Constituent Newsletter

Policing, Race Matters, and Henderson Branch sewer

October 2, 2016

Dear Constituent:

What kind of policing do we want?

Thanks to the 60 or so of you who responded to my proposal for a comprehensive collaborative visioning process for the Columbia Police Department (CPD) and community residents.

Most of the responses I received were very positive. There is good support for implementing an authentic community engagement plan before another ballot issue is presented to voters. However, some of you feel we should design a somewhat shorter and less cumbersome process than the one I outlined. Also, several of you pointed out that low confidence in CPD leadership was not the only reason Prop. 1 failed in 2014 - there were numerous other mis-steps and unfortunate circumstances connected with that campaign.

Moving forward, I will now work with Council colleagues and city staff to find consensus on a suitable process.

Fair and Impartial Policing training

I want to recognize that CPD has already been responsive to public concerns and input on the kind of policing they deliver to the residents of Columbia.

This year, a new community policing strategy has been launched in three under-served neighborhoods, and the Police Chief has committed to conducting a thorough examination of the data behind the Attorney General’s report which shows disproportionate stops, searches, and arrests for minority drivers.

The Department is also in the process of updating its training program and improving transparency. And, as part of that effort, CPD is inviting the public and news media to participate in a Fair and Impartial Policing training on Sat., Nov. 5th, 10am - 3pm, in the City Council Chambers. Objectives of this course, which is currently being taught to all Columbia Police Officers, include learning to recognize and eradicate “implicit bias.”

Please consider taking part - more info. here.

Race matters and should continue to matter

On Friday, I was proud to join leaders with the MU Association of Black Graduate and Professional Students, Councilman Clyde Ruffin, Mayor Brian Treece, and more than 100 others to dedicate a memorial to James Scott - a black man who was lynched by a white mob at the old Stewart Road bridge in 1923.

This was an important event because it acknowledges a very shameful period in Columbia’s history and enables a more open public discussion about race. Even though Columbia and the United States have made great progress since those dark days, there is still a lot of work to do. Racist belief systems are embedded in the minds of all of us (implicit bias) and racial injustice continues to be perpetrated against minority groups every day through our institutions (systemic discrimination), especially the so-called “criminal justice system.” We also have a legacy of massive wealth disparities stemming from older, even more extremely racist policies.

Yes, race still matters, and to be unaware of this truth or to deny it, as some commentators are inclined to do, is to perpetuate a deeply divided and unfair society. We have to recognize and name bias and systemic racism in order to dismantle them - painful though it is, we must open these old wounds and clean them thoroughly, so they may heal completely.

Henderson Branch sewer

Tomorrow evening, the Henderson Branch sewer extension will again come before City Council, and I want to know whether you think the City should construct this project.

The 2013 sewer ballot, which was approved by voters, included $2.6 million for this sewer extension. However, since then, the project cost has increased more than 65% to $4.3 million, and the old-school philosophy that “growth generates economic prosperity for the City” has been largely discredited.

In a 2014 research study, I showed that the development impact fees and utility connection fees only cover a fraction of the actual cost to the city to expand our public infrastructure systems to accommodate a growing community. This means that sewer extensions, road widening projects, and other capacity-increasing capital projects are substantially subsidized by current residents - and yet they would not be necessary were it not for the growth.

Some community leaders claim that growth generates new sales and property tax revenues. However, I regard that as a specious argument because the City has to spend those additional and ongoing revenues to provide expanded services to a larger community, so there’s no net benefit to the City. In fact, with a very low population density (fewer than 2,000 people per square mile), it is in our economic interest (and our community-driven plans) to promote infill development rather than expand our footprint further. Extending the sewer west of the Perche Creek will stimulate significant pressure for even more low-density sprawl development.

On the other hand, this project was included in a list that was linked with the 2013 ballot question. Therefore, in a certain sense, the City “promised” to build it - maybe you voted “Yes” for that reason?

Anyway, please let me know your thoughts on this rather polarizing project.

Columbia receives “SolSmart Gold” Award

I was excited to learn recently that Columbia has been recognized as a national leader in advancing solar energy by SolSmart, a U.S. Department of Energy program.

This program works with individual communities to help them reduce/remove the so-called “soft costs” associated with expanding solar installations on private buildings - things like zoning conflicts, administrative barriers, and building design issues. After I attending a session on this program at the 2015 National League of Cities conference, I worked with City staff to enroll Columbia.

Based on an initial evaluation of our policies and practices related to solar energy, we were designated a “SolSmart Gold” community last month. One of the initiatives for which we received points was the “solar-ready” provision in our newly-adopted building codes, which now require builders to designate an area of roof-space for future solar installation and ensure this region is clear of chimneys, electric wiring, and other impediments.

As more households in Columbia install solar panels, we will not only reduce the overall cost of our electric utility but we will also transition our energy spending from remote corporations to local solar design, installation, and maintenance companies, thereby keeping our dollars in the local economy.

Upcoming events:

Tues., Oct. 11th, 6-8pm at the ARC: COMO Connect Community Visioning Session
This opportunity to help shape a bold vision for the future of public transit in Columbia is part of COMO Connect’s 12-month Evaluation Study by consultants, Olsson Associates and Alta Planning. It comes at a critical time, as the University of Missouri has recently acknowledged the importance and value of bus transportation as part of a multi-modal strategy and is planning promotions and incentives to encourage students to utilize bus service. The door is open for a transit partnership between COMO Connect and the University, which will expand overall transit level of service significantly and bring a range of benefits to the whole community.
More info, here.

Weds., Oct. 12th, 8-10pm in the Disney Room, Memorial Union, MU Campus: What if we were all Social Entrepreneurs?
“Social entrepreneurship” is a rapidly-growing area of research and practice which is defined in a number of different ways. However, they all reflect some sort of application of entrepreneurial skills to accomplish social goals - such as ending homelessness, helping immigrants and refugees gain a foothold in the job market, or ensuring low-income families have access to local, healthy foods. After attending a workshop on the topic, Councilman Mike Trapp and I convened a local group of social entrepreneurs and we are presenting this session as part of “Bringing Up Business: Mid-Missouri's Innovation Week.”
More info. here.

Thurs., Oct. 27th, 5:30pm at N.H. Scheppers Distributing, 1306 Hathman Place: CelebrARTY
I have been trying my hand at something new this fall - painting! With a lot of help and mentoring from professional artist David Spear, I am creating a so-called “work of art” that will be auctioned at the annual CelebrARTY fundraiser event for the charity, Access Arts. I am one of eight “celebrities” (which include former State Rep. Vicky Wilson and Lt. Geoff Jones, who is heading up Columbia’s community policing program) to work with professional artists and sculptors on these creative projects. Please join us Oct. 27th if you can - admission is $25 individual or $40 for two, and I can reserve tickets for you. All proceeds from the event and auction will go to Access Arts - a wonderful community organization, which has been providing opportunities for disadvantaged people to develop their own creative talent for 45 years.
More info. here.

Constituent Conversations

Join me this month for Constituent Conversations at Dunn Bros. Coffee on Sunday, October 16th or 30th, 2-4pm.

Cheers, Ian