Walking the walk
COLUMBIA, 2/15/17 (Interview) -- First Ward Columbia residents eager for a City Council representative who understands their neighborhoods, needs, and history have found their candidate in Pat Kelley, colleagues, friends, and neighbors insist.
"She has talked the talk, walked the walk, and fought the fight," supporters say.
At her campaign kickoff earlier this month, Kelley said she was "surprised at how systemic" many of the problems in her central city neighborhood were.
"Systemic" as in deeply-rooted, multi-faceted, and with many players and causes. Kelley and partners founded the Ridgeway Neighborhood Association (RNA) in the central city twenty years ago.
"When we started the neighborhood association, we thought all we would have to do is encourage our neighbors to call the police to report crimes," Kelley told the Heart Beat. "We didn't understand things like negligent code enforcement."
The Columbia Heart Beat asked Kelley to expound on the problems her group encountered and eventually overcame. An early priority became rebuilding her neighborhood's reputation.
"One of our neighbors moved out after police officers told her they were really worried about how dangerous it was for her to live in the neighborhood," Kelley said. On the job at Mizzou, "I learned the graduate student advisor had kept a list of streets that she noticed had lots of crime reports. She would tell students never to rent an apartment on these streets."
Physical dereliction -- litter, ramshackle structures, poorly-maintained streets -- can contribute to crime by suggesting no one cares. Kelley and her neighbors found dereliction in some surprising places, such as "city- owned property they won't maintain."
One example: "Neglect of city alleys," she said. "They've been overgrown with honeysuckle and poison ivy. We've found mattresses and liquor bottles."
Investors have a financial interest in the success and upkeep of their investments. So other unexpected sources of neglect included a landlord whose tenants supported his drug habit, and police officers who owned poorly-maintained rental property, like "a house with a hole in the roof." Fortunately, they sold their rentals and "this has gotten better," Kelley said.
Columbia city government has a vast code enforcement apparatus that requires inspections and registrations. It has surprised Kelley and fellow neighborhood organizers to find many egregious code violations over the years. She described one property with "lots of mold, and wires coming out of hanging lamp fixtures."
Another house, now vacant "and overgrown with trees," had mold on the light covers. No wonder. "Water would come through the switch plates when it rained," she said.
Crime has been another pressing problem, and some unexpected tools and techniques have emerged in the Ridgeway neighborhood's fight against it.
"When we had several shootings, the shooters always shot someone then sped away without anything to slow them down," Kelley said. "Our neighborhood association requested a traffic calming study."
City-installed speed bumps, speed limit reductions, increased patrols, lights, stop signs, and other devices can "calm" traffic.
But engaging city officials yielded some obstacles of its own. "I turned in a petition and went back to the city over two years, until they finally told me they weren't doing traffic-calming studies anymore," Kelley said.
That apparently wasn't true. One of RNA's organizers sat on the city's Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission. "He learned that they were still doing traffic calming studies -- in other neighborhoods," Kelley said.
Among recent city initiatives she considers positive are "Randy Cole's work with the Community Land Trust and the Garth & Sexton project," which has included sidewalk improvements and affordable housing development. Cole is a city employee and frequent point man on affordable housing.