- Written by Mike Martin
Whom do you trust with your dollars?
COLUMBIA, Mo 4/6/15 (Op Ed) -- Former State Rep. Chris Kelly said he didn't "believe in witches" Thursday night, scolding an audience at his bellicose best (or worst). Voting against Columbia Propositions 1 and 2 just because they don't trust city administrators or Council members would make audience members "witch hunters", Kelly carped.
His debate opponent at Keep Columbia Free's Last Word election forum that night, Boone County For Liberty spokesman Steve Spellman, argued it's dumb to hand tens of millions of dollars to people you don't trust.
Trust -- a word that appears on every U.S. dollar -- needs restoration before local officials get another dime, Spellman said. Made sense to me.
But to Kelly -- representing the two propositions' chief boosters -- the "you can't trust City Hall" argument was a witch hunt directed at poor souls like city manager Mike Matthes.
"I don't believe in witches," Kelly blustered. "This is Columbia, Missouri in 2015 -- not Salem, Massachusetts during the Witch Trials."
Spellman's arguments against the utility rate hikes had nothing to do with witchcraft but rather, one of the simplest ideas around: Giving money to people you don't trust is a bad idea.
With that in mind, here are:
The Top Ten Reasons to Vote Against Propositions 1 and 2
10. The lawsuits. Citizens v. Opus; Zim Schwartze v. the city manager; Ryan Ferguson v. City Hall; Rob Sanders v. the police chief.
There's a little something for everyone in this panoply of litigation, from people who distrust police to citizens who distrust City Hall's approach to development. The sheer volume of litigation in such a short time is unprecedented. It does not say good things about city leaders who want more money.
9. The Ginny Chadwick Recall. If ever there was a political environment that screamed "We don't trust you because you won't listen to us," it was the environment around First Ward Councilwoman Ginny Chadwick, who resigned rather than face recall. When Charles Dickens wrote The Pickwick Papers, the term "Pickwickian" took flight, referring to a person like Mr. Pickwick -- simple, generous, a little stout.
"Chadwickian" has taken its place in Columbia, referring to a city government so tuned out, its citizens must file hundreds or thousands of signatures just to be heard.
8. City Hall's $366 million Cash Stash. A civic miracle occurred yesterday.
After weeks of talking about it, KFRU Sunday Morning Roundtable host Al Germond insisted City Hall's enormous cash stash exists -- but with an important purpose. His two guests, Columbia public works director John Glascock and Water and Light director Tad Johnsen, grunted grudgingly in the background.
So large, it takes four pages of fine print to list every investment, City Hall's Cash Stash appears on Table 13 of the 2014 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), p, 189-193.
The city needs all that money as "collateral," Germond explained, to secure bank loans and bond debt. But if the city has that much money, why does it need debt? I don't borrow money if I already have it. Do you?
Even more importantly, why does City Hall need more money from me?
7. The Missing Depreciation Fund. The Number One infrastructure issue identified by Columbia's Downtown Leadership Council (DLC), City Hall's missing Depreciation Fund is a doozy.
Mandated under Section 102 of the City Charter and City Ordinance 27-44, the Depreciation Fund would -- if it existed -- have set aside tens of millions of dollars over the years to replace aging electrical and water delivery infrastructure. It's like a long-term household emergency fund, where you put aside money to replace an aging roof.
But city officials have never created a Depreciation Fund, instead using extra Water and Light for pet projects like the "shovel-ready" land in Reason 6.
6. Water and Light Money for "Shovel-Ready" Land.
"The Columbia Water and Light Department is proposing to use $2 million in revenue from electric customers over the next two fiscal years to purchase a roughly 100-acre tract of land in northeast Columbia that the city has targeted for economic development." -- 4/9/2013, Columbia Daily Tribune
One million dollars and 18 months later:
"By next summer, the city plans to use about $3 million in revenue from Columbia Water and Light electric customers to purchase a roughly 100-acre tract at the northeast corner of Paris Road and Waco Road...."
-- 12/24/2014, Columbia Daily Tribune
So the city has $3 million to spend from water and light customers on development land -- up from $2 million a year ago -- but has no money to maintain electric infrastructure unless voters pass Prop. 1 Tuesday?
5. The Big Infrastructure Lie.
By now, you've probably heard what everyone in CoMo is calling the Big Lie: city manager Mike Matthes' and Mayor Bob McDavid's declarations that Columbia has "no more infrastructure" -- no sewer, water, or power lines, and nary another cop to fight crime -- to accommodate any new development (read: more student apartments), especially downtown.
But the City Council hasn't stopped approving student apartments downtown since city leaders started floating the lie in December 2013, mostly to get TIF approval. Angry about the lie, citizens launched a petition effort to reverse the largest of those projects -- Opus -- that delivered two petitions with thousands of signatures.
Click for the Top Ten times city leaders lied about downtown infrastructure.
4. The city manager's unapologetically unlawful behavior.
He called two special City Council meetings to approve three student apartments that violated City of Columbia ordinances.
He lies -- a lot.
And to top it off, city manager Mike Matthes refused to apologize for any of it when the Downtown Columbia Leadership Council respectully asked him to.
But why should he? After all, Matthes has been rewarded for his bad behavior: City Council members even doubled his severance package!
Do I want to give this man more of my hard-earned money? Do you?
3. The Opus Debacle. If anything is emblematic of the Student Apartment-Garagezilla Industrial Complex that has taken over Columbia, it's the debacle involving Opus -- at its heart, a public protest over a really bad infrastructure deal city leaders made with a shady, out-of-state builder.
Citizens delivered thousands of signatures protesting the deal -- that Opus pay only $450,000 for infrastructure it needs for a new downtown student apartment -- not once, but twice. By law, the signatures should have either killed the project -- or forced Opus to pony up millions, not a few hundred thousand.
But city management and the City Council ignored both the referendum petitions and forged ahead. Now, they want to send us the bill.
2. All the rate hikes we've already had. These articles guide the way:
1. The Crisis of Trust and Confidence Reasons 2-10 Created.
Our Top Ten List ends where it began: with a serious crisis about the most fundamental element of governance, policy-making, and money management: Trust.
Anyone who thinks such a crisis nothing more than a "witch hunt" is drinking some powerfully delusional witch's brew.
-- Mike Martin