Koster ‘pays back’ mentor Nixon with whitewash of E.coli scandal
The scandal involved the Nixon Administration’s Department of Natural Resources’ month-long delay in releasing the results of the May monthly water quality tests taken at Lake of the Ozarks until after Memorial Day weekend, so that tourists (mostly from Missouri) wouldn’t avoid going to the Lake on that high-usage holiday weekend. As a result, thousands of people were exposed to unsafe levels of coliform bacteria (E.coli) in the lake.
The Department finally released the results on June 26, along with the test results for June.
The issue was brought to a head by a complaint filed by Ken Midkiff of Columbia, director of the Sierra Club Clean Water Campaign, that claimed that the DNR had denied environmentalist Donna Swall’s request for the water quality data. Koster whitewashed it. While admitting that DNR officials clearly understood that a number of people and organizations wanted this information made public and did make requests that the information be released in an expedited fashion, Koster let the administration off on the technicality that “ no one at DNR interpreted these communications as Sunshine Law requests." Well, that settles that!
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch quoted Midkiff as responding that Koster’s investigation had been conducted "in a shabby manner and in a partisan snowjob fashion. From this report, I can only surmise that the office of the attorney general is much more interested in protecting state agencies than ensuring that the laws of the state of Missouri are followed."
For his part, Nixon reacted to the scandal by promoting the responsible person out of the department. In late June, Nixon appointed Deputy Director Joe Bindbeutel to a position as an administrative law judge.
The incident clearly questions Koster’s ability to conduct his job independently of influence from or sympathy with the governor’s office. Koster pretty much owes his job to Nixon, whose donors financed Koster’s victory in the Democratic Primary shortly after he switched to the Democratic Party from the Republicans. He defeated two well-respected, progressive, long-time Democrats for the nomination, Clayton State Rep. Margaret Donnelly and House Minority Leader Jeff Harris of Columbia, in the Democratic primary. One of those campaigns (I think Harris’) dubbed Koster “The Imposter.” Koster had been a loyal supporter of the conservative programs of then-Gov. Matt Blunt (R) right up until the time of the party switch.