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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of October 22, 2012

University of Missouri Athletic Department Video Director Michael Schumacher tried to dispute university credit card charges to a strip club after attending a professional conference in Las Vegas in May of 2011.

He charged $7,600 to a university purchasing card, and tried to dispute $6,400 that was charged at the strip club.

According to an audit report, further investigation by the bank concluded the charges were legitimate, and they were repaid by Schumacher.

The University has since tightened it's restrictions on purchasing cards.

"It's not a legitimate use of a university purchasing card," said athletic department spokesman Chad Moller. "It's pretty simple."

Legal Clinic Director at St. Louis University Law School John Ammann said there is likely to be no further action taken outside of the University, but he thinks not enough internal action was taken.

"What an insult to the students," Ammann said. "What an insult to the students who work hard in their classes and their jobs to get a good education, and somebody in a position of trust uses school resources in this way."

Schumacher was unavailable for comment on both his home and office phones.

Multiple state lawmakers have said Missouri's college campuses, mental health facilities, the state Capitol building and highways are in need of improvements. These same legislators have proposed using bond issues to pay for these infrastructure improvements.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said capital improvements will be a major theme in the next legislative session. He and Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, are working on a nearly $1 billion bonding bill to make improvements to the state's college campuses, mental health facilities, the state Capitol building and other infrastructure areas.

Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, said any options that allow more funding for highways and bridges should also be considered. Kehoe is the chair of the Senate Transportation Committee.

He said a bond issue should also be considered for a transportation project such as the rebuilding of bridges, or Interstate 70, which the state's transportation department has said is in need of vital repairs.

According to a university-sponsored audit, MU Athletic Department Director of Video Operations Michael Schumacher repaid more than $7,600 he charged at a Las Vegas strip club in May of 2011 while at a professional conference.

Athletic Department Spokesman Chad Moller said that Schumacher was the only University of Missouri representative at the conference.

"It's a good reminder that there are to be no purchases made of personal items or for personal services on a university purchasing card," Moller said. "Even when you repay all the charges back, it's just not supposed to happen that way."

Moller said that disciplinary actions were taken, and Schumacher is still currently working for the university.

Missouri education policymakers and university officials alike agree performance based funding should be integral in the new higher education funding formula the Joint Committee on Education must develop by December 31, 2013.

Witnesses testified at a hearing Tuesday at the University of Central Missouri. It was the second of three hearings the committee is holding to receive input for its new formula. Brian Long of the Council on Public Higher Education said the council agrees with the Coordinating Board for Higher Education's suggestion that half of any new appropriations to colleges and universities should be allocated based on performance.

"We strongly support performance funding as a way to achieve goals," Long said.

Long said performance measures are common measures that universities, the state, and students should agree to work on.

Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, the committees' chair, said the goal of the hearings is to gain insight into the diverse goals and missions of the states' institutions.

"What we need to do is to come up with a system where we are looking at certain things that are somewhat standard across the board, and the institutions can basically compare their own progress against themselves to see how they are doing," Pearce said.

University of Central Missouri President Chuck Ambrose said he values job placement coupled with affordability.

Cheryl Riley, the Faculty Senate President at the University of Central Missouri said "increased access and degree completion is important to the economic well-being of our state."

Riley said the number of Missourians served, years to a degree, tuition rates, and job placement into degree fields could serve as metrics.

An auction to sell Bruce Cole's unused land and equipment is taking place in Moberly on Wednesday.

The auction follows after a failed international business venture. Gov. Jay Nixon and Cole announced the factory project in 2010.

Cole faces charges of theft and fraud after lying to the city of Moberly about where their money was going. He said the money would go toward operating and building a sucralose factory in Moberly. He is also accused of transferring $204,167 from the project into his wife's bank account.  

Managing partner Kirk Dove of the Heritage Global Partners corporation said he expects a small local audience and a large online audience at the auction. Spokesman Daniel Abbatoy said the auction will start off big and end small. He said local biodiesel plants have already demonstrated interest.

The auction will take place on Wednesday at 10:00 a.m. 

18 school buildings closed early Tuesday due to a water main break. The schools were dismissed three and a half hours after classes began.

The school sent out an automated message to parents telling them schools were closing, as well as posting on their Facebook page and Twitter.

David Luther is an assistant superintendent for Jefferson City Public Schools. He said the schools normally provide after school programs for students. However, since there are no facilities to hold the programs, they will not be offered which makes it difficult for parents who count on a place for their kids to go.

Rosa Stone has children at South Elementary School. Stone said it is very inconvenient to leave work and find someone to watch her kids for the rest of the day.

Stone said she does not know what she will do if the problems persist tomorrow. "They won't be at school which means I have to be at home which means I have to miss out on work again," Stone said.

Administrators at South Elementary School said they were too busy dealing with the chaos to answer questions.

The superintendent has not decided yet if the schools will have to make up the hours missed.

A water pipe burst inside of the high service pumps Tuesday morning at about 8 a.m.

The Missouri-American Water Company has shut down all water pipes while employees repair the broken pipe.

Jefferson City schools will have early dismissal on Tuesday due to the mainline break.

The company will be using water from the 1st and 2nd District, which are located on the East and West areas of the city.

All areas of Jefferson City will have either a little bit of pressure or no pressure coming from their water source.

Missouri-American officials said the water will not be back until this afternoon at the earliest.

"Best-case scenario, we'll be back on this afternoon with a boil-order advisory," said Missouri-American Water Company employee Gilbert Cole.

Currently, employees are trying to isolate the break and shut off all of the water lines.

From there, they will be making the repairs and turning the water back on.

Last Week

There has been little explanation as to why the Missouri Department of Social Services has yet to issue a single TANF drug test, though the law was signed over one year ago.

Rebecca Woelfel, communications director of the department said they are doing what they can to move the process along.

The budget was approved for the program in July, and the law has currently been opened up for public comment.

The public comment session will end on November 15. Once it has finished, department heads will begin making contracts with the drug testing companies.

State officials said this delay shows some of the downfalls in bureaucracy.

"The wheels of government grind slowly," said bill co-sponsor Melissa Leach.

Scott Holste, spokesperson for Gov. Jay Nixon said the department is trying to move things along.

There is some speculation as to why the department waited until after the bill became law to design the rules for the program. Department heads have yet to respond. 

The Missouri Republican Party is demanding Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Susan Montee release her tax returns.

They have asked to see the tax returns in light of a federal indictment of a license fee office employee in St. Joseph. The office is run by the candidate's ex-husband James Montee. The Missouri GOP said it is curious if Susan Montee benefited financially through the scandal.

"We would be very interested to see if any of this money ended up making its way somehow into Susan Montee's pocket," said Missouri GOP communications director Jonathon Prouty.

Susan Montee’s communications director John Knoll said her statement is the same as it was in 2010 when the same issue was raised. That statement said the fee office bidding process is open and transparent, and as they divorced in 2007, they were no longer related when James Montee gained control of the fee office. Also, it said she has issued a public financial disclosure report.

“She laughs at the Republican Party trying to get anyone to release tax returns,” Susan Montee’s communications director John Knoll said when asked if Montee would release her tax returns.

Prouty says he does not know if Kinder has released his tax returns. Kinder’s campaign refused to comment.

The Joint Committee on Transportation met Thursday to discuss a new option to provide funds for Missouri's aging highways.

MoDOT has requested between $2 and $4 billion in funding to fix Interstate 70, which department director Kevin Keith said in January would become a "gravel parking lot" if left unrepaired.

The committee met to analyze a Georgia tax plan that would have appropriated funds for the state's own transportation system by implementing a 1 percent sales tax on food and over-the-counter medicine.

At Thursday's committee meeting Keith said a similar tax plan to Georgia's could generate $750 million in revenue for Missouri. However, this amount still falls far short of the multi-billion request from the transportation department.

MoDOT's Outreach Coordinator Bob Brendel said the department's funding has drastically decreased over the past few years, leaving new construction projects out of the question.

"At the level we're funded at right now we're in virtually a maintenance only mode," Brendel said.

The tax plan is not the first idea the Committee has discussed.

Lawmakers have previously discussed increasing Missouri's gasoline sales tax and making I-70 a toll road as a way to provide funding for infrastructure repairs.

American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic super PAC, is mailing talking brochures across Missouri, which feature Republican U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin's remarks on "legitimate rape."

The mailers, which are set to hit mailboxes on Thursday, state "Todd Akin would like a few words with you" on the cover. When opened the brochures play sound bites of Akin discussing political issues such as rape, student loans and medicare.

Matt Thronton, a spokesman for American Bridge, said the group spent about $37,000 on the mail campaign, which is focused toward indepent women in rural Missouri counties. Thornton said he did not know exactly how many people would recieve the mailers, but that intended recipients numbered in the "thousands."

Since the comment, Akin has repeatedly said he misspoke during the interview and apologized for his comments.

Akin's opponent, incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, has also been using Akin's comments against him in a string of recent ads. Three ads released last week feature three women, all of whom say they are victims of sexual assault, discussing why they cannot vote for Akin because of his views on contraception and abortion.

McCaskill and Akin will square off at Clayton High School in St. Louis Thursday night at 7 p.m. for their second debate. No other debates between the two U.S. Senate candidate are scheduled.

The Missouri Department of Social Services said Wednesday that it has not drug-tested a single person receiving state welfare benefits, more than a year after lawmakers voted to allow the testing of some recipients.

The department's spokeswoman, Rebecca L. Woelfel, told a Missouri Digital News reporter that no drug tests have been administered to applicants or recipients of the state's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program because the department is still formulating rules to implement the drug testing law, which Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon signed in July 2011.

In September, the Missouri Digital News filed a legal request under the state's open records law to obtain records of communication between the DSS Interim Director Brian Kinkade and department staff who would implement the law.

An MDN reporter went to Allen's Jefferson City office Wednesday and waited for more than two hours to see the state attorney in person and get the requested records. Allen did not talk to the reporter during this time period, and his staff said that he was in meetings throughout the afternoon. Late in the afternoon, Woelfel came to Allen's office to talk to the reporter.

Ed Martin's campaign said Wednesday the Republican candidate is meeting with newspaper editorial boards around the state to seek their endorsement in the state's Attorney General race, contrary to a column written by the Post-Dispatch earlier this week.

In a Monday column titled "Fair or Foul," the Post-Dispatch gave Martin a "foul," writing ( that Martin "is refusing to meet with newspaper editorial boards during this election cycle."

The newspaper said that Martin had instead sent editorial boards a video asking for their endorsements, which the column said would be insufficient to earn an endorsement.

"You talk, we ask questions, you talk some more," the newspaper wrote. "Of course, you'd have to show up."

But Martin campaign spokesman Gabe Jones said Martin has already met with reporters or editorial boards from the St. Joseph News-Press, The Rolla Daily News, The Lebanon Daily Record and the Columbia Daily Tribune.

The state education board voted unanimously to grant the St. Louis Public School District accreditation at its board meeting Tuesday.

The district lost accreditation in 2007, and a state-appointed board took control of operations.

Last year the district met seven out of 14 academic standards set by the board, one more than necessary for provisional accreditation.

"This is a moment for celebration," said Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro. "A brief, realistic moment for celebration while we applaud the efforts of the entire St. Louis Public Schools community on significant progress. We urge everyone to keep working."

Carnahan High School Senior Daezon Cummings said faculty involcement played a substantial role in the academic turnaround.

"It was big," Cummings said. "I had just been hearing about it for weeks and weeks. Just constantly talking with them about it and just to hear how much that it mattered to them for that to happen it was just taking a monkey off our back pretty much."

Nicastro said this is only the beginning of a long journey for the struggling district. Despite this turnaround, the district is still one of the worst performing academically in the state.

"No one would ever suggest provisional accreditation is the end goal," Nicastro said. "We all want and believe that the children of the St. Louis Public Schools deserve a district that is fully accredited.

The district will be reevaluated in Sept. 2013 under a new set of academic standards.

In a report issued by the Associated Press, Gov. Jay Nixon and gubernatorial candidate Dave Spence both voiced opposition to the November ballot provision that would eliminate Missouri’s non-partisan court plan.

But only Spence's office would comment on the issue.

Jared Craig, spokesperson for Dave Spence said Spence is content with the non-partisan court plan and thinks economic issues should be the main focus for Missourians.

“He is comfortable with the non-partisan court plan as it is now and we’re focused on trying to get more Missourians back to work,” Craig said.

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County said this will allow citizens to hold the governor more accountable.

“The executive branch would have restored a check over the judiciary, and the people would have somebody to hold accountable,” Lembke said. “Under the current system, we don’t have anybody to hold accountable.”

Nixon's office declined to comment on the issue.

With the election less than three weeks away, McCaskill continues to face a close race against opponent Todd Akin.  

Claire McCaskill met with voters in Columbia Tuesday at Flat Branch Pub and Brewing, and while she refused to comment on Akin's campaign tactics, she was willing to talk about his policies. 

"Only rich kids will go to college under Akin's world view because the government would have nothing to do with public education," McCaskill said. "This is just a way that I can underline that policy difference and sear it into people's brains and hopefully get a few votes."

Akin's press secretary, Ryan Hite, said via email "McCaskill's economic policies have resulted in one in six Missourians living below the poverty line while McCaskill's businesses receive $40 million in taxpayer money."

People eating at the resturant were divided between the two parties.  

MU student and Flat Branch Pub and Brewing customer Mitchell Perne said McCaskil already had his vote before the event.

"It is not every day the Senator waits your table," Perne said.

Customer David Pickering said he is glad to see she is serving the public in a way other than over-taxing the public.

"She needs to leave the private sector alone and get government out of the way so small business can prosper," Pickering said.

According to Real Clear Politics, most polls have McCaskill holding a slight lead over Akin.

Campaign finance disclosure reports filed Monday with the Missouri Ethics Commission showed record levels of funding.

Democrat Jay Nixon and Republican Dave Spence reported, collectively, getting more than $21 million so far in their campaigns for governor.

Four years earlier, in 2008, the two leading candidates for governor reported just over $13 million in contributions.

The reports cover the election cycle until Oct. 1.

For the remaining five weeks, Nixon enjoys a substantial advantage in cash on hand left to spend with $4.9 million compared to Spence's $1.5 million.

St. Louis Public Schools are asking the State Board of Education to restore their accreditation status Tuesday.

The school district has been unaccredited since 2007, but has achieved enough points on a 14-point scale to be considered for provisional accreditation.

Even with the school district's improvement, provisional accreditation can still be denied by the state board. Education officials have expressed concern that the district's progress may only be temporary.

Peter Herschend, president of the Missouri State Board of Education, said this is part of what he calls the "yo-yo effect."

"The school goes up and down, and up and down, and never gets itself up to an accredited level," Herschend said.

Since the school lost its accreditation, a three-member state board has overseen the district in place of the elected school board. Should the district attain partial accreditation Tuesday it is unclear which board would oversee district operations.

"Simply attaining provisional accreditation for one year would not be sufficient for my vote to turn the education of 25,000 kids back to the local board of education that was a major part of the problem going in," Herschend said.

For the last few years, St. Louis county schools have been fighting a legal battle over a law that gives children in the city's unaccredited school the right to attend an accredited school.

People have filed lawsuits against districts adjacent to the St. Louis public schools for not accepting transfer students from St. Louis.

Sen Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, said the school gaining provisional accreditation status would nullify the lawsuits.

Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, said the governance of the district could be an issue for lawmakers to consider in January.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Dave Spence filed a defamation lawsuit in Cole County Circuit Court against Gov. Jay Nixon for calling him a "banker" in a television advertisement.

The lawsuit alleges that Nixon used misleading information in his ad to suggest Spence used his position at a bank and Troubled Asset Relief Program funds to purchase a vacation home.

"I filed this lawsuit for one simple reason, we need good people in politics," Spence said in a written statement.

"You see a lot of crazy stunts during the course of a campaign, but this frivolous lawsuit is misguided and desperate," said Nixon's campaign manager Oren Shur to the Associated Press.

Spence served on the board of Reliance Bancshares Inc. beginning in May 2009 after the bank took $40 million in TARP funds from the U.S. Treasury. According to the Associated Press, Spence took out a $1.1 million loan for a vacation home the next year, but he said there was no connection between the two events.