News briefs, notes, catch-up items, hot takes and other miscellany to wrap up the week
Compiled by Mike Murphy
New watchdog group calling out city council Calvinball
Part 1: The upstart Hold CoMo Accountable group of activists continues to call out the city’s outrageous, ill-advised and likely illegal decision to conduct the allocation process for millions of dollars in “ARPA” federal covid relief funds in secret, with only staff and a committee appointed by the mayor allowed to see the applications. City Counselor Nancy Thompson justifies the secrecy by likening the grant applications to a city-issued request for proposal, sealed bid process and therefore exempt from state open record laws. Mayor Barbara Buffaloe took a shot at explaining this RFP process to media earlier this week. Renee Carter of Hold CoMo Accountable utilized some public comment time and was spot on with this:
“Her statement misrepresents the basic understanding of an RFP process,” Carter said. “The city has not presented a fair process for collecting, analyzing and selecting ARPA related proposals. A real competitive bid process begins once specific projects have been selected and sent to the RFP process, which is a very specific and consistent period of time for all submitted requests.”
Part 2: Fourth-ward councilman Nick Foster can’t seem to wait to redeem his no vote that brought down the proposed FUSUS software purchase which would have linked public surveillance cameras to make them more readily accessible to law enforcement. Council agreed and passed a resolution at the time, three months ago now, that ordinances to protect citizens from abuses in the use of electronic surveillance be put in place prior to the surveillance being utilized, similar to many cities. Council is still waiting for those proposed ordinances from staff. Now Foster makes a motion to bring FUSUS forward again – with no such ordinances in place – but accompanied by a bunch of wording that references protection of First Amendment rights, etc. Here’s Sarah Johnson of Hold CoMo Accountable, also during the public comment period, with some practicality:
“If we are to adopt a system like FUSUS, appropriate policy written with community input needs to be in place first, as its own motion and ordinance,” Johnson said to council.
“Mr. Foster’s motion once again packages policy WITH FUSUS and is once again putting the cart before the horse, the entire problem in the first place.”
Starting pay up $650 at CPS
The starting pay for teachers in Columbia Public Schools will increase $650 next year to $40,900 annually. The increase came after negotiation between the district and the Columbia Missouri National Education Association, which represents teachers in collective bargaining with the district.
City gets $1.4 million federal grant to study road safety
The US Department of Transportation (USDOT) announced that the City of Columbia would receive $1.44 million in Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A) grants to fund planning studies related to improving road safety. The City of Columbia was one of 473 communities nationwide to receive a SS4A grant. These federal funds require a local match of 20% of the combined total, meaning the City will provide $360,000 for a total of $1.8 million.
2023 True/False Film fest in the books
Some numbers from the 2023 True/False Film fest last weekend, which was the 20th annual: 500 plus volunteers; 28,900 tickets sold; 33 feature films screened and 25 new short films selected from 1,200 submissions and hundreds more scouted from festivals around the world; Eight world premiers and seven North American premiers; 19 feature films from first-time feature directors. In 2020, just prior to the pandemic, the festival sold 46,600 tickets. The record was in 2017, with 52,400 tickets sold.
Gerding stepping away from Blue Note operations
Columbia native Matt Gerding, now a resident of Madison, WI, is stepping away from his role as co-president of the operating company that runs The Blue Note and Rose Music Hall, both in downtown Columbia. Gerding and his business partner of 16 years, Scott Leslie, will continue to own the buildings, which they bought from Richard King in 2014. They also own the historic Majestic Theatre in Madison.
City planning new park at old Ameren site
The city of Columbia continues to study creation of a park on the two acres it owns on Orr Street in the downtown area. The city obtained the property from Ameren in 2021. It has applied for a $1 million federal community revitalization grant to improve the property. The property is the former home of a gas manufacturing plant and had more than 30,000 tons of contaminated soil removed in 2014. The state DNR has since determined the property safe for non-residential use.
New juice for the third ward
A month after the city’s master sidewalk plan was approved for 2023, the city’s bicycle/pedestrian commission was asked to consider adding Ballenger Lane to the plan. The 10-member advisory commission agreed, with one dissenting vote objecting to the high cost of the project, which would require a considerable overhaul of Ballenger Lane, just improved in 2019. The new plan made its way to the full city council, where a public hearing was held Monday night (there were no comments.) The project, in the third ward, would include new turn lanes, bicycle lanes, curb and gutter, an eight-foot pedway on one side and a five-foot sidewalk on the other side for the entire length of Ballenger from Mexico Gravel Road to Clark Lane at a cost estimated at $8.23 million. It will be up for approval – to be placed in the master plan – at the city’s March 20 council meeting.
School district gets poor state report card
More bad news for Columbia Public Schools. Its score of 70% on an annual performance report from the state was worse than 81% of the 458 other K-12 school districts in Missouri. A drop below 70% next year would result in a downgrade to “provisional accreditation.” The district received 126 of 180 possible points on the ARP, which are report cards each school district receives from the state considering a wide range of data such as test scores, attendance rates and graduation follow-up surveys. The district performed worse that average in math, science and English language arts among the state’s K-12 districts. This is the first time in four years the districts received an overall score due to disruptions from the pandemic.
City to hold open house on planned Route K roundabout
The City of Columbia public works department has scheduled an informal open house meeting concerning the Route K and Old Plank Road roundabout project. This meeting will be held Thursday, March 16, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. in Conference Room 1A of City Hall, 701 E. Broadway.
The purpose of this meeting is to present the design concept for the construction of a roundabout at the intersection of West Route K and West Old Plank Road. This project will replace the existing intersection with a single lane roundabout with a diameter of 150 feet. The primary goal of the design is to improve safety at the intersection.
Permanent street easements and temporary construction easements are anticipated to be needed for the construction of the project. Construction is currently scheduled to start during the spring of 2025.
At the open house, information and diagrams showing the design concepts will be available for public review and city engineering staff will be present to answer questions. A public comment form will be available if you have any comments for the city to consider. More information on the proposed improvements can also be found online at the BeHeardCoMo page for the project at BeHeard.CoMo.gov/route-k-roundabout.
Good work Mike.
I wrote to Mayor Buffaloe on March 8, 2023, in an email entitled "I/We are watching and waiting for you to lead the city council!" I mused about the inconsistencies in her availability to respond to media inquiries regarding the information released by the Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) about CPD violating policy in the shooting death of Quillan E. Jacobs, by not turning on their bodycams. So far, the council is not responding with any urgency or timeliness to requests for information. At the March 6, 2023 council meeting, Mr. Seewood said the Boone County Prosecutor said he could release all information related to the case. Mr. Seewood provided no timeline for when the city would transcend its practice of opacity on the subject of a closed case. Additionally, the City council does not appear to have been advised or made aware of a federal civil rights suit against Chief Geoffrey Jones and several CPD officers by the Jackson family (Jackson vs. Jones, 2020). In other news of zero transparency, the city refuses to respond to inquiries asking why and under what section of the charter the ARPA proposals are closed; and what part of the charter authorizes the Mayor to appoint a committee without a vote of the council to decide, score, opine about how/who should get federal grant dollars meant to address inequities exposed by the pandemic?
CoMO Magazine appears to be the city's proxy media outlet for boosting the FUSUS surveillance software package; ahead of it appearing on a council agenda for a first read. Still, CPD has not provided data to support claims that the FUSUS software connection will prevent crime, while simultaneously being silent on why CPD officers are not turning on their bodycams at the scene of an officer-involved shooting.
Columbia Public Schools -- Curriculum Audit
I wanted to share that at Monday night's school board meeting they will discuss a curriculum audit. The results in many ways parallel the culture of City Hall. The major bombshell is that CPS does not have a fully written curriculum, nor assessments for curriculum planning, development, management, and delivery, to do the mission of public education which is "teaching". Further, "Auditors observed, in general, low cognitive demand in classrooms, and a higher prevalence of teacher-centered instruction" (CMSi, 2023, p. ix). Meaning the instruction observed by the auditing team was not predominately student-centered. See the summary of findings and the full report here: https://simbli.eboardsolutions.com/SB_Meetings/ViewMeeting.aspx?S=42&MID=12413
I think we agree on one thing: We have a lot of incompetency on the city council, school board, police board, and some staff including the city manager.
I did not help elect any of them. My votes went elsewhere.
One of these days this city will understand that prior competency in running an entity plus some common sense transcends political party or cause-du-jour. We've run off all the competent folks.
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