We welcome Mr. Layt and Prof. Lize to our team

Wait a minute, we thought in the Missourinet, newsroom when we heard Governor Nixon was going to appoint a new Director of the Department of Public Safety.  When did Jerry Lee leave?   Had we missed something?  We checked the Governor’s website for any announcement that Lee had announced he was leaving state government.  Nothing there.   Then suddenly, the new DPS chief was announced.  What’s going on? we asked.  We clearly needed someone to clarify the situation.

Anybody who has been watching the 24-hour news channels during the Ferguson troubles has probably had more than their fill of analysts and speculators guessing about what is happening that they don’t know about.  Why should those people on the cable channels have all the fun?

So we have called in two experts.  Professor Anna Lize from the political science department at Inscrutable U, and pollster Speckard “Spec” U. Layt from Obfuscations, Incorporated.   How do you two read these events?

PROF. LIZE:  Well, Governor Nixon is in hot water with a number of African-American leaders who think he dithered while Ferguson burned (a figure of speech because there was some but not much burning in Ferguson, but you get the idea).  He’s never been all that politically chummy with a number of black political figures and there have been verbal eruptions from some of them from time to time, particularly some vomitus tweets from a state senator during the Ferguson riots.

Now the Governor, who has had an all-white cabinet since Kelvin Simmons left as Director of the Office of Administration in 2012, suddenly has an African-American as the head of the Department of Public Safety.  And the man who has headed that department for the last three years is suddenly gone.

MR. LAYT:  It was certainly convenient that former St. Louis County Police Chief Jerry Lee resigned as department director with a one-sentence letter of resignation on Tuesday and Governor Nixon had former St. Louis City Police Chief Dan Isom so immediately available to fill that sudden hole in his cabinet.

PROF LIZE:  Peculiarly, Nixon made no statement announcing Lee’s resignation until his Communications Ministry, as you folks at the Missourinet like to call his press people, put out a news release announcing the appointment of Isom.  In the last paragraph of the Isom appointment news release, Nixon is quoted as saying some nice things about Lee.

MR. LAYT:  But the news release says Lee, who used only one line in his resignation letter, was actually relatively loquacious about his departure.  According to the news release he told somebody (he must have done it verbally because it wasn’t in his letter), “Serving the State of Missouri in this role has been a true honor and a privilege. I thank Governor Nixon for this opportunity, and especially the fine men and women of the department who carry out their responsibility to keep Missouri communities safe with exceptional dedication and professionalism. They have made me and their state very proud.”

PROF LIZE:  Spec, we should note that all of these observations aside, Dan Isom has solid credentials for the job as he replaces a man who came into the position also with extensive credentials.  The Department of Public Safety oversees agencies that are critical to maintaining public order and caring for those who have served our country in the military.  The department oversees the Highway Patrol and its water patrol division, the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, the state Fire Marshall’s office, the National Guard, the Emergency Management Agency, the Gaming Commission that keeps an eye on Missouri’s thirteen casinos, and various veterans programs.  It’s a department whose divisions are more often in the public eye than the department itself.

MR. LAYT:   Right.  This isn’t about the qualifications of the director.  It’s about the circumstances of the change.  Is Jerry Lee getting the close-up view of the underside of a bus or did he just suddenly decide on Tuesday that he should “retire,” as the Communications Ministry puts it, and Dan Isom just as suddenly decided he could take the position?

PROF. LIZE:  Well, don’t forget that when Nixon went to Lee’s Summit, he denied there’s any link between the racial issues in Ferguson and the change in leadership of the Public Safety department.  He says  he’ll continue to–as he put it–”make sure that the people who serve the state of Missouri reflect the great, rich diversity of our state.”

MR LAYT:  But don’t you think it’s interesting that Senator McCaskill suggested that there’s more to all of this.  She thought it was interesting that last Friday somebody asked Nixon if he had any African-Americans in his cabinet and, bingo, five days later there is one. She didn’t really say “bingo.”  I just did that for emphasis.

PROF. LIZE:   And wouldn’t one think that the Governor would have wanted to do more to recognize a man who, as the Governor himself is quoted as saying, “dedicated his career to serving the public” for more than four decades than to give him an attaboy in the last paragraph of the two-page news release announcing the appointment of his successor?

MR. LAYT:  I agree, Anna.  Jerry Lee was a cop in St. Louis County for thirty-eight years, five of those years was the Chief of the department.   He was the Director of the Department of Public Safety for almost three years.  But in the end he didn’t even deserve his own press release, and the surely heartfelt thanks of a grateful Governor became little more than a footnote in the announcement of a new department director.

Professor Lize and Mr. Layt, thank you for your insights.  We’re sure they have helped our readers get a clearer understanding of the situation.

The fox is guarding the chicken coop

Imagine the Highway Patrol asking you if it’s okay to set the speed limit on Interstate 70 at, say, 75 miles per hour.  And suppose you say you won’t settle for anything less than 90.  Well, okay, says the Highway Patrol, if that’s the way you want it.

Imagine if your college or university asked you if it was okay to require you to maintain a “C” average if you wanted to graduate and you said, “No, I think D-minus should be good enough for a degree,” and the school says, “Since you want it that way, that’s how it will have to be.”

Suppose your city came to you and said, “We need to have a tax of three cents per hundred dollars valuation of your home to make sure our sewer system can take care of the dirty dishwater and the contents of your toilets,” and you say “I don’t feel like paying more than a penny,” and the city said, “Fine, Good.  Thanks. We’ll lay off most of our maintenance department but we’ll make do.”

That’s kind of where the Department of Natural Resources’ Air Pollution Control program is.  That’s the program that administers the Federal Clean Air Act at the state level.   The costs of doing that enforcement are paid through a series of permits and emission fees charged to those who release pollutants into the air we breathe.

But program administrators say it’s going to run out of money late next year because those fees are not bringing in enough income and enough of those the agency regulates don’t want to pay any higher fees that the agency has to say, in effect, “Okay.  We’ll try to get by, we guess.”

It’s not that the clean air program spends money like it’s a billionaire trying to buy the legislature or the state constitution.  It has a dozen unfilled positions and they’ll likely stay unfilled even as the department tries to handle monitoring and enforcement of regulations in the St. Louis area that had previously been done by local offices.  But the St. Louis offices have so little money that those duties have been passed up to the short-handed state agency.

Some fees haven’t been changed for twenty years and many of the polluters think that’s just dandy.

Here is where the problem lies:

The Missouri legislature, where foxes range pretty freely with the chickens, has passed a law saying this program has to meet with the industry groups it regulates before it publishes a new fee schedule.  But this is the kicker:  DNR cannot increase the fees enough to keep this program solvent unless the polluters substantially agree with the plan.

So guess who deep-sixed the plan to increase funding for the agency by about three million dollars to pay the costs of making sure the stuff coming out of Missouri’s business smokestacks meets federal standards for breathable air?

Why, yes, it’s our friendly polluters, or enough of them to force the agency to reduce its proposal so it can  raise only one-third as much as it was hoping to raise, which won’t be enough to keep going.

Moral of the story:  It’s hard to cluck with any authority when the fox has you by the neck.  And the legislature has left the door open for the foxes.

Sometimes nothing comes to mind

Somebody asked today if this scribe has blogged about Ferguson.   No, I said.  I started something last week but the direction it wanted to go disappeared into a fog.

Sometimes when irrationality reigns, rationality struggles to find solid ground.  Sometimes when numerous agendas are screamed, quiet discussion becomes more desperately needed and more difficult to achieve.

A friend raised an important question today after all the marching, sign-waving, yelling, tear gassing, shooting—-and more.  What do we know?

What we are pretty sure we know is that a white Ferguson policeman shot an 18-year old African-American man to death.

There has been a lot of assuming since then.  There has been a lot of blaming since then.  A lot of threatening. A lot of analysis and speculation has helped fill the 24-hour news cycle.

And what has it purchased?

What good has it done?

A white policeman shot an 18-year old African-American man to death.

We could write more, we suppose, but it would amount to nothing more helpful to discovering the truth than the slogans and demands shouted after dark on a street in Ferguson have helped discover it.

Nothing else comes to mind.

So now we have written about Ferguson