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WET SUMMER | Official says flooding is worst he’s ever seen
Missouri roads still dealing with flood damage

Flooding in Missouri is still causing issues for travelers and residents due to continued road closures.

Since the flooding started in mid-March, the Missouri Department of Transportation and Buchanan County Emergency Management have had difficulties opening up roads and making damage assessments because the flooding continues to happen.

Recently, the flooding has started to go down and more roads have started to open, but because there was a second round of flooding in May, many of the roads are back under water.

Adam Watson, an area engineer for Missouri Department of Transportation, thinks this is some of the worst flooding he’s seen. He said areas that don’t usually see flooding are flooded.

“We started to assess damage and what needed to be done and then May flooding started and what was under water in March is back under water now and then some,” Watson said.

Missouri also will be getting help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the costs and damage repair of the non-federal routes.

Bill Brinton, Buchanan County Emergency Management Director, said they are redoing the initial FEMA reports because of the second flooding.

“In the first event there was such a small amount of people affected that it didn’t meet FEMA criteria,” Brinton said. “The second flood the same people were impacted and the numbers increased, which met criteria.”

MoDOT is working to repair and open the bigger roads first like highway U.S. Highway 59 and Interstate 29, but most of the damage is in Iowa where the water is still very high and traffic can’t go through.

It’s taken longer to do repairs because some of the roads and bridges that need repairs are still submerged in water.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done and we are getting to it as fast as possible, but we are addressing urgent safety concerns first,” Watson said.

All of the road closures can be found on the MoDOT website under the traveler information map that is updated on a regular basis.


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Corrections officers may see 3-13% salary increase

Missouri corrections officers may soon be seeing a small bump in their paycheck thanks to a new state operating budget.

On June 10, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed the state’s new operating budget during a ceremony at the Jefferson City Correctional Center. This budget included a 3 percent increase for state workers, as well as an additional and ongoing 1 percent increase for every two years of service, up to 20 years.

According to the Missouri Department of Corrections, this salary increase created the biggest pay increase for corrections workers in the department’s history.

“I could not be more excited about this plan or more grateful for the support of House and Senate leadership, the governor and the governor’s staff,” said Missouri Department of Corrections Director Anne Precythe. “Gov. Parson has demonstrated that he is committed to building the state’s workforce and that he values corrections staff, who are some of the hardest-working and most dedicated people in state government. Every day they put their own safety on the line to protect our communities.”

While corrections officers gathered around Parson in support as he signed the budget, there are some that say the pay increase is long overdue and may not solve all the issues that the department is facing. Gary Gross with Missouri Corrections Officers Association said understaffing will be an issue the department will continue to face, despite the small pay increase.

“It will definitely be a positive; we want our people to get raises,” Gross said. “Unfortunately, the state is so far behind on the pay scale as far as nation-wide, that this will help, but it’s coming at a time that the institutions are extremely understaffed. And is it enough money to draw people in to work there? No, I’m not sure it is.”

Currently, Missouri corrections officers have a starting salary of $31,288, compared to the national average of $43,550 according to the U.S. Labor Bureau Statistics. The Missouri Department of Corrections said in a press release that this pay rate contributes to the vacancy rate in the state, which peaked in September of 2018 with 848 open positions.

Karen Pojmann, Communications Director of the Missouri Department of Corrections, said that the consolidation of Western Missouri Correction Center and Crossroads Correctional Center will help reduce the number of unfilled positions.

"It’s very important to note that the consolidation of the prisons in Cameron will reduce the number of open positions by about 370 by the end of summer," Pojmann said. "The prison population has dropped quite a lot over the past two years, which enables us to consolidate the two prisons and transfer staff to understaffed facilities without any layoffs. That will significantly improve staffing levels in the western part of the state and will reduce strain on current staff while also improving safety. We will still a lot of openings, and we will still need more staff, but this is an enormous step in the right direction."

“This understaffing issue is going to be years before it gets resolved,” Gross said, stating that he believes there to be over 1,000 empty corrections positions. “It’s gotten to that level. People come in expecting to work a 40-hour week, then they find out after they’re in the institution that they’re going to be expected to work a 60 or 70 hour week. A big portion of them are not going to stay.”

The Missouri Department of Corrections hopes to fill some of those positions by offering a higher salary that ranges between 3 percent and 13 percent, but Tim Cutt with the Missouri Corrections Officers Association said he believes these numbers are deceptive.

“That pay raise is based on your induction pay, which means if you started 20 years ago, you would have been making a little over $20,000,” Cutt said. “It’s more money than they’ve gotten in the past few years, and we’re happy to see them have it. But they need to be a little more honest about what it is.”

According to Pojmann, the raise is based on the current induction rate.

"Someone who started 20 years ago as a COI and is still a COI will get a raise equal to 13% of $31,288 (not $20,000)," Pojmann said. "Someone who started 20 years ago as a COI and now has a different job in the department will get a raise equal to 13% of their current job class induction rate."

The funding for this increase comes in part from the consolidation of Crossroads Correctional Center with Western Missouri Correctional Center, a move that saved the department $21 million per year.

“This decision is largely driven by our dedication to finding efficiencies wherever we can in state government,” Parson said during his State of the State Address in January. “This can be done while ensuring safety, improving security and delivering a much-needed pay raise.”

Gross said he believes the decision to consolidate the two prisons helped with staffing issues, but he has concerns that security measures are not being properly followed.

“We’re under the impression that there’s maybe some things going on and some inmates moved around the state to other institutions,” Gross said. “Inmates going from Crossroads to Western, that they’re security levels are just being lowered and lessened just so they’re qualified to make that move, and our fear is that it may create potential problems at Western.”

Pojmann said that she does not believe that there will be a security issue as more security is being implemented at Western Missouri Correction Center.

"To accommodate this change, we are implementing enhanced security measures at WMCC, including: taller interior fences with additional razor wire, an additional observation tower, additional perimeter patrol vehicles, increased fence checks and improved locks. Construction of an additional, electrified layer of fencing also is underway."

Once the transfers occur, WMCC will be fully staffed, which is the best security measure of all.

Both Gross and Cutt said they are glad to see an increase for workers, but still believe the department of corrections has a way to go before corrections workers in Missouri are equal with those across the country.

“It’s not as good as a job as it used to be. They have not increased the pay enough to offset the loss of benefits.”

The pay increase will go into effect in January of 2020.


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Split vote
Council approves budget, two members dissent

In a split vote, the St. Joseph City Council approved the budget for next fiscal year at their meeting Monday night.

The $178,298,978 budget passed 7-2, with council members Gary Roach and P.J. Kovac voting against it.

Roach said this is only the second time in his 13 years as a council member that he has voted against a budget.

He said his biggest concern was that City Manager Bruce Woody said he would not be filling seven open positions in order to balance the budget, including five from the streets division.

“We had openings at City Yards that we were working on getting filled,” Roach said. “I think down the road, if we don’t stop it, people are going to be calling and complaining (about things) whether it be alley repair or whatever else might come down the road.”

He said one reason for the balancing issues was a City Council decision to approve raises for police officers and firefighters about a year ago.

“Back last year, the city manager did stress about the big raises that we were giving out to the police and fire (departments), that could come back and catch up to us, and it is starting to slowly catch up to us,” Roach said. “Let’s hope it doesn’t, but it sure looks like it’s going to keep going up.”

The general fund is the largest fund budgeted for next year at $60,536,365. The second largest is the Water Protection enterprise fund, which includes wastewater infrastructure and collects sewer user fees, at $52,331,850.

Public Safety was budgeted at just under $7 million and Streets Maintenance just over $4 million.

The council has a work session scheduled Wednesday to discuss sewer rates, which have not been set for next year.

The council had directed city staff to not raise rates next year, but Roach said he believes that would hurt the city’s standing with State Revolving Fund rates and could lead to higher rates down the road.

The fiscal year begins on July 1.


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Witness describes scene of officer shooting

An inmate who allegedly shot and critically wounded a Trenton, Missouri, police officer was detained by a group of citizens, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol and an eyewitness.

Officer Jasmine Diab was transporting inmate Jamey A. Griffin to St. Joseph for a mental evaluation at Mosaic Life Care on Friday afternoon when a struggle over the officer’s gun ensued on U.S. Highway 69 near Winston, Missouri. Griffin shot Diab in the abdomen during the struggle and suffered a gunshot wound to the hand.

According to Sgt. Jake Angle of the Highway Patrol, Griffin was sitting in the front passenger seat and was wearing chains during the transport.

Diab was critically injured by the gunshot. Her condition has since been upgraded to stable after surgeries on Friday and Sunday.

The Highway Patrol has not released more details as the investigation into the incident continues, but eyewitness Michelle Weller shared what she saw during the immediate aftermath of the shooting with News-Press NOW.

“We just happened to be passing through the area and noticed that traffic was stopped,” Weller said. “There were men out of their vehicles, kind of frantic, shouting, ‘Stay back, stay back.’ Then one of the gentlemen approached our vehicle and said there’s a police officer who’s been shot and being held in her car at gunpoint.”

Weller then saw the police car move slowly and erratically to a nearby gas station. Weller and other passengers followed until the police cruiser came to a stop.

“One of the men that was with me jumped out, immediately ran up to help,” she said. “Another gentleman ahead of him was heading toward the police vehicle. And the third gentleman came from the other side of the road. And that gentleman luckily was armed.”

Weller said at that point, the men made eye contact and approached the vehicle.

“They one by one went up to the back of the police car and surrounded it, figured out where the suspect was, pulled the door open, held the gun to him to get him to stop and then pulled him out of the vehicle and kind of dog piled him. And then a fourth gentleman ran up and helped hold him down,” Weller said.

The men were able to detain Griffin until law enforcement arrived and took control of the suspect while other bystanders informed people who had stopped to stay back.

“A lot of people just stop and stare, pull their phones out, take video, take pictures and just watch what’s happening. And these men were just so brave to just jump in. And that really wowed me,” Weller said.

No shots were fired while the men detained Griffin, but Weller thinks the armed civilian played a critical role in subduing Griffin.

“Who knows how the situation would have gone if he hadn’t been armed. Because once that suspect saw he had a gun pointed at him, he froze and they were able to grab him,” Weller said. “There are a lot of people who think guns just hurt people, but it can save lives even without having to be discharged.”

Once Griffin was detained, Weller’s thoughts immediately went to Diab.

“The man that was with me that was helping her came back and told me that she wasn’t doing good,” Weller said. “But she was alert and talking and he told me that she told him she had a daughter at home. I just instantly started crying. That just broke my heart.”

Weller shared what she saw in a Facebook post, which has been shared almost 3,000 times since Saturday. She said her only goal was to let others know about the men’s bravery.

“I thought people need to hear this because it gives you a renewed faith in humanity. There are still good people in the world, there are still people who will jump in any situation to help their fellow man,” she said.