FIVE IDEAS: A roundup of the most talked about issues in Columbia this year

Saturday, December 27, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CST

Taser Talk

As early as March of this year, Tasers were making the Columbia news. In that month, the Missourian reported on the Columbia Police Department’s plan to purchase $30,000 worth of Tasers; that meant there would be enough stun guns for 70 of the division’s (then total of 82) officers to carry one whilst on duty. The department’s justification for the purchase was that using Tasers is a safe means of protecting both officers and those whom officers arrest.

Residents started to heatedly debate that assertion in July after local police used a Taser on reportedly suicidal Phillip Lee McDuffy, causing him to fall off an overpass in an attempt to keep McDuffy from hurting himself. In the wake of this story, Taser critics raised doubts about the safety of using stun guns and pushed for stronger regulations of Taser use.

The debate got louder in August after Moberly police officers used a Taser on a man who subsequently died. Since then there have been numerous objections raised at City Council meetings and as many defenses from police. Grass Roots Organizing and other organizations have continued pushing for stronger Taser oversight for the police department.  

Who should Columbia police officers be most concerned about protecting when they take to the streets?

Fights at Hickman

One could make many assertions about where the world would be without YouTube, but one thing is certain: Without that video-sharing Web site, residents would not be so hotly debating the actions of Hickman High School Resource Officer Mark Brotemarkle.

In October, Brotemarkle broke up a fight in the school. A student posted a video of the altercation on YouTube. That video contained footage of the officer throwing or spinning or shifting (depending whom you ask) student Diamond Thrower to the ground in an attempt to resolve the situation.  

Three complaints were then filed about his conduct in that instance and others, but the police department cleared Brotemarkle of any wrongdoing in an internal investigation. That verdict, however, has not stopped the talk about whether he has been acting according to duty or being aggressive beyond what is required. Instead, it has raised questions about whether police are the best judges of whether one of their own acts out of line. 

Race has also found its way into the debate. The NAACP issued a letter this month calling Brotemarkle's actions “objectionable” and asking that he be reassigned. The letter's author, Mary Ratliff, asserted that "Had (Thrower) been a young white female, the community would have been up in arms.” Interim Police Chief Tom Dresner’s response? “We’re not seeing eye to eye on everything.”

Should residents be focusing more on being watchdogs for the police or on tackling student violence in the city’s high schools?

School Board shifts

Public discussion about the Columbia School Board and its decisions started more than a year ago when there was controversy over the site for a new high school. Debates increased over budget shortfalls and math curricula. By last spring, residents who were increasingly disenchanted with the way the school board was being run showed themselves ready to send a message: It was time for change.

On April 9, 61 percent of voters decisively rejected a 54-cent tax levy increase proposed by the school board, going against the city’s historic tendency to approve school tax and bond issues. Voters also decided to change the makeup of the school board, electing Rosie Tippin and Ines Segert to two of the three school board seats that were open in that election.  Tom Rose was the only incumbent re-elected.

District revamping continued after Superintendent Phyllis Chase retired in August and former superintendent Jim Ritter was appointed as an interim leader until July 2009.

Ritter has taken on a tough job, the budget problems he inherited only being exacerbated by the faltering economy. At a school board meeting this month, he presented four scenarios for dealing with the district’s projected deficit of $3.2 million; two of those included possible tax levy increases.

When the school systems are in need of money, how much does it matter who is asking for it?

University budget dilemmas

Despite MU being one of only 20 public universities in the country to hit a $1 billion fundraising target, economic uncertainty is plaguing UM System President Gary Forsee and the other administrators now preparing to battle potential budget cuts that are likely to total millions of dollars.

At a meeting this month, administrators explained the details behind those seemingly counterintuitive figures. Much of the $1 billion that was gathered from alumni, foundations and corporations has been restricted for specific uses, as outlined by those donating the funds: This means that relatively little of that money can be used to cover the quotidian costs of running a university.

The potential loss is from state funding, which is one of two main sources of income used to pay for the general operations of the school; the other is student-paid tuition.

A large portion of the general operations money goes to pay faculty and staff, who may or may not have been reassured by Chancellor Brady Deaton’s two-pronged assertion that administrators did not anticipate salary cuts or layoffs but were also not ready to make any promises on that account as of mid-December. Students may feel similarly ambivalent about rules regarding tuition increase, which currently forbid going above present rates but could be overridden on appeal.

If the potential budget cuts become a reality, who should bear the brunt of the bailout?

Field of broken dreams

MU football fans started out the season with visions of a Heisman Trophy and Bowl Championship Series game dancing in their heads. Some, spurred on by the Tigers' Cotton Bowl win on New Year's Day and stint in the No. 1 spot last year, even dared to dream of a shot at the BCS national championship.

The stars appeared to be satisfactorily aligned in the beginning of the season. Mizzou beat team after team in nonconference games. Then they walloped Nebraska in their first Big 12 conference game, which happened to coincide with quarterback and Heisman-hopeful Chase Daniel’s 21st birthday.

Then came a demoralizing loss to Oklahoma State followed by a blowout loss at then-No. 1 Texas. After losing the annual Border Showdown to Kansas, the Tigers suffered a defeat at the hands the Oklahoma Sooners in the Big 12 title game — for the second year in a row. 

Mizzou was given a bid to the Alamo Bowl, something that would have perhaps been more exciting had last year’s season not so far enhanced MU fans’ expectations. The team is keeping its collective chin up, as the bowl will be a last hurrah for many seniors; the team that returns to the field next fall will sport many new faces, including that of a new quarterback.

What are reasonable expectations for next year’s football season?

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