by Mike Martin
On October 7th, 2008 at 9:00 am, the case of radio talk show host Fred Parry goes to trial. A jury trial, no less, according to documents on Casenet.
If you don't know the case -- or the trials and tribulations historic home owners in the Old Southwest have experienced over sewer lines and other failing infrastructure -- you'd probably never guess who's been hauling the city of Columbia's most vocal booster in and out of court for nearly two years.
The City of Columbia!
That's right, our own city. And facing down their lawyers have been Fred Parry and his wife Melody, two of Columbia's most vocal and best-known boosters.
"Well, Simon, Columbia, Missouri -- the center of the Universe -- should have been included," in some top ten list I don't even remember. I only remember Parry -- the Columbia Chamber of Commerce 2006 Outstanding Citizen -- referring to Columbia as "the center of the Universe" on the KFRU Morning Meeting -- several times.
The City of Columbia vs. Frederick J. Parry, et. al. started over an eminent domain condemnation suit back in October 2006. Public Works needs land in front of Parry's house to fix an aging sewer line. But as I understand from some of Parry's neighbors, 12 of whom face the same issue, it's been far from as simple as that.
First, there's the concern over decimation of trees and landscaping. If personal experience is any guide, the neighbors are right to be afraid -- very afraid. On a fishing expedition for a non-existent drainage box on property I own in the central city, Public Works destroyed my back yard, disregarding the professional advice of a local engineering firm and instead, ripping out every living thing and leaving a swampy mud flat behind.
Where trees once stood, now mosquitoes breed, and despite my repeated pleas to repair the mess, it remains -- a mess, nearly a year later.
Next, there's the issue of compensation. More than one neighbor has told me a variation on this theme: the city agrees to a certain payment for a sewer easement, sends a check, then hires a private attorney to take part of the money back. Attorney Jeff Parshall is representing the city in the Parry case, and he's tackling one of my neighbors on Maupin in a related matter.
Based on all the motions (hearings), depositions (grillings), interrogatories (obnoxiously long and often meaningless questionnaires) and sheriff's deputies showing up on Parry's doorstep with summonses, the city's been playing hardball with him, too.
The question is: why?
It seems like a terrible move from a public relations perspective, and though I can already hear a few cheers from Parry detractors, court is a crummy way to solve almost any dispute, especially with a guy who loves this city so much.
Maybe I'm naive, but I'm surprised city manager Bill Watkins and Mayor Darwin Hindman can't just go over to Fred's house and settle this mess, then appear on the Morning Meeting the next day to crow over a few cigars.
Who knows: Fred might even make Bill an honorary Phat Guy. And as we denizens of the center of the Universe well know, it doesn't get much phatter than that.