This appeared in print as part of the story “Best Laid Plans” In 2007, the City of Columbia’s visioning document suggested that council...
Columbia is hardly the exception among municipalities in seeking an ongoing report card of citizen perceptions about the quality of life here. The ETC Institute, of Olathe, Kansas, has been surveying Columbia residents for the past fifteen years. Not surprisingly, among the 1,016 residents queried for the most recent survey, respondents said that they are increasingly concerned about the deterioration of Columbia’s infrastructure (streets and sidewalks), while voicing more negative concern about public safety and police response times. Of course, this is all tied to Columbia’s somewhat meteoric growth as the city has struggled to find new revenue sources needed to develop programs in response to these needs while sales and use tax receipts plummet with few, if any, alternate revenue sources in sight.
Fair enough to survey the hoi polloi, the result of which was a claimed accuracy around three percent, a number that should surprise no one. Streets, sewers, transit, the water and electric utilities, police, fire, public works — you name it, there’s something here for everyone to gripe about, and one or more of these areas have been the scratching posts for citizen complaints ever and anon.
How convenient that we shy away from charting the attitudes and perceptions of Columbia’s shareholders — its citizens — toward the mayor, city council, and the assortment of realms that function under their aegis. So only a quarter of its citizens bothered to vote for the mayor. Being elected in one of the city’s six wards doesn’t necessarily translate into citywide popularity, recalling the often minuscule number of residents who even bother to vote and the relatively small, hyper-charged groups of activists who push them over the finish line.
The mayor’s honeymoon is over. No ear trumpet is needed to hear the mounting drumbeats of mayoral angst that are only bound to increase over time — bumps in the road, like the fracas over law enforcement issues that continues to unfold. In a city financially challenged because sales tax revenues continue to decline, battle lines are forming as budgets are honed with a stridency not seen in recent years, pitting the need to fund and provide basic, essential city services against what some would argue are the less important luxuries that make Columbia a “full service city.” Nothing personal here, Mr. Mayor, but there is mounting evidence of buyer’s remorse based on attitudes and temperament. May we suggest taking time to re-read Columbia’s 1949 Home Rule Charter and subsequent amendments, if you haven’t already done so?
CBT editor Brenna McDermott recently returned from a Leadership Columbia session at city hall disappointed because the mayor didn’t appear on the city government panel that spoke to the group. Tsk! Tsk! Remember, the mayor has a daytime job in Jefferson City, and, short of having a still-mythical means of instantaneous transportation back here borrowed from the annals of “Doctor Who,” his honor was again confirming his in absentia role as Columbia’s elected at-large councilperson and person who should be readily available here as the city’s official greeter and public relations maven.
Perhaps a survey would reveal the increased arrogance and “my-way-or-the-highway” attitude the mayor has been exhibiting along with some of his acolytes on the city council. The rush-at-all-costs form-based zoning initiative has many of the people who get things done around here rather upset. One wag claims that more than a handful of builders, developers, realtors, property owners, contractors, and their kin stand poised to speed-dial their legal counsel for relief and maybe a march into the Boone County Courthouse. Just what Columbia needs: a bevy of more lawsuits.
In spite of the mayor, the city council, and the dissenters gathered ’round the scratching post, the day-to-day operation of the city is in very good hands. That’s because there’s a great team of honest, capable department heads who want to do the best job possible to serve the needs and best interests of the city’s shareholders — again, its citizens. Cheap-shot anonymity gets us nowhere. Take it upon yourself to meet some of these key people. Time for the mayor and his sycophants to reach out to all of us and quit pushing personal agendas because they feel they’ve been anointed by some ethereal body to do so.