Columbia City Council to cast final vote on ward reapportionment Monday

Preview of city council vote on local redistricting plans / 776 words / The Columbian Missourian

COLUMBIA, MO. — City Council members remain in suspense about the outcome of their own vote scheduled for Monday. That’s when Columbia’s months-long discussion of ward reapportionment is scheduled to come to a close with a final vote.

The impact of that vote, however, will resonate long after next week. The new ward maps chosen Monday will determine the city’s voting districts for roughly 10 years. The city has redrawn its maps about every decade since 1973 to keep ward representation numerically equal according to the latest census numbers.

“I think it’s going to be very close, extremely contentious and a very long council meeting,” said Fifth Ward Councilwoman Helen Anthony.

The council’s conversation will be held against the backdrop of a petition started this week to recall Fourth Ward Councilman Daryl Dudley from his post. The initiative was spurred by opposition to Dudley’s most recent proposal for ward reapportionment.

Dudley went out of his way to advocate for the map known as Trial D, which maintains a central city ward. His most vocal opponents favor Trial E, which extends the First Ward (currently the central city ward) to the west.

Dudley’s opponents have charged that he selected neighborhoods to move from the Third and Fourth wards into the First, purposefully relocating those in which he and Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespolh fared worst in the last election.

Dudley denied the charge at a meeting on Oct. 7. He did not respond to repeated calls for comment for this article.

Where they stand

Trials D and E are the two proposed maps that received the most support from members of the Ward Reapportionment Committee when it finished its work in September. Trial E earned majority approval with a vote of 5-3, while Trial D tied the committee’s vote 4-4.

As of Thursday, Trial E had three confirmed votes among City Council members — from Anthony, First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt and Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe.

Dudley was not alone in seeing merit in Trial D, but it remains uncertain who will choose to join him in voting for it. Kespohl said two plans came to the forefront for him, but he declined to name them.

Second Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill said he was leaning toward Trial D before the plan ignited a “firestorm” of gerrymandering charges.

“I don’t think it was put together for that purpose, but I don’t want any part of being involved in something that folks think is that insidious,” Thornhill said. He said he is also considering Trial A.

“I have no idea where the mayor’s at, and I’ve quit trying to figure that out,” Thornhill said, laughing..

Mayor Bob McDavid was out of town and could not be reached for comment.

Heart of the matter 

The debate places Columbia’s central city at the heart of the council’s tug-of-war. Council members agree that the aging infrastructure in the oldest part of town is a pressing need. But when discussing how to apportion the central city in the new ward configuration, the conversation quickly moves beyond sidewalks and sewer systems.

Those in favor of Trial D cite the benefits of a central city district made up of neighborhoods with similar needs. They say grouping the areas with aging infrastructure would give those residents a stronger voice.

“I think it may be … important to get as many voices as you can piled up around one central subject,” Thornhill said.

Kespohl pointed to the politically active Benton-Stephens and Old Southwest neighborhoods, which would be encompassed by the First Ward under Trial D. The First Ward traditionally has had the lowest voter turnout in the city.

“That might be a good shot in the arm for the First Ward, to have them help engage the other people in the First Ward,” Kespohl said.

He also said a central city district makes for better policy. “It’s simpler to address needs through policy ward by ward,” Kespohl said.

This premise is challenged by many Trial E supporters, who advocate distributing needs and interests across ward boundaries so as to increase representation on the council.

She also said, “I think it’s a not-so-disguised move to fundamentally change the composition and voting patterns of several wards, and that is very troublesome to me.”

Anthony said she’ll be voting for Trial E because it received the highest number of votes from the committee and the least opposition from the public.

“I think this is clearly gerrymandering,” she said, referring to Trial D.

Council members agree on one point: They expect a big turnout at their next meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday at City Council Chambers in City Hall, 701 E. Broadway.

No injuries reported in Columbia Area Career Center tractor fire

Breaking news report on fire at local school / 380 words / The Columbia Missourian

COLUMBIA, MO. — A 1969 Ford tractor caught fire during a welding class at the Columbia Area Career Center on Tuesday afternoon. All students were evacuated immediately, but no one was injured.

The call to the Columbia Fire Department at 2:34 p.m. was initially a fire alarm alert and was quickly upgraded to a structure fire, according to Capt. John Metz.

He said five teachers used portable fire extinguishers to put out the blaze, which did not spread beyond the tractor.

The flames had already been extinguished when firefighters arrived. The career center, at 4203 S. Providence Road, is adjacent to Rock Bridge High School.

The fire marshal is investigating to determine the cause of the blaze, Metz said.

Welding instructor William Irvin said he pulled a fire alarm, and he’s sure he wasn’t the only one. Columbia Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Nick Boren, himself a former welding instructor, rushed to the Rock Bridge campus from his office.

Three fire engines, one ladder and a squad of firefighters, all from Columbia, were on the scene about five minutes after the call came in, Metz said. They remained for about an hour ventilating smoke and fire extinguisher dust.

Damage was estimated at $7,000, according to a press release from the fire department.

Boren said 17 high school students were in the classroom, some working on the tractor’s carburetor and others welding metal cages, when a spark ignited fumes or spilled gas.

Several large red Power MIG welders were stationed around the shop, but Boren said their tanks are full of a non-flammable mixture of carbon dioxide and argon gas.

Faculty and staff managed the students outside while still getting them home on the buses.

A group of about eight boys received a small cheer from teachers when they inquired about their Robotics First meeting, scheduled for Tuesday night at the school. They moved under a tree for an informal meeting. On another side of the building, a larger group of students sat in shade for an impromptu lesson about protozoans.

By the time most students had dispersed, a sulfur stink lingered, but Metz said the yellow haze from the cloud of released fire extinguisher powder had settled. All that remained was a fine dusting, revealing the tracks of the firefighters’ boots through the room.

Columbia’s Fourth Ward councilman faces possible recall over reapportionment map

Night-turn story on councilman’s public information meeting that ended in plans to recall him from office / 751 words / The Columbia Missourian

COLUMBIA, MO. — Outrage filled the Friends Room at the Columbia Public Library on Friday afternoon, culminating in an initiative to recall Fourth Ward Councilman Daryl Dudley.

Angry residents alternately talked over one another, cheered each other on, snickered and shouted down Dudley. He had assembled them for a public meeting to discuss his latest proposal for how to redraw the city’s ward boundaries.

He did little talking.

Amidst accusations of gerrymandering, some of the roughly 40 people in attendance started plotting ways to recall him from office. Dudley was elected to the seat in April 2010.

Going into the meeting, concern focused mostly on the political impact of Dudley’s proposal. As previously reported in the Missourian, some of Dudley’s critics charge that the precincts he would move into the First Ward are those where he fared worst in the election that he won by a narrow margin in 2010. It’s an accusation Dudley denied.

“I don’t care about anybody’s voting, their affiliations,” Dudley said in explanation of his proposed amendments to Trial D, one of the four ward reapportionment options that the Columbia City Council is currently considering. “It has nothing to do with if I can get re-elected if I decide to run again.”

A woman who said she lived in the Fourth Ward spoke up. “You say you don’t care what the voting patterns are. … But you’re familiar with them, right? And what the impact (of your new plan) would be?”

Dudley answered that yes, he was familiar with the demographics and voting patterns of his ward.

“So isn’t it your obligation to care?” she asked. “I’m asking you to take accountability for the impact. You can’t just say you don’t care.”

Coming out of the meeting, the sense pervaded among residents that they were not being listened to and not receiving adequate representation.

Intention and impact

Dudley maintained that the motive behind his map is strictly geographic.

He repeatedly referred to the infrastructure needs of central city neighborhoods. He asserted that consolidating the shared interests of those property owners into one ward would give them a stronger voice.

“I want better attention for the First Ward,” Dudley said.

“And every neighborhood association in the First Ward wants Plan E,” someone called out.

As with many other times the crowd felt they had undermined one of Dudley’s assertions, chortling could be heard throughout the room.

“I was elected by the Fourth Ward,” Dudley said. “I am here for the entire city.”

“You said you represent the city not the ward, but that’s not true,” Elizabeth Hornbeck said. “We live in Ward Four and we got to vote for one person. … So that means you represent us, not the people in other wards. I’m sorry I have to explain that to you.”

Dudley said that the amount of support he’s received for his plans roughly equals the amount of opposition he’s faced. But, when repeatedly asked for evidence of support for his plans, Dudley could not specify any names.

He also said that about 99.7 percent of the people in his ward really don’t care one way or another about the reapportionment.

One member of the public confirmed he had heard Dudley correctly. “Then I think the rest who do care are in this room,” he said.

Recall

A flier made its way around the meeting room before the session began that asked “Is It Time To Recall Ward 4 Councilman Daryl Dudley?” Several in attendance, including those onboard to help with the recall, claimed they did not know who had put it out.

Jeannette Jackson is vice president of the Park Hill Neighborhood Association.

“In the face of all the opposition and all the good arguments that have been made in front of you, it is not understandable how you could (choose to) not represent a significant part of your constituency,” she said, adding that she was speaking on behalf of the entire association, which represents about 115 homes.

Speaking as a citizen, she added, “This sucks. It really sucks.”

Jackson said she could come to no other conclusion than to assume that Dudley was working on behalf of a hidden agenda. “He is not representing his constituents,” she said.

Hank Ottinger, chair of the Historic Old Southwest Neighborhood Association, has an idea of who could be pulling Dudley’s strings. “I think it’s the development community, the Chamber of Commerce, the Republican establishment,” he said.

Dudley looked exhausted as he tried to fend off such claims after the meeting.

 

Two Democrats eye vacant county commissioner seat

News update and explanation of how a vacant political seat may be filled / 464 words / The Columbia Missourian 

COLUMBIA, MO. — So far, two Democrats have put their names in the hat to replace former Presiding County Commissioner Ed Robb, who died suddenly Saturday night.

Scott Christianson and Don Stamper have both expressed interest in the position, according to Phyllis Fugit, chair of the Boone County Democratic Party Central Committee. Bruce Cornett, Fugit’s counterpart in the Republican Party Central Committee, said no one has come forward as a GOP nominee.

Christianson narrowly lost the election for Presiding County Commissioner to Ed Robb last November. Owner of Kaleidoscope Videoconferencing and adjunct instructor of business at MU, Christianson’s political background includes terms as chair and vice-chair of the Democratic Party Central Committee. He is also former president and currently a member of the Boone County Industrial Development Authority.

Stamper, in his bid for the seat, is looking to repeat history. He served as Presiding County Commissioner for 12 years through the 1990s. He is now executive director of the Central Missouri Development Council. According to the state’s lobbyist registry, Stamper is registered as an active lobbyist for the Central Missouri Development Council and several other entities, including Boone Quarries, Columbia Redi-Mix and Con-Agg of Missouri. Stamper could not be reached for comment Friday evening.

Bondi Wood meant to run against Robb for the seat last fall but was disqualified because of a paperwork mishap. She said she hasn’t ruled out the possibility of positioning herself for the Democratic recommendation. She said she would have to consult with her family and her current employer, the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders, where she works as a grant writer, before making that decision. It would also depend on the other nominees in the field.

“I would definitely support Don Stamper,” she said. “He’s experienced; he’s done it before. He’d be an excellent choice.”

While the county’s Democratic and Republican central committees are accepting nominees for their recommendations, securing their endorsement is not a sure bet for the job. The political appointment is ultimately at the discretion of Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat. He is under no obligation to replace Robb, a Republican, with someone from the same party.

But tradition has it that both parties put forward a candidate to fill any vacancy.

The Democratic Central Committee has made its application available online. Any application should also include a cover letter, according to the committee’s website.

The committee will screen candidates in person at its next regular meeting at 7 p.m. Oct. 13, in the commission chambers at the Roger B. Wilson Boone County Government Center, 801 E. Walnut St.

The Republican Central Committee said it began accepting applications earlier this week. A special screening committee has been named, and the central committee will accept applications until 5 p.m. Oct. 10. More information is available on the committee’s website.

Downtown Columbia Leadership Council weighs in on Short Street Garage

News brief on the activities of an appointed leadership council / 792 words / The Columbia Missourian

COLUMBIA, MO. — A new trio is in charge of the Downtown Columbia Leadership Council, which voted in its new executive committee Tuesday afternoon.

Outgoing chairman Randy Gray urged the group to “stay the course” on the work they’ve done since 2008. In the immediate future that work includes input on the planned Short Street Garage.

The new executive committee consists of current members Rosalie Gerding as chairwoman, current secretary Brian Treece as vice-chairman, and Historic Preservation Commission representative Brent Gardner as secretary.

Presiding County Commissioner Ed Robb, who passed away unexpectedly over the weekend, had been serving as representative to the DCLC from the Boone County Commission. According to the legislation that established the DCLC, the commission is called on to appoint a representative. Discussion Tuesday afternoon did not go beyond memorial services for Robb.

The Short Street Garage was the topic of the hour, including the most recent design plans, the upcoming public hearing, traffic implications and the private development proposed for an adjoining parcel of land.

At the Oct. 3 public hearing on the garage, Walker Parking Consultants is expected to present “what will hopefully be the final concept and functional drawings” for the garage, Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine said.

He debriefed the DCLC on the City Council’s work session the previous night. The primary difference in the two designs presented are in the building’s façade. Regardless of design, the major structural decision the council has to make is how many levels to make the garage.

St. Romaine said that current plans are to build it five stories high. The city council decided at its Monday work session also to request two alternate bids, adding a half-level or a full level of extra parking.

Chairwoman-elect Rosalie Gerding expressed surprise that one extra level of parking, if the city decides to add one, would cost about $1 million, commenting that it seemed high. On the other hand, she said, “If you don’t build for the future, you get criticized for that now.”

City Council preferred the option that, as St. Romaine described it, “will kind of disguise the ramping so it looks like a series of typical downtown buildings.” The other option, using more uniform building materials, makes the garage look more like the single building that it is.

Some members of the DCLC concurred with the council in wanting more information about the “green screen” concept of growing a planted, living wall in some exterior panels of the garage. Many also favored including three public elevators instead of two.

St. Romaine acknowledged that traffic is predicted to increase in the area once the garage is constructed. He said a traffic study is being conducted on Walnut Street. “Imagine dumping 300 cars at a time onto Walnut. It’s certainly something we’re going to have to address,” he said.

Real estate negotiations are still in progress between the city and North Light LLC for the parcel of land adjacent to the planned garage. Earlier discussions started with plans to integrate commercial space into the ground floor of the garage. Now the plans center around a proposed mixed-use structure to be built wall-to-wall against the garage.

“It’s more than just the actual land price we’re selling,” St. Romaine said. He explained that planning a complementary design and simultaneous construction of the two separate buildings implies some shared costs. The two parties are working out how they will split these additional costs.

The two buildings might use at least one common elevator, for example. If an elevator the city plans for its own use ends up with doors that also serve the private building, St. Romaine said, the private builder shouldn’t get that elevator for free.

“If we share the same footings and foundation, it makes sense to share, and the city shouldn’t have to bear that,” he said.

The garage talk also opened a larger conversation about the point at which the city will pass on responsibility for private parking to private developers.

“The best time to do it is probably now if we are ever going to build it bigger,” St. Romaine said. “When you look at capacity, you have to build for the whole system,” he said, pointing out that the garage at Fifth and Walnut streets is currently at 69 percent capacity and growing.

Outgoing chairman Randy Gray did not seem sold on the larger size. “I don’t think it’s possible to have this garage meet all the future demand for the North Village,” he said.

“Is it realistic to expect the public sector to provide all the parking for everything that may occur in the next 10 years? The private sector … may have to start looking into going below ground and absorbing some of those costs,” he said.

Boone County Presiding Commissioner Ed Robb dies

Breaking news story on the death of the presiding county commissioner / 1280 words / The Columbia Missourian 

By Alexandria Baca and Hilary Niles

COLUMBIA, MO. — Ed Robb was a tough politician whose expertise in economics and budgeting made him a formidable foe, former political opponents and colleagues said. As a Republican, he didn’t mind going after public offices traditionally held by Democrats.

Robb, who had been Boone County’s presiding commissioner since Jan. 1, died Saturday night, his wife, Rosa Robb, confirmed Sunday morning.

Robb, 69, was elected to the county’s top position in November and sworn in just days after he had a pacemaker installed to address an irregular heartbeat.

Robb was having dinner to celebrate the birthday of his son, Adam Robb, at Boone Tavern on Saturday night and was in good spirits when he left the restaurant after 10 p.m., family friend Yancy Williams told the Missourian. He collapsed on the street as he was leaving and was taken to University Hospital, where hospital staff could not revive him.

Under state law, Gov. Jay Nixon will be responsible for appointing Robb’s replacement. Cheri Reisch, vice chairwoman of the Boone County Republican Party Central Committee, said that group will make a recommendation to Nixon. She was unsure how soon or exactly how that might happen. The committee’s next regular meeting is Tuesday night.

Robb, a Republican, served two terms as 24th District state representative from 2004 through 2008 and was vice chairman of the House Budget Committee. He defeated Democrat Travis Ballenger by more than 2,000 votes in the November 2004 election to become the first Republican to represent the district in more than 20 years. The 24th District includes parts of southern Columbia and southern Boone County.

He then narrowly defeated Democrat and former Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Jim Ritter for re-election in 2006. He sought a third term but lost by 411 votes to Democrat Chris Kelly in 2008.

Robb and Kelly set a record for money spent on a state representative campaign; together they spent nearly $400,000.

Kelly, who said he knew Robb for more than 25 years, said that although the two had an excellent working relationship, it became more tense during the 2008 campaign.

Robb was gracious after losing the election, Kelly said, wishing him well and offering help.

“He was a dedicated public servant,” Kelly said. “He cared very much about what he did by doing it right.”

Robb’s campaign against Ritter was particularly aggressive.

“When I was out on the campaign trail going door to door, I would often see him in the same area,” Ritter recalled. He said they would exchange greetings in passing, but they never stopped to talk.

“We had work to do,” he said. “It was never antagonistic between the two of us.”

Before becoming political opponents, the two worked together in a limited capacity on school issues.

“We had used him for advice and counsel on some of the issues we had been facing,” Ritter said. “So I knew him in a more casual way, in that sense.”

Ritter said he last saw Robb a couple of weeks ago at Columbia Mall, where they chatted about Robb’s new position on the county commission.

“He asked me if I would buy the (Boone County) Fairgrounds — tongue in cheek, of course,” Ritter said.

“Our philosophies were different, we found that out,” Ritter said. “As a result, I probably would have disagreed with some of his opinions” as county commissioner. “But that’s what politics is all about.”

Williams, of Consolidated Capital and Consulting, helped Robb with his three campaigns for state representative.

“He was a fatherly figure,” Williams said. “He was someone who was a friend first and a client second.”

Williams described Robb as compassionate, patient and understanding, which he said is illustrated by his commitment to teaching.

Robb was a retired economics professor at MU and owned Edward H. Robb and Associates, an economics consulting firm.

Robb defeated Democrat J. Scott Christianson for presiding commissioner last fall. He won by a margin of 531 votes among the nearly 50,000 cast.

One of his priorities in county government was to seek voter approval of a home-rule charter that would add more commissioners and give Boone County more legislative authority. He said in a previous Missourian story that he wanted voters to decide in April whether to create a commission to draft a charter.

“I think Ed was a big-idea guy. Ed always believed in the concept that we ought to have a more efficient system of county government,” Kelly said. “I believed that and supported that idea for many years.”

Neither Boone County Northern District Commissioner Skip Elkin nor Southern District Commissioner Karen Miller could be reached for comment.

As the two remaining commissioners, Elkin and Miller can continue to do county business as a quorum. If one of them were unavailable to vote on an important matter, Presiding Circuit Judge Gary Oxenhandler would be empowered to do so under state law.

County Clerk Wendy Noren is responsible for appointing either Elkin or Miller to preside. She said that when Presiding Commissioner Norma Robb died while in office in 1985, she alternated presiding status among the two remaining commissioners. Norma Robb and Ed Robb were not related.

In appointing Ed Robb’s replacement, Nixon is not bound to follow the recommendation of the Republican Central Committee.

Robb came to Columbia in 1972 to take a position as director of MU’s new Economic Research Center, according to a previous Missourian story. He told Missourian reporter Spencer Willems in 2008 that he was not initially drawn to politics.

“I loved chemistry. I loved mathematics,” he said. “I loved how precise everything could be, and how impactful that was.”

An education in economics, Robb said, established a good foundation for life.

Thinking like an economist “gives you a structured approach to a lot of things, to most things, really,” he said. “From a business standpoint, from a managerial standpoint … the strict application of economic theory can make life very simple if you follow the rules.”

Schaefer said Robb was a tremendous help to him when he campaigned for state Senate against incumbent Democrat Chuck Graham in 2008. “Ed was already established and was very supportive in sharing resources to make my campaign a success,” he said.

“Ed could be pretty gruff, but he was a very, very smart man, very intelligent,” Schaefer said. “He had strong feelings on what was best for the economy and the state of Missouri.”

After Schaefer was appointed to the Senate Appropriations Committee, he often would seek Robb’s advice. “He had a tremendous wealth of knowledge on the state budget,” he said.

Former 21st District State Rep. Steve Hobbs of Mexico, Mo., said Robb already was famous for his expertise in budgeting when Hobbs arrived at the Capitol after being elected in 2002.

“I knew how much he cared for his family and how much he loved Rosa and how much he enjoyed living in Columbia,” Hobbs said. “He deeply cared for the university.

“He was a numbers guy,” Hobbs continued. “If you wanted to argue with him, you’d better have the facts.”

Robb was born July 1, 1942, in Chicago. He earned his undergraduate degree from Bradley University and his master’s and doctoral degrees in economics from Michigan State University.

He also is survived by five children.

Funeral arrangements were pending. The Robb family said in a statement that it is “grateful for the tremendous outpouring of love, prayers and support.” The family asked “for continued prayers and for privacy at this time.”

Hobbs said he and Robb became fast and lasting friends while working in the General Assembly.

“You have the pain of the loss,” Hobbs said, “but that’s quickly replaced by good memories, and that makes it all OK.”

 

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.