Category Archives: News

Homeowners Should Sue The City Of Columbia for Damages

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.

During heavy rainfall sewers also overflow manholes and wastewater escapes into the Flat Branch Watershed and eventually into the surrounding ecosystem, spreading poison far and wide. Water, we must remember, is a transient resource. When water is poisoned at point A, the poison eventually travels to point B. In almost every case, one simply cannot poison one’s own groundwater without poisoning one’s neighbor’s groundwater. When sewage overflows into the Flat Branch Watershed, everyone in the area is a victim.

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.

 

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Ryan Ferguson Camp Sunshines CPS Documents

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.

The packet we received included a timeline of events and supporting documentation that seemed to suggest that the official story parrotted by the CPS administration was less than truthful. At least that’s the compelling conclusion reached by the Ferguson camp.

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

Was Hickman HS correct in their decision to ban Ryan Ferguson?

Those derned automated responses at 3AM!

typos

 

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Mayor McDavid Throws a Tantrum

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

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:

“There is the cost of litigation, and it’s really, really going to irritate me if we’re hiring attorneys to manage the expense of this lawsuit instead of police officers and firefighters”

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?

 

 

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Picking Winners and Losers: Karl Skala and Downtown Development

Buried deep in the Columbia City Council agenda for the upcoming April 21st meeting is an interesting item added to the agenda at the request of 3rd Ward Councilman Karl Skala.

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.

skala1

Karl Skala

Wait, our City Manager Mike Matthes told us that without a TIF for infrastructure, Downtown development would stop.

Without a TIF, downtown development stops. “Plan B is no development downtown,” he [Matthes] said.

As we all know, this was untrue because only days after the TIF plan was rejected, the City approved two student housing projects totalling over 600 beds and tabled another 700-bed project. This, of course, prompted an initiative petition to repeal the ordinance from the folks at Repeal 6214, but that’s another story that most readers are familiar with already.

Mike Matthes

Mike Matthes

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.

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Save Rock Quarry Rd.

Rock Quarry Rd. may be the last remaining scenic drive in Columbia. Most everyone in the area is familiar with the old road that winds through the grand wooded hills and valleys south of the University. What most do not know is that our local government is hatching a plan to change all of that — supposedly in the name of safety.

The flags are out and trees are marked for removal. Concerned citizens contacted Public Works to see what was afoot and were told by Director John Glasscock that the road is going to be widened. This comes after a 2011 report that stated no change to the road was warranted.

The accident rate on Rock Quarry — determined through a complex formula — is 37 percent higher than the state average; however, according to the report, redesigning the road for safety would not be considered prudent until the accident rate exceeds twice the state average.

Rock Quarry Rd. is narrow and curvy to be sure. Couple that with an uptick in traffic from ill-conceived, behemoth student housing projects at the road’s south end and the rate of traffic accidents starts to climb. Sure, there are better-lit, wider, and straighter thoroughfares to choose from, but for the late-night run from downtown for those headed south, the dark relatively un-policed road is inviting.

The Columbia Police Department has requested a new study for updated accident statistics, apparently concerned about driver safety. Linked here is story from 2011, when the discussion about Rock Quarry Rd. was taking root.

The report indicated the leading causes of accidents on the road were speeding, inattention and drunken driving, accounting for 55, 25 and 23 accidents, respectively.

But is the road really the problem? Are we tax payers really responsible for the poor driving skills and lack of good judgement on the part of drivers who venture down the old road during the wee hours? If the safety of ill-equipped and sometime impaired drivers is really our concern shouldn’t we bulldoze, flatten, and pave everything?

Roughly half of the accidents resulted from vehicles hitting fixed objects such as ditches or trees.

And do people really need to be walking and cycling on Rock Quarry Road? Who are these people?!?!

Commission members also expressed concern that the road lacks accommodations for pedestrians and cyclists.

This all seems like a silly waste of money that may drive down the property value for those who own homes along the quaint and scenic path. Implementation of this plan would be a waste of scarce resources at a time when the City is complaining about a lack of funds for updating long-ignored infrastructure in the central city.

Should we allow our government to butcher the last remaining scenic drive in our city simply because developers built student housing on a road that could not support the traffic?

I say we save everyone the headache, heartache, and money and simply post a large and well-lit sign at each end of the road bearing the message, “SCENIC ROADWAY: NARROW ROAD WITH DANGEROUS CURVES AHEAD. DRIVE WITH CAUTION.” Then we can sit back and let nature take its course.

Let us at least brainstorm for some less invasive means to make the road safer while preserving the scenic and real value of existing properties. The government answer is always to use a sledge hammer when a small finishing hammer will get the job done with more finesse and less mess.

Please contact your City Council representative and tell him/her to leave Rock Quarry Road alone.

 

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Chief Burton

Since the story broke regarding the Dresner/Haden illicit affair, some have made the argument that Dresner and Haden are the only ones at fault. While it is true that both Dresner and Haden are to blame for their extramarital coworker coitus, it is important to take a look at how the situation was handled by Chief Burton.

One important fact that is often left out of the discussion is that Haden was married to a cop. Not only was she married to a cop, she was married to a cop who was serving under the leadership of her lover, Deputy Chief Tom Dresner. So Dresner was sleeping with a subordinate and the wife of a subordinate. Not only did Dresner oversee the promotion of his lover, he was literally sending the husband of his lover into situations where he was literally asked to put his life on the line. Anyone with a modicum of intelligence can see the problem with this situation.

Since Haden and her husband did not share a last name, I’m going to let his identity remain a secret for those who do not already know. The guy has been humiliated enough by his former wife and his chief.  If you must satisfy your curiosity, it’s a matter of public record. Look it up.

Imagine how Haden’s cop husband must feel. His boss, Deputy Chief Tom Dresner, is sleeping with his wife right under the nose of Chief Burton and when Burton is forced to take action by Dresner’s wife, all he does is ask Dresner to resign. I guess we don’t have to look to far to know who sent the anonymous press release regarding Burton’s handling of the affair. And let’s not forget that a copy of Haden’s resignation letter was also sent to the media anonymously. Suffice it to say that there are those among the ranks of the CPD who want Burton gone.

What this boils down to is that there is at least one – and more likely several – Columbia police officer(s) who have lost faith in Chief Burton. If he refuses to punish his right hand man, Dresner, for sleeping with your wife, does he really have your back on the street?

As the Tribune story points out, Burton is no stranger to controversy. While in Texas, he was embroiled in some unsavory investigations into his actions and the actions of his department.

During Columbia’s vetting of candidates for chief that eventually settled on Burton, concerned citizen Tracy Greever-Rice, did her homework on the candidates and found a great deal of information on Burton. She points out that we may be seeing a pattern now that was ignored during the search. Greever-Rice told KCF:

Ken definitely has a charismatic personality. He interviews well, and people tend to like him personally (including me). However, he has a pretty solid pattern of having things work out the way they seem to be headed here. With just a little research, we could have avoided what will likely prove to be an expensive mistake of having to run a new search for a police chief in the relatively near future.

I certainly agree with her assessment of Chief Burton’s personality. He seems like the kind of guy you’d want to set down and have a beer with. Heck, it almost pains me to critique his work until I remember that he is a public official in charge of a public police department paid with public funds. Public scrutiny goes with the territory.

Here is an excerpt from Tracy Greever-Rice’s email to a member of the selection committee:

In the links below are info regarding three firings and a demotion made by Burton. Two fired officers were reinstated and the demotion was reversed (which could certainly in & of itself be interpreted as reason to question his judgment). Conversely, two other officers, both of which shot and killed dogs – one of whom shot at yet another dog but instead hit a person, was twice caught beating people up, and also caught driving drunk –  were disciplined for these incidents but not fired. I think this is worthwhile information for Columbians to consider: Do these decisions by Burton reflect our community’s values?

So let’s take a look at some of the information Tracy Greever-Rice uncovered early in 2009 and shared with the selection committee.

Some of what she found has now been archived and is only available for a fee. If you are interested in taking a look at these archived sources, visit the Star-Telegram archive and search for “Police Chief Ken Burton”. You’ll be able to read the first few paragraphs of each story without paying.

Here are some of the stories that are still available for free…

The Tribune article mentions an incident regarding the purchase of a motorcycle while Burton was chief in Haltom City in Tarrant County, Texas. From what I can tell, the story goes like this. Burton wrote a letter to Harley Davidson on behalf of one of his officer buddies assuring Harley Davidson that a soon to be purchased motorcycle would be used for police business. This helped save the officer nearly $4000 because Harley offers a special deal for law enforcement motorcycles. The motorcycle was actually intended for personal use and was never used for police work. Another officer, Eric Chambliss, blew the whistle on the fraud which triggered an investigation by the Texas Rangers. During the investigation, Burton claimed he didn’t remember signing such a letter and the letter was never produced for the Grand Jury. The Grand Jury refused to indict Burton based on lack of evidence. After the ruling, the letter signed by Burton surfaced. Burton later fired the whistle blower, Eric Chambliss, for “disrupting the workplace”, a charge unrelated to the whistle blowing. The city then overturned the firing of Chambliss and reinstated him.

Read all about it HERE and HERE

So it’s OK to steal nearly $4000 from Harley Davidson, but not OK to steal a soda?

And it appears that Burton is was no stranger to controversial firings being overturned. Read about it HERE

He also left some work in Bryan, Texas after some strange personnel decisions.

He became the unit supervisor for the department’s bicycle team in January 2002. Six months later, then-Chief Ken Burton promoted Slanker to assistant chief, passing over several veteran lieutenants.

More on Burton’s personnel decisions HERE

Greever-Rice even found precedent for Chief Burton’s acceptance of  “Puppycide” (a term coined by Radley Balko). In an incident that will seem strangely familiar to folks who have followed the Kinloch Ct. incident in Columbia, Burton’s officers in Haltom City were cleared of wrong doing after they shot an obese Jack Russell terrier after kicking in the door of a residence. The story goes on to tell of another incident under Burton’s watch where one of his officers missed the dog and shot a man in the legs. It appears that under Burton’s leadership, when it comes to dogs, the rule is shoot first and ask questions later even when the dog is an ankle-biting Jack Russell terrier.

Here are a list of links regarding Burton’s tenure in Texas.

City seeking grip on Burton gripes

Bryan officers speak out for chief

Burton given high marks in survey

A letter to the editor regarding the survey of Burton

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