- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—Missouri’s General Assembly, which ended its session 75 days ago, has shown some staying power this year with its messiness.

Legislators set a high threshold for disarray when a sexting scandal dislodged the House speaker, Rep. John Diehl, in the final hours before adjournment. The case involved a college freshman from Southwest Missouri.

A subsequent story emerged about a political consultant and a police report she filed that revealed more about the frat-house culture in the state Capitol.

Then, last week, a state senator, Paul LeVota, gave up his seat after allegations of sexual harassment involving at least two college interns.

Grown-ups who forgo the lessons that should have been learned in kindergarten make the best bad examples. The whole “keep-your-hands-to-yourself” wisdom goes begging once inside the corporate limits of Jefferson City.

As the master of pre-elementary rules, Robert Fulghum, once wrote: “It doesn’t matter what you say you believe — it only matters what you do.”

The view of our capital city as a modern-day Gomorrah feels a little overdone. Most well-intentioned souls go to work there every day with the best interests of Missourians in mind.

But attitudes need an adjustment, particularly with regard to the way young women get treated by males in power. “Mad Men” has gone off the air, and we don’t need a refresher in our halls of government.

That said, scandals have an evergreen quality. As soon as you discuss the toxicity of the work environment at the Capitol, you recall something appalling from the past and anticipate an embarrassment yet come.

This one involved the state only in a peripheral way, but it has an impact on St. Joseph 143 years after the fact.

In May 1872, the County Court of Buchanan County approved a $15,000 expenditure (think $300,000, in today’s money) as an incentive for locating a lunatic asylum in St. Joseph.

Where that money actually went became a matter of question.

In December of that year, the board of commissioners overseeing the state’s decision on locating the asylum (Independence and Springfield had also been in the running) convened at the Pacific House in St. Joseph to gather the facts.

W.H. McHenry of St. Louis, the commission’s president, said he knew nothing of the county’s appropriation until he read about it in newspapers.

John L. Bittinger, a state representative from St. Joseph and said to possess a “suavity of manner,” had been appointed by the County Court as its agent to deliver the funds to the commissioners. In turn, Mr. Bittinger sought out Nathaniel C. Claiborne, a St. Louis attorney, “to take charge of the matter.”

According to the St. Joseph Daily Gazette, Mr. Bittinger told the commission his participation in the matter ended once he turned the $15,000 over to the lawyer.

For his part, Mr. Claiborne said he came before the commission not “to give an inventory of my estate nor to render any itemized account of my expenses.”

After two days of testimony, the commissioners drew no real conclusions on why $15,000 got put forward without clear instructions on what should be done with it and why no trace of it could be found.

The newspaper’s editors referred to the affair as “a looseness of proceedings wholly at variance with the gravity of the subject.”

With all that, St. Joseph got its asylum, a state entity whose more evolved descendent remains here to this day.

It would seem the $15,000, wherever it went, paid off.

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(c)2015 the St. Joseph News-Press (St. Joseph, Mo.)

Visit the St. Joseph News-Press (St. Joseph, Mo.) at www.newspressnow.com/index.html

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