Putting blame where it doesn't belong

COLUMBIA, Mo 12/18/13 (Op Ed) -- It's unfortunate Boone County Commissioner Karen Miller has suggested the public is too apathetic about Boone County's $65 million annual budget to attend hearings about it. 
It's equally unfortunate she took a shot at this publication on the KFRU Morning Meeting for complaining about the Commission holding public hearings during the workday, unlike the Columbia School Board and City Hall. 

Miller is playing the same blame game Columbia public works director John Glascock embraced, when at a meeting of 4th Ward constituents this month, he blamed so-called "easement holdouts" for years-long delays replacing an obsolete common collector sewer system around Thilly, Westmount, and Stewart Roads.

As public officials go, Miller and Glascock are among the community's most pampered and powerful.  They've been in office for decades -- Glascock as a well-paid non-elected city administrator, Miller as a well-paid elected Commissioner amidst single party (Democrat) rule at County Hall.   Their disinterest in true public engagement suggests both officials take their constituents for granted.  

Commissioner Miller kicked off her blame game in July, telling the Columbia Daily Tribune she "didn't have high hopes" for public interest at budget hearings, citing experience from her 21-years in office, and calling the lack of past public testimony "pretty sad."

The Tribune could have challenged Miller's claim with a reminder that whenever local officials truly want public interest, they hold dozens of dog and pony shows before Rotary Clubs, the Chamber of Commerce, and any other group with a pulse.  

After said dog and pony shows, the public was good enough to pass the courthouse/county office space expansion tax; the 911 tax ; the child mental health services tax; and attend three widely-advertised, well-promoted meetings about what to with the County's forlorn fairgounds

Madame Commissioner floated a similarly specious narrative after the first evening County budget hearing in as long as anyone can remember.      

County Commissioners have been notorious for holding budget hearings during the day, when constituents are at work.   In recent years, they've even held hearings into the holiday season.   "In 21 years, we've never really had" a large turnout for budget hearings, Madame Commissioner told a different Trib reporter.  

No wonder. 

On Wednesday's KFRU Morning Meeting, Miller complained to host Simon Rose about a "blogger who doesn't like it that we hold hearings during the day."  That was right after she bragged to Rose about her position as a "public servant who listens to everyone and anyone, even when they come up to me with complaints.  That's part of my duty.  That's why I enjoy holding County office so much." 

Just as speciously, John Glascock tried to weasel out of a consituent complaint by blaming neighbors rather than City Hall for holding up long-awaited Thilly/Westmount/Stewart Rd. area sewer renovations.  

Residents won't sell easements for the sewer work, Glascock said, repeating himself several times as he strutted before attendees at a 4th Ward neighborhood meeting this month.  "It's been tough getting people to sell easements," he said.  "People don't want to sell at what we're offering." 

An incredulous Dan Hemmelgarn asked the public works director for a list of easement holdouts, apparently wondering why a) anyone would be dumb enough to harm themselves with continued sewer problems; and b) why Mr. Glascock wouldn't just threaten eminent domain, something he had no problem doing with historic homeowners on Providence Rd

Even if easement holdouts do exist, why wait until now -- so many years after the project was funded and approved -- to bring it up?    

For all these pampered officials get -- from virtual lifetime employment to tax increase after tax increase -- they should be more mindful about pointing fingers at the public.   If there's a problem with public engagement, they merely need follow the "we want higher taxes" playbook and promote rather than denounce.     

-- Mike Martin for the Columbia Heart Beat