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The City Council Bouncy House

The City Council Bouncy House

It’s on page 63 in my copy of the Columbia City Charter under “Recall Petition.” Gather valid signatures from at least 30 percent of the voters in the last election, and you have the opportunity to fire the person who won.

Faced with that reality, 1st Ward City Councilwoman Ginny Chadwick resigned rather than try to save one of the shortest tenures on Columbia’s most august deliberative body. Other recent recall efforts have failed, but it was the successful 1990 ouster of 5th Ward Councilman Chester Edwards that’s as far back as I can remember. Chadwick was a novice, well intentioned, perhaps, but naive nonetheless. Recall elections should be about egregious, dishonest performance, which more than 30 percent of those who bothered to vote in her ward believed to be the case.

Step right up to the Columbia City Council bouncy house and shooting gallery in a city increasingly fraught with anger, division and contentiousness. Today’s City Council is a far cry from the old boys’ clubs of the past where men dressed in suits who were mostly careered in academe, business and the bar spent every other Monday evening discussing budgets, planning, zoning and infrastructure issues.

Nonpartisan as stipulated in the 1949 Charter, council members would be considered conservative by today’s measure. Occasional eruptions brought forth bold headlines when liquor-by-the drink, leash laws, cable television, urban renewal, the Elkhurst Regional Airport and daylight time were making runs toward the finish line. Don Allard became city manager in 1962, and with the rising importance of Public Works Director Ray Beck, Columbia, amidst rapid growth, seemed well managed and in good hands.

Governance took on a different tenor after April 6, 1971, when Betty Anne McCaskill (1928-2012) became the first female councilperson; she represented Ward 3. At the same time, University of Missouri anthropology professor Houston Clyde Wilson Jr. (1926-2010) began the first of his four council terms representing the 4th Ward. He went on to serve one two-year term as mayor. Their political tendencies were less concealed and certifiably liberal, and controversy quickly enveloped the city manager. Don Allard was fired in 1973, replaced by more academically inclined Terry Novak, who exponentially ramped up the number of advisory boards and commissions, many of them ready to initiate controversy at the slightest whim, planting the seeds of more controversy and contentiousness since then.

In Chadwick’s case, she angered a number of activist constituencies, and what she promised but didn’t deliver on throttled them into recalling her. This comes amidst a curious echo from the late Clyde Wilson that finds his wife, Betty, engaged as a plaintiff in the ruckus over the OPUS project.

The caveat is to be mindful of the unintended consequences that may result from what you are seeking: a heretofore silent constituency of more conservatively inclined people has been collecting contributions, ready to engage consultants, pollsters and other professionals who will definitely participate in future elections.

Here’s the recall math for the April 2013 municipal election. In the 5th Ward, a total of 4,894 votes were cast. Ian Thomas beat incumbent Daryl Dudley with 48 percent of the vote. Not a landslide for Thomas, his workers got out the vote in the closer-in older neighborhoods, while newer, more conservative trending outback areas stayed home. Thomas is not unpopular enough to provoke a recall effort to gather the required 1,468 recall petition signatures.

Third Ward Councilman Skala, on the other hand, is more vulnerable, having beaten his opponent by only 154 votes out of 1838, 30 percent of which is 551. That’s a more manageable number if anyone is game to recall this counselor who, like Thomas, won because close-in supporters came out in droves, while less engaged, probably more conservative outlanders didn’t bother to vote.

No one is advocating any more recall efforts, but here’s a tool that’s always available if enough of us ever get riled up about a councilperson and what they are doing.

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