Proof that listening to your constituents is a great idea in political life
COLUMBIA, 3/30/12  (Op-Ed) -- About 92 minutes into the March 19 Columbia City Council meeting captured on this video, Sixth Ward City Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe did something this writer can't recall seeing in 15 years of watching local politics.  
At the end of the meeting, when most of the public had left, Mrs. Hoppe proved that she had listened to her constituents and changed political course.   She asked city staff to prepare a report about the "possibility of doing a City Charter change so that we restrict the use of eminent domain for any Enhanced Enterprise Zone (EEZ).   Eminent domain is a big concern of the public."  
The change of course changed my mind about Mrs. Hoppe whom, I confess, had angered me when she voted with the rest of the Columbia City Council to blight 60% of the city to qualify for the EEZ.   I had intended to stay mum about her campaign, to bite my tongue, so to speak.  
But I watched her prove that she had listened to her constituents.  It was after she talked about Lee School PTA traffic concerns;  McNabb Street in East Campus; a portion of WW near Timberhill and Rustic Roads -- all the politically mundane but necessary issues with which Mrs. Hoppe has always concerned herself. 
Changing political course was something 4th Ward Councilman Daryl Dudley should have done when angry constituents sought to recall him during last year's Ward gerrymandering fiasco. 
Columbia School Board member Darin Preis should have changed course when his constituents loudly and repeatedly said they did not want a property tax increase in 2008.  Voters defeated that levy, and threw the tone-deaf Mr. Preis out of office.  
Current School Board member Jonathan Sessions did change course, but after Barbara Hoppe did it, when he stepped off the Enhanced Enterprise Zone (EEZ) board of directors over conflict of interest concerns.  For that, he should be congratulated, too. 
If I'm a good politician and an effective public leader, I'm taking to heart the many people who've spoken against the EEZ/Blight Decree.   I'm noticing that at Town Hall meetings, City Council hearings, and informal gatherings, virtually no one speaks in favor of the thing.   I'm remembering all those people who brung me to the dance.   
If I'm a statesman, I'm doing the hard thing -- going against the powerful special interests with the money to attack me and the vise grip to squeeze me if I don't play their game. 

The Blight Decree portion of the Feb. 6 ordinance enabling the EEZ has become a centerpiece of opposition to it, largely because under Missouri state law and Columbia's own history, blight opens the door to eminent domain abuse.   In what became a 6-minute discussion at the end of the March 19 meeting, Mrs. Hoppe asked city staff to report on "narrowing down the blighted area" -- a lot.   
She expressed the public's concerns about using 2000 census versus 2010 census data, and she wanted to "fine tune" potential business uses in the EEZ "according to each neighborhood's needs." 
When she encountered that patronizing tone I've heard used on female Council members many times before -- and hung in there -- I knew I was in safe territory giving Mrs. Hoppe the Columbia Statesman (or should it be Stateswoman) of the Year Award. 
"A lot of issues have been raised," she said.  "Do we need to give the EEZ board any more direction?"      
"I'm sure you could call 'em," Mayor Bob McDavid replied with his trademark smirk.  "If you have an opinion, you could call Mike Brooks."   (Mr. Brooks is the director of REDI, a business lobby supporting the EEZ). 
"I have already," Mrs. Hoppe said, with an uncomfortable laugh.  "I have an additional request besides the eminent domain issue," she persisted.   "Whether we need to rescind a portion of the ordinance that involves blight."   
City manager Mike Matthes and city attorney Fred Boeckmann said they'd be sure to look into it all, while Mayor McDavid shuffled impatiently and talked about how Mrs. Hoppe could do all this, but....  "The Council is voting on this," he said repeatedly.  "There will be a public hearing...."  
Mrs. Hoppe, he really wanted to say, don't waste our time.   Still, she persisted. 

"Since we're now having the public process that we should have had before, I want to add to what Mrs. Hoppe said," 5th Ward Councilwoman Helen Anthony spoke up.  "I want to make sure these public concerns are heard." 
City Hall March 19 meeting video (Conversation starts at 92 minutes)