Redrawing Columbia’s wards proves puzzling for representatives, residents

Beneath the boundaries of Columbia, a complex balance of power and influence is at stake

Explanatory feature on reapportionment of the City of Columbia’s political districts / 1557 words / The Columbia Missourian

COLUMBIA, MO. — Louis Wilson occupies a rare place in Columbia. What makes him — and his neighbors — unusual is location, location, location.

Anecdotally, many people in Columbia don’t know which of the city’s six wards they live in. As communications director of the Historic West Broadway Association, however, Wilson knows his neighborhood is one of few in the city that straddle two wards, in his case the First and the Fourth.

Because each ward elects one representative to the Columbia City Council, Wilson and his neighbors have the benefit of being able to bend the ears of two council members.

“That may be a stupid type of political addition, but it seems to make sense,” Wilson said. He spoke as an individual citizen, not on behalf of his neighborhood association. “It’s nice to have access to two parties.”

The issues of access and representation are central to the debate over how to redraw the city’s ward boundaries. Equalizing ward populations was the primary goal of ward reapportionment, but the committee charged with the task was also directed by the council to avoid splitting neighborhoods. Aside from neighborhoods, any number of constituencies can be concentrated in one ward or spread among them.

Fourth Ward Councilman Daryl Dudley prefers to keep constituencies together as a matter of efficiency. Dudley is one of the two council members Historic West Broadway can tap, along with First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt.

Dudley said his first official meeting as a council member was with Wilson’s group. He doesn’t feel it’s a problem to work across ward boundaries in that case, but he likes keeping neighborhoods together.

“I believe 50 percent of a ward wanting the same thing is better than 10 percent of five wards wanting the same thing,” Dudley said.

If you concentrate an interest group in one place, Mayor Bob McDavid said, you increase the likelihood that those people can elect someone from their group to the council.

This is widely regarded as a reason the current First Ward, which comprises most of the central city, was created in 1991. Whether that was an effort to boost representation for black residents or for downtown businesses and residents depends on whom you ask.

“But if you carve the wards to try to meet the interests of constituency groups, are you diluting their influence paradoxically?” McDavid asked.

He offered the city’s college population as an example. Concentrating student populations in one ward might result in a student being elected to the council, but that person would have only one of seven votes. But would students be better served if more council members were obliged to respond to them?

“I’m asking because there are two answers,” McDavid said. “And I don’t know which one is right.”

Central city, central question

To ensure equal representation among citizens, the population of all wards must be roughly equal. That’s why Columbia’s ward maps have been redrawn about every decade since 1971, following the U.S. census.

Wilson described it as “a numbers game. … You need so many heads in this ward to make it equal with all the others. Well, what group of heads do you push into it?”

This time around, the ward at the center of that question is also at the center of the city: the First Ward. Its population increased the least of all six wards in the past 10 years.

Columbia has grown outward through annexation, but the First Ward is landlocked. Before the city created the central ward in 1991, wards were drawn more like a pie, with every slice including part of the central city.

But since the First Ward became landlocked, it has had no room to grow. That means either more people must move in, or it must absorb adjacent neighborhoods from other wards. Although there has been some debate about returning to the pie model this year, all the official trial maps leave the First Ward surrounded.

The tension in reapportionment debates illustrates the tug-of-war between central Columbia and the city’s periphery.

The central city, being the older part of town, needs major infrastructure work. The outskirts of the city, on the other hand, are composed mostly of newer subdivisions where infrastructure is up to date.

“To completely refurbish (central city stormwater systems) is going to take a lot of money,” McDavid said. “The people who live in the new subdivisions don’t have that problem. What’s the extent to which they should be asked to fund what doesn’t affect them directly?”

Distribution of power

Racial and political sensitivities have made the decision of which neighborhoods to move into the First Ward sticky.

Census figures from 2010 show racial minorities are now more distributed  — especially in the First, Second and Third Wards — than ever before. The city was unable to provide statistics on income distribution among the wards.

Dan Cullimore, a member of the North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association board and a resident of the First Ward, has attended every public hearing held by the Ward Reapportionment Committee. He called the minority representation issue “a specious argument.”

“It also assumes that they’re all going to vote the same,” he said.

Steve Calloway is president of the Minority Men’s Network and a resident of the Fifth Ward. “It does not appear that any of the plans allows us to have concentrations of (minority) populations because the city of Columbia is diverse,” he said.

“The idea of reapportionment is it ought to be a reshuffling of things so that from a representative standpoint, the (City Council) should reflect what the people look like,” Calloway said. “That doesn’t mean that a minority population should have a minority representative, but if they feel that a person of color best represents their interest, they should have a better opportunity to make that happen.”

That said, he worries about possible “dilution” of First Ward interests. If the city moves neighborhoods with similar infrastructure needs into the First Ward, there may be one less council member advocating for infrastructure.

“It might be less likely to get done if only one ward needs it,” Calloway said.

That may or may not be true, depending on the issue, said Terry Smith, a member of the Ward Reapportionment Committee and executive vice-president and dean of academic affairs at Columbia College.

“You’ve got to count noses and get four votes to get anything passed,” Smith agreed. “In that regard, you’ve got to reach across ward boundaries.”

But whether it’s best to concentrate interest groups within one ward depends largely on the interest, he said.

“If it is an interest that has a good vibe citywide,” Smith said, it doesn’t matter so much whether the group advocating for it is concentrated in one ward.

“If it tends to be a localized issue or people tend to feel negative about it, then it’s better to be dispersed.”

When it comes to advocating for central city infrastructure, Smith believes spreading the interest is best.

Cullimore said wards create a system that represents a population geographically, even though people within that geography are diverse in terms of education, community involvement, personal interests and “the problems they face on a daily basis.”

“The perfect solution would be to randomize everyone’s assignment to a ward,” he suggested. He realizes that’s neither practical nor probable, but his point is about equal representation.

Cullimore argued that “power has to cross those boundaries” if a group is going to be heard.

“If you want to address minority representation, you have to do it another way,” Cullimore said. “It has to be done politically, not geographically.”

That’s where the pie approach could help. “If you have the pie, then every council member has more of (any one interest group) to deal with,” McDavid said. “So you have very close elections, and a constituency that is a minor player spread throughout the community could in fact have influence on more than one ward.”

When wards matter

“Truthfully, I don’t really care which ward I live in,” said the Rev. Jim Bryan who, incidentally, lives in the Fifth Ward. He retired in 2010 from his position as pastor of the Missouri United Methodist Church on Ninth Street. When Bryan was a boy, his father served as pastor at the same church he went on to serve for 10 years.

“My interest was the whole city, so I don’t really have a ward mentality,” Bryan said. “I think every area ought to be concerned about every other area, and we all ought to be concerned about each other as individuals.”

Bryan said he’ll learn which ward he lives in when the next election comes. For now, he is not even sure who his council representative is. (It’s Helen Anthony, by the way.) He said he talks to any council member he sees.

He’s probably not alone. Wilson appreciates the energy and untold hours Columbia residents contribute to the civic process, but he doesn’t believe most people identify themselves strongly based on ward boundaries.

“I don’t think I’ve been in a conversation in this town 30-plus years where somebody said, ‘Hey, let’s go over to the Sixth Ward and drink all night’ or something like that,” Wilson said.

“The only time wards come up in conversation seems to be when you’re having local elections or,” he laughed, “at the time when wards are reapportioned, I guess.”

Demand precedes Short Street garage

News update on city plans for a new parking garage / 881 words / The Columbia Missourian 

COLUMBIA, MO. — The surprise question looming about the new Short Street garage is whether there will be any public parking spaces left by the time it is built next year.

“It’s a good problem to have, to have it all sold out before you build it,” Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl said.

In addition to deciding what Columbia’s fifth downtown parking garage will look like, City Council members now are considering whether to build commercial space into the ground floor of the structure and to add an extra level of parking to accommodate advance demand for leased spaces.

The current four-story design provides for 340 spaces, and already 150 of them could be spoken for. Adding another level would add about 70 more spaces and cost about $1 million more.

The new DoubleTree hotel, which Dave Parmley of Broadway Lodging LLC plans to build where the Regency Inn is now, wants 100 spaces. Add to that 50 spaces already requested by the nearby Boone County Family Resources, which has put in a related bid to buy about 4,000 square feet within the garage as new office space.

There also could be more demand from a proposed mixed-use, multi-story structure adjacent to the garage. Pending city approval, this proposal from North Light LLC would include retail space, apartments and lofts or condos. North Light partner Nick Peckham is also founding partner of Peckham & Wright Architects, the consulting architectural firm on the Short Street garage.

There is also a 300-bed apartment complex being built at College Avenue and Walnut Street. Although the complex will have its own parking, it is likely to need additional parking space offsite, Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine said.

“Also you have to include some public, metered parking spaces,” St. Romaine said. He estimates those could number 50 to 75.

Russ Palmer, a sales adviser at Downtown Appliance Home Center on Broadway Avenue near the future garage site, said he likes the idea of having a garage on that end of Broadway and hopes there’s room for public parking.

“Maybe employees won’t use street parking so much, and they’ll leave space for customers to park,” he said.

The council is reviewing three variations on one design for the new garage as seen in artist renderings by Walker Parking Consultants. All three call for keeping Short Street as a throughway.

Option C-1 features a “living wall” of greenery growing up vertical panels of wire mesh installed at intervals in the exterior walls. Option C-2 incorporates smaller panels of greenery, and Option C-3 shows the garage blanketed with greenery covering almost all of at least three walls.

The differences among them are solely aesthetic, St. Romaine said.

Council members unanimously favored Option C-1 at an Aug. 31 work session. Kesphol said C-3 was a nonstarter for every member, but the council is keeping the three options on the table for now to allow time for feedback. The next garage work session is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept. 26.

But choosing the design is hardly where the council’s job stops. First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt said engineers have advised that it is easier and less costly to build an extra level into a major structure from the start, rather than add it later.

St. Romaine confirmed that the city has promised Parmley, of Broadway Lodging LLC, that it will not build a garage taller than the proposed DoubleTree hotel. This caps the Short Street Garage at six stories. Current garage designs provide four levels of parking; St. Romaine said the city is not considering adding more than one level.

“The major predicament in building even higher is budget,” St. Romaine said.

“When we originally presented this to council, we presented a budget of $9 million,” he said. “We have already spent $1.25 million to acquire the land, and the construction budget is $7 million. The balance of that is for the cost of bonding. So the construction budget … is the limiting factor of how big the garage can be at this time.”

And here, Schmidt said, is where the real decisions are made by City Council.

“At the council level, we’re really supposed to set policy and not get into the micromanaging,” Schmidt said. “It’s easy to devolve into the conversation of what looks pretty and so forth, but it’s best to leave that to the engineers and architects.”

Schmidt described the city as being on a cusp where the question is what’s most prudent in difficult economic times. On the one hand, he said, the city could be prudent by spending as little as possible. On the other hand, the city could take a risk because being too cautious might do more harm than good.

“It’s a fascinating choice, and that’s the real policy decision,” he said.

“If you’re going to all the trouble to build a garage, you might as well build it as big as reasonable, especially in this case where it looks like there’s quite a bit of interest in the area and in parking,” Schmidt said.

As that demand grows, the price of the leased spaces might also grow. The garage is projected to lease at roughly $60 per month per space.

“I think, in time, we might need to raise the lease rates,” Kesphol said.

MU alumna Jennifer Wilson killed in South Carolina

News brief on the death of a local university alum / 335 words / The Columbia Missourian

ST. LOUIS — A young professor who received her doctorate from MU was killed Sunday morning in South Carolina.

Jennifer Wilson, 36, taught at the University of South Carolina, after leaving Missouri in 2005.

Hank Hawes, 37, was charged with murder. According to an incident report filed by the Columbia, S.C., police department, he was identified by a neighbor as the victim’s boyfriend.

South Carolina news reports quoted colleagues and students of Wilson’s as saying she was trying to end the relationship and was concerned about his aggression.

The neighbor who reported the incident echoed this description, advising police that Hawes had previously attempted to intimidate him with firearms “with possible silencing devices on them.”

Hawes was detained Sunday at a South Carolina hospital after a failed suicide attempt. Hawes is currently being detained in a county detention center, where he awaits a hearing with a circuit court judge to hear the charges against him.

Wilson was found at about 11:30 a.m. after police made two visits to her residence.

According to the Columbia, S.C., police records, Wilson’s neighbor reported a disturbance at approximately 2:26 a.m. Sunday.

The neighbor said he heard “furniture banging around and the victim screaming the words, ‘No! No! No!’”

No one answered her locked door when officers arrived the first time. The same neighbor called again at 11:30 a.m., concerned about a possible homicide.

When police returned the second time, they found Wilson’s body inside.

According to Jennifer Timmons, a public information officer with the Columbia, S.C., police, Wilson was “stabbed multiple times.”

The time and place of memorial services has not been released.

Wilson earned her doctorate at MU in 2004. She worked as a graduate assistant, research assistant, student teacher supervisor and graduate teaching instructor from 2001 to 2005.

She was awarded numerous scholarships throughout her studies in Missouri, and spent a year in Norway as a Fulbright scholar.

She specialized in education for middle school teachers, presenting scholarly papers internationally in France, Norway, China, Hungary and throughout the United States.