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PLUSH PLUNDER: Luxury City Hall spending drains money from public safety

From severance pay to fancy digs, senior city staffers spare no expense on themselves

COLUMBIA, Mo 8/23/13 (Analysis) --
Like serial robbers, Columbia's city administrators -- those non-elected  leaders who get handsome salaries and benefits -- swipe money from public services to spend on their priorities.

Consider this headline about a project to renovate the Howard and Gentry buildings, across from City Hall:  City building renovations over budget.  
 
Estimates started at $2.35 million but ended up at $3.1 million, 32% higher, according to then-city finance director Lori Fleming.  

Who was to blame for such a sizeable cost overrun?    Certainly not the high-flying administrators who ordered the plush new office space for the parks department, Office of Cultural Affairs, and municipal court at taxpayer expense.   Blame "higher construction costs" -- even Hurricane Katrina -- said then city manager Ray Beck.  

Relevant to today's debate about funding police officers:   Did the $3.1 million price tag halt construction, as a similar price tag -- $3.5 million -- has halted hiring more police?
 
Not at all.   "It’ll be funded totally," public works director John Glascock told the Tribune.
 
Just like Garagezilla on Walnut St.  And Garagezilla Jr. on Short St.   And city manager Mike Matthes' severance package, which the City Council doubled last year.   Just like the new City Hall, which has been stealing money from the city's General Fund -- used for police -- since 2002.

Management priorities every one, most over-budget, all at considerable taxpayer expense.  And all "funded totally." 

No wonder.   City administrators have the power of the purse, directing hundreds of millions of dollars to local banks and insider business interests who pour concrete for trails; build bridges; write press materials for GetAbout;  and lay top-of-the-line carpeting in new management offices.
 
These special interests invariably jump on the city management bandwagon and push the community -- especially the City Council -- toward spending decisions that -- in a rising sea of unmet priorities like violent crime, basement sewer backups, and bad streets -- are downright foolish.
 
But not to city management, which honored itself after completing the Howard and Gentry renovations.  "The structures represent important milestones in Columbia’s history," assistant city manager Tony St. Romaine said.  

Funny -- city management said the same thing about the still-decrepit Blind Boone Home. 

-- Mike Martin for the Columbia Heart Beat


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