News briefs, notes, catch-up items, hot takes and other miscellany to wrap up the week
• The family of John W. Alspaugh, a former MU education professor, donated a 201-acre nature area off Mexico Gravel Road near Vandiver Drive for what will ultimately become a new city park. The city has earmarked $300,000 to develop nature trails on the property, which will serve as the trailhead for the northern section of the Hinkson Creek trail.
• The city is also planning a new $750,000 4.1-mile mountain biking trail at Cosmo Park. The Frank W. Morris Memorial Trust is contributing $300,000 to the project and the COMO Trails Association secured a $250,000 grant from the Veterans United Foundation.
• Gabe Huffington was sworn in as Columbia’s parks and recreation director, replacing Mike Griggs who was promoted last year to deputy city manager. Huffington has served in several positions in parks and rec, including golf and sports supervisor, parks services manager and assistant director. He has been the interim director since April of 2022. Factoid: The city park system encompasses 3,554 acres, 77 parks, 12 indoor recreation facilities, two golf courses, eight aquatic facilities and 62.45 miles of trails.
• Both Boone County and the city of Columbia are planning to seek voter approval during the April 4 municipal election for a 3% sales tax on the sale of recreational marijuana. The sales tax is authorized by Amendment 3 to the Missouri constitution, which legalized adult use of marijuana and took effect last month after voters statewide approved it in November. Sales tax on medical-use marijuana would not be affected.
• The annual city-sponsored Columbia Values Diversity celebration revealed the contrary equally true after singing and dancing by three drag queens at the morning breakfast set off a firestorm among livid parents whose middle-schoolers were in the audience as part of a school field trip. Mayor Barbara Buffaloe took to social media to defend the “upbeat and energetic performance from the LGBTQIA+ group, Nclusion Plus.” Said the mayor: “Drag is a cross-cultural art form with a long and rich history that is fun and encourages self-expression. As hate crimes against drag show locations and performers are being committed in other communities, we want to reaffirm that Columbia is a community that supports everyone. We felt that it was important and appropriate to showcase members of our LGBTQIA+ community during a celebration about our diversity.” Parents eviscerated school district officials on Facebook for failure to disclose in advance content of the celebration before getting their consent for the field trip. State lawmakers fielded complaints, demanded answers and promised hearings. State Sen. Caleb Rowden said his office has been “inundated with calls and emails.” The governor expressed his concern. Others with a different take on the subject joined the fray on Facebook to wonder aloud if those offended would explain why, exactly, they object to students being entertained by singers and dancers dressed in drag.
• Business Loop 70 is unfriendly to pedestrians, nowhere worse than from where Exit 128 from I-70 merges from the left lane and west all the way to College Ave. near the city power plant and location of the soon-to-be-built $18 million homeless services center. Now comes the Downtown Leadership Council in cooperation with The Loop community improvement district asking the city to assume control of the thoroughfare from the state highway system so that proper infrastructure improvements can be made. Research by The Loop estimates needed improvements could cost double an earlier $14.7 million estimate. A letter from the leadership council asks city council to take over responsibility for work the state is showing no inclination to complete.
• State Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch (R-Hallsville) was appointed vice chair of the Missouri House Higher Education Committee. Toalson Reisch is the only Republican in Boone County’s five-member delegation to the state house of representatives.
• A week ago Wednesday, 28-year-old Jordan Pruyn was killed by Columbia police after a four-hour standoff at a residence off Clark Lane near Ballenger in northeast Columbia. Officers were called after reports of a man assaulting others. When police arrived, Pruyn threw a gun down and barricaded himself inside a mobile home. A little more than four hours later, he emerged from the home showing a knife and moved towards officers, who shot and killed him. Some members of the community appeared before city council this week with questions about mental health services that may have saved this victim. Council member Pat Fowler followed up with similar questions seeking “a conversation” that may prevent someone in the future who is having a mental health crisis from ending up dead from police gunfire. Her questions led to a curious exchange with city attorney Nancy Thompson, who suggested Fowler take her issues to administrative professionals in city government and informed her investigative records would be closed until the highway patrol completed their investigation. When Fowler asked how other cities are able to talk openly about such matters, Thompson responded: “I won’t be put under deposition regarding what all the other city councils in the country have done.” Thompson’s boss, City Manager De’Carlon Seewood, sat nearby, his silence speaking volumes to the level of arrogance and callousness the city stoops to the concerns of bothersome citizens, who are left to simmer.