Funeral home rift
The situation surrounding Warren Funeral Home, the only black-owned funeral home in Columbia, has created a rift between leaders of the black community who believe they should back the Warrens and others who believe the funeral homes' apparent mistreatment of Columbia families is too much to forgive.
Harold Warren Sr. and Harold Warren Jr. agreed to a temporary restraining order Wednesday that will shut the business down for 15 days while they try to show state inspectors that they can operate the funeral home appropriately. The home came under fire after state inspectors found unsanitary conditions there, including a garbage bag containing organs from multiple bodies in a casket and the decayed, unenbalmed body of a woman who had been stored in the funeral home for 10 months.
Although the reasons for the conditions remain unknown, members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People suggest finances are a factor. Both Warren Sr. and Warren Jr. filed for bankruptcy in 2006. The NAACP, citing the Warrens' support of the community over the years, will host a fundraiser for the funeral home Sunday night at the Second Baptist Church.
Should the NAACP throw its support behind the Warrens rather than the families affected by the funeral home's practices?
City Manager Bill Watkins has said the public will have plenty of opportunity to provide input as the city seeks a new police chief, but Darrell Foster might be one citizen who would beg to differ.
Watkins originally appointed Foster to the Police Chief Search Advisory Committee but rescinded that decision after learning that Foster was convicted of four felonies in 1998. Some worried that Foster might harbor resentment of police. Watkins called Foster's removal from the panel "a prudent course of action" and noted that he still has charges against him. A Casenet search shows two pending misdemeanor cases.
Not everyone agrees that convicted felons should have no role in selecting a new chief. Rex Campbell, a former councilman and chairman of the committee that has recommended the city create a citizen oversight committee to monitor complaints against police, suggested Foster might be able to bring a different outlook to the panel.
How might the official involvement of someone with a criminal background help or hurt the search for a police chief?
No holiday here
Columbians hoping to get a break on the sales taxes they pay for back-to-school merchandise might find that they can get the most bang for their buck by leaving the city this weekend.
For the fifth year in a row, the city government has chosen to opt out of the tax-free weekend. That means shoppers won't have to pay state sales tax but are still stuck with local taxes. City officials have reasoned over the years that giving up sales tax revenue during a busy shopping weekend isn't wise policy, and with sales tax revenue lagging, every penny counts.
With the price of everyday goods such as food and gasoline trending upward, however, people are getting less for every dollar they spend. The tax-free weekend is designed to give parents a break on the back-to-school expenses of clothes, computers and crayons that come near the end of every summer vacation. But leaving the city to save on sales tax might not add up, given the cost of driving to another town.
What do you think of Columbia's reluctance to participate in the sales tax holiday?
Boone Hospital Center laid off 48 people this week, including all 26 people in its inpatient psychiatric unit and 22 management positions. Hospital leaders cited Medicare and Medicaid cuts and a faltering economy as the reason for the layoffs. Robert McDavid, chairman of the Boone Hospital Center Board of Trustees, said payments from Medicare and Medicaid account for 70 percent of the county-owned hospital's revenue.
Still, even as the hospital is cutting back in some areas, it is forging ahead on a major expansion that includes a new 17-story patient tower and a multimillion-dollar parking garage. The psychiatric unit is the only one in the Columbia area, and after Aug. 15, patients will have to be referred elsewhere.
What do the recent layoffs portend about the future financial health of Boone Hospital Center?
Budget balancing act
What's an ombudsman? Sure, it's a word that would score at least 16 points in Scrabble. But it's also the title of a new city government employee that City Manager Bill Watkins wants to hire.
Watkins last week presented what he called a "squeaky" proposed budget for fiscal 2009. The overall theme of the budget is to curb spending, resist new programs and put the city in a position to weather tough times ahead.
The spending plan calls for a handful of layoffs, including the elimination of a recreation specialist who oversees programs at Paquin Tower and a transportation supervisor. It also calls for closing Lake of the Woods Pool and for higher fees for many city programs and services.
But the budget also includes the equivalent of 24 new full-time city workers, including four police officers, two firefighters, a purchasing officer and our mysterious friend the business ombudsman. Watkins said the latter position could pay dividends by streamlining bureaucratic red tape that creates an unhealthy business climate.
How do Watkins' budget priorities match with your ideas about how the city should spend its money?