Current Issues

On this page, I provide information about current and emerging issues, and ask for your input through online surveys. The results of previous surveys are also available.

Poverty and Racism Series, Introduction

(posted November and December, 2017)

Addressing Poverty and Racism in Columbia

Over the next two months, I would like to engage as many of you as possible in a community dialogue on poverty and racism. This will take place through this newsletter, in your responses to me and our ongoing individual discussions, and during upcoming Constituent Conversations at Dunn Brothers Coffee.

According to recent census data, about one-quarter of all Columbia residents live below the federal poverty level ($24,600 annual income for a family of 4). Almost one-half of children attending Columbia Public Schools qualify for free or reduced lunch because they are food-insecure at home. And poverty is directly connected with numerous other social ailments such as low educational attainment, low earning potential, a lack of health insurance, poor physical and mental health, and feelings of hopelessness - in a self-reinforcing, multi-generational vicious cycle that undermines the fabric of our entire community. What can we do to break this cycle?

And, as terrible as poverty is, it’s much more prevalent for some groups than for others. Whereas about 10% of White Americans live in poverty, the proportion is close to 30% for African-Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos/Latinas. Here, in Columbia, White unemployment is 4% whereas Black unemployment is 12% - down from about 16% a couple of years ago. Why is “race” such a significant predictor of poverty and statistics on other social issues such as crime and punishment? And what is “race,” anyway? And how about “racism?” And “White privilege?”

These are some of the questions I’d like to discuss with you, and I hope to hear your ideas, opinions, and suggestions for addressing poverty and racism in Columbia. These are vitally important issues for local government, as we strive to create an environment that supports a high quality of life for everyone in this community. In recent years, I have become aware of deeply entrenched inequality in our society, and entered a steep learning curve about these issues and ways to correct them.

During the course of my next three newsletters, I plan to share my thoughts on poverty and racism, provide links to online resources that go much deeper, and ask for your feedback. Here is my proposed schedule:

  • Sunday, November 19: Part 1 - The Poverty Trap
  • Sunday, December 3: Part 2 - A Brief History of Race
  • Sunday, December 17: Part 3 - Beloved Community

I am not an expert in social science - just a concerned member of society who happens to have the privilege of serving on City Council for a while - and so your input is critical. With that in mind, I’d like to kick-off each of these discussions with your responses to an open-ended question. So, to get us started, please send me your thoughts on the following question before November 19:

What do you believe are the causes of poverty?

Poverty and Racism Series, Part 1: The Poverty Trap

As mentioned in my most recent newsletter, I am facilitating a series of conversations, this month and next, on the difficult topics of poverty and racism. This is the first part of that series.

The Causes of Poverty

About one-quarter of all Columbia residents live below the federal poverty level and almost one-half of children attending Columbia Public Schools qualify for free or reduced lunch. Two weeks ago, I kicked off the conversations by asking you the following question:

What do you believe are the causes of poverty?

Thanks very much to those of you who responded - here's a selection of your unedited comments:

  • "poverty is caused/defined by lack of access to resources"
  • "lack of education and work skills"
  • "minimum wage is too low to anyone except a teenager interested pocket change"
  • "people who have children when they cannot afford to take care of themselves even"
  • "Most can be helped if they stop asking for a handout and start asking for work"
  • "My dad found a job that paid $2000 a year. He drove a high risk steel truck in the mountains. He had a second grade education and mom has a 3rd grade education. This is poverty."
  • "I have come to believe that the sole source of poverty is hopelessness."
  • "People who are poor are also subjected to psychological trauma, shame, and fear"
  • "Many of the following are interrelated:
    • Not finishing high school
    • Inadequate education
    • Lack of marketable skills
    • No role model or guidance
    • Lack of goals
    • Low wages
    • Poor transportation
    • Pregnancy before completing school
    • Inadequate housing
    • Inadequate health care
    • Racism
    • Unfair justice system
    • Limited work opportunities"

"The crime is real, the drugs is real, everything is wrong"

Before I offer my thoughts, I would like to give someone who lives in poverty the opportunity to speak. Angela Whitman, a resident of Quail Drive, Columbia, attended the September 18, 2017 City Council meeting and waited patiently until after midnight for the opportunity to address us during "Open Comments" at the end of the meeting. Please spend the next few minutes listening to what she had to say:

Angela lives in "one of the worst neighborhoods in Columbia, Missouri" where "the crime is real, the drugs is real, everything is wrong." She worked for Columbia Public Schools in the 1990s and raised her children in Columbia; she went away to Ferguson and, when she came back, she found that the only place she could afford to live was "in that poor community," with inadequate street lighting, an absence of sidewalks and parks, and nothing for the children to do. Angela went on to say, "We don’t have to have a lot of crime - if those kids had something to do, we’d be better off," but "Somebody forgot about us."

I will return to the causes of poverty, shortly. But, first, I want to focus on Angela's suggestions/requests for changes that will improve the situation in her neighborhood - things like street lighting, sidewalks, parks, and something for the kids to do! I am pleased to report that the Department of Utilities immediately went out to Quail Drive and replaced the street lights with brighter LED bulbs, improving safety for Angela and her neighbors. And, as part of a "social equity" focus in our new Strategic Plan (adopted in 2015), we identified three neighborhoods of poverty and made adjustments to our budget priorities to improve City services and projects in those areas.

While these are still early days, the strategic focus on these neighborhoods seems to be working. Since early 2016, the Columbia Police Department has implemented a community-oriented policing pilot program in the three neighborhoods, meaning that specially-trained patrol officers have been given the time and resources to get to know and build trust with residents, business-owners, community leaders, and school-kids. In the first year of the program, the officers recorded about 6,000 positive interactions in the three neighborhoods and saw some remarkable declines in crime (shots fired down 38%, robbery down 53%, aggravated assault down 50%, and many others).

Other strategic neighborhood activities include community barbecues, installation of basketball hoops, and prioritization of infrastructure improvements such as sidewalks and parks in these areas. And the community engagement process that was used to identify these projects, has created opportunities for neighborhood leaders to be heard - these include Angela Whitman, who has been an energetic participant in the process even though Quail Drive lies outside these neighborhoods.

A Focus on Social Equity

My purpose in discussing the Strategic Plan is not to give the City a "pat on the back," but to encourage more of a focus on social equity as a strategy for addressing poverty. We seem to have a system in which poor families become concentrated in specific areas with few resources, and it is not surprising that this system leads to a reinforcing cycle of crime, hopelessness, and more poverty. We need to break this cycle and one strategy is to improve public services and infrastructure, exactly as Angela requested.

This still leaves the question about the causes of poverty unanswered - and in some ways, it may be unanswerable. Referring back to your comments at the start of this newsletter, just about everyone agrees that these social ailments - poverty, low educational attainment, low earning potential, a lack of health insurance, poor physical and mental health, feelings of hopelessness, criminal behavior, arrest and incarceration, exclusion from social services, more poverty - form numerous, intersecting and self-reinforcing vicious cycles. Once you slip into "the poverty trap," it's extremely hard to get out!

The fact that these vicious cycles trap people in poverty may give us a clue about the causes of poverty. We have a socio-economic system that reinforces success - those of us with the privilege of being born into economic security and receiving a quality education then go into well-paid careers, have good health care, live in more expensive neighborhoods, develop social networks with other well-off individuals, adopt similar political persuasions, and support public policies that reward success. At the same time, an opposite reinforcing spiral punishes failure - over and over again.

Maybe this is what Nelson Mandela meant when he said "Poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the action of human beings."

"Poverty is not natural"

I tend to agree with Mr. Mandela.

The idea that poverty is natural and cannot be eradicated stems from a belief that certain individuals possess innate flaws that make it impossible for them to contribute positively to society. However, the vast majority of poor people are decent, hard-working, compassionate individuals with qualities and talents that could benefit us all. They endure unfortunate circumstances that are usually beyond their control, they don't have access to economic resources many of us take for granted, and they are doing the best they possibly can.

For example, people with physical or mental disabilities and the family members who care for them make up a large proportion of those living in poverty. And, among those who are able-bodied and working age, more than 50% have worked within the last year and more than 25% are working full-time, according to the Center for Poverty Research. The problem is not that people will not work - it's that they cannot work, they cannot find work, or they cannot find work that pays enough to get them out of poverty.

Poverty is like a vortex or whirlpool that tends to suck people down, making it almost impossible to escape. Millions of Americans are living on the edge of poverty so that one unfortunate event - someone loses their job, suffers an illness or injury without having health insurance, becomes a victim of crime - is all it takes to cause them to slip into that vicious cycle. The friends and family of poor people are other poor people, and so the economic gap widens.

I believe poverty is man-made in the sense that our public policies, social networks, and cultural beliefs have created this vicious cycle, and tend to reinforce it. Schools in poor communities are poorly funded because taxes are lower, so those children are less well educated; when poor families suffer an economic hardship, there's no-one in their social group who can help them out, as there is for a well-off family; myths about "Welfare Queens" and "the lazy poor" tend to harden public opinion against efforts to address the problem.

Poverty is a structural problem, and we can solve it by changing some of these structural components of our society.

Changing the Structure

The United States is consistently among the most generous nations in the world. In 2014, individual Americans donated about $250 billion to charities, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics.

But, while charities work tremendously hard to relieve the suffering of poverty, many of their actions amount to giving hand-outs that help people get through another day or another year, but do nothing to change the structures that generate and perpetuate poverty. In order to dismantle these structures and create an economic environment in which everyone can thrive, I believe we need systemic change, and that will require a national conversation and a deeper understanding of the ways public policy and social culture impact society.

This has been a long newsletter, so I will wrap up with a list of possible strategies and links to further resources:

Head Start: According to Darin Preis, Executive Director of Central Missouri Community Action, this federally-funded early childhood education program is starting to demonstrate success in breaking the cycle of generational poverty.

Health Care for All: Every developed country in the world, except the United States, provides universal health care coverage to all of its citizens through some form of taxpayer-funded national insurance program. Not only do these systems fight poverty by ensuring everyone receives prevention and treatment services, but they also produce better outcomes and cost less!

Mixed-Income Housing: Residential zoning policy has divided the rich from the poor, and this division works relentlessly to concentrate poverty in certain neighborhoods. However, research shows that, when poor kids move to middle-class neighborhoods, they perform better in school and have better economic outcomes.

Universal Basic Income: An experiment in the strategy of providing a living stipend to every citizen suggests it will increase entrepreneurship. Mark Zuckerberg agrees.

In conclusion, I feel that there is no single cause of poverty. Instead, it emerges from a complex system that allows both success and failure, but then rewards success and punishes failure. What are your thoughts?

Next time, we will talk about race and racism. To get us started, please send me your responses to the following question:

What do you understand by “diversity,” “inclusion,” and “equity?”

Poverty and Racism Series, Part 2: A Brief History of Race

This is the second in a three-part conversation about poverty and racism.

In my November 19 newsletter, I presented your thoughts about the causes of poverty, and responded by discussing some of my own. Poverty and other mutually-reinforcing social ailments appear to emerge from a complex social, economic, and cultural system that allows both success and failure, but then rewards success and punishes failure ... severely. Based on my individual exchanges with many of you over the last two weeks, it seems we all tend to agree with this general conclusion.

Today, I want to dig deeper into poverty statistics, and you don't have to dig very far to notice that poverty and other negative social outcomes are much more prevalent for some groups than for others. Whereas about 10% of White Americans live in poverty, the proportion is close to 30% for African-Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos/Latinas. Here, in Columbia, White unemployment is 4% whereas Black unemployment is 12% - down from about 16% a couple of years ago, and it was this statistic that drove the development of the City of Columbia's 2016-19 Strategic Plan.

The City has responded to these alarming racial disparities (as have many other institutions, organizations and communities) by focusing on "diversity," "inclusion," and "equity." These are critical concepts in any discussion of poverty and racism, and I'm very grateful to dozens of you for sending me your definitions and personal understanding of each of these terms. A little later in this newsletter, I will present a selection of your remarks and discuss diversity, inclusion, and equity in more depth.

But I want to start by asking "Why is “race” such a significant predictor of poverty in the US?" and, before that, "What is “race,” anyway?"

What is Race?

In 2014 while visiting Pittsburgh for a conference, I spent a couple of spare hours in a museum. While I cannot remember the name of the museum, I recall vividly an exhibit about "Race" that shattered a lot of assumptions I had lived with all my life.

Growing up in England, all of my relatives and most of my friends were White, Anglo-Saxon. At high school and college, I met Indians, Pakistanis, and Chinese, whose families had moved to Britain within the previous generation or two. I was aware of "West Indians" from the Caribbean islands, but did not really know any members of this group, personally - I also remember noticing that these immigrants tended to perform more menial, poorly-paid jobs and be less well represented in further education than Asians.

Without ever giving the matter a lot of thought, I held on to the vague notion that "race" was a scientific system for classifying different groups of human beings that had evolved in different parts of the world. When I moved to the United States, I encountered Hispanics, African Americans, and Native Americans and saw a similar hierarchical system with people of different races occupying different stations in life. I assumed that these disparate outcomes had something to do with biology or genetics, and that each group of people naturally gravitated to its own social and economic status, with a few notable exceptions.

That afternoon in the Pittsburgh museum, I learned how wrong I was! The exhibit included credible research reports demonstrating that there is no scientific basis for the classification of "races" that is so common in non-scientific circles. There is no gene or other characteristic that can be used to distinguish members of one race from those of another, or infer anything about the intellectual capacity, willingness to work hard, or morality of different races. Further, the exhibit provided compelling historical evidence that our concept of "race" is, in truth, a social, economic, and political construct designed by White Europeans to disproportionately channel advantages and opportunities to White people.

Starting 400 years ago with the International Slave Trade and continuing to the present day, "race" has existed and flourished as a concept in the minds of human beings (White, Black, and everyone else). Continually reinforced through cultural imagery and self-perpetuating prejudice, we fail to recognize that racial hierarchies were designed to justify exploitation and unequal access to power and wealth. The very idea of "race" is nothing more than an excuse for using brute force to benefit the dominant group.

The most compelling presentation of this startling truth I am aware of is the three-hour PBS educational program, "RACE - The Power of an Illusion" - I encourage you to check it out.

Why Does Race Predict Poverty?

Despite the fact that "race" is nothing more than a social construct, it has enormous consequences in the real world. For example, your life trajectory is likely to be very different, depending on whether you were born "Black" or "White" in the United States of America.

According to the Pew Research Center, the 2014 median household income for Whites was $71,300 compared to $43,300 for Blacks. This means that the typical Black worker earns about 60 cents for every dollar earned by the typical White worker.

I was not particularly surprised by this level of income disparity, but I was truly shocked when I learned that White households have about 13 times the median accumulated wealth of Black households - $144,200 versus $11,200. Yes, the typical Black family has just 8 cents of wealth for every dollar of wealth owned by the typical White family, and more than one in four Black households have zero or negative net worth versus fewer than one in ten White households.

And, while educational achievement correlates with higher income and wealth for Black families, it does nothing to narrow the racial gap. White households headed by someone with a college degree have a median wealth of $301,300 compared with college-educated Black households, which have a median wealth of $26,300 - about 9 cents on the dollar!

If the extent of racial wealth disparity is surprising to you, you're not alone. A Yale University research team asked people to estimate these disparities and concluded that "Americans, and higher-income Whites in particular, vastly overestimate progress toward economic equality between Blacks and Whites."

So what caused such extreme wealth disparity and why are so many of us oblivious to it?

History, if we care to study it, teaches us that most of the wealth currently enjoyed by many White families was created as a result of specific federal government policies and private sector practices in the decades following the second World War - policies and procedures that simultaneously denied the same opportunity to Blacks and most other minority races.

The primary driver of discrimination was a federal housing policy that injected vast public subsidies into new housing for Whites, and real estate practices such as "red-lining," "racial exclusion covenants," and housing market propaganda that preyed on the fears of Whites - a general fear of the "otherness" of Blacks, augmented by the economic fear of their property losing value if neighborhoods became integrated. "White flight" to the new suburbs, loss of the tax base in inner cities, and disastrous public housing projects created a self-perpetuating cycle of housing segregation and wealth disparity.

"How the Racial Wealth Gap Was Created" is a 30-minute segment from the "RACE - The Power of an Illusion" series - I urge you to devote half an hour to watching this video.

Federal transportation policy contributed to this process with a massive public spending program of its own (the Interstate Highway System) and discriminatory practices implemented primarily by local officials and communities. As writer Tim Wise describes in this National League of Cities panel discussion (10' - 15'), not only did the Interstates enable the new, White middle class to commute to jobs in the city and then drive back to their segregated suburbs, but decisions about where to build the highways were driven by racial and economic prejudice.

I had the opportunity this summer to visit the Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul, MN, which was a thriving African-American residential and business district in the 1950s, until it was destroyed to make way for Interstate 94. According to local non-profit organization, "ReconnectRondo," more than 600 African-American homes, businesses, and institutions were demolished.

Similar acts of targeted destruction took place all across the country. For example, in this National Public Radio interview, former Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx describes the African-American neighborhood in Charlotte, NC where he grew up, which was devastated by the construction of I-77 and I-85.

Author Richard Rothstein relates that the chief lobbyist behind the federal highway bill - a man named Alfred Johnson who was also executive director of the American Association State Highway Officials - once stated (and I’m quoting here), "City officials expressed the view in the mid 1950s that the urban interstates would give them a good opportunity to get rid of the local nigger town." I apologize to those of who you are offended by that word, but that’s what he said and it’s important to understand the ways powerful local officials thought and acted during that time.

My purpose in writing about this period of American history is not to assign blame or evoke guilt among White people - it is to present important, accurate information that has been forgotten and ignored in our thinking about race and poverty. Accumulated wealth is critical to surviving in the middle class, and it is undeniable that institutional and structural forces in the middle of the last century made sure that wealth accumulation was only available to Whites.

This is what is meant by "systemic racism."

Systemic or Structural Racism

Most of us are familiar with individual racism, which might range from the use of racial slurs to horrific acts of violence such as Dylan Roof's murder of nine African Americans in a Charleston, SC church.

But, as described in the previous section, there's another form of racism which is more difficult to see, and which cannot be directly attributed to individuals. Often referred to as "systemic racism" or "structural racism," discriminatory federal policies in conjunction with prejudicial local government implementation and private-sector practices create a very un-level playing field. And that un-level playing field is where our competitive economic system which allows success and failure, but severely punishes failure, is played out.

Systemic racism creates the environment for economic injustice, but individual racism sustains that environment and is strengthened by the outcomes of that environment - yet another self-reinforcing vicious cycle. Without a clear understanding of how unfair the system is and has been historically, we make inaccurate interpretations of the world around us, and those misinterpretations feed the prejudices that sustain the unfair system. The Equal Justice Initiative, a civil rights organization led by Bryan Stevenson who spoke at the University of Missouri last year, discusses several distinct forms of systemic racism, with well-defined chronologies and transitions.

1. Slavery

Shortly after learning about "race" in that Pittsburgh museum, and while spending time with my family in England, I visited the recently-opened International Slavery Museum in Liverpool. Built on the Albert Docks - the precise location from which thousands of slave ships were launched - the museum documents two and a half centuries of British participation in the international slave trade.

Extraordinary fortunes were made by bankers, capitalists, and shipping magnates in the "triangle voyages" from (1) the trade in British manufactured goods with colonists in West Africa, (2) the capture, enslavement, transportation and eventual sale of African native people in the Americas (the infamous "Middle Passage"), and (3) the shipping of sugar, rum, and exotic spices from the West Indies back home.

For 250 years, slavery was the critical component in a very successful economic development project for Britain. Those same economic development benefits continued to flow to New World colonists, who needed large quantities of cheap labor to sustain their high quality of life, long after British abolition of the slave trade in 1807.

2. Racial Terrorism and "Jim Crow" Laws

When the Emancipation Proclamation put an end to legalized slavery in America in 1863, systemic racism re-emerged in the South in the form of racial terrorism and illegal, discriminatory practices that were tolerated, supported, and even enforced by local officials.

It's hard to over-estimate the appalling and terrifying impact lynchings must have had on Black communities throughout the South. In 2004, University of Missouri Professor of English Doug Hunt researched and published the story of the 1923 lynching of James T. Scott in Columbia, in an essay titled "A Course in Applied Lynching." Hunt's publication of this story led eventually to a 2011 public ceremony, acknowledging Scott's innocence of the crime of which he was accused and placing a proper gravestone on his unmarked grave in a corner of the Columbia cemetery. The ceremony - led by Rev. Clyde Ruffin, pastor of Columbia's Second Missionary Baptist Church, where Scott had been a member - was extremely moving for me, as I'm sure it was for many of you who also participated. More recently, a historical marker has been placed on the MKT Trail at the site of the lynching.

The Equal Justice Initiative has documented more than 4,000 lynchings in 12 Southern states between 1877 and 1950. In another curious "time and place" coincidence, I found myself staying in a hotel next door but one to the Equal Justice Initiative office, while on business in Montgomery, AL earlier this year. I was fortunate to receive a guided tour of their educational exhibition and learn about their National Memorial to Victims of Lynching, which will open in downtown Montgomery in April, 2018.

During this same 100 years, "Jim Crow" laws in the South and the post-war federal housing and transportation policies described earlier served as additional structural and systemic barriers to opportunity for Blacks in America.

3. Mass Incarceration

When the Voting Rights Act was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1965, systemic racism transformed itself again.

The era of mass incarceration of poor and minority Americans, which continues essentially unabated to the present day, is well documented by Michelle Alexander in her landmark book, The New Jim Crow.

I will simply list a few statistics:

  • Black men are more than six times more likely to be incarcerated than White men.
  • African Americans make up about 13% of the nation’s population, but constitute 28% of all arrests, and 40% of those incarcerated in jails and prisons.
  • African Americans are arrested at rates 2.5 times higher than Whites and are 87% more likely to be subject to pretrial incarceration.
  • One of every three Black boys born in 2001 will go to jail or prison if current trends continue.

Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity

In order to overcome injustice and create a society/community in which everyone can thrive, I believe two things need to happen:

  1. There must be widespread understanding and acknowledgement of the history of race and racism;
  2. Institutions and organizations must embrace diversity, inclusion, and equity.

Thanks to those of you who sent me your understanding of those important terms. Here's a sampling of your remarks:

  • "The three words are intertwined - we cannot have either inclusion or equity until we first define diversity"
  • "Diversity celebrates similarities, as well as differences"
  • "Diversity - we are each one unique. there is no one exactly like anyone else - not just in terms of race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, sexual orientation, but intelligence, education, income, profession or manual job or unable to find work"
  • "Look at what diversity is doing to Europe. With wave after wave of migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe is undergoing a massive cultural change, ... which will basically wipe out the white race and culture in Europe in another 2-3 decades - letting untold number of migrants stream into your nation is a death blow, just ask the Native Americans, if you can find any. Or the Aztecs ..."
  • "My studies of the adoption of “diversity” ... indicated that it is a euphemism that allows speakers/writers to avoid tougher forms of difference such as race"
  • "Inclusion is appreciating and respecting those distinctive characteristics each member of the community adds to our institution."
  • "Inclusion goes beyond numerical diversity ... [it] is the creation of a climate where all feel valued and appreciated, where there is substantive interaction between and among groups"
  • "Inclusion - embracing diversity with empathy, trying to open hearts as individuals and as community to provide help and opportunity for everyone"
  • "Equity - FAIRNESS - not the same as equality ... equity means giving everyone a fair chance"
  • "Equity means different/fair treatment to arrive at comparable outcomes"
  • "Equity is important in our legal system, in terms of special education, affirmative action, gender equity, etc. But it raises more hackles from people who believe the country is based on equal/same treatment."
  • "Diversity, inclusion, equality? All "politically correct" words of finesse. We need to all sit down together, walk a mile in each other's shoes, and get real. Are we ready for that? I don't think so. The black community wants to segregate itself with a Black Culture Center and with whole blocks of blacks in "our black community" but, at the same time, does not accept a friend of another race, because the skin color happens to be different."
  • "Equity- having a big enough piece of the pie to thrive regardless of diverse backgrounds"

I deeply appreciate your engagement in these conversations. I will just add one thought of my own - while I agree that everyone should have "a big enough piece of the pie," I do not believe that "the pie" is fixed and finite. I do not believe that giving someone a larger "piece of the pie" means that someone else has to give up something. By ensuring that everyone can thrive we expand our capacity as a society, and as a community, and we all benefit.

Let's continue this discussion at my next Constituent Conversations on Sunday, December 17 and through my next newsletter. To help me prepare, please send me your responses to the following question:

What should the City Council be doing to increase diversity, inclusion, and equity, and address poverty and racism?

Poverty and Racism Series, Part 3: Beloved Community

It has been a pleasure and an honor to converse with so many of you (more than 200 since early November) on these difficult social issues of poverty and racism.

In case you are new to the discussion, here are my previous newsletters in the series, which include dozens of constituents' observations and opinions:

Today, I plan to move forward from the problems of poverty and racism in our society to real solutions - particularly, strategies and policies we can implement or (at least) influence together, as voters and policy-makers in the City of Columbia - and I have titled this idea, "Beloved Community."

But first, I want to present, without comment, a selection of your responses to the December 3 discussion of race and racism:

  • The concept of “race” is not real … one good definition of racism is the belief in the idea of race
  • I really don't think that the idea of race was originally started consciously by a group that wanted to exploit others. As I read history and autobiographies of people of different cultures, what I see is a more organic beginning, born of fear and ignorance.
  • I do think one of the causes of racism is related to poverty, but it seems you may have left out a main indicator of poverty - single-parent head of households.
  • In the world of racism, the blacks have contributed to their problem and you didn’t mention this at all.
  • The Blacks moved north and the whites (mostly liberals, read Star Parker) changed their circumstances when they could and in large part tore the black families apart with their welfare regulations.
  • People should not be ashamed of having assumed that race is genetic or natural or whatever, based on their interpretation of the reality around them, which has been influenced by racist structures (such as the racially restricted housing covenants and other mid-20th century legal structures) and racist cultural tropes – but they should be ashamed if they continue believing that, in the face of the scientific and social-scientific evidence.
  • My uncle was … mayor of Ferguson, a union man, and a die hard democrat. And, I think it's fair to say, he was probably also a racist. No, he did not overtly put non-whites down, but his actions did nothing to quell the problems that his city so obviously faced. He probably denied there was a problem.
  • I recently ran across this excellent and fascinating old video of a classroom experiment where children were discriminated against by having to wear a collar that designated them as blue-eyed or brown-eyed.

Beloved Community

In 1956, Dr. Martin Luther King described a powerful and compelling global vision, in which all people would share in the wealth of the earth.

Naming it "Beloved Community," King developed this vision over numerous speeches throughout the remainder of his life. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness would not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice would be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood. In the Beloved Community, international disputes would be resolved by peaceful conflict-resolution and reconciliation of adversaries, instead of military power. Love and trust would triumph over fear and hatred. Peace with justice would prevail over war.

Personally, I cannot imagine a better vision for the world, the United States of America, or Columbia, Missouri, and I suspect many of you will agree with me - although some will disagree and I respect those opinions (consistent with the Beloved Community framework). Therefore, as I reflect on our discussions over the last two months, and try to focus on specific actions to take to address poverty and racism in Columbia, Beloved Community is the vision I am striving for. I encourage each of you to develop your personal vision and let me know what that is.

Whether your vision is Beloved Community, something similar, or something quite different, I want your ideas for moving forward - thank you so much to those of you who have already provided your specific suggestions, summarized here:

  • I think our best chance is with children. Babies are not born with personal bias or prejudice...they learn it.
  • Curriculum that addresses these issues, starting at the very beginning...daycare, preschool, kindergarten, and continuing throughout a child’s public or private education.
  • I have often thought that students should be required to stay in school until eighteen, and that just might help a bit in halting cultural poverty and racism.
  • One effort I would like to see on the part of the city is a further collaboration with the Columbia Public School System to increase the kind and quality of education obtained by African American and Latino students.
  • For those young people from disadvantaged family, the city should create job trainings, or encourage job providers to give one.
  • I'm hopeful that the boost in the economy will help drive money into sectors of the population that have been left behind over the last 20 years.
  • Instead of the city council approving plans for greater high risers for students and hotels, approval of plans for affordable housing and small loans for minorities to rehab houses and start businesses would be a start.
  • One of my daughters ... was working with High school drop outs. Through ongoing conversations she learned several things that I feel are important. First, that most of the young black girls didn’t think they could do anything to change their lives. Second, that they didn’t know how to use the systems that could help them change. ... They needed a ”bridge” to help them get a library card, to register to vote, and other things that are available as part of our community.
  • When I started to get to know various homeless people, and to read the stories of homeless people around the country, my eyes were opened in a new way. I had had a lot of assumptions about the homeless, and when those were shattered, I found I had much more compassion for those who have lost their homes. I think in the same way our community could be helped by getting to know the life stories of many of the people in our community, to see real people instead of just the outer color, to hear what they deal with instead of assuming we know.
  • I think you are doing what exactly the city councilmen should do - open dialogue and discussion.

I agree with all of these suggestions, and I'm pleased to report that some of them are already happening, although most of them need more political support to really gain traction. In the remainder of this newsletter I will summarize a few institutional initiatives which have been launched in Columbia during the last 2-3 years and then describe some of the more specific public policy changes I believe should become priorities.

City of Columbia Strategic Plan

The City's "social equity" focused 2016-19 Strategic Plan has been discussed elsewhere in this series.

I like the Strategic Plan for several reasons:

  • In identifying a limited number of target neighborhoods (now, four), the plan recognizes that the problem is too large and too complex to be tackled with one program;
  • By adjusting budget priorities to improve City investment in these neighborhoods of poverty, the plan acknowledges that the existing "status quo" was fundamentally inequitable;
  • Through intentional and sustained community engagement activities, the plan helps the City to understand neighborhood needs and empower neighborhood leaders;
  • In giving police officers a leading role in community engagement, the plan demonstrates the benefits of community-oriented policing;
  • By measuring key indicators, the plan enables us to evaluate what's working and what's not.

The 2017 Strategic Plan Annual Report was released recently and it is clear that we are making real progress on our stated goal to strengthen our community so all individuals thrive.

As one example, the City has created a "Minority and Women-Owned Businesses Directory" and held several training workshops and "Contractors Expos" to expand the diversity of firms hired by the City and other institutions and businesses for contract work.

Boone Impact Group and Boone Indicators Dashboard

The Boone Impact Group (BIG) is a collaboration among Boone County, the City of Columbia, and Heart of Missouri United Way. BIG coordinates the work of local social service funders and stakeholders, using a "collective impact model" to identify resource gaps, help providers maximize their effectiveness, prevent duplication of services, and align the strengths and abilities of institutions and organizations to tackle challenging social issues together.

To assist in their efforts to reduce economic and social disparities in Boone County, BIG works to convene the community around the issues. For example, the group partnered with community stakeholders and national experts last year to organize the Homelessness Summit, which helped build a shared understanding of the real issues behind homelessness and led to community goals and strategies. As a result of this event, along with the earlier Affordable Housing Symposium, the community has adopted a "Housing First" model and created the Columbia Community Land Trust.

Other examples of these "collective impact" programs include the Cradle to Career Alliance (Education), the Live Well Boone County Community Health Improvement Plan (Health), and "convergence projects" in which independent agencies focused on mental health, criminal justice, and homelessness recognize that their different social issues often relate to a single root cause, and so they all come together to actually solve the problem instead of staying in their siloes and just responding to the symptoms.

In order to inform and align planning efforts, resource investment, performance management and progress monitoring, BIG is working with the University of Missouri Office of Social and Economic Data Analysis (OCEDA) and other data experts to develop the Boone Indicators Dashboard (BID). In designing this "data warehouse," OCEDA has incorporated the most reliable data available for Boone County populations and issues into an easily accessible and visual display system that informs stakeholders and the general public about health, education, housing, and socio-economic "community indicators."

Columbia Public Schools Home-Grown Teachers Program

One of my favorite new initiatives addressing social and racial disparities in Columbia is the "Home-Grown Teachers Program" or "EdX Internship Program" as it is now known (I prefer the original name).

The result of a collaboration involving Columbia Public Schools (CPS), the Worley Street Round Table, the University of Missouri, Columbia College, and Stephens College, goals of the program are to "grow" the school teachers of tomorrow and help CPS develop a professional staff that reflects the racial diversity of the community. To do this, high-school students with an interest in a teaching career can apply for paid EdX internships, which will give them the opportunity to observe and work with professional educators during summer school. Interns will develop:

  • Effective teaching strategies
  • Classroom management strategies
  • Interpersonal relationship skills
  • Student assessment techniques

Following successful completion of the program, interns are eligible for full-ride scholarships to study education and receive teacher training at MU, Columbia, or Stephens. The elegant "loop" is closed when/if the students return to Columbia Public Schools as teaching professionals, so they can model their success for the next group of students.

Not only does this program address the shortage of minority school teachers, it is a beautiful example of Columbia's resources being re-investing in the community. Along the same lines and for the same reasons, I have proposed the idea of a "Home-Grown Police Officers' Program."

University of Missouri Inclusive Excellence Framework

Another exciting initiative is the "Inclusive Excellence Framework," being promoted by MU Vice Chancellor for Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity, Kevin McDonald.

The framework has been developed and practiced in institutions of higher education for many years. In this context, "Inclusive Excellence" rejects the concept of a racial hierarchy and embraces the fact (well established in research) that diverse groups are more creative, better problem-solvers, and achieve higher levels of excellence than non-diverse groups. From this foundation, the Association of American College and Universities advanced an operational definition of Inclusive Excellence which consists of four primary elements:

  1. A focus on student intellectual and social development;
  2. A purposeful development and utilization of organizational resources to enhance student learning;
  3. Attention to the cultural differences learners bring to the educational experience and that enhance the enterprise;
  4. A welcoming community that engages all of its diversity.

In addition to implementing this framework at MU, Kevin and his team are working with Diversity Awareness Partnership to adapt these ideas for the business community and beyond. He recently gave a presentation to the Columbia City Council and I am interested in the City adopting Inclusive Excellence as the framework for our next Strategic Plan.

Specific Personal Initiatives

In the following sections, I will discuss some specific policy issues I am currently working on, which address poverty and racism. Please let me know whether you support these ideas.

Community Policing

Over the last 2 years, I have written extensively about my vision for Columbia to adopt a community-oriented policing philosophy and implement a city-wide community-oriented policing program.

I was disappointed in July when the proposal (put forward by Mike Trapp and myself) for a "Community Engagement Process about Policing," failed to gain community support. However, since then, the NAACP has hosted several well-attended public forums at which a diverse group of community residents have engaged with the Mayor, Council members, City Manager, and Police Chief in open and honest discussions about community policing and racial profiling, leading to several specific recommendations.

As a result, I am now confident that Columbia will embrace community-oriented policing in the near future, and I am working with Council colleagues towards that goal.

Equity and the Cost of Growth

I have also written extensively about the massive public subsidies given to new development in this community, which disproportionately harm Columbia's poorest residents.

In 2014, I conducted an analysis of ten years of data (2004-2014), which showed that more than $50 million of tax-payers' and rate-payers' money had been used to build infrastructure for new housing and commercial buildings in Columbia. My analysis just looked at the capacity expansion projects in the water, sewer, storm-water, electric, and road systems - had fire, police, parks, and schools also been included, the total would have been in excess of $100 million.

Columbia has been growing at about 2% per year for decades, meaning we are adding 500 to 1,000 new homes every year, along with a proportional number of commercial and industrial buildings. Obviously, if we have a sewer treatment plant that has been designed for 10,000 homes and we're adding 1,000 new homes every year, the plant will have to be expanded pretty soon and it is perfectly fair, reasonable, and logical for that incremental cost to be recovered from the new development that is driving the expansion. When I conducted my study in 2014, the City was only recovering about 25% of that cost in our "sewer system equity connection fee" (a one-time fee that is charged to new development at the time a building permit is issued). I'm happy to report that we have increased that connection fee since then, and it now recovers about 75% of the cost.

However, we do not have an electric system equity connection fee. New development hooks up to our electrical grid - forcing the City to expand the capacity of our electric transmission and distribution networks, build brand new substations, and install new transformers - at no charge. And yet, according to Utilities Department data, the City spends about $6.5 million annually - more than $500,000 per month - on electric utility projects that are built for the sole purpose of expanding the system for new customers. Since we do not currently have a system equity connection fee for the electric utility, this entire cost is being paid by our 40,000 existing customers - on average, every household in Columbia is paying more than $12 per month to subsidize new development. For the 30,000 Columbia residents living below the federal poverty level ($24,600 annual income for a family of 4), that $12 per month is an enormous and unfair burden that traps people in poverty.

And yet, the Columbia Board of Realtors (CBOR) opposes the adoption of an electric system equity connection fee - please take a few minutes to read CBOR's recent letter to City Council and my response to CBOR.

Inclusionary Housing Policy

Columbia's extreme shortage of affordable homes is an enormous barrier to families getting out of poverty.

More than 12,000 rental households in Columbia (about 57% of all renters) and about 3,500 owner-occupied households (23%) are "cost-burdened" by 30% or more. Because at least 30% of their income goes to housing and utilities, these families and individuals are in a fragile economic situation and at high risk of becoming homeless. Unfortunately, the housing market is unable to provide affordable housing and so it is left to government to address this problem.

Last year, we established the Columbia Community Land Trust (CCLT), which uses federal grants and other sources to purchase land, partners with non-profit developers (such as Jobpoint, Habitat for Humanity, and CMCA), and then sells the homes to qualified low-income purchasers while retaining ownership of the land. While this approach creates permanently affordable homes, the CCLT is very limited in the number of homes it can construct each year.

A more productive strategy for creating affordable housing would be to adopt an "Inclusionary Housing Policy." Cities that have implemented this type of policy have seen significant increases in their stock of affordable housing because the affordable homes are built by private-sector developers as a result of incentives or code requirement. For example, at least 10% of the homes in a project of 20 homes or more must be sold or rented at affordable rates, according to federal area median income formulas.

Another tremendous benefit of inclusionary housing is that it results in mixed-income and mixed-wealth neighborhoods, which has been shown to reduce socio-economic inequities.

Public Transportation

Columbia's public transportation program is desperately under-funded. Compared with other college towns, we invest between 20-30% per capita in our transit operating budget. As a result, our level of service (frequency, hours of service, coverage of routes, etc.) is so poor that the only people using the bus system are those with no other choice!

However, if we could increase the budget such that most people lived within a 5-minute walk of a bus stop, such that buses were coming every 15-20 minutes and operated 7 days a week and late into the evening, then we would see a significant increase in ridership as taking the bus would become much more attractive for many people.

Improving public transportation in Columbia would enable low-income families to access work, education, health care, and other services more easily and more affordably. Since the average cost of owning and operating a car in the US is more than $8,000 per year according to an analysis by AAA, it would also enable some families to save a lot of money by reducing the number of cars they own.

I do not believe we can realistically increase taxes for public transportation at this time, so we need to look at re-allocating existing revenue. With Columbia currently spending tens of millions of dollars on unnecessary highway expansion projects, such as the proposed widening of Forum Boulevard, I feel we have the opportunity to invest in a more economical and efficient transportation system.

What do you think?

Lynching Memorial

In Montgomery, AL, the Equal Justice Initiative is building a National Memorial to the Victims of Lynching. As part of this project, counties that have experienced racial lynchings will be able to claim their monuments and install them in the courthouse square as an educational exhibit and an acknowledgement of a dark past.

I believe Boone County should claim our monument in memory of James T. Scott and other possible victims. This action would have an immensely positive, healing effect in our community.


Over the last two months, we have discussed the causes of poverty, the history of racism, and some possible strategies for creating a Beloved Community.

Poverty and racism are consequences of power imbalances. Therefore, we need a strong, highly-engaged democracy that reflects the values of most people and imposes reasonable limitations on what people can do. We need to resist extreme wealth disparity and build an economic environment that emphasizes cooperation rather than competition. In America today, we have a system that lavishly rewards people for "climbing the ladder" (and kicking other folks down at the same time) and cruelly punishes those who cannot make progress up the ladder or fall off. This motivates human beings to behave in a self-interested and often unethical way, believing that they’re doing what they are supposed to do, within the system - and, in the not-too-distant past, unethical behavior in pursuit of wealth and power extended to the enslavement of entire peoples.

So what should we do, moving forward? In the area of racism, we need to understand the terrible harm that African Americans, Native Americans, and others have suffered, acknowledge the continuing economic impacts of that racist past, and find ways to "level the playing field" so that everyone can thrive. In the area of poverty, we want a society in which everyone is able to achieve financial independence and security - while it’s clear we cannot leave that to the “free market,” I do not believe cash handouts to people in poverty are the answer because that fosters dependency. Overall, I prefer the intermediate strategy of creating a supportive external environment (Medicare for all, a universal basic income, children's trust fund, good public education, good public transportation, etc.) which will empower people to build their own capacity.

Happy Holidays.

Moving Forward with a Community Engagement Process about Policing

(posted July 16th, 2017)

As has been discussed in several previous posts (see below), the Columbia Police Department (CPD) currently faces serious challenges that are hindering its ability to provide optimal crime prevention and protection to the community.

With this in mind, the City Council unanimously adopted Resolution R28-17 earlier this year, which calls for a "Community Engagement Process about Policing in Columbia that addresses staffing levels, officer safety and morale, and community-oriented policing.” Shortly after that, I worked with Council colleagues Michael Trapp and Laura Nauser, and City Manager Mike Matthes to design and implement a Stakeholder Survey to collect input from all of the groups we could think of that have an interest in this process. Responses were received from about 30 groups, listed below.

City of Columbia stakeholders:

  • Columbia Police Department
  • Columbia Police Officers' Association
  • Social Equity Team
  • Neighborhood Outreach Team
  • Citizens Police Review Board
  • Commission on Human Rights
  • Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence
  • Columbia Neighborhood Watch
  • Crimestoppers

Community organizations:

  • Columbia NAACP
  • Minority Men's Network
  • Youth Empowerment Zone
  • Race Matters, Friends
  • Empower Missouri
  • Columbia Faith Voices
  • Diversity Awareness Partnership
  • Association of Black Graduate and Professional Students
  • Centro Latino
  • Refugee and Immigration Services

Other institutions:

  • Columbia Chamber of Commerce
  • Columbia Public Schools
  • Heart of Missouri United Way
  • Central Missouri Community Action
  • Columbia Housing Authority
  • Boone County Commission
  • Columbia Missourian

Every one of these groups stated that they support the resolution and almost all of them asked to be included in the process. Through their complete survey responses, they also provided invaluable input on who else should be engaged, what type of process/event should be organized, what the goals should be, and who should be invited to speak.

Based on this input, Heart of Missouri United Way and New Chapter Coaching were invited to prepare a proposal for convening and facilitating a "Community Engagement Process about Policing.” In 2015 and 2016, these organizations worked together to perform similar roles (convene a diverse group of stakeholders, plan an inclusive public forum, include educational/informational presentations from content experts, facilitate honest and open community conversations, and develop public policy recommendations that have community support) for the Affordable Housing Symposium and the Homelessness Summit. Both of these events led to important policy advances that are popular with stakeholders and the community. In response to our invitation, United Way and New Chapter Coaching worked with a third consultant, Menifield and Associates, to develop a project proposal.

Michael Trapp, Laura Nauser, Mike Matthes and I believe this is a very good proposal, which will accomplish the goals laid out in the original Council Resolution, and so we are bringing it forward to the full City Council. Tomorrow (Monday, July 17th), there will be a public hearing and vote on approving a contract with the consultants to implement this scope of work. I hope you will attend or email all the members of the City Council to indicate your support for this proposal.

Time for a Community Engagement Process about Policing

(posted February 19th, 2017)

Public safety is the first and most important role of local government. Therefore, we need to recognize and respond to the fact that the Columbia Police Department (CPD) currently faces serious challenges that are hindering its ability to provide optimal protection to the community. These include a staffing shortage, low officer morale, and communication issues.

The only way we can address these complex and inter-related threats to public safety is to come together as a community of families, businesses, police officers, and institutions, and have an honest conversation about the kind of policing we want. I believe we will all agree on the importance of having a properly-resourced police department that is respected, trusted, and supported throughout the community. After that, we will have to decide on an overall philosophy for policing in Columbia and how to pay for it.

Several recent studies have estimated that CPD staffing levels are 30-50 officers lower than comparable cities. While Columbia's population has been growing at 2-3% for many years, the City has failed to add police officers at the same rate - in part due to falling sales tax revenue. Compounding this problem, annexation and low-density development have expanded our city footprint to more than 65 square miles - a massive coverage area for a police force that averages just 12 patrol officers on duty at any time.

Our staffing shortage is evident in several ways. CPD experiences a condition known as "status zero" multiple times per day, meaning every on-duty officer is engaged in responding to emergency calls for service and the next call either goes on hold or pulls an officer away from an active case. As a result, CPD's average response time for emergency calls for service in 2015 was more than 18 minutes - by far the longest of 30 benchmark cities and three times longer than the average of those cities. And last year, when the City Council asked Chief Burton to implement a "community-oriented policing" pilot program in three neighborhoods, he was forced to dissolve the Traffic Unit in order to free up officer time for the proactive outreach and relationship-building work that characterizes community-oriented policing.

Unsurprisingly, officer morale is low. In the City's 2015 Work Force Engagement Survey, CPD reported the lowest morale of all 15 Departments. Further, 78% of officers surveyed by the Columbia Police Officers Association in 2016 reported that their morale has deteriorated in the last 3-5 years. Contributing to this distress and increasing the danger for police officers over recent years is a sharp rise in racial tension and violence between community members and police across the country. In order to respond to the concerns driving local unrest, it is essential that police and community leaders work together to understand and address the Attorney General's 2015 "Vehicle Stops Report" data, which show racial disparities in CPD's traffic stops and searches, and may indicate implicit bias or profiling.

One of the communication challenges we face is to prevent the conversation from descending into "binary thinking." This is not a conflict between the community and the police, and no-one has to choose whether to support anti-racism efforts or law enforcement. It's about Columbians coming together to build the kind of city in which we all feel safe, and to support our police officers who are charged with keeping it that way. Although effective communication between trained professionals and the public about complex issues can be hard, it is at the center of the solution to all of these challenges.

In 2014, the Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence (MTFCV) called for Columbia to adopt a comprehensive community-oriented policing philosophy and program - a call which has been repeated by several other groups. The distinguishing feature of community-oriented policing is a partnership between police professionals and neighborhood residents in which the two groups work together to deter criminal activity and to solve crimes quickly when they occur.

I recently had the opportunity to visit community-oriented policing programs in Gainesville, FL and Nashville, TN, and to speak with police officers and community leaders. My lasting impressions are that officers are excited about their work, they believe they are contributing to systemic improvements in their communities, the vast majority of residents "have their back," and crime levels are low. I also learned that these programs require an authentic community engagement process and higher staffing levels than we have in Columbia.

The MTFCV also recommended the City host "an annual forum involving neighborhood organizations, churches, public schools, CPD, Family Services Division and other interested parties to address crime, social need, and discrimination in our community." With that in mind, I have worked with my colleagues Laura Nauser and Mike Trapp (who co-chaired the MTFCV) to develop a Council Resolution, declaring the need to conduct a Community Engagement Process about Policing in Columbia that addresses staffing levels, officer safety and morale, and community-oriented policing, and directing the City Manager to provide staff support and other resources. Our goal will be to engage a broad range of community members and organizations in planning a public event or series of events which will include educational presentations, facilitated small-group discussions, and visioning.

The Resolution will be discussed and voted on during tomorrow's (February 20th) City Council meeting. I hope you will get behind this effort to support our police officers and to promote public safety, equitable economic development and overall quality of life in Columbia.

What Kind of Policing does Columbia Want?

(posted August 14th, 2016)

The Columbia Police Department (CPD) currently faces several major inter-dependent challenges:

  1. CPD is understaffed/overworked, officer morale is low, and recruitment is difficult.
  2. Officers describe an internal culture of blame and punishment, with mentorship and nurturing of less experienced officers discouraged.
  3. There is a dysfunctional relationship between CPD/City of Columbia management and the Columbia Police Officers' Association (CPOA).
  4. The Attorney General's annual "Vehicle Stops Report" shows racial disparities in CPD's traffic stops and searches, which may indicate implicit bias or profiling.
  5. Some senior CPD leaders and City administrators appear to be uncomfortable discussing America's history of racial discrimination and how it impacts modern social issues.
  6. Many community residents want CPD to adopt a community policing philosophy, which requires higher levels of staffing and training, and yields multiple societal benefits including enhanced crime prevention.
  7. Residents have low confidence in CPD leadership as demonstrated by the rejection of a proposed property tax increase in 2014.

Against a national backdrop of tension and violence between police officers and community residents, these challenges represent an extremely serious threat to Columbia. Therefore, it is essential that the City Council address the challenges of CPD understaffing, low morale, racial disparities in stops and searches, and low confidence in leadership.

With all of this in mind, I have developed a proposal for a comprehensive collaborative visioning process for the Columbia Police Department and community residents. Briefly, I envision the following two-step process.

Step 1 - Define the Process:

  • City Council appoints a steering committee of 12-15 key community stakeholders.
  • Steering committee meets for 2-3 months to define an open, transparent and engaging community process that addresses each of the challenges listed above.
  • City Council adopts the committee's recommendations for the planning process and moves to Step 2.

Step 2 - Implement the Process (since the process will be defined by the steering committee, the following are simply suggestions):

  • Name the process, “What Kind of a Policing does Columbia Want?”
  • Schedule multiple community gatherings in different neighborhoods over a 6-12 month period.
  • Attract 50-100 people to each meeting and tackle one topic at a time - racial disparities, community policing, officer morale, etc.
  • Engage skilled facilitator(s) to manage programs that could include brief informational presentations from experts followed by “World Cafe” style table discussions with all ideas captured and analyzed.
  • Steering committee continues to oversee process, review police officer reaction to community ideas, and develop long-term recommendations.

The people of Columbia want CPD to be stable, successful, and fully funded for the difficult and dangerous job we expect its officers to perform. I believe a process like this will accomplish that - in fact, I think it's the only way!

Response to Laura Nauser Recall Effort

(posted February 18th, 2016)

According to the Columbia Daily Tribune a Political Action Committee known as "Columbians for Responsible Government" has launched an effort to recall Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser because of her January 19 vote to delay moving forward with Option A for the transmission lines project. I voted with Laura on this question, because the City Council has not had access to the information we need about the relative costs to taxpayers or the private property impacts of the various Options, in order to make a fully informed decision.

While Laura and I have different political positions on many issues, I oppose this recall attempt by one segment of her constituents and based on one specific vote. She is an honest, transparent, and well-informed Council member who legislates in the best interests of her ward and the City as a whole.

Columbia Transmission Lines project

(posted February 7th, 2016)

Please read this Transmission Lines Discussion Document on how I believe the City Council should move forward on this important project.

Whichever route is ultimately decided, the South Columbia Transmission Lines project will cost tax-payers and rate-payers tens of millions of dollars. As I explained at the January 19th City Council meeting, I do not believe I have received adequate, detailed information to make a fair decision that balances the need for additional peak-time power and the financial and property impacts of various options. For that reason, I asked Council colleagues to hold off making a decision while we get more clarity on the costs and benefits to the public.

I have no personal preference for Option A, B, B-2, or anything else. I simply want to fulfil my role as an elected decision-maker by supporting the fairest and best long-term solution. The discussion document, which I sent to Council colleagues and City staff last week, outlines the issues as I understand them, the areas where I do not feel we have adequate information, and the questions I have for the engineers working on the project.

Race, Privilege, and Social Equity in Columbia

(posted December 13th, 2015)

In my November 15 newsletter, I discussed and tried to intrepret the recent racial tension and turmoil at the University of Missouri. I shared some of my thinking on how the City of Columbia should respond to an issue that's not confined to the MU campus, and I asked you for your opinions.

I decribed two distinct but closely-connected aspects of modern-day racism. In addition to enduring racial insults and assaults, minority people also suffer under institutional and cultural systems of oppression that are difficult for others to see. This latter, more sinister form of discrimination condemns its victims to generational poverty and bars their access to the American Dream, according to which everyone should be able to succeed by working hard and staying out of trouble.

My suggestions for ways the City of Columbia can address these challenges drew extensively from our recently adopted 2016-2019 Strategic Plan, which acknowledges the deep economic disparities between Black and White families in Columbia. The plan features, as its foundation, a goal of increasing social equity so that all Columbia residents have the opportunity to succeed in school, in the work place, and in life — a situation that does not exist today.

These were my proposals:

  1. A community policing philosophy that builds positive neighborhood relations and offers alternatives to arrest for non-violent youth offenders;
  2. Training and job creation for youth who are not college-bound, and investment in the local business economy, rather than sending a lot of money out of the community;
  3. A public transportation system that provides access to jobs and services for everybody - especially those that struggle with the cost of private automobile ownership;
  4. Policies that generate more affordable housing so that the thousands of working poor who cannot afford to own or rent a home in Columbia have better housing security;
  5. Equitable development charges and connection fees that cover the cost of expanding our public infrastructure systems, to keep the cost of living down.

I was delighted to receive almost 100 responses from you. Here are a few of your comments:

The physical and verbal assaults that have captured national attention, I feel, are simply escalations of long simmering Microinequities targeted at minorities and graduate students. Microinequities are those everyday behaviors, generally subtle and covert, used by majority populations to exert power over minorities. From an arched eyebrow to display irritation or disbelief to avoiding touching when returning change to a paying customer who is a minority, seemingly small actions all conveys a view of inferiority from the person with perceived power.

Based on my own observation and conversations with black students on campus, the protests are truly about solidarity on campus. The campus or the City of Columbia at large, to some students, are way more segregated than they expected, where black students are hanging out with black students, white students are always with white students, and Asians are chatting with Asians. For me, a student from Asia who has been in United States for a little more than three months, I did notice the segregation myself. And I have to ask whether it’s the case with the whole country or it’s just in here. According to my classmates, apparently, the racial problem in here is more serious than elsewhere in the country, and life can be especially hard for the black students who come from some other parts of America that are more diverse and inclusive.

I abhor racism and think those who engage in it should be dealt with harshly. However, I think the Curators made a huge mistake in allowing protestors to force the removal of the President and Chancellor. The Board could have accomplished much more by forcing the administrators to develop a plan, in conjunction with the student body, to deal with racism – giving the administrators a deadline to show results, and basing their pay on the outcome. I hope the protestors will use their new-found power wisely. If not, it will engender even more racism.

One of my problems with your thoughts and the thoughts of many is the immediate presumption that racism and hatred is a one way street. That all or most white folks have inherent racism and they must be somehow fixed. I reject that notion. Too many whites carry what is called "white guilt" and feel we must somehow atone for the sins of our fathers and forefathers. I reject that notion as well. In my previous line of work I can't tell you how often I encountered hatred towards myself and others because we were white.

White privilege is taken for granted by the majority that are often at an advantage in everyday life. I recently observed a white woman going through the checkout lane at a supermarket. She purchased well over $50 in groceries, handed the clerk a check, he looked at it and put it in the cash drawer. He thanked her for shopping at the store. The next person in line was a young, black man with about $25 in groceries. He handed the clerk a check and was asked for identification. The first person likely was unaware of her white privilege. The second person perhaps accepted the insult as a part of life, but may also have felt anger.

As you have already acknowledged, the questions that you raise are difficult ones and not ones that should be acted upon without a great deal of discussion. My concern is that the city does not go into this process by just focusing on the African-American population and ways to improve the situations of only those in that particular group. If that happens, then we are guilty of reverse racism and likely going down a pathway that will even increase the divides. There has to be a greater appreciation of other cultures across the board.

I am not sure how much City policy influences School District policy. Schools need to focus more on the students who are not college bound. We have focused primarily on the college bound (upper income class) students and done well. We need universal early childhood, age 3 on, education without fees. Presently at one elementary school with a fee charged and some scholarships.

We need a program of "trades/vocational training" in our High Schools that help kids to get jobs for work most of us can no longer do: carpentry, electrical, HVAC, plumbing, auto mechanics, etc. etc. Jobs that cannot be outsourced, and jobs and training that were once encouraged when I was in high school in the early 60's, and jobs that have good pay and allow for a middle class life. Of course, on this issue, I guess I need to argue with the School Board.

We would do well to promote a minimum wage that would allow someone to support at least themselves (and possibly a family). We must be judicious in using tax money for necessities first, and minimizing regressive taxes (such as sales taxes) and fees (such as pay-as-you-throw trash). Columbia has a lot of wealthy citizens and the gap between poor and rich has widened here, just as it has across the nation. Even though the majority of voters have approved recommended taxes, these tax increases continue to place a heavy burden on those who have lower wages.

The City should hire low skilled (un-skilled?) workers for some of the jobs done by volunteers. Volunteerism is a Reagan program designed to cut government spending. The City needs to hire people to be trained on the job.

Thank you for your engagement and let's keep the conversation going.

Transportation Projects to be funded by Capital Improvements Sales Tax

(posted June 7th, 2015)

In my May newsletter, I discussed the Capital Improvements Sales Tax, which is projected to raise $63 million over the next ten years if approved by voters in August. City staff developed an initial list, showing what they considered to be the highest priority projects that would be completed with these revenues - it consisted primarily of $23 million for public safety (replacement fire trucks and a new service center) and $31 million for three road expansions. One of these road expansions was a $13.7 million project to widen Forum Boulevard to 4 lanes between Woodrail and Chapel Hill - a distance of less than one mile.

I have certain reservations about continuing to invest tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer funds to widen roads and expand intersections:

  • First and foremost, we cannot afford it - not only does it cost nearly $14 million to widen a mile of roadway, but this creates additional maintenance costs at a time when we are already unable to keep up with required maintenance.
  • Second, it is well documented that road expansion does not solve congestion and, instead, encourages more driving and undermines efforts to promote efficient, economical, sustainable, and healthy modes such as walking, biking and public transit.
  • Third, Americans' transportation habits are changing dramatically - we're driving 10% less than we were a decade ago and young people (aged 18-30) are driving 30% less.
  • Fourth, we have an enormous backlog of traffic calming projects that have been approved to address speeding in neighborhoods - which will take about 30 years to complete with the current traffic calming budget.

With that in mind, I asked staff to include all of the approved traffic calming projects in the ten-year Capital Improvement Sales Tax list and propose a more modest improvement on Forum to free up necessary funds. It’s my understanding that there is a safety concern at the entrance to Wilson's, which could be addressed by slowing traffic down, restricting left turns in and out of Wilson's, and adding one or more roundabouts. This would allow us to preserve the existing bridge over the Hinkson Creek and would not require acquisition of additional right-of-way, thereby saving millions of dollars.

Finally, I asked constituents to email me and share your thoughts on whether we should trim back certain very expensive road expansion projects in order to develop a more efficient and economical transportation system. I was very pleased to receive seventy-three (73) responses, which are posted here (without individual identifiers), and to note that 80% of respondents supported my position with only a handful of opponents. In the knowledge of strong constituent support, I worked hard to convince my City Council colleagues to think differently about these transportation projects, and we ended up including in the project list:

  • $4.5 million for sidewalks (twice as much as was allocated from the last Capital Improvement Sales Tax, ten years ago),
  • $1.8 million for traffic calming (enough to complete about one-half of all the approved projects, over the next 10 years), and
  • $280,000 for 10-20 new bus shelters.

My proposal to "downsize" the Forum project did not gain traction, but City staff agreed to reduce the budget to $12.7 million, because they believe they will be able to add on to the existing bridge (which has 20-30 years of life in it) rather than demolish it and build a new, wider bridge. If the sales tax passes (and, with the positive changes in the project list, I am supporting it), I still plan to advocate for a more conservative Forum Boulevard improvement project because I believe widening this road is not in Columbia's best interests. There are much better ways to improve traffic flow and safety on Forum - for more information on this issue, read urban designer Jeff Speck's essay about induced traffic demand and the problem of excessively expensive road widening projects.

Don't Be Fooled - Vote "YES" on Proposition 2

(posted October 27th, 2014)

Members of the so-called Citizens for a Better Columbia political action committee want you to think Proposition 2 will raise your grocery bills.

Don't be fooled. Prop. 2 is not a general tax and will not impact your cost of living - instead, it will raise the fees charged by the City to new development only. In fact, if Prop. 2 succeeds, more of the tax dollars you already pay will go to road maintenance, snow clearance, etc., because there will be a (slightly) lower public subsidy for growth.

As Columbia grows, adding 3,000 new residents every year, the City needs to spend about $10 million per year on new collector and arterial roads, and on expanding existing ones. The current development fee provides about 15% of that cost, with the taxpayer picking up the other 85%. Prop. 2 would increase the developers' contribution to 35% and reduce the taxpayers' burden to 65%. This is a very modest and reasonable adjustment, especially in a time of declining federal and state support.

In case you're wondering, Citizens for a Better Columbia consists of the following thirteen individuals and corporations involved in the development industry, who each contributed $10,000 to try to defeat Prop. 2:

  1. Beacon Street
  2. Contracting Supply
  3. Crockett Engineering
  4. Emery Sapp and Sons
  5. Harold E Johnson Companies
  6. Jennifer Bukowsky
  7. MFA Oil
  8. Mid-City Lumber Co
  9. Plaza Commercial Realty
  10. Rabkin Contracting LLC
  11. Robert Pugh
  12. Tom Atkins
  13. Tompkins Homes

The group is putting out slick mailers, TV ads, and "robo-calls" to try to mislead you. Their messages suggest Prop. 2 will increase your cost of living - it won't! Take a look at the Columbia Daily Tribune's Fact Checker, which said their "Tale of Tax Hikes” mailer should be considered "mostly a work of fiction."

Cost Sharing for Quality Roads - Vote "YES" on Proposition 2

(posted September 22nd, 2014)

On Tuesday, November 4th, vote "YES" on Proposition 2 to increase the charges paid by new development to fund road expansion in Columbia. Passage of Prop. 2 will double the amount paid by new residential development from $0.50 to $1.00 per square foot and introduce rates of $1.50 and $2.00 per square foot for new non-residential development, depending on the amount of traffic generated. Proposition 2 is not a tax.

Columbia's population is growing at 2.5%, adding 3,000 new citizens every year. As a result, we are spending about $10 million/year to build new arterial and collector roads and add capacity to existing roads. The present development charge covers about 15% of that cost, with the other 85% ($8.5 million/year) coming from the taxpayer. If Proposition 2 passes, the share paid by new development will increase to about 35%, while the taxpayer's contribution will be reduced to about 65%, freeing up precious tax dollars for ongoing road maintenance.

Here are some frequently-asked questions:

  • Is this development charge a tax? No, it is a one time charge that developers would pay on new construction projects.
  • Does this charge apply to existing homes or businesses? No, it applies only to new construction.
  • Why are there 3 different levels of charges? The charges are linked to the amount of traffic generated and the size of the new development.
  • Don't developers already pay for street construction? Developers are required to provide the streets within new developments. This charge would be used to fund part of the cost of building the arterial and collector street system that serves the new developments.
  • Why does the ballot language say “maximum of”? The stated amounts are the maximum that can be charged. This provides flexibility to lower the charges for specific uses such as churches, libraries and affordable housing.
  • Why do we need this charge? To finance the new roads that are needed to handle the increased traffic that serve new developments. Columbia has grown rapidly in the last decade, and sales tax revenue has been hurt by tax free online shopping, so it has become increasingly difficult to pay for new road construction.
  • Why is the increase so modest? While the increase in the charge may seem small, it is the largest amount that a majority of the council could support.

For more information, download the presentation developed by Cost Sharing for Quality Roads - the campaign team advocating for passage of Proposition. If you would like a member of the Cost Sharing for Quality Roads team to make a presentation about Proposition 2 to your group, please contact me. If you would like to make a financial contribution to the campaign, please send your check to:

Cost Sharing for Quality Roads
P.O. Box 8163
Columbia, MO 65205

New Development Charges: How much of the cost of growth should they cover and how much do they cover?

(updated June 29th, 2014)

The population of Columbia has been growing at an annual rate of 2.5% for the last fifteen years. At present, that means we are adding 10,000 new residents every three and a half years. To accommodate this growth, the City spends $10 - $20 million every year to expand the capacity of infrastructure systems such as water, sewer, storm water, electricity, and roads.

Last month, I invited you to tell me what percentage of these Infrastructure Capacity Expansion Costs you feel the City should recover directly from new development at the time a building permit is issued. Whatever amount is not recovered in these New Development Charges is paid by the entire community in utility rates and taxes.

Constituent Survey Development Charges

The survey was completed by 176 respondents, and the overwhelming opinion was that New Development Charges should be set to levels that recover the majority of the Infrastructsure Capacity Expansion Costs, which are incurred to accommodate growth and for no other reason.

For the water, sewer, storm water, electric and road systems and for all five combined, respondents were asked "What percentage of the cost of infrastructure expansion do you believe should be paid for by new development, in the future?".

For all six questions, the most common response was "The majority (80-90%)". Further, the "About two-thirds (60-70%)", "The majority (80-90%)", and "All of it (100%)" categories captured well over half of all responses to all six questions - varying between 56% and 73% of responses on the different questions.

Between 14% and 18% of respondents felt New Development Charges should cover 100% of Infrastructure Capacity Expansion Costs and between 5% and 11% of respondents felt that there should be no New Development Charges.

For more details, please check out the complete survey results.

So, what percentage of these costs are actually paid for by new development? Currently, New Development Charges for these utilities are:

  • Water: $634 per dwelling unit
  • Sewer: $800 per dwelling unit
  • Storm Water: $0.09 - $0.20 per square foot (depending on type of building)
  • Electricity: No New Development Charge levied
  • Collector and Arterial Roads: $0.50 per square foot

Over recent months, City staff have helped me conduct a Historical Budget Analysis covering the last ten years, to answer this question. Specifically, they reviewed every capital infrastructure project and identified it as either "Capacity Expansion" or "Repair/Maintenance" or as a combination - this analysis considers only those costs incurred to accommodate new development.

The analysis shows the following rates of recovery from New Development Charges:

  • Water: 38.9% recovered
  • Sewer: 26.6% recovered
  • Storm Water: 65.4% recovered
  • Electricity: Nothing recovered
  • Roads: 9.0% recovered

On aggregate - for all of these infrastructure systems combined - we have recovered 16.1% from New Development Charges, according to this analysis. Conversely, this means 83.9% of these Infrastructure Capacity Expansion Costs was paid for by the entire community in utility rates and taxes - this amounts to well over $10 million per year.

City Council is currently considering some increases in the current New Development Charges. Here are some of the factors we are considering:

  1. Changes in some New Development Charges require a citywide ballot;
  2. Any adopted changes in New Development Charges should be phased in over a few years to allow the market to adapt;
  3. Increasing New Development Charges may increase the cost of new housing, making it less affordable for low-income families;
  4. Increasing New Development Charges may discourage developers from investing in Columbia.

With regard to the fourth point, a 2007 study of aggregated New Development Charges in forty comparable communities ranked Columbia twenty-fourth with charges about one-half of those levied in Lawrence, KS, one-fifth of those in Iowa City, IA, and one-twentieth of those in Boulder, CO. That study is currently being repeated by City staff and I will report those results when they are available.

Special Council Meetings and Downtown Development Agreements

(updated April 2nd, 2014)

Last month, City Council held an accelerated series of "special meetings" to review three proposed development agreements for downtown student housing. Many feel the approval process was rushed in order to meet investor-driven timelines.

While it is important for City government to work cooperatively with the private sector, I believe City Council's number one priority is to represent the voting public. This extraordinary process was pushed through without proper explanation or opportunity for public input - as a result, there has been a community backlash. Although two of the three development agreements were approved by a majority of City Council, I understand a "recall petition" is being circulated, which may mean we have to reconsider at least one of these votes.

Complicating efforts to add housing and commercial development downtown is a shortage of sewer and electrical infrastructure capacity as well as an ongoing process to review zoning codes. My preferred approach is to address these issues in a transparent and thoughtful way before rushing to approve additional construction projects. Therefore, I support the Downtown Columbia Leadership Council's recent proposal to host public forums and make recommendations on these matters to Council.

Downtown "Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District"

(posted February 24th, 2014)

In January and February, about 160 of you completed a survey about how the cost of building infrastructure to serve new development should be allocated. Several questions (summarized in this section) focused on a proposal to create a "Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District" to fund infrastructure deficits in Downtown Columbia. More general questions about funding new infrastructure are summarized in the next section.

Do you support the creation of a TIF District to pay for downtown infrastructure?
I support a TIF District to pay for 100% of the cost 5%
I support a TIF District to pay for part of the cost along with other methods 20%
I oppose a TIF District 56%
I oppose new development downtown 9%
I don't know 9%
Do you support the creation of a NID to pay for downtown infrastructure?
I support a NID to pay for 100% of the cost 7%
I support a NID to pay for part of the cost along with other methods 43%
I oppose a NID 22%
I oppose new development downtown 5%
I don't know 23%
Do you support a Development Impact Fee approach to pay for downtown infrastructure?
I support a Development Impact Fee approach to pay for 100% of the cost 23%
I support a Development Impact Fee approach to pay for part of the cost along with other methods 48%
I oppose a Development Impact Fee approach 11%
I oppose new development downtown 2%
I don't know 15%

Late last year, the City Manager announced that all new construction in the downtown area would be placed "on hold" because the electrical and sewer systems in the area are both at capacity, and proposed a "Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District" to raise needed funds. This would involve defining an area (possibly including downtown, the North-Central neighborhood, and Business Loop) within which the current levels of property and sales taxes going to the City, County, school district, etc. would be "frozen;" while all additional taxes collected in the future (as a result of new buildings, increased property values, and new economic activity) would be diverted to a special "TIF Account" which would be used to pay for the capacity upgrades.

One alternative mechanism is a "Neighborhood Improvement District (NID)." This would require a vote of residents and property owners in the area to approve a new tax assessment on themselves, which would pay for the capacity upgrades. In contrast with the TIF, previously existing tax assessments to the City, County, school district, etc. would continue to grow if there are new buildings, increased property values, and/or new economic activity, and all of the infrastructure costs would be paid from the newly created NID taxes. A third possible approach is to charge a "Development Impact Fee." An assessment of the total anticipated new development over the next ten years (say) could be made and the cost of the capacity increases needed to serve all the new development could then be allocated proportionally to each new project, depending on its relative impact.

Survey results indicate overwhelming opposition to the TIF District proposal and strong support for exploring other options. Only five percent (5%) of respondents support a TIF District to cover the entire cost and just twenty percent (20%) support a combined approach, while a majority fifty-six percent (56%) oppose a TIF District under any circumstances. In contrast, fifty percent (50%) of respondents support a NID (essentially a property tax increase) alone or in combination with other mechanisms, and seventy-one percent (71%) of respondents support a Development Impact Fee as all or part of the solution. Please take a few minutes to review the complete survey results.

At the February 17th City Council meeting, I voted with the majority in a 5-2 decision not to endorse a list of projects that would be funded by a proposed TIF District - effectively taking this option off the table for the time being. My position on this issue was (and still is) that (1) City staff failed to explain why a TIF District was the only possible solution to the downtown infrastructure capacity shortages, leading to enormous public opposition, and (2) we need to properly examine other options before leaping to a radical solution, apparently out of desperation. I believe a TIF District may be a very appopriate method to fund some of the projects on the proposed list, but we need to slow the process down and address high-priority issues in the Comprehensive Plan, such as new development impact/equity fees and downtown zoning, as part of this process.

After voting against the TIF District last week, I consulted with council colleagues and constituents, and developed a proposal for moving forward on the issue. In addition to creating "rapid implementation plans" for key development-related priorities in the Comprehensive Plan, I am proposing a series of focused "Public Information and Listening Sessions" at which City staff will make informational presentations, various stakeholder groups (including the public at large) will have the opportunity to ask questions and make comments, and City Council will have a publicly-visible discussion with the goal of reaching a consensus for next steps.

Please review these documents if you have time, and email me with your thoughts on these proposals.

Cost of Infrastructure for New Development

(posted February 24th, 2014)

The same January/February survey included more general questions about how the City should allocate the cost of building infrastructure (roads, sewers, electrical lines, etc.) to serve new development.

Do you believe new development has paid its 'fair share' of infrastructure costs over the last 10-20 years?
Yes, I believe this 100% 2%
I think this is largely correct 5%
There may be some merit to this argument 19%
No, I reject this notion entirely 64%
I don't know 10%
When a large, new development is planned in a location that requires an extension of new infrastructure, who should pay for the extension?
New development should pay 100% of the cost 37%
New development should pay most of the cost with some being absorbed by the entire community 53%
Most of the cost should be absorbed by the entire community with some being charged specifically to the new development 8%
All of the cost should be absorbed by the entire community 1%
I don't know 1%
When a large, new development is planned in a location that requires an increase in the capacity of existing infrastructure, who should pay for the expansion?
New development should pay 100% of the cost 34%
New development should pay most of the cost with some being absorbed by the entire community 52%
Most of the cost should be absorbed by the entire community with some being charged specifically to the new development 12%
All of the cost should be absorbed by the entire community 1%
I don't know 1%

New development in the form of student housing, single-family neighborhoods, shopping and employment centers, and mixed-use developments creates additional demands on the City's infrastructure systems. As a result of new development, these systems may need to be extended or expanded or both - raising the question of who should pay for these expensive construction projects. Even if the systems do not need to be extended or expanded, the new development will use up some of their existing spare capacity, accelerating the time when full capacity will be reached.

At the same time, new development brings increased jobs and other economic activity to the City, and may attract further investment, including additional new development. Some people argue that this "growth model" is beneficial for Columbia as a whole, so the additional costs should be absorbed by the entire community. Others claim new development has not paid its "fair share" of infrastructure costs over recent years, even though fees have increased and developers pay for the constructions of streets and other infrastructure within their subdivisions and business districts.

Results of the survey suggest most of you feel that too little of the public cost of increasing infrastructure capacity has been allocated to the new development that goes on to use that new capacity, and that you want to see this policy changed in the future. Sixty-four percent (64%) of you said you "reject entirely" the notion that new development has paid its 'fair share' of infrastructure costs over the last 10-20 years, while just seven percent (7%) said you "think this is largely correct" or "believe this 100%." Looking to the future, ninety percent (90%) said new development should pay "100% of the cost" or "most of the cost with some being absorbed by the entire community" when new development requires an extension of new infrastructure, while eighty-six percent (86%) gave the same responses for a situation in which new development requires an increase in the capacity of existing infrastructure.

Here, again, are the complete survey results for these questions and the ones focused on downtown infrastructure.

Transit System Expansion

(posted November 3, 2013)

In September and October, about 140 of you completed a survey about a possible expansion of Columbia's public transit system.

How do you feel about the current funding available to Columbia Transit (CT)?
CT receives too much funding 10%
CT receives adequate funding 8%
CT receives too little funding 48%
I don't know 33%

Which of the following funding mechanisms for expanding transit service would you support? Check all that apply.
Sales tax increase of one twentieth of a cent on the dollar 42%
Property tax increase of 12 cents per $100,000 of assessed value 36%
Household utility fee increase of $3 per month 26%
Hotel tax increase of 3% (charged to visitors) 43%
Student activity fee of $20 per semester 45%
Parking permit fee increase of $50 per month 34%
I don't support additional funding for transit 21%

There has been a growing community-wide discussion of this idea for about three years. Columbia Transit's annual budget is a small fraction (between one-half and one-fifth) of that provided in other mid-west college towns such as Lawrence, KS, Ames, IA, and Champagne-Urbana, IL.  As a direct result, our bus service is vastly inferior, with poor coverage, 40-minute or 80-minute wait times between buses, and extremely poor evening and weekend service.  The only Columbia residents who currently ride the bus are those with absolutely no alternative options.

Your survey responses suggest that you want this situation to change - 74% of you said Columbia Transit's mission should be to 'provide a healthy, environmentally-responsible, and economical transportation service for everyone,' while just 26% indicated buses should only be provided for poor people and students.  Just 18% of you feel Columbia Transit receives adequate or too much funding, while 48% believe funding is too small and 33% don't know ... and between 26% and 45% support a range of possible funding mechanisms for expanding transit service.  Please take a few minutes to review the complete survey results.

But things are changing with public demand for better service.  In response, City staff have proposed a new route design named "CoMO Connect", which ditches the inefficient "hub and spoke" system in favor of a citywide network with 35 transfer points.  And City Council voted unanimously to bundle bus passes with downtown parking permits to encourage "park and ride" behavior and allow some parking revenues to be transferred to transit.  It was great to see so many of you at my CoMO Connect Forum on October 24 - check out the public feedback collected that evening.

'Columbia Imagined' Comprehensive Plan

(posted July 16, 2013)

In July, I asked for your feedback on the City's proposed Comprehensive Plan, 'Columbia Imagined'.  City staff had collected community input from dozens of public meetings over a 2-year period and used it to develop this important document which will guide Columbia's growth for the next two decades.  With the City Council just a few weeks away from final approval, I asked you to participate in an online survey on which elements of the Comprehensive Plan you like most, any elements you don't like, and anything we may have missed.

For each of the eighteen proposed Comprehensive Plan "policies," I invited you to "strongly agree" (+2 points), "agree" (+1), remain "neutral" (0), "disagree" (-1), or "strongly disagree" (-2).  I received 111 responses to the survey, and a summary of the results - showing the average rating for each "policy" - is included below.

As you can see, "Plan for fiscally sustainable growth" (colored red) was very popular with a rating of +1.67, suggesting 5 out of 6 respondents "strongly agreed" while the sixth "agreed."

Constituent Survey Comprehensive Plan Summary

Other popular policies with ratings between +1.4 and +1.6 (orange) were "Facilitate neighborhood planning," "Prepare a green infrastructure plan," "Accommodate non-motorized transportation," and "Improve transit service."

In the middle, with ratings between +1.2 and +1.4 (yellow) were "Support diverse/inclusive housing options," "Prioritize infill development," "Regional growth management," and the three environmental policies in "agricultural land preservation," "land disturbance/development permitting," and "tree preservation/invasive species management."

Lower priority policies, with ratings between +1.0 and +1.2 (green) were those on "mixed-use development," "alternative development regulations," and the three economic development policies.

The lowest priority of +0.73 (blue) was given to "Establish an urban service area."