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NO MORE WANNABES: Why the CoMo City Council needs "bread and butter" representatives

 
COLUMBIA, Mo 11/9/14 (Op Ed) -- Columbia's First Ward needs a City Council representative focused on non-glamorous "bread and butter issues" that will help the Ward become a better place to live.   

I made that remark at a meeting last week to recall First Ward Councilwoman Ginny Chadwick, and a reader contacted me later to agree.  

Ten years ago this month, I started the Columbia Heart Beat with a similar goal in mind:  report on bread and butter, "hyper-local" issues in the First Ward
 
I've managed rental property in the Ward for 12 years, spending more time there than just about anywhere.  The first Heart Beats -- literally, newsletters covering the beat of the heart of the city, its central core -- had stories about storm drain overflows; peeling paint; derelict property; abandoned vehicles; and other  "Broken Windows Theory" pieces aimed at improving the physical environment to reduce crime

I wrote about the need to fence yards so drug dealers fleeing the law wouldn't jump off the street and hide in the bushes.  I chronicled the long, slow slog one street endured to get a "Neighborhood Watch" sign.  I commissioned a study about why storm drains keep failing between 6th and 7th Streets and wrote about the results (click here or image below right).

I covered the Neighborhood Response Team (NRT), a Federally-sponsored City Hall trio -- police officer, code enforcement official, health department agent -- that walked the central city, documenting code deficiencies, talking to neighbors, giving advice, and taking reports on missing street signs, broken street lights, basement backups, and other "bread and butter" issues.   I reported on city moves to cut NRT and other effective crime prevention programs. 

I also wrote about the central city's burgeoning arts scene, becoming its chief media promoter back when the North Village Arts District was nothing more than a row of run-down, empty warehouses. 

Property management, in the words of a seasoned pro, can "take a leg off", so I needed every advantage.  Much of the First Ward was -- and still is -- in the "code enforcement" stage of revitalization, as my astute friend Sid Sullivan reminded when North Central Neighborhood Association (NCCNA) meetings inevitably wandered into "grand plan" discussions, usually at the behest of longtime NCCNA leader John Clark.  

Code enforcement is about as "bread and butter" as it gets.  Basic livability comes long before charrettes and Visioning and other grand plans studded with logos and out-of-state consultants.  For reasons that escape me, few if any City Council members understand this concept.   Their heads are too-often in the clouds. 

The City Council does not need members with dreams of higher office or stars in their eyes when they sit next to the Mayor and the Town Bosses.  

The First Ward does not need a Council member more interested in out-of-state business promotion (read Fred Schmidt and Blight; Paul Sturtz and IBM; Ginny Chadwick and Opus) than in basement sewer backup remediation. 

The First Ward does not need a Council member so eager to plunge into splashy, sexy, national debates that within months of taking office, she repeatedly "steps in it" with proposals to ban alcohol in Columbia's traditionally black Douglass Park and raise the legal smoking age to 21.  

Ms. Chadwick loves the limelight, a troubling tendency on full display when she took the podium to preach at constituents about Opus' "right to build" a downtown student apartment and when she launched a faux-compromise debate about marijuana on the Council dais, acting like she might favor a proposed decriminalization ordinance when, in fact, she apparently planned to vote against it all along.
 
Self promotion can be a good thing, but not when it projects the message, "I wannabe somewhere else.  I wannabe somebody else.  I wannabe doing something else, and I'm only using this job as a stepping stone." 

The Columbia City Council needs representatives who wannabe here, dealing with the unglam, often-thankless, mundane "bread and butter" issues --  streets, sidewalks, concrete, sewers, water mains, financial reports and budgets -- that form the foundations of the world beneath our feet.

-- Mike Martin


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