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BEDFELLAS: CoMo city manager, newspaper conspire to push tax hikes, document shows

City Hall's new publishing division? 

COLUMBIA, Mo 5/30/18 (Beat Byte) -- Columbia city manager Mike Matthes and Tribune Publishing -- the parent company of the Columbia Daily Tribune -- frequently join forces with private groups to promote tax and utility rate hikes at the ballot box, a document obtained by the Columbia Heart Beat shows. 
 
The Tribune is a frequent Matthes defender, but does not disclose its business with him or City Hall, which also includes roughly $10,000/month in advertising fees.    

A statement of qualifications (SOQ) "intended to show Tribune Publishing's diversity of experience" lists Matthes as the sole client reference for between $50,000-$225,000 worth of city-related campaign work the newspaper publisher recently performed for several private groups (pg. 18).  Tribune sales manager Les Borgmeyer provided the SOQ to the downtown CID as part of a 2017 contract proposal.  At the time, Tribune Publishing also owned two ad agencies, Cobalt Marketing and Tribune Targeted. 

The city manager's involvement arguably violates an ethics ordinance, 19.41, prohibiting conflicts of interest among city staff.  Missouri Ethics Commission regulations, however, are vague on the subject.    
 
"I do not know why the Tribune includes my contact information in their material," Matthes told the Heartbeat, after reviewing the document.   
 
Tribune Publishing worked on "numerous campaigns for various committees created to help pass ballot measures for the City of Columbia," the SOQ explains, "including the following (along with several others):"
 
1)  Foundation for Columbia's Future
2)  YES = Reliable Electricity
3)  Yes for Better Columbia Water and Sewers
4)  Columbia on the Move
5)  Yes for Public Safety
 
These groups spent "between $10-$45,000 per campaign," working with "account manager Vicki Russell," longtime Tribune co-owner with husband Hank Waters before they sold the company to GateHouse Media in 2016.
 
Tribune Publishing's work included "developing the strategic plan for marketing; determining and verifying all media buys; creating all messaging for signage, print, broadcast, and digital media; oversight of all graphic design and logos." 

The SOQ brags, "All but two of the ballot issues were approved by voters, typically by large margins." 
 
MatthesMatthes
Tribune Publishing's go-to client reference for all this work is not a committee treasurer or chairperson, but "Mike Matthes, Columbia City Manager, 573-874-7412, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.."

Despite Matthes' stated connection with virtually every aspect of Tribune Publishing's ballot promotion work, "campaign committees use private funding and hence we do not direct or know where the committee prints materials related to their campaign," city spokesperson Steve Sapp told the Heart Beat.  "The city manager does not recall providing reference(s) such as the example you have cited."

Matthes suggested "checking with the Tribune" to find out why they listed him -- and only him -- as the client reference for the five privately-funded campaign committees. 

Borgmeyer left the company after its sale to GateHouse.  But the answer to Matthes' question seems obvious:  Tribune Publishing views the Columbia city manager as a strong business ally who will provide a great reference for their work on privately-funded political campaigns.  
 
Editors Note:  The Tribune SOQ also lists Columbia Public Schools superintendent Peter Stiepleman and public information officer Michelle Baumstark as references for privately-funded school district ballot campaigns.
 
 
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