Wednesday, September 23, 2009

BEAT BYTE: Bizarre cell phone sale offers MU athletic dept. secrets

BEAT BYTES -- 9/23/09
News and Notes from the Columbia Heart Beat

1) CONVERSATION WITH: The City Manager
2) BIZARRE CELL PHONE SALE: Offers MU Athletic Dept. Secrets
3) TRAFFIC SAFETY: Grant School, four years after an accident
4) MU SCIENTIST: Studies Fall foliage
5) SANS PEPPER AND MOUSER: Advertisers drop KOMU

Listening Whilst Writing: A Fistful of Dollars, Ennio Morricone

CONVERSATION WITH: The Columbia City Manager

It's not everyday a schlep like me gets to chat it up with Columbia City Manager Bill Watkins. Depending on your perspective, our conversation either went well...or not.

Our convo started with an email from a constituent to the City Council about the unfolding sewer billing scandal, cc'd to me:

----- Original Message -----
From: A Constituent
To: Jerry Wade; Karl Skala; Barbara Hoppe; Paul Sturtz
Sent: Monday, September 21, 2009 2:48 PM
Subject: tonight's Council vote on sewer rate increase

Council Members,

I'm hoping you will look into this before you vote to increase the rates. From what I can tell, this should be a "no" vote.

Today: "As the Columbia City Council votes tonight on a 2010 budget with a proposed increase in basic service rates for each city sewer user, there is a source of money that some in the Public Works Department believe is being ignored...According to multiple e-mails by Weitkemper, he believes the city is enforcing the sanitary sewer billing ordinance haphazardly and is giving certain users preferential treatment."

Talbert said the rate increase is necessary to cover debt incurred for the $69 million wastewater treatment plant upgrade voters approved in 2008. "We have to have enough cash to cover our debt. That's what the bulk of that is," she said.

April 8, 2008: "voters were told the rise would be steeper--and come sooner--without the bonds."


A Constituent

I added my two cents:

----- Original Message -----
From: Mike Martin
To: Paul Sturtz; Barbara Hoppe; Karl Skala; Jerry Wade; A Constituent
Sent: Monday, September 21, 2009 3:35 PM
Subject: Re: tonight's Council vote on sewer rate increase

I've heard about this sewer fiasco at length already -- glad somebody else did the heavy lifting on putting a story together on it.

What a bunch of the same old crap this is, eh? Favoritism for the few at the expense of the many -- and right here, in good ol' progressive Columbia!

Mr. Watkins admonished me about an hour later:

----- Original Message -----
From: William Watkins
To: Mike Martin: CityMan; Darwin Mayor; Paul Ward1; Jason Ward2; Karl Ward3; Jerry Ward4; Laura Ward5; Barbara Ward6; Sent: Monday, September 21, 2009 4:23 PM
Subject: Re: Fw: tonight's Council vote on sewer rate increase

It would be very nice if you would consider all the facts before rushing to a decision.

I replied:

----- Original Message -----
From: Mike Martin
To: CityMan; William Watkins
Cc: Barbara Ward6; Laura Ward5; Jerry Ward4; Karl Ward3; Jason Ward2; Paul Ward1; Darwin Mayor
Sent: Monday, September 21, 2009 4:36 PM
Subject: Re: Fw: tonight's Council vote on sewer rate increase


With all due respect, that's part of the problem in this community. Only a select few have "all the facts," doling them out as need be. The rest of us schleps just have to get by. As one of those schleps, I do the best with what I have, and everything I write or say is as carefully considered as it can be, given my intrinsically limited circumstances.


Councilman Skala jumped in:

----- Original Message -----
From: Karl Skala
To: Jason Thornhill; Paul Sturtz; Karl Skala; Jerry Wade; Laura Nauser; Barbara Hoppe; Darwin Hindman; William Watkins; Mike Martin; A Constituent
Sent: Monday, September 21, 2009 4:33 PM
Subject: Re: Fw: tonight's Council vote on sewer rate increase

A Constituent, et al.,

Tonight, I will ask Bill Watkins for his explanation regarding this information.

Best Regards,


Feeling naughty, I dashed off some satire:

----- Original Message -----
From: Mike Martin
To: Karl Skala;
Cc: Jason Thornhill; Paul Sturtz; Jerry Wade; Laura Nauser; Barbara Hoppe; Darwin Hindman; William Watkins;
A Constituent
Sent: Monday, September 21, 2009 4:58 PM
Subject: Re: Fw: tonight's Council vote on sewer rate increase


You know darned well you can't ask Bill to explain anything. It's a violation of the City Charter, Chapter 205-A, Section 6B, Subchapter 7D.5, Paragraph 3A:

"No council member shall ever ask the city manager or any assistant city manager to explain anything, at any time, whatsoever, ad infinitum. Doing so will result in immediate removal from the council."

[City Attorney] Mr. Boeckmann sent me the relevant passage. It's right below the passage about how council members can't be paid.

See you out here in Schlep Land.

-- Mike

Mr. Watkins was not in a satirical mood:

----- Original Message -----
From: William Watkins
To: Mike Martin
Sent: Monday, September 21, 2009 4:55 PM
Subject: Re: Fw: tonight's Council vote on sewer rate increase

Mike -- I think your attempt at humor is way out of line.

Ever conscientious, Councilman Skala hunted for the ordinance I had cited:

----- Original Message -----
From: Karl Skala
To: Mike Martin
Sent: Tuesday, September 22, 2009 9:21 AM
Subject: The Sewer Thing


....I am not sure what you meant by "City Charter, Chapter 205-A, Section 6B, Subchapter 7D.5, Paragraph 3A" as a reference; perhaps you would clarify this reference for me (I was unable to locate a City Charter, Chapter 205-A).

Best Regards.


I replied:

----- Original Message -----
From: Mike Martin
To: Karl Skala
Sent: Tuesday, September 22, 2009 10:07 AM
Subject: Re: The Sewer Thing, there's no such thing as those charter citations. I was kidding...Many old-line senior staffers disdain answering council's questions, and I'm sure they wish there was such a charter citation....

BIZARRE CELL PHONE SALE: Offers MU Athletic Dept. Secrets

COLUMBIA, 9/23/09 (Beat Byte) -- In one of the weirdest stories to cross our desk in a while, a Craigslister is offering nearly 30 cell and smart phones for sale as "unique souvenirs." Why unique? They used to belong to the MU Athletic Department and still contain information from their former owners. The seller claims he purchased the old phones at a university disposal sale.

He says he offered to sell them back, but that the Athletic Department turned him down.

"Ever wanted to know how those sports dignitaries use their electronic stuff?" the seller writes. "What do they say in a chat? Who do they get tweets from? Now you can get a little bit of UNFILTERED insight. The price is reflective of the rarity and ensures only SERIOUS offers."

The smart phones, cell phones, and flip phones allegedly contain "conversations, text messages, email, memos, calendar entries and address books from all over the MU Athletic Department. Coaches and Directors of Volleyball, Soccer all the way up to Football and Basketball. In some cases there are conversations FROM the people as well. One seems to be from a sports doctor or pharmacist. Some seem to be from players and interns."


TRAFFIC SAFETY CHECK: Grant School, four years after an accident

COLUMBIA, 9/23/09 (Beat Byte) -- "One parent who witnessed Monday's accident said she didn't think she'd ever be able to forget the horrid sound of a child's body bouncing off a car's fender. A playground teeming with schoolmates and families witnessed the accident and it's aftermath. This should not happen again. The accident at Grant Elementary on Monday afternoon has to be a wake-up call to all drivers in Columbia."

That was the conclusion of an April 2005 Columbia Missourian guest column about a first grade girl at Grant Elementary struck by a car on Garth Avenue a month earlier.

In May 2005, Jacque Cowherd, then a Columbia Public Schools assistant superintendent, coordinated a meeting about traffic safety at Grant, a still-dangerous affair. Sandwiched between both the library and the elementary, Garth Avenue simply can't handle a traffic burden that has only grown in the past 4 years.

Attended by representatives from City Hall, Columbia Police Department, First Student Bus Service, assistant superintendent Jack Jensen, then-Grant principal Crystal Church, and school district safety coordinator Preston Bass, Cowherd's meeting addressed two goals, wrote Julie Davis in the Grant PTA newsletter:

1) To effect better enforcement of parking and speed
2) To request extension or maintenance of the yellow curb zone on Garth

Back then, Davis noted that among 360 total students, 100 rode the bus to and from school, while another 40 students attended Adventure Club, a popular after-school program held in the Grant auditorium.

"That leaves 220 students either walking home or picked up by car," Davis noted. She then provided what today could be used as a followup checklist: Was this done? Was that done? Crosswalks, crossing flags, and better rules have all been instituted.

But basic road and traffic issues remain largely unchanged.

"We have zero parking spaces at Grant and currently have no good safe spot for a drive-up student pickup area," Davis wrote.
She then noted that police will be "enforcing and ticketing speeders and vehicles parked, stopped or standing along Garth. The school district specifically asked the police department to help us in this way."

A number of other approaches were discussed, including traffic-calming devices, such as speed humps, on Garth; and developing a "drop-off/pick-up plan" Davis said would be "enforced very consistently by both our school and the Columbia Police Department" and having the library add another entrance/exit on Crestmere Ave., as the old library had.

Taking a serious look at this checklist today is like reviewing compliance with a series of expert recommendations. Writing to 4th Ward councilman Jerry Wade last year, Davis said she had been "heavily involved over the last 3-7 years working to address traffic safety issues at Grant. I worked with parents, school personnel and a city traffic engineer named Richard Stone during and after the library construction project. Stone was extremely knowledgable and worked very hard to help us. He probably still has a very deep file of Grant-related notes."

Davis concluded with a call to action in her 2005 PTA story, addressing a situation that continues to plague Grant school at least twice daily.

"As long as I've had children at this school, folks have been concerned about the traffic safety issues. The unfortunate accident last month has people paying attention. Please join me in doing your part to keep Garth Avenue safe by driving the speed limit, staying off the yellow curb, and crossing only in the crosswalk. Thanks for your help and cooperation!"

MU SCIENTIST: Studies Fall foliage

COLUMBIA, 9/23/09 (Mizzouwire) -- Meet John Walker, Plant Detective. His mission: To investigate one of the most common occurrences in nature -- abscission -- something that happens in plain sight billions and billions of times every year, every time a leaf falls from a tree or an apple drops to the ground.

Walker, a biologist who has been at the University of Missouri since 1987, and his MU colleagues in the University's Interdisciplinary Plant Group have been attracting international press for discovering links in the chain of genetic events that control abscission. With funding from the National Science Foundation, they tracked the process in a small flowering weed that grows in Europe, Asia and Africa.

"John is a pioneer," said Frans Tax, a plant biologist at the University of Arizona. "His research is an elegant combination of genetics and biochemistry. Because these genes are found in all plants, manipulation in crops to regulate abscission could be fairly straightforward."

Before following Walker on his path to discovery, let's review for a moment the case file on plant abscission: The autumn turning of leaves has always been part of the human experience, an activity has attracted at least as much interest from poets as from scientists.

When Walker does a PowerPoint presentation of his work he includes a citation from Emily Bronte:

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.

"That just about says it all," Walker says.



COLUMBIA, 9/23/09 (Beat Byte) -- Now that Pepper and Friends has departed from the airwaves, local businesses are following through with threats to pull their advertising from Pepper's former home, television station KOMU.

The businesses include Affordable Cruises and Travel, LLC; Appletree Quilting Center; Children's Orchard; Dancearts of Columbia; Hazel Kinder's Lighthouse Theater; Hearing Solutions; The MacXprts Network; Missouri River Monuments; World Harvest International and Gourmet Foods; and Columbia Catering Company.

In August, Mac Xperts owner and former congressional candidate Duane Burghard wrote MU Chancellor Brady Deaton, Vice-Chancellor Jacquelyn Jones and KOMU General Manager Marty Siddall. "Unhappily, if the University insists on this course of action (cancellation), my business will be included in a group" of advertisers who've pulled their business.

Longtime MU associate professor of consumer and family economics Mel Zelenak, who owns Affordable Cruises and Travel, said that, "In total, Affordable Cruises and Travel has been responsible for approximately $5,000 in revenue sales for KOMU-TV through the first nine months of 2009. Once our contractual obligations end in September; I will terminate our five year relationship with the station. My decision is solely because of the management team's decision to eliminate Pepper and Friends programming."

Public relations executive Barbara Carman of Creative Concepts called Pepper and Friends a "front-porch" outlet.

"In the past, I have always considered 'Pepper and Friends' as the absolute best advertising resource to reach the Mid-Missouri people. If the show goes, KOMU-TV has nothing for me to recommend that has that wide local appeal."


"I'M ON MY WAY...JUST SET ME FREE...HOME SWEET HOME." The lyrics from Motley Crue's Home Sweet Home sound a lot like something the housing industry might have sang last week, after the Commerce Department reported that the number of Housing Starts in August came in better than expected.

As you can see in the chart below, Housing Starts have fallen significantly since June 2008, but in last week's report, they broke free to come in at their highest level since last November. Building Permits were a bit lower than expectations, but the overall report suggests that while we're not entirely out of the woods yet, the worst in the housing market may have passed and that the industry may be on its way to stabilizing.


Tom Stone
The Bank of Missouri
Asst. Vice President
Columbia, MO
Office: 573-874-4700

Mike Martin
Blogitor in Chief
The Columbia Heart Beat

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the mention, Mike. It's been a very crazy week.