- Written by Mike Martin
Moral imperative? Or more lies?
COLUMBIA, Mo 9/7/15 (Analysis) -- Columbia city manager Mike Matthes wants us to believe he "loses sleep" over a "widening economic gap" between the city's black and white residents.
But more corporate welfare -- TIF, Enhanced Enterprise Zones (EEZ), and a controversial plan to develop "shovel ready" land north of town -- is the real reason he wants public support to spend millions closing this gap.
The biggest crony handout is buried in a sea of shining objects: $500,000 for homeless veteran housing, $100,000 for first-time home ownership, $50,000 for job training. "But there’s also a proposal to use a vacant tract of land to try to lure back some lost manufacturing jobs," Missourian columnist George Kennedy noted in a column on the Matthes plan.
As residents who endured the EEZ/Blight debacle know, "luring back lost manufacturing jobs" is code for corporate cronyism -- and another example of Almeta Crayton's First Law of Equitable Public Policy: "Don't use my neighborhoods to pay your salaries."
Moral imperative? Or more lies?
After years -- if not decades -- of City Hall declaring itself too broke to repair and replace even basic infrastructure, Mr. Matthes says he wants to spend millions of public dollars closing the black-white economic divide. "We have a moral imperative to do something," he said.
But this is the same city manager who, to secure support for a downtown TIF, said "until the city of Columbia finds money to upgrade electric, sewer and other infrastructure, there can be no more development downtown."
The same city manager who said, "Without more funding, downtown Columbia will look the same as it is now for a long, long time."
And said, "The city's infrastructure can't handle any new downtown or central city building. The pace of development in the area has outstripped the electric and sewer capacity, which is 100 percent utilized."
Then a wrecking ball hit Shakespeare's Pizza, and nearly 2,000 more student apartments are going up.
Matthes said he "would not recommend any future ballot measure to add police officers while Dale Roberts is employed by the Columbia Police Officers Association." Then CPOA attorneys hit him with charges he was violating the Federal and State Constitutions, and he walked back the empty threat.
With his history of lying and ardent support for corporate welfare, why should Columbia residents believe Mr. Matthes now? Why should we believe that his "strategic vision of two cities" -- one poor, one rich -- will suddenly turn around over a century of neglect and even abuse?
City Hall has the worst possible record regarding the black community, from neglecting historically black neighborhoods to the use of eminent domain to steal black owned land and businesses during so-called "Urban Renewal."
The Sutter Site
We shouldn't believe a word Matthes says. We should, instead, turn to what he has written -- what will become law after Council members unanimously pass his 2016 Budget, which they do, every year, without fail.
Buried away in Matthes' Budget -- an ironic 666 pages of his priorities for City Hall's vast financial resources -- is the real prize in a Cracker Jack box of sugar-coated feel-goodies:
The Sutter Industrial Site, aka the "shovel ready land" that has generated controversy since deputy city manager Tony St. Romaine first suggested using nearly $3 million from Columbia's Water and Light Utility Fund to buy and redevelop it.
"In the past, our community has chosen not to use common tools proven to create jobs. It will be important to continue the conversation about using these tools if we hope to get serious about helping all citizens thrive," Matthes writes on page 12 of his budget. "I recommend using one or more of these tools to help develop the Sutter industrial tract in northeast Columbia to attract manufacturing jobs."
Matthes sneaks in Sutter site references when he talks publicly about his plan, too.
"Matthes said he wants the city to bump up its efforts to recruit companies with manufacturing jobs. He cited the city-owned Sutter tract, a 110-acre plot at the northeast corner of Paris Road and Waco Road," the Trib reported in July. "He said tax increment financing, enhanced enterprise zones and Chapter 100 bonds are some incentives the city could offer to companies looking to locate here."
"They say our rates will be raised and we will have to fund this project with a bond, i.e. a large debt," Columbia resident Eleanore Wickersham wrote to the Council about the Sutter site. "But at no time was the public told three million dollars the department collected from customers would be used for land purchases."
A better way to close the income gap would be to return Matthes' corporate welfare check to the public -- as lower taxes, lower utility rates, lower fines and fees. Those costs have surged under the McDavid./Matthes administration, only exacerbating the "income inequality" Matthes now says he wants to end.