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BEAT BYTE: Sneaky Survey Troubles Councilwoman

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  • Mike Martin
    BEAT BYTE -- 2/2/09 Breaking News from the Columbia Heart Beat http://columbiaheartbeat.blogspot.com 1) Ropergate No Surprise, Says Local Attorney 2)
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 2, 2009
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      BEAT BYTE -- 2/2/09
      Breaking News from the Columbia Heart Beat

      1)  "Ropergate" No Surprise, Says Local Attorney 
      2)  Sneaky Survey Troubles Councilwoman
      3)  LETTER:  Asst. City Manager Blasts Beat Byte Story
      4)  Preservation Commission Hosts Annual Gala

      1)  "Ropergate" No Surprise, Says Local Attorney

      COLUMBIA, 2/2/09 (Beat Byte) --  Calling a private meeting about major changes to the City of Columbia charter "something that goes on almost every day around Columbia," prominent local attorney and KFRU/Columbia Business Times Sunday Morning Roundtable co-host David Shorr demolished efforts by meeting participants to tone down the Watergate-style rhetoric surrounding their alleged intent:  To consolidate power and replace or discourage so-called "activist council members." 
      Earlier reported by the Columbia Heart Beat, former Columbia mayor Bob Pugh hosted the Thursday, Jan. 22 meeting at the Country Club of Missouri.  Sources say that except for Tom Anderson and Rodney Smith, former Columbia mayors, former city manager Ray Beck and Columbia Daily Tribune publisher Hank Waters attended, as did current mayor Darwin Hindman and current city manager Bill Watkins.  Tribune columnist Bob Roper, widely rumored to be considering a run for mayor in 2010, allegedly addressed the group about council pay, mayoral veto power, and related issues described in a "letter of invitation" that included the agenda. 
      Branding the meeting "Country Club-gate, Columbia-gate, Chamber-gate, or what have you," Shorr told a radio audience Sunday morning that, "pro-development vs. anti-development, pro-business vs. anti-business, pro growth vs. anti-growth groups meet each time one group decides they want to replace another group they don't like.  They talk about who they want or don't want in public office and what kind of makeup they want on governing bodies.  It's just like when the North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association gets together.  It's perfectly acceptable and god bless 'em." 
      When co-host Al Germond mentioned a month-long Columbia Chamber of Commerce government affairs committee move to oust 3rd ward councilman Karl Skala -- allegedly referenced several times at the Pugh/Roper meeting as "that guy in the fishing vest" who'd been "inappropriately interfering" with the police chief hiring process -- Shorr said it didn't surprise him. 
      The Country Club meeting "was no more than an extension of the Chamber of Commerce," Shorr explained. "And as ex-officio Chamber members, the mayor and city manager had every right to attend and participate.  This is much ado about nothing." 
      Former mayor Clyde Wilson first discussed the meeting publicly last Tuesday with Columbia's Downtown Leadership Council.  Wilson told the Tribune that he "did hear mention of 'activist' council members."   He told the Missourian, "My impression was that Roper was the presenter and that he seemed to indicate that what he wanted to have was a less action-oriented City Council than the one we have now." 

      Roper, Hindman, and Watkins have denied the allegations.  "The term 'council activist' didn't come up, not once,"  Roper told the Heart Beat.  "That's absurd."
      "The topic of activist council members was never discussed," Hindman told KFRU.
      "I think it is absolutely inappropriate and unethical for a city manager to be talking about involvement in any way, in terms of mayor or council election or selection," Watkins told the Trib. "I do my best to try to stay out of those conversations." 
      Newspaper accounts about the meeting -- which was closed to the public and reporters -- also conflict.   According to the Missourian, Hindman "emphasized that the group set no policy agendas."   But Pugh told the Tribune that attendees discussed several policy agendas, including the need for mayoral veto power; a strong mayoral form of government; salaries and compensation for city council members; and the need to add more council seats.   
      Each policy would represent a major change to the city's decades-old charter;  collectively, the policies would represent the greatest charter rewrite in Columbia history.
      [Ed. Note:  Shorr quotes, though not paraphrased, were transcribed from the radio broadcast, not the studio, and have not been confirmed with a follow up tape].


      2)  Sneaky Survey Troubles Councilwoman

      COLUMBIA, 2/2/09 (Beat Byte) --  When Bertrice Bartlett got a phone call recently from a survey firm "hired by the Columbia City Council,"  the sixth ward resident was happy to answer.  "I thought it was going to be about improving the city," she said. 

      But when survey questions quickly pitted Smart Growth against the Central Missouri Development Council, Bartlett said her attitude changed.  "It didn't sound like something the city council would have ordered," she told the Heart Beat.

      Several sixth ward residents have allegedly logged phone calls from a firm calling itself "Midwestern Research," asking questions about resident attitudes toward business, development, jobs, and parks.  Bartlett's surveyor told her his name was "Jim Hickok," and that he dialed her name randomly.  He then asked the following questions:

      a)  Do you view the following organizations positively or negatively? 

      Central Missouri Development Council
      Smart Growth
      Sierra Club
      Greenbelt Land Trust 
      ("Green, greenbelt something," Bartlett said.  "It's a group Barb's involved in.  That sounds right.")

      b)  Should Columbia have expensive water runoff programs, like pervious pavement, if they impair local businesses?
      c)  Do you want to see programs that impede development?

      "When I told Mr. Hickok that these questions didn't seem like something the city council would ask, he insisted.  'Oh yes.  We work for the Columbia City Council.  They hired us.'"

      Sixth ward councilwoman Barb Hoppe, facing Riback Supply manager Rod Robison in the April election, said she received several calls from curious constituents about the survey.  "I checked with [city manager] Bill Watkins and he said the city hadn't commissioned any survey like this," Hoppe told the Heart Beat.  "He said he didn't know anything about it."

      Columbia Citizens listserv reader Carol Greenspan reported a similar survey Sunday.  "I had a weird experience yesterday:  In midafternoon the phone rang and a woman asked if I would be willing to answer a survey," Greenspan said.   "The first two questions were about my opinions of the development council and the Sierra Club.  These were the only two groups so queried." 

      The surveyor then asked Greenspan about other comparisons: Her opinion of Mayor Darwin Hindman and Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe; whether she supported "that road extension over the creek from the Lemone Industrial area, or congestion"; and whether she supported more jobs, or more storm water regulations. 

      "I told the woman that the questions were quite biased, and that the so-called random selection of names was targeting the district of one city councilperson,"  Greenspan wrote.  

      The Heart Beat had no luck locating Jim Hickok or a survey/research firm called "Midwestern Research."
      3)  LETTER:  Asst. City Manager Blasts Beat Byte Story

      COLUMBIA, 2/2/09 (Beat Byte) -- In an emailed letter, Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine responded to our stories, "City Council Scheme Shocks Leadership Group" and "Controversial Discussion Missing From Official Tape."  

      Please visit the following link for the text of his letter:


      [Ed. Note:  We stand by both stories.  I waited for several minutes -- but was ultimately unable -- to discuss them with Mr. St. Romaine at City Hall last Wed, afternoon.]
      4)  Preservation Commission Hosts Annual Gala
      YOU ARE CORDIALLY INVITED when the City of Columbia Historic Preservation Commission will honor the 2009 Most Notable Properties at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 3 in the Tiger Hotel at 23 S. Eighth St.  
      The public is invited and refreshments will be served.

      -- Mike Martin for the Columbia Heart Beat
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