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City Journalist: The Top Ten things city hall does best

City Journalist: The Top Ten things city hall does best

Crime, Lemone extension, the smoking ban.  Not a day goes by without more feather-ruffling news from the soon-to-be-enlarged Daniel Boone Building.
The Columbia Daily Tribune’s online news board boasts a dozen topics bashing city government.
Even Mayor Hindman last week received Eagle FM radio talk show host Gary Nolan’s “Hamburger of the Week” Award.  “Empty calories and no substance,” griped Nolan’s voting listeners.
How strange that a community served by not one but two glossy magazines on a perennial quest for Columbia’s best, seems to be all but ignoring:

The Top Ten Things City Hall Does Best

10. Watkins’s Wild Ties 
Guaranteed to put nervous constituents at ease, City Manager Bill Watkins’s whimsical neckties are those instant icebreakers powerful leaders only wish they could wear with such style and panache.  A few months ago, I was crossing the MU campus when I saw Mr. Watkins walking my way.  What to say, what to say?  “Nice weather?”  “How’s the Nifong Sewer Extension progressing?”  “How about those Tigers?” were possibilities that ran through my head.  Imagine my relief when I saw Bugs, Daffy and Yosemite Sam peering from the collar of his suit.  Thanks to the Warner Bros. cartoon family, we started with a “What’s up, Doc,” and ended with a thoughtful conversation about the need for civility in public discourse.

9. Protective Inspection
I beg to disagree with those boys selling firewood who implied that city building inspectors set themselves up as “gods” in a recent Columbia Tribune article.  The folks at protective inspection are polite and helpful.  Inspector Steve Redmon – also a talented actor at Columbia Entertainment Company – once educated me on flood plain construction.  John Rogers and Brenda Canaday are patient, careful and reasonable when they inspect my rental properties. 

8. Parks and Trails
The upsets of the year!  Parks and trails come in well behind trash removal and mulch recycling!

7. Timothy Teddy
Googling “Tim Teddy” shortly after the Planning and Zoning director’s arrival from a community near Chicago, I learned about a program named for a different Mr. Teddy in Sudbury, Ontario.  Tim Horton’s, the famous Canadian donut chain, had donated 300 “Tim Teddys” to local paramedics for youngsters facing emergencies.  Good omen.  A consummate professional and genuinely nice guy, our Tim Teddy may be City Hall’s best get yet.   To all those other cities scouting new talent, hands off our Teddy, please! 

6. Coffee House Office Hours
With no pay and no offices, third and fourth ward city council members Karl Skala and Jerry Wade took the Hall by the Horns when they formally established informal “office hours” every Saturday preceding a Monday city council meeting.  Combining grassroots gumption with a java jolt, Wade meets with constituents at the Rendezvous coffeehouse on West Broadway while Skala holds court at The Coffee Ground due east.

5. Solid Waste Disposal
In a nation of finicky trash collectors, Columbia’s crews are – pardon the phrase – a breath of fresh air. Valiantly hauling mountains of refuse many cities would no doubt refuse, these guys stand down “student departure” week, the annual rite of garbage that finds men and machines clearing a couch and mattress jungle, returning our streets and sidewalks to the civilized world. 

4. The Mulch Repositories
A win-win for the environment and the community, solid waste gems like Capen Park save yard waste depositors hundreds of dollars in disposal fees while generating green-friendly mulch in return.

3. The Neighborhood Response Team
Formed in 1999 to “address neighborhood concerns in the central city,” this unique community-policing agency follows the so-called “Broken Windows” philosophy: fixing dilapidated property will reduce crime. Instrumental in reducing illegal drug activity, trash, abandoned vehicles and rundown housing, this four-department coalition has since expanded to Whitegate and Indian Hills.

2. The Columbia Fire Department and Fire Marshal 
Providing a top-ranked service in virtually every city, these men and women do the most consistently dangerous job in town with calm and finesse.

And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for: The No. 1 Thing City Hall Does Best (drum roll, please). 

1. The Columbia Police Department
Compared to the many cities in which I’ve lived – Las Vegas and Reno, Nev.; Spokane, Seattle and Tacoma, Wash.; Bethesda and Germantown, Md.; Alexandria, Va.; and Washington, D.C. – Columbia’s men and women in blue are fast, fair, effective and engaged.  
Facing criticism over crime and charges of racial profiling, they seem beleaguered.  But that’s partly because, despite all the other great things they do, our city leaders haven’t been proactive about reducing crime for years.  
And we the people don’t entirely understand the challenges police officers face.  
Police work isn’t just a budgetary or manpower issue.  It’s a 100-percent commitment that can turn 100 percent tragic in an unannounced instant. 
“It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man,” Clint Eastwood’s Will Munny says in Unforgiven. “Take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.” 
Molly Bowden lost everything she had and everything she was ever gonna have defending this city.  It behooves us all to remember that by making the No. 1 thing city hall does best our perennial No. 1 priority.   

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