Pot calling the kettle black? 

COLUMBIA, Mo 4/19/14 (Analysis) --
Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid has joined city manager Mike Matthes and Opus Development Group representatives in a rhetorical war against supporters of a petition to repeal City Council approval of a six-story downtown student apartment.  

But facts and laws suggest the rhetoric applies to City Hall rather than to the over 3,600 people who signed the Repeal 6214 petition.

"I believe the effort to run Opus out of town is dangerous.  I think it's reckless, and I think it's irresponsible," McDavid told KOMU yesterday.    "If we go that road, we're going to be in a multi-year legal swamp from which the outcome is unclear."

Earlier, Matthes called petition suppporters "short-sighted and foolhardy."  Attorneys for Opus now say the petition "violates the Columbia City Charter" and the Missouri Constitution.   They will address the Council during opening public comment Monday

After two special meetings in March, the Columbia City Council passed Ordinance 6214, authorizing the city manager to sign a development agreement with Opus.  

Section 128 of the City Charter provides for a so-called "Referendum" process whereby "the voters shall have power to approve or reject at the polls any ordinance passed by the Council."  Under the care of two attorneys well-versed in Charter law -- Jeremy Root and Patricia Fowler -- the Repeal 6214 petition has followed this process to the letter.   If approved, the petition will send Ordinance 6214 first to the Council for repeal, and if that fails, then to the voters. 

As for who is violating the City Charter, Matthes did when he called for the special meetings to approve Opus and two other student apartment projects.   City Charter "Section 8. Rules of Order" directs "The Council shall determine by ordinance its own rules and order of business." 

The rule and order of business for special meetings is set in Columbia City Ordinance 2-22.   The ordinance says a police officer must physically serve each Council member (or a bona fide representative) at his/her home or business with a written notice of the special meeting. 

But Matthes disregarded the ordinance -- and the City Charter -- when he "verbally" called two special Wednesday lunch meetings for Council members to debate and hear testimony about the new student apartments.   The Council normally meets every other Monday at 7:00 pm

In another strange twist, the Opus Ordinance itself contains language that suggests its own invalidity. 

"WHEREAS, the City has conducted a survey of existing public infrastructure within the overall downtown Columbia geographical area, which includes the Developer Tract;  and WHEREAS, inadequate water, fire protection, electric, storm water and sanitary sewer facilities exist to serve the proposed increase in use of the Developer Tract which will result from the Project construction." 

If the infrastructure is "inadequate," why was Opus approved?   This question is at the heart of the Repeal 6214 effort -- and was at the heart of virtually every presentation by the city manager and his minions when they were pushing a TIF District  just two months ago.  

"Opus offered to pay for some off-site sewer fixes....But that's not enough," Matthes told the Columbia Daily Tribune in February.  "We're talking about the whole grid here, the whole utility.'"  

Without a TIF district, Matthes made a promise many have since called "reckless and irresponsible".  "Downtown development stops," he told the Trib.   "Plan B is no development downtown." 

Council members approved Opus nonetheless, but with a contract that itself protects the Referendum process -- and all other powers of city government.    "No provision contained herein shall in any manner diminish or usurp the inherent rights and powers of the City to act in its capacity as a public body," the Opus contract explains.    

Should the repeal effort succeed, Section 161 of the City Charter offers the most powerful protection of all. 

Section 161. Contracts and Ordinances Contrary to Charter.

All contracts, agreements, and other obligations entered into, and all ordinances and resolutions passed after the adoption of this charter and contrary to the provisions thereof shall be void.