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Recent Missouri Editorials

September 25, 2018

The Kansas City Star, Sept. 24

If Mike Sanders is going to prison, why does he still get a taxpayer-funded pension?

In sentencing former Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders to 27 months in prison, U.S. District Court Judge Roseann Ketchmark went beyond the 18 to 24 months that federal prosecutors sought.

It was an astonishing statement about how the judge felt about the longtime public official and his conduct while he held the highest office in Jackson County. The sentence was entirely appropriate. As part of an ongoing scheme that involved the pilfering of campaign funds to pay for fine wines and gambling trips to Las Vegas, Sanders let down a community of supporters who had trusted him to run Jackson County according to the law.

They believed that Sanders, a former Jackson County prosecutor, knew right from wrong. He didn’t — or at least he viewed that distinction as a nuisance that was blocking his path to good times.

“It causes cynicism and disengagement from our democracy,” Ketchmark said from the bench about Sanders’ conduct. “So ... in terms of the harm of the offense, is hard to measure and hard to repair.”

But now, taxpayers are facing a cruel coup de grace. County officials have ruled that Sanders, 51, remains entitled to his county pension calculated to be nearly $100,292 a year once he turns 65. If he takes it earlier, the amount would drop.

“Counsel for the pension board has determined that the pension ordinance does not require or allow for a pension benefit to be stopped due to criminal activity of the retiree unrelated to county employment,” county spokeswoman Marshanna Hester wrote in an email to The Star.

Unrelated to county employment? Really? The fact that Sanders even had access to the big dollars in political committees was directly related to his role as county executive. If this ruling is allowed to stand, county legislators should explore eliminating this loophole that apparently allows future county officials-turned-convicts to reap the benefits of such a generous pension plan.

It gets worse. Under changes to the county pension plan dating to at least 2003, Sanders’ pension could actually increase. That’s because payouts are not related to how much Sanders earned in his final years in office, as is the case for many retirees. Instead, the payments are tied to how much the Jackson County executive is earning when Sanders opts to take his pension.

In other words, Sanders’ pension is almost guaranteed to rise, and maybe significantly, with time.

Looking back on The Star’s coverage of the change from 2003, it’s clear that the public wasn’t paying much attention. At the time, no one spoke in opposition to the overly generous plan.

During deliberations on pension benefits that year, then-county legislator Rhonda Shoemaker said she had heard from constituents who opposed several aspects of the revised plan, “and I vowed to listen to them.

“I didn’t feel I should be voting on my own pension,” Shoemaker said then.

This fall, Jackson County voters will vote on charter changes that will boost the executive’s pay from $145,350 to $158,848 a year. In other words, Sanders’ pension would actually increase to $109,605 while he’s serving time if the ballot proposal passes.

While perhaps not entirely foreseeable, such a cushy retirement for convicts is indefensible. County officials need to re-examine their pension policy in the wake of the Sanders debacle.

Changes should be made so that voters can trust that their tax dollars aren’t used for perpetual payouts to long-ago political insiders who went wrong.

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Springfield News-Leader, Sept. 21

Deputy Aaron Roberts lived and died selflessly

It was with heavy hearts that all of southwest Missouri watched last week as Greene County Sheriff Deputy Aaron Roberts was laid to rest.

His death — and the circumstances surrounding it — were especially difficult for us as a community, as is typically the case when there isn’t a bad guy to punish for the loss of a life.

Deputy Roberts died a hero and will always be rightfully remembered as such. And the circumstances surrounding his death highlight the need for continued support of our law enforcement personnel and all emergency responders, especially in light of increasing danger in those positions in the years following 9/11. The job is demanding and dangerous, both physically and emotionally.

As has been reported in multiple media outlets, Deputy Roberts died the week before last doing what he was called to do — serving others. A 911 call went out on the night of flooding in Greene County. Roberts responded to the call and was heading back when tragedy struck. It was in returning from that call in a rural area north of Springfield that his car was swept away by rising flood waters in the dark.

Deputy Roberts lost his life due to that flash flooding and his car being swept away.

Like so many who quietly and selflessly serve, our family did not personally know Aaron Roberts. But our hearts broke as we saw images of his beautiful little girl, his friends and family and heard stories about what a wonderful human being this man was. Knowing that my sister-in-law and brother-in-law also serve selflessly as emergency responders (in Greene County as well), and knowing the danger that goes along with all jobs of this type, it’s hard to imagine the unexpected heartache his friends and loved ones must be experiencing.

So often when someone passes away in the line of duty, we have a “bad guy” to point the finger at — someone who is easy to villainize because they had some part in taking the life of a local hero.

Not so in this case.

Flashing flooding is a danger that affects people the world over, particularly in dark and rural areas. Those who believe it cannot happen to them simply haven’t encountered a scenario where the road instantly turns into several feet of water and there is no time or way to back up or turn the vehicle around. In short, Deputy Roberts died due to a tragic accident that may not have been preventable.

And he died doing what heroes do — putting others first and making sure they are safe from all types of harm, without fanfare or accolades and without expecting any type of gain in return.

Deputy Aaron Roberts was and is an Ozarks hero. He was the type of man who makes this part of the country great and makes us all proud. May we honor him this fall, and work to honor and protect all like him in the area who so selflessly serve.

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sept. 23

FDA cracks down on E-cigarette products targeting kids

Teens lighting up are hard to find these days, but there’s no mistaking the thick clouds of vapor they exhale in classrooms, school bathrooms and at parties. E-cigarettes have replaced the cancer sticks that hooked previous generations. Teen use has risen to an “epidemic of addiction,” says Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

The FDA has announced a major crackdown on retailers selling vaping products to minors. If the industry doesn’t clean up its act, Gottlieb says, the FDA will ban the flavored liquids used in e-cigarettes that attract underage users and appear designed to get them hooked. This is a much-needed, tougher approach on a multibillion-dollar industry profiting at the expense of children’s health.

The threat is especially surprising coming from such an industry-friendly administration that has tended to shrug off public health concerns in favor of jobs and campaign donations. The FDA should follow through on its tough talk and restrict the products that have helped create this new generation of nicotine addicts.

Vaping has increased 75 percent among high school students this year compared to 2017, according to the FDA’s preliminary data. This comes on the heels of years of rapidly increasing use among adolescents. Young users often don’t realize they are inhaling nicotine laced with flavors like mango, gummy bears and cotton candy. And teens who vape are more likely to end up smoking cigarettes.

A study in JAMA Pediatrics found that 12- to 17-year-olds who vape are twice as likely to become regular smokers within a year. The teenage brain is ripe for addiction, and the long-term health effects of vaping are unknown. After years of falling rates of teenage smoking, vaping threatens to reverse those gains.

Nicotine isn’t the only danger. The vapors can affect immunity, and teens can develop chronic bronchitis and bloody mouth and throat sores. Vapor can also inflame cells and make it harder for sores to heal. The cartridges of “juice” containing nicotine, propylene glycol, solvents and flavorings may also become carcinogenic after heating and before inhaling. E-cigarettes have not undergone the extensive toxicology reviews required of other food and drug items.

The five largest e-cigarette manufacturers, which operate with little oversight, have 60 days to produce plans to stop underage use of their products. If their plans fall short, the FDA has threatened to block sales of their products.

E-cigarettes may help some established smokers reduce or even quit their tobacco use. But these gains must not come at the expense of children. Imagine a 12-year-old having a nicotine fit because a teacher confiscates a vaporizer designed to look like a thumb drive.

No parent would want Big Tobacco marketing mango-flavored cigarettes to children. It’s no less abhorrent when children are lured with nicotine disguised in chocolate or mint vapor

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