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Recent Missouri editorials

August 28, 2018

The Kansas City Star Aug. 24

Josh Hawley warns Catholic bishops: ‘If we get any pushback, we’ll go to the public’

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley wants victims of sex abuse by Catholic priests to know that he is determined to learn everything there is to know about such crimes and cover-ups in this state. “They need to have confidence that this isn’t a whitewash,” he said in a Friday phone interview with The Star’s editorial board.

Along with victims’ groups, we called on Hawley earlier this week to launch a thorough statewide investigation of the kind recently completed in Pennsylvania, where more than 1,000 children were found to have been sexually abused by priests over the last 70 years. For all of those 70 years, that abuse was covered up and victims treated with stunning indifference.

A Pennsylvania grand jury says its investigation of clergy sexual abuse identified more than 1,000 child victims. The grand jury report released August 14 says that number comes from records in six Roman Catholic dioceses.

Hawley initially said he didn’t have jurisdiction under Missouri law to do anything of the kind, but then announced the next day that he would ask every diocese in the state to voluntarily open their books.

Now some victims worry that the result will be nothing more than a public relations exercise that will mostly benefit the church and Hawley, who is running for the U.S. Senate. Nicole Goravosky, a former local and federal prosecutor who specializes in child sexual abuse cases, told The Star that what Hawley had proposed is “not a true investigation.”

“You don’t allow the accused to have control over what is investigated. And that’s what is going on,” she said, in an election year in which the attorney general “didn’t want to be seen as doing nothing” during his campaign against incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. The Missouri Democratic Party also called the probe politically motivated.

Of course, victims and their champions want this done correctly, and we understand, too, why Democrats don’t want Hawley to get credit for doing anything right this year. As we wrote in pushing for the investigation, the probe is good politics, but it’s also the right thing to do. If, of course, it’s done properly. Hawley deserves a chance to get it right, as he has every reason to want to do.

Without the subpoena power that the grand jury in Pennsylvania had, he would need to work with local prosecutors to convene a grand jury, but doing so shouldn’t pose any problem. In the interview, Hawley called pursuing information through a grand jury with subpoena power “in many ways, ideal.”

In the unlikely event that prosecutors didn’t cooperate, lawmakers in Jefferson City could and should give him concurrent jurisdiction in this kind of case.

Meanwhile, “it is a challenge since we don’t have the power to subpoena,” he said, “which as a prosecutor always makes you nervous. But we’re going to ask for everything we’d ask for if we had that, and if we get any pushback, we’ll go to the public. If there isn’t cooperation, we’ll make that known, and the public will demand it now.”

Yes, we will.

Hawley’s message to all bishops, he said, is this: “I would caution all diocese that no one is going to get to dictate terms” or withhold anything. “We will not stand for that; I will not stand for that. That will be met with rejection and hostility and publication.”

He changed his mind about investigating, he said, after seeing that officials in the Archdiocese of St. Louis had told reporters they’d be willing to open up their files. “We leapt at that,” he said, and are already assembling a team staffed by career prosecutors and led by Christine Krug, head of the attorney general’s Public Safety Division and a longtime sex crimes prosecutor in St. Louis.

Now his office is contacting every diocese in the state. The Diocese of St. Louis and of Kansas City-St. Joseph have said they will cooperate, and the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau has announced it will begin an outside, independent inquiry of clergy abuse cases from the last 50 years.

The attorney general in Illinois, Lisa Madigan, has also announced that she’s launching an investigation, and every attorney general in the country should follow suit.

Every day, it seems, another statement from another Catholic prelate makes clear that even now, some church officials don’t understand how serious this crisis is, or how out-of-touch they sound.

Providence Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, who was auxiliary bishop of Pittsburgh when crimes detailed in the Pennsylvania grand jury report occurred, told The Providence Journal this week that he did know about reports of sex abuse, but that responding wasn’t his job.

Cardinal Sergio Obeso Rivera, of Mexico, who was just promoted by Pope Francis in June, told reporters that those who “accuse men of the church should” tread carefully, “because they have long tails that are easily stepped on.” Because accusers are rats, or devils?

Even Francis, who belatedly issued a long sorrowful letter about the grand jury report, according to a report in Italian media isn’t planning to take any other action.

So here in Missouri, we are counting on Hawley to take whatever steps he needs to to give victims the redress they deserve. After all they have been through already, so much more than an election is riding on it.

____

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Aug. 25

Area schools must do better to prevent homeless students from falling through the cracks

When homeless students try to enroll at area schools, too often a door slams in their face. In a federal lawsuit, two such students described the obstacles they faced trying to attend school in the Riverview Gardens School District. The lawsuit, recently reported by the Post-Dispatch, paints a troubling picture about the ways schools can make homeless students feel shunned and contribute to their failure.

The district and officials with the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, also named in the lawsuit, declined to comment on the pending litigation. But this filing should be a clarion call to all local schools to better address the needs of their most vulnerable students.

Attorneys representing the students say Riverview Gardens is far from the only offender. Luz María Henriquez, of Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, said the most persistent and severe complaints involve Riverview Gardens, but around the region, including in affluent districts, homeless students struggle to get the education they are legally entitled.

Henriquez described one scenario in which a school bus arrives at 5:45 a.m. to pick up a student staying in a motel room with a newborn nephew and a grandmother suffering from Alzheimer’s . If that student misses the bus, he has no way to get to school, which may be across town. The district will cancel transportation if a student misses the bus a certain number of times. Absences pile up. The school eventually withdraws the student.

We don’t expect schools to assume the parents’ supervisory role, and it is the student’s primary responsibility to arrive at the bus stop on time. But when the school is fully aware of the stressful circumstances surrounding a homeless student’s living conditions, the normal rules and procedures simply cannot apply. Immersing the student in a punitive cycle serves no one. It’s a formula for academic failure.

Federal law requires that public schools provide access to students who lack permanent housing. Districts must provide transportation when needed. But some districts, more concerned with rising transportation costs and a possible hit to their attendance numbers, are too willing to sacrifice these students’ chance for a better life. The state is responsible for making sure local districts follow the law.

Missouri, like the rest of the country, has seen the number of homeless students skyrocket since the recession and housing collapse in 2008. The state counted 11,977 homeless students a decade ago. By 2016-2017, the count was 33,757, a 180 percent increase. Federal funding for the increased services these students need has only increased 20 percent, from $61.8 million in 2006 to $77 million now.

Without much additional cost, schools can improve the way they cope. They can better train staff to understand the trauma attached to homelessness. They can reduce the use of out-of-school suspensions and create an empathetic, nurturing atmosphere to reassure homeless students that they are safe — and that they can succeed regardless.

Riverview Gardens has a four-page policy outlining its services to meet homeless students’ needs. They have school social workers and counselors and an employee responsible for keeping track of students in transition. But for at least two students, those policies clearly weren’t enough.

Allowing any student to fall through the cracks constitutes educational malpractice. It shouldn’t require a federal court case for all local districts to reassess their priorities.

____

The Jefferson City News-Tribune, Aug. 23

During the past two years, a perceived problem has been festering at City Hall, but few people have been willing to acknowledge the elephant in the room.

On Sunday, City Hall’s worst-kept secret became public. We published a story in which city staff alleged City Prosecutor Brian Stumpe has been missing court days without notice and cases have been dismissed because of his no-shows.

Stumpe, for his part, said he informed city officials ahead of time in the instances he couldn’t make it to court, and that nobody has told him there’s a problem.

Rather than tackling the issue head-on, city officials slowly have spread the news via whispers and rumors. About a year ago, the city’s Law Department came up with a passive-aggressive fix: It recommended changing the city charter to make the prosecutor position appointed rather than elected. Then, Stumpe would be accountable to the City Council.

Stumpe’s job performance was never listed as a reason for the requested change.

We were able to inform readers about the issue in our Sunday edition through several open records requests. Until now, Mayor Carrie Tergin, council members or other city officials haven’t been eager to talk about it publicly. We reviewed city emails and found that, last December, the city’s court administrator discussed the problem via email with the city counselor, who shared the concern with the mayor.

The council (minus Ward 5 Councilman Jon Hensley, who was elected in April) was informed about the problem in a Dec. 22 email in which City Counselor Ryan Moehlman said the legal staff had to fill in for Stumpe eight times.

Dealing with the problem, we acknowledge, is tricky, because Stumpe is an elected official. As such, he’s accountable to the voters, not to the mayor, council or city administration.

The city’s Law Department was especially stuck between a rock and a hard place: It serves more than one master, including the council and Stumpe. As such, it wasn’t the Law Department’s place to complain publicly about the job performance of Stumpe.

But the mayor and council do not have attorney-client privilege preventing them from addressing the problem or informing city residents. It’s also not a confidential personnel issue, since the mayor/council don’t employ Stumpe, give him performance reviews, or control his salary.

The Law Department and the Jefferson City Charter Review Advisory Committee erred in suggesting a charter change, the local equivalent of a constitutional change, if a main reason was to deal with one employee. (They did cite other reasons, but, again, it’s difficult to tell how much of a factor Stumpe was in the decision since the issue wasn’t being discussed publicly.)

A disconnect between city officials’ view and Stumpe’s view of the situation seems to indicate a lack of frank discussion between the two. As our representatives, Tergin and the council should have alerted both him and us and the public to the perceived problem sooner.

Now, the council has shelved the bill containing the charter change issue — along with four other proposed charter changes — on the “informal calendar,” where it will die in after three council meetings if not acted upon.

Any charter changes would have to be approved by voters, and the council just missed the deadline to submit any issues to a November vote. Now, voters would have to wait until at least April 2019 to have their say on some of the other proposed changes, which may have merit.

We urge the council to publicly discuss the Stumpe issue, then act on the bill.

As for the prosecutor issue, we don’t need a charter change. We need more open communication, leadership and a basic human relations handbook.

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