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Speaking Out: Landmark case illustrates need for council expansion, pay

Speaking Out: Landmark case illustrates need for council expansion, pay

I recently met with City Manager Bill Watkins. Our visit took place over dinner the day following a Columbia City Council meeting that went until 1:30 a.m. The major topic of discussion was the proposed Landmark Hospital on old Highway 63, which would provide long-term acute care and had the support of, among others, the University of Missouri Hospitals and Clinics and Boone Hospital Center.

Looking back on the Landmark Hospital discussion and the City Council’s vote approving the project, what value was there in stringing the folks from Country Club Estates and the Benton-Stephens neighborhood along? The most important aspect of this discussion already had taken place—efforts to make sure that the facility was “de-institutionalized” and that understandings regarding patient transport and lighting were being addressed. This proposal was good for the community and, quite frankly, should have gotten a unanimous vote. Old 63 north of Broadway has merit for additional medicine-related office space and facilities.

This council, with its emphasis on infill, should do something it won’t want to talk about: encourage high-end residential housing for doctors, nurses and technicians so that they can walk to either Boone or Landmark, as well as Stephen’s Lake and the golf course. This is an opportunity to increase property values and increase financial support in the neighborhood. An increase in property values will assist the people living in the neighborhoods and give them greater opportunity to re-invest in their housing.

The whole deal with Landmark looked disingenuous to all parties. Due to federal legislation, Landmark is on a tight fuse. That means the rest of the community is also on a tight fuse with regard to getting this type of health care. The citizens in the area were strung along for a decision, when everybody knew what the outcome would be. And I love the Alfred Street traffic study. Three cars an hour right now, a projected nine cars an hour after the hospital is built. Oh my, looks like a newspaper headline: “Threefold increase in traffic.” Leadership would not have strung the neighbors along. Leadership would not have allowed a hospital, of all things, to be held on a string.

Speaking of council meetings, Karl Skala implied that he had to “vote with his ward.” I agree with Karl. He was elected by the people of the ward. He’s supposed to represent their interests. That is why I continue to believe that we need to expand our city council by two new slots, both of which should be “at large.”

The only councilman for the entire City of Columbia, contrary to what the council may say, is the mayor. He’s the only one elected at large. He’s the only one who does not have a ward specifically to re-reflect on or rely on for votes. He relies on the entire city to re-elect him based on his positions. Having two additional council members who are elected city wide will give an even greater voice to the individual wards. It allows a greater ability for the individual ward council members to advocate and then make decisions based upon either their own wards or the city as a whole.

Payment for council members is also overdue. While I appreciate the spirit of volunteerism among those serving on the council, doing the job right requires sacrifice of one’s 9-5 job. Few people who are self-employed or operating their own businesses can afford such a time loss without additional funds to replace their lost efforts. Unlike some of the other pundits, I want a greater demographic spread in our council. I think we should be talking about paying council in the range of $25,000 a year. This way, if a candidate has to hire someone to mind his or her business, solicit customers or hire additional help to fill the gaps, the council member can make it happen while serving.

Speaking of our mayor, his theory of economic development got an interesting demonstration earlier this week. At an interview for a high-level candidate in the University of Missouri’s administration, the candidate was asked “What do you like about Columbia?” the response, almost immediate, was “the trails.” The mayor advocates that economic development will be enhanced if we provide amenities to attract those educated and higher-income individuals interested in the sciences. His position, although not necessarily embraced, connects directly with the economic development programs currently being expounded by the chamber, REDI, the county and our State Department of Economic Development.

The major lynchpin in the economic-development strategy is maintaining high quality, advanced and excellence-based public education. I keep waiting for the Columbia Board of Education to understand the economic-development position of this city and county and to start discussing advanced programs again, increase their availability to our children and meet the economic-development objective. These include honors programs, EEE, individual guided education and efforts to attract and keep the best and brightest in our community and at our university.

If quality of life means trails and schools, it also means security. Although our City Council members have a hard time recognizing our crime problem, other parts of the state don’t. If they notice it, why don’t we? We have a crime problem. You can say all you want about changing lifestyles, but we don’t have enough cops. Cops are security. We need more security. The people causing the bulk of these problems are not our own. They are not going to participate in basketball and social events at the Armory.

While improving the climate for our own youth is important, security is too. We need more cops on the street.

David Shorr practices law at Lathrop & Gage in Jefferson City and Columbia. The views expressed in this column are Shorr’s and do not reflect the views of Lathrop & Gage. He can be reached at (573) 761-5005 or [email protected]

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