Friday, September 9, 2011

ARE ALL WARDS CREATED EQUAL? Ward Reapportionment leader Bob Pugh on fairness at City Hall

Part two of a conversation on the Ward Reapportionment debate
 
COLUMBIA, 9/9/11  (Beat Byte) --  For neighborhoods facing consolidation into the First Ward under reapportionment plans presently under community consideration, a long and sour history in the halls of city power stands out as a primary fear.  From stormwater, street lighting, sidewalks, safe streets, code enforcement, and other basic infrastructure, City Hall has forgotten Columbia's central city First Ward, many residents and observers say.
 
But Columbia Ward Reapportionment Committee chairman Bob Pugh sees the situation differently.  The idea "that the First Ward is neglected
and that somehow things should be made right," is misguided, Pugh claims.   
 
At the center of the city's Ward reapportionment debate, Columbia's First Ward includes much of the downtown and most of a once-segregated area that encompasses central city neighborhoods north of Broadway to the Business Loop. 
 
 The idea "that the First Ward is a neglected Ward, and that somehow
things should be made right," is misguided, Pugh claims.   
 
The First Ward's formerly-segregated status stands out to many residents, who say City Hall has never provided it a "fair share" of city resources; turned a blind eye to slumlords running the area down; and on at least two past occasions, used eminent domain in concert with private business to pick up land in the Ward on the cheap
 
That perception is flat out wrong, Pugh explains.  "There is an inference that the other Council people do not take into account the well-being of the First Ward, instead lobbying to 'earmark' city resources for the benefit of their respective Wards," he says.  "Of course, this is utter nonsense." 
 
Annual budgeting histories, however, tell a different story, with Exhibit A the use of Federal block grants -- so called "CDBG funds" -- in place of local tax dollars to support such programs as the Neighborhood Response Team, road, and park construction. 
 
No other Ward in Columbia has faced such indignities on city-owned properties.   
 
Until block grants came along, many First Ward streets had no sidewalks, no storm drainage, and poor lighting.   If not for block grants, the Ward would not have recreation amenities at places like Douglass Park.  Block grants could not be secured to restore the derelict, city-owned Heibel-March building, so it continues to decay in Field Park.  Block grants are not available to restore the interior of the Blind Boone Home, and it still sits 11 years after City Hall bought it, a bombed-out shell wearing fancy lipstick. 

No other Ward in Columbia has faced such indignities on city-owned properties.  No other Ward is forced to rely on Federal largesse to this extent.   In every other Ward, local tax dollars pay most of the bills. 
 
Pugh, however, says he has "no doubt that the seven members of the City Council look out for the well being of everyone, and that everyone gets his or her share of municipal services.   If there is a concern raised regarding the First Ward, and it deserves attention and resources, these decent people will address it."
 
Block grants are not available to restore the interior of the Blind Boone Home,
and it still sits 11 years after City Hall bought it, a bombed-out shell wearing fancy lipstick. 
 
With Ward consolidation, neighbors presently living in other central city Wards also fear the loss of critical votes on the Columbia City Council.  
 
Should traditionally "progressive" neighborhoods be forced out of the Third and Fourth Wards, their residents foresee a major shift of Council priorities, away from the needs of small business and average people and toward a big business, big developer-driven agenda.  Such a shift has more potential to harm the First Ward -- and the entire central city -- than help it. 
 
But how such an agenda could get off the ground mystifies Pugh.  Municipal government, he says, "is about providing municipal services:  fire, police, water, electricity, refuse, streets, plowing snow, fixing potholes, parks, recreation, and so on.  These services...are delivered or available to every household and person in the city equally."  
 
Equity, Pugh seems to be saying, is so fundamental to city government it would be difficult if not impossible for any special interest to claim more than its fair share of public pie. 
 
"Our process has been open and even-handed.  All should understand that
our job is to equalize Ward population as best we can...."
 
"The garbage is picked up once a week in the First Ward, as is it in all the other Wards," Pugh explained.  "The police patrol the streets of the First Ward, as they do in the Fifth.   The snow is plowed in the First, as it is in the Sixth.  The fire department will answer a call with the same sense of urgency in the First Ward as it will in the Third.   That is what municipal government does, and Columbia does it very well." 
 
Given Columbia's history, Pugh's attitude seems, well -- incomplete.  He's leaving out City Hall's policy-making role -- from approving large-scale developments to wielding such potent tools as eminent domain.  He's leaving out the role of powerful, non-elected senior staffers who can over-rule Council members simply by controlling the information they receive.  He's forgetting the influence of our "associate" city managers, Columbia Tribune publisher Hank Waters chief among them. 
 
But Pugh's abiding sense that City Hall is mostly fair does have a silver lining.  He has taken it to heart, it seems, in his role as Ward Reapportionment chairman. 

"Our process has been open and even-handed," he told the Heart Beat.  "All should understand that our job is to equalize Ward population as best we can, and take into consideration what the City Council indicated regarding recognized neighborhood associations and neighborhoods."

1 comment:

  1. Why not have less focus on the racial discrimination of the history of the first ward and consider that most first warders will pine that the first ward never gets enough city hall responses or attention while other ward members might feel that too much attention and city hall concessions and resources are given to the first ward.
    Now, with population figures showing increases in the other wards, it might be a good time to disband the first ward and have it divided up into the other remaining wards. You could retain a special business district with the mayor acting as its liaison. By phasing out one council seat, you'd be streamlining council meetings and former ward one residents would now be represented by their new city council reps.

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