Recent Missouri Editorials
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sept. 14
‘Unspeakably hellish’ workhouse conditions require a clear plan
For years, human rights advocates have warned that conditions at the St. Louis Medium Security Institution, also known as the City Workhouse, are unacceptable verging on Dickensian: violence, mold, rats, unbearable heat in summer — all in an overcrowded, half-century-old facility.
The latest chapter dropped last week, with a new report by activists reiterating many of the same points. They want the workhouse shut down. The city correctly responds that a shutdown isn’t feasible, given that hundreds of inmates, many of them dangerous, are housed there and the city has nowhere else to send them.
But that doesn’t exonerate the city from its responsibility to ensure the workhouse meets or exceeds all applicable state and federal safety and health standards. Current conditions amount to harsh pre-punishment for inmates who are awaiting trial and have been convicted of no crime.
Nevertheless, to just open the gates and empty the place with no further planning wouldn’t be rational. City officials have offered assuring statements that they’re working on it. That’s not enough. Without delay, officials need to outline, in detail, what is going to be done and when.
The city has been sued repeatedly over conditions at the facility, which holds more than 500 people, most of them awaiting trial. Allegations over the years include overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, negligent medical care, rodents, insect infestations — and in one chilling allegation, guards setting up gladiator-style fights between inmates.
On Thursday, the activist group Close the Workhouse issued a report urging officials to do just that — close it — recounting the years of problems.
“What we’re talking about isn’t a broken toilet or some mold on one wall,” Rebecca Gorley, a spokesperson for the campaign and for the nonprofit civil rights law firm ArchCity Defenders, told the Post-Dispatch. “Everyone we’ve talked to who has been in the workhouse echoes the same horror stories over and over.”
The report, citing interviews with inmates, calls the conditions “unspeakably hellish.”
Mayor Lyda Krewson’s administration says it is addressing the overcrowding problem by trying to route inmates suspected of nonviolent crimes or bail violations away from incarceration.
The city also notes that it has earmarked $6.5 million from the Prop 1 bond issue voters approved in August, which will be used for repairs and upgrades to the workhouse and other correctional facilities. Among the promised projects is permanent air conditioning, the lack of which has been a consistent source of controversy at the workhouse.
Plaintiffs and activists are understandably skeptical after so many years of unaddressed issues, but the bond issue is an essential first step toward addressing their concerns before resorting to the drastic option of shuttering the facility altogether. Krewson and other officials should provide details and a timetable of what they’re doing, when, to address them.
The St. Joseph News-Press, Sept. 11
High fees undercut public access
It’s not a good look for the University of Missouri: proposing to charge an animal-rights group an estimated $82,000 for researching and copying public records concerning 179 dogs and cats in its care.
And now it’s a legal problem as well. A judge says a lawsuit filed by Animal Rescue Media Education, also called the Beagle Freedom Project, can proceed to trial.
Many citizens who have tussled with records custodians over the Missouri Sunshine Law can empathize with the plaintiffs in this case. The circumstances reported by The Columbia Daily Tribune have a familiar ring to them:
? Beagle Freedom Project encourages its supporters to select a research dog or cat from lists it has developed on university and other research facilities. Supporters are then encouraged to request records about that animal and offer to adopt it when its research life is finished.
(This is one of several attempts at MU to limit or end animal testing. However, in this case, that’s arguably irrelevant.)
? Supporters of this effort began requesting records about individual research animals at MU in 2015. The records custodian replied the records in each request would cost $348 to $662 to locate and copy.
? The lawsuit was filed in 2016 after the organization requested records for all 179 animals used in research the previous year. The records custodian estimated it would cost $82,222 to find, compile and copy the records.
The Tribune reports Circuit Judge Jeff Harris identified six issues to be resolved at trial, including whether “principal investigators” who cost $100 an hour or more should be the ones conducting the records search. This goes directly to a section of the Sunshine Law that specifies agencies should use employees to fulfill these requests who will “result in the lowest amount of charges for search, research, and duplication time.”
Harris also wants to examine whether the university keeps its records in a manner that inflates costs for finding the records and separating open records from closed ones. He also wants to review how the university computes the time it is allowed to respond to a records request.
The judge makes a point of noting “the Open Records Act shall be ‘liberally construed’ in favor of openness unless otherwise provided by law.” It’s a good point.
MU’s actions cannot be fairly judged outside the courtroom. If it did anything wrong, perhaps it is simply that it did not do enough to separate records at the point of collection, so that public records could be easily — and inexpensively — provided. Still, that’s a big problem when that is requirement of state law.
However this case is decided, it remains that too often Missouri citizens are frustrated by barriers they encounter when seeking public records.
The Kansas City Star, Sept. 16
No woofing kidding, a Missouri Republican just called her female opponent a dog
In this, the year of the woman, the year of the dog and the year of our Lord 2018, the Republican nominee for Missouri auditor just called her female opponent a dog in their first debate.
Fleetingly, we may have believed that the GOP’s Saundra McDowell, who doesn’t even seem to meet the state’s residency requirements for running for this office, has had her wages garnished and has repeatedly been sued over unpaid debts, could do nothing more to astonish us. Now we have to come clean: We were wrong.
The incumbent, Democrat Nicole Galloway, was as aggressive in the debate as she has been as auditor for the last three years. She said she’d hesitate to hire McDowell in her office “as an entry-level auditor given her issues” of lying about her personal finances, her resume and her residency.
McDowell responded by accusing Galloway of leaving public corruption unchecked. “If you’re not a watchdog, then you’re just a dog,” McDowell said. “And I’ll be a bulldog.”
McDowell’s history says otherwise, on any number of fronts.
Missouri’s constitution says a person must live in the state for 10 years to serve as auditor. After The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that McDowell lived in Kansas in 2013, she said it had always been her intention to settle in Missouri, and that’s all the law requires.
Anyone who thinks Missouri is mostly a state of mind and has a history of failure to pay what she owes doesn’t strike us as a stellar prospect for state auditor.
The last thing we need is another public official who thinks it’s OK to call an opponent names. And with all due respect to our canine friends, we shouldn’t even have to say that calling a woman a dog is never acceptable.
McDowell did not answer a number of Galloway’s specific charges and later told reporters that she “didn’t think it was worth the time to respond to things that are just absolutely incorrect.”
Her charge that Galloway is somehow soft on corruption comes straight from a conservative dark-money group, the Missouri Alliance for Freedom, which sued Galloway after she announced she was auditing the Department of Revenue’s failure to pay refunds within 45 days, as required by law.
Republicans saw that as an attempt to make then-Gov. Eric Greitens look bad, though that soon became the least of his problems.
After Galloway came up with the some 24,000 documents requested by the alliance, the group dropped that request, filed another one and accused her of breaking the Sunshine Law.
Again and again in the debate, McDowell returned to that partisan dark-money group’s allegation that it’s Galloway who lacks transparency.
Move over, Todd Akin. It took a minute, but you have a legitimate rival as Missouri’s most embarrassing candidate. In 2012, he, too, compared his opponent, Sen. Claire McCaskill, to a dog.