Decoy agreement designed to "thwart" citizens, attorney says

COLUMBIA, Mo 5/30/14 (Beat Byte) -- City clerk Sheela Amin has validated a citizen petition to repeal Columbia City Council approval of a six-story downtown apartment.  

And the group behind the 4,000 signature effort is fighting mad about Council action they say was meant to "thwart the voice of the citizens":  passage of a decoy agreement with the apartment's developer, Minneapolis-based Opus Group.   Their attorney sent a powerfully-worded letter Wednesday to the five Council members who passed the decoy. 

Also on Wednesday, a member of Columbia's Downtown Leadership Council (DLC) publicly called on the city manager to apologize for falsely claiming an "infrastructure crisis" could halt development for years.   

Finally this week, Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas announced he had "no valid reasons" to vote against the decoy Opus agreement, which Council members approved 5-1 this month.   Elected on a "smart growth," pro-planning platform, Thomas rejected the original agreement but supported the decoy, in what many are calling "The Flip-Flop of 2014." 

Those four announcements are the latest in the Opus upheaval saga, which kicked off after the original agreement passed in March.   

City manager apology

At a Wednesday meeting, longtime DLC member Brian Treece called on city manager Mike Matthes to "apologize" for the many times he and subordinate city administrators publicly told groups, forums, commissions, boards, and newspaper reporters that because Columbia's infrastructure was "100% utilized," no new development could occur downtown, possibly for many years.  

Mixed messages and incomplete information have frustrated Treece and fellow DLC members, after City Council members requested the group find solutions to the infrastructure imbroglio -- while they continue approving large, infrastructure-heavy development projects.   

Decoy agreement

Chief among those projects is the Opus Group's student apartment, which became the target of the referendum petition Amin validated.  City Council members approved the apartment in March with a Council agreement numbered 62-14.  

Riding a wave of City Hall whoppers, newly-elected First Ward City Council member Ginny Chadwick crafted the decoy agreement, which hardly differs from the original with one exception:  a new number, 130-14.  

"The 31 line items in the new agreement are identical to the 31 line items in the old agreement," Repeal 6214 spokesperson and attorney Jeremy Root said at a press conference last week.   The Heart Beat has also read the two agreements -- linked above -- and can find few substantial differences

Passing the decoy, Council members dodged the referendum petition aimed at the original agreement.    City attorney Nancy Thompson even added a so-called "poison pill" provision in the decoy agreement to assure the petitioners would not seek a second referendum. 

Democracy denied

"You voted to thwart the voice of citizens by enacting a second ordinance to repeal the first," says a May 28 letter from Repeal 6214 attorney Josh Oxenhandler to the five Council members, including Mayor Bob McDavid.  "City Council has no authority to do such an act," the letter explains.   "This action and resulting ordinance are in circumvention of Columbia's Charter and in violation of the Missouri Constitution, the U.S. Constitution and federal law."

Oxenhandler is a partner in the Columbia firm Holder, Susan, Slusher, and Oxenhandler, and the son of Gary Oxenhandler, Presiding Judge of the 13th Circuit Court and member of the Missouri Supreme Court civic education committee. 

"We elected you to represent us," Josh Oxenhandler told Mayor McDavid, and Council members Trapp, Chadwick, Nauser, and Thomas.   "Instead, you chose to repeatedly and determinedly violate the most precious principles upon which we rely:  freedom of speech and due process.  If the citizenry does not have these protections, then we are no longer a democracy." 

Council members expressed an unjustified concern about a lawsuit from Opus should they disapprove the apartments.  Several clauses in both the original agreement and the decoy protect City Hall from any litigation.  But now, the city may face a justified concern from its own citizens. 

"We respectfully put you on notice that the petitioners intend to vigorously assert and protect these legal rights," Oxenhandler concluded.  "We will not let this issue fall victim to intimidation and condescension by the Council."  


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