Columbia's "shadow government" once again says "no" to citizen representatives
COLUMBIA, 12/19/11 (Beat Byte) -- Senior Columbia city staffers including community development director Tim Teddy have over-ruled a City Council decision to fine billionaire developer Stan Kroenke over his hotly-debated public eyesore: construction equipment stored for months against city regulations on the old Osco property at Broadway and Providence Streets. City officials first ordered the lot cleaned up back in July. Months of stalling, delays, and non-responsiveness followed."Let's do it," Mayor Bob McDavid, M.D. said publicly about the fine at a Council meeting in November. "It's an eyesore," added First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt at the time. "Let's fine them.""One of the wealthiest men in America has avoided more than $25,000 in zoning fines," a Columbia Missourian headline this week reads.Teddy waived the fine because shortly after Council imposed it, Kroenke cleaned up the mess, he told the Missourian. Given Kroenke's compliance, the waiver may have been fair enough. But Teddy made the decision with no input or permission from the Columbia City Council."Did anyone on city staff consult with you about this before they made the decision to waive the fine?" the Heart Beat asked 2nd Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill, the Council's only real estate agent, cc'ing other Council members."No," he replied.To other observers, the waiver looks like the old "two sets of rules" problem: one set of rules for the rich and powerful; another set of rules for everyone else."I've been struggling with the city to waive a $150 fine after I was able to get enough money to fix some code violations," said low-income housing specialist Amir Ziv, who has rehabbed and remodeled dozens of older central Columbia homes. "They wanted some repairs made that I didn't have the money to do at the time. I'm in compliance now, but they will not waive or reduce the fine."Ironically given Ziv's situation, "city staff lack incentive to follow to the letter some of our code enforcement," Councilman Thornhill told the Heart Beat, calling the Columbia Regency Mobile Home Park fiasco "an excellent example of this problem."It's also another example of the two sets of rules phenomenon. Regency owner George Gradow -- the multimillionaire husband of former Playboy playmate and actress Barbi Benton -- paid no fines over hundreds of violations according to reports.
About Osco, Thornhill does believe city staffers followed Council orders -- in spirit, if not in letter. "Our request to staff was, in my opinion, followed -- albeit late in the process," Thornhill told the Heart Beat. "Could Kroekne have been fined? Absolutely. Would I prefer Kroenke just sell or develop the corner so I don't have to watch that wretch of a building continue to junk up the western skyline of Providence and Broadway? Simply put, yes." But City Hall cannot require him to do so, he noted.Mayor McDavid and Councilman Schmidt declined to answer questions about the Kroenke waiver, including this one: "It looks like a billionaire just got away with yet another rule waiver over a high-profile situation that has angered much of the community for a long time. It looks like that decision was made contrary to what our elected representatives required/requested, and without their input.
"Do you understand how decisions like this play in the community, especially today? Do you understand why?"RELATED:http://www.columbiamissourian.com/stories/2011/12/12/city-decides-not-fine-kroenke-group-osco-site-violation/
OMISSION: Osco/Kroenke clean-up storyWe neglected to note that we also requested commentary from City of Columbia community development director Tim Teddy, who over-ruled the Council's directive.
"Did you get approval from the Council to waive this fine? If so, when, and why wasn't that part of the story reported? If not, why not?" we asked Mr. Teddy.
He did not respond.