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.
A complaint against the Columbia Police Department alleging that the department has violated state law was recently jointly filed filed with the City Clerk by Citizens For Justice and Americans For Forfeiture Reform. Citizens For Justice is a local police watchdog group know for filming encounters with law enforcement. Americans For Forfeiture Reform is a national group, founded in Columbia, MO, that works to expose civil asset forfeiture abuses and reform asset forfeiture laws.
From the complaint:
“The Columbia Police Department failed to submit the required annual report/audit detailing their use of the federal forfeiture system for the year of 2011, to the Missouri State Auditor (and likely the Missouri Department of Public Safety). This report was due January 31, 2012.
“The consequence for failing to file this report, as clearly stated in the referenced statute, is that the Columbia Police Department is ineligible to receive funding from the Missouri Department of Public Safety (MODPS).
“Although the MODPS has thus far failed to comply with my request for a record of all funds issued to the CPD for the years of 2011 and 2012, I can tell you from my past research that the liquor compliance checks initiative is being ran by CPD, using of [sic] funds allocated through the MODPS.
“Accepting funding from the MODPS for this, as well as other programs, while simultaneously failing to file these reports, means that the CPD is violating the statutes 2-fold.”
Update — A few weeks after filing the complaint, MODPS confirmed that no reports had been filed by the CPD and the CPD was actively using MODPS funds to facilitate four separate programs.
You can read the entire complaint with supporting documentation and statements from both CFJ and AFR here. If the embedded document is not big enough for your device, click the link at the top and you will be taken to a larger version of the PDF.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Assistant 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.”
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.