Written by Mike Martin
"Geniuses blighting entire towns," Rolla's "EEZealots" ignored residents to ram through bad plan
COLUMBIA, 5/6/12 (Beat Byte) -- "Yes Virginia, as unbelievable as it sounds, Elizabeth Bax and the Rolla EEZ board -- with the votes of our local politicians -- are about to declare the entire town of Rolla -- plus miles of the county around Rolla -- a 'blighted' area for industrial development!"
So began a two-month series in 2009 about public opposition to an EEZ/Blight Decree in Rolla, Missouri's alternative newspaper, No Standing News, with editor R.W. Nash describing local politicians as EEZealots, EEZ junkies, and "geniuses blighting entire towns."
With its own Mike Brooks -- Elizabeth Bax, then director of the Rolla Regional Economic Commission -- Rolla's politicians rammed the program past opposition using the same playbook Brooks and the business lobby he directs -- Columbia Regional Economic Development, Inc. (REDI) -- are using here.
As in Columbia, in Rolla EEZ proponents called the blight decree meaningless; fear of eminent domain abuse undue paranoia; and EEZ opponents job-killing kooks. But the citizens pressed on.
"What is it about 'NO' they didn’t understand the first two times we told them to take their EEZ and shove it?" Nash writes in the Sept. 7, 2009 series kick off that takes Rolla's Enhanced Enterprise Zone program to task -- and demolishes the myth that other communities have embraced EEZs.
"The EEZealots Strike Again"
From September to October 2009, Nash described a scenario in Rolla that mirrors Columbia -- right down to T-shirts opposing the EEZ.
"Advice to politicos: When they start having 'No EEZ' tee-shirts printed up, it’s a really bad sign," Nash noted, after counting only seven EEZ supporters among scores of protestors at a public hearing. "Unlike the dead silence that followed each statement by the pro-EEZ lobbyists, every speaker against the EEZ got applause from the audience."
From eminent domain fears to questionable tax abatements, Nash also wrote about the same issues troubling Columbia. "The purpose of an EEZ is to give away property taxes, utility rates and other goodies (that the rest of us have to pay for)," he notes.
"Is this Eminent Domain all over again?" he asks. "Don’t be dense -- of course it is. Bax may protest all she wants that 'eminent domain is not in the EEZ law' but that’s a bogus argument," Nash wrote.
Fool me once....
For Rolla's EEZ opponents, the political push to ram the program through was as dishonest as the rhetoric used to support it.
"Anyone who tries to claim the 'blight' label is meaningless or just a formality is either lying or too ignorant to take part in this discussion," Nash writes. Blight -- the dark heart of the EEZ and other Missouri redevelopment programs -- "is not just a 'misperception' as Rolla EEZ board member Ted Day tried to claim," Nash writes. "It is not just a little 'stigma' that we need to 'get past' so we can 'go forward' as [Rolla EEZ board member] John Butz said."
Rolla's EEZ supporters even used anonymous sources to back up specious claims -- just like Columbia's EEZ supporters!
Quoting "unnamed" legal counsel, Elizabeth Bax "protested that 'in her opinion' there will be no erosion of property values when entire towns are declared blighted. She claimed the 'blight' designation was only an itty bitty constitutional technicality to facilitate giving away our property taxes."
"Bax said she also consulted unnamed legal counsel 'who confirmed her understanding that a blight finding is not related to eminent domain," Nash writes. "Will her (unnamed) legal counsel please stand up at the EEZ hearing?"
Nitwits and Henwits
Most notably, Nash used two clues in the EEZ law as "tip offs" of eminent domain to come:
1. The required designation of blight.
2. Missouri Revised Statute 135.960.1, Section 6, which states that all such EEZ's have "a specific plan to provide assistance to any person or business dislocated as a result of activities within the enhanced enterprise zone."
"Since 2005 the 'blight' label may be very necessary if they’re trying to grab land for so-called economic development and get it on the cheap," Nash writes. "An official finding of 'blight' at the least makes it easier to kick someone off their property for an economic development excuse, no matter how flimsy."
"You have to be a henwit not to get the picture," he concluded.
The EEZealots Strike in Rolla, Parts 1-4