Money "going down a rat hole"COLUMBIA, Mo 7/9/14 (Op Ed) -- Word that Boone County Commissioners must authorize another $100,000 to defend against Ryan Ferguson's $100 million, 9-count, 50 page lawsuit is one of several reasons my family and I will be voting NO on county government's fairgrounds and recreation tax August 5.
To date, Boone County will spend $200,000 of taxpayer money defending against Ferguson's claims that could be spent on the fairground and recreation wish list identified in the tax proposal.
And the litigation has only just begun.
Filed in March, Ferguson's suit names the Boone County prosecution team that sent him to prison for 10 years over a murder charge a Missouri appellate court overturned last year. The team included then prosecutor Kevin Crane, now a county Judge; and two of Crane's investigators, William Haws and Ben White.
The suit charges Crane with malicious defamation. More seriously, it alleges White and Haws destroyed or suppressed evidence that could have exonerated Ferguson; intentionally failed to investigate other leads and suspects; conspired to deprive Ferguson of his Constitutional rights; and failed to intervene to prevent such conduct.
"For their fine job -- LOL -- they are now going to cost the taxpayers out the yazoo!!" opines a comment on the Columbia Daily Tribune.
Boone County's culpability will ultimately -- after many hundreds of thousands more taxpayer dollars -- rest in the hands of a jury. But for voters this August, the Ferguson saga represents a long-running lack of accountability in both county and City of Columbia governance.
This publication has reported many times about the Boone County Assessor's enormous developer property tax breaks; lack of transparency at Boone County budget hearings; and most recently, $47 million in surplus county funds that represent a 200% increase since 2005.
How many voters and taxpayers can boast of a 200% increase in their own piggy banks?
The fairgrounds tax itself is based on a hope that has never materialized. Though Boone County has owned the fairgrounds since 1999, Presiding Commissioner Dan Atwill promises the tax will "keep it viable and insure it is a place all County residents are proud of."
But it's not viable, 15 years after its controversial purchase led to the poliitical downfall of then Presiding Commissioner Don Stamper -- the same Don Stamper who now runs the Central Missouri Development Council, the local development community's condescending political lobby.
After leading the charge to buy the fairgrounds -- rechristened the Central Missouri Event Center -- Stamper, a three-term incumbent Democrat, lost his Commission seat to Republican Keith Schnarre. The campaign was a battle based largely on the County's $2.6 million fairgrounds purchase from a heavily-indebted non-profit, the Boone County Agricultural and Mechanical Society.
The purchase threw Boone County priorities into a tailspin from which they have never completely recovered. Comments on the Columbia Daily Tribune reflect the angst over yet another tax for a failing local government project.
"Pumping money into the fairgrounds vs. giving it to lawyers?" another Trib commenter opines. "Not much difference. It's all just going down a rat hole."
-- Mike Martin