22 Mar 2012
- Published Date
- Written by Mike Martin
"Secret payoff" accusation intrudes on quiet race
COLUMBIA, 3/22/12 (Beat Byte) -- Just as one of Columbia's leading voices of reason -- Missourian columnist George Kennedy -- declared the campaign coast reasonably clear, out pop questions over a criminal conviction and a negative campaign ad.
"Today, local Columbia politics fell to a new low," reads a press release from incumbent 6th Ward City Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe.
"A TV ad by Bill Tillotson, my opponent in the race for Sixth Ward City Council, accused me of taking 'secret payoffs' and underhanded deals in connection with the building of a fraternity house on College Avenue. There is no way to undo the harm created by Mr. Tillotson’s sleazy, unprofessional campaign tactics."
Originally reported by the Columbia Daily Tribune in February, the controversy involved a meeting between the Beta Theta Pi fraternity and the East Campus Neighborhood Association, in Mrs. Hoppe's Ward, over a building and zoning dispute.
"The architect for the new Beta Fraternity House on College Avenue designed the structure seven feet taller than city zoning codes allow," Mrs. Hoppe explained. "The neighborhood association came to me questioning the height of the building. I verified that it was indeed in violation of code and that the city had erred in issuing a building permit. I proposed a motion at City Council to halt the construction of the fraternity until the matter could be resolved. The contractor then appealed, allowing construction to continue."
Association members meanwhile asked that Mrs. Hoppe appear at a meeting with fraternity attorney Craig Van Matre, who "found that the law favored the neighborhood association," Mrs. Hoppe explained. "The builder would have had the option to tear down what had already been built and start over, or seek a variance to the building code. I suggested that the neighborhood association communicate with the builder to come to a mutually beneficial solution."
After further discussions, the fraternity's architect agreed to fund beautification projects in the area. "I was not involved in those discussions," Mrs. Hoppe explained. The city’s Board of Adjustment, meanwhile, granted the fraternity's builder, Little Dixie Construction, a building code variance, "and the building was allowed to continue."
Mrs. Hoppe is well-known for direct involvement in issues that come to her attention via neighborhood associations and individual constituents. In 2007, for instance, she took up a city-wide effort to lower residential speed limits to 25 mph, after repeatedly hearing concerns about speeding traffic on narrow streets. She has championed similar causes both small and large, from stolen traffic signs to the CrossCreek development.
On the fraternity controversy, Mrs. Hoppe said she is "proud to have been involved in suggesting a way in which all parties could win"––the architect; Beta House; the builder; the neighborhood association; and City Hall, which "avoided legal costs while maintaining the integrity of its zoning codes."
"That is precisely what an involved, pro-active, city councilperson should do," she said.