, 2019, "our contract to provide health insurance coverage for Pinnacle was terminated due to nonpayment."

Around that time, Pinnacle was changing its health insurance policy.

"They were paying for all of us, 100% for us and our spouse and kids," Ybarra said. "Then it got to be, I guess, June they said no, we couldn't afford that no more."

Employees then had a choice. They could continue receiving health insurance through the hospital, but the premiums would be taken out of their paychecks.

For those who did take that option, that money never made its way to Anthem.

"I would like to get my money back, I know what I had taken out and my check," she said. "I hope we can figure out what happened with the insurance and either get her money back or at least go back and pay the bills that have now piled up."

Pinnacle's Problems

While it is not clear what exactly happened to the money, it is clear that Pinnacle has had a lot of problems.

The day before the hospital closed, Farrell sent an email to employees telling them the hospital would not pay them as scheduled on January 15.

"The inflow of cash during the holidays was extraordinarily low," he wrote. "However, we are expecting some significant deposits this week and are optimistic paychecks will be available by Friday (January 17)."

Despite closing before the end of that week, employees were paid that Friday. Pinnacle took insurance premiums out of that check, but not the final check employees received on February 1.

Earlier that week, the hospital's laboratory department closed due to regulatory issues. It also stopped accepting direct inpatient admissions, according to the post. 

The hospital also stopped performing surgeries in early January after a state inspection found issues with the HVAC system, according to the Boonville Daily News.

In addition, in just the past year, Pinnacle has been hit with several lawsuits. 

In December, a company that provided temporary staff sued the hospital for nearly $211,000. 

In November, physician services company Premier Specialty Network, sued Pinnacle for alleged nonpayment of $24,000 for rheumatology services.

And in September, laboratory services company Boyce & Bynum received a $92,000 default judgment against Pinnacle after suing for not getting paid.

On top of all of it, last year, the Missouri Division of Employment Security determined that Pinnacle owes $197,000 in contributions, interest, and taxes. It is not clear whether they have paid. 

Legal Tightrope

So, were Pinnacle's actions legal? 

In short, it is complicated. 

Both state and federal law would prevent Pinnacle from taking the insurance money and not giving employees the benefit, MU law professor Sam Halabi said.

"If an employer just collects premiums and then remits them on the employee's behalf, then under those circumstances, the practice may fall within an exemption to federal law, and Missouri law would apply," he said. "If you do anything more than just collect the premiums, if you, to use the legal term “endorse” a particular insurance company or a particular plan, then you can still be determined to fall under the reach of the federal law."

Halabi said there is a real question as to which law applies, since only one can.

"There's little doubt that the hospital made the decision that it made in 2019 understanding applicable federal law," he said. "But it's going to be close to the line whether or not the federal law applies or Missouri state law applies."

In the case of the complaint filed by the two former surgical nurses, whichever court has jurisdiction will have a significant impact on the situation.

Halabi said federal law is more favorable to the hospital in this case because plaintiffs "will only be able to get the coverage that they were denied or the coverage they should have had."

On the flip side, "under the claims that are made and in the pleading that you have in Missouri state court, they could get punitive damages and more generous compensatory damages."

It's not clear where the legal case will go from here.

As for Ybarra, she was able to go back to her old job as a nurse at Riverdale. 

Moving forward, she said it would be hard for her to trust another employer to take out her insurance.

"My dad always told me you have to earn trust back, and trust is the hardest thing to earn back," she said. "I think me having to trust people again like that, it is going to be an issue for me. So I'll probably check somewhere on my own and get my insurance. That way, I know I'm hand delivering it to them."


Permalink| Comments


]]>
Target 8: City admits water rate details & investigation lacked transparency https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-city-admits-water-rate-details-and-investigation-lacked-transparency/ https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-city-admits-water-rate-details-and-investigation-lacked-transparency/ Target 8 Fri, 7 Feb 2020 12:13:25 AM Ethan Stein, KOMU 8 Reporter Target 8: City admits water rate details & investigation lacked transparency

Note: This story is a follow-up to our two Target 8 investigations about city staff discovering a forgotten funds worth $2.9 million and $2 million before a vote to raise water rates. You can read our investigation by clicking the links.

COLUMBIA - Some people in Columbia saw their water bills soar in 2019. Others, in the same year, saw their water bill barely increase.

Regardless, your water bill in Columbia probably increased and city staff misinformed residents and the city council about how much bills would increase.

It's an example of incomplete information from Columbia's Water and Light Department. The mayor and other concerned citizens call it a pattern, which has caused them to lose confidence in the department.

Here's what our Target 8 Investigation found: 

  • City staff gave residents incomplete information about changes to customer water rates due to a bond.
  • City staff admitted they can better inform people about potential rate increases.
  • The city's seven month long investigation into a forgotten fund worth $2.9 million lacks a lengthy paper trail. 

Misinforming Voters

Voters in Columbia saw a question on their ballots in August 2018. Proposition 1 described a $42 million water bond to improve the city's water utility.

The city, as usual, created an information guide for residents on the bond. It told them they would "likely see a total 11% increase over a four-year period to cover bond payments". The first increase would come in 2019. Then, water rates would increase 3%.

Instead, city staff proposed a change to the entire water rate structure to create 4% more revenue for the utility to pay off debt service. The council approved the revenue increases with a 4-3 vote. The approval passed the increases onto ratepayers.

5th Ward Councilman Matt Pitzer, who voted against the changes to the rate structure, said the process wasn't transparent. 

"When we ask for a bond issue that’s going to lead to a rate increase then we should do what we said were going to do," he said.

He said he voted against the rate changes because it wasn't effectively communicated whose rates would increase more than others.

Mayor Brian Treece said he doesn't believe any rate increase from the utility department was communicated effectively.

"I’ve voted against every electric and water rate increase cause I don't think Water and Light have done a good job to demonstrate the need that’s there," he said. "Or keeping the promises they made.”

The mayor said his lack of confidence in the department comes from, among other reasons, a period of around nine months when the department couldn't produce a financial report because of a computer glitch. 

Tad Johnsen, director of the city utilities, said the revenue increase saved ratepayers money because they won't have to raise water rates for the next two years.

Treece said that's a convenient excuse because the department has raised rates earlier than necessary.

The August 2018 voter information guide does not mention other possible increases from operational and maintenance costs, which were told to the city council. The question on the ballot has no mention of any rate increases.

Johnsen said the city can always explain the consequences of a bond election better, but said the details were in the city's budget document, which is over 500 pages long. 

"But I believe in the budget documents we usually use words like that," he said.

"And I understand it's one of the things - who reads the budget," Johnsen asked rhetorically while other staff members in the room chuckled. 

City spokesperson Steve Sapp said the criticism was noted and will look into it as part of the city's process.   

City's Seven-Month Investigation Lacks Paper Trail

In our previous Target 8 investigations, we discovered two forgotten funds worth a combined $4.9 million. The two funds were worth $2.9 million and $2 million dollars.

City staff said the account worth $2 million was investigated for about a week because it was an accounting issue. 

The other account, which was worth $2.9 million, had a different type of investigation.

City staff said the Finance and Utilities Departments investigated the origin of that account for seven months before moving the money to another spreadsheet where the city could spend the money.

Target 8 received all documents related to the city's investigation on the $2.9 million through an open records request.

City staff sent a total of 16 emails during the investigation. 

We brought our findings to city spokesperson Steve Sapp, who said in an email not all city work is done through email because face-to-face meetings create better understandings and conversations.

But our records request shows only one documented meeting happened during the seven-month long investigation.

Sapp later said the city needs to improve the process they use to document their investigations.

"If there was anything that needed to be improved, we stated that we need to improve the way we document process," Sapp said. "And we are moving forward to do that. We can't change what was in the past."

The emails received from our open records request also show Assistant Director of City Utilities, Sarah Talbert, renamed the account worth $2.9 on April 30, 2018, after finishing an investigation into the other account worth $2 million.

In our previous Target 8 investigation, Talbert said she became aware of the account in May 2018 while putting together a report for the city's Water and Light Advisory Board. 

She said she renamed the account so people could understand the contents of it, but said she didn't know why the account was restricting money for a project.

She also said the investigation into the account took so long because current staff had to go through previous employee files and city council documents.

"We were short-staffed for a time period. We had many other things going on during that time as well because I was fairly new to that position," Talbert said. "So we wanted to make sure everything was good on our end before we did anything with it."

Tad Johnsen, Director of City Utilities, said the investigation was a priority, but says moving the fund is more complicated.

"A lot of times if it's been working this way for a while, before you make a change you really need to understand why," he said. "Is there legislative reasons? Is there regulatory reasons? Is your accounting reasons to make it happen? And those are things that you really have to understand. Otherwise you can create more problems."

After 26 years of service with the City of Columbia, Johnsen will retire March 13.

  

 


Permalink| Comments


]]>
Target 8 finds millions more of Columbia's forgotten funds https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-finds-millions-more-of-columbia-s-forgotten-funds/ https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-finds-millions-more-of-columbia-s-forgotten-funds/ Target 8 Mon, 27 Jan 2020 10:05:42 PM Ethan Stein, KOMU 8 Reporter Target 8 finds millions more of Columbia's forgotten funds

Note: This story is a follow-up to our Target 8 investigation about city staff discovering a forgotten fund worth $2.9 million before a vote to raise water rates. You can read our investigation here.

COLUMBIA - Target 8 investigators discovered city staff corrected an incorrectly booked account worth $2 million in April 2018.

The $2 million, combined with a previous $2.9 million account Target 8 uncovered, adds up to almost $5 million in known money city staff booked incorrectly over a period of two years. During those two years, city staff asked council to raise water rates by proposing a 4% increase in water revenue and asked voters to approve a bond worth about $42 million for upgrades to the city's water treatment plant.

Target 8 Investigators then shared our findings with Columbia Mayor Brian Treece. He said he's lost faith in the city's Water and Light Utility and, because of our previous investigation, will suggest at Monday's city council meeting the utility become one of the first city departments to be put under an independent finance audit.

Here is a summary of our findings from our most recent Target 8 investigation:

  • An account worth $2 million was wrongly booked, then corrected in April 2018.
  • Mayor Brian Treece claimed city staff possibly violated the city charter by not telling the city council for months about the transfers of funds.
  • Staff finished their investigation into another fund worth $2.9 million before a council vote to increase water rates. However, staff chose to not reveal their findings for another 5 months.

Another Forgotten Account

The city of Columbia's water utility had begun losing money fast. In December 2017, the utility had over $1 million dollars in its bank account. Four months later, the city's water utility reported its cash on hand was -$200,000.

Sarah Talbert, the assistant director of the city's utilities, said the utility began to lose money because there's not a lot of water usage in the winter.

The month after having negative funds, the utility suddenly had over $2 million dollars on hand.

This came from an account called "water tap fees," which was moved to a different spreadsheet so the city council could spend the money without restrictions. City staff said the account collected an additional $500,000 every year for four years.

Steve Sapp, city spokesperson for the city of Columbia, said the fund was never transferred after a long-time staff member stopped working for the city.

"Those were occurring from an accountant that had been in this position for a very long term," Sapp said. "She'd been here 20 plus years, and so this happened automatically. She knew to do this every year. But when she left, that process was not carried forward."

The result was the account accumulating, sitting unused in a spreadsheet, since 2014. City staff discovered the account in 2018 and moved the account in April 2018.

Mayor says city staff violated the city charter 

The city said they told the Water and Light Advisory Board about the movement of the $2 million account in May 2018. City Council was notified about the account in June 2019, according to the mayor, multiple city council members and city staff.

Mayor Brian Treece said he believes waiting longer than a month to tell city council about transfers of funds within departments violates the City Charter.  

The charter states in Article V. Section 44, "The city manager, upon the recommendation of the department or agency head, may transfer any unencumbered appropriation balance or portion thereof from one classification of expenditure to another within an office, department or agency, and such transfer shall be reported to the city council at the next meeting.

Mayor Treece believes the city manager's duty is to report these transfers of funds at the next available council meeting.

When the transferred funds were revealed to council, the Mayor believes the details were downplayed.  

"It was kind of glossed over," Treece said. "In fact, I perceived that to be a manipulation of the cash on hand in order to justify a rate increase."

The forgotten fund we originally reported on in our Target 8 investigation was worth an additional $2.9 million dollars.

Emails Target 8 received from a public records request about the department's investigation into the account show their investigation was completed on January 15, 2019.

The city council was preparing a vote to raise water rates to create about $1 million more in revenue for the utility. Six days later at the vote, city staff withheld mentioning their investigation.

But Talbert told Target 8 that city staff did not feel the need to let city council know of the account or the investigation, since staff closes projects and moves any leftover money all the time.

After our interview with the Mayor, Target 8 reached out to the city spokesperson about some of the Mayor's comments and is still awaiting a response.


Permalink| Comments


]]>
TARGET 8: Investigation finds forgotten $3 million as water bills rise https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-investigation-finds-forgotten-3-million-as-water-bills-rise/ https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-investigation-finds-forgotten-3-million-as-water-bills-rise/ Target 8 Thu, 19 Dec 2019 3:09:41 PM Ethan Stein, KOMU 8 Reporter TARGET 8: Investigation finds forgotten $3 million as water bills rise

COLUMBIA - In January 2019, the Columbia City Council decided rate payers would collectively pay around $1 million more in water rates. At the same time, an account with almost three times more money than the predicted increase was hidden in a spreadsheet, unused for years.

City staff knew about the account for months. In May 2018, Assistant Director of City Utilities Sarah Talbert said she first began searching for answers as to why the account was limited to pay for capital improvement projects. 

"That's when we were working with Finance to determine if there was any documentation, as to why and who authorized that to happen," she said. 

Talbert said city staff investigated the growing account for seven months, but couldn't find its original purpose or who put the money aside. Staff traced the account back to the mid 2000s, which was further complicated by the city's high employee turnover rate.

Their investigation on the $2.9 million account wasn't communicated to city council members before council voted on raising water rates in January 2019. That 4-3 decision happened after voters approved a water bond in August 2018.  

Talbert told Target 8 that city staff did not feel the need to let city council know of the account or the investigation, since staff closes projects and moves any leftover money all the time. City staff could not answer when they last moved over an account worth millions without notifying council.

The long investigation found no records on how or why the funds were mischaracterized, according to staff.

Here's what our Target 8 investigation into the finances of Columbia Water and Light found from city documents along with conversations with city staff, council members and members of city commissions. 

  • The $2.9 million account left untouched for years, which created questions of whether a January 2019 water rate increase was necessary.
  • City of Columbia staff investigated the fund starting in May 2018 and didn't share their investigation with city council until after the council vote. 
  • A taxpayer-funded report, which the consultant submitted after the August 2018 vote.
  • An internal auditor position unfilled since June 2019.
  • City leader and concerned private citizens calling for an independent performance audit.

Questions about Columbia Water and Light's finances

Julie Ryan and Marie Brown, who founded COMO Safe Water Coalition, said they've been questioning the utility's finances for years.

"I think there have been too many questions of how the department was managing its finances," Ryan said.

She said they have gone to every single Water and Light Advisory Board Meeting for about a year and a half since October 2016.

The Water and Light Advisory Board is a five-member city board with the purpose to advise the utility and council on their decisions. The board normally gives their opinions on bond decisions, discusses utility business and releases financial reports.

One of those financial reports are the Quarter Capital Improvement Plan Progress Reports. These reports detail different capital projects and money reserved for those projects. 

After the city council raised water rates in January, the 1st Quarter Capitol Progress Report was published in February.

The top line of the report published shows an account labeled "pooled cash" under the project name "Connection Fee Revenue" for about $2.9 million. The connection fee revenue is one of many different fees a new customer pays to join the city's water system.

Sarah Talbert said high turnover among city staff and a complicated financial process led to the long investigation.     
"We've had a lot of turnover and they had to go through previous employee files and council stuff to see if we can figure it out," she said. "We had other things going on."
Jim McDonald, the city's assistant finance director, said the person at the position who would originally restrict an account, like "Connection Fee Revenue", has changed four times recently.
John Conway, the former Water and Light Advisory Board Chair who still works part-time for the city, said the long investigation process was not necessary and the connection fee revenue was obviously misplaced. 
He said these sheets have financial funds reserved for capital projects, however the connection fee revenue is money the council can use at its discretion because it's marked as revenue.
After the long investigation, city staff could not determine why fees were restricted, or who did so more than a decade ago. City staff moved the $2.9 million to unrestricted funds, which also removed it from the next quarter report.

You can compare the two documents here by dragging the slider:

Conway said these newly unrestricted funds could have lessened a rate increase to the city's water customers. 
"This is a financial resource to pay off those bonds without increasing the rates," he said. "Therefore, you're paying a greater water bill than needed because they're collecting more revenue than what is needed." 

The four council members who voted for the increase were Karl Skala, Michael Trapp, Clyde Ruffin and Betsy Peters. 

Target 8 reached out multiple times to Clyde Ruffin and Betsy Peters about their decision and our findings, but they never responded. 

Michael Trapp, who represents Columbia's Second Ward, said he doesn't regret his vote, but added he doesn't know how he would vote if he knew about the mischaracterized funds.

"I think based upon the information we had, we made the right decision," he said. "Would we have made a different decision if we had different sets of information? Possibly, I don't know." 

He said the higher than necessary rates customers are currently paying can be offset in future rate increases.

"It's a temporary situation," he said. "We'll put means to correct it based on the most accurate information that we have now and I trust those fundamental processes." 

Karl Skala, who represents Columbia's Third Ward, said he wishes he knew about the account, but it wouldn't have changed his vote to increase water rates.

"Given that Water and Light is a very complicated, serious, enterprise situation, I tend to put a lot of weight into their recommendations," he said.

Skala understands the unrestricted funds were more than the expected revenue increase passed onto voters. However, he believes these funds can create a "rainy day fund" for the utility through surplus funds and create a healthier financial Columbia.

The rate increase was part of the August 2018 water bond to add safety elements to improve the city's water treatment.

Falling behind on finances and projects

Sarah Talbert said 3% of the approved 4% increase in revenue was created to pay off bond debt. Repayment Schedule_Bond18

Target 8 obtained a copy of the bond repayment schedule for the water bond. The $2.9 million would have paid off debt payments through September 2023 without ever having to raise the rates. 
Matthew Lue, who was named the city's finance director in October 2019, said the city is still behind on its financial commitments.
"When you look at the amount of projects we have to do in the utilities department, even with that number you're not covering the amount of projects you need to do," he said.
A 2016 consultant report stated about 40% of the assets, like equipment and systems, at a water treatment plant had exceeded their expected life span.
Columbia Water and Light's use of consultant generated reports
In 2017, Columbia Water and Light paid about $40,000 to Raftelis Financial Consultant, Inc, who performed a comprehensive water cost of service study.
The study developed a financial plan for the water utility, reviewed water rates and ensured adequate coverage for the water bond voted on August 7, 2018.

However, the consultant's final report came out almost three weeks after voters approved the bond August 7, 2018. At a January 2019 council meeting, Mayor Brian Treece called the report "unacceptable."
Michael Trapp said he wasn't happy about the bond process and understands holding outside companies to contracts has been a weakness for the city.
Karl Skala was also disappointed with the consultant report being late and said he would urge and consult with staff to look into holding consultants to contract.  
"If it's necessary, depending on the extent of the violation of the agreement or contract that was made, then we would have to consider taking proper action against paying them their full, whatever, was agreed to in the first place," he said. 
City Spokesperson Steven Sapp said the consultant report took so long to produce because of difficulties around gathering data after software changes.
Inside the consultant report, Raftelis recommended the utility charge a 5% annual rate increase over the course of five years, for a total of 25%. However, voter information from the city stated, "Water customers will likely see a total 11% increase over a four year period to cover bond payments."
The council ignored the consultant's recommendation and approved a city staff recommendation of a 4% increase to the water rates for 2019. It's still 1% percent higher than promised in the voter information guide created from the city.
The usage of consultant reports has also frustrated Julie Ryan for years.
"We use taxpayer money to fund these reports and then they never do there due diligence with those reports," she said.  "I think these are things that point to the types of behavior Water and Light has come to accept as a department and what citizens have had to accept."
Leaders and citizens call for a performance audit

In March 2018, the Columbia City Council unanimously passed a resolution, for then City Manager Mike Matthes to obtain an estimated cost for a performance audit for the city.

A performance audit assesses how effective and efficient an entity's operations are. 

When the estimated cost from the State Auditor's Office came back at $500,000 to $750,000 for the entire city and to last over two to three years, some council members' enthusiasm cooled.

Mayor Brian Treece, however, has continually pushed for an outside performance audit for the city of Columbia. He campaigned on the issue in multiple ads. He said the purpose of a performance audit is getting a fresh set of eyes to look at the city's finances.

"I think there are small piles of money and I think there are buckets of money out there," he said. "In this case, money in the form of connection fees had been set aside and were determined to be untouchable, when in reality, they have been booking the numbers wrong."

Maria Oropallo, a member of the Finance Advisory and Audit committee, agrees with the Mayor and believes a performance audit would have found more millions of dollars booked incorrectly. 
"We're discovering things now that are bad practices," said Oropallo. "We need a performance audit so that we can see are things being done efficiently, effectively and economically."  
Former Water and Light Advisory Chair John Conway said the past performance from the utility is the reason to have a performance audit for the utility.
The city has a budgeted auditor position, however, the job has remained empty since June. Carey Bryce was hired in February, but left after only about four months on the job. 
City Spokesperson Steve Sapp said they have four applicants for the job. The city is also expecting to receive bids in early Feburary for an independent audit from a private firm. The city expects the cost to be less than the state auditor's estimate, however, could not give a reason for their expectation. 

Sapp also added the performance audit is different and separate than state-mandated financial audits, which the city already does.
Many people Target 8 spoke with discussed City Manager John Glascock's different outlook and renewed effort of transparency. Mayor Brian Treece said the city manager's communication allows council to act quickly.
"He brings council information as he sees it," he said. "That allows the council to take action instead of allowing those problems, and the financial impact of those problems to compound."
However, for customers who are actively involved in the Utility, like Julie Ryan, the $2.9 million account represents the consequences of Columbia Water and Light's frustrating pattern of complexities. 
"I think that we owe the citizens of Columbia to know 'What do they think about $2.9 million sitting there that isn't benefiting them?'" she said. "It isn't benefiting their health, it isn't benefiting their drinking water quality and instead it's sitting hidden in a spreadsheet."

Columbia Mayor Brian Treece tweeted about why he voted against the water tax increase following the broadcast of this investigation.

 
 

 


Permalink| Comments


]]>
Target 8: Columbia Police substations cause confusion in high crime area https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-columbia-police-substations-cause-confusion-in-high-crime-area/ https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-columbia-police-substations-cause-confusion-in-high-crime-area/ Target 8 Thu, 19 Dec 2019 2:12:09 PM Ethan Stein, KOMU 8 Reporter Target 8: Columbia Police substations cause confusion in high crime area

COLUMBIA - Faith Mejia's children know to drop to the ground whenever they hear gunshots. In 2019 alone, three homicides happened about a block away from their home.

"My son was riding his bike just playing with his friend across the street and shots rang out," Mejia said. "My son's best friend was gunned down last year [2018] and, unfortunately, didn't make it."

She's used to police searching her backyard for casings and said the police shouldn't have to travel far. The Columbia Police Department's substation across from McKee Street Park sits less than a mile away. 

The substation is located at 4507-A Orchard Lane. It's one side of a duplex across from McKee Street Park. According to a council memo, the substation costs $400 a month, plus electric and gas. It's 1 of 5 substations in Columbia.

The substation's original purpose was to house a Community Outreach Unit, according to a council memo. However, Columbia Police ended the community outreach unit, merging it with its downtown unit to make one community resource unit.

Steve Sapp, the Director of Community Relations for the city of Columbia, said the substation's purpose is to allow officers to complete paperwork, use the bathroom and a place to meet residents while staying in their assigned beat. However, people around the McKee Street substation were unaware of its new purpose. 

Community members, like Faith Mejia, complained to Target 8 about the lack of a police presence at the substation since the elimination. In our Target 8 investigation, we recorded activity for over six hours at the substation across different time intervals over the course of a weekend in October 2018. 

Our camera would sometimes run out of space or battery before a police officer drove across the substation. Overall, Target 8 found the lack of a constant police presence at the substation. 

The substation near McKee Street Park is in 3rd Ward, which is represented by councilman Karl Skala. Target 8 showed him some of our video and he wasn't surprised with the lack of police presence. He said he believes it's a consequence of resource shortages for the police department. 

"There has been no resource increase, in terms of police, which we're going to have to get to," Skala said.

However, the Columbia Police Department said the lack of a constant police presence is not because a lack of resources or staff shortage. Sapp said the expectation of a constant police presence at the substation is a misunderstanding. 

"I suspect a lot of people think about them as a precinct house," he said. "But we should certainly should explore ways to make sure residents understand that. Perhaps, on our website we need to do a better job explaining it."

Sapp said the substations allow police officers to stay on patrol in their assigned beats as well as use the bathroom, work on paperwork and meet people. 

Faith Mejia believes the sense of a constant police presence, however, is needed.

"I don’t really see them there in the significant times that crime tends to happen," she said. "I feel like if there was an officer there or just a car parked, a lot of these things might not happen. I mean, who's going to drive down the street and kill somebody."


Permalink| Comments


]]>
TARGET 8: City of Columbia terminates neighborhood outreach specialists https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-city-of-columbia-terminates-neighborhood-outreach-specialists/ https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-city-of-columbia-terminates-neighborhood-outreach-specialists/ Target 8 Wed, 18 Dec 2019 11:11:37 PM Shoshana Dubnow, KOMU 8 Reporter TARGET 8: City of Columbia terminates neighborhood outreach specialists

COLUMBIA - When Glenn Cobbins, Sr. and Judy Hubbard sat down for a meeting with their supervisor at city hall on a Wednesday in October, they were under the impression it was a monthly check-in. 

Three minutes into the conversation, however, they no longer had their jobs. 

“I kind of laughed it off,” Cobbins said. “I asked, ‘Are you serious? How dumb can you be?’ Golly, that was a rude awakening.”

The duo was approaching their fourth year in their positions as “neighborhood outreach specialists.” The part-time job was built into former City Manager Mike Matthes’ 2016-2019 strategic plan.

The plan identified three low-income, and historically underserved, neighborhoods in north, east and central Columbia. As their job description states, Cobbins and Hubbard were hired to “participate in a collaborative process for addressing issues of social equity.”

Cobbins put it simply: He saw his position as a way “to bridge the gap between citizens and the city government.” Hubbard said it was a continuation of the work they were already practicing. 

“It was a wonderful title for a job,” she said. “It’s exactly what we do: reach out into the community and be with the people on the streets. We get to know them and their lives.”

Both Cobbins and Hubbard felt the necessity of their roles increase after the month of September, when six people were fatally shot in the span of 12 days, many in the neighborhoods they served.

Columbia Mayor Brian Treece said the community is still healing. 

“I said at the time that I feel like there’s a hurricane of violence swirling over our city,” he said. “And that was really driven by a heat map of all the shooting incidents in Columbia.”

Treece said there are others doing the same work as Cobbins and Hubbard. And they’re doing it for free. 

“The good news is there are scores of community leaders that have stepped up on a volunteer basis to work with those victims and the victims’ families,” he said.

The map of crime that Treece referred to includes not only Cobbins’ office, but also his backyard.

“We were going into areas where the majority of people were black people,” Cobbins said. “We were trying to level the playing field so everyone can have a living wage and a dying wage. I say a ‘dying wage’ because people in my neighborhood can’t even afford a funeral.”

While the pair was employed by the city, they each made $11 an hour and reported to Assistant City Manager Carol Rhodes. According to Cobbins, she was the only one in the room for their termination. When asked for a comment, Rhodes declined on the basis of “personnel matters.”

Second Ward City Councilman Mike Trapp was not part of the decision to let them go. However, he said it might have aligned with new city leadership.

“I think we’re in better shape to address issues now than we were before we created those positions,” he said.

Because of the restrictions that come with being part-time, Cobbins and Hubbard were never compensated beyond 20 hours per week. Regardless, they were available to families any time of day. 

Former Columbia Police Department Deputy Chief Tom Dresner worked with Cobbins and Hubbard before they had their city titles. 

“They were there on the ground every day,” he said. “It’s never about the money for them. They were doing it long before they were paid to do it.”

Dresner said his relationship with Cobbins started almost 30 years ago.

“I was a young officer in the Columbia Police Department, and he was on the other side of the law,” he said. “He was a drug dealer. Him and his family were frequently involved with us.”

Cobbins’ success story is the type of narrative the city tries to create for all its troubled youth. He grew up in Columbia “fatherless” and fell into drug dealing. At age 17, he was shot in the foot by a CPD officer while running away from a crime. After he got out of prison for the second time in 1998, he did a drug-treatment program at the Ozark Correctional Center in Fordland. He returned to Columbia ready to redeem himself; the timing lining up perfectly with his introduction to Hubbard.

When it comes to life experiences, Hubbard’s is a stark contrast. She’s a mother of four, whose passion for her community started when she was working in human resources at Physician’s Home Health. After hearing about the typical life paths of kids who grew up on Elleta Boulevard, which used to be a high-crime area, she decided prayer wasn’t enough. She started showing up in the evenings, planning activities for them and seeking out mentors. Cobbins soon became one of them.

The pair opened the Imani Mission Center in 2000, which provided after-school programs and life-skill sessions to low-income families in Columbia. The center ran out of funding in 2015 and was forced to close its doors. That’s when Matthes recognized the value they could contribute at a city level.

“He had a vision,” Cobbins said. “I was part of his vision, and I think it was bigger than man. I think it was God’s vision” he said.

Matthes said “Glenn Cobbins and Judy Hubbard have done more for our community than anyone I have ever worked with.

“I hired them to try to reconnect the city government with the community,” Mathes said, “and they did a phenomenal job.”

When Cobbins and Hubbard went out to do community surveys in the strategic neighborhoods, one of the first questions they would ask people was: “Do you feel equal to others?” It was through this type of conversation that Hubbard developed a close relationship with the Marine family.

“I am grateful because they understand and listen to us,” said Shemeca Marine-Hardwell, who recounted a story of when Hubbard helped her keep Section 8 housing. “They’re always there, and they have the right words." 

Marine-Hardwell lost her sister, Danielle Beverly-Mae Marine, on Sept. 22. She was one of five homicide victims. The family does not have an answer as to why their daughter was shot.

Vanita Marine, mother of the victim, said Hubbard has been there through her grieving process.

“She’s helping me get through this crisis,” she said. 

Shemeca and Vanita were among the first people to hear about Hubbard’s termination. 

“I was in a state of shock,” Marine-Hardwell said. “I had to question why. It’s not right.”

She said she thinks the city should be hiring more people like Cobbins and Hubbard. KOMU and the Missourian reached out to both City Manager John Glascock and Police Chief Geoff Jones about any neighborhood outreach plans moving forward. Neither responded. 

The city is in the process of developing the next strategic plan. Treece said neighborhood outreach will likely be a component, but it might look different.

“I still think we’ll have some type of community liaison position,” he said. “But I also want to empower police officers to have that responsibility and front-line duty.” 

According to Trapp, there are several months between now and when the city will be ready —financially and structurally — to hire someone.

“Probably January 2021, our new neighborhood outreach program, whatever that looks like, will be in effect,” he said. 

Cobbins said his termination has served as motivation to work harder. He and a group go into low-income neighborhoods every Sunday, beautifying the streets and asking people what they need.

He said until city officials do the same, social equity cannot be achieved.

“They need to take their titles and their ties and bury them somewhere,” he said. “They need to come out with Judy Hubbard and Glenn Cobbins.”


Permalink| Comments


]]>
TARGET 8: BUYER BEWARE - How new is brand new? https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-buyer-beware-how-new-is-a-brand-new-/ https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-buyer-beware-how-new-is-a-brand-new-/ Target 8 Mon, 16 Dec 2019 7:28:16 PM Austin Walker, KOMU 8 Reporter TARGET 8: BUYER BEWARE - How new is brand new?
COLUMBIA - Greg, Phyllis and the rest of the Smolens family moved to Columbia from Arizona 14 months ago. 
"My husband got offered a job in Jefferson City," Phyllis Smolens said. "But then we found Columbia and it was perfect."
Greg and Phyllis visited Columbia in July of 2017 and had limited time to find a brand new home.
"We really only had a day," Greg Smolens said.
Phyllis said they chose the home because they both fell-in-love with the balcony. Greg and Phyllis purchased a Wilcoxson Custom Home for $340,000.
It's been over a year since moving in and the Smolens feel short changed. Greg Smolens said it seemed like a new cosmetic issue popped up every day.
"The issues just started to pile up," Greg Smolens said.
“We have had to have the dishwasher replaced," Phyllis Smolens said. "We spent $800 to get the first floor of the house repainted."
Phyllis said the paint used on the home was a "flat paint" and wasn't conducive for the kitchen.
"Any sort of steam from cooking completely messed up the wall," Phyllis Smolens said.
The family said problems arose all around the house.
"We had problems with the balcony, the toilet, cracks in the stone outside, the floor had scratches like from a small dog and small black marks that look like you took a black Sharpie," Greg Smolens said.
During the interview with KOMU 8, a cabinet full of dishes almost fell off the wall. The family raised many questions about the home and its cosmetic issues.
"Why are there cosmetic issues, if the home is brand new," Greg Smolens questioned. 
Target 8 pulled water bill records from the home before the Smolens moved in. Water usage jumped from Dec. through March on average of $80.90.
Neighbors of the property said they've seen multiple cars pull into and out of the drive way for three months at about that time.  
One neighbor, who also bought a Wilcoxson Custom Home, said the problems the Smolens family are experiencing, hit close to home.
“After they sold us the house, they didn't want to honor their product," the neighbor said.
Billy Dexheimer, a real estate agent in Columbia, said generally speaking, some sellers don't disclose everything. Although most of the time, there is a disclosure agreement. 
“In Missouri, there’s not that many things for the state to require you to disclose," Dexheimer said.
According to Missouri Statute 402.606, the seller only has to disclose if there was ever methamphetamine production on the property. Dexheimer said the seller doesn't have to disclose if there was someone living there. 
 
“It's hard to say buyer beware but it's very true, because buying a home is not only a massive investment for a family," Dexheimer said. "It's where they spend their time, it's where they raise their kids, it's where they have Thanksgiving, and you want to make sure that that place that they live in and is such a part of their lives is something that they are comfortable with once they get that key closing."
Dexheimer said if you're moving in or around Missouri, there are some steps to take. 
"A lot of times we always say buyer beware because the buyers need to be really diligent when they are purchasing a home," Dexheimer said. "They need to have their inspections done, and they need to check the title, and the neighborhood. There's all kinds of things, which it's nice to have a real estate agent buy your side."
KOMU 8 reached out to Darrin Wilcoxson, the owner of Wilcoxson Custom Homes. He agreed to an interview but then called to cancel the next day.
“I’m going to decline this interview," Wilcoxson said. "That gives you a story, and I’m just going to decline it.” 
KOMU 8 reached out to Wilcoxson again and he sent a statement.
"The concerns of Mr. and Mrs. Smolens relate almost wholly to cosmetic items which should have been objected to by them prior to and at the final walk-through, instead of waiting until after closing," Wilcoxson said in the statement. "Wilcoxson has explained its position and the terms of its Limited Warranty to Mr. and Mrs. Smolens repeatedly. Because Mr. and Mrs. Smolens continue to make unfounded allegations, Wilcoxson, through counsel, recently sent a formal response to Mr. and Mrs. Smolens again explaining such matters and denying their allegations. In conclusion, Wilcoxson complied with its Limited Warranty in all respects, and Mr. and Mrs. Smolens have a very nice home which is well worth the purchase price."
The Smolens said they have a serious case of buyers remorse after learning about buyer beware.
“I’m tired," Phyllis Smolens said. "I’m tired of pushing, I’m tired of calling. I wish someone from the state or the city would want to make changes not for us but for the people. Let's make this right.”
Phyllis Smolens said if they would have known about Missouri law, or the absence of it, the family would have been more aggressive in the search.
"We would have nit-picked and been more critical," Smolens said. "We just didn't have a lot of time."
Greg Smolens said the family would have made sure their original realtor was present during the final walk-through.

Permalink| Comments


]]>
TARGET 8: Documents shows poor medical treatment endangered some inmates https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-documents-shows-poor-medical-treatment-endangered-some-inmates/ https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-documents-shows-poor-medical-treatment-endangered-some-inmates/ Target 8 Sun, 8 Dec 2019 12:00:48 PM Alexandria Williams, KOMU 8 Reporter TARGET 8: Documents shows poor medical treatment endangered some inmates

MOBERLY - Medical documents show former inmate Tommy Fitzgerald's heart stopped beating in the Moberly Correctional Center due to incorrect medical treatment for his condition 18 months ago. 

After receiving a tip from a prisoners' rights advocacy group, Justice 4 Inmates, KOMU 8 News looked into the case of former Moberly Correctional Center inmate, Tommy Fitzgerald, who died and then was revived while receiving medical treatment within the prison. 

Victoria Ferguson, founder of Justice 4 Inmates group, said she started the group to help inmates like Fitzgerald. 

"It scared me that he would come home in a pine box, although he did not, he is what motived me to get change," Ferguson said.

The group, initially based in Kansas City, is made up of former Department of Corrections employees and loved ones of inmates currently in prison.

"Tommy wants to see things changed too, because going into full cardiac arrest, the possibility is always there that they can bring them back, or we lose them," Ferguson said. 

Target 8 looked into medical documents to answer the questions of why and how it was possible Fitzgerald could have been given the wrong treatment.

Fitzgerald said he's had a history of grand mal seizures since receiving a gun-shot-wound to his head after escaping the Jackson County Jail in July of 1985.

He added that one night while in the Moberly Correctional Center, he was experiencing a severe headache and abnormal muscle functions on the left side of his body.

"My left side just wasn't working, it wouldn't go, and it never happened to me like that before," Fitzgerald said.

After being taken to the medical unit within the prison, Fitzgerald said this is where everything went wrong. 

"I told them I had this head injury, and that I was shot, and they're looking at me like I'm crazy," he said. "They're asking me what kind of drugs that I took."

Fitzgerald said he explained to the medical unit he had not consumed drugs in over 19 years.

"They had the assumption that I was 'high as a kite'," he said. 

According to his medical records, this statement was proven untrue. 

"They told me my blood pressure was sky high and off the charts," he said. "They thought I was on some kind of drugs and later found out that I wasn't."

According to the medical documents, Fitzgerald was given dosages of Clonadine and Narcan. 

The Mayo Clinic website shows Clonadine is used for treating high blood pressure, and Narcan, according to a study on RXlist.com, can have severe side effects like high or low blood pressure, seizures and in the worst case death.

"You can't give Narcan to a seizure patient, it causes cardiac arrest," Fitzgerald said. "They did everything wrong, but they did revive so..."

The documents show that Fitzgerald's body started having jerking movements followed by cardiac arrest and then his heartbeat stopped. 

KOMU 8 News tried contacting both the Missouri Department of Corrections and Corizon Health Care headquarters 6 times for information about this case, but never heard back.

"Things are always misplaced in the Department of Corrections, I'll admit it," former Corizon Health Care nurse assistant Lisa Miller said.

Corizon Health Care supplies medical care for the Missouri Department of Corrections along with other states. 

Fitzgerald said he received a call from the doctor involved who apologized. 

"Somebody made a statement that they knew they messed up, and that they were going to use that experience as a training tool," he said.

KOMU 8 News received an email from Corizon Health Care explaining that the Missouri Department of Corrections is in charge of all medical documents and all documents are housed within the prison facility. 

Former inmate Stacy Hunter's brother, Trevis Suftin, said he believes the prison system has been a problem for years, especially in his brother's medical case.

"Three years from the time he started complaining about it, before they finally gave him x-rays, the scans and everything he needed," Suftin said.

Hunter passed away from lung and throat cancer on October 19, 2019.

KOMU 8 News was scheduled to interview Hunter, but he cancelled because of severe health issues. He died two weeks later. 


Permalink| Comments


]]>
TARGET 8 FOLLOW-UP: Family disappointed after governor vetoes coroner bill https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-follow-up-family-disappointed-after-governor-vetoes-coroner-bill/ https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-follow-up-family-disappointed-after-governor-vetoes-coroner-bill/ Target 8 Wed, 13 Nov 2019 8:11:40 PM Marisa Rios, KOMU 8 Reporter TARGET 8 FOLLOW-UP: Family disappointed after governor vetoes coroner bill

GILLAM - Jay Minor is continuing to fight for his son, Jayke Minor, and other families after Governor Parson vetoed a bill that funds training for Missouri's coroners.

But, Minor and state lawmakers who supported the bill said there is a twist into why Governor Parson vetoed HB 447.

"The reason the Governor vetoed the bill was not about the coroner section at all," Sen. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, said. "It was about the outdoor cremation that was added as an amendment." 

Riddle said the sponsor for the amendment put it on last minute, ending up on the final bill.

Minor agrees with Riddle, saying he got a letter from the Governor's office. The letter stated why the bill was vetoed, and it had nothing to do with the coroner section.

Minor said HB 447 was created with the intention to have stronger regulations for coroners working in Missouri and to make sure people have the proper qualifications. The bill creates a coroner's training board and program. It also allows for the collection of one dollar from every certified death certificate in the state of Missouri.

Minor said he was disappointed when he found out the bill didn't go through.

"This bill was created to give the coroners training because currently there is no training or qualifications in the state of Missouri for being a coroner other than being a resident and being a certain age," Minor said. "For the coroners that have been in this position for a long time, they just need to make sure they are doing their job correctly."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anyone can become a coroner in Missouri as long as they:

  • are a citizen of the United States
  • are 21-years-old or older
  • have lived in the state for a whole year
  • have lived in the county for six months before election.

A 2018 Target 8 investigation showcased inconsistencies between the coroner's report and the police report. This investigation takes a deeper look into the flaws of death investigations in the coroner's system. 

"All the reports in Jayke's death were inconsistent. The coroner had so many mistakes. It was just unbelievable," Minor said. "This is a seasoned coroner that has been doing this a long time and should know what to look for and how to do things properly."

Minor said Riddle and Rep. Dan Houx, R-Warrensburg, will move forward with pushing another bill in the upcoming legislative session. 

In an email sent to KOMU, Houx said he plans to re-file the legislation during pre-filing which begins Dec. 1.

"It will contain the same provisions in the bill which was passed by the House and the Senate, but will not contain the language (which was added in the Senate) and prompted the Governor to veto the bill," Houx said in the email.

Riddle said she also plans to pre-file the bill.

"I turned it as my number one priority as well as talking to my caucus members about it," Riddle said. "This bill is needed all around the state because Missouri is one of 11 states that does not require the coroners to be a physician or a part of law enforcement."

Debbie Ferguson, Minor's girlfriend, said this investigation has opened up many doors and complaints from others that her and Minor were not aware of. Both Minor and Ferguson said coroner issues are placed on a national level.

"We have actually reached out to some national avenues," Minor said. "This is not the only state this happens in. It has been a worldwide problem, and some other states have already adopted new policies."

As Minor moves forward in this process, he said he is continuing to work alongside Saline County Coroner William Harlow and Kathleen Little, the executive director of the Missouri Board of Coroners. 

"It is heartbreaking when you hit a dead end," Minor said. "But, I know we will get this bill passed. We are not going to quit." 

KOMU 8 reached out to Governor Parson's office, but did not hear back.

The first day of the next legislative session begins Jan. 8, 2020. 




Permalink| Comments


]]>
TARGET 8: How China's recycling ban affects Mid-Missouri https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-how-china-s-recycling-ban-affects-mid-missouri/ https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-how-china-s-recycling-ban-affects-mid-missouri/ Target 8 Thu, 10 Oct 2019 4:46:07 PM Daniel Perreault, KOMU 8 Reporter TARGET 8: How China's recycling ban affects Mid-Missouri

COLUMBIA - A decrease in demand for recycled goods 7,000 miles away is causing problems for Mid-Missouri's recycling industry.

In 2018, concerns over dirty or hazardous waste in recycling prompted China to ban recyclables with more than 0.5% contamination. According to Waste Management, the average contamination of recyclables at the curb is 25%.

"There was a concern, particularly on the plastic scrap imports, that they were causing environmental problems," said Joe Pickard, Chief Economist for the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries. "Another part of the picture, certainly, is that China is wanting to develop its own recycling infrastructure within the country."

Pickard said the new standards are harder for American cities to meet, which has led to a drop in the price of recycled materials. 

"When they're consuming that much of the world's feedstock, whenever all sudden, they stopped buying it, or stop importing it, well, that creates an oversupply everywhere," said General Manager of Midwest Fibre Sales in Springfield, Byron Wilcox.

Columbia Acting Solid Waste Manager Adam White said the city is currently generating less revenue than they did this time last year. 

“As the demand for products decreased with China no longer accepting recyclables from the United States, it has caused a reduction in the demand for the products we produce here at our facility," White said.

He said Columbia has historically sold recyclables to companies in America, but with China no longer in the market there is more competition.

"The companies that we used to focus on, or used to mainly buy materials from us, are now able to buy material from a wider area," White said. "In essence we are still selling to the same vendors, the main effect we are feeling is the reduction in what we are receiving from that product when it goes on the open market.”

Through September 25, the city has made $852,479, a 27% decrease from the $1,086,309 they made last year.

White said the city is seeing the majority of affects on the fiber side of its facility.

While Columbia feels a small pinch, other areas of Mid-Missouri have felt the brunt.

Earlier this year, Republic Services stopped collecting recyclables in St. Martins, Wardsville and Russellville.

In a letter to customers, the company said China’s changing standards made it impossible to maintain its courtesy recycling service.

Wilcox said rural communities are not being hit any harder than bigger cities.

"Rural communities themselves were even in the insanely high markets we were having - they were barely breaking even," he said. "They may not have the ability to weather the storm, to ride out the bad markets."

White says Columbia is better positioned to withstand the changes because the city operates a dual-stream system in its Material Recovery Facility.

"We are collecting the material from the citizens already somewhat pre-sorted, which allows us to have to have the same quantity of inputs to get it to an acceptable limits of contamination prior to selling it on the open market," White said. "Most cities are operating a single stream system where everything is intermixed, and more inputs are required for the separation of that material into marketable goods.”

While China was a large consumer of American recycled goods, Pickard said it is important to point out the American companies are the largest slice of the pie.

"We need to keep in mind that product should be designed for recycling, to make it easier to recycle these products," he said. "We need to develop, and markets to make sure that the materials, you know, come through the bins and get recycled through the recycling facilities have an end market that they can be sold into so there's really a whole sort of recycling chain of responsibility."

Wilcox said he believes these changes will be here to stay. 

"If you look at some long term pricing, the last seven years were the anomaly, with paper and cardboard being worth way over $100 a ton," he said. "That was the anomaly and now, this is just a very hard course correction to the norm that we experienced for 30 years beforehand."

Wilcox said it will become the new reality of the recycling industry moving forward.

"It's going to be a very slow acceptance of what I would call this new reality or what always should have been," he said. "There is going to be a cost to it."

While Columbia's recycling profits have been compressed, White said the city sees more value in recycling than simply making a profit.

“The city wants to do the right thing by the environment," White said. "We want to keep this material out of the landfill where it is not going to break down or consume airspace, so the city finds a lot of value in the processes associated with recycling outside of generating revenue."

As of October, St. Martins is still looking for recycling solutions. 


Permalink| Comments


]]>
Target 8 Fact Check: Violence in Columbia https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-fact-check-violence-in-columbia/ https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-fact-check-violence-in-columbia/ Target 8 Mon, 30 Sep 2019 11:41:43 AM Ethan Stein, KOMU 8 Reporter Target 8 Fact Check: Violence in Columbia

COLUMBIA - James D. Hickman, 23, was pronounced dead at University Hospital after a shooting near McBaine Aveneue last Wednesday.

His death, the 10th homicide in Columbia this year was the most ever for the city according to data that dates back to 2001.  It was also the fifth homicide in September. Those numbers can grow, if another shooting death is ruled a homicide. But overall violent crime is trending down in Columbia. 

Using data from the Missouri Department of Public Safety, violent crime is on pace to see its second decrease in two years. Violent crime, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol is defined as the frequency of murder, rape (including attempted), robbery, and aggravated assault.  

Missouri law requires all law enforcement agencies report crime data to the Department of Public Safety, which then forwards it to the FBI. The FBI uses this information for the Uniform Crime Reporting Program, also called the UCR.

The UCR is a database with crime statistics for over 18,000 law enforcement agencies including federal, state, city, local, colleges and universities. The purpose is to generate reliable information for use in law enforcement administration and management, according the FBI's website.

Criminologists, sociologists and other social sciences professionals also use this data for different types of research. 


Permalink| Comments


]]>
TARGET 8: Number of accessible parking violations vary across mid-Missouri https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-accessible-parking-violations-vary-across-mid-missouri/ https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-accessible-parking-violations-vary-across-mid-missouri/ Target 8 Sun, 4 Aug 2019 3:56:02 PM Lindsey Wilkerson, KOMU 8 Reporter TARGET 8: Number of accessible parking violations vary across mid-Missouri

MID-MISSOURI - Finding the perfect parking spot can be a hassle, but it can be even more difficult if you need to use an accessible parking space.

A 2018 report from the Accessible Parking Coalition showed 69 percent of people with disabilities surveyed had difficulties finding accessible parking in their communities.

In mid-Missouri, many people with disabilities face the same struggle, sometimes because drivers are illegally parking in those spaces.

KOMU 8 requested accessible parking violations reaching back to 2017 in more than 10 jurisdictions. The numbers ranged between municipalities, and in some places, the amount of data available was surprisingly thin.

The Numbers:

Records requested from each location start in January 2017 and extend to July 2019. The population counts are from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2018 estimates.

Columbia:

Columbia is the largest city contacted for this story, holding about 123,180 people in its limits. The municipal court reported 120 violations during the time requested.

Per capita, Columbia has about 9.7 violations per 10,000 people.

Steven Sapp, the city's director of community relations, said due to "the structure of the records, established by higher courts," it would take considerable time and money to find the locations where each of the violations take place all of the records are held separately.

MU Campus in Columbia:

The MU campus in Columbia had 30,870 students enrolled at the start of the Fall 2018 semester and 29,866 for Fall 2017 according to enrollment data from the university.

The MU Custodian of Records released a list of 375 accessible parking violations from 2017 to 2019. The MU campus had the most amount of violations from all of the places that gave KOMU 8 records.

Estimating that the MU campus has around 30,000 students on average, the amount of violations is about 125 violations per 10,000 students.

Jefferson City:

Jefferson City is home to roughly 43,838 people. The municipal court provided 34 instances where people illegally parked in accessible parking spaces.

Per capita, this would mean there are about 7.3 accessible parking violations per 10,000 people in Jefferson City.

Most of the violations were on East High Street. Jefferson City Police Lt. David Williams said that area is part of the historic downtown district.

"It could be as simple as people wanting to shop in that area and not paying attention to the marked handicap special permit areas, or it could just simply be a fact that they are in too big of a hurry or want to get close to the locations," he said.

Sedalia:

Sedalia's population is estimated to be about 21,718. The Sedalia Police Department provided records for eight violations. This would equate to 3.7 violations per 10,000 people.

Most of the violations were at the Walmart on West Broadway Boulevard.

Sedalia Police Commander Adam Hendricks said the police department will get calls from businesses, like Walmart, about people illegally parked in their accessible spaces.

"We’re mainly reactive to - like if you look at our stats - a lot of the calls are from Walmart. And it is either Walmart management calling us, or someone with disabilities calling, wanting us to do something about someone parked in a spot that is designated for their disability," he said.

Marshall:

Marshall has about 12,934 residents. The municipal court provided a list of 14 violations. This would be about 10.8 violations per 10,000 people. Most of the violations were in the Walmart parking lot or at Marshall High School.

Fulton:

Fulton is about the same size as Marshall, since it is estimated to have about 12,635 residents. However, Fulton's police department only had record of five violations. This would mean there are about 4 violations per 10,000 people.

Fulton Police Lt. Bill Ladwig said he believes that the number of violations has gone down over the years.

"We respond to every citizen complaint about disabled parking," he said. "Fortunately, over time and throughout the last few years, our tickets have decreased because we’ve tried to educate the public."

Mexico:

Mexico also provided records; it has a population around 11,527. Mexico's municipal court only saw three violations, which would be about 2.6 violations per 10,000 people.

Mexico was the only city that could not provide exact locations for each violation. The city clerk said the violations were all from the "downtown business district."

Osage Beach:

One of the smaller cities KOMU 8 reached out to was Osage Beach, right on the Lake of the Ozarks.

While Osage Beach only has about 4,570 residents, it had 11 violations on record.

Its number is comparable to Sedalia's and Marshall's, which have almost three to four times the number of residents.

However, the area provides hotels, restaurants, and entertainment for tourists in the summer months, which could raise the number of violations.

Moberly:

KOMU 8 also reached out to Moberly for records on this issue. The city clerk said very few parking violations are issued during the year and said it was "impossible to find out how many" were accessible parking violations. She noted no parking violations have been issued since August 2018.

The Problem:

However, there is a lot of background that feeds into those numbers, and they cannot be taken just at face-value.

Firstly, regardless of the numbers, people who have disabilities and need to use accessible parking spots say parking is an issue they face regularly.

The Accessible Parking Coalition reported in 2018 that 80 percent of people with disabilities surveyed believed drivers fraudulently parking in accessible spaces was a "widespread" problem.

Payton Smith lives in Mexico and has used a wheelchair for three and a half years.

After a car accident, he lost mobility below his shoulders. He said he deals with issues with accessible parking frequently.

"Before my accident, I never - I never really thought about how much of a pain that would be for someone in a wheelchair," he said.

To travel, Smith has a driver that takes him place to place in an accessible van. The van has a ramp that lets down, which allows Smith to use his wheelchair get in and out of the vehicle.

Smith, as well as other people who use wheelchairs, need eight feet to get in and out of their vans. Accessible parking spots with hash marks next to them are critical for this.

"A lot of times the van parking spots are the only ones you can find with the hash marks to let your ramp or your lift down," he said.

But sometimes, even those spots are not accessible for people who use wheelchairs. If drivers disregard the hash marks and park too close to an accessible van, people who use wheelchairs cannot access their vehicle.

Smith said he often takes extra measures to prevent this from happening.

“A lot of times instead of trying to - or just hoping - nobody parks next to me, I’ll just go ahead and park away from the door,” he said.

Mark Ohrenberg, who lives in Columbia and also uses a wheelchair, said he faces the same issue.

"It happens on a more regular basis. You know, when I’m going to shopping malls like at Target or the Columbia Mall," he said.

Ohrenberg works in the community services division at Services for Independent Living, a non-profit focused on helping people with disabilities gain independence.

He said while working with community members who have disabilities, he has heard concerns about parking accessibility.

"Unless you live it everyday, it's hard to really know the need," he said.

Ohrenberg said this issue impacts everyone in the community.

"You might be thinking, ‘I don’t have a disability at this moment,’ but maybe a year from now, a month from now, you have one, and that’s where you need that," he said.

Both Smith and Ohrenberg said the end goal should not just be officers handing out more tickets; it is educating the public about the issue.

"More than like trying to get people in trouble or get people tickets, or anything like that, we just try to raise awareness to educate people so we can hopefully start to see less and less of those things," Smith said.

From Citizen Complaint to Municipal Court:

All of the police departments contacted by KOMU 8 said they respond to every citizen complaint regarding someone illegally parked in an accessible space.

The City of Columbia even has a place on its website where citizen complaints can be filed online for disabled parking violations.

However, the number of citizen complaints is often much higher than the amount of people actually fined for their actions. For example, in Fulton between 2017 to 2019, the police department responded to 107 complaints; however, only five people were actually fined through the municipal court.

Finding the issue of this problem is hard to trace exactly. After a complaint is called in to the police department, it is often up to the officer's discretion if that person is actually ticketed.

Several police departments that spoke with KOMU 8 said violators are sometimes not ticketed and just asked to move their vehicle in an effort to educate drivers about the importance of leaving those spaces open.

Fulton Police Lt. Bill Ladwig said his department puts education first before immediately ticketing the violator.

"If somebody’s around the vehicle or in the vehicle, again, we’re going to try to educate them," he said.

Jefferson City Police Lt. David Williams echoed the same idea.

"They see that patrol vehicle pull up, and they see those lights come on, they’ll come out and they’ll try to talk to the officer and explain the situation," he said. "Sometimes it’s as simple as the person forgot to hang their placard up."

Sedalia Police Commander Adam Hendricks said officers look at each violation on a case-by-case basis, especially after speaking to the violator.

"It’s kind of like parenting. If you think you’ve made some progress talking with your 'child', then you may not ticket and maybe they saw what your point was," he said.

Just because a driver is ticketed for the violation, however, does not always mean they would have to pay a fine. For example, it is possible for cases brought before the municipal court to be thrown out by the judge without cause.

The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) released a best practices document in August 2018 titled, "Persons with Disabilities Placards and License Plates: Best Practices Guide in Deterring and Detecting Fraud and Misuse."

One of the AAMVA's suggestions in that report was for judges and local court systems.

"When penalties are significantly reduced or charges summarily dismissed, law enforcement will stop allocating the resources to disability parking enforcement." the AAMVA argued. "The outreach message should share why violators need to be held accountable in court."

One Solution:

Some people, businesses and organizations believe education might reduce the amount of people who illegally park in accessible spaces.

The AAMVA's best practices document suggested that education should not just be aimed at the general public, but also Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) employees, law enforcement, health care providers, and the judiciary. 

In an effort to reduce the number of violations, one app called "Parking Mobility" was developed in Texas and is now used worldwide.

The app allows the public to report a citation concerning accessible parking abuse directly through the app. That citation can be sent to local police departments, which then review the citation and decide whether or not to ticket the violator.

Mack Marsh, the project director of Parking Mobility, said the app was originally created to just collect data on how often people illegally parked in accessible spaces.

He said 143 people in Missouri have downloaded the app. The majority of the violations reported were in St. Louis and Kansas City "with the rest scattered throughout the state."

Payton Smith is one of the people in Missouri using Parking Mobility. He said he uses it to help other people in the disability community know about places with frequent violations.

Smith added, by reporting accessible parking abuse through the app, it notifies people in the community about the problem and raises awareness.


Permalink| Comments


]]>
TARGET 8: Flood victims question assessors' qualifications https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-flood-victims-question-assessors-qualifications/ https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-flood-victims-question-assessors-qualifications/ Target 8 Wed, 7 Aug 2019 9:54:41 PM Austin Walker, KOMU 8 Reporter TARGET 8: Flood victims question assessors' qualifications

BRUNSWICK - After receiving damage assessment letters in the mail, Brunswick flood victims have one question: are the people assessing their homes qualified?

Wayne Jones, the former Mayor of Brunswick and flood victim, said he thinks the estimate is inaccurate.

"There is no way that 6 inches of water can produce 100 percent damage," Jones said.

Brunswick residents began receiving the letters July 1. Each letter contained an estimate of how much damage each home received from flood waters. The letters gave home owners two options: raise the home above the flood plain, including filling in the basement, or level the structure.

The letter is attributed to the Brunswick Floodplain Ordinance of 2012. The ordinance states if residents do not abide by the the ordinance, they could face a $500 fine per day.

One of the assessors, Tina Reichart, has limited-to-no home inspection background. Reichart is the owner of Sycamore Valley Farm Bed and Breakfast.

Marissa Robinson, a flood victim, said she thinks they should have training in the field.

"I don't think it's right," Robinson said. "How do they know what to look for if they have never done it."

Tina Reichart said she went through a half day training with FEMA.

"The training taught us what damage to look for," Reichart said. "We learned everything from wiring to cabinets and wall damage."

KOMU 8 reached out to a home inspector to see if the assessments were accurate. Melony Spradling, who has over 20 years of experience assessing homes, said it takes way more than half a day of training.

Spradling said professional inspectors will go on the roof, into the attic, open up the electrical panel and look for any issues. 

"I would say you need a inspector who actually know detailed information in order to help them," Spradling said. "You need someone who knows the specific information to say 'no, you're in good shape.'"

Spradling said FEMA's process could create inaccurate assessments. 

In KOMU 8's original report, we incorrectly identified two of the three assessors in the story. Bill Jackson and Michelle Sanders were not assessors, as previously reported. We regret the error. 


Permalink| Comments


]]>
TARGET 8: Director's office at state agency scrutinized for spending concerns https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-director-s-office-at-state-agency-scrutinized-for-spending-concerns/ https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-director-s-office-at-state-agency-scrutinized-for-spending-concerns/ Target 8 Wed, 8 May 2019 1:09:59 PM Jacob Cavaiani, KOMU 8 Reporter TARGET 8: Director's office at state agency scrutinized for spending concerns

JEFFERSON CITY – Travel spending, frequent use of a travel agency and high mileage on a vehicle all came under scrutiny during a review of the Missouri Department of Safety Director’s Office, according to documents obtained by KOMU 8 News.

In late November, Gov. Mike Parson asked State Auditor Nicole Galloway to audit the director’s office, after the initial review by the Office of Administration.

That review “raised concerns that warranted a more in-depth examination of past public safety administration practices,” Department of Public Safety Director Sandra Karsten said in a November news release.

Gov. Mike Parson put Karsten into the position, which was previously held by Drew Juden, who was appointed by then-Gov. Eric Greitens. When Karsten took the job, the governor's office said, she requested an initial review of the department director's office.

“Anytime a department director raises concerns about questionable use of taxpayer dollars, we take them very seriously– that’s why under these circumstances we have requested a state audit,” Parson said in the release.

Karsten, at the time, said the last audit of the director’s office was completed nearly five years ago.

In the initial review, staff made comments next to 34 transactions about whether spending at hotels was higher than the federal Continental United States, or CONUS, rate. (A map of those hotels is below.)

At least six of the comments noted what the CONUS rate was and how it was higher than what was spent. 

Two of the transactions with staff comments came from fall of 2016, before Juden was in his position.

One was a $631.08 payment to the Palomar San Diego. Staff wrote it was “higher than CONUS rate of $162.”

Rep. Lane Roberts, R-Joplin, served as the director of the Department of Public Safety from spring 2015 until January 2017. He said he was not sure who stayed at the hotel.

Roberts said he never exceeded the CONUS rate.

“We were pretty careful about that. We usually got the rates in advance, and if it was excessive, we said ‘no,’” he said.

The rest of the questioned transactions come from Juden’s tenure.

They include $646.27 and $854.89 spent at the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas, expenditures “higher than CONUS rate $106,” the documents said.

Juden declined to comment.

The Office of Administration travel portal webpage says state employees should use the federal CONUS rates “as a guideline for costs.”

“Lodging that exceeds the CONUS rate must be documented as necessary and approved by the agency,” the page reads.

The CONUS rate varies by location and date.

The director's office is budgeted to have 73 employees this fiscal year, spokesman Mike O’Connell said. The names of people who used the cards is redacted from the documents.

The documents only show the final amount paid; they do not include itemized descriptions of the bills. The documents do not indicate if meals or other expenses were included in the transactions.

Lael Keiser, the director of MU’s Truman School of Public Affairs, said there would be concerns if there is no justification about exceeding the CONUS rate.

“If you search for a hotel, and especially if it’s around the area of where you need to be, and there just isn’t any that are there, it’s perfectly justifiable to exceed the CONUS rate,” she said. “It’s the lack of a justification that would be a problem."

Keiser said it is not alarming on its face if people are exceeding the CONUS rate and an auditor would want to see if going over it is justified.

“But it’s not something that would raise alarm bells unless there wasn’t a process in place to make sure it was justified,” she said.

In an email to the staff conducting the initial review, Karsten commented on vehicle mileage. 

“The mileage reports that we sent on Monday were very interesting," Karsten said in the email. "The (redacted) vehicle had excessive miles driven from June 2017 until July 2018. There were others that were driven considerable miles as well.”

On a page nearly full of transactions to a travel agency, staff wrote “need to review why a travel agency is used so frequently” in a comment.

Keiser, the director of the Truman school, said the findings need to be reviewed.

“But just because it needs to be reviewed, it doesn’t mean that it’s setting off red flags at this point,” she said.  

Curtis Kalin, a spokesman for Citizens Against Government Waste, said the findings in the initial review warrant an investigation.

“Every taxpayer dollar is sacred, and it should be treated that way,” Kalin said. “And public officials need to respect taxpayers by first just respecting their money." 

The audit Parson requested is ongoing. Galloway spokeswoman Steph Deidrick estimated the report would be released this summer.

(Note: Transactions from these hotels include comments from staff about the CONUS rate or duplicate payments.)


Permalink| Comments


]]>
Target 8: Numerous sex offenders live near Columbia day care centers https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-numerous-sex-offenders-live-near-columbia-day-care-centers/ https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-numerous-sex-offenders-live-near-columbia-day-care-centers/ Target 8 Mon, 22 Apr 2019 1:31:31 PM Kara Strickland, KOMU 8 Reporter Target 8: Numerous sex offenders live near Columbia day care centers

COLUMBIA - Target 8 discovered more than 16 sex offenders living at Columbia's Welcome Inn, which an online map shows could be within 1,000 feet of an at-home day care.

Kids Club House is the in-home day care in Columbia. A Missouri State Highway Patrol interactive map search showed 17 sex offenders live within a 1,000 feet circle when Target 8 searched using the day care's address. 

The map shows 16 of them are at The Welcome Inn at 1612 N. Providence Road.

The Boone County Sheriff's Department disputes the map because the motel is set back from the road, making the distance more than 1,000 feet. An MSHP spokesperson defers to the sheriff's department. He also clarified the map is a service to the public and an approximation. A CPD officer told KOMU 8 the property line starts at a private drive. Target 8 measured the distance from the day care to the property line and it was 872 feet.

According to Missouri law, “Certain sexual offenders may not reside within 1,000 feet of any public or private school up to the 12th grade or childcare facility which is in existence at the time of the offender establishing his or her residency.”

A neighbor who lives up the street from Kids Club House said the numbers came as a shock.

“I was just flabbergasted when you said 16 or 17 just in that one hotel,” Kimmy Argotsinger said.

The sex offender registry is a public resource on the Missouri State Highway Patrol's website. Anyone can put an address or name into the database and find sex offenders living or working within their chosen radius.

The Boone County Sheriff's Office website said its list in available in electronic publically viewable form through the use of the highway patrol's Sex Offender Registry.

Lt. Collin Stosberg, with the patrol's Public Information & Education Division, said the Boone County Sheriff would be in charge of using the information provided.

“The registering official of the county or city not within a county is responsible for registering sex offenders, verifying the information contained in their statements and determining if an offender is non-compliant,” he said in an email.

KOMU 8 News reached out to the Boone County Sheriff’s Department on April 15. Deputy Tony Perkins said the department didn't want to look at the data or comment on the matter.

The Target 8 team called the deputy again on April 22. He said he did not believe the addresses provided were within 1,000 feet of each other and wanted to look at them again. 

"That's why I contacted highway patrol a couple of months ago with a similar call I got a couple of months ago," Perkins said. 

KOMU 8 reached back out to the highway patrol for confirmation whether the map is accurate. Stosberg said the map is approximate and referred KOMU 8 to the map's disclaimer. 

“These records are updated daily in an effort to assure that the information on the website is complete and accurate; however, the Patrol makes no representation, express or implied, that the information contained on the web site is accurate," the disclaimer states. 

KOMU 8 showed neighbors photos of the 17 offenders registered near the daycare. Three of them recognized the same man, who they said, they have seen in the area.

Perkins said right now, the sheriff's department checks addresses in the system to make sure sexual offenders are compliant within the law when they  register for the first time.

Neighbors said they are worried the department isn't doing its job.

"I realize that the police are very, very busy, but it’s like with certain [things], you have to just prioritize," Argotsinger said. "This kind of thing needs someone or a couple of people that are just on it, you know, making sure they're registered, they're where they're supposed to be, doing what they say." 

Amanda Kryger, who lives near Kids Club House, said that's a no brainer.

"That's just, like, duh," she said. "We should go get them and tell them 'You can't live here anymore. You've got to go.'" 

Kids Club House is not the only daycare center within 1,000 feet of where sex offenders live, work or go to school in Columbia. This interactive map offers details on the location of offenders near 18 daycare centers.

The owner of Kids Club House said she cannot comment on the situation. She said, when she has spoken up,, she has received backlash, such as people breaking into her home.

The daycare has been open for nearly a decade. Argotsinger said she feels for the owner, the children and the parents.

“That woman started her daycare, and I can imagine when the parents, if they haven’t already looked into it, they’re going to be like ‘do we pull our child?’” she said. “She’ll be doing everything she can to keep those children safe, but it’s just like, it’s a numbers game again.”

KOMU 8 News reached out to the Welcome Inn for comment and an employee said the hotel is a private property and cannot give out any information about who stays there. The owners of the hotel did not respond to multiple emails.

When the Target 8 team went to the property, a manager threatened a lawsuit and called Columbia police. 

“That motel just is not, it’s just not a good place.” Kryger said.


Permalink| Comments


]]>
TARGET 8: Critics question treatment of animals at local shelter https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-critics-question-treatment-of-animals-at-local-shelter/ https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-critics-question-treatment-of-animals-at-local-shelter/ Target 8 Wed, 17 Apr 2019 12:40:44 PM Alex Arger, KOMU 8 Reporter TARGET 8: Critics question treatment of animals at local shelter

NEW BLOOMFIELD - Complaints, inspections and social media outcry surround Callaway Hills Animal Shelter.

This KOMU 8 Target 8 investigation focused on the experiences of those who have volunteered or tried to adopt from Callaway Hills.

Sandy Hempe decided to volunteer at Callaway Hills after her dog passed away.

"I just needed something to do with dogs," Hempe said. "I had heard about them, the area's only no-kill shelter at the time. I couldn't volunteer with a shelter that put dogs down."

Hempe said she did a little bit of everything at the shelter. After volunteering for nine years, she said it eventually became her life.

After a while, she said she started noticing red flags.

"Most of the dogs spent all their time in cages," Hempe said. "They didn't want a volunteer program, they didn't want a foster program, so most of the dogs just lived in pens the whole time. They rarely got walked, there were only a couple of volunteers, the paid staff were actually not allowed to walk dogs."

Hempe became concerned the animals were getting no enrichment. She said the dogs were getting kennel crazy and unadoptable, so she brought up her concerns to the manager at the time.

She said she was told to never come back.

"I said some things that I felt needed to be said," Hempe said. "The animals were getting more and more unadoptable because they weren't getting any attention, no enrichment, no grooming. That basically it was just becoming a place to warehouse dogs and that they needed to let them go."

KOMU previously spoke to owner, Lenore "Tony" Weldon, after a protest happened outside her shelter. Protestors claimed the animals were not taken care of properly during the winter's frigid weather, but Weldon said they did the best they could.

"We took care of it by extra straw, there are tarps, the main thing was the wind chill that was so damaging but we can honestly say no dogs suffered here, and we had no problems," Weldon said.

As for conditions, Weldon said the shelter works to always be up to standard.

"We know the regulations, and we pretty much have a good handle on them," Weldon said. "We try to comply with them, and when we're not in compliance, we get in compliance."

However, public complaints to the Department of Agriculture prompted investigations. Those investigations lead to more frequent, unannounced visits.

Some details from complaints to the department include:

"Animals are not provided proper pest preventatives, the owners almost refuse to adopt these poor pets out and keep them in horrible conditions. It seems to be almost a hoarding situation... THE ANIMALS NEED HELP!!!!!!"

"I went there to look at the facility. It reeked of feces. No bedding seen in any kennel... Some of the dogs showed fear and frustration of humans... I had NO IDEA how horrible they were living."

"I could see fleas crawling on all the cats. When I asked about flea treatment, I was told that several of the cats were semi-feral so since they couldn't treat them all it was a waste of time to treat any of them."

"Chewed wood, sharp/jagged metal on the enclosures, green moss/mold growing on the wood, very large food bowls heaping with food... dogs on nothing but gravel in 90+ degree heat."

In the investigations that followed these complaints, some claims were substantiated like chewed surfaces not adequately cleaned, growth in water bowls, rodent droppings in food storage areas, lack of an effective flea program and in June of 2017, there was no veterinary care program available to review.

The Department of Agriculture checks on the substantiated claims with inspections. Most recently, the inspection listed 34 adult cats and 56 adult dogs at Callaway Hills. Main problems the shelter continuously faces is having improper identification cards attached to enclosures and not having animals up to date on vaccinations.

As for the amount of dogs in the shelter, Weldon said the problem is the amount of dogs dumped at the shelter, and they have no where else to take them.

"The yards where the dogs are housed now were meant to be exercise yards for dogs that were in kennels to be turned out during the day, but we ran out of housing and dogs are constantly dumped on us."

However, many people think this issue is also because the shelter rarely adopts out its animals.

"There were so many problems with them letting people adopt out animals," Hempe said. "We'd have these applications of people with good vet references, nice people wanting to give an animal a good home, and they'd be turned down over and over and over again."

Hempe said she processed most of the applications when she volunteered there. She said applicants had to list where they lived, where they intended to keep the dog, if they had a fenced in yard and more. She said applicants had to have veterinary and personal references, too.

She said it was an automatic no if the person did not have a fenced in yard or if they had never owned a pet before.

"Not having a dog doesn't mean you can't walk a dog on a leash," Hempe said. "And as for first time pet owners, it's good that they want to adopt a pet, and it's good that they want to get one from a shelter rather than buy one somewhere. I did not understand the reasoning there."

One person who was turned away is Arin Vanloo. Vanloo has been a groomer for 21 years and has eight dogs of her own, while fostering others.

She tried to adopt a dog named Payton in 2017, but Payton is still at Callaway Hills.

"I had all the qualifications I needed I felt, but they just don't want to give them up," Vanloo said. "They just don't want to turn them lose for some reason, and we don't know why."

Weldon said many people take it personally when they're turned away, but she said they shouldn't.

"Often, its just their living circumstances is not appropriate for a dog we know is likely to bolt out the door," Weldon said. "Were just trying to do the best for the dogs, and the thing we don't want is to adopt a dog out and then they have to get rid of it."

However, Lisa Reiber disagrees.

Reiber took her dog to Callaway Hills while going through a divorce. She thought he could do better in a different home, but she almost immediately regretted it.

"I went back there and I begged them to let me have him back, and they wouldn't, they said I had to fill out another application and wait," Reiber said. "So I filled out an application and I waited and they never called me so I kept calling them. They never returned my calls, they refused to talk to me."

She said after waiting too long, she went to the shelter on Christmas Eve 2017. She said it was cold, he was shivering and his gate was unlocked.

"I took him. And I took him home. And well they called the police and I was arrested, and they took Jack away from me and it ripped my soul out because I let him down. I gave him hope that he was going to have a life," Reiber said.

After not seeing Jack for more than a year, she decided to go back to Callaway Hills. Staff would not let her see him because the shelter is now open by appointment only, but she went to his cage and petted him anyway.

Staff asked Reiber to leave and wouldn't let her make an appointment to see him.

"I just want him to come home. He looks terrible," Reiber said.

Reiber said she'll never stop fighting to adopt Jack out of Callaway Hills.

Vanloo said she hopes the animals can get out of their cages and get into homes as soon as possible.

Hempe, Vanloo and Reiber said they don't want the shelter shut down; they just want more action to be taken to give the animals good homes and living conditions.

"They can feed them and maybe give them a pat on the head daily but thats not a life," Vanloo said. "Just because they are a no kill shelter doesnt mean that it should be no life."


Permalink| Comments


]]>
TARGET 8: Osage Beach aldermen vote down new fireworks bill https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-osage-beach-aldermen-vote-down-new-fireworks-bill/ https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-osage-beach-aldermen-vote-down-new-fireworks-bill/ Target 8 Sun, 14 Apr 2019 5:51:45 PM Daniel Perreault, KOMU 8 Reporter TARGET 8: Osage Beach aldermen vote down new fireworks bill

OSAGE BEACH - The Osage Beach Board of Alderman denied the passage of a new bill Thursday night that would have allowed the purchase and use of fireworks for a three-week period around the Fourth of July.

Ahead of the vote, some residents were worried emergency response times might suffer as a result, while some city representatives were open to it.

“As I talked to folks who had been here quite a long time, no one was quite sure why fireworks were banned,” Osage Beach Ward 3 Alderman Richard Ross said. “We should have the discussion then if we are not sure why and people felt they did not see a reason why we should not have fireworks.”

Ross was one of two alderman who voted for the ordinance, before it ultimately failed 4-2. 

Despite being illegal in the city, Osage Beach Police Chief Todd Davis said the department responds to between 20, and 30 fireworks calls each year.

“Currently, we are responding to them anyway,” Davis said. “when we do go tell people it is against the law to shoot off the fireworks inside the city limits, they’re like, ‘Oh, we didn’t know.’”

Davis said officers have generally given out a warning for the first offense and then issue tickets the next time. Since 2014, Davis said the department has given out four tickets for fireworks violations.

KOMU 8 News obtained video from June 2017 showing a member of the Board of Aldermen, Ward 1 Alderman Greg Massey shooting fireworks off his dock. In a phone interview, Massey confirmed it was him in the video, but said it was one of his friends who actually shot off the fireworks.

Massey said they shot two fireworks off of his dock, but immediately stopped after one of them malfunctioned. He said the event made him realize it is not safe to shoot fireworks off of a dock.

"I'll be the first to tell you it is not safe," Massey told KOMU 8 News. "There will never be another firework shot off my dock."

Neighbors told KOMU 8 News they called the police on Massey that night for shooting off fireworks. Massey said police did come to his house that night and gave him a warning. Osage Beach Police Lt. Michael O’Day told KOMU 8 News there was no police report filed. Many neighbors who were concerned about the new ordinance pointed to the video of Alderman Massey as what worried them about the ordinance.

They worry legalizing fireworks could create an increased strain on the emergency services.

At the Board of Alderman meeting on April 4th, Osage County Fire Protection District Chief Jeffrey Dorhauer said the district was consulted about the new ordinance and offered recommendations based on what has worked for other cities.

“I went to the Osage Beach Fire Protection District which covers Osage Beach and ask if there was any concerns on their part based on how we wrote the ordinance,” Ross said. “They had some recommendations for how to word it so they could enforce it and make sure if we assume that the Osage Beach Fire Protection District is the right person to monitor and enforce this, that they could do it effectively.”

Chief Davis said he too was consulted about the bill and believes his department can handle it.

“We may get a few more with it being legal inside the city, we may have more instances of the calls coming in, but we are staffed to handle it,” he said. “I feel our staff can handle it.”

Davis said his biggest concern about the new ordinance is the likelihood of property damage from fireworks. “They are not a big nascence for us, what would be more concerning is them landing on people’s houses, catching somebody else’s property on fire,” Davis said. “We do get some noise complaints, but it is not any more overwhelming that some of the other calls that we get.”

The ordinance makes it illegal to damage someone else’s property, but some residents told KOMU 8 News it is inevitable with houses being built close together.

The ordinance specifically prohibits the use of fireworks within 300 feet of certain buildings such as churches and schools.

“Residential area, there are no restrictions,” Ross said. “Gas stations, firework stands, there are some buildings that you can’t be as close to.”

It also would ban shooting fireworks off the deck or roof of a house or condo.

Another common criticism of the ordinance is how it deviates from the policies currently in place in surrounding cities. Lake Ozark and Sunrise Beach both ban the use and sale of fireworks within the city entirely. Eldon and Linn Creek allow the sale use of fireworks for two days each year, July 3 and 4. The proposed Osage Beach ordinance would legalize the sale and use of fireworks for three weeks, from June 20 to July 10.

“The reason for that was to accommodate guests who come down here for one to two weeks during the Fourth of July season and give them the ability to enjoy fireworks around the Fourth of July with their families and still work well within their vacation schedules,” Ross said.

As the Osage Beach Board of Aldermen move forward with the fireworks ordinance, there still have some questions to answer relating to the enforcement of the law. Chief Davis said he had an ongoing discussion with Osage Beach Mayor John Olivarri on the topic.

“The shooting out of hours and everything would fall underneath the police department,” Davis said. “As far as the sales to minors because our ordinance has 18 years of age, that would also fall underneath the police department because we are going to be the ones that see that.”

The Board of Aldermen is expected to discuss the fireworks ordinance again at their next meeting on Thursday, April 18.


Permalink| Comments


]]>
TARGET 8 FACT CHECK: Columbia Mayor Treece hits the airwaves https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-fact-check-columbia-mayor-treece-hits-the-airwaves/ https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-fact-check-columbia-mayor-treece-hits-the-airwaves/ Target 8 Wed, 20 Mar 2019 5:44:37 PM Ethan Stein, KOMU 8 Reporter TARGET 8 FACT CHECK: Columbia Mayor Treece hits the airwaves

COLUMBIA - Columbia’s mayoral race has moved to television as the municipal election on April 2 moves closer.

Mayor Brian Treece has created two different ads for television. Treece discusses his accomplishments as mayor citing seven different articles in the 30-second ad called “Honor.” KOMU 8 took a deeper dive into the claims made in the incumbent's first ad.

Claim: “I led the fight to prevent politicians from raising your taxes. We’ve added new police officers to keep out community safe.”

Treece did vote against raising property taxes in August 2018, according to city council meeting minutes. However, the city’s property tax rate is one of the lowest in the state, when compared to other cities, and hasn’t been raised in more than 15 years.

Former city manager Mike Matthes wanted to raise the property tax two percent in 2018.  The city wanted to spend additional revenue on departments and projects across the city.  

One project against which Treece voted was a new fire station in southwest Columbia.  The new station would have cut response times for emergency calls. The fire department has been asking for a tenth station since 2013.   

The proposed tax increase would cost seven dollars for those with a $150,000 home, according to past KOMU 8 reporting.

The city is planning on building a new fire station after purchasing land near Scott Boulevard and Route KK this month.

The Columbia Police Department has added officers, however it has a net loss of officers over the past five years.  

The department has added 42 officers over the last five years. However, 68 police officers left over the same time period.

52 of 68 Police Officers resigned, the other 16 retired.

The 30-second ad discusses the building of a new police substation in northeast Columbia. However, that substation was made possible because of a donation from the Columbia Insurance Group.

Violent crime has both increased and decreased under Treece, depending on the year examined.

According to the Columbia Police Department, violent crime is defined as criminal homicide, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

Verdict: We find this claim needs context

Claim: “A 1,000 new jobs.”

Treece’s claim comes from a story published by the Columbia Daily Tribune in October 2018. The article uses a report from two University of Missouri researchers called "On the Columbia Economy: A Comparison across Missouri and across Companies."

The report calls Columbia “the brightest spot within Missouri’s metro areas with a strong performing economy since 2000.” The researchers attribute employment growth to Columbia’s four largest employers: the University of Missouri, University Hospitals and Clinics, Columbia Public Schools and Veterans United Home Loans.

According to the report, nearly half of new payroll employees in Columbia were added by those four largest employers. The report also said Veterans United Home Loans accounts for roughly one in every five of the new payroll employees added each year.

Verdict: We find this claim needs context

Claim: “And made an open, honest, transparent government the hallmark of our city.”

Treece did make data more accessible through a citizen transparency portal. The portal costs $25,000 each year.

The citizen transparency portal acts as an open checkbook for the city. The portal has detailed reports of all financial records including expenditures, revenues, vendor payments and payroll details.

The portal currently has all of the financial data from the 2017, 2018 and 2019 fiscal years.

Treece has also asked for an independent city audit multiple times.

Verdict: We find this claim true


Permalink| Comments


]]>
TARGET 8: Following the money in the Columbia mayoral race https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-following-the-money-in-the-columbia-mayoral-race/ https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-following-the-money-in-the-columbia-mayoral-race/ Target 8 Thu, 14 Mar 2019 10:27:24 AM Abby Dodge, KOMU 8 Reporter TARGET 8: Following the money in the Columbia mayoral race

COLUMBIA – Incumbent Mayor Brian Treece and his opponent Chris Kelly have been squaring off over money in advance of the April 2 election.

KOMU took a deep dive into the finances of both campaigns, finding stark differences.

HOW FUNDRAISING MEASURES UP

In a Tuesday interview, Kelley said, “I don’t have anywhere near as much money as he has, but I have a whole lot more Boone County people.” 

Kelly’s financial report shows there are two donations from outside of Missouri. James Haines Jr. donated $1,000 from Lawrence, KS.  

“Jim Hayes is my friend of 45 years who I canoe with,” Kelly said.

The second out-of-state donation is from Robin Rotman. Originally Kelly did not know who Rotman was, but later called KOMU and said her $100 donation came from her bank in Lake Bluff, IL. She now lives in Boone County.  

Based on each campaign’s filings with the Missouri Ethic Commission, 40 days before the general election, Treece’s campaign reported it had raised $51,840 and Kelly reported $19,060.

The average donation for the Kelly campaign was $186.86, while the median donation was $100. For Treece, the average donation was higher, at $476.67, but the median donation was the same as Kelly's at $100.

Kelly said the extra money raised by Treece is being used, in part, to sling mud.

“When you have that kind of big money, it doesn’t contribute to public understanding or coming to know the positions of the candidates,” Kelly said. “It only contributes to effectively smear.”

Treece said the amount of money he received proves his impact on Columbia thus far.

“I think it’s an outpouring of support,” Treece said. “I think it supports the broad base of support I’ve received based on my accomplishments over the last three years.”

Treece's fundraising so far is on track with with the first time he ran for mayor.

“I’m proud of the campaign I’ve run and the amount of support I’ve received. Sometimes that takes financial support, sometimes that’s in the form of volunteers,” he said.

RETURNING MONEY

Kelly’s original filing stated he raised $20,010, but he had to delete a $950 in-kind contribution from Columbia Marketing Group. His amended report, submitted Tuesday evening, says the $950 will be marked as a monetary expenditure in the next report.

“At worst, we made a $950 technical violation, as compared to the acceptance of tens of thousands of dollars in PAC checks,” Kelly said.

The mistake was brought to the attention of the Missouri Ethics Commission by the treasurer of “Treece for Mayor,” Chuck Graham.

In a previous KOMU story, Graham said Kelly is in the wrong.  

"One of two things is true. Either he knew it was an illegal contribution and took it, or he was ignorant of the law and ignorance of the law is no excuse, especially for a judge," Graham said.

“The contribution from Columbia Marketing Group conceals the actual source of the contribution,” the complaint said.

When KOMU brought Kelly’s attention to that specific line in the complaint, he responded saying it was “silly.”

“Because it says right on it who it’s from,” Kelly said.

Columbia Marketing Group is not register with the Secretary of State’s office. 

The Missouri Ethics Commission will not comment on whether there is or is not an investigation.

TREECE’S RELATIONSHIP WITH PAC’S  

When KOMU sat down with Kelly Tuesday he pointed to Treece’s finances.

Of the 108 donations Treece reported, 18 came from PAC’s or other organizations. Eight of those came from local Teamsters groups throughout the state.

The largest donation Treece received is from the CHIPP Political Account. It donated $10,000 in December of last year.

Carpenters Help in the Political Process is registered with the Missouri Ethics Commission as a political action committee. The group was established in 1900.

According to CHIPP’s most recent 2019 January quarterly report it made more than $1.8 million in contributions during that quarter.

CHIPP’s pubic relations and marketing director said what it donated to Treece is "comparable" to how much its given to other mayoral campaigns.

Treece also accepted money from CHIPP in 2016, taking $10,000 from the PAC.

When we asked Treece if taking donations from PAC’s is contradictory to his campaign slogan “open, honest and transparent,” Treece said, “Not at all.”

“That’s the campaign finance law that we have now, that required corporations to contribute to a PAC to support political candidates,” he said.

The only out-of-state donation to Treece’s campaign was $1,000, which came from John Ashford in Alexandria, Virginia. Ashford is the co-founder, chairman and CEO of The Hawthorne Group. 

The group describes itself as an international public affairs and public relations firm. Ashford’s biography said the Kansas City Star once called him a “political kingmaker”.

But Treece said Ashford's support has nothing to do with that. He said he grew up in the same town as Ashford.


Permalink| Comments


]]>
TARGET 8: Documents say teacher enticed minor using Snapchat https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-documents-say-teacher-enticed-minor-using-snapchat/ https://www.komu.com/news/target-8-documents-say-teacher-enticed-minor-using-snapchat/ Target 8 Thu, 13 Dec 2018 9:13:46 PM Monica Harkins, KOMU 8 Reporter TARGET 8: Documents say teacher enticed minor using Snapchat

FULTON - As the digital age advances, connecting with friends on social media is easy, but the caveat is that there are more outlets for sex offenders to reach minors.

In Fulton, court documents said Teneil Stevenson enticed a student via Snapchat at Fulton Middle School. He coached track and taught at the school during the 2017-2018 school year. He was the student's track coach.

According to the probable cause statement, Stevenson began with casual messages focusing on the student's track performance during the spring of 2018.

The report states that, later that semester, Stevenson sent the student a photo of himself fully clothed, that appeared to be taken in Fulton Middle School. He circled his groin in the photo and included a caption on the photo referencing his groin, the statement said. 

One Snapchat feature that makes the application unique is its disappearing photos and messages. That makes it difficult to get hard evidence in an enticement of a minor case.

However, message recipients can elect to take a snapshot of the picture or message, which could later be used in a case.

KOMU 8 News attempted to reach Callaway County Prosecuting Attorney Chris Wilson about whether the student had snapshots of the incidents reported. KOMU 8 News called Wilson three times, but he never responded.

Boone County Sheriff's Department Cyber Crime detective Tracy Perkins said it's better if there are snapshots, but law enforcement can still work with companies like Snapchat to secure data from their backlogs.

"But if we don't know about the incident when it does happen, then time is in essence and that information is more likely going to be wiped away from the server," Perkins said. "So, it's kind of a double-edged sword."

In Stevenson's case, court documents show the Snapchat messages to the student became more suggestive and sexual in nature in the summer of 2018.

Meanwhile, Stevenson switched jobs from Fulton Middle School to Southern Boone High School to coach football for the 2018-2019 school year. At the same time, the student graduated from middle school to high school.

The probable cause statement said the student didn't report the enticement until Aug. 31 when Stevenson messaged them saying he hoped to see them at the Fulton versus Southern Boone High School football game.

Perkins said Missouri law has not caught up with digital media, as far as enticement of a minor charges go. 

"We're actually pretty far behind when it comes to law regulations in regards to certain types of crimes," he said.

In the case of enticement of a minor, the law only protects minors under the age of 15 enticed by a person over the age of 21. So, there is what Perkins calls a gray area.

Perkins said she wishes her advice to parents could be to leave phones out of the question all together, but she said she knows that's unrealistic in 2018. 

Instead, parents need to educate their child on the realities of social media, she said, even about less serious offenses, like cyber-bullying.

"Transfer that information back over to the child and let them know that there's laws that says you can't do this, you can't do that," Perkins said. 

She encouraged parents to create an open space so the child feels safe to report it if a crime does take place. 

Stevenson was placed on administrative leave from Southern Boone High School on Sept. 4 2018.

On Oct. 16, he pleaded not guilty. He formally resigned from the school a week later. 

His trial was set for Feb. 20 in Boone County.


Permalink| Comments


]]>