Tag Archives: City of Columbia

Failing FastCAT to be Subsidized by CID

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The Columbia Daily Tribune reported today that the CID is planning to breath some life into Mayor McDavid’s failing FastCAT bus system. Since the route was launched months ago, empty FastCAT buses have circled the central city, burning tax dollars in their giant tanks. Now, the CID, with cash burning proverbial holes in their pockets after talking 25 Columbia voters into imposing a tax on all Downtown shoppers, is going to pay people to ride.

Click HERE to read all about the CID Tax Sham

Trib commenter “Shorty” said it best:

Flush with cash after passing a Downtown sales tax hike with a special election in a city of 110,000 people, where only 40 votes were cast and the measure passed 25 – 15, the CID is now subsidizing Mayor McDavid’s ill conceived, failing FastCat bus system.

First the city spends our tax dollars on the buses that nobody rides, then the CID uses tax money to pay people to ride them. Isn’t one hosing enough?

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 RENTERS, BEWARE!

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If you are a renter or landlord in Columbia, MO, you should be concerned. In fact, you should be angry. During their January 7th meeting, while nearly all student renters were out of town, the Columbia City Council voted away your 4th Amendment rights by passing an ordinance that allows police and government bureaucrats access to your personal rental information, including your Social Security Number and financial information, without a warrant.

THE FOURTH AMENDMENT: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The ordinance that was passed gives police and city bureaucrats access to all lease, rental payment, and tenant information if they are investigating any code violation.

It shall be unlawful for any owner, operator, agent or property manager of a rental unit to fail to immediately exhibit, upon request by a police officer or city inspector investigating any code violation, all lease, rental payment, tenant information and the zoning occupancy disclosure form pertaining to the unit.

The words to pay attention to here are “any” and “all.” This means that if there is chipped paint on your rental house or a cracked sidewalk out front, it’s open season on all of your personal rental information. If you lived outside the city limits of Columbia, access to this same information, under the same circumstances, would require a warrant.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures was an important driver behind the American Revolution as evidenced by James Otis’s famous speech against King George’s writs of assistance. Our friends over at Americans For  Forfeiture Reform wrote a nice post about Otis. Read it HERE. Writs of assistance were basically open ended, unlimited search warrants granted to officials. In effect, the Columbia City Council granted a writ of assistance to the Columbia Police Department and city inspectors. 

Otis called writs of assistance…

…the worst instrument of arbitrary power, the most destructive of English liberty and the fundamental principles of law, that ever was found in an English lawbook.

It is important to note that renters are oftentimes among the most vulnerable populations in our city, either transient students or permanent residents who lack the means for home ownership. In Columbia, if you have enough money to own a home, you enjoy 4th Amendment protections from warrantless searches. If you cannot afford to own your own home, our City Council says that you do not deserve the same protection under the law.

This ordinance is aimed at addressing the problem of over-occupancy in Columbia’s rental property. Local attorney Skip Walther made some very strong arguments to the Council against this silly ordinance. In his remarks to the council, which were completely ignored, he points out three things:

1. Over-Occupancy is not a problem.

Columbia is home to approximately 25,000 rental units. In 2012 there were 46 over-occupancy complaints filed with the city. Of the 46 complaints, 26 were found to be invalid after investigation. This means that there were 20 valid over-occupancy complaints sustained in 2012. This means that in 2012 over-occupancy was a problem in .08% of Columbia’s rental properties. That’s less than one sustained infraction for every 1000 rental units. This ordinance is a needless action that does more harm than good and does nothing to curb over-occupancy.

2. Cost.

Although the proposal for the ordinance mentioned that there would be no cost to the City, there is a cost. Landlords will be required to collect and maintain files on every rental property they own. Landlords will also be required to make changes to their leases and tailor leases to specific properties. This, of course, will require the expertise of an attorney and represents a significant cost for the property owner. Considering that many property owners in Columbia are small investors who make very little, if any, immediate profit from their properties, the cost of compliance with this ordinance represents a significant hit — a hit that without a doubt will be passed on to renters. In fact, these costs will be passed on to renters by landlords large and small.

3. Constitutionality.

Walther also argues that the ordinance may very well violate the Constitutional rights of both the landlord and the tenant, rights guaranteed by the 4th amendment.

You can watch Walther’s impressive address to the Council in this video.

 

Later in the discussion, Councilperson Fred Schmidt responded to Walther with remarks that demonstrate the antagonistic relationship between the Council and Columbia’s rental industry. Schmidt openly accused all of Columbia’s landlords of fraudulently refusing to return security deposits to student tenants. Schmidt literally suggested that landlords use these funds, funds which Schmidt insinuates are stolen, to offset the expense of compliance with this ordinance.

 

The landlords of Columbia should be more than angered by the slanderous statements made by Fred Schmidt.

I propose that the rental property owners of Columbia form a coalition to fight this harmful and ultimately idiotic ordinance. Landlords should all chip in to create a legal defense fund. Keep Columbia Free’s legal council believes that landlords do not have to wait to be fined for not complying or wait for a 4th Amendment violation via an illegal search to have standing to file suit against the City of Columbia on Constitutional grounds. Merely being asked to comply with this illegal ordinance should be enough to provide standing. If every landlord in Columbia were to chip in $1 for every unit, there would be $25,000 available for a lawsuit against the City.

I also propose that all of Columbia’s renters and renter advocacy groups work together to protect renter information from from warrantless searches and seizures under this poisonous ordinance.

Please contact your City overlords immediately. You will find contact information HERE.

This incremental erosion of our Natural Rights must be addressed at every turn lest we become frogs boiled by the cretins who govern us.

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Did Mark Jones Commit A Major Ethics Violation?

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Today, Keep Columbia Free uncovered documents that indicate Fifth Ward Columbia City Council candidate Mark Jones may have been involved in some unsavory campaign finance shenanigans during the 2002 election. Candidate Jones is a long-time Democrat political operative and campaign strategist who is currently employed by the National Education Association (NEA), the largest and, arguably, most destructive public-sector labor union in the country. He faces newcomer Tootie Burns and former City Councilwoman Laura Nauser in the February 5th special election to fill the seat vacated by Helen Anthony. 

MEC documents indicate that in 2006, Democrat Campaign Committeeman Jones was fined $2500  for his part in the commingling funds among Democrat campaign committees and filing reports for Treasurer Ann Jones.

From the MEC website:

H2450 Council to Protect Missouri’s Values, et al. The Commission accepted a signed Joint
Stipulation of Facts and Waiver of Hearing, Conclusions of Law and issued Consent Orders
which require the Council to Protect Missouri’s Values, et al. to pay a fine of $799.85,
Respondent Ann Jones to pay a fine of $200.00 and Respondent Mark Jones to pay a fine of
$2,500.00 pursuant to Sections 105.961.4(6) and 130.072 RSMo.

$2,500 is a significant fine for an individual so the commission must have felt his actions were egregious. This kind of staggering ethics violation indicates a complete disregard for Missouri’s campaign finance laws.

Click HERE to read the report.

This news should have all eyes on Jones’s MEC filings for his current campaign committee. If you take a look at his first report, you’ll notice a couple of interesting things. The first is that you have to scroll for quite a while to find a local donor. In fact, the overwhelming bulk of his money comes from out of town and out of state — certainly odd for a city council campaign.

The second item of note is the listing of small donations. The MEC only requires that donation over $100 be itemized. I’ve often seen this tactic used by Missouri Democrats who are being funded primarily by folks outside their own constituency. In order to give the appearance of  significant local funding, a candidate will itemize small donations, even $5 and $10 in Jones’s case, which also serves to muddy the water for anyone digging through the report.

You can read Jones’s campaign finance report by clicking HERE.

In a recent Missourian story, Jones indicated that he believes his foreign funding won’t be a turnoff to voters since he has lived and worked in Columbia since graduating from college. This blogger believes just the opposite. If the people who you live and work next to won’t give you money, they probably won’t show up to a special election to vote for you. 

 

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CPD Targets Critics

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The Columbia Police Department seems to have a habit of targeting its critics. Recently a strange and alarming document surfaced from the deepest reaches of the CPD offices. The document, a sort of wanted poster, bears the face of local activist and police watch-dog Matt Akins, founder of Citizens For Justice.

His website and Youtube channel together form an exhaustive database of information on our local police force. Matt and his small army of citizen journalist volumteers answer calls from concerned citizens and, with video camera in hand, keep an eye on the actions of the CPD.

Needless to say, Mr. Akins is not too popular with the local cops.

 

 

The following is from Matt Akins’s Facebook page:

          This poster was prominently displayed in several locations throughout the Columbia Police Department during the Fall of 2011 while a group of Shepard Boulevard Elementry School students were given a tour of the department.
          cfjweb.ssos.us was the original home of Citizens For Justice (now located at www.CFJComo.com). This site was never public, but had been being tracked by the CPD/CPOA(Columbia Police Officers’ Association) as they sent emails letting us know this (Scare tactic? Maybe).

          The arrest being referred to occurred in May of 2010 and was one of the primary reasons I started Citizens For Justice.

          I was LEGALLY carrying a concealed weapon on my person within the confines of my vehicle (as defined under Missouri’s Peaceable Journey Statute), but the arresting officer didn’t agree with me and went so far as to supplant evidence against me by loading a round into the chamber and reporting he had recovered it from me this way.
          My car was impounded, I was booked for unlawful use of a weapon, and had to hire an attorney for the 6 month legal battle that would ensue.

          After repeatedly asking for the footage of the arrest to show the officer engaging in misconduct, I was told that it either had been deleted, disappeared, or never existed AND MY CASE WAS DROPPED.

          I believe that makes this a closed record(and therefore a HUGE violation of my civil rights), but I’m not an attorney so I could be wrong.
          Either way, the poster was used to make me look like a wanted criminal to a bunch a elementry school kids and I couldn’t even get an answer as to who created it or put it up.

          Thanks a lot CPD!

This is not the first time the CPD has targeted a local critic. In 2010, in the wake of the infamous Kinloch Ct. SWAT raid and dog shooting, a local citizen was targeted by an officer for merely exercising his right to free speech. 

Local citizen Greg Williams attended a demonstration condemning the dangerous, bumbling raid and was immediately targeted by CPD Officer Robert Fox. Officer Fox ran background checks on the protesters, found that Williams had a juvenile record, and then released those records in the comment section of the Columbia Daily Tribune. To the credit of Chief Burton, Officer Fox was reprimanded for releasing the sealed juvenile records in a public forum.

Officer Fox escaped prosecution because he claimed that he received his information from a dispatcher who did not alert him to the fact that the records were sealed. 

From the Tribune:

          Fox is a member of the six-man SWAT unit that entered the southwest Columbia home of Jonathan Whitworth in February.

          Williams, with his pit bull, was protesting the death of a pit bull and injuries to another dog as a result of the raid.

          Fox responded to a previous posting that said, “Seeing the people of Columbia stand up to this totally unacceptable police brutality refreshes my pride in America.”

          “Hahahahahah!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Fox responded. “The guy with the ‘stop the brutality’ sign has multiple convictions for assaulting people with guns!!! I’d like him to stop the brutality of humans!

          “Your case has never had any solid basis other than you didn’t like seeing what’s required to police Columbia and you want weed to be legal. The majority of the people in Columbia don’t care enough to comment, go to a meeting or protest at the post office. You’re all irrelevant. We need to move on.”

          A commenter later wrote back to Fox, “Greg Williams in the picture, can file a defamation of character and slander against you … so maybe a retraction should be in order.”

          Fox responded by posting, “It ain’t slander if it’s true. It is.”

More troubling than the release of juvenile records is the notion that police are openly investigating citizens for merely exercising their God-given right to free speech. Officer Fox looked into Greg Williams’s juvenile record in hopes of finding information that could be used for intimidation. The posters of Matt Akins that were prominently displayed by the CPD in areas frequented by civilian visitors indicate a clear plan to target Mr. Akins.

Shouldn’t our police be protecting the fundamental natural rights that are the underpinning of our free society? Shouldn’t our police be ensuring that our rights to free speech and to petition our government for the redress of grievances are protected? Instead it appears that at least some of our local police are determined to use their considerable power to violate these rights.

 

 

 

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Is Tony St. Romaine Smarter Than A 5th Grader?

smarter_desktop_1600x1200[1] copyAssistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine might be smarter than a 5th grader, but when he talks about red light camera statistics, he’s definitely not smarter than a 12th grader.

I asked my 12th grade son the following:

The City of Columbia installed red light cameras at four intersections two years ago. The number of citations issued by the camera machinery dropped 28 percent in 2012 when compared with 2011. The City says that this indicates that the cameras are working. Is that a reasonable claim?

Without hesitation, my 12th grader reasoned that this claim could not be reasonable without knowing the traffic rates for the time periods in question and the number of citations at non-camera intersections during the same time periods (provided that enforcement patrol patterns had not changed at the non-camera intersections).

So why does Tony St. Romaine continue to claim that the red light cameras are a stunning success based on phony, partial statistics and tortured logic? Is he really a simpleton?

In a recent issue of the Columbia Daily Tribune, Tony said:

“Our motive in installing the cameras was not profit-driven. The numbers support that,” St. Romaine said. “At first, we witnessed large numbers of red-light violations. We now see it dropping off on an annual basis because it’s working.”

And let’s not forget that the timing of the yellow lights at these intersections was changed after the 2011 reporting period and before the 2012 reporting period. Could this timing change be a factor? Ummm… yes…

Ol’ “Red Light” Tony has made similar claims in the past. You can read about them at the following links.

Tony and Toni Twist the Truth

Red Light Rip-Off

Red Light Cameras: The Documents

This type of behavior would not be tolerated in the private sector unless there was money to be made. Of course, no one should be surprised to see stupidity among government bureaucrats, but it does leave one wondering, is Tony really a dumbfounding dolt or is he being paid to make these outlandish claims. Either way, he should be fired. My son needs a job and is at least more qualified than Ol’ “Red Light” Tony.

 

 

 

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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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Pack the Council Meeting

Come out and help send a strong message to the Council. The people of Columbia are united against corporate handouts in the form of EEZs and TIFs, blight, and eminent domain abuse. Help pull Columbia out of the plutocratic race to the bottom! 

Recall petitions will be available for signing! 

 

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