COLUMBIA — In April 2005, signs advocating Laura Nauser for the Fifth Ward council position dotted lawns and roadsides throughout southwest Columbia. But not this year. Three years after being elected the Fifth Ward representative to the Columbia City Council, Nauser has much less to worry about in her bid for a second term.
Running unopposed for re-election to her council seat on the April 8 ballot, Nauser said it’s a relief not having to campaign.
In her first stint on the council, Nauser gained a reputation among other council members as being pro-development and pro-business. Her voice differs from the three most recently elected council members: Barbara Hoppe of the Sixth Ward, Karl Skala of the Third Ward and Jerry Wade of the Fourth Ward.
While Hoppe, Skala and Wade often favor taking a step back from quick development and looking at the environmental impact, Nauser’s first instinct is to think from the business perspective.
“She is sort of our conservative conscience,” Wade said.
Nauser’s house in the Thornbrook subdivision of southwest Columbia is decorated in shades of taupe, ivory, sage and rust and features columns, a stone fireplace, ornate details and fresh flowers. It’s a surprise in such a stately home to find two dogs roughhousing — one with only three legs chewing playfully on the other’s ear.
Her husband, Greg Nauser, laughed when asked about the animals.
“She gets them from the pound — tries to rescue them,” he said.
Nauser’s love for animals stems from her childhood. As a young girl, she and her sister rode horses on their property, pretending they were members of Jesse James’ gang and had just robbed a bank. After committing the dastardly deed, they would retreat to wooded areas of the property to hide out.
Today, Nauser’s pet count has risen to two dogs, two cats and one horse. That doesn’t include the countless birds who visit the four bird feeders that she keeps stocked with seed or nectar in her backyard.
“I get a kick out of watching the birds,” she said.
Nauser was making a tour of the city with fellow City Council members that included a stop at the Central Missouri Humane Society when she saw Trilo, a Whippet mix who was missing a leg.
“She was just sitting in her cage so sad,” Nauser said. “I went back the next day and got her.”
Nauser used the same snap judgment the day she decided to run for council. Just a few days before the deadline to submit her name as a candidate, she heard that former Fifth Ward Councilman John John would not seek re-election. She decided to take a stab at the post.
Because she had only a very short time to gather the necessary 50 signatures from registered voters in her ward to become an official candidate, City Clerk Sheela Amin promised that if Nauser could find her before midnight on the last day to file, she would be allowed to run.
“I went up to my son’s school and stood in line where the parents were picking up their kids (to get signatures),” Nauser said. “I walked — I think I ran — through the neighborhoods.”
With only about an hour and a half before midnight, Nauser turned in 53 signatures, three more than she needed to throw her hat into the ring.
“It was a whirlwind after that,” she said. “Campaigns, fundraisers, debates. ... I was worn out.”
During campaign season, Nauser went door to door at the end of each week with a goal of reaching 100 households each weekend. It was tough work for someone who usually doesn’t enjoy competition.
“I get too competitive with myself,” Nauser said.
Nauser is a part-time closing agent for Boone-Central Title Co., and her husband owns Nauser Beverage Co. So it’s no surprise that she’s an advocate for business interests.
“I understand how regulation and tax affects business, and so that’s probably something I consider — business climate — when I’m making decisions,” Nauser said. “Since we’re business owners, we associate with a lot of business owners. I think that brings in a perspective.”
Her boss, Karen Brown, said Nauser’s position as a settlement agent has contributed to her pro-business stance.
“She is the most pro-business person on the council,” Brown said. “But I think she brings a balance.”
Nauser’s goal of encouraging business growth led her to support bringing new business to Columbia and keeping existing businesses, such as ABC Labs. It is also why she voted against red light cameras and the smoking ban. Nauser said the ban might be a contributing factor in recent business closures, and she felt the red light cameras would be a problem for businesses with truck drivers because they would have to be able to figure out who was driving the trucks at every time of day.
“For a lot of people, it was the final factor,” she said.
As a council member, Nauser has a pointed, business-like style. When she speaks, she tends to hit hard and fast with her opinion, which is often formed from the perspective of the average Columbia businessperson. And she’s no fan of too much subjectivity in council decisions.
“I’m a big advocate of policy,” she said. “I like things spelled out.”
Nauser worries that the council has a habit of micromanaging issues — even the smallest details such as the height of light poles — which she said could hurt business in Columbia. She cited the time the council refused to pass a plan for a Moser’s grocery store on the city’s north side because the owner wanted 30-foot light poles, five feet higher than council members preferred. There was no written policy at the time. A policy adopted since allows light poles up to 35 feet.
“For a year or more we subjected people to our whim without a set criteria for providing standards ... based upon the subjectivity of six or seven people,” she said. “Now we have an ordinance. Everybody knows what to do, and we don’t have any problems with lighting anymore.”
The Crosscreek development is another example, she said. An amended development plan calling for a car dealership on the property was rejected 4-3 on March 3. While the plan was modified several times, including the addition of restrictions on the size and nature of the dealership, it failed to satisfy homeowners.
Nauser, who voted in favor of the development, argued there was no reason to vote against the proposal given that the developers met all the rules. Crosscreek, she said, is further evidence of the need for written policies to guide decisions.
Skala said that although he does not always agree with Nauser on issues of policy, he shares her sentiment that the council needs to make some procedural changes.
“In that regard, she is a kindred spirit,” Skala said.
Sitting in a study with two ornately decorated desks — both nearly covered in papers and packets for the council, Nauser murmurs notes to herself as she reads an article about the declining market for homes in Columbia in the Columbia Business Times.
“I talk to myself a lot — it drives people crazy,” she said.
Nauser said she uses her free time during the day to do council research. On this day, she was researching rising crime and ways other communities have combated the problem. She said she hopes to present this information to the council in April.
Nauser already is pressing city officials and the council to consider an ordinance addressing nuisance businesses, punishing those that are the scene of repeat disturbances. She has provided police and her council colleagues with a Kansas City ordinance as a model.
As a mother, Nauser is concerned about crime and hopes to find youth education programs that will help prevent it. She’s been doing research to see how Columbia can better address the problem.
“Did you know 50 percent of death-row inmates have no high school education?” she asked as she did the dishes.
Her 13-year-old son, Ryan, said she also takes his input in council matters that have to do with his school or children his age.
“I tell her if some of the things she says are dumb,” he said. “She listens.”
Nauser obviously is concerned about the well-being of her son. She takes pains to cook him healthy meals every evening, except the nights of City Council meetings.
“I try to get all the food groups in,” she said. “I cook a lot of casseroles because they’re easy.”
It is perhaps the motherly instinct that led Nauser to volunteer as a court-appointed special advocate for foster children in Columbia. As part of Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA, Nauser said she tries to do many of the things with the foster children that she does with her son, such as shopping for school clothes, taking them out to lunch and letting them show her around their school.
“The biggest thing is to have a caring adult in their lives,” Nauser said.
The experience with CASA has allowed Nauser to get a better picture of some of society’s problems.
Nauser found herself in front of a friendly crowd during a recent candidate forum hosted by the Columbia Home Builders Association.
Although some council candidates favor having newcomers to town pay a much larger share of new development costs, Nauser said she thinks new homeowners should pay for roads within new subdivisions, while the community as a whole should pay for the roads that lead to them — for example, Scott Boulevard. Although it’s seen increased traffic as new subdivisions are built to its east and west, the entire community uses the road, she said.
“I’m for growth-management planning and how can we share the cost to develop in an orderly fashion,” Nauser said.
First Ward Councilwoman Almeta Crayton, who also attended the home builders’ candidate forum, said she and Nauser both benefit from the other’s knowledge in council matters.
“What I don’t know she tells me, and vice versa,” Crayton said.
Although some council members have coffee meetings with the residents of their ward in order to get in touch with the needs of the community, Nauser said she communicates with her ward by allowing constituents to contact her by phone and through e-mail.
“I pretty much let them contact me,” she said.
Mark Pfeiffer, a longtime neighbor and friend of the Nausers, said he supports her bid for a second term.
“She has demonstrated that she is not swayed by one special interest group or another.”