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UNCERTAINTY RISING: Opus Group founder dies; student apartment repeal petition returns

Pro-liberty group says Mayor 'threw temper tantrum' over signature effort

COLUMBIA, Mo 4/28/14 (Beat Byte) -- A company leader's death; mounting political pressures; dueling editorials; and a resurgent petition are upping the uncertainty over a downtown student apartment project that has sparked controversy since it was announced in March.

Magnum Opus 

Gerald Rauenhorst, the founder and long-time leader of Opus Group, a Minneapolis-based commercial developer seeking to build the six-story apartment, died Thursday at age 86

How his death will affect the company's direction -- or a threatened lawsuit against the City of Columbia -- is unknown.  Rauenhorst stepped down as Opus chairman four years ago, but reports suggest his presence continued to loom large at the company he founded in 1953. 

With $354 in hand; a $2,500 loan
; and his wife's help as both partner and sole employee, Rauenhorst pioneered the concept of "design-build," with Opus providing architecture, engineering, and construction projects entirely in-house.   In time, the company grew into one of the nation's largest commercial developers, with glittering examples of its high-rises particularly prominent in Minneapolis. 

Repeal Returns   

In Columbia meanwhile, Repeal 6214, a Columbia group that submitted over 3,600 signatures demanding the City Council repeal its approval of Opus' apartment project -- city ordinance 6214 -- is back on the streets gathering signatures.   The group started at the Farmers and Artisan's Market Sunday morning with what coordinator Patricia Fowler described as a "new petition." 

Questions have arisen that the orginal petition did not contain a City Charter-required verbatim statement of Ordinance 6214, in its entirety over 30 pages of contractual language, staff reports, and legal verbage.   The questions remain just that -- questions -- because the Charter (Sec. 128) says the wording need not appear on each individual signature sheet, suggesting it can be submitted as a cover sheet with the signatures attached.  

"In an abundance of caution, we are re-circulating," Fowler explained on the Repeal 6214 Facebook page

The caution appears well-advised.  Political pressure has mounted on Columbia city clerk Sheela Amin to invalidate the original petition, submitted to her office with far more than the 3,200 signatures required to force the ordinance to a Council repeal vote or public ballot in November.  

Led by Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid, M.D. and Columbia Daily Tribune owner Hank Waters, the pressure boiled over last Monday, when Dr. McDavid publicly insisted Amin invalidate the petition.  

One of downtown Columbia's largest landowners, Waters meanwhile has fired off non-stop editorials demanding the same result.  "Regardless of all this political pushing and pulling, the petition should be invalidated," he admonished yesterday, in his fourth "The Tribune's View" op-ed on the subject in as many weeks.  

Temper Tantrum?  

Waters is hardly alone in the Opus op-ed wars.  Columbia attorney Skip Walther, who represents various downtown landowner interests, and Repeal 6214 proponent Tracy Greever-Rice, Ph.D. argued both sides of the issue in Sunday's Tribune.   "Calm down oh ye mis-informed citizenry -- you might get us sued," was the gist of Walther's argument, while Greever-Rice explained how City Hall's embarassing list of recent disasters illustrates how little top brass cares about the community it serves.   

Firing back with their own brand of political caricature (including a cry-baby meme, above), Keep Columbia Free, a liberty-activism group, has characterized the pressure to dump the petition as a Mayoral "temper tantrum." 

"You’re really threatening to cut public safety dollars if the city is sued by a developer?" the group asked Mayor McDavid, over comments he made about diverting fire and police dollars to pay lawyers in a lawsuit with Opus.  

"How about we stop building giant parking garages that would be empty except that the City leases spots to its own departments?" KCF continued.   "How about we not pay for the CID’s silly Gateway project?  How about we not buy homeless shelters
 
"How about we prioritize the way this City spends tax dollars by fully funding basic sewer and electric infrastructure and our police and fire departments before we fund anything else?"
 
-- Mike Martin

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