Monday, October 26, 2009

MU analyst to run for 4th Ward council

1)  IN-FIGHTING STALLS:  Sewer billing stink
2)  MU ANALYST GREEVER-RICE:  Declares for 4th Ward Council
3)  ANGRY TRIB COMMENTS:  Spark latest Humane Society flap
4)  SULLIVAN SHINES:  Mayoral candidate on KFRU radio
5)  RUMOR HAS IT:  Auto baron/attorney pondering mayor/council races? 
6)  DINERS REVIEW:  Addisons, an American Grill
7)  READERS WRITE:  Headline error; Susan Taylor Glasgow

IN-FIGHTING STALLS:  Sewer billing stink

COLUMBIA, 10/26/09 (Beat Bytes) -- Three and a half years ago, Columbia sewer maintenance superintendent Bill Weitkemper notified his then-supervisor, Dennie Pendergrass, that a long-standing sewer billing practice violated city law. 

Weikemper's odyssey through his own bureaucracy is eye-opening, but not for reasons many readers may think.  A serious read of over 150 pages of documents related to the billing snafu reveals no corruption, no incompetence, and no stupidity, contrary to the opinion of Columbia Tribune publisher Hank Waters, who called the mess "stupid but innocent" in a recent op-ed. 

What it does reveal is a top-down management system that sends mixed messages, on the one hand giving cash awards to employees for their cost-saving and revenue-enhancing suggestions, while on the other hand griping, groaning, and procrastinating on the way to implementing those suggestions.   "Why do we have to bother with this stuff?" is an unfortunate undercurrent in dozens of conversations. 


There's no such thing as a "sewer meter," so sewer bills are based on water meters, "which allow for many apartment complexes with one meter, like Villa be charged a single Basic Sewer Service Charge," wrote Weitkemper, a 34-year public works employee, in March 2006.  "It also allows the University of Missouri to avoid paying a Basic Sewer Service Charge for most of its individual properties and rental units." 

Problem is, city law says each sewer user shall pay the sewer charge, so that sewer bills should be issued, not for a single water meter, but for each unit in an apartment; each store in a mall; each office in a building; and each room in a dormitory.  

Keeping notes as part of his official records, Weitkemper transcribed meetings with his superiors.  One spring 2006 morning, public works director John Glascock (above, Columbia Tribune photo) "was sitting in my office," Weitkemper writes. "I had just told him we were not billing sewer users according to the sewer ordinance and we were losing a lot of money." 

Pendergrass walked in.  "Do you think we will change how we are billing?" Weitkemper asked. 

"I didn't see that there was any suggestion to do anything different," Pendergrass responded. 

"The suggestion was that we need to start following the ordinance and bill every sewer user." 

Glascock jumped in.  "You mean we aren't following the ordinance?" he asked.

"I thought we were following the ordinance," Pendergrass said.  "We charge for sewer based on water meters."

"That's not what the ordinance says," Weitkemper reminded.  Pendergrass walked away. 

"We'll look into it," Glascock said, ending the discussion.   

NO PROGRESS:  October - December, 2007

Fully one and a half years after documenting his concerns and following up dozens of times, Weitkemper sent a frustrated 10/25/2007 email to public works operations manager Mary Ellen Lea.  "Needless to say, I'm just a little disappointed that we are no farther along on this issue," he wrote.  "I brought it to everyone's attention in March 2006....I need to know up front how you and John Glascock wish to proceed.  We need to get this done."   

Passing the buck right back, "Bill, You need to work with Terry on this," Lea responded, referencing Weitkemper's new supervisor, Terry Hennkens.  Pendergrass had since retired.  "John and I are relying on you and Terry to make recommendations on how to proceed." 

After two months and more exchanges between Weitkemper, Hennkens, and other city employees, Weitkemper emailed Lea for an update.  "Have you received any recommendation yet from Terry?  He doesn't like it when I communicate with you or John [Glascock] but he does not communicate with me.  What a mess!

"Terry mentioned some more billing issues, old and new," Lea replied.  "Frankly, until we get more action from the Utility Accounts Billing department, we're kinda spinning our wheels." 

BIG BILL, LITTLE BILL:  Christmas, 2007

Weitkemper asked Lea if anyone had informed the city manager about the problem.  Hearing nothing, Bill Weitkemper
emailed Bill Watkins.   It was the Saturday before Christmas, 2007

"Writing this is certainly difficult," Weitkemper told Watkins.  "I am still not sure if I should be contacting you.  I am concerned with retaliation, both from those who failed to correctly apply the ordinance as well as those who have thus far not done much to correct the situation." 

After carefully laying out the same case he'd recited so many times before, Weitkemper concluded by saying, "My intent was never to embarass the City or any City employee.  My intent has been to assure that the billing ordinance is being correctly applied....There is no question the Sewer Utility has failed to collect SIGNIFICANT revenue because the sewer ordinances have not been correctly applied."

Records show no reply from Watkins. 

OVERNIGHT, AFTER 2.5 YEARS:  September, 2008

Thirty months, hundreds of emails, and dozens of reports later, the tension surrounding Weitkemper and his discovery was evident.  During a September 2008 meeting with Lea, Weitkemper reminded that he had made his way up the chain of command. 

"I want you to know that I complained to the City Manager about the billing issue," he told Lea.

"I know," she said.  "I'm not sure that's going to do you any good." 

"I didn't expect that it would.  I just feel that I deserve answers to the questions I've asked."

"You can't expect for everything to be worked out overnight," Lea responded.  She pointed toward her old office.  "I've been working on billing problems since I was down there." 

"I don't expect things to be worked out overnight," Weitkemper said.  "It's been 30 months since I brought this up."

"Well, we are trying to work things out."

Two days later, Weitkemper learned that John Glascock was upset about a $3,000.00 employee bonus Weitkemper had received for discovering the sewer snafu.   After Watkins had issued the checks, Glascock told another supervisor, "You need to tell Bill [Weitkemper] that this is it.  That's all he's going to get." 

But the supervisor, referred to in notes as "EE," refused to say anything.  "I'm not going to tell Bill that," EE told Glascock.  "You are going to have to tell him yourself." 

NEXT:  Still unresolved, September 2009 

MU ANALYST GREEVER-RICE:  Declares for 4th Ward Council

COLUMBIA, 10/26/09 (Beat Bytes) -- Former City of Columbia planning and zoning commissioner Dr. Tracy Greever-Rice (right, Columbia Business Times photo), a data analyst with the University of Missouri and long-time 4th Ward resident, has declared her candidacy for the city council seat Jerry Wade is vacating in favor of the mayor's race.  By yesterday afternoon, she had collected most of the required signatures on her candidacy petition. 

A Columbia Vision Commission member whose husband Glenn currently sits on the planning and zoning commission, Greever-Rice presently serves as the associate director of the MU Office of Social and Economic Data Analysis.  She received her Ph.D. in rural sociology at the University of Missouri; has taught courses in juvenile delinquency, public policy, community service, and rural outreach; and published papers on a wide array of issues, from children's health care to retail economics.   

A former member of the City of Columbia energy and environment commission, Greever-Rice "has a top-notch, analytical mind and will serve the 4th Ward well," said long-time friend Deanna Walkenbach.   "She's an incredibly hard worker and will be very pro-active." 

Filing for slots on the city council opened last Friday.  So far, Wade and Sid Sullivan have filed for mayor, and 3rd Ward councilman Karl Skala has filed to retain his seat.   

RUMOR HAS IT:  Auto baron/attorney pondering council/mayor races? 

COLUMBIA, 10/26/09 (Beat Bytes) -- Dave Machens (right), whose father Joe started one of the midwest's best-known automobile dealerships, may be considering a run for mayor of Columbia, say folks in the know.  Machens took over the dealership, Joe Machens Ford, et. al., after his father Joe passed away in 1997.  He later sold his remaining shares in the company to current owner Gary Drewing and according to his website, presently serves as the financial director for Wright Communications, LLC.

Another possible mayoral candidate may be Paul Love, variously noted as an employee of O'Reilly Automotive and CarFax in local newspaper stories.  Love has testified before the city council with environmental concerns about development projects.  "Paul Love has posted on Facebook that he is running for mayor," a credible source told the Heart Beat.  "He already has a petition and is halfway to collecting his signatures." 

Attorney Sarah Read (left, Columbia Missourian photo) who mediated a dispute between the Shepard Boulevard and Timberhill Road neighborhood associations and developer Stadium 63 Properties, LLC over the controversial Cross Creek project, may also seek the 4th Ward council seat.  Read is listed as president of Columbia Parents for Public Schools in an April 2009 forum post on that organization's website.  Friends and acquaintances say she has circulated a candidacy petition.


ANGRY TRIB COMMENTS:  Spark latest Humane Society flap

COLUMBIA, 10/26/09 (Beat Bytes) -- A pending change in animal adoption policy at the Central Missouri Humane Society (CMHS) -- allegedly prompted by Columbia Tribune readers -- has animal care advocates crying foul, and Humane Society staffers broadcasting a plea for help that made its way to local online listservs.   

"Our Board of Directors is re-drafting our adoption policies in response to the handful of angry folks who leave comments on the Columbia Daily Tribune message board about how 'rigid' the current guidelines are," wrote CMHS Foster Care/Rescue Coordinator Jeffrey Trotter.  "They are essentially changing our mission by taking out all screening procedures."

Under the new policy, Trotter said CMHS would no longer:  call applicants' landlords to assure that pets are allowed; check veterinary references to see if applicants are vaccinating pets they presently own; or prohibit leaving adopted animals outdoors 24/7.   

Trotter urged animal care advocates to voice their opinions at an open board meeting this Tuesday at 6 p.m.  A flurry of emails followed.   

"This is a desperate plea.  Their Board has NO CLUE."   

"With all the crazy things going on with CMHS, I think we need to be present and have a statement, but stay level and still supportive." 

"The proposed adoption policy for CMHS is disgusting, and potentially puts a lot of needy animals in danger of not receiving the care they should be getting."   

"With Tiffany McBee leaving the CMHS board, there are no longer any true animal advocates as members."

Both McBee and longtime CMHS advocate/staffer Heather Duren-Stubbs have recently departed CMHS.   Interested parties may call (573) 999-4955 or (573) 443-7387 for more information about the board meeting. 

SULLIVAN SHINES:  Mayoral candidate on KFRU radio

(Commentary) -- Coming off two small victories on the long road to Columbia mayor, candidate Sid Sullivan outmatched KFRU Sunday Morning Roundtable devil's advocate Skip Walther, a noted attorney, to emerge victorious in a series of mini-debates on the radio program yesterday morning.

By showing up at 5:00 am on the opening of candidacy filing last Friday, Sullivan claimed the top spot on the ballot and handed in one more signature than 4th Ward councilman/candidate Jerry Wade on his candidacy petition: 149 to Wade's 148.

The electoral gods kept smiling on Sullivan during Sunday morning's 45-minute exchange, during which Walther -- who frequently represents developers in front of the City Council -- crystallized Columbia's piecemeal approach to planning.  Are you suggesting that we don't simply allow a builder or developer to approach the council with his or her own plans, and then seek approval?  Walther asked Sullivan.  Are you suggesting that there's a different way?

Developers shouldn't be the city's main planners, Sullivan replied.  Rather, planning should be a function of the entire community, and where necessary, individual government entities -- like the school district and City Hall -- must work hand-in-hand to accomplish big projects, like the new high school.   

Co-host Al Germond asked Sullivan if he would have voted for the star-crossed Cross Creek project.  "I had a lot of problems with that proposal," Sullivan explained.  "We need the whole city involved in projects like a huge car lot on a major entrance to the city.  But instead, it was a plan that emerged during a fight between neighborhood associations and a developer.   After council defeated it the first time, I wouldn't have allowed it back for at least another year.  With the economy in the tank, nothing's happened and it's left a big hole on the east side of town." 

Callers praised Sullivan.  "It's nice to finally hear someone who is willing to say 'no' when necessary," said a woman concerned with unplanned sprawl in the Derby Ridge area.  "It's nice to hear from someone who will be the adult on the city council." 

Even the normally contentious Broadway Expansion Guy liked what he heard.  "It's high time we got away from this elitist planning system, where the builder with the most money dictates where high schools go and what improvements get made." he said.  "So far, I like what I'm hearing from Mr. Sullivan." 

Sullivan also said he supports council pay "because without it, too many good people, including many small businesspeople, can't even think about serving."   He suggested better pay for police officers and a common-sense additive to red light cameras

"We need to put up signs that warn drivers ahead of time, This Stop Light Patrolled by Camera," Sullivan said.  "That way, they really will slow down, and we're not just catching them after the fact." 

DINERS REVIEW:  Addisons, an American Grill

Calling it "another surprisingly good restaurant in Columbia," diners from Santa Clara, Calif. recently gave Addisons, a downtown dining favorite, 4.5 of 5 stars.  "We started by sharing the sweet potato chips, which is a huge and delicious appetizer." 

Known for its lifesize David Spear paintings of restaurant life, Addisons combines family-friendliness with adult sophistication.  I've dined there with family and friends dozens of times over the years, with consistently good food and service.  Readers at share my enthusiasm.   Here are some selected comments: 

"I had the mediterranean salad and was pleasantly surprised by the tasty addition of basil and artichoke hearts.  But I think the best deal was my husband's ahi tuna sandwich.  It's not really a sandwich, but more of a large ahi tuna steak on a piece of focaccia.  It was delicious, and seemed like a lot of tuna for $8.99!" 

"Order the phyllo-wrapped brownie!!  It might be the best dessert item at any restaurant in CoMo!" 

"The atmosphere is cheery and bright. I remember the wait staff being helpful also. The food was just OK though."

CHECK OUT Addisons on Yelp -- and at 709 Cherry Street in the District

READERS WRITE:  Headline error; Susan Taylor Glasgow

Re:  Susan Taylor Glasgow
Hi Mike:  I've received many, many fine comments about the article you wrote for American Craft Magazine about my work.  Personally, I feel it's the best article about my work to date!   Heller Gallery, my representative in NYC, also expressed what an insightful article it was.  The timing was perfect too -- right before my show there in September.   Thanks again. 
-- Susan Taylor Glasgow, Columbia

Re:  Sid Sullivan declares for Columbia mayor
One can't help but support a candidate nicknamed 'Sulley' to pilot Columbia's future.   
-- James F. Fairchild, Columbia

Here's a suggestion for Columbia Mayor -- reasoned, seasoned, brilliant, thoughtful:  Tim Harlan.
-- Nancy Copenhaver, Columbia

Just wanted to let you know I thoroughly enjoy your informative and entertaining emails.  Also, the table of contents says Stephens College: Named top military-friendly school, but in the story, it says Columbia College.  Keep up the great work!!
-- Christy Old, Columbia  
[Thanks!  Several other readers caught that error.  Columbia College, not Stephens College, received the honor.]

Mike:  I was about to forward this to my husband (he works in public relations at Columbia College), when I noticed that you have "Stephens College" in your table of contents when it should say "Columbia College: Top military-friendly school." Thanks for all the great reporting you do.
-- Marilyn L. Cummins,  Columbia

Hello Mike, I was reading your latest “BEAT BYTE” and I noticed that we at Columbia College got a nod for being awarded one of the top military friendly schools.  It was jarring however, to see the headline summary giving Stephens College that honor instead.  Would it be possible to clarify in an upcoming issue?   We’re pretty proud of the exclusivity of this honor, and regard it as a call to action to continue serving our veterans with the respect and professionalism they deserve.
-- Brendon Steenbergen, Director of Development, for Annual and Planned Giving, Columbia College

Mike:  The table of contents should read "Columbia College," and not "Stephens College."
-- Bob Hutton, Facilities Director, Columbia College


Mike Martin
Blogitor in Chief
The Columbia Heart Beat


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