The recent push by the City, Regional Economic Development Inc. (REDI), and Downtown Community Improvement District (CID) to label 60% of our fair city “blighted“in order to offer tax abatement to select businesses has more than a few Columbia citizens ready to fight. A new, loosely knit, coalition of local groups and individuals has emerged, calling itself Citizens Involved and Invested In Columbia (CIVIC). Keep Columbia Free is a proud to be part of this new coalition.
Columbians from all points of the political spectrum are represented among the ranks of CIVIC. From the far left to the far right, Libertarians, Democrats, Republicans, white people, black people, environmentalists, neighborhood leaders, community leaders, anarchists, tea partiers, landlords, developers, real estate agents, teachers, preachers, attorneys, and the list goes on, have taken issue with the EEZ plan. The broad base of CIVIC lends credence to its mission.
The EEZ, Enhanced Enterprise Zone, in a nutshell works like this. An EEZ board is appointed (not elected) by the City Council. Wide swaths of the city are then declared blighted under a loosely worded state statute. Once blighted, specific businesses are awarded property tax abatement and tax credits for expanding in the zone. The unelected EEZ board can override any regulation or zoning requirement that impedes commerce. It’s market-distorting, crony capitalism at its worst.
Among the concerns of CIVIC regarding EEZ and blight are the following:
- Blight designations can harm property values.
- Tax abatement schemes erode the tax base.
- When one business is given a special tax break, other businesses and individuals must make up the difference.
- Tax abatement schemes have been proven not to work and are only a means for a few connected businesspersons to pocket public funds.
- Blight designations open the door for eminent domain abuse for private gain.
- Columbia is not blighted. Portraying Columbia as such is fraud.
One of the more alarming aspects of the local situation is how effectively the well funded proponents of the plan have launched their propaganda juggernaut, spewing half-truths and outright lies. Preying on the ignorance and short attention span of the general public is par for the course in today’s political climate. A shiny website and a pretty face are all you need to gain public support in this country.
Leading the charge for the EEZ is ‘Beata of Blight’ Carrie Gartner, hired gun of the CID. Carrie, a noted central planning addict, has blogged extensively on the subject, spoken publicly, and has even recently turned her personal Facebook page into a clearinghouse for public EEZ discussions.
From her Facebook page:
I’ve turned over my personal facebook page to this issue to ensure that people know what’s going on. Photos of my family have gone by the wayside!
Wait a minute Carrie. Which people? You started this open and public discussion only after banning anyone who might offer resistance to your arguments and plans. That’s not ensuring “that people know what’s going on.” That’s ensuring that people hear only one subjective side of the issue.
The half-truths and outright lies Carrie presents on her Facebook page and on her personal “Central City” blog are somewhat overwhelming and ultimately frightening. Does she believe this stuff or is it all simply a nefarious means to an end?
For instance, she claims that 118 other communities in Missouri have EEZ‘s. Almost true, but not quite. There are 118 EEZ’s in Missouri, but some larger municipalities are home to several zones, making the total number of EEZ cities far less than 118. But who’s counting? It’s propaganda after all.
Most alarming is Ms. Gartner’s attempt to marginalize those among us, including myself, who fear the possibility of eminent domain abuse stemming from a blanket blight designation. The argument against such fear has changed several times during the discussion, but has never been truthful.
Carrie is not alone in her propaganda crusade on the subject. Even Mayor Bob McDavid laughed off my concern when I challenged his assertion that eminent domain had never been and would never be used to take private property for private gain in Columbia. He made the statement during an appearance on the Gary Nolan Show a few weeks ago. His quip must have seemed to Columbia’s Black community like a slap in the face from the gloved hand of a white slave master, as he conveniently forgot how in the 1950’s and 60’s, The Sharp End, a thriving black business community and several residential neighborhoods, was condemned an bulldozed to make way for public housing, our post office, and several private businesses including the Columbia Daily Tribune. Yes, Mr. Mayor, eminent domain has been abused for private gain in Columbia.
Nolan went on to ask the mayor if he would amend the EEZ ordinance to include verbiage stating that the blight designation would not be used for eminent domain. The Mayor snickered at the idea. If there is no plan to use the EEZ blight designation for eminent domain takings, why not amend the ordinance?
Many real estate speculators have surmised that 20 or 30 years down the road, the now predominantly black neighborhoods adjacent to Downtown will become prime real estate. It has long been the case that the lion’s share of the funds allotted for 1st Ward infrastructure are absorbed by Downtown while the low-income 1st Ward neighborhoods are left with dilapidated sewers and crumbling sidewalks. Is this area being allowed to dip into true blight so to be ripe for the taking? That’s what happened to the Sharp End. Basic public infrastructure like sewers and paved streets were denied the area leaving it unsightly and unclean.
It happened before. Will it happen again? Former Councilwoman Almeta Crayton thinks so as evidenced by this statement made to journalist and blogger Mike Martin.
That’s the whole point. Let the neighborhood blight out, then take it. They did it before, and they’ll do it again. –Almeta Crayton
Repeatedly, when EEZ proponents are challenged with the fact that blight designations open the Pandora’s Box of eminent domain abuse they respond that the EEZ plan will not be used to abuse eminent domain. It’s as if they didn’t hear the question. Of course the EEZ has little to do with eminent domain. It’s the overarching blight designation that leads to eminent domain abuse. Here is an example of the ol’ switcheroo from Carrie Gartner’s blog on the subject.
Does an EEZ lead to eminent domain?
No. An EEZ and eminent domain are not connected. In fact, the city can condemn property right now for public use. An EEZ will make that neither more nor less likely.
Also, Missouri passed a law a while back in response to Kelo v. City of New London that prohibits condemnation for solely economic development purposes (ie, the shopping mall in Kelo) and also requires a parcel by parcel designation of blight rather than an area designation of blight for any condemnation.
I agree with the first part, “an EEZ will make that neither more nor less likely.” But Carrie, it’s that derned blight designation that is required for the EEZ that will open the door for eminent domain.
Wait. What’s that you say in the second paragraph? Missouri passed a law to protect us from eminent domain abuse? Wow, I feel better. Wait. No I don’t. Let’s examine it a bit closer.
Missouri passed a law that says eminent domain condemnation cannot be used for “solely economic development purposes.” Guess what. Since Kelo, all eminent domain abuses, attempted or successful, have contained small public purpose alongside a large private purpose.
If your neighborhood is declared “blighted” by the appointed EEZ board and the city figures that a new shopping mall would bring in more revenue and create more jobs than you and your neighbor’s residential property, all they have to do is park a fire station on one corner of the block and they are within the law. Even without the fire station, the city can fall back on the notion that cleaning up “blight” is a “public purpose.”
According to Bruce Hillis of Missouri Citizens for Property Rights:
House Bill 1944 was a joke. The use of Eminent Domain is never “solely” for economic development – it always includes the “public purpose” of cleaning up blight.
This tactic used here by Ms. Gartner reminds me of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, a classic tactic of the politically astute. Ms. Gartner and her cohorts have used it with great skill during their pro-blight campaign. The truth is right there in front of everyone, yet they confidently tell us it means something completely different. (Thanks to Mike Hagan for turning me on to theories of NLP.)
Support for the the EEZ is also coming from local school board member and mate to Ms. Gartner, Jonathan Sessions. Jon posted a heartfelt endorsement of the EEZ plan on his blog. It all seems so strange. Two devout establishment Democrats, Gartner and Sessions, are now aligning themselves with the business community and embracing the trickle-down economics of crony capitalism. It’s statism run amok.
Perhaps we can guess at the motives of Jonathan Sessions. Sessions is on the School Board and REDI endorsed the school tax levy. Dave Griggs, Chair if REDI and flooring provider for IBM, also landed a lucrative flooring contract with the Columbia Public Schools. Is Sessions caught up in the good ol’ boy, backdoor back patting that has plagued this community for decades? Heck, REDI board member and local entrepreneur Brent Beshore financed all of the marketing for the last J-Sesh election campaign. I was at the party when he made the pledge. Is anyone surprised that Sessions is in bed with REDI?
And how about old Hank Waters? He’s never been a stranger to eminent domain abuse, in fact, he supports it. He’s come out in favor of the EEZ. Why? Well, his wife, Vicky Russel, Publisher of the Columbia Daily Tribune is Vice Chair of REDI.
It’s time that the public step up and speak out. We’ve all been kept in the dark on this issue and they’ve only turned the lights on at the last minute. Call your City Council Representative today! Come to the next City Council meeting.