Written by Ken Midkiff
"A Mayor should represent the city as a whole"
COLUMBIA, 3/18/13 (Op Ed) -- In the 2010 Columbia Mayoral election, Bob McDavid was endorsed by the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, a necessary step to receiving funding from the group.
The Chamber expected a Return on Investment (ROI); in short, they expected McDavid to vote in ways that would benefit their members.
But has he? YES.
The Chamber has achieved that ROI with McDavid's votes FOR the Odle’s Brookside Apartments (after assurances the applicants would partially fund a new transportation system); FOR Aspen Heights’ rezoning from mobile homes to apartments (after assurances they would pay partial tenant moving expenses); FOR Enhanced Enterprise Zones or EEZ (after assurances Big Business would be attracted); and later, voting to REPEAL a crucial step for EEZ establishment after Regional Economic Development (REDI) requested it.
Despite the Chamber's ROI, the Odle student apartments have caused enormous and still-unresolved parking problems. The former Regency Mobile Home court and its old-growth trees were leveled by Aspen Heights developers, who may not have complied with Columbia's land disturbance ordinance. Area-wide alarm about a blight designation leading to easy property condemnation, and Big Business tax incentives, ultimately derailed EEZ.
Nonetheless, McDavid dismissed community concerns about his votes, maybe because in return for receiving his support, every applicant had to cough up or promise money. Even fellow City Council members accused McDavid of selling his votes.
Though the Mayor has listened to "an engaged citizenry," unless proposals are particularly egregious – EEZ comes to mind – it is difficult for citizens to be aware of all the schemes of the Powers That Be.
With that lack of awareness -- and lack of ability to mobilize with every new scheme -- McDavid can vote for monied interests almost all the time.
Take updated stormwater rules. Developed by city staff with assistance from a citizens’ committee, the rules contained provisions developers found objectionable. So McDavid sent them back, with a directive from that staff should "consult with" (i.e. give in to) the developers.
One updated rule would have stopped exempting downtown property from complying with storm water rules. But thanks to instructions from McDavid, downtown (including all those student apartments) continues to be exempt, sending untreated storm water into the Flat Branch and Hinkson creeks.
The subject of much debate, this runoff is "the reason Hinkson Creek is polluted and impaired," says the Environmental Protection Agency.
What's a Mayor to do? That’s easy. Robert McDavid should represent the city as a whole, and not just a few Chamber of Commerce types that have his ear via his wallet.
-- Ken Midkiff is a longtime local columnist and environmental protection advocate. Mayor McDavid is running for re-election in April.