Careless use of eminent domain brings a different kind of condemnation

COLUMBIA, 2/22/13 (Beat Byte) -- Visibly shaken about the prospect of losing his home to a lawless City Hall wielding eminent domain, University of Missouri Vice Chancellor for Research Robert Duncan pleaded with Columbia City Council members Monday night to "follow the rule of law."
"Out of respect for city ordinance, out of respect for proper operations, what I'm pleading is: Please have enough respect for rule of law and city ordinances to follow them," Duncan told the Council, whose members include newly-elected Laura Nauser. "I have a lot of respect for rule of law."
Testifying to rescind Phase 1 of the two-phase Providence Road Improvement Plan (PIP) Council members approved in December, Duncan joined a chorus of testimony condemning a flawed process. Hundreds of internal emails and other city communications suggest public works officials violated multiple laws on the way to condemning properties in the path of road improvements, should property owners be unwilling to sell at prices acceptable to City Hall.
Duncan and wife Annette Sobel, M.D. -- a physician and former National Guard major general -- own one of the properties, a stately home at 903 S. Providence. The city signed a contract with various highway agencies promising to use condemnation should negotiation fail.
Despite testimony from Grasslands Neighborhood Association leaders that the process was open and neighbors engaged, Duncan said he and Sobel "had never been informed of any meeting of the association, nor have we ever been invited to such a meeting. I'd suggest that they include all the owners in the Grasslands, or at least not exclude them."
City ordinance meanwhile requires concerned or "interested parties" meetings for projects such as PIP. "You have to genuinely reach out to engage people like myself and my wife before you condemn our property," Duncan said. "But there was no concerned parties meeting. There was no outreach."
After a November 19 public hearing that also violated city ordinance, Duncan heard "in late November" while he and Sobel were in India that Phase 1 was scheduled for a Council vote. "We tried to contact the city from India but were unable to," Duncan explained. They learned about the plan in detail for the first time after they returned home.
A nuclear energy expert who has appeared on such shows as 60 Minutes, Duncan concluded by asking Council members to rescind Phase 1 and start over lawfully.
"If you decide to take property from people using eminent domain and not follow city ordinance, that's a big concern," Duncan told Council members. "Eminent domain is a huge power of this City Council. Please, follow city law. Not because you like me, not because you respect me, but because you have respect for the rule of law."