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FOOL FOR A LAWYER? REDI uses legal opinion "found on the Internet" to support Blight

 
City Hall never hired law firm whose opinion was used to support Blight Decree        
 
COLUMBIA, 4/14/12  (Beat Byte) --  A legal opinion supporters of Columbia's Blight Decree/EEZ have been using to allay concerns about eminent domain abuse was written for the city of Rolla and applied to Columbia without the knowledge or consent of the law firm that issued it, St. Louis-based Gilmore and Bell.   
 
"This information was found on the Internet from a fact sheet when Rolla obtained EEZ status in 2009," REDI chairman Dave Griggs emailed Columbia Missourian reporter Madeline O'Leary Feb. 6.   Neither O'Leary nor the Missourian reported the legal citation or the questionable circumstances surrounding it.

"Madeline continues to gather information and interviews regarding the EEZ," Missourian editor Scott Swafford told the Heart Beat April 5.  "You haven't yet seen her publish the information to which you're referring, but that doesn't mean she won't."
 
Grimm and Griggs

Though the City of Columbia hired Gilmore and Bell three years ago for a TIF project, they were not hired to work on the EEZ program or provide official opinions for use in the city's legislative process.   "I don't know anything about it," said Gilmore and Bell attorney Mark Grimm, who issued the Rolla opinion.  "I need more information from you before I can answer your questions."  

The EEZ legislative process is likely quite different between the two cities.  For instance, Columbia passed a Blight Decree that includes large parts of Boone County.  Mayor Bob McDavid tried to amend the Decree, in a way city attorney Fred Boeckmann has explained will not satisfy the state EEZ statute.  Columbia's Blight Decree includes nearly 60% of the city.  Rolla's own unique situation is unknown here. 

Nonetheless, REDI directors liberally quote Grimm and his firm, who did not respond to questions or requests for comment.  REDI has sent the Rolla opinion to Columbia City Council members, concerned citizens, and local leadership groups.  

"Barbara:  Here is language regarding eminent domain that we have pulled from an application for Rolla, MO," REDI director Mike Brooks wrote Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe, five hours before the Council met to approve the Blight Decree on Feb. 6.  

Hoppe had asked if Brooks and REDI vice president Bernie Andrews saw a story in the Columbia Heart Beat expressing "concerns about the EEZ and eminent domain."      
 
"As I am getting questions and concerns, it would be good to have the main concerns answered and at the meeting," Hoppe said. 

The same afternoon, Andrews emailed the entire City Council.   "Dave Griggs has indicated that a blog has raised a question on EEZ regarding eminent domain," he wrote.   "In researching some of the other 118 EEZ's in Missouri, I have found this quote that was attributed to Mark Grimm of Gilmore and Bell out of St. Louis.
 
"Mr. Grimm was not in his office when I called this morning.  I did contact Jim Caldwell with Gilmore and Bell out of their Kansas City office for an unofficial opinion on this issue, and his thoughts are very similar to the opinion below." 
 
Grimm's fairy tale?

Andrews repeated the story to Missouri Department of Economic Development (DED) property rights ombudsman Tom Green a week later. 

"I understand from Carol Shoemaker at DED that you have received some calls from Boone County residents concerned that establishing an Enhanced Enterprise Zone could lead to eminent domain," Andrews wrote.  "Our research into this issue tells us that Rolla, Mo had the same issue of eminent domain come up, and the following quote attributed to Mark Grimm of Gilmore and Bell in St. Louis addressed the issue on a Rolla website: 

Andrews quotes Grimm telling Rolla officials that "the blight finding is not related to eminent domain."

But that's not true in Rolla, Columbia, or anywhere else in Missouri, says eminent domain expert and Missouri attorney Dave Roland.  

"Significant developments in Missouri law allowed blight designations to become a devastating threat to citizens' property rights," Roland wrote in a Columbia Daily Tribune editorial.  "If a Missouri city wants to take a home, business or house of worship that the government has declared to be in a 'blighted area,' a citizen can save his or her property only by proving beyond a reasonable doubt there is no substantial evidence supporting the city's blight declaration." 

No Missouri appellate court has ever ruled against a city on these grounds, he concluded. 

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