"I see gears, turning in his head." Final part of a series
COLUMBIA, 2/27/13 (Beat Byte) -- Robert Mainini's runaround with the city of Columbia over the so-called Providence Road Improvement Project could be a case study of what not to do in public administration.
Few were as caught off guard by City Hall's secretive communications and behind-the-scenes maneuvering as Mainini, who bought a home at 927 S. Providence last spring, only to discover it was marked for demolition as part of a 2-phase plan to widen the road. So frustrated did Mainini appear in emails and phone calls that Grasslands Neighborhood Association president Robbie Price said he "smelled a potential lawsuit."
No wonder. "Mainini repeatedly contacted the City and the Grasslands Neighborhood Association to find out about the development of the new Phase 1/Phase 2 plan," a Columbia Historic Preservation (HPC) report explains, citing dozens of internal city emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
Instead of getting answers, Mainini got the city shuffle.
Mainini first heard about a neighborhood association meeting with Columbia public works officials months after the fact. Mr. Mainini "would like to know when that meeting was," city engineer Rick Kaufmann emailed traffic engineering supervisor Scott Bitterman on November 21, 2012. "He didn’t say it, but I assume his next questions will be, 'Why didn’t I know about it?'"
To answer that question, the engineers emailed public works director John Glascock. Held May 23, 2012 "in the City Council chambers," the meeting was "set up by the Grasslands Neighborhood Association, which took care of the invitations," Glascock explained.
A few days later, Mainini emailed Helen Anthony, who represented the Grasslands as the 5th Ward Columbia City Council member.
"I recently became aware of the Providence Rd. Improvement Plan," Mainini explained. "Could you please tell me when the Phase 1 and Phase 2 plans were conceived and who was involved in coming up with these plans? Could you also tell me how far in advance of the 5/23/12 meeting for the Grasslands neighborhood...did the homeowners of the Grasslands know about this? The timeline is very important to me."
County records indicate Mainini closed on his home just three weeks after the Grasslands meeting, on June 15. He apparently wanted to figure out if the sellers knew about the demolition plan, since they obviously had not disclosed it.
"The plans for Phase 1 and 2 were formulated by John Glascock, Director of Public Works and Robbie Price, President and John Ott, prior President of the Grasslands Neighborhood Association, with input from University of Missouri and MoDOT," Anthony replied, adding that Phase 2 -- and its planned demolition of Mainini's home -- was 5-10 years away.
About that all important timeline, Mrs. Anthony couldn't answer. She referred Mainini to Price. "He will be able to answer your question."
After Mainini contacted Price, the neighborhood association president emailed Glascock. "I smell a potential lawsuit," Price told the public works director. "He [Mainini] might want to go back on the seller, claiming they withheld pertinent information....He cites our neighborhood meeting with you on 5/23/12...and he closed on the house 6/15/12. I see the gears turning in his head."
Then Price let something slip: more evidence neighbors were left out of the loop. Though they had owned 927 Providence for ten years, the sellers, Randy and Pauline Sullinger, "were never present, to my knowledge, at any of the neighborhood meetings and therefore probably had no understanding of this plan," Price explained.
"It might be best to have you answer his questions about when the plan was conceived," Price passed the buck to Glascock. "I feel it has more weight coming from the City."
Buck passed, Mainini contacted Glascock and Scott Bitterman.
"Mr. Robbie Price...suggested I get in touch with the both of you," he wrote. "Could you please tell me how far in advance of the 5/23/12 neighborhood association meeting did the homeowners of the Grasslands know about the Phase 1 and Phase 2 plan? I assume that the homeowners were involved in some discussions about this plan before 5/23/12. The timeline is very important to me."
The gears started turning in Glascock's office. "Do you remember?" he emailed Bitterman. "Did we not have a public meeting in the Council chambers?"
"I was not at the meeting on 5-23 and I don’t have knowledge of the events leading up to the meeting," Bitterman replied. "But it seems like the neighborhood was responsible for the notifications, and we provided the meeting space. Please let me know if you want me to handle the response to Mr. Mainini. If so, I’d need the answers to his questions to provide a consistent and transparent answer."
The exchange was bizarre, as Glascock had told Bitterman the same thing days earlier.
The "consistent and transparent" responses never materialized meanwhile, at least not in the public record. "It does not appear that Robert Mainini ever received an answer to his question about when the plan was developed, or why there was no stakeholder involvement by the property owners directly impacted by the plan," the HPC report concludes.