So Much More To Treasurer & Banker Story – Updated 12/26/2016

vote-quoteWhen I first read the St. Louis Post-Dispatch headline “Banker convicted of felonies in 1995 now doing business with St. Louis treasurer”, my first reaction was, what an odd headline for a story about redemption, about Treasurer Tishaura Jones walking the walk on Ban the Box.

Then I read the first paragraphs and I thought, there is more to this story. It must have a bad ending and it’s about a Ban the Box failure. But, I was confused because the writer was not a St. Louis Post-Dispatch business, public finance, or crime reporter. Something big going on in the Treasurer’s Office certainly should have an expert assigned to it. But that was not the case.

The writer is human interest columnist Joe Holleman. Earlier this year, he wrote an unflattering human interest piece about a Ferguson activist hired by the Treasurer’s Office.

At the time of that column, I thought it was a missed opportunity to report on the hiring practices of patronage offices. Holleman included a link to the online job notice but either did not know or did not care that advertising jobs was something Tishaura Jones brought to the Treasurer’s Office. It was one of many changes to make it a modern, professional office. He chose not to report on government reform. He chose to focus on the colorful side of a Treasurer employee. That’s what he does.

I read Joe Holleman’s columns and have enjoyed much of his writing. But I understand a lot of it is opinion. Sometimes, he gets to relay interesting tidbits about local media and celebrities which I find interesting from time to time.

So, I read Joe Holleman’s column about the banker who went to prison for fraud relating to the election of the Treasurer’s father, former Comptroller Virvus Jones. The banker did not commit any crimes involving public monies or contracts. The banker was rehabilitated and became licensed in securities again. The Treasurer’s Office hired a company that hired the banker. The company saved the City money.

The story that Joe Holleman wrote could have been a completely different story with a different headline:

“Underwriter hired by City Treasurer saves City $5 Million”

“City Treasurer bans the box, a success story”

But he didn’t. And if the information in this story was so important to warrant the attention of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and publish it above the fold, why isn’t there a call for the State Auditor to investigate?

And, why didn’t Holleman ask each of the mayoral candidates to comment on Banning the Box, something each of the serious candidates running previously supported, as well as comment on this particular hire?

And, why did the story happen how? Treasurer Jones was just re-elected with 76% of the vote, 96,005 votes. She had no Primary opponent. If there was something untoward going on in the Treasurer’s Office, why didn’t Holleman write about it before Fall elections filing closed? Someone might have filed against her in the primary if this story had legs.

And, why didn’t Holleman write this before the General Election? Voters had two other candidates to choose from and the option not to vote at all for her.

But the story has no legs. The goal here is not to get an investigation into the business of the Treasurer’s Office. It’s about creating newspaper images for a hit piece campaign mailing by a candidate for Mayor or a PAC trying to influence the mayoral election, like one of Rex Sinqefield’s. Said hit piece will be targeted to certain voters in South City wards.

The real story here is that Tishaura Jones is the candidate to beat in the mayoral election, the front runner. If Jones were polling poorly, this story would have never happened.

You might be thinking, Board President Lewis Reed has run and won citywide and he did well against Mayor Francis Slay four years ago. Isn’t he the front runner? No. He is not.

As a matter of disclosure, in 2007, I gave a large check and volunteer time to Reed’s election as Board President when he challenged President Jim Shrewsbury. He was soon a disappointment. Four years ago, I endorsed Mayor Slay for re-election and on the condition that it would be the last time. I regretted that endorsement the day of the election and haven’t stopped since. But, I did not then, nor now, see Reed as a viable alternative. He has not stood up to the Mayor on much of anything, has not served as a checks and balances on power of the Mayor.

In 2013, Reed won 44% of the vote to Slay’s 54%. That should have made him the leading candidate this election. Except many of the votes he got four years ago were people who wanted change and were “anyone but Slay” votes. This time there is a big field of candidates to choose from. His 90%-95% voting record with Mayor Slay on Board of Estimate and Apportionment has cost him any claim to being a change agent. And he now has a problem with women voters. More on Reed later.

What about 28th Alderwoman Lyda Krewson, isn’t she a leading candidate? Yes. Krewson is a leading candidate by virtue of having a lot of money in her re-election account and started campaigning shortly after Mayor Slay announced his retirement. But she is not the leading candidate.

As a matter of disclosure, in 2002, I gave money and, more importantly, was a volunteer for Krewson’s unsuccessful run for Board President against Jim Shrewsbury. The office had just been vacated by Francis Slay who had been elected Mayor in 2001. I was living in the 23rd Ward then, a Shrewsbury friendly area. I went door to door for Krewson because I deeply believed in her. I have always personally liked her. I thought she would have been a good mayor eight years ago and even four years ago. But she never really stood up to Mayor Slay. That disappoints me and is the reason I could not consider her for mayor in 2017.

Krewson is the status quo candidate. You get four more years of Francis Slay type policies, four more years not standing up to Rex Sinquefield. She is not a change agent and not likely to get many of the votes who wanted change in 2013. But she does not get all of Mayor Slay’s 2013 votes either because many were not deeply committed to him. They would have voted for change if the candidate was other than Lewis Reed. More on Krewson later.

The rest of the candidates are 1% to 10% of the vote each. More on them later.

St. Louis City has had many years of unbridled corporate welfare for developers and sports teams while at the same time retaining status as #1 in syphilis, high infant mortality, 30% youth unemployment, and a growing crime problem treated cavalierly as a statistics problem that can be cured by re-entry into the county and more cameras. Board President Reed and each of the aldermen running for mayor has had years to do something about St. Louis City’s problems and, for the most part, done little to address citywide concerns.

This City is a hot mess. It is a bubbling cauldron of despair for large segments of the community. And it will get worse because of the unfortunate power the Missouri General Assembly has to make our lives miserable. This City needs change and the only change agent running is Treasurer Tishaura Jones, someone who changed the Treasurer’s Office for the better and can do that for our City. Her campaign isn’t about hope. It’s about work, hard work, working together across the City to make tough choices, smart moves with best practices, and standing up for what is right.

There is so much more to this story about the Treasurer and the Banker. But it isn’t about financial wrong doing or ethics. It’s about a dog whistle. Hear/See the name Virvus Jones. Here/See the word “convicted.” Vote against that even if you are voting against your own self interest. The real story here is that in order for Lyda Krewson to be elected, enough of you who want change have to be swayed to stay at home or vote for a candidate other than Jones.

Vote for the candidate of your choice. But, please, don’t cast your vote based on a dog whistle.

UPDATED 12/20/2016. Letter to the Editor from KAI Design & Build to St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Company unfairly included in story about convicted banker “We were disappointed to see KAI unfairly interjected into a politically slanted article written by reporter Joe Holleman. To our surprise, KAI was singled out in the article, while other companies that may have worked with Craig Walker in the past were left out…He offered to help us find new project opportunities in Champaign on a commissioned-basis. No dollars were ever paid to Craig from KAI, as no opportunity for work ever presented itself.”

UPDATED 12/22/2016. Response from KAI Design & Build in St. Louis American was longer: Unfairly interjected into politically slanted article

Updated 12/26/2016: news story in St. Louis AmericanTishaura responds to Post smear

Disclaimer: I write my own posts. I am not paid to work on any campaign. I have no family paid to work on any campaign. I am a City employee but not employed, nor have ever been employed, in the Treasurer’s office, or Board of Aldermen, or any business associated with any mayoral candidate. I have endorsed Tishaura Jones for Mayor.

— Marie Ceselski, 7th Ward Democratic Committeewoman


Lewis Reed Fails To Lead, Again

city-hall3Under the Charter of the City of St. Louis, initiative petitions and their signatures go to the Board of Elections for verification of signatures. If signatures are sufficient, the issue has another stop before going on the ballot. A Charter Amendment by initiative petition must be sent to the Board of Aldermen and aldermen have 60 days to act on it.

The Board of Aldermen can put its seal of approval on it or not. If not, it goes back to the Board of Elections and on to the ballot anyway. The process allows our elected representatives to vet initiative ballot issues but not change them. It’s an opportunity to point out flaws or give praise.

On August 2nd, Primary Election Day, St. Louis City voters were asked at the polls to sign an initiative petition for funding of police body cams. It turned out to be a scam by Billionaire Rex Sinquefield and State Senator/mayoral candidate Jamilah Nasheed relating to the Recorder of Deeds Office, and a poorly written one at that.

So many people wanted to remove their signatures that I contacted the Board of Elections about how they would do it. Unfortunately, the Board of Elections did not produce the necessary affidavit until the day before the affidavits were due.

In September, Rex Sinquefield’s agents began collecting signatures for an initiative petition to change dates of some elections and reduce turnout for city charter ballot issues and school board elections. Fewer people voting would make Sinquefield better positioned to finally get rid of the earnings tax, bankrupt us into disincorporation, force us into annexation by the County, and elect his own anti-public education school board.

On September 9th, the Board of Aldermen Agenda noted that aldermen had received the proposed Charter Amendment on the Recorder’s Office from the Board of Elections. There was never any such notice for the Charter Amendment to change election dates, but it is known that it has sufficient signatures and was sent to Board of Aldermen.

On October 10th, Board of Aldermen President/mayoral candidate Lewis Reed introduced Board Bill 164 for the Charter Amendment on the Recorder’s Office. It was assigned to the Ways & Means Committee. No board bill was ever filed for the Charter Amendment to change election dates.

You would think that President Reed would want a thorough vetting by the Board of Aldermen of these two Rex Sinquefield proposals. You would think that he would jump at the opportunity to hold public hearings, expose these two ballot issues, lay out the case against the ballot issues as a first step toward educating voters and defeating Sinquefield. But he did not. He let the clock run out.

And what of the reformers on the Board of Aldermen? What of 28th Ward Alderwoman/mayoral candidate Lyda Krewson, 8th Ward Alderman Steve Conway (who chairs the Ways and Means Committee that Reed’s bill was assigned), and 24th Ward Alderman Scott Ogilvie? What of the aldermen who talked about reducing the number of aldermen as the first step toward professional policy maker aldermen? This was an opportunity to debate policy, an opportunity to be statesmen. They chose instead to give Rex Sinquefield a pass.

Why don’t Board President Lewis Reed and aldermen, including the three running for mayor, and the odd numbered ward aldermen up for re-election this year, want to go on record voting against these horrible proposals?

Whether or not they support Rex Sinquefield is something that should be asked all candidates for mayor and all candidates for aldermen this year. Media, debate moderators, ward organization surveys, all need to ask where the candidates stand on these two ballot issues.

What are President Reed and his aldermen colleagues hiding? Are they all jockeying for Rex Sinquefield money now?

Disclosure: I am a City employee who works at the Recorder of Deeds Office. I am an archivist who perform records conservation and preservation services, not a manager. I speak only for myself here as the 7th Ward Democratic Committeewoman and do not represent the Recorder or City of St. Louis. I have not discussed this matter with the Recorder. I had my job for nearly 20 years before I was elected a committeewoman, did not become committeewoman because of my job, did not get my job because I am a committeewoman. I have scheduled vacations days for all election days. I did not write this on taxpayer time. I wrote it myself. I have an ongoing beef with Rex Sinquefield’s attempts to legally buy elections. His main goal for St. Louis is to force it to re-enter St. Louis County as a means to eliminate the city’s earnings tax. I have endorsed Tishaura Jones for Mayor.

— Marie Ceselski, 7th Ward Democratic Committeewoman


Elect Tishaura Jones for Mayor

treasurer-tishaura-jones_2_4It will probably surprise some people that I have not always been a huge fan of Tishaura Jones.

I was troubled by her role in a Rex Sinquefield agenda item- school choice- when she was a state legislator. 

But I also know her now and understand the desperation she felt then, like so many St. Louis City parents, about public education, and that her actions were in spite of Rex and not because of him.

Not many of us are without some of Sinquefield’s agenda on our hands. I went along with him funding the statewide ballot issue for local control of police and regret that. I haven’t changed my mind about local control, I just think we should have done things differently.

Most important to me is that I know Tishaura Jones is not Rex Sinquefield‘s candidate in the mayor’s race. I am convinced that she, more than any other mayoral candidate, would be our fiercest defender against him and the bully consultants spending his billions.

I liked her father, former Comptroller Virvus Jones. He was a good Comptroller. He used campaign money for personal purposes in violation of campaign finance laws and didn’t report it to IRS and went to prison for it. He was a good Comptroller but a flawed man.

I bring this up because at least one other mayoral candidate or surrogate is spreading some awful rumors about the Jones Family. In one rumor, Virvus Jones embezzled City funds (which he did not do, he was a good Comptroller) and there is an inference to apple not falling far from tree. My personal belief is that if you believe or promote that crime is genetic, may you rot in hell.

August 7, 2012, was the election that I was first on the ballot for 7th Ward Democratic Committeewoman. I had no opponent, didn’t campaign, had no organization, and filed an exemption to not spend any money. I punted on the Democratic Primary choices, including the Treasurer’s race in which Tishaura Jones, my then 7th Ward Committeeman Brian Wahby, and Aldermen Fred Wessels and Jeffery Boyd were competing. My Alderwoman endorsed Wessels.

I was ambivalent about the Treasurer’s race, other than wanting anyone but Wahby to be elected. It was my opinion, at the time, that the Treasurer’s office was such a big a mess under Larry Williams that no one was going to be able to clean it up. 

Keep it mind nearly every elected official had been propping up Williams all those years, tithing to his fundraisers while bad mouthing him on the side. 

Some of this had to do with empire building. I think the plan was to let the Treasurer’s office implode to generate support for making it a mayoral patronage job instead of elected. You have no idea how Machiavellian local politics is.

But Tishaura Jones was elected Treasurer and proved me wrong. She cleaned up that mess and more. None of the other mayoral candidates has done anything like this. Managed money and people. Sure. But she is the only candidate who as actually taken a public problem, fixed it, and turned it into a public benefit.

One of the things that we have gotten away from in St. Louis City government is that small stuff matters. What seems small to a large bureaucracy can mean the world to a resident, small business, or a visitor. Tishaura Jones understands that fixing the small stuff is important.

When Treasurer Tishaura Jones was sworn into office, 1,600 of the City’s 7,000 employees were not using direct deposit for their paychecks. They were cashing their checks every two weeks, often paying a fee to do so. Treasurer Jones set up bank and credit union fairs for employees to pick an institution for direct deposit. A debit card option for paychecks was also made available.

As a City employee, I can tell you that this transition, requiring direct deposit, has changed the lives of many people at the low end of City salaries. I personally know City employees who were living paycheck to paycheck and now they put a little something into a savings account every pay day. And the Treasurer’s Lunch and Learn financial literacy workshops continues to improve people’s lives.

St. Louis City was #1 in unbanked minority households when Treasurer Tishaura Jones came into office. She understands financial literacy is a necessary step to helping people out of poverty. She established the Office of Financial Empowerment to educate St. Louisans on checking and savings accounts, college funds, identity theft, earned income tax credits, foreclosure prevention, small business development, and offers credit counseling. 

I know some of you are thinking, this doesn’t impact me. You’re wrong. One of the Forward Through Ferguson Report’s Signature Priorities is Opportunity to Thrive and establishing financial empowerment centers. 

When we look at who has actually done something citywide to make Black Lives Matter, Treasurer Tishaura Jones is the candidate who stands out for bringing positive change. It’s not flashy. It didn’t put her on TV. But small things can change lives in big ways and that’s what Tishaura Jones is all about.

Another of the Forward Through Ferguson priority is Child and Family Development Accounts. And, again, Treasurer Jones stepped up and established a Children’s Savings Accounts program for college savings.

Thousands of St. Louis City school children now have college accounts. You don’t have kids or your child doesn’t benefit so why does this concern you? Studies show that even a small amount of money invested in a child’s college education helps keep that child in school and increases graduation rates. We need that in St. Louis City. Breaking the cycle of poverty, which impacts us all, requires children to stay in school. Again, not flashy, but an important program.

I don’t drive, so I don’t feel qualified to talk about the parking changes since Treasurer Tishaura Jones took over. Just being honest here.

As a candidate, Tishaura Jones is again showing her penchant for small things that impact people in big ways. Most recently, she wrote about tenant rights, about local government, landlord associations and tenants working together.

160,000 residents of St. Louis City are renters. We are long overdue for attention to this issue. It strikes close to home for me because we are renters. We have a great landlord. Some of our neighbors do not. As example, many of us have been horrified to find the owner of condemned property at 2408-2411 S 12th renting it out, over and over again. Tishaura Jones is the only candidate for mayor talking about protecting renters. Again, not flashy, but important to a lot of people.

Tishaura Jones wants a fully staff police department that includes social workers. Many problems that come to the attention of police are mental health related. If we staff police stations with social workers, we can treat some problems instead of criminalize them and free up police resources for more important concerns. Again, not flashy, but a small change that will have a big impact on public safety.

Tishaura Jones wants to shut down the City Workhouse, an arcane, dangerous, expensive institution. Mayors have been talking about this for decades but nobody did it. Freeing up money to keep people out of jail is better than spending money on incarceration. That’s no small thing but I don’t hear anyone else running for mayor talking about it. Maybe because it is not as flashy as talking about guns, or cameras, or any of the other buzz word topics. Or maybe because some candidates are stuck in the failed tough on crime era.

Those are of some of the reasons that I now count myself as one of Tishaura Jones biggest fans.

We cannot afford more of the same. We must change. The aldermen and Board President running for mayor had their chance and haven’t cleaned up any messes. Tishaura Jones brought change to the Treasurer’s Office, cleaned up a big mess. I trust her to do the same for the City of St. Louis.

We need someone who will look at redevelopment incentives for what they bring to the community and not merely serve as a bribe to anyone who says they will leave or won’t build without it. The aldermen and Board President running for mayor have treated the City like an ATM for developers. I trust Tishaura Jones to attract development worthy of our assistance and fix the small things that are big problems for small business.

We need transparency in City government, including replacing the City’s word salad website and lack of timely online public notice of public meetings. The aldermen and Board President have had years and years to bring transparency and failed to do so. I trust Tishaura Jones to bring that transparency because I’ve already seen what she did in the Treasurer’s Office.

We need someone who will go to the mat for us fighting Rex Sinquefield here, Jefferson City, and statewide if necessary, and I trust Tishaura Jones to do that.

We need someone who sees a beginning and end to being mayor, goals to accomplish and an urgency to do so. The aldermen and Board President running for mayor have had years to send the voters a charter amendment for term limits on mayor and failed to do so. Tishaura Jones wants to be the mayor with a clock ticking on how long she has to bring change.

Check out the Tishaura for Mayor website. 

If you’d like a Tishaura Jones for Mayor yard sign, or would like to help host a meet and greet for her in your neighborhood, message me or call me at 630-7599.

Disclaimer: I write my own posts. I am not paid to work on any campaign. I have no family paid to work on any campaign. I am a City employee but not employed, nor have ever been employed, in the Treasurer’s office, or Board of Aldermen, or any business associated with any mayoral candidate.

— Marie Ceselski, 7th Ward Democratic Committeewoman

An Open Letter to State Rep. Shamed Dogan

vote-counts1Dear State Representative Dogan:

I read with great interest your 11/29/2016 guest column “How Missouri’s new voter photo ID requirement works” in the St. Louis American.

As a committeewoman, one of my jobs will be to assist voters in complying with the new law. Sadly, your guest column did not answer any of my questions. So, I am respectfully requesting that you write a follow up column on how one gets a copy of a Missouri Birth Certificate without having a Photo ID.

For example, the mail-in method for a Birth Certificate Copy requires a notarized signature. Perhaps you could provide a list of public notaries in each county and the City of St. Louis who notarize signatures without a Photo ID.

For example, the walk-in method for a Birth Certificate Copy requires a Photo ID of the copy applicant. The copy applicant may be an immediate relative. If the voter’s immediate relative with a Photo ID does not live locally, does the General Assembly plan on paying for transportation, lodging, and compensation for use of a vacation days or lost wages? What if there is no immediate relative with a Photo ID or the voter is not on speaking terms with any immediate relative with a Photo ID?

And how does the Free Supportive Documents work since reimbursement would still place a financial burden upon the voter? Requiring a fee of any kind to vote is a poll tax, as I am sure you are aware.

Counties, including the City of St Louis, pay the State of Missouri to access the State’s Vital Records database and the copy fees are deposited to county general revenue. The Hancock Amendment would prevent the General Assembly from forcing county Vital Records offices to give out free copies.

Or is the plan for voters to get their Free Birth Certificate copies from Jefferson City? Sir, try doing that as a citizen who is not an elected official. See how long it takes to get the copy or if you get the correct copy the first time. Then try helping someone with the surname Jefferson, Johnson, Jones, Smith, or Williams get a correct copy from Jefferson City.

And has anyone considered the type of identity fraud and possible aiding of terrorism if the Missouri General Assembly lifts the Photo ID or notarized signature provisions for Birth Certificate copy requests and just lets anyone write in for a copy?

And then there’s the money for all this. But, for right now, I just want to know how you think this will really work.

I look forward to the answers.

Marie Ceselski
7th Ward Democratic Committeewoman
St. Louis City