The Need for Transparency

Two years ago, when I began the website, I was inspired in part by the events that were unfolding around us. Internationally, the Arab Spring had begun in Tunisia and had spread to Egypt. The driving forces behind both of these national movements were the same. Both were under authoritarian rule and in both cases, the cost of staple goods had risen and unemployment was high.

Nationally, protests over neoliberal economic policies promoted by Wisconsin’s governor had filled Madison’s state house. The aftermath of the financial meltdown of 2008 was rampant in our country. Fraudulent foreclosures were sending families out onto the streets. Wall Street and the banks that run it enjoyed huge financial windfalls, free money, given them by the Federal Reserve under the false pretense that it would ”calm the markets” and bring some ”comfort” to investors. Meanwhile, unemployment domestically was in the double digits and wages continued to drop. Food prices, gas prices were all on the climb. Wall Street and multinational corporations absorbed more and more market share as smaller businesses, in all sectors, were culled from the landscape to make room for the new Wal-Mart, the new Dierberg’s, the new DHS Fusion center or private prison. The power of corporations, and their ties to our government, were transforming our country into a corporate totalitarian state.

Locally, a manufactured crisis, created by FERC, was creating the calls for less government regulation of our Lake of the Ozark shoreline. This political version of smoke-and-mirrors was created when FERC, made up of Presidential appointees from private corporations (most of whom were appointed during the Bush administration), declared that over a thousand lake area structures would have to be removed, as they were built on ”project” land, despite private citizens’ having paid taxes on the ”project” land for years. This led to citizens rallying against ”government overreach” and chants of deregulation. Meanwhile, Ameren UE waited patiently for the sliding elevation scale to stop, as it finally did, at 662′. Litigation between Ameren UE and lake area owners is currently pending regarding Ameren’s ownership claim. The privatization of the Lake of the Ozarks shoreline is here and we are seeing that agenda unfold in our own county courthouse. Agenda 600 and Planning and Zoning in Camden County is directly at the heart of that campaign.

Since I began the blog and submitting to the Lake Sun, I have taken more than a fair share of shots at former LACC President and current Second District Camden County Commissioner Cliff Luber. I was skeptical, of his pro-corporate stances and his invocation of religion with regards to politics. My fears were that we would have someone in office who would break out a corporate stamp with one hand while raising a Bible in the other. I was afraid that we would see Washington and Jefferson City replicated at the local level. I didn’t want another Commissioner in the mold of Kris Franken, who would seek to use political office for both personal and professional gain. Our county cannot afford another elected official ready and willing to grease the wheels of the Ameren machine.

I am happy to say I was wrong about Cliff Luber.

Since taking office, he has been consistent in his fight for more transparency at the courthouse. He has been skeptical of both the practices and policies that have been on display during his short time in office. He has sought answers to important questions. He brought forth information regarding Planning and Zoning mapping that Kris Franken and Don Hathaway sought to conceal. He has encouraged the use of email accounts to make Planning and Zoning board members available to the public they serve. He has worked to bring a resolution to the situation surrounding Macks Creek Community Park. He has confirmed a stance against the creation of EEZ’s in our community and displayed a common sense approach toward bringing business to Camden County, unwilling to sell out the public he represents in order to spur private investment. He sees the challenges faced by the Sunrise Beach Fire Protection District when their slice of the tax pie is given over to subsidize private profits.

Cliff has released information to the public that identifies corruption that goes beyond our county government and city governments here at the Lake of the Ozarks. His short time in office has brought much truth to countermand Kris Franken’s perpetual spin cycle.

For example, in an article from the Lake Sun in late 2011, it was reported that Kris Franken awarded a contract for software to Timothy Otten. The software was for a payroll system and a purchasing system. According to two local newspapers, Franken received only one bid and did not locally advertise the bidding process. The contract was awarded to Timothy Otten for HCPS, the only bid considered by the Commission. The software cost the county sixty thousand dollars. It was paid for in part by Rowland Todd, County Clerk and Sheriff Dwight Franklin.

Otten was friendly with the campaigns of Franken for County Commissioner, Aaron Koeppen for Judge and Diane Franklin for State Representative during the election season of 2010. From a Facebook post on the page ‘Kris Franken for Presiding Commissioner’ dated Oct. 24, 2010, Franken brags about these relationships:

“I have put together a trivia team for the Big Brother Big Sisters trivia contest this afternoon, Sunday, October 24. It is at the Elks Lodge in Osage Beach across from J. Bruners. The team consists of myself, Aaron Koeppen (R judge candidiate), Diane Franklin (R 155th Rep Candidate), Tim Otten, and John Beckett (School Board Member). Come out and cheer us on!”

The fact that Franken skirted the rules in order to award this contract to a friend has never been in doubt. Franken, in his own words, had made the sole determination that the software was “not an ‘off the shelf’ product and normal bidding requirements were not applicable”. He went on to say: “It is a custom product that is specific to our needs in Camden County and requires ‘professional services’ to complete.”

These ‘professional services’ and software programs have not been successful. As Commissioner Luber has confirmed, the county had to terminate the contract, refusing to make the final payment of approximately $7,000. The software programs have not been implemented and have been a complete waste of tax payer resources. They have been ineffective and have been jettisoned. The county IT department is attempting to build their own database to manage accounting systems.

This was characterized as a ”refund” from HCPS, who stated that the scope of the project had changed internally and county employees had gotten involved in modifications that weren’t originally contracted. This public relations statement was endorsed by Franken, who had championed the $53,000 kickback to his friend and was not eager to discuss the scheme that put county money in his buddy’s pocket for no return. Franken instead perpetuated a cover up (at least his second while in office) and parroted a line in order to hide his unethical behavior. This act is not the exception during Kris Franken’s time in public office. It has become the rule.

Kris Franken has stalked our courthouse halls long enough to develop a profile. He has left a road map of his treachery behind while in office. The man who brandishes a firearm in our courthouse is the same man who brags about having ‘files’ on people throughout Camden county, presumably to use against them in the event they uncover his lies and bring sunshine to his dealings while in office. This is the same man who has given himself sole discretion in keeping audio of Commission meetings. He is the man who recently discussed a million dollar offer, secured through the county, to subsidize private profits for those stakeholders of the Community Bridge Corporation and various other local interests who stand to gain from a restructuring of the black tops on the west side of the bridge.

Kris Franken is a man with something to hide.

The time has come for the citizens of Camden County to create their own file. The Franken File, if you like. It is past time we start connecting the dots regarding Article 600 and Planning and Zoning. It is high time we took a good long look at those in charge of these decisions at the county level. As Ameren continues to encroach on the rights of property owners at the Lake, it is urgent that we begin to have open, honest discussions about what is being done in our names. It is time to have a few answers about who our elected officials are really working for.

Recently, on the national and international stages, the issue of government transparency is at the fore. Edward Snowden has brought public attention to the massive surveillance state we live in. His revelations have brought light to programs like PRISM and the immense scope of data mining on US citizens. Before him, Bradley Manning illuminated US war crimes in Iraq and exposed the level of collusion between our government and corporations through his release of declassified State Department cables. Before that, NSA whistleblowers Thomas Drake and William Binney informed us of the architecture of oppression being built around us. They put the data mining facility Stellar Wind and Operation Trailblazer in the public arena, despite great personal and professional risk. Barrett Brown, a journalist who was reporting on private intelligence corporations like HBGary, has been arrested by the FBI, in part for opening research into the nature and scope of the US surveillance state. Jeremy Hammonds, whose hack of Stratfor emails uncovered plots ranging from insider trading to the targeting of American protesters for corporate giants such as Coca-Cola and Dow Chemical, has spent months in jail without trial.

Cliff Luber has helped bring that transparency to our local level. As we see on the national stage, sunlight on secret policies and deals is necessary to maintain a free and open democracy. For bringing that accountability home, I owe Cliff a debt of gratitude. For my assumptions about him, I owe an apology. What we have in common is more important than that which divides us. Those principles of honor, trustworthiness and morality must be preserved in government. Truth is not subjective. Without it, we are at the mercy of people like Franken and Obama, who would seek to drive their agendas forward in secrecy and silence.


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