COLUMBIA, 9/22/10 (Beat Byte) -- Columbia Mayor Robert McDavid, M.D. and Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl are getting kudos from unexpected quarters: populist liberals who supported their opponents.
From working to restore fire department funding to pushing for a higher allocation of city parking fees to general services, Dr. McDavid (left) and Mr. Kespohl (below) have shown what one liberal constituent speaking privately and informally called "a contrarian streak. I like the way they're questioning things. I've been really impressed with the mayor."
"I'm surprised frankly," said another populist-type. "I wouldn't have expected this, especially watching the April elections unfold."
In a letter Saturday to the Columbia Daily Tribune, Pednet director Ian Thomas "commended" both men -- for being pedestrian friendly. Charging the city's parking utility a higher PILOT fee, an idea McDavid introduced on the David Lile radio show, would help move city parking profits into "necessary programs that promote the long-term sustainability of city services such as fire, police and mass transit," Thomas said.
Largely supported by the pro-business Columbia Chamber of Commerce, McDavid, Kespohl, and Fourth Ward Councilman Daryl Dudley seemed to promise a return to the "pavement and bulldozer" metaphor that has come to define a generation of local developers, both rightly and wrongly.
Nearly six months into their terms, the Mayor and Third Ward Councilman appear instead to be leading a priorities-based discussion with a populist bent. Kespohl has been following through on a campaign promise to cut Council member meals and travel -- an approach with which I'm less than ecstatic (Council members have few perks as it is) -- but that nonetheless builds a foundation of moral authority for more contentious decisions.
McDavid was the only public official I heard walking back rhetoric about the National Bikers Roundup and the first public official I've ever heard suggest that a city profit center -- the parking monopoly -- equitably contribute profits to other city services. He's also the only Council member suggesting a second look at utility rate hikes, basing his argument on the idea that rate hikes in down economies sting the average person most of all.
McDavid showed a contrarian streak on the Boone Hospital board, when in 2006 he led the charge to reduce gargantuan hospital management fees to St. Louis-based BJC Healthcare.