Tag Archives: Bob McDavid

Beata of Blight

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. 

National policy analyst Eapen Thampy penned a well written response the Jon’s piece. Read it here.

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. 

 

 

 

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Petition in Support of Chief Burton

Read all about the issue HERE 

Click HERE to go to the online petition. 

 

 

ANYONE CAN SIGN. YOU NEED NOT BE A COLUMBIA RESIDENT.

Dear Mayor, City Council, and City Manager of Columbia, MO,

We, the undersigned, wish to express our support for Police Chief Ken Burton in his work to improve the Columbia Police Department. 
1. We agree with his decision to fire Rob Sanders.
2. We support his willingness to work with groups such as The Bias-free Columbia Coalition.
3. We sincerely hope that he will continue to serve as Columbia’s Chief of Police for the foreseeable future. 

Click HERE to sign the online petition

 

 

 

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Who Will Watch the Watchers?

Since its inception, our local Citizens Police Review Board has garnered a great deal of media attention. Whether it is fielding an appeal from California marijuana activist and global pot guru Ed Rosenthal or defending the human dignity of local Derek Billups, the CPRB continues to end up in the news. The recent decree from Mayor Bob McDavid that the CPRB and the Columbia Police Department resolve their differences is no exception.

Seemingly in response to recent CPRB rulings with which he did not agree and no doubt with the help of the Columbia Police Officers Assiation, the local police labor union, Police Chief Ken Burton submitted a written request to the city asking for changes to the ordinance which governs the board. Each of the suggested changes in his five-pronged attack, if implemented, would serve to weaken the board both in appearance and reality.

The appearance of the CPRB, as it is perceived by the public, is important. The board’s reputation has already been tarnished as Chief Burton summarily ignores every ruling or suggestion made by the board. This, along with his front and center presence at CPRB meetings, jumping to the podium frequently, without invitation, but also without protest from the board, has given the impression that the CPRB is slowly becoming a branch of the police department or is, at most, an impotent bureaucratic ruse.

For the most part, but with a few respective exceptions, the individuals on the board have done a fair job of judging each complaint. The ordinance which currently governs the CPRB is already weak. If the changes recommended by Chief Burton are added, the CPRB may as well be dissolved.

Here are Chief Burton’s proposed changes along with a few more issues as identified by the Columbia Missourian:

1. The definition of misconduct

The Chief of Police had recommended a definition based on the Missouri Revised Statute. The review board had recommended misconduct to be defined as “any violation of federal law, state law, city ordinance, city regulation or police department policy, guideline, directive, rule, regulation or order.”

Regardless of how the State of Missouri defines “misconduct,” the fact remains that this is our local police force, sanctioned by our local community to use force when necessary and funded by our tax dollars. It is right and just that these public servant police officers, whom we have hired to protect and serve the citizens of our community, should be answerable to the citizens of our community, either directly or via a representative board like the CPRB. To suggest that the citizens of Columbia do not have the right to define “misconduct” as it applies to the actions of officers in our Columbia Police Department is not only wrong, it is obscene.

2. Who can make an appeal?

The police want to limit the right to make an appeal only to people directly involved in the incident or parents or legal guardians of people directly involved.

The review board maintains it should not be limited.

This suggestion is an obvious attempt to place another bitter bit in the mouth of the CPRB by further limiting who has standing before the board. This plank in Burton’s campaign of domination reeks of the prevailing paternal police perspective as it implies that the board cannot judge standing or the legitimacy of any case on its own. The board should decide what cases are legitimate and what cases are not.

3. Open records

Due to a section in the review board’s ordinance, the filing of a complaint causes opening of records that are otherwise closed by law, including police officer personnel files and closed criminal reports. Police recommend that this section be eliminated. This would allow the board to review the personnel files, but they will be off-limits for the public.

The review board disagrees with this recommendation.

4. Closed sessions and interviews

Police have recommended giving complainants the option to make a request for a closed testimony. In an earlier Missourian report, the board’s new chair, James Martin, had said the board’s sessions should not be closed.

These two points speak to the issue of transparency. The purpose of this board is to pierce the “Blue Shield” of police secrecy that has plagued Columbia for some time. Before the CPRB, complaints would often be swept under the rug or buried in department bureaucracy and red tape. While personnel and employee privacy questions may seem valid, we must remember that, as public employees, the police are employees of the public. As employees of the public entrusted to use lethal force in the line of duty, transparency is of even greater import.

5. Training recommendations

McDavid said the police have asked for “more defined” training standards for the review board members.

The Missourian missed the meat of this issue. The police and their labor union have repeatedly asked that the board submit to an increasing amount of police-directed training. Board members already do some training directly with police and can always request to voluntarily meet with police for a ride-along or any other investigative/learning session. It is also true that several members of the board are former police officers or have had some police training. The newest member of the board, Roger Dowis, is a longtime veteran of the LAPD who served during the Rodney King era and is surely well versed in the use of force in law enforcement. Carroll Highbarger is a retired, career police officer who rose to the rank of Deputy Chief of the CPD before retiring to teach criminal justice at Columbia College. Susan Smith, who sadly seems to represent the police more often than not,  is a former prosecutor who also teaches criminal justice. Also in the law enforcement mix is Steve Sheltmire who is the graduate of civilian police academies in both Kansas City and Columbia.

The public, especially the African American community, already sees the CPRB as somewhat weak and weighted heavily by former officers and law enforcement lackeys.  This requirement for more training, while certainly providing the opportunity for the department to directly influence board members, would send the undeniable message to the civilian citizens of Columbia that the CPRB is in bed with the CPD and the CPOA and is therefor useless. How’s that for some confusing acronym usage?

6. Police policies to be posted online

One of the differences is the review board’s recommendation that police post their policies online so that the public, the board and police can easily access them. The police department didn’t address this issue in its report.

Of course the police failed to address this issue just as they fail to address any issue brought to light by the CPRB. The Chief as thumbed his nose at the board since its inception and he will continue to do so unless reigned in by both the elected and appointed representatives of the public he paid to serve.

7. Regular reports on complaints

The review board has asked the police department to provide it with monthly and annual reports containing information on complaints.

It will be interesting to see if the department provides this report and if the report is thorough and accurate. I’ve not heard much discussion on this issue and it seems like a reasonable request.

At a recent CPRB meeting a discussion took place regarding these changes. Several attorneys and members of the public asked the board to deny the chief’s requests and stand their ground. Here are Mitch Richards’s remarks on behalf of Keep Columbia Free. His exchange with the newest appointee, former LAPD narcotics officer Roger Dowis, happens during the last half of the video.




During the meeting seen in this video, the CPRB opted to have a public hearing on the proposed ordinance changes. It is of vital importance that the citizens of Columbia take the time to come to this hearing and take part in democracy at the basic and most important level. There will be plenty of opportunity for public comment if you have something to say, but you don’t have to speak. Just show up and show support. Just show up and let the City Council and the CPRB know that it is important to you that our local police become and remain accountable directly to the citizens whom they serve. Please put this public hearing on your calendar. It is August 24th at 7:00 pm at the new City Hall building. Everyone is welcome.

Mark Flakne

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Fred and the Giant Garage: A Love Story

It has been nicknamed “Leviathan” by local activist Eapen Thampy, called “overbuilt” by Mayor Bob McDavid, labled an “unattractive nuisance” and “GarageZilla” by local political watchdog blogger Mike Martin, and deemed a career ending “mistake” for Public Works director John Glascock by attorney and neighbor Elton Fay, but newly elected First Ward City Councilman Fred Schmidt has recently professed his love for what may be the most execrated structure in Columbia, the Fifth and Walnut Parking Garage.

A recent story in the Columbia Tribune reports:

Recently, First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt has taken it upon himself to become a supporter of something that many Columbia residents love to hate — the parking garage at Fifth and Walnut streets.

Construction of the $15 million garage was delayed by weather, and residents have complained about its size, cost and luminescence. A woman fell to her death from the garage last month. The city has had trouble finding takers for the retail spaces built into the ground level of the garage.

So Schmidt has decided to come to its aid. In a recent radio interview, he said he liked the look of the thing and almost instantly, he said, the phone board lit up. One caller took time to bash Schmidt’s casual dress at council meetings. But Schmidt knows he’s taking an unpopular position.

“It’s an awkward teenager,” Schmidt said about the garage. “It’s too tall and upset about its looks.”

He added: “But I think people are going to like it someday.”

And what the Tribune reports as a $15 million price tag will actually cost the taxpayers of Columbia closer to $21 million when interest is figured into the equation.

How can Fred support an $21,000,000 parking structure that is currently sets nearly empty every day of the week when his own ward, especially the lowest income areas that, incidentally, have the lowest voter turnout, suffers from bedraggledbasic infrastructure like collapsing sewers and crumbling sidewalks? Adding insult to injury, these neighborhoods are nearly in the shadow of the deserted behemoth.

Fred, an active member of PedNet since 2004, seems to have forsaken even his PedNet pals withhis support of the new giant garage at Fifth and Walnut and his desire to make sure the coming Short St. garage is built to maximum size. Ian Thomas, the Executive Director of the PedNet Coalition, has been very outspoken on behalf of PedNet regarding city parking garages and the studies used as justification for the expenditure of public money. There is a well thought out post on the PedNet site condemning the city for building the giant Fifth and Walnut garage in which PedNet notes that their own survey turned up over 500 empty spaces in the existing downtown city garages on business days.

In a letter to the Columbia City Council regarding the pending Short Street parking garage, as reported by Mike Martin in his Columbia Heart Beat blog, Thomas made several well reasoned arguments against the city plan to build another parking garage on Short St.

One glaring conflict of interest can be found in the fact that the same company, Walker Parking Consultants (WPC), that conducted the study which concluded we need more parking garages in Downtown Columbia is the company who was given the contract to design the garages. If they don’t find the need for the garage, then they don’t get the the design money. See how that works?

From The Columbia Heart Beat:

First hired in 2009 to design Columbia’s much-maligned eight story downtown garage on 5th and Walnut, WPC was tapped again for $503,000 to design a second garage on Short Street.
But the WPC study in support of that garage presents an obvious conflict of interest, Thomas explained, because the firm that finds the problem also gets to design the solution. “How independent and objective was this parking study, when Walker Parking Consultants had the incentive of a large public contract if a high level of unmet parking demand were estimated?” Thomas wrote.
A WPC move to tie its own recommendations to H3 Studios’ 2010 Downtown Urban Design CharretteThomas also found “unjustified.” Charrette participants emphasized “livability and esthetics, and enhancement of bicycle, pedestrian, and transit options,” he noted, only to have WPC wrongly co-opt that discussion, “as if the Short Street Garage is a natural consequence of the Charrette,” Thomas wrote. “The H3 Charrette report never discusses automobile parking,” instead emphasizing alternatives such as public transportation.

Also from the Columbia Heart Beat:

“I believe there are some serious problems with parking studies in general, and with these two parking studies in particular,” Thomas told Hoppe, referencing the WPC study and an earlier report from TransSystems Corporation. Ultimately, WPC’s newest data do not support the Short Street garage, he found. “Committing funding to more off-street supply is not going to solve the problems of a lack of on-street supply and associated traffic congestion.”

But wait… at a recent city council retreat, Fred Schmidt expressed concern that the plans for the new Short Street garage might not be big enough.

The Columbia Missourian reports:

First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt said he did not want the city to limit itself with a small amount of spaces in an already developed area.

“We want to think real hard before we cut down the size and scope of the project,” Schmidt said.

With his recent flip-flop on downtown surveillance cameras and now a split from his bicycle buddies on the issue of downtown parking, I’m curious to see what Fred will do next.

Here is the KOMU video about the empty garage.

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