During the final comments of the Columbia City Council Meeting on Monday, February 18th, [see video above] Councilman Fred Schmidt made some alarming remarks regarding alcohol in Douglass Park. Councilman Schmidt announced his plan to pursue an ordinance prohibiting alcohol consumption in Columibia’s premier inner-city park — a park frequented by Columbia’s vibrant African-American community and a popular meeting place for area residents.
Did Fred Schmidt intentionally make this proposal during Black History Month?
Schmidt made it clear — well, sort of clear considering he stammered through his rambling and rather confusing monologue — that he was singling out Douglass and was not interested in prohibiting alcohol consumption in other city parks.
Schmidt claims that he decided to take on this task after, “some back and forth with some people in the neighborhood.”
Sources tell me that this plan is actually being spearheaded by none other than Jonathan Sessions, darling of the Democrats and Columbia School Board member. There is some question about whether or not Mr. Sessions is a member of the Douglass Park Neighborhood Association, although he has given the impression that he is a member while pitching the idea to Parks and Rec staff. He and Carrie Gartner, bought a house on Aldeah, far from Douglass Park, about a year ago. Mr. Sessions may have once lived in the trendy North Village Arts District that buffers “The District” from the low-income neighborhoods to the North and may still own property there.
Jon Session hugs Barb Hoppe
I’d venture a guess that neither Mr. Sessions nor Mr. Schmidt has spent much time in Douglass Park if they’ve visited the park — ever.
Many in Columbia’s central Black community have rightfully labeled this move as racist. For sure it smacks of the white, liberal paternalism that Columbia has endured for the last several decades, especially in the First Ward that surrounds Douglass Park.
Perhaps these two progressives hatched their plan to ban the consumption of alcohol in Douglass Park over a mojito on the patio of Bleu, just a few blocks southeast of the park. I guess Fred and Jonathan just don’t trust Black folks with dangerous fire water. I wonder if they trust Black folks to sit in the front of a FastCat bus.
Here is another related video from a last year’s discussion about upgrades to the government surveillance system in the Douglass Park. It struck me as sadly funny how the city politicians seem to view the people of the Douglass area as “others” when we all live in the same community. Heck, the City Council Chambers are literally only 4 blocks away from Douglass Park. Listen as Mayor McDavid and Councilwoman Hoppe praise their brave bureaucrats for venturing into the Douglass neighborhood to peddle surveillance.
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.
TheColumbia Daily Tribune recently reportedthat Karen Taylor’sKeep Columbia Safe PAC has offered to donate nearly $3000 to the City of Columbia for the purchase of a more technologically advanced surveillance camera for use at the intersection of Tenth and Cherry. The camera would upgrade the existing stationary camera with a unit capable of panning, tilting and zooming.
This new camera would allow Columbia police officers to sit in front of a computer screen, joystick in hand, and zoom in on the peaceful day-to-day activities of law abiding citizens in real time.
During Karen Taylor’s campaign to have the cameras installed she and her comrades repeatedly stated that the cameras would only be used to record video and the recordings would only be accessed if needed to solve a crime. Of course, once the ballot initiative passed, the police violated the sanctity of the voting booth and changed the plan as they began the live monitoring of Downtown Columbia. Now Keep Columbia Safe is jumping on the bandwagon of live video by offering to buy a camera capable of zooming on the plunging necklines of young college coeds and perhaps detecting a few facecrimes.
The following video captures one of the countless times Karen Taylor promised the voters of Columbia that her beloved cameras would not be used for live surveillance.
Campaign promises are sacred!Taylor and her cohorts have violated the trust of the voters by outwardly promoting live surveillance after promising the opposite. By accepting these funds and using them to promote further live monitoring of law-abiding citizens, the Columbia City Council has betrayed the citizenry whom they serve. If we, the citizens of Columbia, cannot believe the Council about this issue, why should we beleive them about anything else? Their credibility with voters is at stake.
More generally business owners should realize that this tool allows for the existence of a more onerous regulatory and enforcement environment that is more likely to victimize business owners by dragging them through the process than protect public safety. After all, the City Council has official dubbed the surveillance cameras as Safety Cameras, not Regulatory Cameras.
Of course, this $3000 Keep Columbia Safe donation is funded by private dollars which can be spent however the private organization wishes. Yet, it is incumbent on us not to sit silent when these private funds are going toward furthering the police-industrial complex that is beleaguering us so with its liberty-crushing weight.
And the fact remains that cameras on public streets and sidewalks have beenproven ineffective, time and time again. In these sparse budgetary times, our city cannot afford to waste any sum of money on technology that has been proven fruitless. The only studies that claim public cameras on public streets deter or solve violent crimes are studies funded by camera companies and the like. It is, however, important to note that our Safety Cameras have reportedly been used to keep the public safe from a dangerous litterbug.
There is simply no replacing the traditional methods of policing when it comes to keeping us safe. Columbia’s so-called “Safety Cameras” are a waste of money.
The following letter was composed by Eapen Thampy and Mitch Richards and is addressed to all citizens of Columbia who are eligible to vote regarding the proposed CID tax increase. If you are one of the few eligible CID voters, Keep Columbia Free urges you to vote NO on this proposed tax hike. Please read the following letter and share it with everyone you know. Do your part to end the fleecing of our local consumers for the benefit of a few CID bureaucrats.
The Community Improvement District (CID) is proposing through a ballot initiative on November 8, 2011, that downtown residents approve an increased sales tax of up to ½% for sales happening in the downtown business district. The justification is that these funds will be spent on “downtown beautification”, “technology and public information enhancements”, promotion of downtown events and assistance to entrepreneurs, “event recruitment and promotion” and “enhancements” to downtown shopping, dining, and entertainment.
We urge you to vote against this tax. There are several reasons.
As a first principle, we think we should be trying to lower the taxes on people trying to spend money in Columbia, not raise them. A new tax will increase the cost to consumers of doing business downtown, and will drive marginal consumers to other places where the sales tax is lower.
Second, many of the proposed improvements being pushed by the CID are unnecessary. There is no unique reason why a government agency should be in charge of event promotion, building smartphone apps, or providing WiFi. There are a variety of Columbia’s citizens AND BUSINESSES who make it their livelihoods through providing these services, and we shouldn’t give a government agency tax dollars to compete in these markets. Moreover, it is inevitable that the decisions made by a public agency to micro-manage Columbia businesses will cause division and turmoil fostered by accusations of favoritism and collusion. We don’t need that in our community.
Third, the First Ward needs another police officer and perhaps another fire company. If we are going to raise taxes to provide public services, these are the vital services that are needed in our city, and we should reject spending money on other projects until our most vital needs are attended to.
Fourth, the CID has lost the trust of many voters and citizens. In joining with Keep Columbia Safe to push for the installation and public funding of surveillance cameras, the CID joined forces with people who used city dollars to push a partisan agenda. Moreover, whether or not you feel the cameras were necessary, campaign promises to not use these cameras for live surveillance were broken, and the cameras have been installed in places where they are not conspicuous and easily visible, as the ORDINANCE mandates. It would be difficult to place further trust in an entity which has engaged in said conduct. We should also consider the risk that future tax revenue will be used to pay for more surveillance cameras instead of making real investments in law enforcement or fire protection services.
For these reasons, we ask that you reject this proposed tax at the ballot.
Mitch Richards, Keep Columbia Free
If you’d like to contact us on this or similar issues, emails directed to Eapen.Thampy@gmail.com will reach us. You may also call at 573-673-5351.
During the campaign to authorize the use of government surveillance cameras in Downtown Columbia, the voters were sold a bill of goods by Keep Columbia Safe and the camera proponents within the city bureaucracy. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, now that the cameras are in place, the final product looks quite different than what was proposed.
It is important to note that while the Prop 1 initiative and the ordinance it produced merely authorized the installation and use of cameras, it has been interpreted as a mandate for action. If we are to accept the ordinance as a command to action, it is important that the camera parameters that were spelled out during the campaign and in the ordinance be strictly adhered to.
During the campaign, the proposed camera system was repeatedly estimated at a cost around $50,000 for the first year. Based on that number, The District offered to fit half of the bill for the first year and so budgeted $25,000 of their special tax funds for the project. When it was all said and done and the council voted to install the cameras, the price tag was actually $75,000 per year, a 50% increase.
This may seem trivial when considering a tax funded, government program. After all, it’s rare for a government program to come in at or under budget, but this budget was important to the debate that formed voter opinion. When camera opponents argued that an additional officer would be a better use of public funds, camera proponents made the claim that the salary and training costs, estimated at $125,000, involved in hiring an officer were far more than the relatively inexpensive, estimated $50,000 price tag for the cameras. Had the proponents been honest with the cost and the gap between camera cost and officer cost been narrowed, many fiscally concerned voters may have voted against the cameras.
Lt. Kelly later claimed that he was quoted out of context, but I can’t imagine a context that would change the meaning of those words. In reaction to his foot-in-mouth moment, Lt. Kelly announced that his camouflaged cameras would be adorned with a CPD logo to make them “conspicuous.”
Again, during the campaign, camera proponents promised one thing but the city did another. The folks at Keep Columbia Safe repeatedly poopooed fears articulated by civil libertarians, myself included, that the cameras would be used for live, Orwellian surveillance. Proponents claimed that the police did not have the time or resources to play Big Brother and monitor law abiding citizens on the city streets. They claimed plainly that the cameras would only be used as recording devices and that those recordings would only be accessed in search of evidence if a crime was committed and voters made up their minds based on these claims. Only a few short months after installation, it came to light that the live feed from the cameras was being monitored by the CPD.
It all boils down to the fact that camera proponents lied to the voters. As Dan Viets so eloquently pointed out, “A campaign promise is sacred.”
As Mitch Richards pointed out in his address to the Columbia City Council, there is a stationary camera pointed Directly at The Blue Fugue, a bar that is a popular meeting place for liberty advocates. The Blue Fugue is among the safest establishments in town, and sees none of the violent crime that might merit government surveillance, especially when compared with other bars in the area.
So why point a camera directly at The Blue Fugue? I won’t venture a guess at the official explanation, but it is important to note that the CPD has a history of intimidating those who dare to criticize the department. For proof, one need look no further than the case of Greg Williams and Officer Robert Fox. Mr. Williams participated in a protest against the use of SWAT dynamic entries for the service of search warrants for non-violent crimes like Columbia’s infamous Kinloch Ct. SWAT raid. Officer Fox, and probably other officers, ran police background checks on the protesters. This came to light after Officer Fox released Mr. Williams’s juvenile record in the Tribune’s online comment section. Most of the stories regarding the indecent focused on the criminal release of sealed juvenile records in an attempt to discredit a protester who was merely exercising the most basic of American liberties. What the media accounts failed to recognize was that the CPD was running background checks on law-abiding citizens who dare to speak up and speak out when they see their public servant police force violating civil rights.
With this in mind, it is not much of a stretch to imagine how this camera system might be used to intimidate the public and ultimately violate the First Amendment. Let’s not forget that the American Revolution and our beloved Bill of Rights was fomented over a few pints of ale in a few New England pubs.
****UPDATE**** It looks like the city has pulled the video from their website. It should be available via a FOI request. We will have a copy up in a day or two.
****Update**** After filing a Missouri Sunshine Law request we have obtained a copy of the video and added it to this blog. The video is still missing from the City Channel.
While searching for more information regarding the recent disclosure by CPD Lt. Chris Kelly stating that the police have been using our new so-called “Safety Cameras” for real-time, live monitoring of Downtown Columbia’s law abiding citizens I ran across an interesting and somewhat disturbing video on the City of Columbia website. The video entitled Downtown Surveillance Cameras features the founder of Keep Columbia Safe, the local, private, political committee that successfully lobbied in favor of the camera program.
The video is anything but a subjective look at the latest Orwellian tool to be employed by our local government overlords. As you can see, it plays more like a promotional video for Keep Columbia Safe than an objective government public service announcement and is rife with the same falsehoods that were spewed during the original campaign that spawned the one-eyed Big Brother brood.
At the 1:03 mark in the video, Karen Taylor is allowed to tout the fine work of her group as she says:
Keep Columbia Safe was formed through the um work of adopting the “safety camera” ordinance but um our goal is to promote law enforcement and improve safety in our community.
Then she goes on to repeat the same unfounded claims that were made during the campaign as she says:
We looked at a number of cities that use safety cameras and the one thing that was pretty evident was that once communities started using safety cameras they found the value and they added more and that they really found them beneficial.
The problem with this statement, other than the repeated use of the blatantly propagandized moniker “safety cameras,” is that there is not one shred of empirical evidence that says surveillance cameras are effective at keeping people safe. In fact, there aremyriad studies that say exactly the opposite, again and again.
And then she lays on the scare tactics laced with a creative statistical claim…
…if you look at so many crimes these days whether it’s murders, abductions, assaults, most of the time cameras are involved in solving the case
Really? “Most” of the time? Cameras are used to solve the majority of murders, abductions, and assaults? Wow! Who knew? And who knew that downtown Columbia was the murder, assault, and abduction hot spot in town? Apparently, the City Channel supports these claims (and with your tax dollars).
Ms. Taylor also states that:
We didn’t say that it [the cameras] would necessarily end crime or prevent crime although we hoped it to be a deterrent, but it was another tool for law enforcement.
Well, actually, Ms. Taylor and her well funded media marketing machine repeatedly made the claim during the campaign that cameras would prevent crime. Heck, the invented name “safety camera” alone shows the intent to have folks believe that the cameras will keep them safe. Check out the first 30 seconds of following video as evidence of one of countless times when the “cameras equal crime prevention” argument was made by Ms. Taylor.
After watching the Keep Columbia Safe promotional propaganda video on the City of Columbia website, funded, produced, filmed, and hosted by the City of Columbia’s City Channel, I decided to write the following email to Don Cizek, one of the top dogs at the City Channel.
Dear Mr. Cizek,
I recently viewed a video on the city website entitled “Downtown Surveillance Cameras,” featuring Karen Taylor, founder of Keep Columbia Safe. The video was produced by you. I’m hoping you can provide me with information outlining the steps our organization, Keep Columbia Free, should take to have a similar promotional video directed and produced by city staff, hosted and promoted on the city website, and financed by the city.
Not surprisingly, I received the following response from Toni Messina, Communications Director for the City of Columbia:
Thanks for your recent email regarding this topic.
The video informs viewers of an initiative that was passed by voters and became a duty, with implementation authorized by the City Council and funded in the City budget. It is not private advocacy or an opinion piece, although the individual who brought the issue to voters’ attention is prominently featured. That was an unusual situation due to inability to schedule other internal spokespersons.
I hope this is clear and that you understand we will not be scheduling a video shoot with your organization.
Toni Messina Communications Director 701 E. Broadway Columbia, MO 65201 Phone: 573-874-7660 Fax: 573-442-8828
Really, Toni? You couldn’t find anyone on the city staff, especially the police department, to be a spokesperson for the downtown cameras? You couldn’t get Lt. Chris Kelly, whose downtown patrol unit spends their evenings glued to the live video feed, to spend a few minutes extolling his latest crime fighting tool?
Here is the response I sent to Toni:
Thank you for your response, but there are a few things I still find unclear.
While your sense of duty is admirable, it is important to note that the Prop 1 initiative that was passed by voters did not create a duty for the city to implement the downtown camera system. The ballot language was specific and merely authorized the deployment of cameras. The ordinance language reflects the same.
To help you understand the difference between authorization and duty, I offer the following example.
As a citizen of theUnited States, presuming you are not under some sort of court ordered house arrest, you are “authorized” to travel toKansas City. While you are legally “authorized” to travel toKansas City, it is not your “duty” to do so.
I do not understand your department’s inability to schedule other internal spokespersons. Who did you ask to take part? Was this film made on a deadline of some sort? If so, why was there a deadline? How does your department’s inability to schedule internal spokespersons justify the use of a private, partisan spokesperson?
I also take issue with your statement that the video in question “is not a private or an opinion piece,” since Ms. Taylor was allowed to outline the work of her private group and give several of her own unfounded opinions about the effectiveness of government surveillance systems.
Your email has outlined the City Channel policy for making videos. From your email it is clear that groups that campaign for a ballot measure that creates a clear duty for city staff and win voter approval in the election will be provided the opportunity to have a video produced and hosted by the city. Please provide me with a copy of that policy or a copy of the policy that outlines the protocol for deciding what topics will be covered by the City Channel.
While the Prop 1 camera initiative does not fit the criteria you’ve outlined, there is one past ballot initiative that does. In 2004 a ballot initiative to make marijuana the lowest priority for law enforcement was passed by moreColumbia voters than was Prop 1. The ordinance creates a clear “duty” for local law enforcement. When will a video be produced regarding this issue and starring one of the proponents of that ballot initiative?
Mark – The cost for a DVD is $3.98. If you agree to this, then we can produce it and have ready some time today or tomorrow. I will prepare an invoice and you can pay at our cashier’s office and get a receipt. Will that work for you?
Also, in response to your question about City Channel policy, I can tell you that the City Channel exists to support all City agencies and the City Council with broadcast programming and meeting and event services. The City Channel is a “division” of the Public Communications Department with two distinct functions. On the broadcast side, “the Channel” produces and airs public service-oriented programming to local cable television service subscribers in Columbia:
Live and rebroadcast meetings of the City Council, Planning and Zoning Commission and Board of Adjustment;
Regular and special news conferences;
Special meetings on City issues;
Video segments on City services and programs; and
Announcements of City jobs, City-sponsored events and other community events.
On the “events” side, City Channel staff installs, maintains and sets up all audiovisual equipment needed for meetings held in the Council Chamber, Conference Rooms 1A and 1B and the Mezzanine in City Hall. City agencies pay reasonable costs for both types of services through intragovernmental charges.
While this business practice for programming has been in place since the Channel was established in the 1990’s, I am not aware of any policies that provide specific guidance.
Toni Messina Communications Director 701 E. Broadway Columbia, MO 65201 Phone: 573-874-7660 Fax: 573-442-8828 firstname.lastname@example.org
In short, “We do what we want.”
If any of what you’ve read here concerns you, we recommend that you contact Toni Messina at the email or phone number found above.
It will be interesting to see what our FOI request turns up.