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CoMo PROPERTY TAX DEBATE: Delivers Mayoral mauling

As a conservative trying to raise taxes, McDavid is in a dicey spot

COLUMBIA, Mo 10/24/14 (Beat Byte) -- Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid got a verbal thrashing from former City Councilman Larry Schuster last night. 

A League of Women Voters debate over McDavid's proposed public safety property tax hike -- Proposition 1 -- became a referendum on wayward city management and a police administration Schuster said "bullies" its officers instead of supporting them.

"We have to start holding city government accountable," Schuster told a standing-room-only crowd to applause.  "We have to say 'enough is enough'."

As the two well-known conservative voices squared off, McDavid's tenuous position became clear.   He was debating the kind of successful businessperson his administration has often lauded.  After leading the window blind, shade, and awning industry for years in Columbia, Schuster sold Pioneer Window Works to Marathon Office Systems

More importantly, McDavid came across as failing to practice the business principles he preaches

Instead of leading with "innovative approaches" that recognize constrained resources, "all they've done is raise taxes and raise fees,"  charged Schuster, about McDavid's administration.   "That's their answer to everything." 

With the take-no-prisoners style he brought to his long-running Columbia Business Times column, Schuster -- who represented the First Ward from 1990-93 -- gave voters ample reason to deny the property tax hike.  Crime has fallen 40% since 1990, McDavid reluctantly admitted, and this month Boone County reported a drop in its jail population to a 15-year low.   

The tax money recipients, city manager Mike Matthes and police chief Ken Burton, "are adrift," Schuster said, adding his daughter and son-in-law are Columbia police officers.  
 
"The police department is fighting three big lawsuits, including one from a well-respected former downtown officer," Schuster explained, referencing Chris Kelley, Ryan Ferguson, and former police captain Zim Schwartze.   "There's been nothing reported to show that anything has changed since a 2012 consultant's report about the department found a 'toxic work environment'." 

Misplaced priorities have also replaced sound financial management at City Hall.   Instead of spending a nearly $2 million surplus from 2013 and $1.8 million saved when Boone County took over the 911 center, "that money has been spent on other things," Schuster said.  "One hundred percent of it should have been spent on public safety." 

Audience applause followed Schuster's comments while appearing to rattle the Mayor, who hastily violated his own strict protocol.   At Council meetings, Dr. McDavid frequently bangs his gavel to call people "out of order" during public comment. 
 
But last night, he interrupted moderator Renee Hulshof before she gave him the floor more than once, to dispute Schuster. 

McDavid's arguments ended with bellicose rejoinders ("Those numbers are complete fiction!") but little data to back them up.   He once again contrasted the Columbia police department with other college towns, but as Schuster repeatedly pointed out, size isn't the only thing that matters.   Good management is equally -- if not more -- important. 

Schuster, meanwhile, was so focused on hard data -- from declining crime rates to wasted money -- he even quoted Mark Twain, who reportedly said, "There are three kinds of lies:  lies, damned lies, and statistics."

"Except this time, the statisticians are telling the truth," Schuster said.

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