Of power and arrogance

COLUMBIA, Mo 9/24/15 (Op Ed) --
Two leadership events in Columbia this week have me shaking my head (SMH):   Federal Judge Nanette Laughrey ruling for City Hall in the Opus student apartment lawsuit; and Mayor Bob McDavid banging his gavel and storming out of a meeting with former Community Violence Task Force member Tyree Byndom.  

My head is shaking over the Laughrey decision for a simple reason:  her husband, Chris Kelly, chairs the Mayor's Infrastructure Task Force, a job he landed after leading organized efforts to raise utility rates this year

On infrastructure, Kelly has become City Hall's #1 cheerleader
That his wife is hearing Columbia's most high-profile infrastructure legal case, maybe in history, seems like appallingly bad judgment.   

What do husband and wife talk about after work, at home, in private, he after chairing task force meetings about downtown infrastructure;  she after hearing motions, pleadings, and other matters about the Opus development agreement with City Hall, which hinged on downtown infrastructure?  

How can Judge Laughrey be -- or at least appear -- impartial?   Why won't she recuse herself?

The essence of jurisprudence on the bench is impartiality, and even the appearance of bias is so problematic judges routinely recuse themselves from cases that suggest it.   But not Judge Laughrey.  

The Opus case is not the first time attorneys faced this marital conflict of interest, either.   Mamtek attorneys sought her recusal because she was married to Kelly, then a State Representative.

Kelly left his post as a Missouri State Representative to become -- what else -- a lobbyist, for utility giant Ameren

Mayor McDavid's encounter with Mr. Byndom at Monday's City Council meeting ended in a familiar way, with Hizzoner suddenly interrupting, banging his gavel, and rushing out of the room. 

"I'd like to request 5 minutes," Byndom started the minute-long encounter, just after 1:46:30 in this video.  It appears to be a discussion of city manager Mike Matthes' new "social equity budget." 

"Who do you represent?" McDavid responded, in a tone that said "Do I know you?" 

It took me back because the Mayor loves on Mr. Byndom when he wants to score political points in the minority community.    He presented the 2013 Columbia Values Diversity Award to Byndom in 2013; he appointed Byndom to his Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence the following year. 

For him to act suddenly as though he didn't know Tyree was a bit breathtaking.  

"Who do I need to represent to get five minutes?" Byndom asked. 

"You have to represent a specific, principal party," the Mayor responded, gravely. 

"As a former member of the Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence then,"  Tyree said.

"Three minutes," the Mayor smirked.  "That's our policy." 

Byndom pressed on, and the conversation turned testy.   "You know what -- I asked like ten students from the University of Missouri...." he said. 

"Five minute recess," the Mayor announced, banging the gavel and walking out.   A loud "Come Here!" followed, like McDavid ordering Byndom to follow him out, apparently for a scolding.   But it's unclear who said "Come Here!" or if that's exactly what was said, only that it added more drama and worsened the optics. 

I sympathize with both men:  the Mayor, presiding over another 5-hour meeting that crept into midnight; and Byndom, who felt disrespected and treated like a stranger.  

That said, it seemed reasonable Dr. McDavid would grant Mr. Byndom an extra two minutes, maybe even taking the opportunity to say, "Hey Dude -- I owe you for patiently sitting on a task force Councilman Mike Trapp chaired." 

Mr. Trapp is known for his ability to out-verbose the verbose

More importantly, this recurrent Mayoral wrath is a real underminer of free and open discussion.   I haven't addressed the City Council since 2008, so I've never experienced it personally

But I have watched it directed at many comers, including Council members Helen Anthony, Barbara Hoppe, Karl Skala, and Paul Sturtz; activist Ken Midkiff; Opus lawsuit plaintiff's attorney Jeremy Root; and other unsuspecting souls. 

Hizzoner's wrath wounds, even coming across as a kind of emotional abuse, especially in the context of a meeting of supposed peers. 

Byndom returned to the podium after the recess, thanking Council members for their service and expressing his love for Columbia.  He spoke about minority inclusion, social equity, and the Sharp End land theft from the black community. 

He also spoke, by my count, for almost six minutes -- from 1:51:03 to 1:57:02.    Guess the Mayor saw the light.   

-- Mike Martin