Tuesday, March 15, 2011

EYE CANDID: Glen Ehrhardt for 5th Ward City Council

The "I" stands for Internet in these candid candidate profiles
COLUMBIA, 3/15/11  (Beat Byte) --  The first online mention of 5th Ward Columbia City Council candidate Glen Ehrhardt (left) is, fittingly, a birth announcement.
"Angel Stewart and Glen Ehrhardt of Columbia are the parents of a 6-pound, 5-ounce girl born at 9:50 p.m. May 20, 1994, at Boone Hospital Center."  
For his daughter this campaign season, it's Sweet 16 and learning to drive.  For dad, an equally significant challenge:  After being recruited to run for Mayor, Mr. Ehrhardt is now tackling a Council Ward race as the establishment favorite.  His singular Columbia Chamber of Commerce endorsement is the foremost bit of digiteralia in his long record of service to the law and the community -- often as a contrarian voice. 
As Columbia's well-known City-University political divide would cast it, Ehrhardt is Town to opponent Helen Anthony's Gown.  
As digitally recounted, Glen Ehrhardt's legal career has been the definition of "general practice."  He's represented a variety of diverse interests, from counsel for the defense in the case of an Ashland farmer suing a builder over land erosion issues, to counsel for MU basketball star turned businessman Willie Smith, who hired Ehrhardt to sort out a church fundraising fiasco that involved alleged conflicts of interest and ever-complicated Central City Columbia church politics. 
 At Tuesday night's League of Women Voters candidate forum, Ehrhardt emphasized his thirty-year ties with Columbia and Boone County, during which time he has also counseled several public institutions. 
He defended Boone County Sheriff Ted Boehm against a sex bias charge.  And, in the drawn-out process that was the Daniel Boone Regional Library's re-design, Ehrhardt went to bat for the library board, fighting for zoning and building code variances that would accomodate increased parking -- and a "tower" that became one of several lightning rods for criticism of a construction many say metamorphosed -- or metastasized -- without public notice or approval. 
Unafraid to tackle controversial issues and clients, Ehrhardt appears thorough, competent, and persistent.  It would probably not be a stretch to suggest that if Columbia had a list of Best Attorneys, he would be on it.
No stranger to local politics and community activism, Ehrhardt has often found himself on a side of the street that might surprise some observers -- the contrarian side.  
Concerned about a City of Columbia gender identity discrimination ordinance, Ehrhardt spoke on behalf of Boone County Citizens for Good Government, a controversial conservative group that mostly vanished in 2004 after fighting for several years against many of the county's sacred cows.   
Best known for working to repeal Columbia's deposit ordinance; opposing then Presiding Boone Commissioner Don Stamper's controversial fairground purchase;  and for a political fight against incumbent Boone County Commissioner Karen Miller that entered the books as one of the nastiest in recent memory, Boone County Citizens for Good Government also fought for law enforcement, public safety, and lower taxes. 
Hard to politically stereotype, group members supported a blend of Republicans, Democrats, and State Representative Chris Kelly, who might be Boone County's most notable "Demo-Rep" -- a one-man combination of two-party rule. 
As president of the Bluff Creek Neighborhood Association, Ehrhardt fought a traffic snarl that threatened his neighbors with unsafe driving conditions.   A Trib report paints a picture of a man willing to speak out for a cause.   
"Not buying the explanation that bad weather delayed the construction, Ehrhardt retorted that it wouldn’t have been necessary...."  
"That’s another issue bothering the president of the neighborhood association - lack of proper notification.  Ehrhardt said he only learned that the road would be closed...." 
In a more conciliatory 2007 role on Columbia's new high school site selection committee, Ehrhardt campaigned for cool-headedness
As new sites kept popping up in the wake of a bad first siting, Ehrhardt suggested that the high school's location "be based on as much information as possible.  A rushed decision would be very short-sighted.  If we need to delay it several weeks or months to get the best information possible, I think that is what we should do." 
Recruited to run for Columbia Mayor last year, Ehrhardt declined to get directly involved as a candidate. 
But he did take the gloves off with Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala, demanding that Skala cough up travel records opponent Gary Kespohl used to win, most notably in a series of radio ads that portrayed Skala -- a materially-modest man who had just lost over 70 pounds to preserve his health -- as a big spending, big-eating glutton dining on the public's dime. 
"Ehrhardt used the Sunshine Law to obtain documents Kespohl used to question Skala’s spending," the Trib reported.  "Ehrhardt said he wasn’t targeting Skala when he asked for council expense accounts.  But 'there were several individuals who had much more in the way of expenses and trips than other council members,' he said.  Kespohl decided how to use the information, Ehrhardt said."

Ehrhardt's move -- which included a
high-profile email that invoked the dark overlord of conservative local politics -- not Rush, but Fred -- was effective.  Despite the hard feelings, it was also, in the end, politics -- which is nothing if not a contact sport. 
When attorney David Rogers passed away in 2005, he was "of counsel" to Ehrhardt's law firm, then known as Rogers, Ehrhardt and McGuire.  About Mr. Rogers -- a longtime co-host of the KFRU Sunday Morning Roundtable who described himself as a "raconteur and amateur historian" -- I said this to a friend at his funeral: 
"David was one of few people who, while part of the system, was never afraid to criticize it."
Rogers was one of my favorite Columbia voices, a well-regarded pundit who had the audacity, the courage, and the strength of character to call right or wrong, fair or foul, savvy smart or Boonedoggle boneheaded, on our community's political establishment -- of which he was a prominent part.  It's hard to imagine such a larger-than-life figure not rubbing off, at least a little bit, on a younger attorney in his orbit. 
Glen Ehrhardt clearly wants a more conspicuous role in the political decision-making process. But hereabouts, that role often comes with an unfortunate trade off -- the dismissal of voices that question the establishment, of which he too is a prominent part. 
Should Mr. Ehrhardt win, therefore, I hope the spirit of David Rogers comes with him. 

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