The widely unpopular Opus student housing development in Downtown Columbia has ruffled myriad feathers for myriad reasons. The City bureaucracy headed by City Manager Mike Matthes and his assistant Tony St. Romaine first claimed that Downtown infrastructure could not handle one more toilet. They used this infrastructure emergency in an effort to justify a hurried TIF corporate welfare plan. Once the TIF plan was defeated, the City then flip-flopped and approved hundreds of new toilets in the form of both large student housing projects and upscale urban flats for the well-paid young professional. Despite the shenanigans on the part of city leaders and bureaucrats, experts agree that Downtown electric and sewer infrastructure is already maxed out.
Opponents of Downtown development are especially rankled at the notion of student housing. They claim that the University will fail to fill the beds in years to come and the buildings will become a ghetto, despite the fact that they are located within two blocks of the Mizzou campus and only six or seven blocks from the other two campuses. They argue that these developments fly in the face of local central planning schemes laid out in the past. They argue that citizens simply don’t want student housing in Downtown Columbia. They argue that the tall buildings will be unsightly. They argue that there was not enough public input during the approval process. They argue that downtown will be overrun with students and lose its wider appeal.
While any or all of their complaints may be true, there stands one other complaint against downtown development that seems to hold water — pun intended. The fact is our city’s sewer and stormwater infrastructure is already overburdened. It seems that real damages have resulted from the City’s failure to follow precedent and provide these basic services. At least this is the only argument that might pass muster for someone who believes in the sanctity of Natural Rights and the Common Law. Remember, liability for damage one does to an adjacent property is nothing new and was a feature of the Common Law in the United Kingdom and the early United States.
Several homeowners in the First Ward with homes in the Flat Branch Watershed have found themselves on the receiving end of some rather nasty consequences of overdevelopment. When it rains more than an inch, lawns and gardens are washed away by stormwater overflows that rush like rivers across private property. Many homeowners enjoy basements flooded by both stormwater and raw sewage. Homeowners have even reported cleaning toilet paper from their basement floors after a hard rain. Property values must suffer.
It is time for First Ward homeowners whose private property has been harmed by the City’s mismanagement of funds and failure to provide adequate infrastructure to band together and file a lawsuit naming the City and its leaders as defendants liable for damages. Perhaps Josh Oxenhandler, a local attorney who has represented those opposed to student housing, would take the case for free or on a contingency. Considering the wider harm caused by sewage overflow into the local watershed, perhaps a wider cross section of local citizens might have standing as plaintiffs.
One thing is for sure, citizens pleading with the City to do something reasonable does not work. Petitioners standing in line to sign names on a sheet of paper is futile. The only remedy is a lawsuit.
When Opus threatened a lawsuit, the City snapped into compliance with the Opus agreement. Perhaps they were simply using the lawsuit as an excuse to do what they had planned all along. It will be interesting to see if the City responds in the same way to a multi-million dollar lawsuit filed by citizens.
Keep Columbia Free recently received correspondence from Ryan Ferguson’s family which included a very thorough dossier regarding Ryan being banned from visiting Columbia’s Hickman High School campus. Ryan had been scheduled for an interview with journalism students in November of 2013, but the visit was nixed by the administration.
Keep Columbia Free broke the story back in November and the news of the ban unleashed a firestorm of displeasure from supporters of freedom and liberty across the country.
Since receiving the packet, Keep Columbia Free has learned that Journalism teacher, Mrs. Pettlon-Acopolis, who by all accounts was doing a fantastic and passionate job, has been reassigned and is no longer teaching Journalism.
The entire dossier is included below. It can also be accessed by clicking HERE
If you have followed the happenings at City Hall you are surely familiar with the student housing vs. downtown infrastructure fight that is taking place.
In a nutshell, some big, out-of-town developers sought approval to build some large apartment buildings geared toward students in Downtown Columbia. Initially our City Manager, Mike Matthes, declared that the existing sewer and electrical infrastructure was at maximum capacity and without the corporate welfare of TIF, development would stop. He told us there was no “Plan B.” The TIF plan was rejected and magically, only days later, Matthes announced “Plan B” and a couple of large developments were whisked quickly through the approval process with little chance for public input.
Enter Jeremy Root and the Repeal 6214 group who claimed that the City had failed to follow due process, rushing the projects to approval without the opportunity for the public input required by the City Charter and precedent. They also claimed that the private student housing developments will be poorly built and would soon turn into Section 8 slums. Root and company drew up a petition seeking to overturn the ordinance that approved the new buildings and quickly gathered more than enough legitimate signatures.
Fearing that their development would be stopped by the proponents of central planning, Opus, the group behind one of the large developments, began boisterous saber-rattling with threats of a multi-million dollar lawsuit aimed at the City. Coupled with the fact that Repeal 6214, the group charging that the City failed to follow the letter of the law during the approval process, themselves failed to include the full ordinance in their petition as required by the City Charter , we’ve got ourselves a real mess.
If we can accept the notion that it’s the City’s job to build basic infrastructure, which seems to be the model we are working with in Columbia, then the City should do just that. Leave the rest alone. If the idiots who run our city are put in charge of regulating the real estate market, nothing good can come of it. It’s the City’s fault that basements are flooding, not the developers. If the City bureaucrats and elected officials choose to do the bidding of developers — blame the City.
Mayor Bob McDavid
When it comes to childish comments, Mayor McDavid’s statement to the media regarding the Opus threat of litigation really takes the cake. In response to the threat, Mcdavid said:
Really, Bob? You’re throwing a temper tantrum? You’re really threatening to cut public safety dollars if the city is sued by a developer? Your failed leadership is really to blame for this mess and now you’re trying to steer the ship of public opinion with this childish threat? Really?
How about we take money from your silly FastCat pet project? How about we stop funding the renovation of the Blind Boone home? How about we stop building giant parking garages that would be empty except that the City leases spots to its own departments? How about we not pay for the CID’s silly Gateway project? How about we not buy homeless shelters? How about we prioritize the way this City spends tax dollars by fully funding basic sewer and electric infrastructure and our police and fire departments before we fund anything else?
B116-14 Authorizing a right of use permit with BMT of Columbia, LLC for installation, construction, improvement, operation, use, keeping, maintenance, repair and replacement of approximately 350 lineal feet of two-inch PVC sewer force main to extend in portions of an alley right-of-way located north of Broadway, between Tenth Street and Short Street; authorizing a right of use permit with BMT of Columbia, LLC for construction, improvement, operation and maintenance of private storm sewers in portions of the Tenth Street and East Broadway (1007 E. Broadway) rights-of-way. [Intro & 1st Read/Skala Memo]
At first glance, it looks like basic infrastructure — the type of drudgery that is usually ignored by most of the public, especially late in what is sure to be another marathon council meeting. But further investigation — ahem — reading the supporting documentation — ahem — reveals that Mr. Skala is proactively pushing for a new downtown, 5-story, mixed-use building that will house 36 beds and no additional parking. Residents will use the city-built and city-funded Short Street Garage.
Wait, our City Manager Mike Matthes told us that without a TIF for infrastructure, Downtown development would stop.
The interesting piece here is that Skala voted against each of these proposed downtown developments, despite the fact that both of them met current zoning ordinance requirements. Skala seems to have since changed course and is now spearheading support for a separate 5-story development proposal which is apparently more to his tastes.
Mr. Skala, a self-described statist, is obviously throwing a proverbial bone to a “local” developer, but why? He’ll probably claim that he is merely supporting the “type” of development that citizens want. He’ll likely claim that existing infrastructure, infrastructure that we’ve been told is hopelessly maxed out, can handle a new 5-story building.
The reality is that this bone is likely a meaty bone of political expedience. Skala is giving a nod to a local developer, attempting to allow BMT to cut in line ahead of 2000 legal beds that came down the pipe of public permission first. Perhaps this move will help fund Skala’s reelection campaign. At least it will allow him to claim to be pro-development when he is labeled as the opposite due to his voting against other projects.
Keep Columbia Free believes that, in a perfect world, the government would not tinker with the free market. Unfortunately, the world we live in is not perfect and the market is not a free one. What is clear is that in the world we’ve inherited locally the best thing for the council to do is simply level the playing field and let the chips fall where they may. If we need infrastructure, build it instead of spending our money on projects like parking garages, historic homes of unknown musicians, and useless “safety” cameras. It is unacceptable for a councilman to handpick which private developer will profit and which will not, regardless of how that choice might affect his reelection chances.
For those who are unfamiliar with asset forfeiture, I’ll try and explain it in a proverbial nutshell. Before I do that, it is important to thank the policy analysts at Americans for Forfeiture Reform for their work on this subject. Without them, I doubt many people would be talking about the evils of asset forfeiture. For those who would like to learn more, AFR has a very informative website.
In a nutshell, as promised, asset forfeiture is the means by which the government circumvents the 4th, 5th, and 10th Amendments to the United States Constitution to steal property from its citizens as it makes unreasonable seizures without due process and overrides the Missouri Constitution. If property is suspected to have been used in the commission of a crime or gained as the proceeds of illegal activity, that property can be seized by the government. More on that later.
There are two problems with asset forfeiture. First is the problem of where the money goes. Second is the problem of how the money is taken.
All interest accruing from investment of the county school fund, the clear proceeds of all penalties, forfeitures and fines collected hereafter for any breach of the penal laws of the state, the net proceeds from the sale of estrays, and all other moneys coming into said funds shall be distributed annually to the schools of the several counties according to law.
So, according to the Missouri Constitution, moneys confiscated via asset forfeiture is to be sent to the schools. With this being the case, how are law enforcement agencies in Missouri able to pay themselves from these funds?
The answer is a federal loophole known as equitable sharing. Equitable sharing basically works like this. When local law enforcement finds some good stuff while investigating a crime, they take it and process the forfeiture through the federal government. Most law enforcement agencies have federally deputized officers who can process the forfeiture. Sometimes it’s merely a matter of paperwork. When this happens, the feds take a small cut of the proceeds and give the rest back to the participating law enforcement agencies. This allows for an end-run around the Missouri State Constitution. The money is effectively laundered through the Department of Justice.
Initiated in 1986, the Equitable Sharing Program was designed to foster cooperation between state and federal law enforcement agencies in the war on drugs. Few states had forfeiture laws at the time and state and local agencies that participated could receive a portion of the income generated from federal forfeitures. Since then all 50 states have passed either civil or criminal forfeiture laws and now the equitable sharing program serves not only to foster cooperation, but as a way for state and local law enforcement agencies to circumvent their own state forfeiture statutes.
Once local law enforcement hands a case over to the feds, state law ceases to apply. This means that police departments in California, North Carolina, and Nebraska do not have to convict a person before taking their property. Agencies in Hawaii stand to receive as much as three times the amount of money from a forfeiture processed in federal court than they would if done through their own court system. State mandates to avoid policing for profit, such as in Missouri where forfeiture proceeds are supposed to be deposited in a fund for education, are bypassed as well.
Instead of going to schools, the money is funneled back to local police, either as grants or as cold, hard cash. As Columbia’s Police Chief Ken Burton described it, it’s like “pennies from heaven.”
I’d argue that these funds are really pennies from hell, usually stolen from citizens, but we’ll get to that later.
Not only are the forfeiture funds not going to our school children, the equitable sharing process sets up a system of policing for profit which further degrades our local political system that should be answerable to the people. Funding is one way the people of a community possess to maintain local sovereignty and control or support of local law enforcement. When law enforcement uses equitable sharing of forfeiture dollars to self-fund, the community loses one check and balance and the police have a perverse incentive to prosecute profitable crimes or wait to act until certain crimes become profitable.
Case in point: Columbia’s infamous Kinloch Ct. S.W.A.T. raid. One of the main problems with this raid was that the police supposedly had reliable intelligence from a confidential informant who stated that there was a large amount of cannabis at a residence. The police waited 8 days after the warrant was issued to kick in the door with guns-a-blazin’, shooting two dogs in front of a small child only to find a small amount of cannabis and no cash.
So why the delay? While it was explained away as a staffing problem, the real reason was likely the hope of finding piles of cash. If the police know there is a big pile of drugs at a dealer’s house and they send S.W.A.T. in immediately, all they find is the drugs. If they wait a week, hopefully the drug dealer has sold enough of his product to amass a big pile of cash — cash that can be used to buy cool new Department of Homeland Security toys and tools like the Lenco Bearcat.
There’s just no money in rape and murder these days.
We’ve established that there is a problem with where the money goes. It’s not going to our school children as directed by our state constitution and it establishes a means of self-funding for law enforcement, circumventing local control and creating perverse enforcement incentives. Now let’s tale a look at how the money is taken in the first place.
To keep things simple, let’s divide asset forfeiture into two categories — criminal asset forfeiture and civil asset forfeiture.
Criminal asset forfeiture is when property is seized by and forfeited to the government when the owner of such property is convicted of a crime. There are some reasonable arguments that can be made in support of this system. When a person is convicted of a crime, forfeiting property can be part of the punishment. Of course we’ve discussed the problem with self-funding above, but when we look at it as punishment, regardless of where the money goes, it seems to make sense. When a profitable criminal gets out of jail, they should not be able to go home to a mansion purchased with the proceeds of his/her criminal activity.
Civil asset forfeiture is the real problem. In a civil asset forfeiture proceeding, a citizen does not need to be convicted of a crime to have their property taken by the government. In fact, the accused doesn’t even need to be tried and acquitted. All that really needs to happen is an arrest, justified or not, and the government seizes property.
Since the forfeiture is made in civil court, the old “innocent until proven guilty” protection that we all learned in 6th grade does not apply. Cases are literally made against the property and read like, “United States of America v. United States currency in the amount of $638,202.00 et al.” To get their property back, property owners must hire a lawyer to argue for the innocence of their property, which is assumed in civil court to be guilty. Sound absurd? Well, it is absurd.
The case listed in the preceding paragraph as to do with property taken from a local Columbia business owner during a raid executed by the Boone County Sheriffs Department. Kevin Bay, co-owner of a local business, BoCoMo Bay, was suspected of a crime. Once arrested, the charges against Mr. Bay were quickly dropped, but not before several million dollars worth of cash, precious metals, collectible coins, and collectible firearms were seized and made subject to civil asset forfeiture.
That’s right. Mr. Bay was arrested, never officially charged with a crime, yet faces a lengthy federal court battle to have his rightful and legal property returned to him. This is theft, plain and simple.
While it might be worth it, although a hard stone to chew, for Mr. Bay to spend tens of thousands of dollars to get his millions returned, if he is successful, imagine a case where only $10,000 worth of property is seized. Why would a victim if civil asset forfeiture spend $20,000 in legal fees fighting for the return of $10,000. In these cases, the only choice is to forfeit the money.
This happens all the time. Click here to see a raid where a grandmother’s $5000 dollars was seized because someone in her house had a crack rock and pipe in his pocket. That money is gone, no matter what.
At last week’s Columbia City Council meeting, the council approved the use of $36,505 of asset forfeiture funds to purchase an APC for the CPD. Here is the council discussion regarding the purchase during which Michael Trapp leads the charge for accountability in the use of the vehicle. Asset forfeiture gets a mention during the discussion, but comes up later, in a meaningful way.
During the public comment portion before the vote, Keep Columbia Free’s Treasurer Elect addresses the council.
Keep Columbia Free President Mark Flakne also addressed the council.
And it looks like someone on the council heard us. At the end of the meeting, Councilperson Laura Nauser asked for a staff report on the use of asset forfeiture dollars in the City of Columbia. She expressed an interest in starting a public discussion centered around asset forfeiture to see if it is something that our community wants to use as a source for funding police.
We have also heard from another councilperson, who shall remain nameless for the time being, who said that he is open to the idea of championing asset forfeiture reform in Columbia, especially with the passage of the 911 tax which will allow for the return of funds to the city that can be used to replace forfeiture funds.
Please help educate your friends and family about civil asset forfeiture. Sadly, the majority of folks in Columbia and across the country simply have no idea what asset forfeiture is. Thanks to Americans for Forfeiture Reform and other groups like the Institute for Justice, people are waking up to this practice and overwhelmingly finding themselves to be repulsed by it.
Now is the time to call your councilperson and let him/her know in no uncertain terms that it is time to end the use of asset forfeiture to fund our local police. We should fully fund our police department through traditional means. Using asset forfeiture as a funding mechanism, while technically legal, is a morally abhorrent practice. We should all be demanding local sovereignty, government accountability, and local control of our law enforcement.
A couple of local politicos have entered the fray on the 911 tax.
Republican Committeeman Bill Samuels sent an email far and wide listing all of the reasons why one should vote “no” on the tax.
From Bills email…
CONSIDER BEFORE VOTING:
1.We have all heard that we need another local tax increase of more than $8 million a year with no expiration date. The most common talking point for those who want a higher tax rate even on milk for the children, according to their own website, is better 911 service for both city and county. they say that for the entire county there is only one person on 911 answering duty at all times. Considering how many people the city and county employ all together, why not just just reassign few to answer the phone ?2. They claim that theY must have plenty of $ because they expect that new communications technology which may develop in the future will be more expensive. How do they know that ? The massive changes in communications which we’ve seen for decades have been making phone calls CHEAPER, not more costly.3. Every tax measure should have an expiration date so it will be subject to automatic voter review. We should always voter against any tax measure which has no sunset provision.
4. You can only raise any kind of tax so high before it reaches a point of diminishing returns. There is already at least anecdotal evidence of people shopping, especially for big ticket items, outside the city and county to save $ on sales taxes.
5.Like ANY general sales tax which applies even to groceries, it would fall hardest on the middle class and the working poor. Yes, richer people can eat more expensive foods more frequently, but this has obvious limits: nobody eats lobster three times everyday, or if anone ever did he probably developed a horrible food allergy.
6. They claims it’s only a small tax increase : less than 1 cent on the dollar. they always say this . they nickle and dime people to
7. When in doubt, a good citizen always votes “No”, especially when it will cost more than $8 million every year with no end in sight. If this really is needed we can vote on it again later, probably in a better form.
THERE ARE MANY OTHER GOOD ARGUMENTS FOR VOTING AGAINST THIS TAX INCREASE. FEEL FREE TO ADD YOUR OWN AND FORWARD THIS TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW WHO VOTES IN BOONE COUNTY.
First up, County Prop 1, the 911 sales tax. The issue here is simple: 911 services for Columbia-Boone County Joint Communications (C-BCJC) is painfully understaffed and their technology is out-of-date. The proposed bill would raise funds by adding a 0.375% sales tax on all goods sold in Boone Co. According to the ballot language, the tax aims “to fund 911 and emergency management services upgrades, including a new facility, new equipment and more emergency personnel.”
While everyone can agree that 911 services are a vital part of modern government and most also agree that Boone County’s 911 services could definitely use an upgrade (for the record, I had to use our 911 services last week and got right through with no wait time whatsoever), many are leery of the way in which this upgrade is being sought. For starters, there are concerns that the tax will be indefinite, since there is no sunset provision in the proposed tax. This means that after the money has been raised and the new upgrades have been paid for, the tax would remain in place. This would then become a slush fund for any county official that could come up with a plausible way to spend the money. And I think we all know that governments are all too eager to come up with different ways to spend our money for our supposed benefit.
Of course, Keep Columbia Free urges you to vote “NO” on this tax increase. Send the government back to the drawing board and demand that they return with a more reasonable plan.
Yesterday I received a mysterious, anonymous letter from an employee of Columbia-Boone County Joint Communications. In the letter the author claims that there are more problems with Joint Communications than money can fix, not even a $20,000,000 lump sum and $9,300,000 every year after, until the end of time.
This is not the first time I’ve heard claims from city employees that whistle-blowers face retribution from city staff and it’s not the first time I’ve heard this from employees of Joint Communication and 911 Emergency Management.
The author cites the need for, “an internal investigation of funds and also of personnel,” due to employees abusing sick leave and sleeping while on duty — insinuating that the meager funds allocated to the department are being mishandled.
Before voters approve an egregious tax increase, or any tax increase at all for 911/Joint Comm, it looks to me like the departments need to be cleaned up. If we can’t trust the leaders of Joint Communications to work efficiently and ethically with their current jalopy budget, how can we trust them once they are on the Proposition 1 Cadillac Plan?
I realize that an anonymous letter might seem a bit “fishy” to some folks, but I assure you that I don’t have the time to manufacture such a ruse. My lovely wife, who is far less outspoken than me, retrieved the mail and watched me open it late last night after I returned home from the KCF/MoCLA candidate forum. Of course, I could have mailed a letter to myself, but did not. Although exhausted from a long day that found me eating dinner at 10PM, I was up late, tickled by the thought of receiving an anonymous letter dripping with bureaucratic political intrigue.