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STRANGER THINGS: Mayor apologizes for city manager attack on CoMo public service hero

Bizarre smear campaign targets retired city worker  

COLUMBIA, Mo 4/12/17 (Beat Byte) -- Columbia Mayor Brian Treece has apologized to retired city public works superintendent Bill Weitkemper for what Weitkemper claims is city manager Mike Matthes' attempt to besmirch his reputation. 

Weitkemper retired in 2012 after 37 years at City Hall.   He received the first Edward Robb Award for Public Service and ran for a Council seat

"Bill:  I'm sorry you had this experience," Treece emailed Weitkemper March 28.   "I appreciate your years of valuable service to the City of Columbia, your hands-on expertise on infrastructure issues, your advocacy at the Downtown Leadership Council's Infrastructure Committee, and your many hours of service on Mayor McDavid's Infrastructure Task Force.  Any effort by city staff to criticize your clear commitment to transparency and equity or to smear your good name should not be tolerated." 

Weitkemper had earlier emailed Council members and reporters about a so-called "Weitkemper file" Mr. Matthes was purportedly using as "proof" of poor job performance.  Weitkemper said he learned of the unusual smear campaign after meeting with Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas.  

"Ian said the city manager informed him the city manager's staff have 'had enough' of Bill Weitkemper," he explained.   "Ian said the city manager told him when Bill Weitkemper worked for the City, that he failed to correct the things he is now complaining about.   It seems the city manager was acting inappropriately and quite possibly illegally."

Weitkemper has criticized city administrators over their decades-long failure to remedy failing sewer and storm drain systems, particularly in the central city.   He also blew the whistle on city utility billing practices that under-charge large consumers like Mizzou and property developers while over-charging small consumers such as renters and homeowners. 

"Matthes showed me a 3” binder of sewer utility data (I think)," Councilman Thomas confirmed in a March 28 email to Weitkemper.    "As you say, his purpose was to disparage you in my presence, which I did not appreciate.     The binder was some kind of evidence that you had under-performed in your job.    I was not interested in trying to understand the details of the point he was making." 
 
The 3" "Weitkemper file" turned out to be a 1978 Sewer System Evaluation Survey, the Heart Beat learned after a Sunshine Law request.   Matthes referenced the survey with Council members "on occasion," city public relations director Steve Sapp explained.  "Due to the age and size of this book, it would be best viewed in person."

The 40-year-old survey, prepared by Black & Veatch Engineering, "is hardly evidence that I under-performed in my job," Weitkemper told the Heart Beat.  

He cited a 2010 performance review signed by superiors who gave him the highest praise. 

"There were significant sewer problems in 1978 and there are still significant sewer problems today," Weitkemper added.    "However, in 1978, residents directly affected by overloaded and backed-up sewers were told there was nothing the city could do.   Today, in part due to my persistence, the community is starting to demand that the city be held accountable."  

Weitkemper also thanked Mr. Treece, with a suggestion. 

"I appreciate your response as well as your apology," he said.   "However, with all due respect, you are not the person who should be apologizing."

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