Has Mike Matthes crossed the line? 

COLUMBIA, Mo 2/14/14 (Beat Byte) -- A rushed TIF plan going before Columbia City Council members Monday night, and reports city manager Mike Matthes is privately lobbying Council members and candidates, have some city leaders crying foul.

Matthes, they say, is "out of control," taking unprecedented and even unlawful measures to ram through an ill-advised, poorly-planned TIF District that would encompass much of the central city.  The city manager has unleashed an aggressive combination of bandwagon and bully pulpit, publicly pushing the TIF with threats he is uniquely capable of carrying out.

His biggest threat so far: close downtown Columbia to new development over "lack of infrastructure" unless the TIF is approved.   Monday night's Council Resolution would virtually turn that threat into law.  
Charged with implementing -- not making -- policy, Matthes' bulldog advocacy likely violates a city prohibition designed to separate the executive and legislative branches of city government.  

"Appointed city officers or employees shall not engage in any political activity while on duty or in uniform or otherwise use equipment or resources of the city," Section 19-39 of the Columbia Code of Ordinances directs.  "Political activity shall include but not be limited to the following: (4) any support or opposition for any political office, cause, or party."

That Matthes can violate the law without so much as a whimper from the Legislative Branch -- the City Council -- is another measure of how much power he wields -- and how recklessly he can use it, say those who want more planning, more deliberation -- and much more time for public engagement

"The approach to this TIF, with its lack of any community process, is beyond belief!" said a well-regarded downtown-area leader who spoke on condition of anonymity.  

Matthes and his staff are ignoring basic questions, the source explained, such as "What other finance mechanisms could be used for basic infrastructure needs?  If downtown sewer needs were so critical, why weren't they included on last fall's ballot issue?  And why no community input?"

Instead, Matthes has marginalized the community, which includes its elected representatives, the Mayor and City Council. 

In January, deputy city manager "Tony St. Romaine specifically told the Downtown Leadership Council that a 'cost/benefit analysis would be prepared before any further decisions would be made,'" the source explained.  "But now, they are asking Council to vote Monday on a TIF district plan without any financial cost/benefit analysis nor an accurate list of how the TIF funds would be used. 

"This is true negligence

Reports Matthes is lobbying Council members have others worried about potential quid pro quo arrangements:  "I'll make sure your Ward gets its streets plowed if you support the TIF," and so forth.  The city manager's power to make such deals is one reason he or she is prohibited from lobbying as a city employee.   

"Mike is actually counting votes," a second credible source told the Heart Beat on condition of anonymity.  "He claims to have three in favor of the TIF already in the bag.  He's planning on three opposed.  To him, the TIF will rise or fall with whomever wins the First Ward."

Though the source did not identify the counted votes by name, Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala has repeatedly said he opposes the TIF effort, while Mayor Bob McDavid publicly supports it.   Other likely "yes" votes are Michael Trapp and Laura Nauser, running unopposed for re-election to her Fifth Ward seat.

"No" votes could include Council members Ian Thomas and Barbara Hoppe.

"Why even have a TIF Commission in this environment?" the source asked.   "Those people are wasting their time and ours." 

First Ward candidate Ginny Chadwick has reportedly told supporters Matthes lobbied her to support the TIF, explaining that she would be the "tie-breaking fourth vote" should she emerge triumphant.  Chadwick did not respond to questions about the issue.

If Matthes is lobbying Chadwick, it's a good bet on his part.  Her most credible opponent, Tyree Byndom, has announced that he cannot campaign as a member of the Baha'i faith, handing Chadwick the front-runner mantle almost by default.

"The approach to this TIF may be worse than EEZ," said our source in city leadership.  "They're not even waiting for a TIF Commission recommendation.  I'm pissed." 

COUNCIL RESOLUTION R29-14:   "Determining projects to be funded through the Central Columbia Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District, and authorizing certain actions by City officials."

-- Mike Martin for the Columbia Heart Beat