Saturday, February 09, 2008

Here’s The Story About Koch Road Controversy

By Jacob Bittle

There is seldom a signal reason behind the decisions elected officials make. First there is the publicized reason which is invented to create the perception an elected officials wishes to plant in the citizen’s mind. Then there is the real reason which is usually based upon political connections, favoritism, payback and the garnering of controlled power.

St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann recently appointed former County Councilman Bob Schnur as the county’s Finance Director. Why?
There are many qualified people in St. Charles County capable of performing the finance officer’s duties.
Mr. Schnurs trustworthiness and reliable responsibility for maintenance of a system which allows him to process all Accounts Payable of St. Charles County including accepting request for payment of goods or services, approving such request if they are within the guidelines of the department’s budget and issuing of payment must be questioned. One Mr. Schnur’s former duties as a St. Charles County councilman per the County Charter, Article 2, Section 2.520 was to “Take and hold property in trust and provide for the administration thereof.”
Property held in trust would include St. Charles County roads. Mr. Schnur failed to uphold his duty to protect the citizen’s property. Mr. Schnur’s political and financial supporters in the development industry received a gift from Mr. Schnur in the form of an illegally vacated road which of course financially benefited his supporters.
Here’s the story;
On May 13, 2006 residents who used (old) Koch Road, a county road in O’Fallon, woke up to find the road destroyed. Without warning and without any legal authority a builder and developer began tearing out the road beginning on a Friday evening. Those responsible for protecting the residents, St. Charles County and O’Fallon, were willing co-conspirators. Here is how it happened:
June of 2003-OFallon approves an area plan for a new subdivision called Hyland Green. The subdivision includes (old) Koch Road and the area plan shows (old) Koch as being vacated with houses where the road once ran. The plan required that (old) Koch be vacated before work began but since (old) Koch was a county road O’Fallon had no authority to vacate the road.

May 27, 2005-A group of 12 residents filed a petition in St. Charles County asking that (old) Koch Road be vacated.

May of 2005-A letter was issued by O’Fallon informing the builder that building permits would not be issued until (old) Koch was vacated.

June 13 ,2005-38 residents filed a protest against the vacation of (old) Koch Road. This is known as a remonstrance and required a hearing before the County Council.

June 20, 2005-Under the direction of O’Fallon Mayor Donna Morrow, Todd Criswell, the head of Community Development, sent a letter to Steve Groeper (Hyland Green/Foresight Development, Schnur contributor) and David Jones of McBride & Sons (the builder) informing them that the city would not issue building permits on 21 lots until (old) Koch Road was officially vacated by the County.
September 20, 2005-St. Charles County sent a letter to Foresight Development informing Foresight that it could not disturb (old) Koch Road because the vacation was still pending. It should also be noted any work on (old) Koch would be a violation of the area plan and a criminal act under Missouri law which makes it a crime to obstruct a public road.

November 21, 2005-Mayor Morrow received a fax of the proposed ordinance of St. Charles County which would vacate (old) Koch Road once two conditions were met. The most important of these was that New Koch Road be completed, inspected, approved and accepted by O’Fallon. Once this was done the County would then file a certified copy of the ordinance with the Recorder of Deeds, officially vacating Koch Road. The acceptance of New Koch was for maintenance in that the county did not want to tear up an existing road without a publicly maintained road to replace it. Remember though that this was still only a proposed ordinance.

January 19, 2006-The hearing is held before the St. Charles Council on the request to vacate (old) Koch. The law requires that the road cannot be vacated unless it is “useless”. The evidence submitted by the developer proved conclusively that (old) Koch is not useless. Prior to New Koch being built 1100 vehicles a day used (old) Koch and after New Koch was opened 850 vehicles a day used (old) Koch. These traffic counts were from the developer’s own expert.
On January 23, 2006, Mr. Schnur contacted one of his political supporters, who just happened to be invested in the Hyland Green development (Jeff and Janice Kolb of Dave Kolb Grading), via e-mail with the following statement.
Dear Jeff and Janice, the evidentiary meeting was concluded about 10:30 that evening and will not be continued. Each side has until February 20 to submit their findings and conclusions, so I expect the Council to vote on this at our February meeting. Based on the evidence presented I support the road vacation.
If I can be of further assistance, please let me know.
Bob Schnur, District 3

Note that by Schnur’s on admission all the findings and conclusions had not been submitted but he already made his decision and contacted his political support.
Schnur was also presided over this hearing.
March 27, 2006-The County Council votes to pass bill # 2715 which provides that (old) Koch Road will be vacated once certain conditions are met (again, that New Koch Road be completed, inspected, approved and accepted by O’Fallon was one of the conditions) at which time a certified copy of the ordinance was to be filed with the Recorder of Deeds. In fairness it should be noted that District 4 county councilman Joe Brazil voted against the roads vacation.
April 17, 2006-The parties opposed to the potential vacation of (old) Koch Road filed an appeal to the Circuit Court of St. Charles County challenging the County’s decision.
May 12, 2006-On a Friday night work began to illegally remove (old) Koch Road. The work was continued the next day (a Saturday) so that (old) Koch Road was no longer available for public travel. Residents who called St. Charles County about the destruction of the road were told the work was being done for utility easements and that this was only temporary. According to O’Fallon officials the road was destroyed by Foresight and McBride. Remember this happened while the issue was yet undecided in the circuit court.
April 4, 2007-Judge Lucy Rauch issues an initial order that the County’s decision to vacate Koch Road was in violation of the law.
June 18, 2007- Judge Lucy Rauch issued her final Judgment which set aside the County Ordinance vacating (old) Koch Rd. Judge Rauch also found that (old) Koch Rd was destroyed before it was vacated.
If Mr. Schnur is not capable of protecting the citizen’s property he held in trust as a councilman how can Mr. Schnur be relied upon to protect the citizen’s financial interest as St. Charles County’s Finance Director.