Recent Missouri editorials – McClatchy Washington Bureau

Kansas City Star, July 2

There ought to be a handbook: The Dangers of Twitter for Politicians.

Rule No. 1: Never say never on Twitter.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill could write a chapter about her own unforced errors. A March tweet from the Missouri Democrat continues to haunt her.

McCaskill denied ever speaking to or meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The claim, now proven false, has gained new life with revelations that she attended a reception at Kislyak’s residence and donated to a foundation that counts him as a board member.

“No call or meeting w/Russian ambassador. Ever.” McCaskill tweeted this spring.

At the time, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was facing intensifying scrutiny for not disclosing meetings with the Russian ambassador during his confirmation hearings.

Sessions’ defense was that the meetings didn’t have anything to do with the election but were related to his role on the Senate Armed Services Committee. The explanation was fuzzy and raised more questions, given that others close to President Donald Trump had failed to ‘fess up to meetings and connections to the Russians.

No one was pressing McCaskill to detail any meetings she’d had during her years on the Armed Services Committee. But she jumped in anyway, sending out her sweeping denial via Twitter in an attempt to cast more doubt on Sessions’ meetings with Kislyak.

Shortly after, reporters ferreted out other tweets by McCaskill showing that she had spoken with Kislyak on at least a couple of occasions. One was a meeting with Kislyak about Russia possibly ending U.S. adoptions and the other was a brief phone call with the ambassador about the Iran nuclear deal.

Now, a CNN report has revealed McCaskill’s attendance at the 2015 reception at the ambassador’s residence.

McCaskill’s critics pounced. Hypocritical, they said. And they’re right.

McCaskill didn’t completely own her initial flub. She admitted the mistake. But then she tried to explain the discrepancy, saying that she wanted to make clear that she’d never met with the ambassador in her role as a member of the Armed Services Committee.

In acknowledging the latest flap, McCaskill has explained that yes, she attended a black-tie reception for her longtime mentor and fellow Missourian, former Rep. James Symington. McCaskill did not interact with the ambassador, according to a spokesperson.

The senator attended the event to honor Symington. She once interned for the Democrat and helped with his campaign as a student at the University of Missouri.

McCaskill’s family foundation also made an $873 donation to the American-Russian Cultural Cooperation Foundation, the St. Louis-Post Dispatch reports. Both Kislyak and Symington are on the cultural cooperation board.

Twitter, with its 140 characters, just didn’t allow her enough space to be specific about all of this, McCaskill has said in interviews.

But in her rush to raise doubts about Trump administration officials, the senator got it wrong. And there’s no excuse for that.

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 2

An audit of the St. Louis Police Department has revealed an alarming lack of accountability and documentation to support police overtime payouts nearly $5 million more than was budgeted for the 2016 fiscal year. Expenditures could be worse this year, with about $1.3 million a month spent on overtime and total expenditures likely to be double the $7 million budgeted.

Against the backdrop of abysmal accounting and fiscal mismanagement uncovered in a St. Louis comptroller’s office audit, taxpayers have good reason to be skeptical of a proposed tax increase to fund higher police salaries and attract recruits.

Mayor Lyda Krewson said the excess overtime is because the police department is 100 officers below authorized strength. That’s understandable, but it doesn’t explain the lax environment in which verbal agreements and a failure to maintain detailed time sheets made it impossible for auditors to determine whether police officers actually worked the 342,414 hours of overtime paid during the audited period.

Police officers deserve healthy salaries and to be paid for all overtime hours worked. Still, some of the findings in the audit are jaw-dropping.

For instance, full-time officers regularly work about 2,080 hours a year. The audit revealed one officer earned $77,004 for 1,821 hours of overtime, in addition to those regular hours. That averages out to about a year’s worth of 75-hour work weeks. Another worked 1,757 overtime hours for an additional $75,692, and a third racked up 1,159 overtime hours for $62,854.

According to Post-Dispatch reporters Celeste Bott and Christine Byers, auditors also found that 30 police lieutenants, who are exempt from overtime by law, earned $183,389 for more than 5,000 overtime hours. The department said lieutenants are allowed to receive overtime pay from grants that are not taken from the city’s budget.

Lack of oversight extended to top levels of the department, with officials failing to seek permission from the city’s Board of Estimate and Apportionment before transferring money to cover overtime costs. The board is the city’s budget committee, consisting of the mayor, comptroller and president of the Board of Aldermen.

Sam Dotson was chief of police during the period covered by the audit. Krewson forced Dotson out on her first day in office and named Lt. Col. Lawrence O’Toole as interim police chief.

While Krewson and a citizens’ committee are searching for a new police chief, the mayor must reassure taxpayers that there is adequate oversight of expenditures. She backs a plan for a half-cent sales tax increase for police salaries.

Police personnel shortages are real, and until those gaps are filled, overtime will be an unfortunate and unavoidable reality. But if Krewson hopes to win the campaign for a tax increase, she must provide answers on how these financial management flaws are being fixed.

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Joplin Globe, June 29

Our readers know by now that we think a prescription monitoring drug plan for Missouri is not only necessary but that it will be lifesaving.

We are outraged that we are the only state in the nation that does not have one, largely because our legislators just can’t seem to get their priorities straight. It’s been like that now for seven legislative sessions. We have lost confidence that the 2018 session will be any different.

Instead we are putting our support behind local leaders.

On Tuesday, a meeting in Neosho set the wheels in motion for an effort we hope will result in the addition of Newton County to 34 other Missouri counties that have joined or will join St. Louis County’s prescription drug monitoring program.

It’s an important tool in the fight against the opioid crisis the nation is facing. As long as Missouri refuses to monitor prescriptions via a database, we will continue to be the one-stop pill shop of the nation.

Here’s how a monitoring program will work: The program will flag any patient who attempts to fill prescriptions from three prescribers in three pharmacies in a six-month period.

Tim Mitchell, owner of Mitchell’s Pharmacies in Neosho, said the program is worth starting despite the possibility of losing customers to counties that don’t have monitoring programs. He said starting a program would be taking the necessary step to prevent an impending opioid epidemic in Southwest Missouri.

Mitchell’s concerns are well-founded. As of now, Vernon County is the closest county in Southwest Missouri joining the coalition. Certainly Jasper, McDonald, Barton, Barry and Lawrence counties should consider taking this important step.

Kudos to the local leaders of Newton County for holding the meeting and being open to making needed changes in our state.

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St. Joseph News-Press, June 27

Gun locks protect lives without limiting gun rights or gun ownership.

We support the St. Joseph Police Department and its steps — now spanning several years — to make gun locks available for free to anyone needing them. The department gives these away as part of its efforts to promote gun safety. Just stop in at the police station lobby Downtown.

The work is clearly warranted in light of gunshot deaths and injuries reported sporadically throughout our region and from data published in a new, comprehensive study published in the journal Pediatrics.

Overall, the study finds nearly 1,300 children in the United States die each year in shootings. In addition, nearly 5,800 children survive gunshot wounds of various types, including those from rifles, shotguns and handguns.

The problem is not as simple as keeping guns away from children who are so young as not to know better. Just 6 percent of the deaths are the result of an unintentional shooting.

There are others — both children and adults — who in the heat of the moment will reach for a gun belonging to someone else when they want to settle an argument. Still others have well-formed criminal intent and know exactly what they are doing in seeking out a gun. All together, more than half of gun deaths of children are homicides.

Another category of note is young people who take their own lives by suicide, which accounts for 38 percent of the deaths.

If you are thinking of whether these examples apply to your situation, consider:

— Boys account for 82 percent of all child gun deaths and 84 percent of all non-fatal gun injuries.

— Black children are 10 times more likely to die by a gunshot than non-Hispanic whites and Asian-American children.

— Suicides of young people involving handguns, rifles and shotguns are more prevalent in rural areas. The availability of a gun is thought to be linked to the actions that an impulsive teenager takes in a moment of personal crisis.

Responsible gun owners understand their obligation to promote gun safety. Keeping a gun lock on every gun is one effective way to do this.

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