Tag Archives: Keep Columbia Free

CPD Subject of Forfeiture Complaint

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.

CFJ/AFR Complaint by Keep Columbia Free

The CPD, Boone County Prosecutor, and the Boone County Sheriff have all been in the news lately for asset forfeiture actions and questionable weapons seizures….

The CPD Seizes Money to Spend On Itself – SWAT Seizes Money and Buys New Tools

Local Man Fights To Have Property Seized By Boone County Sheriff After Charges Dropped

CPD and Prosecutors Hit With Lawsuit Alleging Illegal Gun Seizures

The illegal gun lawsuit has prompted attorney Stephen Wyse to post this message asking for other victims to come forward.

wyse

 

Add the CFJ/AFR complaint to this list. Will Chris Koster step in?

–Mark

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Integrity in the Fifth Ward

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.

Jones

Mark Jones

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

Laura Nauser

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.

From the Columbia Daily Tribune:

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

Tootie Burns

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:

tootie fb neidermeyer

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.

The Keep Columbia Free Plan

The Keep Columbia Free Plan

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 RENTERS, BEWARE!

fred schmidt

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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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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Kespohl Lies About The EEZ

In response to a recent press release issued by Keep Columbia Free warning the council that they could possibly face recall if they vote in favor of blighting Columbia to insure corporate welfare via the EEZ, Councilperson Gary Kespohl made an interesting comment. Councilman Kespohl has been known to stretch the truth to get what he wants, as evidenced by the unprecedented negative ad campaign that helped him edge out Karl Skala in 2010, but his comment in this interview was more than a stretch; it was an outright lie. 

During the KOMU interview Kespohl stated that, “the city council gave citizens the opportunity to submit names of whom they would like to serve on the advisory board, but received no suggestions.” Watch the KOMU story HERE

Oh really, Mr. Kespohl? 

It just so happens that the one and only, former-councilperson Karl Skala, a member of CiViC (Citizens Involved and Invested In Columbia), a group formed in opposition to the EEZ proposal, submitted a list to Mr. Kespohl and the rest of the council five days prior to this interview. 

 

Click HERE to view the attachment Karl attached to his email to Mayor and Council. 

So why did he lie? I guess we all know why, but fellow councilperson and Chamber-endorsed running mate Daryl Dudley summed it up the best. Near the end of the KOMU video, Dudley is quoted as saying he’s “willing to do whatever it takes to get the EEZ plan up and rolling.”

If it takes a few public lies and distortions, I guess Kespohl is willing.

For a more in-depth story, visit the KMIZ video by clicking HERE

Click HERE for the Missourian story regarding the potential recall.

Click HERE to read the Missourian’s in-depth report on the issue

Contact the council today and tell them to stop lying and stop the plan to blight Columbia. Click HERE for City Council contact info. 

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