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DEVELOPERS VS. ACTIVISTS: Councilman Ash responds to criticism

Former Columbia City Councilman Brian Ash responded to charges he has been unfair to city activists by accusing them of "talking too much."   TARRIF organizers Karl Skala and Traci Wilson-Kleekamp made the charges in a series of listserv posts and interviews. 

Some have said the only difference between the activists City Hall ignores versus the developers it accomodates is that, while developers speak just as often if not more frequently than activists, they do it through their high-priced lawyers. 
 
I asked readers to take this quiz, which makes the same point.   Ash responded to it as well.  -- Mike Martin

Please read the assignments and take the T/F quiz that follows. 

Reading Assignments:

1) Brian Ash's advise to the active:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ColumbiaCitizens/message/552

Vintage Brian:

2) Ash leads field in campaign contributions
http://archive.columbiatribune.com/2003/apr/20030401news001.asp

3) Sixth Ward candidates spar over 'negative' ads
http://archive.columbiatribune.com/2003/apr/20030404news004.asp

4) Ash did not handle request for help well
http://archive.columbiatribune.com/2003/apr/20030426comm009.asp


QUIZ:

True or False:

1) When he was working on a deal to develop the Philips' tract near Rock Bridge State Park, prominent local developer Eldon Sapp "chimed in early and often" at city council meetings, mostly through his lawyers.

2) When he was questioned about his deal to develop the Philips' tract near Rock Bridge State Park, Eldon Sapp replied with "great quantities of detailed input and followed up any feedback with more lengthy counterpoints," mostly through his lawyers.

3) Dominating the news for months and drawing out city council meetings into the wee hours, some people may have considered Eldon Sapp -- and his lawyers -- "high-maintenance" constituents.

4) Because they had "only so much time and energy," rather than debate Eldon Sapp -- and his lawyers -- city council members instead "tried to focus on constituents who didn't require nearly as much attention." As a result, the city council "tuned out" Eldon Sapp and his lawyers.

5) In 2003, Ash electoral opponent Ben Orzeske, a financial planner, DID NOT run an ad that said: "Widespread support from neighbors throughout the Sixth Ward - NOT from outside developers." Orzeske DID NOT later say, "It's a matter of public record and one of the valid differences between us. I'm just trying to point out all those things that set me apart from Brian."

6) Karl Skala, a well-known local real estate mogul whose motto is "We Must Expand to Be Grand" donated heavily to Brian Ash's city council campaign.

7) The lady referenced in the 4th reading was a large campaign contributor asking for a political favor.


Answers:

1) T
2) T
3) T
4) F
5) F
6) F
7) F


Ash responds:

Okay...hopefully I have given everyone a chance to take their shots, so let me see if I can answer all my critics in this one response:

Karl - I've given up trying to convince you of anything. I was just trying to tell the others who subscribe to these listservs why I think your method of communication with Council has been so frustrating for you so others don't bang their heads against the proverbial wall.

Traci - Your "women's right to vote, Civil rights, etc." analogies aren't quite the same as trying to convince Council how to vote on a rezoning.  This one size fits all "stir things up" approach (as long as we're using analogies) is a little like thinking all foreign policy problems require a military rather than a diplomatic solution.

These champions of democracy, flies in the ointment, keeping 'em honest types of citizens do serve a purpose. I'm glad we've had our Henry Lanes, Paul Alberts, etc.  But the transition from "He's got a point" to "He's nuts" is a gradual one that results from chiming in over and over and over again.

I'm not trying to tell anyone how it should be. I'm just telling you how it is in the real world based on my experience.

Mike - Let me supply some additional answers to your quiz.

1) You failed to mention that I was the only Council Member who voted against Elvin (not Eldon) Sapp's proposal, because one of the tracts was being upzoned to open commercial zoning and I felt they should all be planned zoning. So all his donations, lawyers, time, etc. didn't influence what I thought was the right decision.

2) Many of Ben's supporters did write vicious letters to the editor during our campaign, but several of them came up to me later and shook my hand and said "Sorry, I was so wrong about you."

3) The lady referred to in this Letter to the Editor sat through a three hour plus Council meeting to address a problem that could have been handled with an E-mail or a five minute phone call. What I told her was, "Ma'am, next time you have a problem like this, you don't have to sit through an entire Council meeting to wait for the Public Comments at the end. Just contact your Council Member and we'll look into it for you." I was just trying to help the poor lady for future reference and got lambasted in the paper for it.

As long as we're pulling from the archives, I could produce dozens of E-mails from people who said "Thanks for getting back to me. You're the only Council Member I heard from..." but I don't need to defend myself or the job I did on Council to you or anyone else.

This letter to the editor actually is a great example of the responses I've received in these listservs. When people have asked "Why aren't we being listened to?" I've tried to give them unfiltered, non-P.C., honest answers based on my experience as a former Council Member.   I'm a "tell it like is" type of person, but I'm honestly just trying to help.

One last time, I will repeat this for everyone.  Many of you have good ideas that aren't being considered based on the method in which your inputs are currently delivered.

But it's finally sinking in my thick skull. You don't want my advice.

Keep trying it your way,

Brian Ash
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