Tuesday night, the Southwest Camden County Fire Protection District board discussed the Macks Creek Community Park in a joint meeting with the park board and interested citizens. The meeting, orignally scheduled by the park board to discuss the “Save Our Park” event on May 18, was amended to include discussion about a proposal for the park’s future. This proposal was concocted by 2nd District Commissioner Cliff Luber and Macks Creek resident Paul Sheppard.
The meeting began with a prayer, then Jimmy Hubbard gave an update on the “Save Our Park” event. The event, scheduled for Saturday, May 18, will feature live music throughout the day. Jimmy also updated the group on donations received for the event, including hot dogs from Sav-A-Lot and items for a raffle. Musical acts and speakers have been lined up for the entire day, including the Blue Society. Mr. Hubbard also gave information regarding event insurance. According to Mr. Hubbard’s research, for less than $165, $3 million dollars of coverage can be purchased for a twenty-four hour event. This insurance is similar to coverage purchased for concerts, etc. The disputed ownership of the park has no bearing on the issuance of event coverage.
During Mr. Hubbard’s presentation, it became obvious that both Sheppard and Luber were impatient to move on to other business. Luber’s constant grunts and pointed throat clearings culminated with Paul Sheppard interrupting Jimmy, asking if he would hurry it along as they had a lot more to cover. Luber and Sheppard were anxious to unveil their backroom deal.
After Jimmy concluded, Luber stepped into the center of the gazebo to hand deliver a Guido-esque offer the citizens of Macks Creek couldn’t refuse. The offer Luber made at Tuesday’s meeting was one that had already been sent to park board members and community activists via email Thursday evening.
The SWFPD, according to a proposal spearheaded by 2nd District Commissioner Cliff Luber and Macks Creek resident Paul Sheppard, would assume ownership of the park, if the citizens of the Macks Creek community agree to raise funds to pay off debts incurred under the former city’s government. The email reads like an offer from ‘The Godfather’. The details of this offer were skirted at Tuesday night’s meeting and that, according to many residents, is where the devil lies.
Luber began his presentation by stating that the county assumes no ownership of the park. He cited familiar arguments regarding the county’s position for not wanting to be associated with the park long term. He reinforced inaccurate and inflated fears that other cities in the county, like Climax Springs, might also dissolve and want the county to assume responsibility for their parks.
Then, Luber stated that he was positive there was ”plenty of private money” available through fund raising, to clear the former city’s debt. He inferred that the monies raised through efforts of people like Jimmy Hubbard, Melody Hartman, Stacey Randalls and Kristina Price would be able to pay off the odious debt easily. Luber stated repeatedly that he was ”not worried about the debts”. That is an easy position to take when you aren’t the one paying for them.
Luber also said on Tuesday that he was ”tired of government” always being at the center of solutions. He emphasized community as the answer to the park issue. His assertion that the people pick up the tab for poor government decisions brings to mind a word well-known in Luber’s political circles: Socialism. Socializing the debt of a former corrupt government to a community, while holding their park hostage, bears all the hallmarks of what is most despized in politics. It is bully behavior.
While Luber’s presentation at the meeting on Tuesday fell short of thoroughly discussing the details of his proposal surrounding the old city debt, the email he sent Thursday fills in some blanks. In it, Luber introduces his extortion offer with his full endorsement. He also seeks to minimize conversation outside of the framework of his proposed solution.
” I would strongly suggest we work together to move this forward by reducing the current liabilities and hoping the SWFPD will assume the park, and not rehash things we both know are outlined in this letter. ”
Then, like a good telemarketer, Luber assumed the sale, installing Paul Sheppard as overseer of the Park’s power of attorney, with the endorsement of County Attorney and Macks Creek Trustee Charlie McElyea:
” I spoke with Charlie today and he has agreed to allow Paul Sheppard to be the Power of Attorney and work to eliminate the liabilities regarding the IRS and Division of Employment Security. Paul will be obtaining that authority tomorrow. ”
What Luber is offering the people of Macks Creek is an extortion demand. If you want your park, you have to pay off the odious debts incurred by the former city government. That is the county’s demand for releasing authority of the park. It would seek to then transfer oversight of the property to the Southwest Fire Protection District and its board.
In a clever one-two from the County Commission, we are painted two different pictures regarding debts owed by the former city of Macks Creek. Prior to Luber’s extortion email, Presiding Commissioner Kris Franken gave an interview to the Lake Sun regarding the Macks Creek Community Park. One of the issues raised by Franken was the liabilities of the former city’s debt. In that article, he said:
” The total of the outstanding bills for the City of Macks Creek is $18,629.15, with $875.36 owed to the state of Missouri, and $718.48 to the federal government. While the argument may be able to be made saying that the park is not currently in a position be sold, that does not mean that it is not a viable asset in the eyes of Macks Creek’s creditors, and would probably be a losing argument for the county in a court of law, leaving Camden County on the hook for the $18,629.15. The park can only be sold if the stipulation from the grant is somehow removed, Franken said.
There was no attempt to explain or itemize the figure Franken put forth as the former city’s debt. While Franken specifically identified the amounts owed to government agencies, this accounted for less than ten percent of the $18,000 debt. He does not offer any other bills to substantiate his claim. This public overinflation of debt would seek to use public opinion against the people of Macks Creek.
Luber however, in his Chicago-style shakedown letter, identified a different amount of debt owed by the former city. He plays the role of ”good cop” in this classic con game. From his email letter to the park board and community activists:
” The total outstanding liabilities are 4,439.15. I think these liabilities can greatly be reduced, but possibly the Park Board and others be prepared to raise any monies needed to pay off the final amount owed. Once the debt is satisfied, Charlie is agreeable to conveying the park property to the SWFPD. ”
Luber goes on to say:
” I know paying off the city’s debts are unappetizing. However; if it brings a positive resolution by the community being able to move forward with their park, and will allow the property to be conveyed, I believe it should strongly be considered. ”
According to sources close to the situation, a significant portion of the debt claimed by Franken are attorney fees owed to Charlie McElyea. McElyea, who accrued the fees in his role as Trustee of the former city of Macks Creek, are in the range of $11,000 and $13,000. McElyea has offered to write these fees off and work to reduce the amount outstanding further. A lawsuit involving the city is the source of one such outstanding debt. An AT&T bill, another. When the topic of former city debt was mentioned on Tuesday night, former mayor Joel Stoner, in attendance, sat on the sidelines in silence.
Luber continued, “I believe the options are extremely limited and would appreciate your support to move my suggestion forward in regards to paying off the liabilities and asking the SWFPD to assume ownership of the park.”
“I have asked Paul Sheppard to request an Emergency Board Meeting with the SWFPD to discuss this matter.”
Paul Sheppard sits on both the Macks Creek Community Park Board as well as the board of the Southwest Fire Protection District. A longtime resident of Macks Creek, Sheppard seemed to allude to this backroom deal in the last park board meeting. As reported by American Spring, Sheppard said, in regards to who owned the park: ” The community of Macks Creek and southwest Camden County. ” At the time he made this comment, Mr. Sheppard gestured to the fire protection district map hanging on the wall. He also said, more than once, that he expected a resolution to the park situation in a couple of weeks.
The resolution negotiated by Mr. Sheppard, Commissioner Luber, County Attorney McElyea and Commissioner Franken however, has met resistance with both members of the park board and the community. Holding the park hostage against debts incurred by a dysfunctional city government, one they voted to dissolve, has been taken by some as an insult.
Leslie Chamberlin, president of the Macks Creek Community Park board: ” During the city dissolution, I had formed a meeting asking for the assistance of the Camden County Commission on July 28, 2012 to help the citizens understand how the dissolution would affect them as citizens of Macks Creek city after the city dissolved. The city debt was a major topic. Commissioner Kris Franken indicated to his constituents that the debt could not be passed to the citizens and that a trustee would handle what was in the best interest of the city and its people to determine what debt could be paid, if any. It was said that the County would not have to take on that debt. The dissolution of the city was compared to a person dying. I understood it that if the park had grant restrictions on it, it could not be sold to pay the debt. At this point, those restrictions are the only thing saving the park. I also believe that Commissioner Franken is using Commissioner Luber to do his dirty work. It was interesting that Commissioner Luber showed up to the meeting, yet Commissioner Franken did not. ”
Ms. Chamberlin was not consulted in any talks or agreements regarding paying off old city debt. She opposes any attempt to use the park as leverage to force the community to raise money to pay off these odious debts.
“I understand that our group does not legally own the park. Second District Commissioner Cliff Luber contacted me last Friday. I was under the impression discussions had already occurred between Paul, The Commission, and trustee for the City of Macks Creek. I was told I was stupid for not considering this option of fundraising to pay back the debt. I explained that I worked long and hard for the dissolution of the city and had given my word that I had researched the fact that the debt could not fall onto the citizens. Why should we have to pay for the mistakes of those whom we were left to fight with little assistance from Camden County to help us as a people of that county? I paid for the election out of my pocket to help Camden County stop the bleeding. If the City continued on its path, the amount of debt would have been much worse. Financially, I have provided enough and so have others in the Macks Creek community. The people paid for the park originally, not the City. The City was brought in to be an owner. History is repeating itself. The County is asking a small group of people to take on a debt they didn’t incur and were fighting to stop from happening. It’s just not fair when Commissioner Franken said that if the City was dissolved, the debt would not affect any one individual and then turn around and send Commissioner Luber in with a guilt trip trying to get us to pay the City’s neglected bills. That is Bait and Switch in my mind, and I cannot be a part of those tactics. I will not be bullied into a decision. I do not appreciate being told that if I was charitable, I would take this solution. I have been more than charitable in helping the Macks Creek area get through this growing pain trying to undo its shady past. Another individual should never judge another person’s charitable heart.”
Macks Creek resident Nicki Roam spoke about the attempt to hold the park ransom.
” The city, when it existed, didnt pay the IRS or unemployment. They bought third rate, antique road graders. They blew money trying to get them to run. When they did run I dont think the operators knew what they were doing half the time. Our roads were graded once every few months (at best.) The phone bills were never paid. The people of Macks Creek are tired of being bullied and being told one thing then having to do another. We were told in a meeting right before we dissolved by Comissioner Franken that we would not be responsible for any city debt. I heard it and so did many others.
He did say the future of the park was uncertain but he would have to sift thru assets and figure that out. But now we are being told if we want it there is a possibility we will have to pay off old debts….many of them we fought hard against even having to incur. ”
The extortion attempt highlights the relationship between Paul Sheppard and Cliff Luber. Sheppard, a proponent of the implementation of EEZ’s in Camden County, has maintained close ties to Luber. Mr. Sheppard was a supporter of Luber’s in the 2012 election for county commission. Soon after the election, Luber announced his support for EEZ’s and began courting gun manufacturer Beretta to relocate to Camden County. Presumably, the subject of EEZ’s and the tax abatements associated with them were part of these conversations with the Maryland-based company. In recent weeks, as public resistance has continued to mount against EEZ’s, Luber has attempted to distance himself from the subject.
Luber has yet to commit publicly on his stance regarding EEZ’s, despite fierce opposition to such zones among his base supporters, the Lake Area Conservative Club. The LACC has been on the front lines in the fight for private property ownership rights and many of their group see EEZ’s as a threat to private property values across Camden County.
Repeatedly and publicly, American Spring has sought to ask Commissioner Luber about EEZ’s, in order to provide clarification of his views on this important subject. To date, there has been no reply from the commissioner.
Last Friday, on KRMS’ Morning Magazine, Luber talked about both the pro’s and the con’s surrounding EEZ’s. He fell far short of taking a stance on the issue however, using what has become a familiar mantra. Luber said that he is still waiting for information regarding the effects of blight on property values. He has said that he has requested the information from government sources and has yet to receive it. This, he indicates, is why he has not chosen a position. It appears to be a convenient excuse.
Luber has been advised by one real estate expert of 18 years experience that the blight designation does, in fact, have a negative effect on property values. Research, conducted by the group Luber helped found, the Lake Area Conservative Club, points to EEZ’s having a few positive effects on economic growth in an area. The tax benefits provided to business who would take advantage of an EEZ have been found to actually cost taxpayers money without providing the projected boost to the communities supporting them.
This continued refrain of ignorance from Luber is wearing thin with his constituents. He has repeated his excuse since the subject of EEZ’s were officially entered into the county record. His claims of waiting for information while his constituents see a black and white issue, has already cost him the trust of long term supporters and called into question his political motivations and ambitions.
The offer Luber delivered to the citizens of Macks Creek, encouraging them to raise money to pay off past debts in exchange for the park appears to be a hollow one. In addition to attempting to extort money from the citizens of the Macks Creek community, the ‘solution’ proposed by Luber would turn the park land would transfer control of the park, in part, to Paul Sheppard. Sheppard sits on the unelected board of the Southwest Fire Protection District. The fire district would assume control over the park in this proposal. This leads some to question the long term ramifications for the park and its nearly ten acres just off of Highway 54.
While the park is protected from outright sale, the property can be sold if a location of equal value can be found in the area to serve as a public park for the community. This is a protection written into the grant accepted on behalf of the park in the 1990’s. As the park sits in an area considered to be flood plain, its value on the real estate market is depressed. Any replacement public use site would almost certainly pale by comparison to the picturesque bottoms of Macks Creek Community Park. Nor is this the only concern. As the shadow of EEZ’s creeps across the landscape to include most of southwest Camden County and the community of Macks Creek, the park and its acreage take a different cast.
The part of the park nearest Highway 54 would be unsuited for development. Regularly, these bottoms become boggy and result in the property’s designation as flood plain. The upper part of the park which has been developed into a recreation area complete with swings, a gazebo and other playground equipment, is more suited to building and industrial development. The park, and the lands that abut it, would seem to be an ideal location for businesses seeking to take advantage of an EEZ. The proximity to the highway and open expanse of the bottoms in which the park sits may make it an attractive site for a business looking to take advantage of considerable tax breaks available through EEZ’s. Placing the park in the hands of those who support EEZ’s may mean the park’s days are numbered.
What is certain, is that community resistance to the extortion demand issued by Cliff Luber will not be tolerated. As park board president Leslie Chamberlin learned, Cliff Luber knows all about the ‘Chicago-style’ politics he campaigned against in ’12.
When she talked with Luber after receiving the demand, he launched into an attack. He began berating her on the telephone and called Ms. Chamberlin ”stupid” when she raised objections to paying off old city debt.
“He said I was stupid for not considering this option. All I told him was that I personally would not be a part of a fundraising effort. I never said anything more. He was upset that he worked so hard for the past week. Possibly if he had consulted me prior to that hard work, he would have known my stance. He chose to speak with Jerry Palmer and Paul Sheppard. Neither of those men are my representative, so their opinion was not how the President of Macks Creek Community park felt about the subject. I feel my job as the president is to look out for the best interest of the group. The group’s mission is to look out for the best interest of the park. I feel as if my park is being held hostage to pay back bills that have nothing to do with it. It sickened me that former Mayor Joel Stoner and his mother were at that meeting last night smirking when the debt was brought up. Those two were the directly the reason the city was in the bind it was.”
Luber appears to have taken a page from the bully handbook employed by Kris Franken. It is clear that the one-time tea party leader in the lake area has decided to abandon the very foundation of the group by pushing the residents of Macks Creek to pay debt incurred by a corrputed government. His inexcusable behavior toward a tax-paying citizen of this county speaks volumes to both his lack of integrity and character. It also speaks directly to the art of the backroom deal. Luber’s rank insistence that the people accept this hollow offer of resolution has created more uncertainty among the community and further muddied the murky future of the park.
His ‘solution’ would have the people of the community raise money to pay off debt for a corrupted city government to receive resolution to the issue of the park. Once this is completed, he would then see the park handed over to an EEZ-friendly board. This has created anger among those who live in Macks Creek, particularly in light of a recent decision made at the school to defer an appointment to an EEZ board to Camdenton’s Tim Hatfield. This board seat will rotate between the school districts. Josh Phillips, new to position of superintendant at Macks Creek, elected to focus on the district without the additional responsibilities of serving on the board. As a result, Hatfield would serve the first term on any EEZ board.
The community of Macks Creek and the park have become ground zero for a number of common lake area issues. EEZ implementation lies at the heart of that. Macks Creek increasingly appears to be positioning toward the acceptance of blight designation for the benefit of business. The groundwork for this move has been quietly laid in the background and in back rooms in Camden County.
“Now that I know what Franken’s plans are for EEZs I feel like he would have told us anything to get us to dissolve because it works out better for him And I feel like he knew the park was a huge deal to a lot of us, so he kind of just played dumb and said he didnt know,” said Nicki Roam.
The community of Macks Creek is beginning to stir in opposition to this scheme. They are beginning to see the truth for themselves. They are beginning to take matters into their own hands.
Jerry Palmer, in attendance Tuesday, presented information from the DNR. It is the position of DNR that the county does indeed own the park. County Attorney and Macks Creek Trustee Charlie McElyea does not share this opinion. According to the DNR, the county could face possible legal action for not maintaing the park for the community, per grant responsibilities. Such a legal action, brought on by county inaction and ineptitude, could potentially cost the taxpayers thousands of dollars.
Von Young, attending the meeting in his capacity as a board member for the Southwest Fire Protection District, questioned what the real difference would be between the county maintaining sponsorship for the park and the fire district being sponsors. To that, Luber could only shrug. Soon after, in ‘hit-and-run’ fashion, Luber bolted from the pavillion.
The ”Save Our Park” event has been planned by volunteers for May 18. This event will feature live music and seeks to raise awareness about the plight of the park. Planning for this event began before the extortion offer to pay city debts was proposed. At this time, it is unclear if any fund raising would be used in the way demanded by Luber. This community event was conceptualized as a way to bring attention to the status of the park and the need for a positive resolution. The show, as it is said, must go on. Organizer Melody Hartman:
” The event is essentially to raise awareness to the people of the community about the situation surrounding the park. I am hoping that it can also serve as a testiment to the county, DNR, and the local fire department about how many people utilize the park on a daily basis. There will be local musicians, free hot dogs, poltuck sides and desserts, and family activities. We will also be raffling off several items that were donated by local businesses who wanted to show their support.”
Melody went on to talk about other efforts underway in support of the community park.
“Originally we were going to gather signatures on a petition, as well as gather pledges from community members who would help to maintain and improve the park, and video testimony about how often the park is used and what it means to the people.”
The Macks Creek Community Park, and the issues tied to it, have become common ground for a growing number of Lake citizens. Those who stand in protection of our constitutional right to speech and those who stand for the rights of private property owners at the Lake of the Ozarks have rallied around the cause of the park. It is a snapshot of our community at large and the dangers posed by reckless proposals and intentionally ineffective government.
The park’s plight is far from over and time will tell how its fate is decided. One thing is certain, it bears paying close attention to. Macks Creek and its park is at the center of a political perfect storm.
As Paul Sheppard said on Facebook, after striking his backroom deal, the community should ” put past behind us and move forward maybe lessons have been learned don’t give up that the easy way out some people are like the kinds in grade school who play marbles and don’t like when they lose so the pickup their marbles and go home. ”
Instead of paying off old debt and putting the past behind them, perhaps the community of Macks Creek would remember this saying:
“Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.”