In these tough economic times, how do law enforcement officers find the cash for nifty gadgets such as new militarized swat vehicles or fancy, little video cameras?
Why, they steal it.
Principally, civil asset forfeiture tactics have been abused by law enforcement agencies across the nation for decades – and it’s only getting worse.
A 2000 reform act passed by Congress seems to have had little effect, as recent stats by the Department of Justice show $4.22 billion was seized through federal forfeiture laws in 2012, up from $1.7 billion in 2011 – an increase of a whopping 248 percent.
While national nonprofits and law firms dedicated to fending off such cash-seizing techniques continue to grow, and investigative news reports exposing the fraud pile up, the process continues unabated.
Here’s how the racket is unfolds.
Criminals are presumed innocent until proven guilty, but there’s a caveat. The feds can seize the assets of an individual for the mere suspicion of wrongdoing. Called “civil asset forfeitures,” they’re in stark contrast to criminal asset forfeitures, which allow police to seize cash and property from those convicted of a federal crime.
While criminal asset forfeiture cuts legal muster, civil federal forfeiture laws are heralded by many as entirely unconstitutional. Meanwhile, examples of wrongdoing on the part of law enforcement are easily found.
Typically after such seizures, local, state and federal law enforcement agencies split the loot, using legal loopholes that allow them to collude, although they call it “equitable sharing.” Local agents are temporarily deputized as federal ones, which helps them get around civil asset forfeiture laws and procure the assets.
Take, for example, a case out of Nashville chronicled by NewsChannel5 in late April. An Indian-American New York businessman on his way to purchase a convenience store with a large sum of cash lost $160,000 after a routine traffic stop in December 2011.
Ultimately officers were forced to return the money – but more than a year later, and after the man proved it was for businesses purposes, not drug trafficking. In essence, he had to prove his money’s innocence. And the feds still kept $5,000 of it as part of a settlement.
Peter Strianse, a former federal prosecutor, told NewsChannel5 “he often hears from people who’ve had $10,000 or more seized through federal forfeiture laws — and he has to tell them to kiss their money goodbye.”
“It becomes just a real losing proposition,” Strianse said. “You are going to spend three times that amount of money to try to get the $10,000 back that was taken from you.”
In another example, as reported exhaustively by Keep Columbia Free (KCF) among others, the Columbia, Mo. Police Department was able to recently purchase a $200,000 armored police vehicle—a military style SUV—with the help of $36,505 in civil asset forfeiture funds.
Perhaps some of that $36,505 came from Kevin Bay, the owner of a Columbia apparel store called BoCoMo Bay. According to the Columbia Daily Tribune, Bay was arrested on suspicion of carrying unlicensed firearms and selling synthetic marijuana, but the prosecutor in the case dropped all charges; it was, at the time, not illegal to hold and sell synthetic marijuana.
Unfortunately, however, the dropped charges came after Columbia police seized hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property from his house. He asked for it back. Local authorities refused. Bay’s case remains entangled in federal courts.
What’s worse about the Columbia case is that, any asset forfeitures – whether civil or criminal – are required under the state constitution to be given to the state’s schools and public universities – not to police departments to purchase military-style tanks.
But the following may illustrate police motives, their zeal to seize such assets.
In November 2012, Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton’s told the Columbia Police Review Board that civil asset forfeiture is “kind of like pennies from heaven — it gets you a toy or something that you need is the way that we typically look at it to be perfectly honest.”
KCF and civil asset forfeiture reform advocates Americans for Forfeiture Reform (AFR) want to keep the Columbia Police Department from getting its pennies from heaven.
As many readers of this blog know, KCF has kept vigil over the issue of civil asset forfeiture, both in Columbia, Mo and around the country since its inception in 2010.
Progress on civil asset forfeiture reform has been long and grinding, but it looks like the tide starting to pick up speed, building into a crescendo.
As I write this blog, AFR is preparing an ordinance that would ban the practice of civil asset forfeiture in Columbia, Missouri. Furthermore, AFR maintains that if Columbia’ City Council is not receptive to the ordinance, then the group plans on taking the issue directly to Columbia’ citizenry via a ballot initiative. The initiative will, presumably, appear on next year’s ballot.
Here is the ordinance that will be presented to the Columbia City Council. Read over it.
Read this, this and this to find out more about civil asset forfeiture.
Students are the main target of the new Over-Occupancy Disclosure Ordinance. In January of this year, the Columbia City Council voted, in effect, to remove your right to privacy as granted by the 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution. It also discriminates against gay couples. The ordinance says no more than three unrelated adults can live in an R1 residence but what constitutes a related family? Are two gay couples two “families” or are they four unrelated adults?
In 2012, there were only 14 cases of over-occupancy being prosecuted by the City. According to the homeowner associations who spoke in favor of this ordinance, the problem is almost always with students. Over-occupancy has been against the law in Columbia for many years, but because of this handful of complaints, the City made it a law (Columbia, Missouri City Code Section 22.184(c)) in January 2013 that all 25,000 rental unit occupants must sign a disclosure document that allows any “police officer or city inspector investigating any code violation” to see “all lease, rental payment, tenant information”.
“Tenant information” means your social security number, birth date, and more. Note that the law says, “ANY code violation”, not just over-occupancy complaints!
I doubt that there is a single building in town that does not have one code violation.
For instance: a cracked switchplate cover, too many leaves in the gutter, a vine or tree too close to the building, missing smoke detector batteries, peeling paint, etc. are all code violations. Is it right that 25,000 rental units, or about 50,000 adults should be subjected to this kind of treatment because of a couple of dozen complaints?
The Columbia Apartment Association does not condone true over-occupancy violators. They should be investigated and prosecuted when necessary. But this disclosure ordinance is a violation of federal law, is insulting to all renters and discriminatory to Gays and Lesbian couples. Also note that only Renters are required to fill out the Disclosure form, not homeowners. Read the ordinance form yourself and see.
For those who are unfamiliar with asset forfeiture, I’ll try and explain it in a proverbial nutshell. Before I do that, it is important to thank the policy analysts at Americans for Forfeiture Reform for their work on this subject. Without them, I doubt many people would be talking about the evils of asset forfeiture. For those who would like to learn more, AFR has a very informative website.
In a nutshell, as promised, asset forfeiture is the means by which the government circumvents the 4th, 5th, and 10th Amendments to the United States Constitution to steal property from its citizens as it makes unreasonable seizures without due process and overrides the Missouri Constitution. If property is suspected to have been used in the commission of a crime or gained as the proceeds of illegal activity, that property can be seized by the government. More on that later.
There are two problems with asset forfeiture. First is the problem of where the money goes. Second is the problem of how the money is taken.
All interest accruing from investment of the county school fund, the clear proceeds of all penalties, forfeitures and fines collected hereafter for any breach of the penal laws of the state, the net proceeds from the sale of estrays, and all other moneys coming into said funds shall be distributed annually to the schools of the several counties according to law.
So, according to the Missouri Constitution, moneys confiscated via asset forfeiture is to be sent to the schools. With this being the case, how are law enforcement agencies in Missouri able to pay themselves from these funds?
The answer is a federal loophole known as equitable sharing. Equitable sharing basically works like this. When local law enforcement finds some good stuff while investigating a crime, they take it and process the forfeiture through the federal government. Most law enforcement agencies have federally deputized officers who can process the forfeiture. Sometimes it’s merely a matter of paperwork. When this happens, the feds take a small cut of the proceeds and give the rest back to the participating law enforcement agencies. This allows for an end-run around the Missouri State Constitution. The money is effectively laundered through the Department of Justice.
Initiated in 1986, the Equitable Sharing Program was designed to foster cooperation between state and federal law enforcement agencies in the war on drugs. Few states had forfeiture laws at the time and state and local agencies that participated could receive a portion of the income generated from federal forfeitures. Since then all 50 states have passed either civil or criminal forfeiture laws and now the equitable sharing program serves not only to foster cooperation, but as a way for state and local law enforcement agencies to circumvent their own state forfeiture statutes.
Once local law enforcement hands a case over to the feds, state law ceases to apply. This means that police departments in California, North Carolina, and Nebraska do not have to convict a person before taking their property. Agencies in Hawaii stand to receive as much as three times the amount of money from a forfeiture processed in federal court than they would if done through their own court system. State mandates to avoid policing for profit, such as in Missouri where forfeiture proceeds are supposed to be deposited in a fund for education, are bypassed as well.
Instead of going to schools, the money is funneled back to local police, either as grants or as cold, hard cash. As Columbia’s Police Chief Ken Burton described it, it’s like “pennies from heaven.”
I’d argue that these funds are really pennies from hell, usually stolen from citizens, but we’ll get to that later.
Not only are the forfeiture funds not going to our school children, the equitable sharing process sets up a system of policing for profit which further degrades our local political system that should be answerable to the people. Funding is one way the people of a community possess to maintain local sovereignty and control or support of local law enforcement. When law enforcement uses equitable sharing of forfeiture dollars to self-fund, the community loses one check and balance and the police have a perverse incentive to prosecute profitable crimes or wait to act until certain crimes become profitable.
Case in point: Columbia’s infamous Kinloch Ct. S.W.A.T. raid. One of the main problems with this raid was that the police supposedly had reliable intelligence from a confidential informant who stated that there was a large amount of cannabis at a residence. The police waited 8 days after the warrant was issued to kick in the door with guns-a-blazin’, shooting two dogs in front of a small child only to find a small amount of cannabis and no cash.
So why the delay? While it was explained away as a staffing problem, the real reason was likely the hope of finding piles of cash. If the police know there is a big pile of drugs at a dealer’s house and they send S.W.A.T. in immediately, all they find is the drugs. If they wait a week, hopefully the drug dealer has sold enough of his product to amass a big pile of cash — cash that can be used to buy cool new Department of Homeland Security toys and tools like the Lenco Bearcat.
There’s just no money in rape and murder these days.
We’ve established that there is a problem with where the money goes. It’s not going to our school children as directed by our state constitution and it establishes a means of self-funding for law enforcement, circumventing local control and creating perverse enforcement incentives. Now let’s tale a look at how the money is taken in the first place.
To keep things simple, let’s divide asset forfeiture into two categories — criminal asset forfeiture and civil asset forfeiture.
Criminal asset forfeiture is when property is seized by and forfeited to the government when the owner of such property is convicted of a crime. There are some reasonable arguments that can be made in support of this system. When a person is convicted of a crime, forfeiting property can be part of the punishment. Of course we’ve discussed the problem with self-funding above, but when we look at it as punishment, regardless of where the money goes, it seems to make sense. When a profitable criminal gets out of jail, they should not be able to go home to a mansion purchased with the proceeds of his/her criminal activity.
Civil asset forfeiture is the real problem. In a civil asset forfeiture proceeding, a citizen does not need to be convicted of a crime to have their property taken by the government. In fact, the accused doesn’t even need to be tried and acquitted. All that really needs to happen is an arrest, justified or not, and the government seizes property.
Since the forfeiture is made in civil court, the old “innocent until proven guilty” protection that we all learned in 6th grade does not apply. Cases are literally made against the property and read like, “United States of America v. United States currency in the amount of $638,202.00 et al.” To get their property back, property owners must hire a lawyer to argue for the innocence of their property, which is assumed in civil court to be guilty. Sound absurd? Well, it is absurd.
The case listed in the preceding paragraph as to do with property taken from a local Columbia business owner during a raid executed by the Boone County Sheriffs Department. Kevin Bay, co-owner of a local business, BoCoMo Bay, was suspected of a crime. Once arrested, the charges against Mr. Bay were quickly dropped, but not before several million dollars worth of cash, precious metals, collectible coins, and collectible firearms were seized and made subject to civil asset forfeiture.
That’s right. Mr. Bay was arrested, never officially charged with a crime, yet faces a lengthy federal court battle to have his rightful and legal property returned to him. This is theft, plain and simple.
While it might be worth it, although a hard stone to chew, for Mr. Bay to spend tens of thousands of dollars to get his millions returned, if he is successful, imagine a case where only $10,000 worth of property is seized. Why would a victim if civil asset forfeiture spend $20,000 in legal fees fighting for the return of $10,000. In these cases, the only choice is to forfeit the money.
This happens all the time. Click here to see a raid where a grandmother’s $5000 dollars was seized because someone in her house had a crack rock and pipe in his pocket. That money is gone, no matter what.
At last week’s Columbia City Council meeting, the council approved the use of $36,505 of asset forfeiture funds to purchase an APC for the CPD. Here is the council discussion regarding the purchase during which Michael Trapp leads the charge for accountability in the use of the vehicle. Asset forfeiture gets a mention during the discussion, but comes up later, in a meaningful way.
During the public comment portion before the vote, Keep Columbia Free’s Treasurer Elect addresses the council.
Keep Columbia Free President Mark Flakne also addressed the council.
And it looks like someone on the council heard us. At the end of the meeting, Councilperson Laura Nauser asked for a staff report on the use of asset forfeiture dollars in the City of Columbia. She expressed an interest in starting a public discussion centered around asset forfeiture to see if it is something that our community wants to use as a source for funding police.
We have also heard from another councilperson, who shall remain nameless for the time being, who said that he is open to the idea of championing asset forfeiture reform in Columbia, especially with the passage of the 911 tax which will allow for the return of funds to the city that can be used to replace forfeiture funds.
Please help educate your friends and family about civil asset forfeiture. Sadly, the majority of folks in Columbia and across the country simply have no idea what asset forfeiture is. Thanks to Americans for Forfeiture Reform and other groups like the Institute for Justice, people are waking up to this practice and overwhelmingly finding themselves to be repulsed by it.
Now is the time to call your councilperson and let him/her know in no uncertain terms that it is time to end the use of asset forfeiture to fund our local police. We should fully fund our police department through traditional means. Using asset forfeiture as a funding mechanism, while technically legal, is a morally abhorrent practice. We should all be demanding local sovereignty, government accountability, and local control of our law enforcement.
Sunday evening I received an email from Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe in response to my last post on this site regarding her grumbling about Mark Jones being a spoiler. Read that post HERE.
The section from that post that prompted her response reads as follows:
But the local Columbia leftists won’t stop spitting sour grapes all over social media. Even liberal icon Barb Hoppe, who – by the way – voted to expand Downtown government surveilance and voted for the EEZ every time until REDI told her not to, got in on the action, chiming in on a post on her hubby Mike Sleadd’s Facebook wall amidst a throng of “Jones was a spoiler” rants.
Hi Mark, Mitch and Dan, and Keep Columbia Free,
I just saw a post one or all of you did on Keep Columbia Free and it’s facebook book page.
I want to set the record straight on two things that you were totally wrong on about regarding my position and votes.
“Even liberal icon Barb Hoppe, who – by the way – voted to expand Downtown government surveilance and voted for the EEZ every time until REDI told her not to, got in on the action, chiming in on a post on her hubby Mike Sleadd’s Facebook wall amidst a throng of “Jones was a spoiler” rants.”
1. I was not in favor of the downtown cameras and voted against them every step of the way and also spoke against them at the Keep Columbia free forum at the Blue Note before the public vote. After the City wide vote in favor of the cameras, I did vote to FUND the cameras, but only after they were approved by the public ballot process. I also made it clear when I voted for the funding, that I did not personally support them and the majority of the 6th ward did not support them either.
2. EEZ- The EEZ first vote came up very quickly, with only a few days notice before the council meeting. I and Helen Anthony had many questions about the EEZ and raised them as quickly as we could given the short notice, but in retrospect we were not provided accurate or full information at the time of our first vote. Thereafter, I worked very hard to get additional answers to questions and concerns that I had, as well as those the public had. I worked vigorously to get City staff, Council and the Mayor to have more dialogue and hear concerns from the general public who had been left out of the process. I worked to and voted to rescind the first EEZ Board and worked behind the scenes to get new members on that board who would ask tough questions and represent the public. I attended many meetings with the public and continued raising concerns and questions, publicly and in many private meetings. I was responsible for help opening up the process for dialogue and community involvement, that ultimately led to REDI asking Council to rescind the EEZ Board and not pursue EEZ’s further. Your statement regarding this is ridiculous and unfounded. You are either uniformed or untruthful. I would like to think it is the former rather than the later.
So let me explain why I still stand by what I wrote.
In a nutshell, claiming to be against something but voting in favor of it multiple times is a problem.
Let’s take a look at the first point from Ms. Hoppe’s email — government surveillance of peaceful citizens in Downtown Columbia.
It is true that she spoke against the camera plan and it is true that she voted against the camera plan when it first came before the council prior to being placed on the ballot for voter approval. Thanks for that.
What we must remember is that Proposition 1, the camera ballot initiative, merely authorized the Columbia Police Department to place cameras downtown. The CPD could have made this request at any time and were already authorized to do so. The ballot initiative, as successful as it was, did not mandate that the council provide funding for such a plan. In fact, all the council really could have done in any case is vote to fund the project and Ms. Hoppe voted to do exactly that.
In fact, Ms. Hoppe not only voted to fully fund the original plan for government surveillance in Downtown Columbia, she voted to expand the camera system with a remote control upgrade. Heck, even Fred Schmidt had the guts to offer a protest vote against the expansion.
I also find it alarming that, as Ms. Hoppe states, “the majority of the 6th ward did not support” the camera plan, yet she voted to fund the project. She was, after all, elected by the voters of the 6th Ward to be their representative.
Voting to fund a project that your constituents are against and that you have spoken against is like admonishing one’s alcoholic uncle for drinking too much and then giving him $20 with which to go to the liquor store.
Now let’s take a look at the second part of Ms. Hoppe’s email — the EEZ.
Yes, the original vote was thrust upon the council with very little supporting documentation and no public input. I will concede that she made a mistake that anyone could have made. I will also concede that when a grassroots groundswell of opposition arose against the EEZ, Ms. Hoppe attended public forums and worked to dissolve the original ordinance which allowed for some public comment. She also helped get Anthony Stanton and Jeremy Root on the new EEZ board.
In reality, this did nothing. Ms. Hoppe voted to establish the original EEZ board, voted to dissolve that board alongside the most fervent EEZ supporters, and then immediately ignored the public and voted to re-establish the EEZ board after hearing volumes of public testimony from the citizens of Columbia and several renowned experts including attorney David Roland of the Freedom Center of Missouri and David Stokes, a policy analyst at the Show-Me Institute who specializes in tax incentives, specifically Enterprise Zones.
Voting to allow public input and then ignoring public input is not representative government — it is political theater.
This might all have something to do with the fact that Ms. Hoppe was in a difficult and rather dirty race against the extremely cantankerous Bill Tillotson. During the campaign, she hopped on the anti-EEZ wagon and cooperated with and listened to the EEZ opposition. After she defeated Tillotson, she went right back to voting in favor of the EEZ plan.
I had a feeling it would happen exactly this way. Here is an excerpt from an email I wrote to the CiViC email group in April of 2012:
It seems likely that the original resolution will be rescinded at the next Council meeting, but I have little doubt that a new map will be ushered in via ordinance. While the new blight map will likely be smaller than the original, any blanket blight designation is too much.
While the map was never finalized, it is true that the council rescinded the original EEZ resolution, allowed for a couple of weeks of public comment, promptly ignored that public comment, and created a new EEZ board within weeks.
It is also true that the council, including Ms. Hoppe, only voted to finally dissolve the second EEZ board when REDI made the request.
In her recent email to me, Ms. Hoppe also claims:
I was responsible for help opening up the process for dialogue and community involvement, that ultimately led to REDI asking Council to rescind the EEZ Board and not pursue EEZ’s further.
Is she kidding?
Does she really think that she helped defeat the EEZ by voting for it —- TWICE?
Ms. Hoppe, your pressure on the council did lead to some public input, but ultimately, the EEZ process was simply renewed, and you voted for it. What “ultimately led to REDI asking Council to rescind the EEZ Board and not pursue EEZ’s further” was the hard work and relentless dedication of folks like Linda Green, Monta Welch, Mary Hussman, etc. who kept the pressure on the EEZ Board and REDI. I have no doubt they would have done the same had the original EEZ Board been left in place.
Ms. Hoppe, please put your money – and your vote – where your mouth is.
When I saw that Senator Kurt Schaefer and Representative Caleb Jones, both darlings of the Republican Party, had endorsed Mark Jones for Columbia City Council, I couldn’t believe it. After all, Jones is a longtime Democrat political operative and a union boss and lobbyist for the NEA teachers union. While there are some liberals with whom I share some ideology, Jones is not one of them.
Of course, I don’t agree with Kurt Schaefer or Caleb Jones all of the time either, but, for some reason, I still expect lawmakers to act on principle, at least some of the time. All this move did is cement the fact that all of the big-money, establishment politicians are playing for the same team regardless of whether they have a D or an R next to their name.
What sort of backroom deal was hatched to get a state senator to wade into the murky waters of local Columbia politics? What sort of strings has Jones pulled to help these two Republicans? Is it because Jones delivered the NEA for Kurt during the last election? Did Kurt sell Columbia down the river for Union support? I guess it says something that even with big name endorsements, big money from both sides of the imaginary aisle, and a flawless campaign, Mark Jones only garnered 16% of the votes cast.
So why are Columbia’s liberals whining that Jones was a spoiler?
With mailers like the one pictured above and the backing of much of Columbia’s powerful development lobby, Mark Jones undoubtedly pulled more votes from Nauser than from Burns. Heck, Burns even had the backing of the local leftist political cabal and money machine, Progressive Political Partners, the group headed by Jeff Chinn that helped make Chris Kelly seemingly unstoppable and won the last 5th Ward contest for Helen Anthony, and still couldn’t edge out Laura Nauser’s grassroots support.
There is no doubt that Jones really thought he was going to pull enough from both sides to win the race. He took the left for granted and went hard after Nauser’s base by riding the Schaefer endorsement like a stolen pony. People who met him at their doors often commented that they knew he was a Democrat but he talked like a Republican. A Tootie spoiler Jones was not.
Hoppy is hoppin’ mad.
But the local Columbia leftists won’t stop spitting sour grapes all over social media. Even liberal icon Barb Hoppe, who – by the way – voted to expand Downtown government surveilance and voted for the EEZ every time until REDI told her not to, got in on the action, chiming in on a post on her hubby Mike Sleadd’s Facebook wall amidst a throng of “Jones was a spoiler” rants.
Councilperson Hoppe writes:
“Sad day for Columbia. Tootie Burns would have won hands down in the 5th Ward election if Mark Jones hadn’t been a spoiler. The weight of future bad city council decisions will be on his egotistical and delusional shoulders- and those who encouraged him -shame on them.”
Here is the complete thread from Sleadd’s Facebook page.
All I can say is “WOW!”
The April elections for the mayor and two ward seats are just around the corner and it looks like they might be fun to watch. Can underdog, populist gentleman Sid Sullivan edge out the smug, favorite incumbent Bob McDavid? Will the pedal powered Brit Ian Thomas serve as the spoiler ruining things for watchdog Weitkemper and usher in a second term for Dudley and his pickup truck? Will the third epic battle between the long-winded internet troll Skala and his arch nemesis Kespohl leave anyone unscathed? Stay tuned!
After viewing Tootie Burns’s new television commercial (above) I was struck by her comments regarding “integrity,” specifically, her own. I contacted, or attempted to contact, the 5th Ward candidates for a comment on the subject of integrity in relation to the City Council Race in the 5th Ward.
I received a written response from Tootie, Laura Nauser gave me a call, and I’ve heard nothing from Mark Jones.
The silence from the Jones camp comes as no surprise since Keep Columbia Free broke a story questioning his integrity – a story that was subsequently picked up by local media outlets. Not only is Jones an NEA union boss and Jefferson City lobbyist, he was fined thousands of dollars and his Democrat campaign committee was fined tens of thousands of dollars for filing false MEC reports and commingling funds. It’s no wonder he doesn’t want to talk about integrity.
Tootie Burns was the first to respond. In her timely, email response, Tootie said…
“Honesty and integrity should be the first qualification for public office. Anyone who knows me knows that I value my integrity more than any association with a party or organization. As the ad said, that really is who I am. To my knowledge, no one has ever questioned my integrity.
I have run a positive campaign focusing on my role as the voice of Fifth Ward neighborhoods. Despite repeated requests for comment about my opponents’ records, I have intentionally chosen instead to talk positively about what I will bring to the Council.”
Since “no one has ever questioned” Tootie’s integrity, I guess I’ll be the first.
Let’s face the facts. Watch her video again. It’s obvious that this video is a veiled attack on Mark Jones. He’s a Jeff City lobbyist who is beholden to special interests and is using this race as a stepping stone to higher office. Not exactly the “positive” message she claims in her email, right?. But that’s only the tip of the integrity iceberg.
In the video, when she gets to the bit about her integrity, I couldn’t help but think that she is responding to an attack on her own integrity. She almost seems defensive. Maybe this was just a “not-so-positive” attack on Mark Jones — or maybe not.
Let’s take a look at the proposed Providence improvements that will affect the Grasslands neighborhood. Mark Jones and Laura Nauser have this one right.
Jones’s mantra regarding Grasslands has been, “We’re looking for a $7 million solution to a $1 million problem.” A polished soundbite from a professional politician who probably has no business delving into local council politics, but true nonetheless. There are plenty of cheaper solution to this problem, solutions that were passed over at the urging of some of the influential residents of the Grasslands neighborhood, including Tootie Burns. More on that later.
Nauser agrees with Jones on this subject, although her experience on the council dealing with road improvements leads her to take a more conservative approach to the actual cost of making the changes to Providence. She concedes that the improvements would at least cost “a couple million dollars,” but should be no where near the current $7,000,000 price tag. That doesn’t make as memorable a soundbite as Jones’s 1 to 7 comparison, but God bless her for keeping it real.
Nauser asks “where is the money?”
“The council has rushed this Grasslands project like they are handing out ice cream cones. This is seven million dollars of tax money being spent on road improvements for the Grasslands. There are several other 5th Ward road projects that could use some of that money. I’m not suggesting that the Stadium improvements are not important, but if the council is handing out ice cream cones, they shouldn’t all go to the Grasslands neighborhood.”
Nauser went on, impressing me with her knowledge of 5th Ward road infrastructure concerns, talking about the problems on Forum at Wilson’s Fitness, Scott Blvd. phases 2 and 3, Nifong and Vawter at Old Mill Creek and Sinclair, and the list goes on.
So why is Tootie tooting for $7,000,000 to be spent on the Grasslands project? Well… she lives there.
She lives there, her in-laws live there and have for years, and Tootie Burns is the longtime board secretary of the Grasslands Neighborhood Association. A good portion of the $7,000,000 – of our hard earned tax dollars – for this project will be spent purchasing Grasslands properties. Some of the property purchased by the government at fair market value (some of the highest in town) belongs to Tootie’s in-laws. Most of the properties slated for purchase and demolition are beautiful old homes that have, much to the chagrin of “some” Grasslands homeowners, been converted to rental properties. Rumor has it that some influential folks in the Grasslands want to be rid of these rental properties and they want the taxpayer to fit the bill.
While Jones mentioned the project several times throughout the forum, Burns did not address Jones’ remarks during the forum. In an interview after the forum, she said she voted in favor of the project when the matter was put before the Grasslands Neighborhood Association, because it could potentially ease congestion at one of the city’s busiest intersections and could improve pedestrian safety along the roadway.
“I don’t want to have a student get killed” trying to cross Providence, Burns said. She said that the second phase of the project could result in a portion of her mother-in-law’s property at the corner of Providence and Stadium being taken for right of way.
So it’s for the children… well… not so much. There is already a stoplight at Rollins and Providence where students can cross in relative safety, although many are too lazy to walk two blocks to use it. It’s not about the safety, it’s about bulldozing beautiful old homes that have fallen into the hands owners who have chosen to rent them to students.
Tootie does admit that the sale of the Niedermeyer should not be stopped because there are no legitimate laws to prevent it, but she certainly laments the loss of this historic building.
From Tootie’s campaign Facebook page:
So what should “our priorities as a City” be regarding the beautiful old homes in the Grasslands neighborhood? What should “our priorities as a City” be regarding dropping $7,000,000 of taxpayer money on a wasteful project at the behest of Tootie and her Grasslands friends instead of funding other road improvements across our city? What should “our priorities as a City” be when spending millions of dollars of other people’s money? Should “our priorities as a City” and SEVEN MILLION DOLLARS of road infrastructure money be directed by single-issue, neighborhood politics?
It seems to me that we need to find someone with integrity to answer these questions. Tootie obviously doesn’t fit the bill.
Here is a much cheaper fix for the left turns out of the Grasslands neighborhood. Build a couple of short streets, one across the Phi Psi lawn to the existing Rollins light and one from the end of Brandon to the existing light at the A.L. Gustin Golf Course. There is no need for a new light. If Providence must be widened, take 5 or 6 feet of lawn from both sides of the road and widen it. $2 million ought to cover that.
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 passedgives 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.
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.
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.