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BLIGHT DECREE BUNGLE, Pt. 1: Emails reveal fear and loathing at CoMo City Hall

Disorganization, skepticism, paranoia, slurs, smirks, giggles, and a student intern behind REDI effort

COLUMBIA, 4/5/12  (Beat Byte) -- Columbia's Blight Decree and Enhanced Enterprise Zone (EEZ) -- which includes large portions of Boone County -- were rushed, disorganized City Hall lobbying efforts that left Council members complaining, County Commissioners clueless, and the city attorney warning it wouldn't fly.  
 
Over 1,000 emails and other documents obtained by Citizens Involved and Invested in Columbia -- to which this writer belongs -- reveal a make-it-up-as-REDI-goes approach that relied on a University of Missouri student and unpaid, ad hoc experts who supplied poorly-researched, bare-bones reports.
 
"I don't see how the proposed enhanced enterprise zone meets the statutory requirement that the area be blighted, have pervasive poverty, unemployment and general distress," Columbia city attorney Fred Boeckmann warned REDI vice president Bernie Andrews two weeks before the Columbia City Council voted to approve it Feb. 6.  
 
But REDI pushed it through anyway, stirring up a tsunami of opposition that so frustrated one Council member, he fired off a racial slur, two Hitler comparisons, and an email that reads like something from a Richard Nixon enemies list. 
 
Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid had in-depth details about the project as early as July 2011.  His personal email also received disturbing exchanges with the EEZ's chief proponents -- Regional Economic Development, Inc. (REDI) directors Mike Brooks and Bernie Andrews; and REDI chairman Dave Griggs, president of Dave Griggs Flooring America.   

The emails bash citizen concerns and belittle citizen opposition. 

In one February 15 exchange, Griggs passed along an unsigned note about a Columbia Citizens listserv conversation that paints EEZ opponents as sad, powerless, and angry.  

"I just wanted to share what I just received with you:  'Want to make sure you can see what the trouble-makers are saying about you.  FEAR is an amazing weapon for those with little power. Very sad,'" Griggs emailed Dr. McDavid.  "Perhaps we need a coffee to discuss what approach we need to get beyond this total misconception!"
 
Dr. McDavid has been tight with REDI since last July, sitting in on numerous presentations about the EEZ/Blight Decree, several led by a student intern -- Maurice Harris -- REDI charged with doing the research and making its case. 

On the night Council members were due to vote on the Blight Decree -- Feb. 6 -- another University of Missouri student, Madeline O'Leary -- had a critical question that still hadn't been answered.*  

"I'm sure you've left your office already, but I just need to clarify something:  is the fact that the census tract must be included when identifying one specific geographic point required by statute?   I hope to hear from you soon!" she wrote Griggs. 
 
"The Census tract is simply the 'unit of measure' designated by Missouri Statute," Griggs replied.

*Columbia Missourian editor Scott Swafford contacted this publication to say O'Leary is a Missourian reporter.  She is not identified as a reporter -- a standard practice in journalism -- or in any capacity other than student in the emails, and she received critical, relevant information about the story that has not been published two months later.   This writer was left with the impression she was a student intern and incorrectly identified her as such in an earlier version of this story. 
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