Friday, April 2, 2010

TRIB REPORTERS: Planning "April surprise" for popular candidates?

COLUMBIA, 4/2/10  (Beat Byte) --  Rumor has it reporters at the Columbia Daily Tribune are staffing up the fire trucks again, this time to throw water (or ink) all over the Karl Skala and Tracy Greever-Rice Columbia City Council campaigns.
Neither Mr. Skala nor Mrs. Greever-Rice received endorsements from Trib publisher Hank "The Butterfly" Waters, although Mr. Waters did say nice things about them. 
Earlier, you'll recall Trib education reporter Janese Heavin (above) watering (or inking) down a Columbia Heart Beat story about 4th Ward candidate Daryl Dudley's intimate connection with the Atkins development group -- they share a mailing address:
Now, it seems Ms. Heavin is pursuing a "rumor" she told Third Ward councilman Karl Skala has been "making its way up the 4th estate grape vine for some time."  The rumor:  That Mr. Skala and Mayoral candidate Jerry Wade will conspire to fire city manager Bill Watkins if elected. 
Ms. Heavin apparently told Mrs. Greever-Rice a slightly different version:  That if elected, Mr. Skala and Mrs. Greever-Rice would conspire to fire the city manager.
Mr. Wade's support for many recent City Manager initiatives, and his recent flip flop in favor of the city manager on squelching discussion over a council "advise and consent" role indicate Mr. Wade has every intention of supporting Mr. Watkins
"Given Mr. Watkins' strong personnel evaluations over the years, the idea that anyone on the Council would seek his ouster is absolutely ludicrous," Mrs. Greever-Rice told the Heart Beat.  "I don't know where Janese came up with this latest salvo, because she hasn't told me and I haven't heard it from anyone else."
Mr. Skala, too, said he's heard the rumor from no one else but Heavin.  "Bill Watkins has done a superb job with fiscal responsibility," Mr. Skala said.  "And as for our relationship, Bill considered me a close enough confidante to consult with me about what we should do with a former department director, who ultimately resigned to take another job." 
First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz calls firing city manager Watkins "the nuclear option."  Mr. Skala calls it the ultimate "straw man," trotted out to quash discussions on issues such as changing the City Charter -- Columbia's guiding constitution -- to allow council members more input into the hiring of senior department heads -- an advice and consent role similar to Congress.
"Critics take a sublime idea like Council having more democratic input as the legislators they are and turn it into something ridiculous," Mr. Skala said.  "Firing the city manager is the last option available to a completely frustrated Council.  But that doesn't describe the Columbia City Council at all."
This year, Mr. Skala says he'd like to see Mr. Watkins more engaged in making a city manager promise for more transparency, openness, and accountability a reality.  But that's far from a fire-able offense.
"Once you start talking about firing the city manager, you're basically ending discussion of the issues at hand," Mr. Skala said.  "When people trot it out as the Council cudgel, it seems like they are the ones who want the discussion shut down, not us." 
As for transparency, Mr. Skala would like to see more of it forthcoming from Ms. Heavin.  "Reporters are, after all, the guardians of transparency here.  So why can't Janese tell us who started this malicious rumor before requesting that we comment?" 
[For the record, this is the first I've heard of the rumor, either.  And I'm usually first to hear!]
HOPPE/READ:  Tangle in Cross Creek mediation dispute
COLUMBIA, 4/2/10  (Beat Byte) --  A vocal dispute playing out at the Columbia Missourian may be headed for a new spin at the Columbia Daily Tribune, sources tell the Heart Beat. 
At issue: Dualing letters from Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe (left, left) and Fourth Ward Council candidate Sarah Read about the role of mediation in resolving neighbor-developer conflicts at Cross Creek. 
"It is important that the voters of the Fourth ward and city know about the inappropriateness of the mediation process used for the Crosscreek Development, at the intersection of Stadium Boulevard and U.S. 63," Mrs. Hoppe wrote the Missourian March 31.  "The developer-paid mediator for that process was Sarah Read."
Tribune publisher Hank Waters endorsed Read this week.
Citing transparency-busting moves like forcing Shepard Neighborhood representatives to sign a nondisclosure agreement that later tied their hands, Hoppe -- an attorney and MU law school-trained mediator -- called the nondisclosure move appropriate for a courtroom but "totally inappropriate in a mediation between neighborhoods and developers for city developments."  
Mediation, Mrs. Hoppe insisted, must occur in a level playing field.  But in this case, the developer "paid and picked the mediator and the neighborhood representatives had no say in selecting the mediator or in the type of process that was used."   
Responding the next day, Mrs. Read called Mrs. Hoppe's letter a repeat of "various misrepresentations that have been made in the blogs by supporters of Tracy Greever-Rice since the beginning of my campaign."
Citing what she termed Mrs. Hoppe's lack of preparedness, Mrs. Read said the Councilwoman's "statements are at odds with the contemporaneous comments of participants reported in the June 23, 2008, article in the Missourian titled 'Striving for unity in Crosscreek.'...Not only did both of the involved neighborhood associations ratify the final agreement negotiated by the parties, that agreement was approved by both the Planning and Zoning Commission and the City Council." 
Read then suggested voters could "judge the appropriateness of a sitting councilperson attacking a candidate in another ward" and endorse a candidate associated with the politics of personal attack that dominate the blogosphere or choose among candidates who believe in more genuine and informed dialogue." 
Barbara Hoppe Letter
Sarah Read responds
GREEVER-RICE:  Tagged to Comment on Hoppe/Read dispute
COLUMBIA, 4/2/10  (Beat Byte) -- Though after the fact, Columbia Tribune reporter Janese Heavin is leading Tracy Greever-Rice (left) into the Hoppe/Read dispute, asking her to judge whether or not the mediation was successful. 
But the project stalled out long ago and Greever-Rice was never directly involved. 
"At this point, we can't know if it was 'successful' until the development proceeds," Mrs. Greever-Rice told Ms. Heavin.  "Then we can measure how thoroughly it complies with both the mediation agreement and the statement of intent, and we can measure the long-term impacts on surrounding property owners."
Asked what she would want to see in a public mediation, Mrs. Greever-Rice said, "We need to be able to ensure that the development plan is in full compliance with the mediation agreement.   It is unfair, and in many cases will be unaffordable, for neighbors to be left with the legal and financial responsibility of ensuring developers' compliance with the mediation agreement."   
Open mediation, Mrs. Greever-Rice added, "could be a useful tool for encouraging development that adds value to all properties impacted by a development."  
Closed mediation, on the other hand, "leaves local government with no new tools or knowledge to use as a model for future development negotiations."
Asked who should pay for mediation between developers and neighborhood associations, Mrs. Greever-Rice said that while parties in negotiation can determine who will pay, if the City is encouraging specific parties to negotiate using a particular method, the City has an ethical obligation to ensure that the playing field is level and that all parties have the ability to authentically and equitably participate in the process."
Finally, Ms. Heavin asked what Mrs. Greever Rice thought of the Hoppe/Read debate, which Mrs. Read likened to a political attack. 
"Barb Hoppe and Mike Sleadd have graciously worked on and supported many local campaigns over many years and I'm grateful for their confidence in my race," Mrs. Greever-Rice noted.  "Barb mentioned to me on the day that she sent it that she was submitting a letter to the Missourian.
"People support my campaign because they like my thinking and approach to inclusiveness in the public process. Looking at the facts of a process and having a difference of opinion is not an 'attack'.  It's having an informed public and is an important part of the electoral process."

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