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BEAT BYTE: 'Serious accusation' dominates Council meet

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  • Mike Martin
    THE COLUMBIA HEART BEAT -- 12/1/11 Six Years on Columbia s Alternative News Beat http://www.columbiaheartbeat.com 1) SERIOUS ACCUSATION : Councilman accused
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 1, 2011
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      THE COLUMBIA HEART BEAT -- 12/1/11
      Six Years on Columbia's Alternative News Beat
      1) "SERIOUS ACCUSATION":  Councilman accused city officials of manipulating task force, supervisor claims 
      2)  PROPERTY TAX OUTRAGE:  Readers scorn deep developer discounts
      3)  EXERCISE NO SUBSTITUTE:  For active lifestyle, Mizzou researchers say
      4)  WHY BOOZE MAKES SMART PEOPLE ACT DUMB:  Mizzou study finds answers 
      5)  LIFESIZE DIGITAL 3D TIGER:  Greets Mizzou Athletics visitors with lifelike realism
      6)  CITIZENS LOUDLY OPPOSE:  Postal facility Columbia move
      7)  HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR:  Applauds West Junior student play
      8)  SOCIAL SECURITY OPENS:  New Columbia office; one of three nationwide
      "You never want to get in the way of an engaged citizenry."
      -- Robert McDavid, M.D., Mayor of Columbia
      Links embedded in bold throughout stories, so best read in HTML format.

      "SERIOUS ACCUSATION":  Councilman accused city officials of manipulating task force, supervisor claims 
      Important citizen commission "used" and "hoodwinked" by city staffers, accusation asserts

      COLUMBIA, 12/1/11  (Interview) --  Fourth Ward Columbia Councilman Daryl Dudley earlier this year accused senior city officials of manipulating a citizen task force charged with revamping a utility billing ordinance, city public works supervisor Bill Weitkemper told the Columbia Heart Beat and other reporters.   Weitkemper said he observed the same manipulative behavior during task force meetings, a charge Mayor Bob McDavid and city manager Mike Matthes labeled a "serious accusation."
      City staff's presumptive motives included keeping utility discounts for big customers and pushing through a 15% sewer rate hike Weitkemper has consistently maintained was not necessary.  Rates should have instead been reduced, he explained.  Council members will take up more changes to the controversial ordinance at their December 5 meeting
      "I met with Mayor McDavid and Council members Daryl Dudley and Gary Kespohl on August 31 and gave them each a detailed report of the problems I had with the sewer ordinance," Weitkemper said.  "Dr. McDavid said that he did not have time to study the sewer ordinance.  He said that was staff's responsibility." 
      Talk then turned to a citizen sewer task force created to resolve billing problems Weitkemper revealed in 2009.  Senior city staffers, he explained, tried to manipulate the task force toward a conclusion of their own making, a ploy many citizen commissioners have complained about over the years.  Senior city staffers and department directors attend -- and guide -- all citizen commission meetings.

      "I told Dr. McDavid that I attended every sewer task force meeting except for the first and city staff had used the sewer task force to push through sewer ordinance changes that city staff had been unable to push through on their own," Weitkemper explained.   
      City staffers' overbearing approach troubled Councilman Dudley, who also attended most of the sewer task force meetings, he added.  "Mr. Dudley said the sewer task force had been 'hoodwinked' by city staff," Weitkemper explained.   "Dr. McDavid said, 'that’s a pretty serious accusation.'  Mr. Dudley agreed." 
      McDavid said Dudley's revelation about staff manipulation "put the council in a difficult position," Weitkemper said.  The Mayor wanted Matthes to respond after reviewing Weitkemper's work. 

      "On September 1st, I met with the city manager and gave him a copy of my report," Weitkemper explained.  "I repeated to him both my comments and Councilman Dudley’s comments about the sewer task force and city staff.   He said, 'that’s a pretty serious accusation.' I told him that was exactly what Mayor McDavid had said.   The city manager told me he would read my entire report, ask public works to respond and then he would respond." 
      Matthes responded to Council members at a Council meeting last month about Council Bill B293-11, another change to the sewer billing ordinance.   The result was so unsatisfactory, Council members tabled the ordinance without resolution until December 5. 

      PROPERTY TAX OUTRAGE:  Readers scorn deep developer discounts
      Millions of dollars of development and estate land brings in just $2,363.26 in yearly property taxes
      COLUMBIA, 12/1/11  (Op-Ed) --  "Amazing and disheartening," is how David Stokes, a policy analyst at one of Missouri's leading conservative think tanks, characterizes Boone County's ridiculously generous property tax breaks for the area's richest and most powerful residents and businesses.  

      Other Heart Beat readers feel the same way.  They have no problem paying their fair share of taxes, but scorn the idea that so-called "one percenters" -- the country's wealthiest individuals and businesses -- pay virtually nothing, the highest form of collusion with donation-hungry public officials. 
      I'm a big fan of our capitalist system when it works without collusion between government and wealthy individuals or big businesses, an ever-increasing problem as government takes a larger share of the domestic product pie and powerful people move in to manipulate the results. 

      Nationally, GE paid no income taxes on some $14 billion in profits last year.  Locally, large donors to the re-election campaign of Boone County assessor Tom Schauwecker -- ironically, a Democrat -- get property tax breaks in proportion to their wealth, first revealed after the 2008 elections.   
      Now, with four years of tax records to look back upon, those same one percenters are paying a mere $59.01 more than they were in 2007 -- a single property tax increase for the other 99% -- on millions of dollars of development and estate land that together brought in just $2,363.26 in 2011 property taxes. 
      About our tongue-in-cheek take on Boone County's giant government-aided collusion, Fred and Ann Koenig quipped that they'd like to help the Kroenkes, Lauries, Sapps, Smiths, Forum Development, and the rest pay that $59 increase.  "We should come together to help them out with their increased burden during these economically challenging times," they wrote.  "Maybe we could have a bake sale, and send them the proceeds?"
      Other readers suggested more direct action.  "I would like to know who to start calling if these folks are getting off yet again," Linda Lutz wrote.  "I'd like to make a stink." 
      CMNEA teachers union president Susan McClintic, who also teaches at Alpha Hart Lewis elementary, found the news sad enough to recommend an alternative.  "If you are looking for some positive news, it is American Education week and the Columbia Missouri National Education Association (CMNEA) encourages everyone to read a book to a child this week to honor educators!"
      "Honor educators."  How ironic, given that educators are those most hurt by property tax breaks for the powerful.

      But wait!  Perhaps those generous tax breaks are development incentives, like TIFs and TDDs.  Perhaps those breaks are designed to help the economy, through some vague "trickle down" effect.   If that's what they are, the property tax breaks don't impress musician Win Grace, who thanked us for reporting the story.   "In my opinion, it wouldn't hurt to slow down development," she said.
      In another irony, Stokes -- a St. Louis-based policy analyst for the Show Me Institute, arguably Missouri's most aggressive anti-tax lobbyists routinely criticized by the public sector -- made a salient legal point:  property tax breaks this generous are designed for farmers, not developers or estate barons.  
      "The question becomes, how many of those properties are being actively farmed or used for some agricultural purpose?" he said.  "Property tax bills that low are only really possible for active farmland."  

      EXERCISE NO SUBSTITUTE:  For active lifestyle, Mizzou researchers say
      COLUMBIA, 12/1/11  (Beat Byte) --  For people with inactive lifestyles who nonetheless regularly exercise -- desk jockeys who visit the gym after work every night, for instance -- chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and a new epidemic -- fatty liver disease -- remain a serious threat, say University of Missouri researchers who point to caloric foods and hours of inactivity as modern-day scourges to healthy longevity. 
      “If people spend the majority of their time sitting, even with regular periods of exercise, they are still at greater risk for chronic diseases,” said John Thyfault, Ph.D., assistant professor in the departments of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology and Internal Medicine.
      The difference between activity (greater than 10,000 steps a day) and inactivity (fewer than 5,000 steps each day) has also led to a new epidemic, said fellow department assistant professor Scott Rector, Ph.D.   Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is now the most common chronic liver condition among U.S. adults, and occurs when excess fat accumulates in the liver.  It contributes to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, and has even become more common in children.

      “Everyone should try to take at least 10,000 steps a day,” Rector said. “It doesn’t have to happen all at once, but 500 to 1,000 steps every few hours is a good goal.  Small changes can increase the number of steps people take in their daily routines. Changes might include taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking to a coworker’s office rather than calling, or planning time for short walks throughout the day.”
      Their articles were published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

      WHY BOOZE MAKES SMART PEOPLE ACT DUMB:  Mizzou study finds answers 
      COLUMBIA, 12/1/11  (Beat Byte) --  Science can explain Mizzou football coach Gary Pinkel's recent run in with the law, but the news isn't necessarily good.   A new University of Missouri study found that alcohol dulls a brain "signal" that warns people when they are making a mistake. 
      The signal slowing doesn't reduce awareness, however, as the conventional wisdom has long suggested.  Instead, it increases apathy.   Inebriated people know they're making a mistake, but they don't care. 
      "Contrary to previous studies, our study shows that alcohol doesn't reduce your awareness of mistakes – it reduces how much you care about making those mistakes," said Bruce Bartholow, Ph.D. associate professor of psychology in the MU College of Arts and Science. 

      Bartholow's team measured brain activity in 67 participants, ages 21-35 during a computer test designed to elicit errors.  About one third of the participants were given alcoholic drinks, while the rest were given no alcohol or a placebo beverage.  

      Surprisingly, those who had consumed alcohol were no less likely to realize when they had made a mistake than participants in the other groups.  But they were less likely to slow down and be more careful following the errors.  "It is very common for people to respond more slowly following an error, as a way of trying to regain self-control.  That's what we saw in our placebo group.  The alcohol group participants didn't do this," Bartholow said.

      The findings are an important step in understanding how alcohol contributes to mistakes and social blunders, Bartholow added.  The study was published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology and partially funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

      LIFESIZE DIGITAL 3D TIGER:  Greets Mizzou Athletics visitors with lifelike realism
      COLUMBIA, 12/1/11  (Beat Byte) --  A nearly life-sized digital 3D tiger whose warm "breath" fogs up a glass enclosure greets visitors to the University of Missouri Athletic Center's new interactive computer wall. 
      Overland Park, Ks.-based Dimensional Innovations designed the Mizzou Complete Athlete Wall, which went live earlier this year in Mizzou's Athletic Training Complex.  After the pacing animated tiger greets visitors, an interactive database tells the story of all 21 sports at Mizzou. 
      Company representatives say the 60 square foot wall -- otherwise known as the Tiger Interactive Experience -- is used for recruiting and information for athletes, visitors and donors.  

      CITIZENS LOUDLY OPPOSE:  Postal facility Columbia move

      COLUMBIA, 12/1/11  (Beat Byte) --  A standing room only crowd of Quincy, Illinois postal employees and residents criticized a proposal to move Quincy's postal processing facility to Columbia during a November 22 public hearing with the US Postal Service. 

      The protests could dash local hopes for a Columbia jobs boost the facility move may provide. 
      "If you are going to change the paradigm of delivery...don't you think you're just going to drive more customers away?" Quincy Mayor John Spring said, to applause and loud cheers the Quincy Herald-Whig reported.  "Derisive laughter rippled through the audience" and meeting attendees also threatened to boycott the postal service. 

      The move has been proposed as part of a nationwide USPS effort to cut costs in the face of rising financial problems.  As reported locally, it
      would shift a potential $3 million payroll from Quincy to Columbia.  On the downside, it would eliminate jobs -- and overnight delivery of first-class mail -- in the Quincy area. 

      The impact on rural customers "would be catastrophic," said Linda Lueckenhoff, mayor of nearby Ewing, Mo. "Not everybody has Internet access," she said, in answer to the big shift toward email and social media messaging.  Postal officials also said 18 jobs would be eliminated with the Columbia move and possibly 54 of 70 jobs affected.  

      "Postal employees Randy Miller and Scott Boyer said the Columbia facility is maxed out in its capacity to handle mail and would need additional space and staff to handle the extra mail from Quincy," the Herald-Whig reported. 

      HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR:  Applauds West Junior student play
      COLUMBIA, 12/1/11  (Beat Byte) --  In a rare move that has local teachers excited, a childhood survivor of Nazi Germany's Terezin concentration camp has applauded students and teachers at Columbia's West Junior High School for their recent 2-day performance of Celeste Raspanti's play "I Never Saw Another Butterfly." 
      In an email to West Junior teachers Sarah Gerling and Pamela Sisson entitled "Regards from a child survivor of the Terezin concentration camp,"
      Inge Auerbacher -- an internationally-known author -- enclosed girlhood pictures of herself at Terezin and wished the teachers "wonderful performances." 

      A child's view of Nazi internment, "I Never Saw Another Butterfly" is set during the Second World War at Terezin, a facility in the former Czechoslovakia that routinely sent internees to the death camp at Auschwitz. 
      "I spent 3 years at Terezin between 7-10 years of age," Auerbacher explained.  "The book I Am A Star deals with my life at Terezin, and has become a classic (it is in 8 languages -- a Penguin and Scholastic book).   I wanted to wish the cast all my best wishes and love. I only wish I could have seen the performance and embrace all of you."

      SOCIAL SECURITY OPENS: New Columbia office; one of three nationwide
      COLUMBIA, 12/1/11  (Beat Byte) --  A few more jobs have come to the Columbia area with the opening of a U.S. Social Security Administration office, one of three new offices nationwide that handle disability hearings for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) applicants.
      “Each new office means more government resources providing attention to Social Security disability applicants’ claims for benefits at the hearing level,” said Mike Stein, vice president of claims at Allsup, a firm that helps people receive SSDI and Medicare benefits. 

      Social Security Disability Insurance operates separately from the retirement and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs, providing monthly benefits to severaly-disabled individuals.  It requires an application and disability claim review.  Stein characterized hearings and administrative law decisions related to benefits claims as "a daunting process." 

      The other SSDI offices opened in Franklin, Tenn., and Augusta, Ga

      The Columbia Heart Beat

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