Monday, August 31, 2015

Joplin city manager provides weekly update

(The following update was provided by Joplin City Manager Sam Anselm to the City Council Friday.)

Good afternoon, everyone. Please see below for this week’s update.

 Key Meetings

-On Monday, staff from HR, Parks and Recreation, and I met to discuss some possible position changes within parks and recreation due to a restructuring of the department. We will have a meeting with finance staff next week to review the financial impact of these changes, but it is my hope to have this discussion with you during our budget work sessions.

-Later that morning I attended the monthly meeting of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce. Following up on our meeting from Monday night, if you have not submitted your suggestions for items to include with the new contract to either City Attorney Edwards or myself, please do so at your earliest convenience.

-Monday afternoon, AtCM Kelly and I met with finance staff to review the evaluation of user fees and charges report compiled by finance in conjunction with other departments. There are a few fee requests that we need to do additional research on, but I anticipate the bulk of the fees will be ready for your review and discussion during our budget work sessions.

-On Tuesday, department heads and I met to discuss the audit findings. Specifically, we made it through the first three findings of the audit report. The website has been updated to reflect that 67.8% of insurance proceeds have been collected under the duplication of benefits provision (Recommendation 3.3). Pertaining to Recommendation 3.4, we will be retraining staff on how to locate and secure the proper suspension and debarment paperwork. Finance will now be responsible for retaining the proper documentation related to this finding.

-Later that afternoon, AtCM Kelly and I met to review his progress on developing a five-year Capital Improvement Plan for use by council and staff in planning out the next several years of capital expenditures. Work continues on that project and our hope is to have a draft document ready for your review at the budget work sessions, even though no formal action will be required by you at this time.

-On Wednesday, the Infrastructure Team (staff from public works, planning, and Deloitte) met to review their progress on mapping out the use of the CDBG-DR funds for infrastructure work in the recovery area. Based on the dollars budgeted for Infrastructure Projects #1 and #2 (but not including the Main & 20th Street road projects), PW staff is recommending a mix of stormwater (18%), sanitary sewer (31%) and surface element (51%) repairs throughout all zones, but concentrated in the heart of the damage area based on condition assessments that took place over the past several months. Next week, the Infrastructure Team will be meeting with the engineering consultants to prepare next steps and a timeline for implementation. After those meetings take place, I will likely be asking Deloitte staff to give a presentation/update to the council and the public at a future council meeting.

-On Thursday morning I attended a meeting with several local residents who are interested in sharing more about all of the positive things going on in our community, in spite of what we read in the headlines or on Facebook. The impetus behind the meeting was a book called For the Love of Cities, by Peter Kageyama, whom you may recall was in Joplin in May of 2013 to talk to several residents about what we can do to show our love for the cities in which we live. The “I Am Joplin” mural on 6th and Main was the direct result of that visit. Discussions are still in the early stages, but as I learn more I’ll pass the information along.

-Later that afternoon, Director Tuttle, AtCM Kelly and I accompanied council member Colbert-Kean on a tour of the city with officials from the National League of Cities. We discussed our recovery efforts and the use of various state and federal resources to help us, economic development efforts, and other topics.

-Earlier this afternoon, representatives from several departments met with the Finance Committee to answer questions related to the fee study that the finance department has completed with the help of several departments. The committee voted to advance the study to the council for review, which will also occur during budget work sessions next month. I would like to commend staff at all levels for their efforts in bringing this information to you, with a particular word of thanks to Assistant Finance Director AJ Whistler, for his efforts in researching our costs, city comparables, and compiling the report for your review.

-To end the week, I met with Callie Hudson with the Downtown Joplin Alliance. They are moving their office to 515 S. Main next week, and she also informed me of an exciting restaurant start-up/incubator opportunity that will be coming to 1st and Main, in the former Cooper’s 66 restaurant. We discussed the downtown parking proposal more, and I’ll be gathering additional information next week to share with you. Thank you to those of you who have provided input thus far; I’ll provide a summary of everyone’s responses along with additional information/answers to some of the questions you’ve raised.

Miscellaneous

Earlier this week I asked our Neighborhood Services Supervisor, Stephen Grindle, to provide an update on some of the changes taking place within the division. I am excited about the change in direction that is taking place within the division, and I think it will have some positive impacts on our community as the vision becomes a reality.

Reiboldt: EPA coal regulations a solution in search of a problem

(From Rep. Bill Reiboldt, R-Neosho)

One of the key components of any successful and growing economy is affordable energy, and certainly this is true in Missouri. Like most U.S. states we are dependent upon coal for much of our electricity. Energy, especially electricity, is a foundational resource for a better quality of life, economic prosperity and environmental improvement. Global energy demands will continue to grow as there are over a billion people lacking access to electricity. Their need and our continued need for affordable and reliable energy is of the utmost importance in the world today.

Coal continues to be the world’s fastest growing, least expensive and most reliable energy resource, supplying almost 50% of the U.S. and global electricity needs. When putting together an energy plan for the future, a balance is necessary to ensure reliability of available resources. Coal, as well as oil, natural gas, nuclear, hydroelectric and renewables (solar and wind) will all be necessary to provide affordable energy for our nation and the world.

Since 2000 the cost of generating electric power in the United States has increased by nearly 50%. As this “pain at the plug” continues, a question to consider is, “Does coal have a future in the production of electricity?” The United States is called the “Saudi Arabia” of coal, with almost 30% of the world’s supply found here. Perhaps a better way to answer the question is by asking, “Will coal be a player in the future?” Many say, “Yes, and with today’s technology, we can continue to use it with almost zero atmospheric emissions.”

For me to better understand our future energy needs and to see how coal can play a part in that energy balance, I recently took part in a legislative tour of Prairie State Generating Company’s facility in southwestern Illinois. Sponsored by Peabody Energy Corporation headquartered in St. Louis, the tour allowed us to get a firsthand look at modern day coal production and gave us ample opportunity to ask hard questions regarding coal and its usage. The tour itself took place in the Illinois Basin, one of our nation’s leading coal producing areas, an area covering 50,000 square miles and including most of Illinois, parts of Indiana and western Kentucky. The Illinois Basin contains the nation’s third largest reserve of coal.

Basically located in the middle of corn and soybean fields, the Prairie State Generating facility is hailed as being amongst the nation’s cleanest energy producing facilities. It gets its coal via conveyors from the coal mine located across the road from the generating plant, thereby negating the need for additional transportation. The Prairie State Generating facility has a 1,600 megawatt plant that is owned by eight non-profit utilities, with Peabody Energy owning 5%. We were told the generating plant, having come on line in 2012, invested more than $1 billion in environmental emissions control equipment. They said that owners’ focus is to deliver reliable electricity to all its members at a reasonable cost while maintaining proper protection of the environment. We saw firsthand their commitment to employee safety and to protecting the environment.

In addition, we learned that when monitoring air quality, there are four major pollutants to consider: nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and mercury levels. The facility we toured is in compliance with all federal and state requirements and has successfully removed 85% of nitrogen oxide, 98% of sulfur dioxide, 99% of all particulate matter, and 90% of all mercury from its emissions. Not only does this facility meet all permit requirements, but it actually exceeds them. After touring the generating plant and the nearby adjoining mine, I have no doubt that coal can and will have a significant place in our future energy resources, especially after seeing firsthand how efficient and environmentally compatible it is.

According to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and the United States Environmental Protection Agency, air quality in our nation has continued to improve and is today among the best in the world. With advanced technologies available to us, we are on target to see air quality continue to get even better; however, new federal standards recently proposed by the EPA on coal generating plants could be the costliest regulations ever mandated on any U.S. company in our nation’s history. Many believe that the EPA is acting outside its authority under the Clean Air Act in an attempt to rewrite energy policy and force a standard that is impossible to achieve, thus seeking to discredit and eliminate the use of coal.

The day we toured this facility, even under full plant generation, the air was so clean and clear we were able to see up to 30 miles away in all directions as we stood outside on the six story platform near the exhaust stack. So, once again, it appears the EPA is mandating a solution in search of a problem, without any consideration of the people.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Ethics hearing for Mike Woolston postponed

(From the City of Joplin)

The hearing for Councilman Mike Woolston on alleged ethical violations that was originally scheduled for Monday, August 31, 2015 has been reset for September 14, 2015 at 6:00 p.m. Councilman Woolston hired attorneys Charley German and Jason Hans of Kansas City, and they requested the continuance. Municipal Judge Chuck Brown is the hearing officer assigned to preside and decide procedural matters at and related to the hearing. He granted the continuance request.

The City’s budget work sessions originally scheduled for September 14 through September 16 will be moved to Tuesday, September 15 through Thursday, September 17. Thursday’s session will only be held if budget discussions are still ongoing at the close of Wednesday’s meeting.

For more information, contact Lynn Onstot, Public Information Officer at 624-0820

Hartzler: Congress must say no to deal with Iran

(From Fourth District Congressman Vicky Hartzler)

I have previously expressed my concerns regarding the nuclear deal with Iran – a state sponsor of terrorism – calling it dangerous because the agreement hands the Iranians billions of dollars in sanctions relief while allowing them to continue their march toward nuclear capability.

I have been discussing these concerns with citizens as I travel around Missouri’s Fourth District, most notably at two informational presentations I held in Harrisonville and Sedalia. These forums provided an opportunity for Fourth District residents to share their thoughts and concerns with me. Based on the comments I continue to hear, I share your concern about this deal.

If this deal weren’t dangerous enough, we recently learned of a side deal that was cut between the IAEA and the Iranians, allowing Iran to use their own “experts” to inspect the Parchin nuclear site, removing impartial international inspectors completely out of the equation. Parchin—an Iranian military installation—is where it is believed that Iran has been working on nuclear weapons. This side deal, while not negotiated by the Obama Administration, was blindly accepted by the administration as part of the larger package. This is outrageous!

A state sponsor of terrorism, which is being monitored to ensure it does not engage in the development of nuclear weapons, is being allowed to monitor itself. It was bad enough when Secretary of State John Kerry’s promise of “24/7” inspection authority evolved into giving the Iranians "24 days" notice of a desire to inspect, but now the Iranians will be allowed to use their own inspectors to investigate violations at a secret Iranian military complex.

Since details of this side deal have come to light, it is fair to ask how many more of these special deals have been negotiated as part of the overall agreement and why the Obama Administration agreed to them.

Knowing what we know now, it is truly baffling that any Member of Congress would vote “yes” on this agreement. Congress must do what is in the best interests of our national security and that of our allies in the Middle East and around the world by giving a resounding “NO” to this perilous deal.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

R-8 Board approves $1,078 payment to mortgage company for "student need"

When former Superintendent C. J. Huff launched Joplin Bright Futures in April 2010, it was praised, and rightly so, for its efforts to meet student needs within 24 hours.

If students needed coats, shoes, or supplies of any kind they had it within 24 hours. As time passed, the scope of Bright Futures expanded to include such things as food packets to take home over the weekend.

Nearly $10,000 was spent on gifts during the holiday season.

And now, it appears that the organization may be expanding into questionable territory.

During Tuesday night's Joplin R-8 Board of Education meeting, the board approved a $1,078.92 bill from Caliber Home Loans, an expenditure that was described as "student need," on the bill list. Another "student need" listed was $825 to T & J. Smith Properties.

In July, the board approved a $500 payment to Empire District Electric Company, $300 to Hull Plumbing, and $714 to Brown Property, again, all for "student need," which is almost always the code words for Bright Futures.

The question is not whether the district can afford to do these things. Bright Futures is reportedly completely funded through donations, but having the school district, through Bright Futures, is paying for someone's rent and utilities, is setting a dangerous precedent. With so many people who have trouble making ends meet, do we have a panel deciding who receives this kind of help? It certainly isn't the Board of Education.

Are the decisions being made by the blue ribbon Bright Futures Advisory Board? Or are the decisions left completely up to those who are running Joplin Bright Futures, people with little or no experience in dealing with issues that are normally left to social service agencies"

A few other interesting bills that were approved by the board Tuesday night:

-Another $222.14 for Director of Curriculum, Learning, and Assessment Sarah Stevens to cover expenses from her presentation at the Visible Learning Conference in San Antonio, Texas. Stevens helped fired consultants Paul Bloomberg and Barb Pitchford of Core Collaborative put on a workshop on how successful their program was here. The workshop was held at the annual Visible Learning Conference in San Antonio, Texas, and Stevens was joined by Executive Director of Elementary Education Jennifer Doshier, Executive Director of Secondary Education Jason Cravens, and Executive Director of Special Services Mark Barlass. WIth the latest expenditure, taxpayers paid more than $3,000 for the trip, including $575 in expense reimbursements in July and $2,396 in February.

-$74.69 to Schlotzsky's Deli for salad baskets with chicken and cinnamon rolls, listed as "supplies."

-$232 to the Rib Crib for a meal for the July Board of Education meeting

-$370 to the Joplin Rotary Club for Bright Futures Director Melissa Winston's membership dues

--$300 for "security services" for the July Board of Education meeting

-$41,666 to Shopko for the lease for the mall high school

-$11,187.50 to Northpark Mall for the rent for the mall portion of the high school

***
A signing for my book Silver Lining in a Funnel Cloud: Greed, Corruption, and the Joplin Tornado will be held this Saturday, August 29, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Always Buying Books in Joplin. Hope to see you there.

Hero for hire? C. J. Huff's back

With leadership in such short supply these days, former Joplin R-8 Superintendent C. J. Huff has decided to step into the breach and offer his services.

The CJ Huff Group, an educational management consulting company was formed last month in Joplin, while the Missouri Secretary of State's records show at CJ Huff LLC was formed July 24.

According to his Linked In description, Huff offers the following services:

Providing leadership, consultation services to individuals, organizations and agencies in the areas of strategic leadership, community engagement, crisis management, long range planning, innovations in 21st Century education and strategic communication.

Services include keynote presentation, large and small group workshops, one-on-one consultation with ongoing support, group facilitation and general consulting.

***
Follow C. J. Huff in his journey from tornado hero to educational consultant in my book Silver Lining in a Funnel Cloud: Greed, Corruption, and the Joplin Tornado. A signing for the book will be held this Saturday, August 29, 1 to 3 p.m. at Always Buying Books in Joplin. The book is available at Always Buying Books, Changing Hands Book Shoppe, and The Book Guy in Joplin, Pat's Books in Carthage, and Cato's Connection in Lamar. It is also available in e-book and paperback formats from Amazon.com

Bankruptcy trustee seeks info on shell company that bought Joplin Coca-Cola building

Lawyers representing the trustee in former master developer David Wallace's Chapter 7 bankruptcy are asking a federal judge to compel the release of documents surrounding the purchase of the old Coca-Cola Building in Joplin.

In documents filed Friday in U. S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas, the Diamond McCarthy law firm of Houstin, representing trustee Rodney Tow, asked that Judge Jeff Bohm order former Wallace-Bajjali President Bill Ewing to turn over the documents for Virginia Acqusitions, a limited liability company formed by Wallace-Bajjali for the express purpose of buying the Coca-Cola building at 1301 Virginia Avenue. The court documents indicate Ewing is a 50 percent owner of Virginia Acquisitions.

After Wallace reached out to Ewing in  a July 15 e-mail, Richard Walters, with the Springfield law firm of Spencer Fane, which served as the registered agent for Virginia Acquisitions told the trustee on July 23 that he had searched his records located the following items:

Articles of Organization – Virginia Acquisitions, LLC (signed and filed with the Missouri Secretary of State)

Operating Agreement - Virginia Acquisitions, LLC (signed by the members).

Employer Identification Number issued by the Internal Revenue Service.

Real Estate Purchase Agreement between Virginia Acquisitions, LLC, as Seller, and the Trustee of the Cynthia D. Neal Trust, as Buyer (draft form only).

E-mail from Bruce Anderson to our Firm requesting the formation of Virginia Acquisitions, LLC.

(Note: Anderson was Wallace-Bajjali's finance director and is currently suing Wallace and Costa Bajjali in Jasper County Circuit Court for breach of contract.)

As of August 20, the trustee had not received the Virginia Acquisitions documents.

The Coca-Cola building was the only property Wallace-Bajjali ever purchased from the Joplin Redevelopment Corporation.

The hearing on the motion to compel documents is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Ridder on professional development: Let's ask the teachers what they need

The formula to create an excellent school system, contrary to the jargon-filled insomnia cures that some of former Joplin R-8 Superintendent C. J. Huff's remaining administrative team inflict upon the Board of Education, is a simple one.

Hire good teachers, give them the tools to succeed, then get out of their way.

That approach does not guarantee increased test scores every year, but it certainly would never allow the kind of multi-year decline the school district has seen during Huff's tenure.

The Huff leftovers provided some evidence Tuesday night of why district scores were low again this year. Executive Director of Secondary Education Jason Cravens talked about the lack of experienced teachers, an ironic comment since the Huff Administration demoralized and decimated the system to such a point that the faculty has had a more than 50 percent turnover in the past four years, leaving a faculty top heavy with teachers with less than five years of experience.

Executive Director of Elementary Education Jennifer Doshier, who needed a high-powered microscope to see some of the scores in the grades she is responsible for once again floundered through a presentation filled with educational buzzwords that at one time may have impressed the Board of Education, but not this Board of Education.

Both she and Cravens spoke of "learning intentions," "stakeholders," and the educational bureaucrats' sentimental favorite "rigor."

By the time Doshier was finished, the rigor seemed more like rigor mortis.

You couldn't have blamed any Joplin teachers who watched the board meeting if they thought that C. J. Huff may be gone, but his vengeful spirit lives on.

Then Doshier was asked about what professional development was being done. She stammered, she sputtered, then she started to male an excuse about the district changing course when the board booted the high-priced Core Collaborative consulting firm, saving more than $100,000.

Doshier indicated they had to change course, but they would come up with something.

Interim Superintendent Norm Ridder cut her off and then said the words R-8 teachers have been waiting to hear for the past seven years. "We need to talk to the teachers and see what they need."

It is that simple.

In the best school districts, the professional development is teacher-driven. Under C. J. Huff and his long-time assistant superintendent Angie Besendorfer and their administrative team, the professional development has never been about the teachers, but about the administrators. It has always been a new initiative, meetings that spend more time on meaningless data and the accompanying paperwork, and of course, infuriating team-building exercises in which teachers are treated like children instead of adults.

Adding to the resentment was the perception that many of those who were putting the teachers through the paces were people who had little success when they were in the classrooms or as principals.

Hopefully, this is a sign that a much needed change is here.
***
A couple of weeks ago, I corresponded with someone in the education field about professional development and what form it should take. The discussion was based on an article in the Denver Post that said most professional development for teachers was meaningless.

This is what I wrote to that person:



I have noticed quite a few articles on this topic lately and I am almost completely in agreement with the critics of the types of workshops and training that teachers receive. After No Child Left Behind was passed during the Bush Administration, hundreds of fly-by-night operators realized there was a killing to be made from this type of professional training. You have people like Bloomberg at Core Collaborative who take others' ideas, repackage them, and then present them as some sort of cure all for everything that ails education. For the most part, the ideas were not that good in the first place.

You also have the indoctrination meetings and that there are specifically to collect and work with data. There is nothing wrong with using data to improve education, but much of the data that is being reviewed at these meetings is meaningless.

As an example, I recall a few years ago that the teachers at North Middle School, threw themselves completely into the Acuity tests, to the point of designing all of their teaching around these tests. All remediation was based on Acuity. When the Acuity tests were given that year, North had the highest scores. That did not turn out to be an indicator of potential success on MAP. North was at the bottom that year. Meaningful data in this instance would have been the poverty levels in North. Poverty levels have always been more indicative of how students will fare on standardized tests.

Instead of spending hundreds of thousands on professional development that appears to be designed to make all teachers the same no matter what their strengths and weaknesses are, workshops and seminars should be devoted to things that would make it easier for teachers to succeed in the classrooms.

Rather than spending countless hours going over data, why not have workshops that help younger teachers deal with discipline in the classroom. Cutting down on the time spent trying to corral unruly students would do more to increase the level of learning at classrooms than any pre-packaged system.

Instead of talking about the need for classes to be relevant, why don't we have workshops designed to help teachers with ideas of bringing current issues into the classroom?

Why not have workshops to help teachers on methods to connect with parents.We spend so much of our professional development time working on pie-in-the-sky programs that we neglect areas that could do much more to improve students' learning and make classroom teachers more effective.

Why is it necessary to spend so much money on outsourced professional development. Even with the number of experienced teachers who have left the district over the past few years, there are still many veteran teachers in our district who could provide meaningful professional development without having to send people all over the United States and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars.Why not offer stipends to these veteran teachers and see how much more relevant the professional development time would be for the teachers.

Why not work out exchanges with area school districts where we save money by having their experienced educators who have knowledge in some specific area come to Joplin, while we send ours to talk to them? This type of exchange would benefit Joplin and area schools since it would provide the required professional development at a savings. Or how about the possibility of using today's technology to hold professional development via Skype. A few years ago, someone in the district had the bright idea of having the middle school teachers in each area have the 7:15 meetings together at one school. While it did offer the opportunity for the teachers to get together, it created havoc for those who had to get back to their schools by the time classes started. I suggested Skype at that time, but it was never seriously considered and we had problems with those meetings all year.

Another thing that localizing the professional development and making it more relevant to the teachers would do would be to increase teacher buy-in.

Useless professional development and requirements to supply more and more data of the useless variety are among the reasons that excellent teachers have been checking out of Joplin and checking into other school districts.

***
Copies of my book, Let Teachers Teach, will be available Saturday, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. when I have a signing at Always Buying Books. Silver Lining in a Funnel Cloud and my other books will also be available. The book is also available in e-book and paperback formats from Amazon.com.

Woolston: Success of Zerkapalooza proves people don't want hearing

How does Mike Woolston know that the citizens of Joplin do not want him to have to go through a hearing in which it is determined if he committed ethical violations and should be removed from the City Council?

He saw the proof on Main Street last weekend.

"The apparent success of Zerkapalooza event by private citizens this weekend is an indication of the desire of our citizens to move forward," Woolston told the City Council Monday night.

Woolston did not elaborate on how he reached that conclusion. Some possibilities:

-The appearance of "Free Woolston" bumper stickers at Zerkapalooza, though reports indicate there was an equal number of "Nothing is Free With Woolston" bumper stickers.

-Woolston saw many people not moving backwards and naturally assumed that they wanted to move forward.

-A man looking suspiciously like Woolston worked his way through the crowds saying, "I can tell you one thing about Mike Woolston. He never bought any property from known gamblers 20 years ago. And that wasn't the dog on my lap when I was driving downtown. Wait a minute, let me rephrase that. The Joplin Globe loves me. Let's move forward."

The accompanying video picks up the City Council meeting right at the time Councilman Ben Rosenberg read the list of charges against Woolston, The hearing is scheduled for next Monday, August 31, at City Hall.

***
A signing for Silver Lining in a Funnel Cloud: Greed, Corruption,and the Joplin Tornado, which details activities of Mike Woolston during the time in question, will be held 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at Always Buying Books. The book is available locally at Always Buying Books, Changing Hands Book Shoppe, and The Book Guy in Joplin, Pat's Books in Carthage, and Cato's Connection in Lamar. It is also available in e-book and paperback formats from Amazon.com.

Democratic Attorney General candidate Hensley releases new video

The new video from Democratic Attorney General candidate Teresa Hensley