Saturday, October 31, 2009

Shocking MU contract settles City Hall debt-- 10/30/09

1)  SHOCKING MU CONTRACT:  Settles City Hall debt
2)  NEW NON-PROFIT:  Seeks city money to hire director
3)  CITY COMMISSION:  Questions water quality
4)  "TIGER" JOHN CLEEK:  National advocate for scholarships
5)  STAN KROENKE:  At City Hall hog trough Monday night
6)  FINAL NUMBERS IN:  For Roots and Blues Fest
7)  HEAR YE!  HEAR YE!  Local Announcements
8)  HOUSING NEWS:  From Bank of Missouri's Tom Stone

SHOCKING MU CONTRACT:  Settles City Hall debt
Part 3 of an investigative series
COLUMBIA, 10/30/09 (Beat Bytes) -- On September 24, 2009, with neither the advise nor consent of the Columbia City Council, public works director John Glascock entered into a formal agreement with University of Missouri facilities director Gary Ward, following a meeting between city and campus officials on July 14, 2008 -- one month before Glascock would submit a $1.1 million sewer rate hike for approval to the city council
Years of underbilling for sewer service at MU was costing the city nearly $1.2 million annually by estimates of sewer maintenance superintendent Bill Weitkemper, a career city employee who uncovered city-wide underbilling in March 2006.  The MU contract gradually ramps up payments, starting at $60,000/year ($5,000/month) and increasing by that same amount for 10 years, finally reaching $600,000/year.   The contract is unclear about how the past underbilling is collected, if ever, and never approaches $1.2 million yearly. 
A letter confirming the deal reveals the true nature of the astonishing oversight, raising the University's sewer rate over 1,000 times!   "Dear John [Glascock]," writes Ward.  "The University of Missouri...agreed to increase the sanitary sewer basic monthly service charge from $4.35 to $5,000.00 per month."
That's right:  From $4.35 to $5,000 per month! 
The flabbergasting MU/Glascock contract also departed substantially from protocol in which the City Council reviews and approves virtually every city-related deal or project, as one look at any given council agenda attests:
At this Monday's meeting, for instance, council members will be considering just such an agreement with MU, this one related to solid waste: 
Why Glascock and city manager Bill Watkins chose to withhold the MU sewer agreement from public scrutiny speaks volumes about how it came to be in the first place.  It also raises questions about why Glascock and Watkins have prodded the council to raise sewer rates while pushing the public to vote for multi-million dollar sewer bond issues absent knowledge about this critical and ongoing shortfall. 
Business as usual?
In a November 2007 report entitled "City of Columbia Sewer Utility Billing Irregularities and Recommendations," Weitkemper referenced a play from the good ol' boys handbook.  Identifying the University of Missouri as the "single largest source" of uncollected sewer revenue, Weitkemper wrote, "Apparently many years ago, someone with the City made some type of unwritten agreement with someone at the University, and the University has only ever been charged a single basic sewage service rate."
The unwritten agreement violated city law and cost ratepayers a fortune.  "It is my understanding that recently the University has agreed to pay the City an additional $1.2 million per year in sewer revenue," Weitkemper continued. 
That was in November 2007.  It wasn't until September 2009 that Glascock revealed the real deal, which is nowhere near an additional $1.2 million annually. 
Gross underestimates, "special" agreements
In a detailed September 2008 email to city manager Watkins, Weitkemper complained that in an employee award citation, his supervisor Terry Hennkens lopped nearly 4,000 underbilled premises from 6,000 identified in an internal audit. 

"My bonus recommendation stated that my suggestion resulted in an additional 2,328 units being billed [for sewer]," Weitkemper wrote.  "That is not even close.  I told Terry that this number was not correct before it was published in the City Insider [an employee newsletter].  Apparently he feels he can do whatever he chooses."
Then, citing his largest find, Weitkemper dropped the MU bombshell.
"I had indicated in March 2006 that the University of Missouri, Columbia (UMC) was not being billed properly.  I was told then that there was a 'special' agreement with UMC that allowed them to only pay a single base sewer charge.  I asked for a copy of this 'special' agreement.  Apparently, it never existed." 
That was on September 2.  On September 16, 2008 the Columbia City Council approved the $1.1 million sewer rate hike, with no knowledge of the ongoing billing problems; no knowledge of the unwritten agreements; and under the false impression that they'd heard everything during commentary from a public equally in the dark.
NEW NON-PROFIT:  Seeks city money to hire director
COLUMBIA, 10/30/09 (Beat Bytes) -- Cynics, start your engines. 
In this era of budgets so tight city employees are shouldering cuts and city services aren't happening, supporters of a new
"community foundation" will seek $40,000.00 from the Columbia City Council this Monday night to hire an "Executive
Director."   City Hall would employ the as-yet-unnamed foundation's director, and in a miraculous move, city staff "have identified funding which could be used to hire a person for the balance of 2010," according to a city council report on the issue.
Community foundations are non-profit organizations that accept donations to better the community.  But with a surfeit of non-profit groups clamoring for a pie city officials claim is shrinking, support for this latest group seems untimely.  "With city support, an Executive Director should be hired quickly," the staff report for Monday's council meeting reads.  "Funding for operating expenses are needed.  A board of directors will need to be identified...of 12 to 18 persons, all prominent in the community."
Backed by local VIPs like accountant Bob Gerding and Columbia Tribune managing editor Jim Robertson, the community foundation's proposal reads like so many other non-profits, with talk of marketing brochures, leading citizens, directors, staffers, and money, money, money.
Too bad all that money, time, and effort can't go directly to the people -- or existing non-profits -- who need it now.  How about a group of leading citizens going through our more impoverished neighborhoods, fixing, cleaning, and doing, rather than planning, meeting, and marketing?   
CITY COMMISSION:  Questions water quality

COLUMBIA, 10/30/09 (Beat Bytes) -- City Hall's top voice on environmental issues, the Energy and Environment Commission, is raising questions about a plan to drill a new water well in the McBaine bottoms, a wetlands area that may be collecting trace contaminants: herbicides, pesticides, and other harmful materials that could leach into the groundwater.  
"Based on many years of data from the US Geological Survey; Missouri Department of Natural Resources; and the City of Columbia, the proposed location for alluvial well 16 is questionable from a water quality standpoint," board members explained in a letter to the Columbia City Council for its Monday, Nov. 2 meeting. 
Citing numerous unanswered questions, commission members are recommending city staff review different locations for the well and wait for the results of a new water treatment study. 

"TIGER" JOHN CLEEK:  National advocate for college scholarships
COLUMBIA, 10/30/09 (Beat Bytes) -- Supporting the loyal customers who helped make his rent-to-own furniture chain a household name in mid-Missouri, John Cleek recently spoke up for college scholarships as president of the Association of Progressive Rental Organizations, a national trade organization that has spent seven years building a trust fund to award scholarships nationwide. 
"The rent to own industry's commitment to education and scholarship funds is a testament to the industry's growth and establishment as a vital industry and contributor to the economy," said Cleek, best known in Columbia as a major University of Missouri booster.  "The rent to own industry is here to help our future with the most powerful contribution to our children through education scholarships."
Cleek became a franchisee of Aaron's, a nationwide rent-to-own chain, in 2008. 
STAN KROENKE:  At City Hall hog trough Monday night
COLUMBIA, 10/30/09 (Beat Bytes) -- Billionaire developer Stan Kroenke -- who enjoys some of the region's lowest taxes on some of its most expensive properties and projects -- will be visiting the City Hall trough Monday night to accept two payments totalling nearly $200,000.
Represented by his usual phalanx of lawyers, TDDs, and pseudonyms, Kroenke's Conley Road Transportation Development District and Broadway Crossings II, LLC will be convincing us all that the $180,000.00 we'll be spending on Trimble Road utility improvements -- adjacent to one of Kroenke's tracts -- is for our own good. 
The words "City will reimburse TDD for the costs incurred by the TDD" which appear in the contract seem absurd, as the TDD is really John and Jane Q. Shopper, paying a higher tax on any retail goods they purchase at said TDD-funded retail establishments.   
"TDD shall complete the improvements on Trimble Road," should therefore read, "Future shoppers shall complete...."
In other Kroenke related business, the council will pay Kroenke's THF Grindstone Plaza Development $20,190.00 for an easement to repair a pump station.  THF, for those who don't know, stands for "To Have Fun" -- with your money in many cases.   Too bad Mr. Kroenke can't simply donate the easement, given everything he takes out of here. 
Ahh, where to have fun with all that taxpayer money?  The soccer field, of course!  Mr. Kroenke just increased his stake in the UK soccer team Arsenal, taking him to the verge of a complete takeover and knocking out a rival Russian billionaire:   

FINAL NUMBERS IN:  For Roots and Blues Fest
COLUMBIA, 10/30/09 (Beat Bytes) -- Presenting a check to City Hall for services rendered during this year's Roots and Blues Fest, Thumper Entertainment has released a full accounting of ticket sales which includes a list of "Festival VIPs" topped by noted dermatologist and HSBM (husband of school board member) Dr. John Despain. 
This year's festival grossed $168,170.00 through the sale of 11,523 tickets.   Promoters also comped another 2,243 tickets, for a total of 13,766 ticketed attendees, according to a statement on file with the city. 

HEAR YE!  HEAR YE!  Local Announcements
The Columbia planning and zoning commission will meet November 5, 2009– 7:00 P.M. DANIEL BOONE BUILDING, CITY COUNCIL CHAMBERS, 4TH FLOOR.  On the agenda is a request to rezone by Grindstone Investments to rezone agricultural land to commercial land of property located on the southwest corner of Heller and Rogers Roads, containing approximately 116 acres. 
4th Ward councilman and mayoral candidate Jerry Wade will hold coffeehouse office hours this Saturday, October 31.  The 3:00p – 5:00p Oct. 31 at the Rendezvous Coffeehouse, 3304 Broadway Business Park Ct., on the south side of West Broadway, west of HyVee.
3rd Ward councilman Karl Skala has kicked off his re-election campaign.  "I want to continue to help make our neighborhoods safer, improve our roads and city services, develop more thoughtful city planning, and create a more responsive city government," Skala says.  Skala will not hold office hours tomorrow as previously scheduled, but will resume his regular Sven's Kafe office hours NOVEMBER 21, 2009.   For more information, contact: 
Karl Skala
Columbia Third Ward City Councilman
Columbia Missourian columnist David Rosman invites readers to check out his new commentary blog, devoted to a different set of issues than his long-running Missourian column:
The City of Columbia's meeting calendar for the week ending November 6 is now available on the City's website at
HOUSING NEWS:  From Bank of Missouri's Tom Stone
"THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS..." Or so the famous saying goes. And when it comes to really understanding the various reports and events unfolding in the economy, it's important to take a look at the details - not just the headlines. Here's what you need to know.
On the inflation front, the Producer Price Index, which measures wholesale inflation, unexpectedly fell due to a drop in energy prices. While that seems like good news on the surface, keep in mind that next month's number could climb higher again, as oil and natural gas have both been on a tear higher lately.
In housing news, Housing Starts and Building Permits both came in a bit below expectations, but this may be a sign that builders are exercising some caution - particularly in the face of the $8,000 tax credit for first time homebuyers that is presently set to expire on November 30th. 
Existing Home Sales came in better than expected - and a whopping 45% of those homes were sold to first time homebuyers - rushing to move in on that credit. Recent studies have shown that many who qualify for this tax credit aren't even aware of please let me know if you or someone you know needs more information - the clock is ticking!
Additionally, the level of existing homes inventory shrunk to a 7.8 month supply, down from a recent high of 10.1 months in April.
Tom Stone
The Bank of Missouri
Asst. Vice President
Office:  573-874-4700
Cell:  573-489-4059

Mike Martin
Blogitor in Chief
The Columbia Heart Beat


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