Tag Archives: Tony St Romaine

Homeowners Should Sue The City Of Columbia for Damages

The widely unpopular Opus student housing development in Downtown Columbia has ruffled myriad feathers for myriad reasons. The City bureaucracy headed by City Manager Mike Matthes and his assistant Tony St. Romaine first claimed that Downtown infrastructure could not handle one more toilet. They used this infrastructure emergency in an effort to justify a hurried TIF corporate welfare plan. Once the TIF plan was defeated, the City then flip-flopped and approved hundreds of new toilets in the form of both large student housing projects and upscale urban flats for the well-paid young professional. Despite the shenanigans on the part of city leaders and bureaucrats, experts agree that Downtown electric and sewer infrastructure is already maxed out.

Opponents of Downtown development are especially rankled at the notion of student housing. They claim that the University will fail to fill the beds in years to come and the buildings will become a ghetto, despite the fact that they are located within two blocks of the Mizzou campus and only six or seven blocks from the other two campuses. They argue that these developments fly in the face of local central planning schemes laid out in the past. They argue that citizens simply don’t want student housing in Downtown Columbia. They argue that the tall buildings will be unsightly. They argue that there was not enough public input during the approval process. They argue that downtown will be overrun with students and lose its wider appeal.

While any or all of their complaints may be true, there stands one other complaint against downtown development that seems to hold water — pun intended. The fact is our city’s sewer and stormwater infrastructure is already overburdened. It seems that real damages have resulted from the City’s failure to follow precedent and provide these basic services. At least this is the only argument that might pass muster for someone who believes in the sanctity of Natural Rights and the Common Law. Remember, liability for damage one does to an adjacent property is nothing new and was a feature of the Common Law in the United Kingdom and the early United States.

Several homeowners in the First Ward with homes in the Flat Branch Watershed have found themselves on the receiving end of some rather nasty consequences of overdevelopment. When it rains more than an inch, lawns and gardens are washed away by stormwater overflows that rush like rivers across private property. Many homeowners enjoy basements flooded by both stormwater and raw sewage. Homeowners have even reported cleaning toilet paper from their basement floors after a hard rain. Property values must suffer.

During heavy rainfall sewers also overflow manholes and wastewater escapes into the Flat Branch Watershed and eventually into the surrounding ecosystem, spreading poison far and wide. Water, we must remember, is a transient resource. When water is poisoned at point A, the poison eventually travels to point B. In almost every case, one simply cannot poison one’s own groundwater without poisoning one’s neighbor’s groundwater. When sewage overflows into the Flat Branch Watershed, everyone in the area is a victim.

It is time for First Ward homeowners whose private property has been harmed by the City’s mismanagement of funds and failure to provide adequate infrastructure to band together and file a lawsuit naming the City and its leaders as defendants liable for damages. Perhaps Josh Oxenhandler, a local attorney who has represented those opposed to student housing, would take the case for free or on a contingency. Considering the wider harm caused by sewage overflow into the local watershed, perhaps a wider cross section of local citizens might have standing as plaintiffs.

One thing is for sure, citizens pleading with the City to do something reasonable does not work. Petitioners standing in line to sign names on a sheet of paper is futile. The only remedy is a lawsuit.

When Opus threatened a lawsuit, the City snapped into compliance with the Opus agreement. Perhaps they were simply using the lawsuit as an excuse to do what they had planned all along. It will be interesting to see if the City responds in the same way to a multi-million dollar lawsuit filed by citizens.

 

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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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Toni and Tony Twist the Truth

Once again, City of Columbia bureaucratic functionaries are playing fast and loose with the truth about Columbia’s red light camera program. The last time Tony St. Romaine was caught spinning statistics in the city’s favor he was merely an Assistant City Manager, but his spin skills have since earned him a promotion to the position of Deputy City Manager. 

Interested readers can read all about the previous false claims HERE  and HERE

In a recently published article in the Columbia Missourian, a new Toni joined the mix — Columbia Public Communications Director Toni Messina. As if fulfilling some sort of homophonic destiny, this bureaucratic Tony/Toni duo teamed up for some dizzying spin in an attempt to explain why the City has opted not to install the previously planned, additional red light cameras.

In the story, Messina and St. Romaine make the argument that the plan for additional cameras was scrapped due to a marked decrease in the number of red light violations and that the the four existing cameras could be credited for the drop due to some sort of magical “spill-over effect.”

That might indicate that the red-light cameras already installed have caused drivers to be cautious throughout the city, St. Romaine said. “I think it’s had a spill-over effect into the rest of Columbia.”

Messina made a similar claim:

“They’re not seeing the type of violations that they had seen earlier. The number of red-light violations has leveled off to a point where it’s looking like they [red light cameras] had the desired effect,” she said

So according to these two, the four red light cameras have worked their Gatso magic and cured Columbians of their dangerous red light running addiction.

But the two disagreed slightly on the influence money made on the decision to abandon the camera expansion plan. Of course, St. Romaine has always claimed that the increased revenue was not important and he stuck to his story.

Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine said that revenue had no bearing on the decision not to install more cameras.

“The reason red-light cameras were put in was to make the public more aware of the potential consequences of running red lights,” he said.

Messina was singing a slightly different tune and admitted that money was a factor. Perhaps she is just a more effective spin doctor. After all, the best lies always contain a little truth.

Messina went on…

“…they had the desired effect,” she said. “When that happens, it generates less revenue and the vendor is affected by that as well.”

I think we all know that the system is all about the money. A silver-tounged salesman comes in from out of town and with a little Harold Hill song and dance, convinces Mayor Shinn — er– Hindman that there’s trouble in River City that only Gatso cameras can fix. Of course, the city loves the plan — they get to add money to the general fund. The City Manager’s office loves the idea because their respective résumés appear more robust as most of the funds are used to add to our already bloated city bureaucracy. And who can argue with the plan? Heck, it has to make us safer. It’s for the children, right?

What these government agents… I mean… city officials have failed to tell us is the real reason red light violations are down in Columbia. It has nothing to do with these silly cameras.

You see, earlier this year MODOT, in an attempt to reduce accidents at intersections governed by stoplights, changed the timing of the lights by adding more time to the yellow portion of the light timing.  And, wouldn’t ya know it, all of Columbia traffic cameras are at intersections governed by MODOT.

We at Keep Columbia Free have always argued that a longer yellow and an all-red pause would do far more to make intersections safer than any camera system could hope to. The problem with simply adjusting the lights instead of installing cameras is that nobody gets rich by merely adjusting the lights.

Now it’s time to get rid of the four remaining red light cameras in this city. Let’s run these Gatso rats out of town once and for all. The cameras were installed with little to no public input and have done nothing but fill the coffers of the corporate giant Gatso and increase our city bureaucracy. We encourage you to write to the city council and demand that these terrible Orwellian red light cameras be removed immediately.

Here are the email addresses for the Mayor, City Council and City Manager.

mayor@gocolumbiamo.com; ward6@gocolumbiamo.com; ward5@gocolumbiamo.com; ward4@gocolumbiamo.com; ward3@gocolumbiamo.com; ward2@gocolumbiamo.com; ward1@gocolumbiamo.com;  CityMan@gocolumbiamo.com

We also encourage you to get behind our efforts to have these cameras banned once and for all. A rough draft of our ballot language can be found HERE. Look for finalized language and a petition soon.

Special thanks to Matt Hay of Wrong On Red for his help with and hard work on this issue!

Mark Flakne

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Campaign Promises are Sacred

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.

Unfortunately, the city has ignored the will of the voters and, in a series of bureaucratic head-fakes reminiscent of the events surrounding the building of our behemoth, eyesore parking garage, the will of the voters and the ordinance itself have been repeatedly and summarily ignored. 

Cost:

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. 

Conspicuous?

The camera ordinance states that, “Downtown safety cameras may only be deployed so as to be conspicuous…” 

This has been a point of contention since the moment of installation. Before they were installed, Lt. Chris Kelly of the Downtown Unit told the Tribune that the plan was “to keep them unmarked, or ‘plain Jane,’ so the cameras blend in with the environment.” 

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.” 

Even with the 5 inch CPD stickers, the cameras are still not easy to spot if one is not consciously looking for them. During a visit to Tom Bradley‘s morning radio show on September 21st, 2011, CPD Public Information Officer Jill Weineke stated that the cameras are small and that she often has to point them out to people. I guess Jill hasn’t read the ordinance. 

The Live Feed:

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.” 

Thanks to Citizens For Justice for this footage.

Intimidation:

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.  

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