Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Columbia Heart Beat -- 4/1/08

News and Commentary for Columbia's Blogs and Listservs

Bamboozled by the Budget
"BAGHDAD TONY": Was Tony Messenger Run Out of Springfield?
A FIRST FOR HANK? Only One True School Board Endorsement
COUNCIL CANDIDATES: Slam Slumlords __________________________________________________

PRAYERS AND WELL WISHES: For county attorney John Patton and his family
(John died yesterday from accident-related injuries)
A TALE OF TWO SEWERS: City Merits Kudos in Old Southwest


WE ENDORSE: Yes on the Sewer Bond; No on the Tax Levy
A DIY Way to Reduce Criminal Traffic
ANNOUNCEMENTS: Civil Rights Training; Anti-Levy group; Wade Works
PARTING THOUGHTS: A Great Place to Spend Eternity

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TEACHERS AND TAXPAYERS: Bamboozled by the Budget
By Mike Martin for the Columbia Daily Tribune

If history is any guide, basing the largest property tax hike in nearly a decade on Columbia Public School’s (CPS) budget projections is a fool’s errand.

For over 10 years, CPS projections have rarely panned out. Talk of deficits has masked surpluses, while high-level administrators have disregarded their own instructions on how much money to keep in reserves – the district’s piggy bank. With a decade’s worth of hefty surpluses, that piggy bank has fattened up, more than doubling since 1996 – from 13% to 27%.

Had district administrators invested their excess funds in teachers; air conditioners; building maintenance; and the local economy, they could have gradually raised levies rather than walloping homeowners now.

Reviewing CPS budgets is like unscrambling a maze of doublespeak.


"BAGHDAD TONY": Was Tony Messenger Run Out of Springfield?

Chief Paulsell, listen up. Your former nemesis-in-chief may have met his match.

In this corner, Missouri Political News Service editor Scooter Jackson, a self-described conservative who says his "extensive outreach to Historically Black Colleges and Universities for the College Republican National Committee" won wide acclaim.

In that corner, former Columbia Daily Tribune pundit and Boone County Fire District critic Tony Messenger, who Jackson suggests was "fired" for incompetence by the Springfield News-Leader.

"Baghdad Tony Messenger has gone from being the editor of the Springfield News-Leader to being a beat reporter in the Missouri capitol building for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch," Jackson blogged last month. "We all know that once you get to be a columnist...you don’t suddenly move back to being the junior beat reporter in the capitol building."

Beating up on "Baghdad Tony" is a pleasureful pasttime for Jackson and his bloggers. "They straight up canned his fat ass for being incompetent," writes a blogger calling himself Kyle Wright. "I hope Tony enjoys being [Post Dispatch capital bureau chief Virginia] Young’s coffee jockey, but my guess is he’ll get fired from that job within a year. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy."

(I personally liked Tony and miss him on the Trib beat).

City Council

Many thanks to Jennifer Wingert's Fifth Grade Class at Grant Elementary for providing these questions to local political candidates. And many thanks to the candidates for answering. School Board candidate Gale "Hap" Hairston did not respond and First Ward Councilwoman Almeta Crayton did not respond, saying that she "did not have access to a computer. I'm not trying to blow off your questions; it's just an issue of access."

Our fourth batch of answers is from First Ward City Council Candidate Paul Sturtz, who says he had "more fun with this questionnaire than any other I've had to fill out." Excerpts:

First off, we need to bring everyone to the table: the City Council, the Boone County Commission, the school board, businesses, the university and colleges, and neighborhoods. We also need to close the much-too-old and much-too-wide gap between white and black people, and making our community feel like a welcoming, vibrant place to live.

And we can make sure that property owners are accountable by enforcing laws that vacant properties aren't allowed to be neglected and become an eyesore for everyone.

The City Council is interested in downtown being even more interesting, and that is why it just voted for a way to finance improvements downtown. That will probably mean that the Tiger Hotel, that building with the big Tiger sign on top, will be fixed up again. A new Hyatt Hotel will soon be built on Broadway too. This could lead to more people coming to visit the downtown and helping to support businesses there.


A FIRST FOR HANK? One True School Board Endorsement

Columbia Daily Tribune editor Hank Waters basically recommended voting for just one of three school board candidates: Ines Segert. It's an old trick to vote for just the one you really like because it deprives other candidates of votes.

"Three candidates will be elected, but voters need not vote for three," Waters writes. "The impact of fewer choices will be magnified. Voters who want to send the message most strongly might vote against the levy increase and for Ines Segert."


At last week's NAACP forum, First Ward council candidates took a swipe at one of Columbia's biggest scourges: central city slumlords.

Asked what each would do to combat slumlords and "the crime and decay they help create," the candidates all agreed that beefed up code enforcement was the answer. Based on audience applause, it immediately became clear that slumlord removal is one issue both black and white constituents wholeheartedly support.

Karen Baxter related how living around vacant houses "that nobody cares about, not even the city" has created personal hardship over the years. "Sometimes I don't know who's walking through my yard or hanging around those places," she said. "Squatters get in there and so do drug dealers."

Almeta Crayton said slumlords are a menace she's been trying to fight, unsuccessfully, for years. "I don't get much support," she said, echoing a theory she's discussed previously. "Maybe everybody just wants to let the neighborhoods blight out."

Blight declarations can be handy tools in the hands of eminent domain-happy developers who want to pick up property for a song and force people to sell.

During his response, Paul Sturtz came close to naming one of Columbia's biggest slumlords, a "recently deceased gentlemen whose company, we can only hope, might be selling out."

After John Clark emphasized the need for stronger enforcement and more engagement at City Hall, a man who identified himself as a former city building inspector, Rev. Monroe, stood and for a couple of minutes, roundly and eloquently condemned what he saw as the city's lackadaisacal response to the problem."

"The city council has all but checked out on this," he said. "You have to be willing to take these landlords to court. You have to be willing to go all the way, or else nothing will change."
A TALE OF TWO SEWERS: City Merits Kudos in Old Southwest

Watching workers on tiny Maupin Street install a polyurethane sewer pipe that an adult could crawl through, I asked what they had replaced.

"In some places, nothing," one of the men said. Nothing? Did that mean.... "Yep. Flush and who knows where it all went."

With that unsanitary thought in mind, it sounds like Columbia is replacing its old sewers in the nick of time. Stories of basement flooding, wretched odors, and other unsavory encounters with Mr. Flushy were well-known in this part of the Old Southwest, and the thought of tearing up streets and yards equally unappealing.

But the work has gone smoothly, with giant diggers and service vehicles calmly and quietly moving up the street, installing yard after yard of brand new pipe. The workers are polite, and always ready to show a 5-year-old boy (my son) the proper way to toggle a drive stick and raise a thousand-pound hoe.

"I used to love watching these things when I was his age," I called up to a guy in the seat of an enormous backhoe.

"Me too," he told me. "Now I love driving them."
BUILD YOUR OWN DRUG FENCE: A DIY Way to Reduce Criminal Traffic

If you live or work in an old neighborhood where most homes were built when folks were friendly and pit bulls weren't a drug dealer's best friend, you know that many yards don't have fences. Most lots are continuous, and can, under the wrong circumstances, provide an easy pathway for drug traffickers and other unsavory characters to pass from one house to the next; one street to the next; one block to the next.

It's not uncommon to see those familiar flashing blue lights on X Street, and a man running across a yard to Y Street, CPD officers in tow.

If only that yard had a drug fence.

A drug fence can be any size. It might close off an area between two old tree lines that are otherwise impassable. It might close the gap in a run of barbed wire fence. Or it might span the entire rear border of a back yard.

You can build a drug fence with just about anything. I've used scrap wood from the Capen Park mulch site, downed tree limbs, and recycled wire. I had to pester a next door slumlord to fence the yard of his long-vacant house, where it wasn't uncommon to see vagrants camping, and leaving behind everything from empty whiskey bottles to used condoms. Needless to say, his drug fence eliminated that problem.

Drug fences also make streets safer. By cutting down on cross-block traffic, and the criminal intent that often goes with it, drug fences cut down on crime. On the streets where I've built them, those swirling blue lights are a lot less common than they used to be.

And when the lights do arrive, those drug fences are an officer's best friend.
ANNOUNCEMENTS: Civil Rights Training; Anti-Levy group; Wade Works

Interested in Civil Rights? Hate Crimes? Community Policing? Representatives from Local, State and Federal agencies/organizations will be conducting panels on these concepts Thursday, April 3. 8:00 a.m. - 3:45 p.m. Reynolds Alumni Center, MU Campus.

For more information
Citizens Against New Taxes (CANT) seeks volunteers, donations, and other help to oppose the upcoming Columbia Public Schools tax levy. Interested persons can contact Allan Rodgers at jo.allan-at-mchsi.com or 573-449-2479.
WARD 4 Councilman Jerry Wade announces three information forums on sewers and the Sewer Bond issue that is on the ballot April 8 and the new Private Collector Sewer policy the city has passed, which means that citizens no longer have to pay for overdue sewer improvements through pernicious tax bills. The two forums are tonight and Thursday:

1. Tuesday, April 1, Fairview School Media Center, 5:30 - 6:30 p.m.
2. Thursday, April 3, Columbia Public Library, Friends Room, 5:00 - 6:30 p.m.
3. Monday, April 7, 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., Columbia Public Library, Conference Room B. A public meeting will be held to discuss new options for the sanitary sewer district project for South Garth.

COFFEEHOUSE CONVERSATIONS with councilman Wade continue Saturday, April 5th at the Rendezvous Coffeehouse from 10:30a to 12:00. The Rendezvous Coffeehouse is at 3304 Broadway Business Park Ct., on the south side of West Broadway west of HyVee. "I'm happy to talk to anyone who would like to visit with me, " Wade says.

To subscribe to Wade's 4th Ward mailing list, send email to columbiamoward4-subscribe - at - googlegroups.com or ward4 - at- gocolumbiamo.com

PARTING THOUGHTS: A Great Place to Spend Eternity


Viewer comments
Wonderful memories! Thank you!
It just made me smile. : )
....like having my own personal guru.


Mike Martin
Member: National Press Club
National Association of Science Writers

The Columbia Heart Beat
Circulation: Roughly 3,470

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