Citizens wary of latest REDI plan

COLUMBIA, 2/1/17 (Beat Byte) -- Columbia residents have few greater champions with more expertise than retired public works supervisor Bill Weitkemper.

But you wouldn't know that reading local media accounts of his long-time advocacy on behalf of renters and homeowners.   

Weitkemper's nearly four-decade career at City Hall left him with knowledge of water, sewer, and other infrastructure second to none.  

But in the eyes of some reporters and editors, Columbia city manager Mike Matthes -- a resident for a mere 5 years -- has greater expertise and credibility, apparently by virtue of his title alone.

Weitkemper and other activists are questioning City Hall's proposed sale of so-called "shovel-ready" land to Aurora Organic Dairy (AOD), a Colorado firm embroiled in litigation and controversy over everything from its farming practices to use of the "organic" label.   The deal would also involve multiple large tax breaks.   

It's the latest "jobs, jobs, jobs" plan from REDI, the city-funded economic development group that brought Blight and IBM to town.  

In violation of the Columbia City Charter, Matthes' office purchased the land with $3 million from Water and Light Utility reserve funds and now proposes to sell it at a $1 million loss. 

In a Columbia Daily Tribune story about the proposal, reporter Jodie Jackson and his editors described supporters and critics, and the way they addressed various issues:    

"Columbia City Manager Mike Matthes"
"AOD spokeswoman Sonja Tuitele"
"REDI vice president Bernie Andrews"
“For me, the milk plant checks all the boxes from a due diligence process...Matthes said.
"REDI spokesman Bernie Andrews said."
"AOD spokeswoman Sonja Tuitele said."

"Most ardent government and taxpayer watchdogs"
"Weitkemper....unsuccessfully mounted a campaign for city council"
"Self-proclaimed taxpayer watchdog Ken Midkiff"
"...whose main mission is to help small farmers and rural residents fight"
Weitkemper has sounded the call for several years...He insists
Midkiff worries
Midkiff also is among the voices chiming in on the supposed perils
Scott Dye begged to differ
Dye has a litany of published articles and photos
Midkiff is among those who quickly remind
Ask yourself which voices come across as more competent, more knowledgeable, more credible. 

One word -- "said" -- describes how supporters speak.   AOD critics, on the other hand, sound like hand-wringing, sky-is-falling types. 
The story describes supporters by their proper titles alone.   No mention is made, for instance, that Matthes "sparked controversy over accusations he lied to the public about a downtown TIF District" or violated city ordinances when he called three special meetings of the City Council to approve student apartments without proper notification.    

Or that taxpayers were on the hook for $325,000 when City Hall settled an employment lawsuit with Zim Schwartze, whose firing at Matthes' hands court documents describe as bungling and tactless.  

The story omits Weitkemper's positive attributes, such as his receipt of the first Ed Robb Award for Public Service.  

Discounting the credibility of citizen activists is one way local journalists and editorial writers "shore up" the credibility of policymakers and power brokers, especially when their ideas are mediocre (The Dinner Train) or downright bad (Blight/EEZ).   

This media bias toward money and power stands in stark contrast to the good journalists' dictum:  "The job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." 

Links in story provided for further background information.