WeitkemperA "disgruntled former employee, marginalized" at City Hall

COLUMBIA, Mo 01/20/15 (Beat Byte) -- Columbia City Councilman Karl Skala came out swinging at utility billing fairness advocate Bill Weitkemper last month, in emails Columbia Missourian columnist George Kennedy labeled "insulting."  

Many Council members "see you, frankly, as a disgruntled former employee," Skala emailed Weitkemper, who retired as a Columbia public works superintendent after nearly 40 years of city employment. 

"I am certainly willing to help establish a constructive dialogue that seeks to correct bad policy....But correcting bad policy within the context of poor relationships between you, some on the Council (perhaps a majority), the City Manager's Office, and Department heads will be quite an ambitious task." 

Ironically, Weitkemper had supplied Mr. Skala and other Council members information they wanted:  facts and figures that showed how city-owned utilities overcharge smaller consumers (renters and homeowners) while under-charging larger consumers (e.g. manufacturers, apartment owners, mall developers). 

When Weitkemper asked if he was "missing anything", Skala responded.  "You have indeed missed something -- the political component to your crusade," he wrote.  "Kinda reminds me of Cervantes and Don Quiote (sic)." 

Don Quixote's hopeful but hapless crusades earned the derisive moniker, "chasing" or "tilting at windmills".

Once known for his own crusades, Mr. Skala has faced charges of political incorrectness similar to those he leveled at Mr. Weitkemper.   "Don't forget Karl Skala," wrote Columbia Daily Tribune columnist Tony Messenger, noting that Establishment types considered Skala "nuttier than a fruitcake."

And while Mr. Skala made a name insisting on facts, figures, and details, he took a different posture with Mr. Weitkemper's efforts.  "It's really not about detail," Skala told Weitkemper.  "Rather it's about public policy.  And even more importantly, it's about public leverage and the political response.

Skala also made derogatory comments about this publication. Don Quixote had his trusted sidekick Sancho Panza, and for Mr. Skala, Heart Beat publisher Mike Martin is Weitkemper's untrustworthy version of Sancho.  For years, the Heart Beat has carried stories about Weitkemper's fairness advocacy, which earned him the inaugural Ed Robb Award for Public Service

"You've become marginalized as a function of your associates," Skala told Weitkemper.  "Whatever positive 'watchdog' criticism Mike Martin provides...his reputation and confrontational style is not helping your cause with the City Administration." 

SkalaIronically, this publication has defended Mr. Skala against serious charges many times.  About a spousal abuse allegation during his first Council campaign, a Columbia Daily Tribune reader wrote, "Ask Mike Martin of the Columbia Heart Beat.  He vetted that pretty well."  That vetting quashed the allegation. 

The email exchange continued a long-running discussion on Facebook, during which Mr. Skala has chided Weitkemper and other advocates for their poor grasp of  public policy and lack of "any meaningful contribution to city governance".  Mr. Skala repeatedly challenges the activists he debates to "win a City Council seat, like I did."   

As for Weitkemper, the only way he can contribute may be to become someone else -- at least, in Mr. Skala's opinion.   "I tend to agree with you and your cause, but I am frustrated," Skala told him.  "Your participation results in even less forthcoming information from those who have it," namely city staffers who balk at providing documents Weitkemper requests.  

After the dress-down, Weitkemper asked Skala, "How can I work with you to achieve some of the policy changes I have proposed that are in the public's ultimate best interest?"  

"Please endeavor to work with those on the Council who share your best interests, and defer battles with those on the staff or others who do not," Mr. Skala responded.  "There is no other reasonable path to success."