Important citizen commission "used" and "hoodwinked" by city staffers, accusation asserts
COLUMBIA, 12/2/11 (Interview) -- Fourth Ward Columbia Councilman Daryl Dudley (left) earlier this year accused senior city officials of manipulating a citizen task force charged with revamping a utility billing ordinance, city public works supervisor Bill Weitkemper told the Columbia Heart Beat and other reporters. Weitkemper said he observed the same manipulative behavior during task force meetings, a charge Mayor Bob McDavid and city manager Mike Matthes labeled a "serious accusation."
City staff's presumptive motives included keeping utility discounts for big customers and pushing through a 15% sewer rate hike Weitkemper has consistently maintained was not necessary. Rates should have instead been reduced, he explained. Council members will take up more changes to the controversial ordinance at their December 5 meeting.
"I met with Mayor McDavid and Council members Daryl Dudley and Gary Kespohl on August 31 and gave them each a detailed report of the problems I had with the sewer ordinance," Weitkemper said. "Dr. McDavid said that he did not have time to study the sewer ordinance. He said that was staff's responsibility."
Talk then turned to a citizen sewer task force created to resolve billing problems Weitkemper revealed in 2009. Senior city staffers, he explained, tried to manipulate the task force toward a conclusion of their own making, a ploy many citizen commissioners have complained about over the years. Senior city staffers and department directors attend -- and guide -- all citizen commission meetings.
"I told Dr. McDavid that I attended every sewer task force meeting except for the first and city staff had used the sewer task force to push through sewer ordinance changes that city staff had been unable to push through on their own," Weitkemper explained.
|City Manager Mike Matthes
City staffers' overbearing approach troubled Councilman Dudley, who also attended most of the sewer task force meetings, he added. "Mr. Dudley said the sewer task force had been 'hoodwinked' by city staff," Weitkemper explained. "Dr. McDavid said, 'that’s a pretty serious accusation.' Mr. Dudley agreed."
McDavid said Dudley's revelation about staff manipulation "put the council in a difficult position," Weitkemper said. The Mayor wanted Matthes to respond after reviewing Weitkemper's work.
"On September 1st, I met with the city manager and gave him a copy of my report," Weitkemper explained. "I repeated to him both my comments and Councilman Dudley’s comments about the sewer task force and city staff. He said, 'that’s a pretty serious accusation.' I told him that was exactly what Mayor McDavid had said. The city manager told me he would read my entire report, ask public works to respond and then he would respond."
Matthes responded to Council members at a Council meeting last month about Council Bill B293-11, another change to the sewer billing ordinance. The result was so unsatisfactory, Council members tabled the ordinance without resolution until December 5.