COLUMBIA, Mo 9/4/14 (Beat Byte) --
A few years ago, then-Columbia city manager Bill Watkins
recommended City Council members cut a city-funded recreation program at Paquin Towers
-- a public housing residence for people with disabilities -- to "balance" the budget. "About 20 people, half of them in wheelchairs, stationed themselves outside the Daniel Boone Building to protest the proposed elimination," the Columbia Daily Tribune reported
The City Council's so-called "reserve account" -- a piddly piggy bank and the only City Hall money Council members feel free to control -- was on the chopping block a couple years later
. Along with a list of teeny-tiny budget items
that mostly help John and Jane Q. Public and our volunteer representatives, the Council Reserve Account would lose $75,000, leaving only $25,000
. The Council's food budget would be chopped $11,500, leaving $3,500
. The Citizens Police Review Board would lose $18,600
, leaving $4,600; and so forth.
City manager Mike Matthes wanted to cut CAT TV
-- the city's public access television station -- last year. And he's after the beleaguered group again this year, prompting a Council scramble to save the progressive fave.
But this year's show stopper is black trash bag elimination, which has stolen the spotlight
-- as Mr. Matthes and his ol' boy developer bosses surely hoped it would -- over an unsupported idea that trash hauling will run in the red in 2015. As residents protest black bag banishment
, it becomes another distraction from the real inequities in the city's $430 million annual budget.B
usy fighting over relatively small but emotionally-charged line items
, the public takes its eyes off crony capitalists and their minions at City Hall as they tether down the big stuff, like hefty electricity and sewer rate hikes for homeowners but small if any rate hikes for big business.
The media chases the diversions with blaring headlines and breathless broadcasts, ignoring the budgetary shenanigans
that have finally caught up with a corrupt status quo
decades in the making.
Citizens are in full revolt over Columbia's decrepit infrastructure, and they're about to get more bad news
. Turns out city administrators have violated the City Charter again, this time by failing to establish and maintain a so-called Depreciation Fund
with millions of dollars especially set aside to replace aging -- i.e. depreciated -- infrastructure!
Instead, for years the city manager's office has stashed the money -- some $85 million so far -- in so-called "Unrestricted Funds" that can be used for anything, like buying the old Ameren site
for a park to service all those student apartments, or developing "shovel ready" land north of town
The City Council-appointed Downtown Leadership Council discovered the missing Depreciation Fund -- a gem of petty corruption
-- by reading the Charter, where Section 102 mandates it; studying the city's financial reports; and questioning Matthes and Water/Light director Tad Johnsen
Their responses -- included in a July report to the Council
from the DLC's Infrastructure Committee -- remind of Bill Clinton's, "It depends on what the definition of 'is' is,"
over the Monica Lewinsky
But with trash bags and CAT TV in the headlines, the public is likely to yawn over this grievous misappropriation of public money -- or at least, so must Mr. Matthes and his crony bosses be hoping.