The Primary Election is scheduled for August 2nd and it is approaching quickly. A common complaint I hear is that there is not enough local media coverage of political issues here in Camden County, so I thought I would write a bit about three local elections. Lately, it seems like a lot of media people are afraid to speak out and state the plain truth publicly.
Well, I’m the Gadfly and I’m not one of those people. So here we go.
Since no Democrats are running for these three offices, the Primary Election will be the only election for all practical purposes.
These are obviously my opinions. If they help you decide who to vote for, that’s great. Heck, they might even help you decide who NOT to vote for!
The first election is the election for Camden County Associate Circuit Judge.
In this race, Ryan Bridges is challenging Heather Miller for her judicial seat. Judicial races are usually pretty mild-mannered and both candidates have avoided any controversy.
Ryan Bridges is born and raised in Camden County. He has lived here almost his entire life and is well known in this area. He is a veteran attorney with broad experience in all aspects of the law. He has no aspirations to climb the judicial ladder past the Associate Circuit. He simply wants to serve as an Associate Circuit Judge for the rest of his career and bring stability to the local court system.
Heather Miller is from Alaska. She came to Camden County because her husband’s family was from Laclede County. She joined the Prosecutor’s Office in 2012 and was appointed as the Camden County Prosecuting Attorney in 2018. In early 2021, she was fortunate enough to be appointed again to her current Associate Circuit Judge seat. I attended one of her Coffee with a Judge events. I thought it was informative and I wish she would have held more of these events before the election campaign started.
Both candidates seem like fair, reasonable people.
My pick is Ryan Bridges. I’ve met him and he is very approachable. I think he’s a sharp attorney and would make an excellent judge. He has more than enough experience to handle the position and would deal impartially with all parties in his courtroom.
Regardless of who wins, it’s always better to have elected officials who are elected to office and not appointed by the Governor.
The next race to discuss is the race for Presiding Commissioner.
Greg Hasty is the current Presiding Commissioner and he has served in that position for 8 years. The Commission is made up of 3 commissioners. Two of the commissioners represent the two districts in Camden County. The Presiding Commissioner does not have a district. He sets the agenda for the Commission, runs the Commission meetings, and serves as a tie breaker when the other two commissioners are deadlocked on a vote.
A lot has happened in the last few years of Greg Hasty’s term, but I’m going to give a brief summary of a few issues that are relevant to this election.
Issue #1 – The Lockdown
Greg Hasty and his hundreds of signs take credit for keeping Camden County open in 2020. This is simply not true. In fact, the Camden County Commission passed several ordinances that restricted businesses and gatherings including one that made violating the ordinances a criminal misdemeanor. I’ve attached them at the bottom of this article.
What actually happened is that Camden County remained open because the Camden County Sheriff’s Office refused to enforce the ordinances and Camden County residents largely ignored it. Greg Hasty tried to close Camden County and failed.
Issue #2 – Transparency
One of the reasons I started writing this blog is because of what I witnessed during Commission meetings. The Commission rarely discussed issues in open session. They would simply walk in and vote as if they had already discussed the agenda items outside of the meeting room. According to the Missouri Sunshine Law, the Commission is required to conduct county business in open and announced meetings whenever a majority (or quorum) of the commissioners are present.
When I read the Missouri Highway Patrol reports from the Gravelgate investigation, I was surprised to see that the meeting where the Commission discussed graveling the Bianchi’s property was a private meeting in the Commission Office. I filed a complaint regarding this meeting with the Missouri Attorney General’s Office and they opined that the Commission had violated the Sunshine Law by committing “an unnoticed and improper meeting violation.” You can read more about my complaint at this link.
The AG’s Office instructed Commissioner Hasty to attend Sunshine Law training within six months. Sunshine Law training? How could that possibly be necessary for a man who has been running the Commission for the last eight years? If Greg Hasty hasn’t figured out how transparent government is supposed to work after eight years in office, he probably never will.
Issue #3 – Abuse of Power
On March 2, 2021, the Commission met in closed session and voted 2-1 to ban Nathan Rinne from all county property. Presiding Commissioner Hasty and Commissioner Williams voted for this ban. Prior to this ban, Nathan Rinne had committed no crimes, had never been warned he might be banned, and was never escorted out of any Commission meeting for disruptive behavior.
The ban stated that if Rinne set foot on any county property, he would be escorted off the property by deputies.
After receiving a letter informing him he had been banned, Rinne filed a federal lawsuit. As part of that lawsuit, US District Judge Harpool granted a Preliminary Injunction on November 19, 2021, which stated that the ban was “illegal and issued without legitimate cause.” He also ordered the Commission not to institute any similar bans.
Judge Harpool further stated that the evidence showed that the ban was issued in retaliation for Rinne’s exercise of his First Amendment rights. “The complete ban of Rinne from all county property was a clear abuse of office and the state’s power.”
So there you go.
It’s probably obvious by now, but after attended almost 100 Commission meetings, writing about them, and watching Greg Hasty in action, I will NOT be voting for Greg Hasty.
There are four other candidates challenging Hasty and they all believe they can do a better job than Greg has. The bar is set pretty low.
I’m voting for Ike Skelton for Presiding Commissioner. Ike is a US Army veteran and local business owner. He’s intelligent and capable of making the changes that are necessary to run Camden County smoothly.
As you can likely tell, my main focus is on governmental transparency and I believe that Ike is honest and absolutely committed to running the business of the Commission in compliance with the Missouri Sunshine Law. If some real estate developer or business mogul ever wanted to have a secret meeting with Ike, I think they would be in for an unpleasant surprise.
And now we move on the race for Camden County Prosecuting Attorney.
In June of 2017, Caleb Cunningham was brought into the Prosecutor’s Office by Heather Miller to fill the position of Assistant Prosecuting Attorney. He has served as the acting Prosecuting Attorney since the end of February of 2021 when Heather Miller was appointed as a judge. He was appointed as the Prosecuting Attorney on April 23, 2021. When he was appointed as the Prosecuting Attorney, he had less than four years of experience as a prosecutor. As events would prove out, he was woefully unprepared for the responsibilities of the office.
Issue #1 – The Facebook Search Warrant
On March 26, 2021, Nathan Rinne went to the Camden County Courthouse to vote. Rinne made a video of himself voting and leaving the courthouse and uploaded it to Facebook. Nobody approached him and he was not escorted out of the courthouse by Camden County deputies.
Presiding Commissioner Hasty decided that this act of voting while banned was an offense that could not be tolerated. A search warrant needed to be written for Rinne’s Facebook account. No deputies within the Camden County Sheriff’s Office were willing to write such a warrant. This is when our brand new Prosecuting Attorney made a terrible mistake. Caleb volunteered and assigned one of his investigators to write a search warrant on Rinne’s Facebook account. The crime? Trespassing.
I worked for the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office for 19 years and retired from that office as a DA Lieutenant. Our office had over 1,000 attorneys and 300 detectives. I worked for years as a High Tech Crimes Investigator. I served as the Computer Forensics Sergeant and then as the Lieutenant in charge of the Technical Services Unit. In my career, I wrote hundreds of search warrants for electronic communications. As the supervisor of the Technical Services Unit, I reviewed and approved thousands of search warrants for electronic communications. I also instructed hundreds of detectives on search warrant writing and managing electronic evidence.
In all of my years, I have never, EVER seen or heard of a search warrant that was written for the crime of Trespass. Trespassing is the type of low level crime that rarely sees any investigation by detectives. This search warrant sought Rinne’s private Facebook messages, including the password to his account.
Why would you ever need his messages to prove that he trespassed? The courthouse has cameras everywhere and there was plenty of video evidence already in the possession of the Camden County Sheriff’s Office to prove that Rinne went into the courthouse. Heck, he had even posted his video onto Facebook. Why did they need his messages?
Simply put, they wanted to find out who Rinne was communicating with. They wanted to know what the citizens of Camden County were saying in private about their elected officials.
On April 15, 2021, an investigator from the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office took a search warrant affidavit to a judge in Laclede County and convinced the judge to sign it. He asked that the search warrant include a delay in notification from Facebook so Rinne wouldn’t know he had applied for it. I reviewed the affidavit for this search warrant and the connection described between the alleged crime and the evidence sought is so tenuous that I can’t believe the judge knew the whole story when he signed it.
With this decision, Caleb Cunningham violated some of the most basic rules as a prosecutor. Do not use your power to meddle in local political issues. Do not wield your power as a weapon to target those who criticize your government.
Another interesting aspect to this is that when Greg Hasty gave a deposition for Rinne’s federal civil rights lawsuit, Hasty stated that the Commission had never trespassed Rinne!! They had merely banned him. I’m sure the Camden County attorneys had a facepalm moment when Hasty said that under oath.
So now we have a Prosecuting Attorney who directed one of his investigators to write a search warrant for evidence of a crime that the Presiding Commissioner denies ever occurred. One can only imagine how much future liability this will lay at Camden County’s feet. This does not even address the violations of the expectation of privacy for the thousands of people who were innocently messaging with Rinne and now have had their privacy violated.
Issue #2 – Caleb Cunningham’s Gun Raffle
Caleb Cunningham’s campaign recently held a gun raffle where they sold raffle tickets to contributors in exchange for the chance to win two guns. The proceeds from the raffle went into his campaign fund. This appears to be a felony in Missouri because the Missouri Constitution says the only organizations that can hold fundraising raffles like this are non-profit and religious organizations.
I wrote about this raffle here.
This was another bad decision by Caleb Cunningham who either doesn’t think the laws of Missouri apply to him or doesn’t have the experience to know what is and isn’t illegal in Missouri.
Issue #3 – The Recordings
Like most Camden County residents, I was surprised to hear some of the recordings of Caleb Cunningham’s private conversations when they were released. It’s rare to hear the private thoughts of an elected official. And it was truly ironic to hear Caleb Cunningham complain about this violation of his confidence at the Camden County Republican Club after he had spent months digging through the private Facebook messages of the citizens of Camden County. There are many of these recordings, but I’ll mention a few of the worst.
Caleb Cunningham spoke at the most recent candidate forum about how much he loves Camden County. His true thoughts?:
(Edited. I mixed up his insulting comments for our towns. The corrected version is possibly worse.)
“Osage Beach is a goddamned hellhole.”
“Lake Ozark is a Third World fucking country.”
He individually named every police department in the county and insulted them one by one. No department was spared his disdain. I won’t repeat all of the things he said, because our deputies and officers don’t need to hear them again. He claimed that he had law enforcement support “locked down”, but I’m pretty sure that is no longer the case.
He described a case where the owner of a gas station had refused consent to turn over video surveillance for an investigation. Caleb told the investigating officer he would get a search warrant for the video recordings and direct the officers to intentionally damage the gas station’s property because they wouldn’t consent. According to Cunningham, that is exactly what they did when they served the search warrant. Bragging about damaging the property of a Camden County business that exercised its 4th Amendment right? As a veteran detective, this is really appalling.
Caleb Cunningham does not have the maturity, the judgement or the experience to serve as a Prosecuting Attorney for a First Class county like Camden County. I could never vote for a prosecutor who abuses his power and the public trust in this manner.
Fortunately, he is being opposed in the Prosecuting Attorney race by Richelle Christensen Grosvenor. She has 22 years of experience in criminal law. She has served as a Prosecuting Attorney and was previously a prosecutor for the Camden County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. She is principled and has high ethical standards. She is the type of person who is not afraid to do the right thing. It’s also not surprising that she was recently endorsed by the local Fraternal Order of Police chapter so it appears that she is actually the candidate who has law enforcement “locked down.”
So I am voting for Richelle Christensen Grosvenor for Prosecuting Attorney. It’s an easy decision for me to make.
Let’s restore the faith of Camden County’s citizens in their government and their criminal justice system. What kind of jury pool can you have when people don’t trust the Prosecuting Attorney? Election Day is the one day when we’re all equal. Every poor man or woman is just as powerful as the richest of us. People fought hard for us to have this right, so please go to the polls and exercise it.