"What's happened now is that you've lost credibility."COLUMBIA, Mo 3/18/14 (Beat Byte) -- An openly flustered Mayor Bob McDavid presided over a tense Columbia City Council meeting last night, as Columbia residents voiced distress and disapproval over a hurried, poorly-communicated, badly-scheduled timeline to approve three new student apartment projects.
The evening's upshot: that city manager Mike Matthes had lost credibility and by extension, City Council members had lost the public's trust.
Pounding his gavel and yelling "you're out of order" more than once, McDavid threatened to have audience members removed (police officers stood ready at the door). After Matthes interjected during public testimony from attorney Jeremy Root, Dr. McDavid called Root out of order, only to have the audience meet the Mayor with a chorus of "you're out of order."
McDavid stood, declared a five minute recess, and walked out.
Root and two Mizzou Journalism School faculty -- Clyde Bentley and Reuben Stern -- offered a trio of testimony that perfectly captured the public mood."What in the world is going on here? I really don't understand it," Root declared to the Council (Video 1:27:05).
Just weeks ago, Root explained, the Mayor and city manager publicly declared that, without the defeated TIF, no more downtown development could occur. Nearly $20 million in "necessary infrastructure" had to be financed.
Now, 1,335 new student apartments were suddenly and unexpectedly up for approval, on a timeline "that does not make any sense: calling two weekday public meetings when people who work are unable to participate in any meaningful way," Root said. "I'm truly and deeply flabbergasted."
A print and digital news professor, Bentley reminded baby boomer Council members "when we were the students and the people sitting out here and how disillusioned we were with our government that lied to us and even worse, ignored us." (Video 1:22:40)
The three developments were not as much of a problem as City Hall was, Bentley explained. "Your city staff has told us they forgot about [this] and forgot about [that]. We've had error after error after error," he said. "What's happened now is that you've lost credibility. You're letting yourself seem like you're doing something wrong. You may not be, but your credibility is shot."
Starting a theme others repeated throughout the 4+ hour hearing, Reuben Stern -- who directs the Mizzou School of Journalism/Reynolds Journalism Futures Lab -- told a story familiar to thousands of Columbia residents. Sewer backups, year after year, were making life miserable. (Video 1:25:28)
"You are promising developers of new construction a level of city services that is not currently being provided to residents like me, who live in existing construction in the city," said Stern, who lives at 309 W. Broadway, a house built in 1941 with three apartments, including one in the basement.
"Five years after I bought the property, the basement started backing up from the sewer," Stern said. "I'm losing about 25% of my rental income until I can assure a tenant it won't fill with 10 inches of sewage."
Bentley, Root, and Stern wrapped their respective testimony with urgent -- and eloquent -- pleas.
"I wish the city would fix existing infrastructure problems with the same sense of urgency it is giving to infrastructure problems with new development downtown," Stern said.
"We in Columbia have a lot to be proud of. We can afford to be patient. We can afford to use our normal processes with development projects," Root concluded, testifying during the third development agreement debate.
"If you want to regain any faith from your voters and the public -- pause," Bentley urged. "We have to give people logic they can understand and logic they can believe."
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