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BEAT BYTE: 2nd Ward Councilman's serious transparency fail

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  • Mike Martin
    THE COLUMBIA HEART BEAT -- 6/4/12 Columbia s All Digital, All-ternative news source http://www.columbiaheartbeat.com 1) TRAPP-ED: Employed by REDI
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 4, 2012
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      Columbia's All Digital, All-ternative news source

      1)  TRAPP-ED:   Employed by REDI investors, 2nd Ward Councilman fails transparency test -- Part 1
      2)  TRANSPARENCY PUSH:  CoMo newspapers (finally) start tackling conflicts of interest
      3)  GAMER GAFFE:   State Rep. Kelly ignored town hall meeting to play smartphone video game, witnesses say
      4)  BLIGHT FIGHT:   CMCA director responds to controversy over non-profit support of blight -- Part 1
      5)  VEILED ACCUSATION?   Trib publisher's Brookside fire editorial points finger at neighbors
      6)  REAL ESTATE RECOVERING:   In CoMo, local Realtor says
      7)  READERS RITE:    Zim Schwartze for Mayor, Grant Elementary Montessori, Fred Schmidt recall
      8)  HEAR YE!  HEAR YE!    Muleskinners' June schedule

      Best viewed in HTML format.  All links in bold. 

      TRAPP-ED:   Employed by REDI investors, 2nd Ward Councilman fails transparency test -- Part 1
      Yet another conflict of interest, this one with major public ramifications 
      COLUMBIA, 6/4/12 (Beat Byte) -- In one of the more serious transparency lapses in recent Columbia history, newly-elected 2nd Ward City Councilman Michael Trapp has repeatedly failed to disclose that REDI investors and two REDI board members control his employer of five years, Phoenix Programs, a non-profit substance abuse recovery center with no substance abuse counselors on its board of directors. 
      Eighty percent -- 4 of 5 -- Phoenix board members are REDI investors, two of whom -- Veterans United Home Loans (formerly VA Mortgage) and State Farm Insurance -- are also REDI board members.   (Until last week, Phoenix board member Greg Reed was a vice president at Landmark Bank.  He is now listed at Raymond James Financial Services).
      Short for Regional Economic Development, Inc., REDI is a privately-funded business lobby that also operates as an official City Hall department with nearly $500,000 in annual public support.   The group mainly lobbies for the construction and development industry, and has sustained several recent conflict of interest scandals involving its chairman, flooring contractor Dave Griggs.   
      Mr. Trapp told the Heart Beat he didn't know who controlled his employer and because he is "not directly supervised by the board" and has only "incidental contact" with board members, his failure to disclose is "immaterial."
      "It's not a work issue and it's unfortunate you are trying to make it one," Mr. Trapp said.
      But voters looking for transparent representation may think otherwise.   The public does not know what goes on behind the scenes at Phoenix Programs, from comments in emails to water cooler chat, or how internal pressures, no matter how subtle, might affect Mr. Trapp's vote.

      After equivocating about it in the months leading up to the April election, Mr. Trapp came out in support of REDI's most far-reaching project ever, the controversial Enhanced Enterprise Zone (EEZ) that blighted over 60% of the city.  Last month, he voted to establish a so-called "Blight Board" to oversee a revamped EEZ.  
      Sources close to Mr. Trapp's campaign say advisers told him not to openly support the EEZ for fear of losing votes.  "He was advised to be as non-controversial about it as possible during the election," a source told the Columbia Heart Beat. 
      If that's true, it's no wonder.  The Blight Board recently introduced a new map that once again legally blights most of Columbia
      When 80% of the people effectively signing his paychecks are also investors in the Blight Decree/EEZ's main lobbyist, it's hard -- if not impossible -- to expect that Mr. Trapp's votes on the issue will always be unbiased.   With calls growing to separate REDI from City Hall, it's more than likely Mr. Trapp will be called upon to vote up or down on issues that further pit the lobbying group directly against voters. 
      NEXT:   Can Councilman Trapp ever approach REDI objectively? 

      TRANSPARENCY PUSH:  CoMo newspapers (finally) start tackling conflicts of interest
      Kennedy "embarrassed" by oversight;  Tribune, Missourian gradually emphasizing better disclosure
      COLUMBIA, 6/4/12 (Beat Byte) -- Public controversy about conflicts of interest surrounding the City of Columbia's Blight Decree has pushed both local newspapers to enforce transparency standards long allowed to lapse.

      "Regional Economic Development Inc., a public-private partnership that receives some funding from the Tribune," is a new disclaimer Columbia Daily Tribune reporters are adding to stories about REDI and the Blight Decree.   "Disclaimer: I have been on the REDI board for about eight years, including a stint as chairman," wrote Tribune columnist Jeff McClellan May 26.
      Formerly, neither Trib stories nor editorials said anything about the Trib's role as REDI member and investor.   Tribune reporters and publisher emeritus Hank Waters have yet to disclose that Waters' wife, Tribune publisher Vicki Russell, is vice chairman of REDI's board of directors.   The Waters family has a long history of similar non-disclosures. 

      A pro-blight/EEZ column by Bob Black just three weeks ago brought howls of protest over Black's failure to disclose that he had chaired REDI, sat on its board, and presently chairs its EEZ subcommittee.  
      "I find 'interesting' that the original identification of the author of this piece did not disclose his involvement in this issue," wrote reader Carol Greenspan, a member of CiViC which opposes the Blight Decree.  "Of course, some one involved can write an op-ed supporting their position, but they certainly should disclose their involvement."
      This publication protested Missourian columnist George Kennedy's failure to disclose that he was a Food Bank board member in editorials praising Food Bank director Peggy Kirkpatrick's public support for blight/EEZ

      "After your comments earlier this week, we included a disclosure about George Kennedy's role on the Food Bank board in his May 10 column," wrote Missourian opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.    "That was an oversight on our part, and we do want to be as transparent as possible about our columnists' and editors' involvement in the community."
      Kennedy sent Conner a note about the earlier transparency lapses.   "I'm embarrassed, as I should be.   Except for the piece in September, which Mike [Martin] links to, I've intended to stay away from the Food Bank.   My failure to repeat the disclosure in the more recent column was a lapse for which I have no excuse."
      [Errata:  An earlier Heart Beat story mis-identified Kennedy as a Missourian editor.   He is a Missourian columnist, former managing editor, and J-school professor emeritus.   We regret the error.]



      GAMER GAFFE:  State Rep. Kelly ignored town hall meeting to play smartphone video game, witnesses say
      Crowd tells game-playing Kelly elected officials "don't listen to us"
      COLUMBIA, 6/4/12 (Beat Byte) -- At a Columbia public library town hall meeting and guest presentation Thursday night, State Representative Chris Kelly ignored speakers to play a video backgammon game on his smartphone throughout the evening, witnesses say.
      "Yes, I played backgammon," Mr. Kelly admitted. "I am far from perfect but I do know how to listen to discussions of public policy. I bet I heard the presentation in full."

      Witnesses say Kelly tuned out most of author and government accountability expert Greg Leroy's presentation on EEZ, TIF, and other incentives, then unexpectedly took the floor to lecture attendees on the hazards of recalling First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt.
      The gaming gaffe has prompted questions about Kelly's motives for attending the meeting. 
      Story, video, and photos here:

      BLIGHT FIGHT: CMCA director responds to controversy over non-profit support of blight
      Critics say corporate non-profit donors have come to collect 
      COLUMBIA, 6/4/12 (Beat Byte) -- The sudden appearance of two prominent Columbia non-profits defending the Blight Decree/EEZ at City Council meetings has raised hackles about a quiet alliance between non-profit boards and establishment power players. 

      The two are often hard to tell apart. 
      Food Bank director Peggy Kirkpatrick and Heart of Missouri United Way director Tim Rich have twice urged the City Council to "take action" on job creation, carefully couching their support for the EEZ tax incentive proposal in terms of "helping the poor and unemployed." 
      "Time to publicly call "bull sh--" on this bull sh--," wrote Tracy Greever-Rice, Ph.D., in a Columbia Heart Beat editorial challenging the alliance.  "It is despicable that the same smallish group that controls the Chamber of Commerce, the United Way, REDI, and non-profit boards across CoMo is talking out one side of its mouth about eliminating poverty, while chewing up low-income neighborhoods with the other side.  These groups recently joined hands in support of the EEZ...." 
      After the Heart Beat mistakenly named Central Missouri Community Action (CMCA) as a non-profit publicly supporting the Blight Decree/EEZ, CMCA director Darin Preis responded.   Though Preis said he "personally supports" the idea, "CMCA's board has taken no action on the topic of the EEZ.   REDI presented to CMCA's board and CiViC has been invited to present.  We certainly have not 'joined hands' with other groups to do anything regarding the EEZ."
      REDI is the EEZ/Blight Decree's chief proponent while CiViC -- Citizens Involved and Invested in Columbia -- opposes the measure. 
      CMCA's board is unique among local non-profits, Preis also explained. 
      "By mandate, our board consists of one-third representatives of the low income community, one-third elected officials, and the remaining third represent the private sector, small businesses, and expertise we need to inform our work," he said. 
      By contrast, other local non-profits stack their boards with prominent members of the business and development communities, creating significant overlap with the pro-business Chamber of Commerce and REDI lobbies.   Sixteen of 37 United Way board members, for instance, represent private businesses, primarily in banking and insurance.   
      One hundred percent of non-profit Phoenix Program's board represent businesses, 80% of whom invest in REDI. 
      The Food Bank's corporate partners and board members include potential EEZ beneficiary Kraft Foods and John Strotbeck, a Kraft plant manager and member of the Blight Board.   The non-profit's largest donors include mega-developers Jeff Smith and the Robert Lemone Trust.   

      NEXT:   CMCA considers endorsing the Blight Decree

      VEILED ACCUSATION?   Trib publisher's Brookside fire editorial points finger at neighbors
      A thoroughly unfortunate discussion plants a bushel of seeds about angry neighbors and arson
      COLUMBIA, 6/4/12 (Beat Byte) --  Talk about throwing Waters onto a fire. 
      "We should be pleased cries of 'arson!' were absent after the big fire at the Brookside on College apartment building at Walnut Street and College Avenue," Trib publisher Hank Waters wrote in a Friday editorial that planted suspicion on nearby neighbors by dropping loaded hints in almost every sentence.  Waters even suggested -- by protesting too much, as the adage goes -- that the neighborhood association might have formally "sponsored" the flameout.   

      "After all the criticism expressed by neighbors, immediate suspicion crossed many minds," Waters wrote.  "Even if suspicious origin or outright proof of arson is found, that will not prove the neighborhood was responsible.   Indeed, members of the nearby North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association would be the last to sponsor any such thing."
      Since that's true, why even bring it up?   

      "Torching the building might have appealed to a psychopathic arsonist, but not to an organization arguing over zoning rights." 
      Talk about stating the obvious as a backhanded defense.    
      "Arson is a heinous crime," Waters concludes.  Whatever investigators find, "assume it will say nothing about complicity of neighbors."
      With this editorial, investigators don't have to say anything about neighbors and arson.   Johnny Arson Seed, bless his dark heart, already has. 

      REAL ESTATE RECOVERING:   In CoMo, local Realtor says

      COLUMBIA, 6/4/12 (Beat Byte) -- With active residential listings down 17% compared to this time last year; pending contracts up 23%; and closed contracts up 33% over this time in 2011, the Columbia real estate market is in recovery, says local Realtor David Townsend

      "All of this points to an improving market," Townsend told an e-list last month.  "The best listings are selling quickly at close to full price and in some cases at or above full price." 
      Townsend attributes the slow recovery to historically low interest rates; rising rental rates; and a "Columbia economy and population that continues to grow."   Buyers would be wise to make a move "sooner rather than later," and sellers, Townsend explained, stand a better chance of selling for a 'reasonable' price than they have in a long time." 
      Good news aside, however, "there are still some weak market segments where prices are depressed or where there is no movement at all," Townsend said.  In other words, good buying opportunities still exist.    


      READERS RITE:   Zim Schwartze for Mayor, Grant Elementary Montessori, Fred Schmidt recall
      Thanks for the good work of reporting.    Let's hope it helps the people with action.   Thanks for what you do. 
      -- Rhonda Woolsey, Columbia
      About our printing this note regarding the Fred Schmidt recall story -- "Former First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz, who supported Mr. Schmidt's candidacy, sent the Heart Beat this note at press time:  Mark Flakne was Mitch Richards' campaign manager.  Richards opposed Mr. Schmidt during their campaign," -- Mr. Sturtz writes: 
      As you know already, a cardinal rule of reporting is you don't need to quote a source when you're writing about facts.  That's like saying you must interview Mitch (sic) Romney to tell the world that David Axelrod works for President Obama.   A number of people won't talk to you because you twist their words for your own agenda.   And pull stunts like this.   -- Paul Sturtz, Columbia  
      It's time to add a commenting module to your Joomla installation.  Encourage dialogue.  Otherwise, it's just preaching.
      -- A bitchy Ph.D., Boone County 
      [Ed Note:   All commenting on our stories is done on our Facebook page:   
      Your work to publish the news letter is vital to getting a fair look at the Columbia scene.   With the very biased "reporting" that goes on in both local papers (to which I subscribe and read daily) your reporting is vital to being accurately informed about Columbia.   With sincere appreciation.  -- George Hobson, LTC USA (RET), Columbia
      I hope the vote is overwhelming to get Fred Schmidt out of office.  It will send a strong clear message to the rest of the Howdy Doody Gang.   Meanwhile, if you had Zim Schwartze for Mayor, you would have a strong Mayor on the crime issues that plague Columbia, and for sure not somebody in the developers' back pockets.   -- Charles Dudley, Jackson, Calif. 

      GO, ZIM, GO!!!!!!!   Lady's got MY vote!!!

      I'm also disturbed by Fred Schmidt's flip-flopping as well as Mayor McDavid's condescension toward the general Columbia populace. 
      This was shown to me when I asked about the student housing that's been hastily built (and burned) with only more to come.   ALL without regard to traffic flow, infrastructure and how much a pain this is going to cause residents who live in these areas, including the hit to the pocketbook folks will take when property values fall.    And what about the safety of students who will return to live in the even more hastily built units?  
      This whole things stinks.   Literally and figuratively.

      And what's this I hear about the University Press closing to "cut the budget?"   Whilst the Big U spends millions of dollars to spruce things up to the SEC's expectations, record freshman classes swarm the town, and for what?  Academics?  Maybe.  It all just doesn't add up. 
      Thanks for ALL you do, Mike!   -- Kay Allen, Columbia
      Just another cheer from the balcony, re your work. -- Edmund Lambeth, Columbia
      I've noted that you've referred to George Kennedy several times as "Missourian editor."   While he's certainly a columnist for the Missourian, George hasn't been the editor (or an editor, in fact) of the Missourian since August 2001.  -- Tom Warhover, Editor in Chief, Columbia Missourian   [Ed. Note:  Thanks!  Please see errata note in conflict of interest story.]
      This project would invite young urban professionals to the heart of Columbia and assist in supporting downtown growth.   Stewart road (Grant elementary) has a history of being relatively recession/depression proof.  
      Accountability is a variable problem with public-private partnerships because as many investors know, spreadsheets can tell many stories and we typically hear more failures than successes.   The bottom line is that this project will provide additional support for the lower income of Grant.   I say if investors are willing and able to invest up front, there probably is some private incentive.   Let's encourage investors to keep their investment dollars in Columbia, as they probably have a list of other opportunities. -- Kathy Miller, Columbia

      I work with Myke Gemkow as president of the board of Columbia Community Montessori.   I just read your article about the upcoming Montessori preschool at Grant and one part of it confused me.   What CPS subsidy are you referring to as a funding source for the school?   At Columbia Community Montessori, part of our funding comes from a subsidy for parents who work or go to school to pay for preschool.   This is from the state, not the school district.   Is this what you meant or is there some other subsidy?   -- Ellen Wilson, Columbia  
      [Ed. Note:   The CPS subsidy I'm referring to is the use of Grant Elementary for the Montessori.  That includes space, utilities (water, sewer, power, lights, heat, air), premises and liability insurance, furnishings, school library, good will, etc. -- all things that have expenses or values (like rent) attached to them that any fully private school would have to pay for out of pocket.]

      HEAR YE! HEAR YE!   Muleskinners' June schedule
      Muleskinners' Presents
      June Speakers' Schedule

      Program starts around 12:15 on Fridays

      Everyone is welcome!

      Columbia Country Club
      Old Rte. 63 North at 2210 North Country Club Drive

      Fri, 6/8:  Steve Weinberg, Investigative Journalist, on the Ryan Ferguson Case

      June 15 Jason Kander, Candidate for MO Secretary of State
      June 22 Larry Dickerson, Columbia Imagined Comprehensive Planning
      June 29 Sean Nicholson, Progress Missouri

      There is an optional buffet lunch available for $11. Students will receive a discount. If you have questions, please contact Scott Cristal at (573) 999-3871.


      Stories by Mike Martin unless otherwise noted.    To avoid further journalistic conflict, Mr. Martin and his wife recently stepped down from CiViC, a political action committee opposed to Columbia's Blight Decree.
      The Columbia Heart Beat

      CIRCULATION:  Roughly 12,800
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