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Five Ideas: What are your thoughts on these items in the news this week?

Saturday, January 12, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:46 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Blunt refusal

A reporter from the Associated Press went to Gov. Matt Blunt’s annual prayer breakfast last week, hoping to get some answers about a lawsuit alleging the governor’s office deleted e-mails in violation of open-records laws.

Blunt declined to answer questions about former staff attorney Scott Eckersley’s lawsuit but pledged to discuss it at a later news conference on drunken driving laws.

At that news conference, however, Blunt refused to discuss it in any detail and then turned his back on reporters and walked out of the room.

The whistleblower and defamation lawsuit claims that top Blunt aides directed his staff and other agencies to destroy e-mails to avoid providing information sought under public records requests.

Blunt refused to either confirm or deny whether those directions were given, whether he was aware of the orders at the time or whether he approved of the e-mail deletions. He did, however, defend the firing of Eckersley.

“I’m confident that the decision to dismiss this young man was indeed lawful and that the case is without merit,” Blunt said.

Why do you think Blunt said he would answer questions, then didn’t?

No smoke

Columbians celebrated the one-year anniversary of the city’s smoking ban with a party hosted by the Campus-Community Alliance for Smoke-Free Environments and the Smoke-Free Air for Everyone.

The celebration was a show of thanks to the City Council for passing the ban and to gather people together to show their support.

Linda Green said she is relieved to not have to worry about the health of her son, who is a musician working at bars and restaurants. Another attendee, Michael Wilson, said he quit smoking 27 years ago and feels he can enjoy his food better at restaurants with the smoking ban in place.

However, some people weren’t in a celebratory mood.

Members of the Boone Liberty Coalition said it was inappropriate to mark the anniversary.

“What they are celebrating are the property rights taken by the government,” said John Schultz, a liberty coalition member.

He said the ban has caused some restaurant and bar closings, job losses and decreased sales tax revenues in the city. He said a majority of restaurants and bars were already smoke-free.

What has been your experience with the smoking ban so far?

Cutting class

Three Columbia Public Schools resource officers were pulled out of schools last week to patrol the streets of Columbia.

The decision to put the officers on regular patrols comes as the Columbia Police Department tries to fill seven vacant positions.

City Manager Bill Watkins has assured the City Council that officers would be returned to the middle schools no later than next fall. The decision is a temporary solution to get more experienced officers onto the streets until the department’s vacancies are filled, he said.

Council members Laura Nauser and Almeta Crayton said they were displeased with the pullout of resource officers, even as a temporary solution.

“(Police) have more influence on kids when they are smaller and younger,” Crayton said. “You have to do it in the beginning because the trouble starts in the middle school.”

Officer Eric White, sergeant of the community youth services unit, said while he was unhappy with the decision, he understood why it needed to be made.

“The number one priority has to be to keep officers patrolling the streets,” White said. “Some patrolling is better than none at all.”

What do you think of this decision?

Fee use

City Council voted to add an estimated $250,000 generated from increased cable franchise fees to the general budget. Appropriation for the funds, however, is up in the air.

Mayor Darwin Hindman has long supported using $100,000 of the fees to quickly fill vacancies in the Columbia Police Department.

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala supports hiring more police officers but not with the franchise fee funds. He thinks shifting council discretionary funds and development fees could be used for additional officers instead of using the cable fees.

In September, the council voted to raise the cable franchise fees from 3 to 5 percent, which would allow more funding for the Columbia Access Television channel. The increase is expected to generate $250,000 to $300,000 for fiscal year 2007.

Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser said she was uncomfortable with the idea of spending the estimated funds just yet.

“I have a problem with spending money we don’t have,” Nauser said.

The council plans to use a later resolution to discuss the appropriation of funds from the fees at a future meeting.

How do you think this money should be used?

Poetry man

Ashland writer Walter Bargen is Missouri’s first official poet laureate.

“I never had this in mind,” Bargen said. “I just write because there’s a great feel of enjoyment for me.”

Bargen, 59, has published 11 books of poetry and expects another to be released this year. His work has been in more than 100 publications, including the American Literary Review, International Quarterly and River Styx.

Bargen has worked for 20 years at MU as a senior coordinator for the Assessment Resource Center, a department of the College of Education.

“People always ask me ‘How do you write so much?’” he said. “But I don’t feel like I get to write enough.”

The position of Missouri Poet Laureate is a new one, created by Gov. Matt Blunt through an executive order last year. He said then that he hoped the chosen poet could be another extension of Missouri’s artistic heritage.

Bargen, too, sees opportunity in the honor. “I hope it brings more attention to poetry in general, and creates a wider readership,” he said.

What value do you see in having a poet laureate?


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