Thursday, January 29, 2009

BEAT BYTE EXTRA! City Council Scheme Shocks Leadership Group

BEAT BYTE -- 1/29/09

1) City Council Scheme Shocks Leadership Group
2) Controversial Discussion Missing From Official Tape
3) Chamber of Commerce Committee Sought Councilman Removal

1) City Council Scheme Shocks Leadership Group  

COLUMBIA, 1/29/09 (Beat Byte) -- A conversation about Columbia's future at Tuesday night's Downtown Leadership Council (DLC) meeting suddenly became a jaw-dropping expose when members heard about an alleged plan to replace, block, or otherwise undermine so-called city council "activists."

"I couldn't believe it," a DLC member, who preferred to remain anonymous, told the Heart Beat. "We were hearing about a group of city leaders, including the mayor and city manager, scheming to remove city council members they don't like."

Ostensibly a public relations campaign to support city council pay, the plan was supposedly presented at a different, invitation-only meeting of former mayors and city managers last Thursday at the Country Club of Missouri. No council members, past or present, were invited and the meeting was closed to the public. Columbia Daily Tribune editor Hank Waters was also said to have attended.

With current city manager Bill Watkins and mayor Darwin Hindman also in attendance, former city attorney and Columbia Daily Tribune columnist Bob Roper allegedly spoke about paying council members. But the conversation quickly became about ways to remove and discourage so-called "activist" council members like Karl Skala, Barb Hoppe, Paul Sturtz, and Jerry Wade, according to sources familiar with the meeting. Mr. Roper then presented a plan to grant mayors "full veto power."

Using the term "activist council members" at least a half dozen times, attendees also discussed the pressing need to remove "that guy in the fishing vest" -- Mr. Skala -- in favor of "business people who just can't afford the time off to do the job without getting paid."

Mayor Darwin Hindman allegedly spoke in favor of the proposal, but it was unclear what he was supporting -- council pay or council member removal -- because neither he nor anyone else spoke against the scheme, and because council pay was allegedly a part of it. Paying council members would allegedly encourage many more "business people" to seek the elected office.

The term "council activists" has recently appeared in local editorials, including Missourian pundit George Kennedy's recent discussion of an ongoing dispute between council members, Mayor Hindman, and City Manager Watkins regarding the police chief hiring process. Council members can be removed for violating the city charter if they "interfere" or "meddle" in hiring decisions, which are solely the purview of the city manager.

As word of the conversations spread yesterday, this reporter's phone rang continuously, with citizens concerned that an elite "leadership cabal" was floating trial balloons to test support for ways to silence dissent and take control. That concern was largely motivated by an earlier, well-documented exchange between Mr. Skala, who sits on the Columbia Chamber of Commerce government affairs committee (GAC), and leaders of the committee, who were seeking his removal from it.

Mr. Roper co-chairs that committee.

"I regretted having to ask you to withdraw from the Chamber's government affairs committee, but I felt compelled to do so based on numerous complaints I have received about your participation in the last few meetings," Chamber of Commerce board chairman Larry Moore wrote in a December 19, 2008 letter to Mr. Skala. "As we discussed, I felt that the 'open' governmental affairs format provides an important forum for our members to raise, discuss, and formulate recommendations on issues critical to business in Columbia. Accordingly, it is imperative that your participation not continue to disrupt this process."

Mr. Roper denied involvement in efforts to remove Mr. Skala from either the city council or the GAC. "I value and respect Karl's participation, but I can't go into it any further than that," he told the Heart Beat.

And while he did confirm presenting a council pay plan at "a sort of annual meeting that [former Columbia mayor] Bob Pugh puts together," Mr. Roper denied presenting a plan to remove or discourage "council activists."

"The term 'council activists' didn't come up, not once," Mr. Roper said. "That's absurd."

Instead, Mr. Roper said he presented the plan to "correct a basic inequity of people who take a lot of abuse working 30-35 hours per week for free. A council pay plan might actually increase the number of candidates for the city council by making it easier for more people to serve. But I don't want to talk too much more than that."

Former Columbia mayor Clyde Wilson, who attended both the public DLC meeting and the private council "pay plan" meeting, confirmed details that conflict with Mr. Roper's account, openly wondering why no council members, past or present, were invited to a meeting presumably about their pay.

"It was only mayors and city managers," Mr. Wilson told the Heart Beat. "Mr. Watkins sat next to [former city manager] Ray Beck. I think many people started getting uncomfortable about the time this activist council discussion started. I support council pay, and that's why I went. But it became clear fairly quickly that another agenda was at work."

George Kennedy editorial:

2) Controversial Discussion Missing From Official Tape 

COLUMBIA, 1/29/09 (Beat Byte) -- A tape recording of Tuesday night's Downtown Leadership Council (DLC) meeting is missing an entire conversation regarding an alleged scheme to remove and discourage so-called "activist" council members, the Columbia Heart Beat has learned.

In a telephone call to Billye Clemons yesterday afternoon, who said she tape records every DLC meeting to transcribe minutes, this reporter -- who also attended the DLC meeting -- requested permission to listen to the tape. "I've never had anyone ask to do that before," Clemons said. "We have no procedure in place for it and I'll have to ask Mr. Watkins."

I made the request after a source close to City Hall expressed concern that portions of the DLC meeting, which is open to the public, hadn't been recorded. "It wouldn't surprise me if about 7-10 minutes of that meeting is missing," the source explained.

Roughly an hour later, Clemons telephoned to say the tape was ready. On arriving at the City Manager's office in the Daniel Boone City Hall meeting, I met Clemons in the lobby and she set me up in a private conference room. "I'm sorry, this is a really old machine," she said, proceeding to turn on a cassette tape recorder. The tape started playing about halfway into the meeting, which I had also attended.

But after about a minute, during which Columbia Housing Authority director Phil Steinhaus discussed his dismay with a structure at Quinton's Bar that overhangs a sidewalk along Ninth Street, the tape suddenly stopped. The conversation about the scheme to remove council members was indeed missing.

"Oh no -- I'm really sorry," explained Clemons, who relies on the tape to compose the minutes. "I guess I forgot to turn the tape over."

After requesting to speak with assistant city manager Tony St. Romaine, who also attended the DLC meeting, I waited for several minutes, but couldn't wait longer and eventually left.

3) Chamber of Commerce Committee Sought Councilman Removal 

COLUMBIA, 1/29/09 (Beat Byte) -- Earlier this month, leaders of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce government affairs committee (GAC) sought to remove 3rd ward city council member Karl Skala, a committee member for the past four years, from their committee.

"I have complaints from several participants who feel your comments chilled the discussions and made the meetings unproductive," Chamber of Commerce board chairman Larry Moore wrote in a Jan. 5 letter to Mr. Skala. "Karl, to my knowledge, the only complaints we have ever had about participation or non-constructive behavior in a Government Affairs Committee meeting have been about you, not other elected officials."

Praising "two very capable co-chairs" including Bob Roper, Mr. Skala responded that in a 20-member committee following "democratic rules of order," he was befuddled that any one person would be singled out as "disrupting" or "monopolizing" the meetings. In a Jan. 12 letter, Skala said he also had support from other committee members who "expressed dismay" with Mr. Moore, "first at your request for my resignation, and then for your suggestion to control debate by 'internalizing it.'"

Mr. Skala was referring to Mr. Moore's Jan. 5 letter. "The Chamber, through the Government Affairs Committee, must have a process by which we can debate and develop our legislative priorities and recommendations internally," Mr. Moore wrote, asking Mr. Skala to "respect the process we are trying to maintain."

Mr. Skala also wrote to Mr. Moore that a second committee member "contacted me earlier that same week disavowing any involvement in your decision to ask for my resignation."

Established, according to Mr. Moore, in part to encourage "better communications between the business community and the City Council," the Chamber GAC includes business people (Mr. Moore is an executive of Con Agg Mo, a diversified construction firm founded by developer Billy Sapp), and government officials (Mr. Skala and county commissioner Karen Miller).

Attempts to remove Mr. Skala from the committee ultimately proved unsuccessful.


-- Mike Martin for the Columbia Heart Beat


  1. This is just so wrong on so many levels it is astounding to think about.

  2. I would put my money on Clyde Wilson's account over Bob Roper any day - if he says the word activist was used over and over to describe certain council members, you can take it to the bank!

  3. The tribune article today was a pathetic attempt to cover-up an effort by Bob Roper and friends to remove certain independent Council members.

    Why didn't the Tribune reporter ask Hank Waters (who was at the mayors meeting with Clyde Wilson) what was said about "removing these activist council members"? The same Tribune reporter was also at the Downtown Leadership Council meeting when Clyde Wilson said what transpired at the mayors meeting. The reporter heard what Clyde Wilson said. Neither fact seems to make it into the Tribune article. What is the Tribune hiding?

    Thank you for your intelligent and unbiased reporting Mike. We'd never know what was going on in this town without you.

  4. I'm sorry but I understand why people would complain about Skala. He is a very unpleasant fellow, that's all. And seems to be trying to channel Hunter S. Thompson in his dress and attitude.

  5. Lots of people can be unpleasant, including many of those complaining about Skala. They all just need to grow up. And who the hell cares about Skala's dress and attitude? If you do, you need to grow up!

  6. Karl Skala is not unpleasant by far! He was the only Councilman to show up at a emergency meeting held July 11 2008 under the park enclosure at Paquin Park to help all concerned citizens who found out about the possible closing of the Adaptive Recreational Program at Paquin Tower being proposed my Nike Hood and Bill Watkins.

    All of the Councilmen and the Mayor and City Manager were also invited. He was the only one to show up and he is not even the Wardsman for that Ward!

    Karl Skala and Jerry Wade also showed up at another meeting held on the exact same subject later on in the dining room at Paquin Tower. Once again all Councilmen,Mayor and City Manager were invited only these two showed.

    The above two examples shows the depth of their care for this city as a whole and even at risk citizens.

    At least the Councilmen that are obviously being targeted have held open community office hours with the entire public unlike our Mayor and City Manager who seem to want to keep the citizens at a very long arm's reach which reaks of exclusiveness instead of inclusiveness as it should be.

    Also aren't the Mayor and the City Manager "activists" too?

    The Mayor pushes constantly for his precious bike trails while the City Manager pushes and is pushed along by his buddy Mike Hood to build their precious parks all the while law enforcement is suffering and other much more needed city wide programs are in need too.

    If they are not activists with screwed up priorities my name is "Aunt Jamima"!

    Wake up Columbia you have been sleeping far too long and become complacent in allowing these top two officials of your city government to pull too much wool over your eyes.

    This is your town not theirs!

    Thank you Mike Martin for being our hard line community watch dog!

    You deserve alot more credit than people in this community give you.

  7. Skala and company are anything but progrowth for this community. Him and other activist city council members will hopefully not be reelected.

  8. It seems comical that we would use the word activist to describe any of these council members, since they do nothing but choke the progress of this town.

    What happened to making Columbia corporate friendly?

  9. You're right. Let's privatize our government. Maybe get a banker as mayor and his Walmart friends to run the council?

    We could put City Hall in the vacant Osco building. Or in any number of overbuild, empty apartment complexes.

    Your corporate-friendly government would probably prefer to meet at the Country Club however since it offers restricted access to the public. Oh, wait, that's right, they already are meetig there.

    We could also applaud those who come forth with divergent ideas on the Council and who create a healthy dialogue about appropriate public policy. We might then get planned, smart growth.

  10. Pro Growth is a pretty loaded term. When we say one person is pro growth and one is not we have to think about what we are trying to grow. Do we want to grow anywhere USA more here in our town? Dependent on far way developers and owners for how the town looks and where its goods and services come from and function. Do we want more of us to be involved in the growth of Columbia as a healthy city, more dependent on itself for its goods and services?
    We need to think about what we are saying and the type of city we want to have.