COLUMBIA, 10/7/11 (Beat Byte) -- A standing room only crowd this afternoon became so worked up over 4th Ward Councilman Daryl Dudley's support of a controversial Ward reapportionment plan that participants urged his recall from office, even circulating a pre-petition document to start the process.
Among the stated grievances: "Whereas, by attempting to force out of Ward 4 those precincts in which he received the lowest voting percentage in the last election, Ward 4 Councilman Daryl Dudley has led a blatant and politically partisan effort to gerrymander the redistricted Ward boundaries in violation of his obligation to serve all citizens of the Fourth Ward."
After the meeting at the Daniel Boone library, at least one participant also called for a neighborhood-by-neighborhood boycott of the Atkins Corporation, a residential and commercial services provider of lawn care, pest control, and other services. Atkins' co-owner Scott Atkins, Dudley told the audience, has played an influential role in the Councilman's unpopular approach to Ward reapportionment.
Central City Compacting
Mr. Dudley has come out in favor of Trial D, a plan that would cost central city neighborhoods in the Third and Fourth Wards their representation on the Columbia City Council and dilute votes from African-Americans in the First Ward. By consolidating most of the central city into the First Ward, Trial D fits the classical definition of "gerrymandering" -- geographic reapportionment for political gain.
Columbia's Ward Reapportionment Committee -- and public opinion voiced at public hearings -- favor Trial E, a plan that would extend the First Ward westward, but leave present political jurisdictions virtually untouched.
Alone among the crowd, Mr. Dudley defended a position he said "other people" also supported, "although 99.7% of people say they don't care one way or the other." He also stumbled when asked to name Trial D's backers.
Instead, the embattled Councilman tried to explain on his own. Trial D is the best option because it would "compact" all central city residential neighborhoods into a single Ward that would share the same concerns about aging infrastructure, he told the crowd.
Then -- in what sounded like a Freudian slip that brought boos and guffaws from the audience -- Dudley said Trial D would also consolidate "all the most vocal voices."
"That's blatant gerrymandering," said one attendee.
"This is bullshit!" added 3rd Ward resident and meeting participant Peter Beiger, whose Benton-Stephens neighborhood would lose its 3rd Ward representative under Trial D. "It smacks of the Tea-hadist agenda," Beiger quipped, in a swipe at Tea Party politics.
Shoulda (Not) Called Atkins?
After being pressured to reveal his backers, Mr. Dudley told the audience that Scott Atkins -- son of Atkins Corporation owner Tom Atkins -- and former Add Sheet owner Larry Grossman told him to appoint former Republican Governor Matt Blunt's Chief Aide Rob Monsees to the city's Ward Reapportionment Committee (WRC).
Atkins -- who sits on the WRC with Monsees -- and Grossman are well-known members of Columbia's pro-development community.
Both men stand to gain from any reduction in dissenting voices on the Columbia City Council -- voices that have historically come from progressive Third and Fourth Ward neighborhoods.
"I've used Atkins many times in the past. But I am boycotting them and urging others to do the same," a meeting attendee said. "I feel like these developer-types are finally declaring all out war on us. Their money in the elections isn't enough. Their lawyers harassing our Council people aren't enough. They're finally coming into our homes and our neighborhoods, with their greedy, grubby agendas."
Though speakers were generally respectful, only one person -- former Mayoral candidate John Clark -- spoke in favor of Trial D. Over a dozen others said not only "no" but "hell no," thanking Mr. Dudley on the one hand for speaking to them, but firmly condemning him for ignoring such a large part of his constituency, and trying to remove neighborhoods that voted against him for personal political gain.
Neighborhood association (NA) presidents from Park Hill, Benton-Stephens, Old Southwest, Westmount, and the First Ward spoke in unison against the plan. Benton-Stephens NA president Kip Kendrick was among the most passionate speakers, asking -- then politely demanding -- to know why Mr. Dudley was so intent on "dividing this community."
Though Mr. Dudley said he "didn't care" about politics, meeting attendee Lise Saffran begged to differ. "You know what impact Trial D will have on voting patterns. You know what impact it will have on our representation at City Hall. It's your responsibility to care about that, Mr. Dudley. It's your responsibility as our representative."
Mr. Dudley, however, kept emphasizing that he was representing "what I think is best," a response that only drew more jeers. He also tripped up on his facts several times, noted former 4th Ward Councilman Rex Campbell.
"I think this is also a real slap in the face to the volunteers on the Ward Reapportionment Committee who spent countless hours sending you a plan, only to have you ignore it," said meeting attendee Mary Kaye Doyle, former vice president of the city's Historic Preservation Commission.
4th Ward Councilman Dudley's "amended" Trial D Ward reapportionment plan -- not much difference from Trial D
The favored Trial E plan