A City of Columbia supervisor's long struggle over money matters economist Robb would appreciate

COLUMBIA, 1/29/12  (Beat Byte) --  Nominations for the first annual Dr. Edward H. Robb Public Servant of the Year award are due February 5, and in the opinion of this writer and hundreds of Heart Beat readers, City of Columbia public works superintendent Bill Weitkemper would make a worthy recipient. 

In service to the City of Columbia for nearly four decades, Weitkemper has been tireless in his efforts to keep community leaders honest in their dealings with Columbia residents.  His hard work has earned him, if not the love of his superiors, the undying respect of the Columbia community.  

Named for Boone County Presiding Commissioner and Missouri state legislator Ed Robb, Ph.D., who died suddenly in September, the Robb Award honors "a full-time employee of a public entity within Boone County (city governments, county government, elementary and secondary education, higher education, police departments, fire departments, etc.)." 

Elected officials are not eligible for the award, which seeks to honor "quality customer service, dedication, enhancing organizational relationships, and/or providing leadership at his/her work environment."  

An economist who insisted public officials take extraordinary care of public money, Robb could be gruff about budgetary shenanigans.    Like Weitkemper, Robb's steadfast stand on budget issues earned him the enmity of some and the respect of many others.  

I first became of Bill Weitkemper in 2009, through his work on making sure the City of Columbia -- where he oversees sewer maintenance -- was treating all residents and businesses fairly.   As a $77 million sewer improvement bond loomed in 2008, Mr. Weitkemper had discovered a serious flaw in billing for sewer service he estimated was costing City Hall -- and Columbia residents -- $1.2 million per year in lost fees. 

A 2007 audit had proved him right.   The community's largest sewer users -- from shopping malls to Mizzou -- were being systematically under-billed for sewer service.   Meanwhile, through rates that have risen year after year, average residents were forced to pick up the slack.   Content to leave both public and City Council in the dark, Weitkemper's superiors essentially hushed him up.  Columbia voters approved the $77 million bond, and several times since, Council members have approved higher sewer rates for all but a select few sewer users.   

Fortunately, Weitkemper has not been deterred. 

In recent years, city officials have taken action.  It hasn't been easy, but Weitkemper's leadership -- and dogged persistence -- has overcome clashing personalities, miscommunications, and conflicting management styles to make life -- and the public budgets Ed Robb devoted his career toward improving -- better for all Columbians.