Tag Archives: Chris Belcher

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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Banning Ryan Ferguson From Hickman: The Rest of the Story

After most media accounts failed to report the whole story surrounding Hickman Principal Dr. Tracey Conrad’s decree forbidding Ryan Ferguson to set foot on the school campus during the school day, it seems important to present the facts. Read the blog post that started it all HERE.

Ryan Ferguson

Ryan Ferguson

The district bosses are doing some serious backpedaling, mounting a public relations assault that attempts to present the entire incident as a big misunderstanding. Big boss Superintendent Belcher even went so far as to accuse Keep Columbia Free of posting “an erroneous report.”

 

Belcher said he was surprised and disappointed when a local blog posted an erroneous report saying Conrad banned Ferguson from the school. He said that led to many “negative, hateful emails to some of our staffers.”

Chris Belcher

Chris Belcher

Well, Superintendent Belcher, this community is not surprised, but certainly disappointed that you chose to use your public pulpit to accuse Keep Columbia Free of spreading false information. I guess it is easier to deny mistakes and berate the work of the citizen journalist instead of simply admitting that your staff made a glaring mistake.

The good news is that most people don’t buy the explanation that Mr. Ferguson “wasn’t really ‘banned,’ we just told him he couldn’t come.”

So, what does it mean to be banned? The Oxford Dictionary defines “ban” as:

Ban: Officially or legally prohibit: officially exclude (someone) from a place

For instance, The City of Columbia has banned smoking in all businesses during business hours. Smokers must go outside and smoke on the sidewalk. In the same way, Dr. Conrad has banned Ryan Ferguson from visiting Hickman during normal school hours. The interview with the school paper must be done outside the school boundaries, perhaps at the neighboring McDonald’s.

bannedphones

It is clear that Ryan Ferguson was “banned” from Hickman High School. The district is attempting to say he was only banned from the school during class hours. If this were the case, why did Dr. Conrad suggest the interview be conducted as McDonald’s? Even if Mr. Ferguson was only prohibited from visiting during school hours, he was BANNED during those hours. That is not an erroneous claim. If anyone is making erroneous claims, it is Chris Belcher and his administration.

Here is the timeline of Keep Columbia Free’s involvement:

Wednesday 11.20.2013, evening: A Keep Columbia Free volunteer was approached by a Hickman student who was upset at being told the interview with Ryan Ferguson had been cancelled by the school principal. The student said that Dr. Conrad had said that too many students believed he was guilty and his presence at Hickman would be a class disruption. The student said that when Ryan’s Mother, Leslie Ferguson, was told that Ryan was not welcome on the Hickman campus, she said that if her son could not come, she did not feel comfortable visiting the school.

Tracey Conrad

Tracey Conrad

Wednesday 11.20.2013, 9:30-9:45PM: A Keep Columbia Free volunteer sent emails to several Hickman teachers and Dr. Conrad requesting comment and verification of the student’s story.

Thursday 11.21.2013, 9:34AM: A reply from a Hickman teacher was received verifying the story told by the student. The teacher declined to make a comment about the story and referred KCF to Dr. Conrad for comment.

Thursday 11.21.2013, mid-afternoon: Keep Columbia Free decided to go ahead with the story after receiving no response from Dr. Conrad explaining her decision.

 

Thursday 11.21.2013: The story began to receive viral attention via social networking sites, garnering over 1200 “likes” in the first few hours, and fielding nearly 8000 page views by midnight. Keep Columbia Free alerted the local media about the growing story.

Friday 11.22.2013: The viral spread of the blog intensified with the post receiving nearly 19,000 visitors in a 24 hour period – over 26,000 hits since originally posted. The post received over 4000 “likes” and was shared via Facebook and Twitter several thousand times. Radley Balko of the Huffington Post tweeted the blog to his followers as did Ryan Ferguson’s attorney, Kathleen Zellner. All day, call and email floods targeting CPS were being spontaneously planned by Ferguson supporters across the country. Unfortunately, some of these calls and emails were reportedly hateful and borderline threatening. Keep Columbia Free does not condone hateful and/or threatening calls or emails to any person or group.

balko tweetzellner

Friday 11.22.2013, late-morning: After receiving a flood of calls and emails denouncing Dr. Conrad’s decision and receiving a protest letter from the student staff of the school newspaper, Superintendent Belcher, his staff, and School Board Member Helen Wade meet with the newspaper staff and reach a compromise stating that Ryan Ferguson can visit the school before and/or after regular school hours.

The Local Media:

What we at Keep Columbia Free found quite amazing was the markedly lackluster reporting done by the local main-stream media. After Keep Columbia Free uncovered, researched, blogged, and tipped off the local MSM to the story, the role that we citizen journalists played was summarily ignored. Traditional journalists should be able to work peacefully, hand in hand, with citizen journalists, not against them.

Click HERE for the KOMU story that indicates the outrage came from thin air.

The Missourian also ignored the role of the citizen journalist. Read their account HERE

The Tribune’s original story HERE makes no mention of the blog, but the followup story HERE contains at least a backhanded jab at the blog from Superintendent Belcher.

The Complaint:

There are a few unanswered questions surrounding the original complaint(s) that prompted Dr. Conrad to ban Ryan from the school. Some of the media accounts linked above indicate that Dr. Conrad fielded complaints personally. The rather lengthy Missourian article makes it clear that the complaints were fielded by John White, the district’s safety and security director.

Conrad said she learned of the interview Wednesday afternoon when John White, the district’s director of safety and security, told her about parents objecting to Ryan Ferguson’s presence on campus.

White told her that parents contacted him to say they wouldn’t send their children to school Thursday if Ryan Ferguson were there.

Conrad said she expressed her concerns to the journalism teacher at Hickman. Later Wednesday night, Conrad talked with a student in the journalism class on the phone and further explained her reasoning.

This passage indicates a few interesting things.

First, Dr. Conrad didn’t know about the interview as of Wednesday morning. This would indicate that the plan to interview Ryan was not common knowledge around the school. This means that there was little likelihood of some sort of major disruption.

Second, Dr. Conrad found out about the complaints fielded by White on Wednesday morning and called off the interview by early Wednesday evening. This brings into question the notion that Dr. Conrad was overrun with concerned parents and students – enough to reasonably indicate that there would be a disruption if Ryan visited the campus.

Third, the complaints were fielded by Security Chief John White. White is a former officer of the Columbia Police Department, an agency with a great deal of time and emotion invested in the prosecution of Ryan Ferguson. Is there any formal record of these complaints?

Another source inside the Columbia Public Schools administration contacted Keep Columbia Free with some information regarding the source of the complaints which prompted the ban. Apparently the family of slain Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt was the source of the original complaint. This begs the question – How did the Heitholt family find out about the interview before Dr. Conrad?

As more information comes in, we will share it here. Stay tuned.

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The Mike Mathes TIF Delusion

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” — source unclear

 

When it comes to telling lies on behalf of Columbia City Government and its corporate masters, Mike Mathes is no slouch. Rumors surrounding the firing of Zim Schwartz aside, there is little doubt that Mathes is willing to say or do anything to bring large-scale Tax Increment Financing to Columbia. His rabid, pro-corporate welfare whirlwind of half-truths and lies has many Columbians wondering, “What is Mathes smoking?”

(For a quick wiki-breakdown of TIFs, click HERE. In a nutshell, instead of paying taxes to the government, the developer/business gets to collect tax, but pocket the proceeds to offset the cost of development.)

To tell you the truth, I really had high hopes for the guy when he was hired. He seemed reasonable, likable, and fiscally responsible and even expressed some ‘off the record’ opinions that had the civil libertarian in me almost giddy with delight. That, however, was before he stepped up as Columbia’s Champion of Corporate Welfare, weaving a web of lies so tangled it boggles the mind.

Mathes has been pitching his love of TIFs to anyone who will listen and he seems to have convinced Superintendent Chris Belcher that TIFs will actually bring funding to the Columbia Public Schools. This proposal is, of course, laughable to anyone who has studied the relationship of TIFs and school funding.

“I’ve said publicly you can’t have a strong community without strong schools,” he said.

Belcher said although there are several types of TIF proposals, this one makes “everyone have a little skin in the game.”

“Their success benefits us,” he said.

 

The only problem is, TIFs usually aren’t successful. It sure looks like the TIF for the Tiger Hotel has been a failure, while Laverick lives it up on the public dime.

When Mathes met with County leaders to peddle his TIF plan, he told the biggest doozy of a lie yet. He actually – I’m not kidding – made the claim that the Kansas City Power and Light District is an example of of great TIF success.

Benefits of TIF districts include the creation of a pool of money to invest in the district, the prevention of blight and an increase in property values, Matthes said. Improvements could be funded for infrastructure and aesthetic upgrades. He pointed to successful TIF projects such as the Power and Light District in Kansas City.

Mathes made this comment less than a month after the Wall Street Journal called the Power and Light District Kansas City’s “Budget Hole.”

Today, the project, which sits near the onetime headquarters of Kansas City Power & Light Co., generates less than one-third of what is needed to cover the debt service on the bonds. The city is setting aside $12.8 million in its budget for the fiscal year that starts next month to cover the gap, a notable hole in a $1.3 billion budget that calls for $7.6 million in cuts to the fire department.

As Mathes surely knows, Columbia is already having trouble funding an adequate fire department, let alone its pension fund. If he thinks Power and Light is an example of success, what on Earth might he consider a failure?

Heck, surely Mathes read the Show-Me Institute piece entitled, Revisionist TIF History From Columbia’s City Manager, in which policy analyst Audrey Spalding takes Mathes to task on his wild TIF claims and makes mention of the Kansas City Power and Light debacle. Regardless of reality, it seems to be full steam ahead for the Mathes TIF train. 

There is little doubt that giant TIFs are in the works for Columbia. During a February Council Meeting, First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt expressed an interest in applying a giant TIF to the entire First Ward.

Plans to develop a TIF district that would encompass the entire First Ward remain in their infancy. Schmidt, however, said the approach would allow the city to improve urban density, provide infill housing, bury power lines along Business Loop 70 and pursue a backlog of stormwater retention measures.

 

The bigger problem with these blanket TIF districts, besides the fact that developers often take the money and run leaving the taxpayers holding the bag, is that the TIF process is often used for “urban renewal.” In these urban renewal schemes, private property is often condemned and purchased for below-market value or seized by the government only to be handed over to developers. In Columbia, plans for a new hotel and convention center in the North Central Neighborhood area of the First Ward are rumored to have been discussed. Wouldn’t a blanket TIF make this plan more likely to come to fruition? While a new hotel and convention center might sound wonderful, it would require the removal of a great deal of North Central affordable housing.

The good news is that Columbia is waking up to the evils of these egregious corporate tax swindles. The proposed Enhanced Enterprise Zone tax abatement scheme currently being pushed by a few powerful, elitist business people is but the latest example. Fresh on the heels of Moberly’s Mamtek fiasco, REDI, a quasi-public/private entity with considerable influence at City Hall, has proposed a similar plan for Columbia: the EEZ.  This move has sparked strong grassroots opposition from across the political spectrum. The fight should be fun to watch as the people of Columbia wake up to the fact that their government is controlled by profit-seeking paternalists.

 

 

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