Thursday, April 16, 2009

BEAT BYTE: City Manager's Secretary Arrested

BEAT BYTE: News Briefs from the Columbia Heart Beat

1) City Manager's Secretary Arrested
2) Documents Disclose Land Grab Scheme, Part 2

City Manager's Secretary Arrested

COLUMBIA, 4/16/09 (Beat Byte) -- For the second time in as many months, a prominent City of Columbia employee has been arrested.

Deidre L. Hoelzeman, 42, secretary to city manager Bill Watkins who handles city council public comment requests, according to the city's website, was arrested Tuesday on charges of supplying alcohol to a minor. Formerly Deidre Briggs, the long-time city employee was married last year to Frank J. Hoelzeman, 40, who was also arrested, on suspicion of sexual misconduct against three female MU students after giving them alcohol at the couple's home in Fulton.

A University of Missouri athletics employee, Frank Hoelzeman lost his job after three of his underage female employees reported a sexual assault. Deidre Hoelzeman appears briefly in the following story, handling meetings and related errands for the city manager.

Responding to a request for comment and rumors of a pending statement, city communications director Toni Messina told the Heart Beat, "We did not issue a statement on this item and do not plan to do so."

Documents Disclose Land Grab Scheme, Part 2

COLUMBIA, 4/16/09 (Beat Byte) -- The Columbia Heart Beat earlier reported on a public information request from local activist Traci Wilson-Kleekamp that unearthed documents implicating mostly non-elected city leaders in a now-defunct scheme to take private land using eminent domain to construct a State Historical Society of Missouri (SHSM) museum downtown.

When last we left him, Columbia Daily Tribune publisher Hank "The Butterfly" Waters, who orchestrated much of the early activity on the idea, had written a couple of coincidentally-timed editorials praising it.

Despite all the plans and meetings, Mark Farnen, a publicist who represented one of the eminent-domain-targeted landowners, wrote that his clients, Fifth Street Investments, LLC, had received "no offers; no notifications; no development plans; and no time frames" of any kind, at any time. In his three page letter to the Council and City Manager, Farnen had crafted a damning indictment of policies at City Hall, enlarging an already growing question mark:

Why did such well-connected, powerful, and longtime Columbia-area residents and business owners -- such as Hank Waters and Jeff Smith -- choose to lobby a non-elected city manager behind the scenes, rather than elected council members -- the choice for the rest of us -- out in the open? Why do Columbia's most powerful people prefer the ears of non-elected city staffers?

And if that's what it takes to get things done in Columbia, how does the uncertainty of such a system affect business and planning?

Our story continues after an October city council work session, where city manager Bill Watkins tells community activist Traci Kleekamp he informed council members about the plan, and that they "expressed willingness to consider eminent domain."

When Kleekamp tells Watkins she "doesn't know why council members later denied knowledge of the plan," Watkins responds, on tape, "I don't know why they denied knowing about it, either. I may not have explained it well enough."

Meanwhile, the following emails had gone out of Watkins' office, to Mayor Darwin Hindman, 1st Ward council member Paul Sturtz, 2nd Ward council member Chris Janku, and assistant city manager Tony St. Romaine. [Emails are labeled (a, b, c) for ease of viewing].

a) "Wednesday, October 22, 2008 6:31 AM
From: "Deidre Hoelzeman"
To: "Mayor", "Ward1", "Ward2"
SUBJECT: meeting with Bill Watkins and Hank Waters

Bill would like to have a meeting prior to next Monday's work session. This meeting is regarding the state historical society. Please provide your availability for the remainder of this week and Monday. This can be a lunch meeting, afternoon meeting, or evening (if necessary)."

b) Thursday, October 23, 2008 9:00 AM
From: "Deidre Hoelzeman"
To: "Mayor", "Tony St. Romaine", "Ward1", Chris Janku
SUBJECT: Lunch with Bill Watkins and Hank Waters

This is to confirm lunch meeting with Bill Watkins and Hank Waters on Friday, October 24 at 11:30 in the 5th floor conference room of the Daniel Boone Building. Subject of this meeting is State Historical Society.

I will be ordering lunch from Boone Tavern menu. Please let me know if you have any dietary restrictions and preferences. If you have a Boone Tavern favorite or request, please let me know and I will be sure to order that for your lunch.

Thank you.
Deidre Hoelzeman
Secretary to the City Manager

By early December, City of Columbia public works employees were working to secure "relocation assistance" for the two targeted property owners, who still say they had no knowledge anything was up.

c) Thursday, December 4, 2008 8:22 AM
From: "Wendy Lister"
To: "David NICHOLS"
SUBJECT: State Historic Society Potential Site


I met with Jerry Martin, Senior Specialist MoDOT about relocation assistance estimation for the bar, dry cleaner and small apartment building. Jerry estimated (please note that he emphasized this is a wag) that the bar would be about $55,000.00 to relocate with an additional $10,000.00 for incidentals, total $65,000.00. The dry cleaner would be about $35,000.00 with $10,000.00 incidental, total $45,000.00. The apartment building is difficult to determine without actually meeting with tenants but if it is a 4-plex, 2 owners to a unit it would be about $4000.00 per unit total $16000.00. Please note that this is relocation assistance only and not the cost of acquiring the properties.

Jerry Martin indicated that protective rents are allowed, basically once the leases have expired the new owner could come in and rent the units (for a short period of time) so that relocation assistance for the tenants could be avoided. This would have to be coordinated with the current owner of the property.

During our meeting with Gary Kremer, Director of the State Historic Society and Doug Crews, Executive Director of the Missouri Press Association, we indicated that we would get back with them about information regarding the Sasaki Plan as well as the relocation information. As you know the Sasaki Plan was accepted by Council. A commission has been created to explore and create a plan for downtown so that the City will create its own plan. Would you like me to contact Gary and Doug with this information or should this just be passed along by someone else?


Third Ward councilman Karl Skala weighed in after a Columbia Heart Beat story, two days prior to a planned council meeting, where the eminent domain move appeared on a consent agenda, meaning that it could be passed through without debate or public comment. Skala expressed reservations about continuing.

d) >>> Ward3 12/13/2008 5:36 PM >>>

Bill Watkins, et al.,

I would respectfully ask that you re-evaluate placing bill #B377-08 (Authorizing the acquisition of land for construction and operation of an historical museum and research facility.) within the INTRODUCTION AND FIRST READING section of the Meeting Agenda as well as the related resolution #R284-08 (Setting a public hearing: considering acquisition of land in downtown Columbia for an historical museum and research facility.) placed within the CONSENT AGENDA, for the December 15, 2008 Council Meeting, in view of the appended (and attached) subsection of the reference document entitled City Code of Ordinances:
Sec. 20-57. Urban Renewal.

All projects of the land clearance for redevelopment authority of Columbia shall be submitted to the planning and zoning commission for its study and recommendations and to the city council for its approval as provided by Chapter 99 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri, 1978, as amended or as may be amended hereafter. (Code 1964, § 19.580)

This item is offered for informational purposes only.

Best Regards,


Watkins then emailed city attorney Fred Boeckmann, asking if the ordinance Skala cited would apply. Boeckmann said "no," essentially green lighting the council agenda as it then stood. The day after council members nixed the proposal on Dec. 15, plans to shore it up commenced -- but with virtually no council involvement. The next steps took on the character of a scramble, despite City Hall's repeated representations that everything was fine.

e) ------Original Message-----
From: William Watkins
Sent: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 10:33 AM
To: Fred Boeckmann; John Glascock; Mike Hood; Tony St. Romaine; Toni Messina
Cc: Deidre Hoelzeman; Lori Fleming; Sheela Amin; Gary R. Kremer

Subject: land acquisition for state Historical Society

I need to establish a group to quickly pull together an argument and rationale as to why the city should acquire this property or perhaps more accurately intervene to insure the property can be acquired. Diedre will set up a meeting in the next few days to discuss. Please feel free to bring anyone from staff who you think can be of help.

In the mean time, I'm asking Parks and Rec and Public works to prepare a list of any non street, sewer or storm sewer project that we have acquired in the last 20 years or so that included an acquisition ordinance approved by City Council which authorized condemnation. I understand this will be time consuming but I believe we need to show a long track record of various types of projects, even if ultimately we did not actually use eminent domain.

John and Fred, we need a very detailed explanation of the process and what the acquisition costs could include."

Next, city communications director Toni Messina emailed virtually every senior city staffer, warning them that KFRU, for instance, was following the story and looking for the truth.

f) Tuesday, December 16, 2008 8:26 AM
From: "Toni Messina"
To: "John Glascock", "Kraig Kahler", "Mike Hood", "Paula Hertwig Hopkins", "Tony St. Romaine", "William Watkins", "Fred Boeckmann"
SUBJECT: Eminent Domain

If you have not already received inquiries from reporters, please expect them. Better yet, it would be helpful to prepare for continuing coverage. KFRU talk show hosts said they would be following the story and providing the truth.

I think there's a popular and unpleasant notion of eminent domain and its uses. While acknowledging that, it's also how local governments provide facilities that voters want. Missouri law has a lot of considerations for property owners so, to my knowledge, if a government gets to that point, it's not a land grab. There's a process. It's my understanding that the City has a record of rarely using eminent domain because we tend to work things out with property owners.

Facilitating location of a museum is not perceived the same as providing utility or park infrastructure; on the other hand, it's not something that will benefit a private developer. I propose a fact sheet, if we can pull one together, and you may have facts you think are relevant from your own experience.


Toni Messina
Communications Director
City of Columbia

Stepping up to the plate, 2nd Ward councilman Chris Janku sent two ordinances that illustrated the city using eminent domain:

g) Tuesday, December 16, 2008 8:34 AM
From: "Sheela Amin"
To: "Fred Boeckmann", "John Glascock", "Mike Hood", "Tony St. Romaine", "Toni Messina", "William Watkins"
"Deidre Hoelzeman", "Lori Fleming", "Gary R. Kremer"
Message contains attachments: ord15494.pdf (296KB), ord14737.pdf (419KB)

Here are two acquisitions Mr. Janku had me pull yesterday for him: Blind Boone Home and Health Center Land.

Sheela Amin
City Clerk

NEXT: Obama Bucks -- 2009 dawns and a new "stimulus related" plan emerges

-- Mike Martin for the Columbia Heart Beat

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Mike,

    Just wanted to make one comment to clarify the timeframe and content of the letter I sent to the City Mangager on behalf of my clients.

    The letter was drafted and sent on December 13/14, 2008. That was right before this issue first appeared on the council agenda. In that letter, I did state unequivocally that we had never received any notification about the plans or timeframes surrounding the proposed Historical Society project.

    We also questioned the entire process and asked that some issues be discussed and or resolved before any talk of eminent domain ensued.

    What I do want to make clear, however, is that we did not take a position of outright opposition to the Historical Society project - and we did not make any personal comments about any of the individuals involved in the process.

    In your story it sounds like I took a swipe at Hank Waters and Jeff Smith on a personal level and accused city staff of backroom dealings with "Columbia's most powerful people".

    In the actual letter, no individuals are named, and no allegations of impropriety were made. We had only known that this was about to occur for a day or two at that time. Our purpose in that letter was not to accuse anyone of wrongdoing. Our intent was to get a bunch of information quickly, and hopefully delay a hearing on this matter so that we would have time to prepare.

    I think the use of a colon at the end of the paragraph describing my letter made it seem like the comments that followed were taken verbatim from the letter. That was not the case. Thanks for letting me clear that up.

    Mark Farnen